Dan Schoenholz’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review
Popped this one open right at 10PM and saw an introductory note:
The answers to the five starred clues have a very unusual property in common. What is it? And can you think of a familiar two-word exclamation, of five and three letters, respectively, that shares that property?
OK, let’s look at those five starred clues and see if we can’t intuit a theme:
- 17a, JOHN JAY [*First Supreme Court chief justice]. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of pedantry around whether the title is, in fact, Chief Justice of the United States. I don’t mind this more casual approach. A gimme for me, since there’s a building named for JOHN JAY at Columbia, where I went to law school.
- 21a, CHINA SEA [*It’s east of Okinawa]. JAY is a homophone of the letter J; SEA of the letter C… I’m sensing a pattern.
- 35a, BUSY BEE [*Sort with a full schedule]. This confirmed my suspicion that: The theme is two-word phrases where the second word is a homophone of the initial letter of the first word.
- 48a, TEXAS TEA [*Oil, jocularly]. Sadly “black gold” doesn’t fit the theme.
- 51a, UP TO YOU [*I don’t care either way]. This threw me for a loop; I guess: The actual theme is just phrases (of at least two words) where the last word is a homophone of the initial letter of the first word.
Now our meta-challenge is to think of a familiar two-word exclamation, enumeration (5,3), that shares the theme property. Running the alphabet, I came up with what I assume is the intended answer: “GOLLY GEE!”. (I also came up with “YES, BUT WHY?” and IN A PIG’S EYE, but they don’t fit the enumeration.)
This is a fairly unusual Thursday puzzle, in that it’s not too often we get a meta element in the NYT. I ignored it while solving, and it ended up feeling like a high-word-count themeless puzzle to me. I didn’t come up with the theme until reflecting on it post-solve, and I suspect a lot of solvers will have a similar experience.
The fact that the theme was limited to five very short answers meant there was room to let the fill shine elsewhere, and it did, mostly in the long downs: LOSS LEADERS and TRIPLE AXELS were both lovely, as were CRAZY IDEA, MOON BASE, and BAKE SALE. Lots of other 7s (GUNSHOT, GOOFS UP, RED BULL, LATE FEE), and I loved seeing the colloquial K-STATE.
A few ugly short answers to compensate for all that shiny stuff (TAJ, AMO, NTH, and NEAPS all in the NW, plus A DUEL). I’m probably one of the few solvers who relishes seeing IVO Andric in the grid, so I’m willing to add that to the naughty list, and “FEEL OK?” looks a bit strange in the south of the grid.
The thing that cost me the most time was confidently dropping in “HI, M’AAM” at 38a [Respectful greeting] from the ???AAM, when in fact the answer was SALAAM. Thankfully, my figure skating fandom bailed me out fairly quickly, but that’s a very nice misdirection, intentional or not.
This one might’ve been more at home in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but it was a refreshing, zippy departure from the usual Thursday fare. Until next week!
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword “Building Blocks” —Jenni’s write-up
This is a first for me: I knew the theme before I entered a single answer. I suspect it’s also a personal best for a Fireball time.
The grid is funny-shaped, and 1a tells us why: 1a [Game with seven distinct shapes and a 10×20 playfield]. Sure enough, the grid is 10×20 (I counted). Plus the black squares form seven distinct – and familiar – shapes. The shapes gave me the theme before I even looked at the clue, and the answer, of course, is TETRIS.
There’s one more theme entry at 20d: [Creator of 1-Across]. This was not a gimme. Turns out it’s ALEXEY PAJITNOV.
Not much theme material, but the Scrabbly name and the odd grid size constrain the fill with unpleasant results. APELET for a [Small simian]? Really? TOP HONORS for [Final awards on awards shows] is better, but not good. An ALOHA PARTY is a thing, but Google suggests that it’s not a [Farewell celebration in Hawaii] as much as a party theme on the mainland.
There were things I liked.
- 4d [Kicks bottom] is RUBBER SOLE. “Kicks” started out as a term for sneakers, now extended to include other footwear.
- 7d [Toy for a future aerospace engineer, perhaps] is a MODEL ROCKET. My husband built and launched model rockets when he was a kid. He also took some fuel out to a vacant lot and lit it, just to see what would happen. How he survived to adulthood is a mystery to me.
- 25d [Flat fee payer] is a TENANT.
- 47a [Dazed and confused] is PUNCH DRUNK, which is right above ALOHA PARTY. I suspect you could get drunk on punch at an ALOHA PARTY.
- 46a [“Stupid ___ stupid …”] needs IS AS. I’m more familiar with “pretty is as pretty does” but I’ll accept other formulations.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: in addition to being unfamiliar with the creator of TETRIS, I also did not know that IRAN was a big pistachio exporter. Are big pistachios more expensive?
For those who’ve managed to forget it, here’s the TETRIS theme song. For ten hours. It’s amazing what you can find on YouTube.
Damien Peterson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Cold Fronts” — Jim’s review
The title is a good hint to what’s going on here. The “brr” sound is prepended to various words and phrases for wintry wackiness. Spelling changes implemented as needed.
