Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Upstaged”—Laura’s write-up
(For today’s blog post, the role of “Erin” will be played by Laura.)
Give my regards to Broadway, because we’ve got eight one-word musical titles reversed in eight long down entries: RENT, ONCE, MAME, AIDA, HAIR, EVITA, ANNIE, CATS. Get it? They’re up-staged! Really nice finds on all of these; too bad there isn’t a phrase in the language like “Rio, Not Lima, Harry”! I feel like we’ve had a few musical-themed puzzles of late; I mind it not. Bring on the show tunes! I think I’ve seen all of these except Once and Aida; the most recent was a student production of Hair a few years ago. (It was a little funny to see the kids who were in the nude scene studying in the library afterwards.)
My one tiny quibble, the barely perceived off-note in a rousing chorus, is that not every musical title spans multiple words in the down entries; so while you have RENT spanning WHAT NERVE [3d: “Well, I never!”] and ONCE beautifully spanning QUEBEC NORDIQUES [5d: Former NHL team that relocated to Colorado in 1995] and, spectacularly, ANNIE triple-spanning LIVE-IN NANNY [70d: Domestic employee who resides at the place of employment], AIDA and EVITA each fit entirely into the first word of the entry phrase (RADIAL and RELATIVE, respectively).
Fill-wise, my faves:
- [43a: Mousse kin]: GEL and [67a: Moose kin]: ELK (why not complete the set with [Moo’s kin]: NEIGH)
- [30d: Pastime for posers?]: YOGA
- [35d: Maker of i-opening products?]: APPLE
- [56d: Movie star Dianne who turns into movie star Mae when I ain’t there?]: WIEST
- [97d: Fish-filled shell, maybe]: TACO
What’s even better than musicals? Parody musicals! Like in my favorite show, or those Tony opening numbers, or something I’ll be singing when I go to New Orleans (home of pirates, drunks, and thieves) this spring:
Elizabeth Long’s New York Times crossword, “See 68-Across”—Amy’s write-up
I don’t at all care for the cross-reference in the puzzle’s title. I bet one of you can come up with a great title that relates to the theme. 68a. [Supercilious sort … or the title for this puzzle], NAME-DROPPER. Come up with a good title and have the 68a clue say ” … or a description of what’s going on in this puzzle’s theme.”
So the long Acrosses are oddball phrases clued in somewhat gettable ways, and each one forms a much more familiar phrase when the name that drops from it (in an answer with a cross-referenced clue that signals the full phrase) is included.
- 29a. [Search engine failure?], BING ERROR. Add the name BILL at 29d, and you get a BILLING ERROR, [surprise in the mail].
- 30a. [Is able to translate what was heard on the wall?], SPEAKS FLY. Add FRANK, SPEAKS FRANKLY, [is blunt].
- 55a. [Mattress tester’s compensation?], SLUMBER PAY. I would like that job! Add ART, SLUMBER PARTY, [big sleepover].
- 77a. [Dress code requirement for the Puritans?], PRIM COLORS. MARY, PRIMARY COLORS, [red, blue and yellow].
- 103a. [Hoped-for conclusion by someone with sore knees?], EARLY AMEN. ERICA, EARLY AMERICAN, [simple furniture style].
- 108a. [Make a really long-distance call?], PHONE MARS. ANNE, PHONE MANNERS, [not talking loudly on a cell, e.g.].
I really like this theme. I’d filled in much of the theme without catching on the x-ref bits were all people’s names, so hitting the NAME-DROPPER reveal gave a nice little “a-ha” moment. Three male-ish names, three female-ish names, good balance.
We’ve got some lively longer fill in the grid: AL CAPONE, SEA LIONS (two days running!), EXTRA-VIRGIN olive oil, a single PIEROGI, Amy POEHLER, and LOTUS-EATERS. Much of the remaining fill left me a bit cold, though. Having the opening corner contain APSE INIT PENUP and two foreign words made for a disgruntled start. Assorted other blah bits, like URAL TAY RRR AMIES HIER ENDOR NONET, plural OMARS and a singular ARREAR? ONE O’CAT (which many of us know only from ungainly appearances of ONEO in crosswords) evoked a raised eyebrow, and I outright scoffed at AFLERS, [New York Titans and Dallas Texans, in ’60s sports]. I Googled AFLERS and you know what popped up? Some uses referring to players in the Arena Football League, and not the American Football League of yore. These league abbrev + -ER entries are unwanted enough when it’s a current Big Four league or baseball’s AL and NL, but AFL? No.
3.75 stars from me. Cool theme idea, but more polished fill surrounding it would have pleased me.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “New Friends” — pannonica’s write-up
It’s a quoter. And a groaner.
- 23a/40a/62a/87a/106a. [… a loner’s anecdote] I FOUND A BOOK CALLED | HOW TO MAKE PEOPLE | LIKE YOU | IT TURNED OUT TO BE | A BOOK ABOUT CLONING.
This joke works only in written form, as the cadence of someone speaking the lines would either give it away or disingenuously mislead—no plausible deniability.
On to the let’s-make-connections segment!
