Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 339), “The Roads Less Traveled”—Janie’s take
The non-Frostian “roads” we encounter in today’s puzzle nonetheless have a poetry all their own. For starters, as becomes clear in the reveal at 64A.—[Track on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” album (and it’s the puzzle’s theme!)] “BACKSTREETS”—we’re in fact looking for STREETS and not roads. How does the clue relate to the four preceding themers? The name of each STREET appears at the BACK of the theme phrase. That is, it follows the last word. What makes this tried-and-true gimmick so solid and snappy today is that both the themers and the STREETS they produce are simply first-rate. They take us to places both in our minds and on the map, and the words “lively,” “evocative,” “colorful” would be not in any way be misleading descriptors of the results. Imho. ;-)
- 17A. [Former Staples slogan] “THAT WAS EASY” –> Easy Street. A fictional address/situation that people have been aspiring to since 1889. Also, a 1917 Charlie Chaplin short, a song from Annie and the title of a host of other songs. Not to mention what an iconic marketing slogan those folks at Staples came up with!
- 21A. [Magical password] “OPEN, SESAME!” –> Sesame Street — on the air since 1969 and winning awards since 1970, that public television perennial. Another fictional STREET. Then, if you’ve never read “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” source of that magical password, here’s your chance. And cue up Scheherazade while you’re at it. Also… do notice the six-letter overlap this themer shares with the one above it. Impressive. And, of course, it happens again at the bottom of the grid as well.
- 40A. [Ingredient in a Louisville Cooler cocktail] KENTUCKY BOURBON –> Bourbon Street. The first of two seriously famous STREETS in New Orleans, this one in the French Quarter. And how about that KENTUCKY BOURBON grid-spanner? That’s what I’d call spirited fill (pun intended…) and a great complement to the vibrancy evoked by Bourbon Street.
- 56A. [Shallow coastal inlet] TIDAL BASIN –> Basin Street, our second NOLA shout-out, and the STREET that forms one of the boundaries of the aforementioned French Quarter. Also the one-time site of the Storyville (red-light) District and the inspiration for one amazing jazz standard, played here by NOLA native son, Louis Armstrong. In addition to being a “shallow coastal inlet,” let’s not forget “the” TIDAL BASIN on the Potomac in Washington, DC, a main site of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Those are five fab themers in my book and the “roads” they take us to are a lovely lot as well. I also thought this was a terrific example of a satisfying solve for newbies especially. It’s always interesting, easily solved, the grid is very cleanly filled and it has a nice “Aha!” And that swell soundtrack to boot!
What with the length of the themers and their layout in the grid, however, there isn’t a lot of remaining real estate for long fill (one of the reasons this is an easier solve). I can’t make that a crime today. I found the theme and execution of it that strong—and I was that entertained, both in the process of solving and in the process of processing the solve. My faves among the remaining fill would have to include both CREASE and SHYEST, especially for their canny cluing: [Pants line?] and [Least likely to appear on “Bachelor in Paradise”] respectively. Also liked seeing explorer Vasco Núñez de BALBOA and the late, great EILEEN Brennan in there. If you’ve never seen The Last Picture Show, btw, you owe it to yourself to stream it, or borrow it from the library or look for it at a revival house. Great story. Great cast.
Oh—OUSTER appealed, because I get a little burst of optimism thinking about [Removal from office] (I leave you to draw your own conclusions…). And I particularly like HISS AT [Show disdain for, as a villain] and the way it’s followed immediately by a fine villain, IAGO [Shakespeare baddie]. But then, looking at the row straight across, starting at 31A—and being easily amused by such things—I got a kick out of what reads as a text message: ICU HISS AT IAGO.
And now UC me take my leave for today. Hope you’ll have a fine week ahead in our fast-departing autumn. If you’re not too busy making your own lists of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, do keep solving—and see you back here next week!
Andrew Ries’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Two-pronged theme here. The revealer is 29d. [Often-forbidden maneuver … as hinted at four times in this puzzle], U-TURN, and in four places, a big letter U (made from circled letters) is turned in different directions … and each circled word is the name of a university that makes a U-turn in the grid. The schools are PRINCETON (hi, Jenni!), CLEMSON, CALTECH (hi, Doug!), and EMADERTON. No, NOTRE DAME. All of the college names travel counterclockwise. Elegantly conceived and executed.
The rest of the grid is unthemed, and the longest entries (PARIS METRO, EVIDENCE BAG, ADULTERANT, TRADE ROUTES) aren’t thematic. (ADULT E-RANT: screed from a potty-mouthed troll?) The fill is a little tough for a Tuesday. Not sure anyone under the age of 50 has encountered an actual ASPIC. LETT is crosswordese (though the plural would be solid, thanks to playwright/actor Tracy Letts). State-motto Latin ASTRA, URAL as a river, HESSE, meh. There’s a repeated ON in CHEER ON (which I really like) and START ON, too.
- 69a. [Beginning point for a first flight], NEST. I was thinking of airplanes and staircases rather than birds.
- 22d. [Some military hospitals, for short], VAS. Veterans Administration abbreviation, pluralized. That works, but plural abbreviations are never great. Can we get a vas deferens here?
- 12d. [“Come to ___!” (gambler’s cry)], PAPA. Do women who gamble use “Come to mama!”?
- 53d. [Former F.B.I. director James], COMEY. Remember that guy? Yeah.
Four stars from me.
