Todd Gross’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review
Let’s dive right into the revealer at 35a:
- 35a, COUNT THE SQUARES [How to find out what “this many” is in 17-, 21-, 52-, and 57-Across].
Okay, it looks like we have four theme answers:
- 17a, BEETHOVEN [He wrote this many symphonies]. The central theme answer tells us to COUNT THE SQUARES; there are 9 squares in BEETHOVEN, and he wrote 9 symphonies. Also, Beethoven makes his second theme appearance in as many weeks (see Keiran King’s Wednesday (?) puzzle from last week).
- 21a, MISSOURI [It borders this many other states]. MISSOURI has 8 letters, and it borders 8 states.
- 52a, ARACHNID [It has this many legs]. An arachnid has 8 legs, and ARACHNID has 8 letters.
- 57a, MARK SPITZ [He won this many Olympic gold medals]. MARK SPITZ won 9 Olympic gold medals, and he has 9 letters in his full name. Until 2017, USAIN BOLT would have also worked for a 9-letter 9-time gold medalist until last year, when his gold medal from the 2008 4x100m relay was stripped due to a teammate testing positive for a banned substance.
I think this was an interesting, well executed idea, but I didn’t find it nearly challenging enough for a Thursday, since you didn’t need to understand the theme to solve the puzzle: once you had “nine-letter symphony-writer starting with B, you were probably already filling in BEETHOVEN (if you put Mily BALAKIREV in the grid, don’t @ me).
The theme is easy enough to generate answers for that I wish there had been two more theme entries. Long ones would’ve been nice (BETTE DAVIS has 10 Oscar nominations! ONE BILLION has 10 digits! A DODECAHEDRON has 12 sides! LOSE YOURSELF spent 12 weeks at #1!), but given the constraints of the grid, it’s probably more reasonable to ask for two more short ones (e.g., ISLAM has five pillars/BORON has five protons). I think the theme may have felt light just because the revealer was so long compared to the other theme answers.
There’s some nice stuff in the rest of the grid, though: I liked seeing SNEETCHES, A.E. HOUSMAN, ULULATES, CROUPIER, HAUGHTY, FROZEN, QE II, EAT IT, and OREO O’S.
It didn’t occur to me while I was solving, but just now I realized that this puzzle is extremely similar to this Tom McCoy puzzle from November 2017. In that puzzle, Tom clued entries like MIDNIGHT HOUR as [This entry’s 110-Across, timewise], where 110a was ANSWER LENGTH. Here, the answer length refers to some salient characteristic about the answer (which the clue gives you) rather than being purely self-referential. I found Tom’s puzzle a lot more challenging, and the aha moment was more satisfying to me.
Until next time!
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Fireball crossword “Young Upstarts” —Jenni’s write-up
It took me a while to grok the theme of this puzzle and I took a wrong turn in the process. Taking the correct turn makes all the difference here.
Each theme answer is clearly missing something, and at first I thought it was a rebus.
- 17a is [Remote controllers of sorts]. I got the middle from crossings and realized the answer was PUPPET STRINGS, which is two letters too long, so I stuck PUP in the first square. I figured that was the “upstart” of the puzzle – it started with an UP rebus. I couldn’t make anything out of 1d [Surfer’s bane]; I figured it was some Hawaiian word I’d never heard before. I moved on.
- 26a [Small compartments] were clearly some kind of HOLES. I got B SHARP for [C equivalent] and realized it was CUBBYHOLES, so I put CUB in the first square. The crossing again didn’t make any sense. This time it was 26d [NFC South gridder], which really couldn’t start with CUB. I realized that 30a [Obloquy] was ABUSE, and the mists parted. CUB traveled up to the beginning of the word – that’s the “upstart” of the title. And CUBS are, of course, young bears. That was a *very* satisfying “aha” moment.
- Back up to the NW: I put PUP going up in 1d and realized that the surfer of the clue was surfing the web. The answer is POP-UP ADS. Aha, as I said.
- 53a [Pasta e fagioli morsel]. Before I figured out the theme, I’d put in FAVA BEAN, but the crossings made no sense. Then I realized that 53d [They may keep the bay at bay] was not referring to horses but to bodies of water, and the answer is DIKES. There’s KID going up to make KIDNEY BEANS. And yes, I have eaten pasta e fagioli, but it’s been a long time, and I’m not a bean expert. I’m not a kidney expert, either, for that matter.
- 61a [Their workplace is a mess] are the KITCHEN POLICE, and the KIT fills in part of 54d [It’s a dyeing art], BATIK. I have done BATIK in the KITCHEN, but never with POLICE.
I loved this theme. It’s just the right mix of complexity and wit. Very satisfying.
