Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 369), “Dropbox”—Janie’s take
A shout-out to the cloud storage site for shared documents? Nuh-uh. Theme phrases that drop (as in “cut”) the word box? Wrong again. No, today’s elegantly executed theme features (by my count) two sets of themers: those that run horizontally (the main event) and those that run vertically (the gravy). The last word of the horizontals is the word BOX, which (literally) drops vertically from the letter “B” to create the end of four more “BOX” items. This is great wordplay that makes for a seriously entertaining solve. The puzz ain’t hurt none either with its particular complement of longer and mid-range non-theme fill—and astute cluing. And can you say “smooth solve”? The cluing, while lively throughout, is also on the easy side (imho…). And I suspect this is because the gimmick of turning a corner to complete the themer might not be quickly intuited by the less-experienced solvers out there. So this is a perfect way to introduce this construction option to n00bs: complex theme — more basic cluing. And no lack of imagination or enjoyment along the way.
- 17A. [Container for workplace brainstorms] SUGGESTION BOX, which shares those last three letters with 10D. P.O. BOX [Rented cubbyhole for snail mail (Abbr.)]. Clue note: the colorful “brainstorms” instead of the tamer “ideas.” Nice touch.
- 40A. [Flower planter for an apartment dweller] WINDOW BOX, sharing space with 34D. XBOX [Gaming console that came out in 2001]. And a gaming nod, too, to NES [“Castlevania” gaming platform]. A different kind of “gaming” arena, however, by way of
- 45A. [Posh stadium seating where you can sip champagne and eat sushi] LUXURY BOX, which merges into 39D. IN-BOX [Office mail holder]. Champagne and sushi. Sheesh. Whatever happened to “peanuts and Cracker Jack”? (Rhetorical..) And finally,
- 67A. [How one may think to solve a crossword, say] OUTSIDE THE BOX (how one may think to construct one, too, btw…) joins forces with 65D. [“… like A BOX of chocolates”], as in, “My momma always said life was like A BOX of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Thank you, Forrest Gump. (Or mebbe not. Not only is this sooooo not a fave movie of mine, here’s another pov on the origin of the phrase.)
So there’s this terrific, layered theme set which is then bolstered by any number of strong non-themers. And they’re strong sometimes in and of themselves, and sometimes because they’re clued in an evocative way or because they form connections/associations with yet other fill in the grid. Any tie-ins between WAX MUSEUM and GOVERNORS? Well, two that I can think of: Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, the former is also a U.S. president and the latter an action star (and it’s with these achievements that they’re classified at Madame Tussaud’s), but each was also the main man in Sacramento at some point in his career.
I am a fan of SIDEWAYS and love that the clue brings [2004 film in which Paul Giamatti’s character says, “I am not drinking any @#$%! merlot!”] to puzzledom. Now, [“You can LEAD A horse to …”] (you know…), but if it’s an ARABIAN, perhaps it’ll LEAD you there first. Speedily. And the geographic features allegedly created by Paul Bunyan’s ox, Blue, get a double shout-out with ONTARIO [Easternmost Great Lake] and TOLEDO [Ohio port city], since the port-in-question here is located on Lake Erie. NINEFOLD [Like an increase from 2 to 18] may look like an odd entry, but X-FOLD has a long history in puzzleworld. Another “must mention” would also be that pairing of [One that’s attracted to refrigerators?] and MAGNET. Because BUDDING APPLIANCE SALESPERSON was never gonna fit.
Other tie-ins are to be found in ÉTUDE [Chopin piece] and PIANO [Franz liszt’s instrument], since those ÉTUDEs were written for PIANO; and AOL [MSN rival] and AOL catchphrase “You’ve got mail,” later used as a movie title by [“You’ve Got Mail” director Ephron] NORA. These are crossword glue (and not dreaded “gluey bits”). They help everything cohere and give the grid a greater integrity (see “gaming platforms” above, too).
