Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 341), “Picking Up Speed”—Janie’s take
The theme of today’s puzz is built on the idea of a speed continuum of sorts—but there’s no physics required to understand the why of it (though if you’d like a little speed v. velocity refresher, have at!). An appreciation of the plasticity of language is all that’s needed to enjoy this one—and there’s lots of good stuff to enjoy here, too: not only the tight theme set of four familiar two-word phrases, but also some deeply nifty (and long) non-theme fill. All good!
- 20A. CREEPY-CRAWLER [Centipede or silverfish, to an entomophobe]. Centipedes and silverfish are CRAWLERs because their little legs keep them close to the ground. But talk about speed as measured in body lengths per second and those silverfish are some of the fastest critters on earth. And here’s some more on the subject. If you’re bugged by bugs, you needn’t click the links… If, otoh, you’re [… bugged by Bugs], you’re ELMER FUDD…
- 34A. DOG WALKER [One who manages boxers]. So, the canine sort and not pugilists.
- 39A. RUM RUNNER [Tiki bar drink named for a booze smuggler]. Very peppy fill. As for the clue, here’re some recipes for the former; and here’s a less-than-perfect but not totally off-the-mark (Wiki…) backgrounder on the latter.
- 51A. FREQUENT FLYER [Jet-setter who earns rewards]. So we’ve made our way from a CRAWL to a WALK to a RUN and now—really putting on some speed—we FLY, though in reality, this is the only one of the set that we bipeds can’t do without mechanical assistance. Dang. But thank goodness for those FLYing machines, eh? Makes getting from coast to coast, e.g., a helluva lot faster.
I like this theme set. It’s lively, it’s entertaining and its sensibility is highly accessible for the new solver. Not only do the themers build in speed sequentially, all of them are also animate. Liz coud’ve taken this in a different direction, perhaps bumped it up a notch with themers like NIGHTCRAWLER, NANCY WALKER, CARPET RUNNER and TAKE A FLYER, say. Even PERSONAL TRAINER. But finding material with sets of matching phrase lengths aside, that’s a different puzzle. A different solving experience.
And, as constructed, this one is bumped up a notch—by the long non-theme fill. Not only by our pal ELMER FUDD, but (on the subject of “picking up speed”) by the wonderfully visual—and bonus perhaps—SKY-ROCKET [Shoot up abruptly]. “REMEMBER ME?” [Question posed at a class reunion] is spot on—particularly as those reunions get farther away from the year you were graduated… TREE STUMPS [Rustic seating areas] is its grid-opposite and also summons up a strong visual. (But there are TREE STUMPS and there are TREE STUMPS. The CREEPY-CRAWLER scorpion at right was found on a TREE STUMP in Costa Rica during a night walk I took last January, and was photographed under infrared light. So… be careful where ya put ‘er down!) Finally, of the longer fill, two more fabulous entries: LAMPOON [Satirize] (thank goodness we can! [and I feel certain you know of what I speak]) and SNIFTER [Brandy glass], for when you just want to kick back a little.
Things that made me go, “Hmmm…”: the [Chip scoopful] DIP pair and the [Young salmon] PARR pair. Never heard of the latter. Ever. And don’t think of this as a newbie-friendly combo. And as for the former, imho this pushes the comprehensibility envelope. Or we’ve got some user-unfriendly synecdoche goin’ on, where the part represents the whole and “chip” is standing in for “chocolate [or mint or mocha or …] chip ice cream.” Because I’ve never heard of “chip ice cream.” But mostly, I’m not in love with clues that draw attention to themselves this way. Where there’s not much payoff and when a little more directness would better serve the solver. Or this solver, at any rate. ;-)
Clues I did love today? Because it is so, so, so true: [Critic who said: “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”], the late great Roger EBERT. And [Chow from a chuck wagon] for GRUB—one, because I enjoy the alliteration and two, because it wasn’t the CREEPY-CRAWLER kind of GRUB. (I can almost hear the EEKS in response to this pic. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.). And I’m not even a full-out entomophobe. Really. But some bugs bug me! Some don’t. Like the oh-so lovely LUNA [Moth variety].
And like that moth, I’ll now FLY away, figuratively speaking. But only til next week, when I hope you’ll stop by again. In the meantime—yeah, you know: keep solving!