A few other things:
- 1a [Trick out] was by far my least favorite entry of the puzzle. It’s PIMP, of course. I despise this usage for several reasons. The image of the flamboyantly dressed pimp is a racist trope, and pimps prey on and exploit vulnerable women. I really hate the way this word has wormed its way into “cool” vocabulary. The cute little pun in the clue doesn’t help. UGH.
- 24a [Where there are a lot of workers retiring?] is PIT ROW. This is one of the reasons I struggled with the NW corner. I’ve never heard the term. Google tells me is, of course, the row of pits at a racetrack where tires are replaced.
- 31d [Place to purchase plantains] is a BODEGA. Pro tip: do not substitute sweet bananas for plantains in a recipe involving beef. Don’t ask me how I know.
- 48d [Mars orbiter] is not a NASA craft. It’s DEIMOS, the smaller of Mars’s two moons.
- Psych! 47a [They operate on the pleasure principle] is IDS and 66a [Word with ideal and trip] is EGO. Too bad SUPEREGO would have been a duplicate.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that jousting is the official state sport of Maryland (learned that from Peter’s bio of Alex). And I’d never heard of Guillermo OCHOA of the Mexican national soccer team.
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Property Lines” — Jim’s review
Today’s puzzle is brought to you by the letter T. The first thing you notice about the grid is the huge letter T in the middle. Along with that, you realize the grid enjoys right/left symmetry rather than the usual diagonal symmetry.
So what’s going on? Well, the T in the middle isn’t just there for looks. It represents the missing letter in all entries that abut it, either to it’s right or left in the Across direction, or above and below it in the Down direction.
Across-wise we have AT FAUL(T), THAI BAH(T), “FORGET I(T)”, and DIN(T) as well as (T)RIVIAL, (T)EAMMATE, (T)AGLINES, and (T)REY.
Going Down, there’s RECRUI(T), GUIL(T), and BOOMLE(T) as well as (T)HINMINTS, (T)ADA, and (T)EARS IT UP.
Pretty nice entries for the most part; I especially like THIN MINTS, TEARS IT UP, and “FORGET IT.” THAI BAHT is one I’ve learned only through crosswords, and DINT is a fairly uncommon word, even in crosswords.
Oh yeah, that’s really not quite enough theme material for puzzles these days, so Alex drops in a couple grid-spanners at top and bottom, each with a homonym of “T’s”: PLASTIC GOLF TEES and CAFFEINATED TEAS. They share a clue as well: [Some green options that aren’t very green?]. Good play on words there for both entries, but the green aspect of these entries appears unrelated to the main theme and so felt a bit distracting.
The open corners are handled deftly with quite a lot of good fill, especially up top. I like PACE CAR, “ALL DONE,” BARHOPS, OCEANIA, and PLAYSET. A lot of proper names might throw people off, though: ALLIE Reynolds, EFFIE from The Hunger Games, KATEY Sagal, and EDNA [Best of old movies].
Some more things:
- GUILE and GUILT crossing each other. It seems like they might be etymologically related. Anyone care to check on that?
- TEAMMATE gets the clue [One with a passing interest]. This felt off at first because I was only thinking of (American) football where not all players are involved in a pass play. But a ball is passed in basketball, soccer, and other sports as well, so I’m won over.
- TAGLINES [Pitch phrases]: If your product is in need of a slogan, I found some generators online. I typed in “Puzzles” and got the likes of:
- “Puzzles, not that other crap”
- “Feel the Raw Naked Puzzles of the Road”
- “My Doctor Says ‘Puzzles'”
- “The Puzzles With The Hole”
- “Ribbed For Her Puzzles”
- “I wish I Were a Puzzles Weiner” and
- “Oh my gods, it’s a Puzzles.”
- TUBED gets the clue [Went down the Chattahoochee, parhaps]. It’s not often you see an actual typo in a clue, but there you go.
- 44d [Andy Serkis’s specialty, for short]. MO-CAP. The M was my last letter in the grid. I had never heard the term MOCAP before and couldn’t suss it out, but MILE made sense for the crossing. After finishing, I realized it’s short for motion-capture. Andy Serkis is well known for his CGI roles of Gollum, Caesar (the ape in the new Planet of the Apes films), King Kong, Supreme Leader Snoke (Star Wars), and others.