- 21a [Morphine or codeine] OPIATE, 86d [Narcotic choice of Coleridge] LAUDANUM. “Reddish-brown and extremely bitter, laudanum contains almost all of the opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine …”
- 11d [At a smart clip] APACE, 38a [Moves 11 down] SPANKS—this is not a usage I’m familiar with. Is it regional? Merriam-Webster has as its second sense: “to move quickly, dashingly, or spiritedly – spanking along in his new car”36d. 47a [Light afoot] AGILE. 64d [Reeves of “Speed”] KEANU. And sure why not, 42d [Disco-style] A-GO-GO.
- 37d [“Billy Budd,” for one] NOVELLA, 100a [Like Saki stories] SHORT, much shorter than novellas.
- 31a [Big Muddy embankment] LEVEE followed directly by 32a [Free-for-all] MELEE. Just need the similarly French derived GELÉE and RENÉE, plus the crossword-preferred spellings of TEHEE and TEPEE.
- Symmetrical to the preceding twosome are surnames featuring a silent terminal E: 97a [Milton of old TV] BERLE, 99a [Reading Gaol poet] WILDE.
- Speaking of classic [notorious] crossword fill: 49a [Dam-building agcy.] TVA, 51a [WWII battle town] ST LO, 71d [Rounded molding] OGEE, 109d [Beehive State player] UTE.
- 25d [Horse of the Year five times] KELSO, 30d [Nevada city] ELKO.
These longish entries were refreshingly out of the ordinary: 3d [Of a poetic Greek god] APOLLONIAN, 27a [Fabric border] SELVEDGE, 4d [having slats, like a shutter] LOUVERED, 9d Train compartments] ROOMETTES, 16d [Plumber’s access] CRAWLSPACE, 34d [Kids’ cutouts] PAPER DOLLS (not the espionage/criminal type of cutout, apparently), 72d [Longfellow’s tale of “Acadie”] EVANGELINE.
- 19a [Fat-removal pref.] LIPO-. Such a strange clue. The prefix lipo- itself indicates ‘fat’ and there are plenty of examples of it other than liposuction—lipoderm, lipoma, liposome, lipophilic, lipogram, etc. And the clue as phrased uses the unappealing abbrev. “pref.” when a better option might be something like [Fat-removal procedure, colloquially].
- Funny, even with the priming of the preceding 35d [ERA, RBI, etc.] STATS, I couldn’t make sense of 36d [Breaking ball] until nearly all the letters of CURVE had been filled in.
Overall, liked the crossword, but the theme not so much.
Alan Arbesfeld’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Political Insiders”—Amy’s write-up
Took me a while to see what the theme was, even with the title and the revealer. Each long Across contains a 3-letter PRESIDENTIAL MONOGRAM, with the president’s term number included in the clue. At first I was looking at the theme answers’ initial letters, but that’s not where the theme is.
- 23a. [Kiddie lit hero created by Hans and Margret Rey (#18)], CURIOUS GEORGE. Ulysses S. Grant.
- 33a. [It usually begins “How many (whatever) does it take … ” (#36)], LIGHT BULB JOKE. A distraction from the theme, since the phrase’s initials are also LBJ. Lyndon B. Johnson.
- 51a. [Film based on the novel “Shoeless Joe” (#32)], FIELD OF DREAMS. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
- 82a. [Arizona tourist attraction (#34)], PAINTED DESERT. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
- 101a. [Athletic retiree? (#37)], UNIFORM NUMBER. Richard M. Nixon.
- 114a. [Religious high point? (#33)], CHURCH STEEPLE. Harry S Truman.
Mostly I was distracted from the theme by the clunky fill. The opening corner pelted us with uncommon ROADEO, dull EVERTS, foreign partial ES SU, flat RECANE, uncommon OVULES, dull AERIES, and crosswordese ETONS. All sandwiched together in one little corner! This set the tone for “Hold on to your hats, because the fill will skew old.”
Five more things:
- 46d. [Invited to one’s place], HAD IN. What? No. You have people over. You don’t have them in.
- Old names! DER ALTE. TOTIE Fields. Charlie LAU. Dan INGRAM (who??). SHANA Alexander. EYDIE Gorme. Martha RAYE.
- 118a. [What love and hate share?], SILENT E. At my hair salon, there’s a big TV that shows old movies. Gilda was on, and I caught 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there, in disjointed order. Definitely grabbed me, though! Love and hate also share a certain heated passion, as seen in the movie.
- 18d. [Yankees’ pitcher Masahiro], TANAKA / 25a. [Sways on a curve], CAREENS. Wasn’t sure if 25a would be CAREERS or CAREENS, and I don’t know the pitcher. I guessed that TANAKA was much more likely than TARAKA.
- 74a. [Spiced up], ZESTED. I checked three mainline American dictionaries, and you know what? None of them attest to a verb form of ZEST applying to anything but the scraping of citrus peel. You don’t zest things up by adding flavor, as this clue would suggest. No idea why the clue doesn’t reference the citrus peel angle. With three proper nouns, the slightly awkward A MOMENT, and not-so-common EGESTS crossing it, ZESTED really wanted a clue that points to it accurately.
2.25 stars from me. I didn’t love the theme, but it’s more workable than the overall fill.