Maxine Cantor’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Light Show” — Laura’s write-up
Theme: Things that have lights. Five entries have the same clue:
- [15a: It has lights]: FILM SET
- [18a: It has lights]: INTERSECTION
- [34a: It has lights]: CHRISTMAS TREE
- [49a: It has lights]: FLYING SAUCER
- [57a: It has lights]: MENORAH
This is true. All of these things all have lights: all different kinds of lights.Since tonight (if you’re reading this on Tuesday) is the first night of Hannukah, I’ll just mention something that shouldn’t have lights: the Menobster (left). I mean, I enjoy consuming marine crustaceans as much as the next non-kosher-keeping Jew in New England, but it just feels wrong. This whimsical handicraft was clearly not VETTED [3d: Checked for suitability]; the craftsperson [4d: Made a faux pas]: ERRED. If you’re going to display a quirky [57a] on your mantelpiece, credenza, or sideboard, consider celebrating Hannukah with MenorahSaurusRex or getting lit with the Menorah Bong. (Disclaimer: This reviewer endorses the recreational consumption of cannabis only where legally authorized. Her opinions are her own and represent neither the official stance of Crossword Fiend, Inc., [42a: Neither’s partner]: NOR its operating units, divisions, or subsidiaries.)
- [1d: Words of encouragement]: GO GIRL. Usually preceded by you. Or U.
- I like, and have had, this conversation:
- [9d: “Hurry up!”]: C’MON
- [43d: “Hold on…”]: ONE SEC
- [16a: “Don’t be ridiculous!]: GET REAL
- [28a: Fellow who works at home]: UMPIRE. Would’ve edited to someone — same syllables, preserves the cadence of the clue, omits gender bias. Also mightn’t’ve clued HIS as [27d: Towel embroidery] — can you still buy those? (Whimsical Handicraft Site says yes.)
- You know what else has lights? The Moulin Rouge, which is also the whimsically punctuated title of a 2001 film by Baz Luhrmann, starring EWAN [46a: McGregor of “Moulin Rouge!”] and NICOLE [42d: Kidman of “Moulin Rouge!”].
David Kahn’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The theme is a gathering of related facts about a recent big-deal art sale. 38a. [Renaissance painting that was sold in November 2017 for a record $450.3 million] clues SALVATOR MUNDI. It’s by 7d LEONARDO DA VINCI. The auction house was founded by 14a CHRISTIE, and it’s super unfortunate that this answer is in here instead of the name of the auction house, which is Christie’s; nobody cares about this James Christie. King CHARLES I (65a) once owned the painting. 10d RESTORING was done, except you usually talk about art restoration, not “restoring.” Leonardo was an OLD MASTER. 12d OIL and 64d ART are also crammed in here. I dunno, man. This is an awful lot of clue cross-referencing for a Tuesday puzzle, and with eight theme answers in the grid, there’s also crud in the grid. Many a beginning solver will not feel welcomed by OREAD, the unnatural IN A NET, UTES, PUNTS clued as boats, SYD, ITSY clued as if it’s a word people use for [Teeny], and so on.
I don’t think the art sale actually has enough interesting stuff in it to merit a whole theme. The title and the painter, sure. But the rest feels like tangential bits that are here because there was another bit with the same letter count and the constructor needed two entries of each length. Curious to know whether solver and art critic John H admired the theme.
Five more things:
- 6d. [Lo-cal], LITE. I hate “lo” used in lieu of “low,” as if it’s anywhere near as commonly used as LITE. Give us a dreaded “slangily” or “in ad-speak” if you must, but no lo-cal or lo-fat. Or just clue it via Lite Brite or Miller Lite, where it’s actually spelled that way.
- 18a. [Dietetic restriction], NO SALT. Technically, that’s not really a thing. LoW salt, yes. No added salt. Reduced sodium. No salt is an impossibility and the body requires a modest amount of sodium to work.
- 62a. [100-page stories, say], NOVELLAS. Hey, did you all read that short story in the New Yorker, “Cat Person“? All of social media’s been abuzz with an unprecedented amount of literary discussion. The photo used to illustrate the story is horrific (close-up of a kiss), but the story is worth a read and a think. If you’ve read it but haven’t seen the follow-up interview with the author, here’s that.
- 2d. [Author known for twist endings], O. HENRY. A few days back, the OH HENRY candy bar was in the puzzle and I decided I needed to give it a try, having not tasted one since childhood trick-or-treat days. Well! I found one, brought it home, took a bite, shared it with my family … and then checked the wrapper. Yep, it expired in September and tasted like it, too. Tasted like an unsuccessful Snickers bar. Not sure if it was the staleness or innately due to the ingredients.
- 11d. [Lie on one’s back and not move, maybe], PLAY DEAD. Favorite entry in this puzzle.
2.75 stars from me. Not convinced that a bloated sale price in the art world merits quasi-rushing a crossword to print about four weeks later. (The buyer was Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism.)