- 17a [Nest?] BIRDIE FLAT. D Flat. This was the last one to fall for me. I had BIRDIE FLA_, but still couldn’t think up the base phrase (my brain was saying Die Fledermaus). I finally got 9d TOT and was able to finish. I once built my own puzzle around a similar theme (which has been rejected pretty much across the board). In it, I had the entry TENACIOUS BIRDIE which I thought hilarious with the clue [Woodpecker determined to live in a petrified forest?]
- 24a [Explosive zap from a sci-fi weapon?] BURSTING RAY. Stingray. I’m not sure that “bursting” is how I would describe a ray gun’s discharge.
- 36a [Future deliveries?] BIRTHINGS TO COME. Things to come. My spellchecker doesn’t like the word “birthings.” While tossing around entry ideas for my own “brr” puzzle, I came up with THROWBACK BIRTHERS DAY, but couldn’t work it into the grid.
- 44a [Money used to build many a California film studio?] BURBANK LOAN. Bank loan.
- 56a [Souvenirs from Sanders rallies?] BERNIE CAPS. Kneecaps. This one acted as revealer for me. Together with the title, I was able to fill in three of the other four entries with minimal crossings.
I like the theme fine, but the entries just don’t do a lot for me. I do like BIRDIE FLAT as it’s imaginative and fun, and BERNIE CAPS is good, though they are real things (though maybe not in name). The rest just don’t have much punch to them.
To add to the theme, there is a plethora of cold-related clues throughout the grid. For example, WEST gets the clue [Cold War side] and ARIEL gets the clue [Winter of “Modern Family”]. Plus there are references to skis, the Andes, Klondike Bars, Snow White, Winter Olympics, etc. It had me guessing where the the theme actually lay until I revealed the first theme entry. As such, it felt like a bit of a distraction.
Plus, there were a lot of proper names I didn’t know: the aforementioned ARIEL, IVAN Provorov, Ryan ELLIS, and POSEY Parker. Plus rarely-seen-outside-of-crosswords entries AGITA and WAIN.
As for the longer fill, BY THE DAY [How skis may be rented] is not the strongest of entries, but I do like WIREHAIRS, START-UPS, NECKWEAR, SPIRITED, and TO NO AVAIL. I’m not an opera guy, so I had to dig deep to find MASSENET and even then wasn’t so sure of the spelling.
The NW proved troublesome with its proper names and trivia-based clues: [“Snow Falling on Cedars” star] HAWKE, the aforementioned ARIEL, [One of the fire signs] ARIES, and [Shoe brand since 1916] KEDS. The most “Huh?”-inducing clue/entry pair is at 20a: LEES clued as [Most worthless part]. This is completely new to me though it’s in all the dictionaries with a main definition of “dregs or sediment, as of fermenting wine.”
Clues of note:
- 28a [Person who’s critical at first]. UMP. Ha! I only just now got this. Who’s at first? The UMP of course.
- 49a [Torch lighter of 1996]. ALI. Along with the ARIES clue, this one gives a warm respite from all the cold clues.
- 58a [Crash course?]. ECON. Great clue. I’m perfectly fine with lack of a signal for the abbreviation. Back in college whenever someone referred to this course, it was always ECON, not “Economics.”
- 59a [“I am not what I am” speaker]. IAGO. Well, I figured it wasn’t Popeye.
- 61a [It’s spread on snowy roads]. SAND. How many of you put SALT there first?
- 6d [Mass consumption?]. WAFERS. Far be it from me to start a theological debate, but Catholic teaching is that, during the Mass, bread is transubstantiated into the actual body of Christ. So the answer WAFERS denies those who hold this belief. Better to just steer clear and stick with the old [Nilla ___].
- 18d [Hatchlings from green eggs]. EMUS. I had __US, and my brain shouted, “GNUS!”
Not a bad puzzle today, but it lacked some of the flash we’ve seen recently, and many trivia-based clues felt cumbersome.
Mark McClain’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
I figured out the theme fairly early, at the first answer, though was still pleased to discover a revealer, WISEOFF, at the end. That’s “Y’s off” and a terminal Y is lost, making wacky answers. Pronunciation is only changed once, with the other three being simple drops… TOPFORT, ENGLISHIV, ARNIESARM, CARBONCOP are the set.
My error was ACERA/CESTA; that Z was not gettable for me.
The other major cultural learning was JOANN craft stores; there are 850 in the US quoth wikipedia.
NOTIPS – [Custom on some cruises]. Anyone going on this one?
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Themeless Thursday” — Ben’s Review
Hey, it’s a Themeless Thursday from BEQ! Let’s dive into some of the good fill/cluing since I’m already getting this up later than usual (and slightly OUT OF IT from a sinus thing):
- Both of the long bits of fill here (NAUGHTY BY NATURE and NICE GOING, GENIUS) were very nice, as was the shout out to BUTTER PECAN, which I wouldn’t say is my favorite ice cream (that’d currently be Earl Grey), but it’s up there, and it’s certainly BEQ’s favorite.
- ULEES Gold: a film that has been clued more than seen.
- NYNEX felt real obscure as far as fill goes, and I really doubted there was such a thing as a GYROCAR, but here we are.
- DANGS were the right PG-swears, but I definitely tried DAMNS and DARNS first.