Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Before They Were Famous” – Erin’s writeup
Two-word terms or phrases redefined to refer to celebrities in their youth:
- 23a. [“Superstition” singer Stevie, as a child?] SMALL WONDER
- 25a. [“Superwoman” singer Alicia, as a child?] MINOR KEYS
- 37a. [CNN anchor Blitzer, as a child?] TEEN WOLF
- 40d. [“Glory” singer Legend, as a child?] LITTLE JOHN
- 45d. [“School’s Out” singer Alice, as a child?] MINI COOPER
- 57a. [“Clue” star Curry, as a child?] TINY TIM
- 58a. [11-time Australian Open singles champ Margaret, as a child?] JUVENILE COURT
- 83a. [“Grown Ups” star Chris, as a child?] KID ROCK
- 98a. [Justice Bader Ginsburg, as a child?] BABY RUTH
- 117a. [“Batman & Robin” star Clooney, as a child?] BOY GEORGE
- 119a. [“Water for Elephants” star Witherspoon, as a child?] PEE WEE REESE
- 50a. [Restaurant chain that sells Oldtimer burgers] CHILI’S. How is anyone supposed to eat this? It looks twice as high as the average human mouth.
- 55a. [Particle that can be emitted or absorbed by an atom] PHOTON. This made me think of Quantum Physics for Babies, which we got for our daughter when she was a toddler. It looks like there is now an entire board book series explaining other STEM topics to young ones.
- 14d. [Display of appreciation that builds gradually] SLOW CLAP. Nice. Has this been in a grid before? It must have by now, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head.
- 22a. [Co. offering insurance to military members and their families] USAA. I have seen at least one of these commercials in my lifetime. Never would have gotten this answer without the crossings, though. If it helps current and former military members and their families, though, I’ll allow it. Let’s end with one of USAA’s commercials.
Ross Trudeau’s New York Times crossword, “Pluses and Minuses”—Amy’s recap
I am beat after a long day on my feet, and I gave up working the puzzle halfway through and had Black Ink fill in the rest of the answers. The theme answers are made by removing an E from one word in a phrase and inserting it into a different word:
- 23a. [Makes eye contact before undressing?], STARES AND STRIPS. Gross. (Stars and stripes.)
- 39a. [Parent wearing your Superman costume?], FATHER IN ONE’S CAPE. Awkward. (Feather in one’s cap.)
- 54a. [Script suggestion about starting the fight scene?], NOTE A MOMENT TO SPAR. Awkward. (Not a moment to spare.)
- 78a. [Ballet choreography?]. JETE-PROPELLED PLAN. Clunky. (Jet-propelled plane, which is … just called a jet, people. It’s a jet.)
- 96a. [Was harder for the bronco buster to hold on to?], HAD LESS HORSE MAN. Tortured. (Headless Horseman, odd to break the words up when the other themers don’t do that.)
- 115a. [Like the digit “0” in 2018?], LEAST BUT NOT LAST. (Last but not least.) Okay, this one’s cute, but the rest of the theme left me cold.
Slightly surprising fill: 9d. [Agricultural locale that’s weed-friendly?], POT FARM.
Answer that irks me: 24d. [“Uhh …”], ERM. No, no, no. All erm is is the British spelling of um. Nobody is pronouncing that R as an actual R. If you’re gonna put this in your puzzle, you really need a signifier that this is British, but ideally you won’t put this in your American crossword.
Fill that underwhelms is sprinkled throughout this grid. SAYST, SEA OOZE, AS AM I, SALLYS, ALOP, HUMERI, ORIANA, IS APT TO, DENEB, NEAP, LLANO, SERAPE … at least the AMETHYSTS are pretty.
No star rating from me since I only solved the top half of the puzzle.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s CRooked Crossword, “Empty Set”—Laura’s review
Today’s we’ve got an M T set: themers are two-word phrases beginning with M and T, like me three, make tracks, or meal ticket:
- [22a: Gym rat’s pride]: MUSCLE TONE
- [24a: David Blaine stunt]: MAGIC TRICK
- [42a: Hiker’s path]: MOUNTAIN TRAIL
- [44a: Plant bearing juicy fruit]: MANGO TREE
- [67a: Second grade homework]: MULTIPLICATION TABLE
- [94a: “The secret of getting ahead is
getting started” speaker]: MARK TWAIN
- [97a: Epic rooms?]: MOVIE THEATERS
- [115a: Uncanny ability to make money]: MIDAS TOUCH
- [120a: Crispy hors d’oeuvre base]: MELBA TOAST
Simple concept, many possibilities, well executed! A few fill comments:
- [122a: “TRL” host]: MTV VJ. If you watched (or hate-watched) MTV’s Total Request Live during the Carson Daly era, you’ll remember what a cultural phenom this show was. It’s been revived, I am told, but what could it be other than a shadow of its former self?
- [40d: Undisturbed]: IN SITU. I have friends who use this Latin phrase meaning on site, locally, or in its original position to refer to whenever they drink a microbrewery’s beer in the place where it is brewed: i.e. “The Night Shift coffee porter was much fresher in situ at the brewpub in Everett.” I’ve never heard it to mean undisturbed, but ok.
- [6d: Acid relief, briefly]: BROMO. The Bromo-Seltzer Tower is a major landmark in Baltimore’s skyline. Instead of numbers around the clock in the tower are the letters B-R-O-M-O-S-E-L-T-Z-E-R.
Victor Barocas’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Number One Fan”—Amy’s write-up
The theme revealer is EGOCENTRISM, 117a. [Narcissistic trait exhibited perfectly by this puzzle’s eight other longest answers], and the themers contain the letters EGO in their centers. They’re clued straightforwardly, so there are no jokes going on with HERZEGOVINA, HAD THE GOODS ON, SCAPEGOATED, UNCATEGORIZED, CUTTING THE GORDIAN KNOT, SAN DIEGO PADRE, MISBEGOTTEN, and HERE WE GO AGAIN.
The rest of the grid was beyond SEMI-DRY, so I might’ve liked to see this theme drop one pair of entries and provide wiggle room for better fill. From SAMI and ALER near the top to plural NECS and APERY in the bottom, with a trip to OTARO, ITAR, and the YSER on the way, I wasn’t hitting fill that delighted me, and I’m only seeing two question-marked clues:
- 46d. [Mind reader?], EEG.
- 98d. [Designed to light a fire?], EROTIC.
With the thinness of the theme’s “aha” moment, the puzzle was crying out for livelier fill and clues. And I know Victor can do clever and funny! Perhaps his next puzzle will entertain more. 2.9 stars from me.
There was a lot of the NYT that I could have lived without, like ERM (huh?), NAE, and MAACO (definitely not a New Yorker’s clue, unless you live beyond the city’s mass transit), but I liked the theme well enough. There could have been a Southern version of the first themed answer, “Stares and Bares.”
That would really put the “racy” back in “Confederacy”
This is great.
But that would not fit the “minus” part, unfortunately.
NYT: I grew up on Long Island & am fairly familiar with MAACO. Dad’s Root Beer OTOH seems super-midwestern but I’m close to giving up on the NYT puzzle having much to do with NY. This one was strangely heavy on middling interior cities (EL PASO, URBANA). Also X’s & Z’s. I particularly wanted 71d to be “sadist” but alas. Amy—you didn’t miss much.
Sunday “normal”–the NYT puzzle a forced slog, Evan’s WPO puzzle a true delight.
LAT 66A [Japanese comics] = ANIME is wrong. The comics are manga. Anime is the cartoons.