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Bundle Up” – Derek’s write-up
This puzzle is certainly timely, especially in this area where I live: there is a Winter Storm Warning tonight, and we could see up to a foot of snow! We will definitely be using what is the key to today’s theme – a COAT!
- 17A [Headwear seen at a rodeo] COWBOY HAT
- 35A [1969 Roberta Flack song with the lyric “The President, he’s got his war / Folks don’t know just what it’s for”] COMPARED TO WHAT
- 43A [Corporate getaway of sorts] COMPANY RETREAT
- 65A [Political upheaval] COUP D’ETAT
I see what he did there! The letter in COAT actually “cover” the answer … well, I’m sure you figured that out yourself! Pretty clever, but it does serve to remind me that I need to move away from here! I did check the weather in Portland where Matt is, and it’s highs in the 40s this week and rainy. That sounds a lot better than the shoveling I will have to do tomorrow! A solid 4.3 stars for this one.
Just a few things:
- 25A [“Home Again” star Witherspoon] REESE – I saw her in an episode or two of Big Little Lies, and it seemed intriguing. I may binge the rest if I ever get to enjoy a snow day! This series actually won a few Emmys if I recall, and the series on Showtime and HBO seem to be much better than network shows. Even the dramas on Amazon and Netflix seem more riveting to me than almost everything on the four major networks!
- 41A [Sparks of “Queer as Folk”] HAL – I don’t know this guy in anything other than Talk Soup from years ago. John Henson was the funniest host!
- 11D [Little barker] CHIHUAHUA – I was just speaking to someone Monday about how these little dogs are the worst! I think they have a complex due to their size; larger dogs are usually not quite as wired, in my experience. I would still rather have a cat!
- 29D [“Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the __”] SITH – Yes, the newest Star Wars franchise movie comes out Thursday! Did you buy your tickets yet? Are you going to the first showing?? Yeah, me neither.
- 36D [Sticking to the party line, like political speeches] ON MESSAGE – Oh, I could talk about how this applies to a particular election today for a Senate seat, but I will not get political in this blog!
- 44D [Apparel giant with a World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR] NIKE – We drove through their campus when we were in Portland. We saw all kinds of people running!
I am going to go find my coat now. See you next week for another Jonesin’ puzzle!
Bruce Haight’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
The obvious question is this: what goes in the four center squares? The clue at 37A gives some information, but suffice it to say this puzzle is definitely holiday themed. Here are the theme entries I found:
- 17A [Potato __: 61-Across dish] PANCAKES
- 19A [Items in a 59-Across lit for 61-Across] CANDLES
- 37A [Traditional 61-Across surprise, aptly boxed, and spelled with the only four letters of the alphabet that don’t appear elsewhere in this grid] GIFT
- 59A [61-Across centerpiece] MENORAH
- 61A [Two-millenia-old tradition that begins at sunset tonight] HANUKKAH
For good measure, I did notice the more-than-likely nod to this country’s more dominant seasonal holiday at 65A:
- 65A [December 24, e.g.] EVE
This could have been clued any number of different ways, which is why I think it was at least a little intentional. I am not familiar at all with Hanukkah celebrations; I am not remotely Jewish and don’t live near anyone who is. But this is timely since the holiday evidently begins Tuesday night. Is it eight nights? The grid is actually a feat of construction if the only letters not used are G, I, F, and T, except for in the middle, which makes this a pangrammatic puzzle, although the entry in the middle is obviously unchecked in the normal fashion. A little gimmicky, but at least it’s different, and that is always refreshing. 4.6 stars.
A few mentions:
- 14A [World Cup cry] OLÉ – This won’t be heard much in the US next year, unless there are some fans of Mexico living here watching the World Cup! It is quite a travesty that the US isn’t involved, since soccer popularity here is growing, but Italy and the Netherlands didn’t make it either, so maybe the US shouldn’t feel so bad! (Yes, actually, they should!)
- 63A [Football rushing plays] END RUNS – Football is as popular as ever, but somehow I think the day is coming when it may not be played. There is a sort of bloodlust in this country as far as sports go (boxing, MMA, hockey, etc.), but when an NFL player gets paralyzed again, or worse yet gets hit and dies, the tide will turn. I already don’t watch as much as I used to.
- 1D [Pop icon Jennifer] LOPEZ – She is my age, which means she is getting old!
- 43D [University founder Stanford] LELAND – There aren’t many other LELANDs to use, and it seems as if I am seeing this fellow more and more. He’s been dead for well over 100 years, so he is posthumously crossword famous!
- 46D [Kidney-shaped nut] CASHEW – I LOVE cashews, but it still took me a minute to get this clue! I’m going to buy some for my desk at work today!
That is all for today. See you on Saturday!