Whew! That about does it for me. This was certainly something different, but I felt it was put together very well. Sure, there were several abbreviations in the short fill, but for a 73-worder, I thought the grid shone. And the clues were tricky enough to be satisfying. A most enjoyable puzzle to take us (almost) to the weekend. Until next time!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Net Gain” — Ben’s Review
This week’s Thursday puzzle from BEQ is a collaboration with Erik Agard. That alone had me excited to check this puzzle out. Let’s pop a look under the hood to see what’s going on:
- 18A: Mockery of a Native gathering? — SHAM POW–WOW
- 32A: Chocolate-hued heifers wax obsequious? — BROWN COWS FAWN
- 38A: Overly ornate sports program that involves pinning? — BAROQUE WWE RAW
- 57A: Schnauzer’s snappy comeback? — BOW–WOW ZING
All these theme entries do is win, win, win – each has three Ws added to a more common word/phrase (SHAMPOO, BRONCOS FAN, BAROQUE ERA, BOOZING) to make these uncommon variants.
Only one other note today: 43D‘s “See the point of Theo Epstein?” for ANAGRAM is some killer clueing.
Mark McClain’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
We have a return to the beginning of the week, with a typical Monday/Tuesday theme trope – PATHFINDERS tells us that the other long acrosses follow the pattern PA*/TH*. The entry choices focus more on quantity (four with a long revealer), than quality.
The densely packed grid is similarly functional, but also low on resistance. The only thing that stimied me a little was the mysterious G-ending answer that became ICEBAG.
I hope no-one tried MARGAY or KODKOD before settling on OCELOT for the Leopardus cat…
b/c sometimes i’m so easily amused, enjoyed the crossing of RENT-A-COP and KITCHEN POLICE in the fb…
man, that WSJ is beautiful!
“The first thing you notice about the grid is the huge letter T in the middle”
Hahahahaha, I wish! Rarely take in a grid design and only saw the “T” while on the verge of quitting. Great gimmick puzzle.
Struggled to the very end until I, too, saw the big T.
I liked the NYT.
Andy, how did you find so many additional possible theme entries?
I liked the NYT too. The set of theme answers Todd came up with is very good; I just wanted there to be more than four of them.
The answer of how I came up with so many more theme entries is that there are just a whole lot of possibilities. The only constraint is that it has to be of the form “X has ## Y,” where X is the entry in the grid, Y is any salient detail about X, and the length of X is ##.
My first thought was shapes (which all have ## sides), and I eventually landed on a DODECAHEDRON having 12 sides. (None of the -gons work as far as I know, but a STOP SIGN has 8 sides.) Once you have one of those, the next step is to think of a symmetrical answer (i.e., other things there are 12 of). MOUNT OLYMPUS has 12 Greek gods living on it, for example.
Since Todd used MARK SPITZ’s gold medals, I thought of other famous awards/achievements that people could have a lot of, which is how I came up with BETTE DAVIS’s 10 Oscar nominations and LOSE YOURSELF’s 12 weeks at #1. This is a rich vein — for many awards/achievements, you can find a person of some ## length who has ## of them. WALTER HAGEN has 11 major titles in golf; SONDHEIM has 8 Tonys; ED ASNER has 7 Emmys, etc. The nice thing about Todd’s answers, though is that they’re all fairly familiar: it’s hard to find ones of this type more notable than MARK SPITZ’s 9 gold medals and BEETHOVEN’s 9 symphonies. Jane AUSTEN wrote 6 novels, which I think is nearly on the same level of familiarity.
Since I knew it’d be hard to fit any more long themers in with the ones Todd already came up with, I then brainstormed things that fit the pattern X has 5 or 6 Y. Elements/protons came to me quickly (BORON and CARBON both work), and then I thought of ISLAM’s 5 Pillars.
Impressive work. Thanks for the answer.
NYT: At first I was going to object to OREOOS because I thought it should be OREOHS. But then I realized that looked more like ORE OHS which would not make for a good cereal.
Chock-full of minerals!
I was hoping someone else besides me would be reminded of the really old fake SNL commercial for the cereal Quarry. Sadly, I couldn’t find a video online, but I think it had the slogan: “Quarry. Better because it’s mined.”
I loved the WSJ theme, but so much I didn’t know or didn’t immediately associate with the clue. (Passing interest, say, made think of the quarterback rather than a generic teammate. I’ll spare you more.) Even getting the idea pretty quickly, took me a long time indeed to get the fill, and I never did make sense of MO-CAP, even after Googling. Obviously the detachment of the various areas of the grid made it hard, too. But what the heck, a challenge.
Jenni’s write-up got me thinking, would people be happy to see DON’T AT ME in a puzzle, or would they insist that it only works with the @ symbol?
I think that falls into the category of writing out numbers that are never written out in real life (can’t think of any off the top of my head but Amy has a couple of pet peeves in that genre). Why did my write-up bring that to mind?
Actually, it was Andy’s NYT write-up that included “dont’ @ me.”
I think mo-cap is short for motion capture