Daniel Hamm’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Playing the Field” — Jim’s review
Jim P. here, sitting in for Laura. At my request, we swapped the next two days for this week. She’ll be covering the puzzle tomorrow.
Football! American football, to be precise. Today we’re given a before-and-after theme in which the after phrase is a position on a football team. For consistency’s sake each entry is a grid-spanner and each position ends in “BACK.”
- 16a [First-string play caller?] HEAD QUARTERBACK. Hmm. The surface sense is good, but HEADQUARTER is iffy as a base phrase.
- 23a [Rusher changing course to avoid a defender?] TURNING TAILBACK. Best entry of the lot as TURNING TAIL is a strong base phrase. Bonus points for taking a phrase meaning cowardice and subverting it into an asset for a football player.
- 42a [Pass defender who’s perceptive?] SHARP CORNERBACK. The only defensive player in the grid, but a strong entry.
- 55a [Unscrupulous ballcarrier?] BASE RUNNINGBACK. I’m not sure how a RUNNINGBACK exhibits such baseness, but the entry works.
How do you feel about the repetition of BACK in each entry? It certainly made filling in the bottom entries quicker, but the consistency is nice, especially for someone who isn’t a football fan. The grid-spanning feature is also a plus. Still, I think I would have liked to see different positions like Right (or Left) Guard, Tight End, Strong Safety, Place Kicker, etc. Drat! PEYTON PLACEKICKER is too long.
If football ain’t your thang, you’ve got music (BIEBER, OSBOURNE, GIL Evans, Beck HANSEN, TENOR), science (AMOEBA, BOHR, OCELOT) and food (AROMA, PARING, and PURINA). Plus geography (CHINA SEA), games (QUOITS), and two colorful phrases (“ACHTUNG!” and “SEE TO IT!”).
All in all a solid grid. I can see how the non-football-fan might prefer to skip this one, but for everyone else, this hit just about right for a Tuesday.
Agnes Davidson & C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I’m still a little disappointed after the Michigan-Ohio State game this weekend. So let’s “fold” some stuff:
- 17A [Sunbather’s spread] BEACH TOWEL
- 29A [Cards to bet on] POKER HAND
- 45A [Brunch dish] HAM OMELET
- 61A [Coupe-back contraption] RUMBLE SEAT
Of course, there is a revealer:
- 39D [Instructions next to a perforated line … or a hint to 17-, 29-, 45- and 61-Across] FOLD HERE
I suppose you do “fold” a rumble seat in the back of a car, but I cannot prove it because they are way before my time! Just kidding! It can easily be “folded” into the rear of a car it is in:
As I said: these cars predate me! And of course we all fold towels, bad poker hands, and omelets. Nicely done. How about 4.4 stars today.
A few more points:
- 1A [‘House” actor Epps] OMAR – It is pretty much this actor or the character from The Wire, right?
- 35A [New York Harbor’s Island] ELLIS – I’ve been there. Didn’t see anyone in my family on the register. ;-)
- 11D [Iron-poor blood condition] ANEMIA – I’ve been there. Had to take iron pills, and everything tasted like pennies for a while. Eat your veggies!
- 45D [Pipe smoked in trendy bars] HOOKAH – I am not this trendy.
- 48D [Peppermint Patty, for one] TOMBOY – Do they still reprint Peanuts? Any reference to this comic strip brings me pleasant memories, unlike Disney!
It’s almost December!!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “The Price of Freedom” – Derek’s write-up
This puzzle was FUN! Stacked 15s always get the blood pumping, and Matt has done a great job, especially since the puzzle played quite easy. That means there is virtually nothing obscure, and this puzzle was indeed a joy to tackle. The best entry is easily at 16A [November 2017 thriller with Denzel Washington in the title role] ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. I went to the movies this past weekend (!), but we saw Murder on the Orient Express instead. The Denzel movie does look intriguing, though. We will have to pay attention when Oscar nominations come out in a few weeks. On a side note, Grammy nominations were today. I did a fair bit of Googling of some of the more popular category nominees!! I digress. A solid 4.6 for this edition from Matt.
Some faves, including the rest of the 15s:
- 1A [What standard, no-frills items lack] SPECIAL FEATURES
- 17A [“What a relief!”] “AM I GLAD TO SEE YOU!” – Awesome!
- 26A [Twelve months from now] IN A YEAR – Surprisingly, this got two NYT hits, and none in the past 7+ years. Nicely done.
- 54A [Cough syrup holder] MEDICINE CABINET – It’s kinda more held in the bottle, no?
- 60A [“Just a sec!”] “ONE MOMENT, PLEASE!” – Also an awesome entry!
- 61A [It may follow a period of inattention] RENEWED INTEREST
- 11D [__ Vogue] TEEN – Of course! This took a while since I don’t read it often ….
- 22D [“Ambient 1: Music for Airports” composer Brian] ENO – If the title has “ambient” in it and refers to a composer, it’s ENO.
- 28D [Able to be assessed] CALCULABLE – A nice crosser, along with 4D, although 4D is a rather long partial, IMO.
- 47D [DIY stuff that might be made with glue and borax] SLIME – Is that what they made that crap on Nickoledeon with, all those years ago?
- 59D [Vietnamese holiday] TET – I finished watching The Vietnam War on PBS a few weeks ago, and now I am watching The Civil War on Netflix. It’s really good, although there is a lot less video footage!
Have a great week!