The clue that made me raise an eyebrow: [Boo-boo, in babytalk] for OWIE. Boo-boo isn’t babytalk? ;-)
And with that, dear readers, I come to the end not only of this post, but to my regular Crossword Nation and Fiend gig. First of all: what a great puzzle to go out on, no? This is an example of Liz at her best: the puzz is imaginative and interesting. Great wordplay; great puzzle execution; great entertainment for newbies and seasoned solvers alike. Today’s post marks the end of my fifth year of blogging XWord Nation, and my ninth for team Fiend—which seems like a healthy time to step down. And I couldn’t be happier to tell you that I’ll be passing the metaphorical baton to none other than Fiend fave, crossword-lover and naturally warm and upbeat writer Ade Koiki. When Ade (enthusiastically) agreed to step in, I experienced a genuine feeling of delight. This just seems like a great fit and I think all of you who solve this puzzle will swiftly see why. So… on we go! Thanks for stopping by all these years. Keep doing so and… keep solving!! Peace out, y’all! xoxo, j.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Zhouqin’s revealer is 59a. [On the whole … or, when read in two parts, what the answer to each starred clue has], ALTOGETHER, and each of the five themers contains the letter combo of AL/AL.
- 18a. [*Spaced out], IN LA LA LAND.
- 33a. [*Meals permissible under Islamic law], HALAL FOOD.
- 44a. [*Autobiography of Nobel laureate Yousafzai], I AM MALALA. Amazing young woman.
- 3d. [*Popular European skiing region], CENTRAL ALPS. Not sure that I’ve seen the phrase before, but it’s inferrable.
- 26d. [*Capital of Malaysia], KUALA LUMPUR.
Solid. Two with ALAL intact within a single word, two where it’s split across two words, one where it’s split across three words—a grab bag rather than a case of “one of these things is not like the other.”
Five more things:
- 16a. [Sister brand of Nilla wafers], OREO. The spouse bought mint Oreo Thins tonight. Oh, that’s a tasty little cookie. 35 calories and 3 g of sugar per Thin.
- 23a. [“Yep, sadly that’s true”], ‘FRAID SO. My favorite entry here.
- 49a. [___ Tesfaye, real name of pop music’s the Weeknd], ABEL. I filled this one in via the crossings, by chance. But it’s a gimme. Below is one of his second #1 hit.
- 46d. [James of the court], LEBRON. I hope a lot of you initially thought this was about the royal court. Or the judiciary. Or tennis.
- 43d. [Elusive horse with a horn], UNICORN / 67a. [Major Iowa crop], CORN. Hey! Unicorns are not precisely “elusive.” Also, did you know that CORN, the crop, and CORN, the thing on your foot, are distinct words from different roots? Grain/vegetable CORN is not etymologically related to UNICORN.
Four stars from me. A good Tuesday puzzle.
Alan Arbesfeld’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Chanced Upon” — Jim’s review
63a is clued [With 64-Across, chanced upon, and this puzzle’s theme] with the answer RAN / ACROSS. The trigram RAN appears in each theme answer, and, taken as a whole, moves ACROSS (and Down) the grid.
- 17a [Cowpokes] RANCH HANDS
- 25a [Fictional crime family] SOPRANOS
- 37a [Olive Garden, e.g.] RESTAURANT CHAIN
- 45a [Oscar nominee as Louise Sawyer] SARANDON. Alongside Geena Davis as Thelma Dickinson. I had to look this up which led me to this really interesting article about Geena Davis and then to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media championing the importance of gender and racial diversity in Hollywood using empirical data.
- 57a [Like Nigeria, but not Algeria] SUB-SAHARAN
RAN ACROSS is not exactly a compelling phrase on which to base a puzzle, plus there’s the fact that RAN is going Down as much as ACROSS. Thusly, the theme didn’t thrill me. Much better was the MOVING VAN grid from almost a year ago in which the theme revealer doubled as the final theme entry. And even better than that was THE DESCENT OF MAN puzzle from 2014 which was just about perfect.
But back to this puzzle. CORONA is a nice way to start of a grid, eh? Too bad there’s no SLICE OF LIME to go with it. We do get STUDENT AID, (hmm, how come we’ve never seen FAFSA in a grid?), PISTOL GRIP (referring to power drills in the clue), ARMOIRE, MANACLED, IN SALES, “DEAR ME,” and my favorite entry, MS. PAC-MAN.
(Note to self. Possible theme idea: INVASIVE PROCEDURES. Potential theme entries: ANAL PROBE, D-DAY, FAFSA.)
Clues of note:
- 23a [Pop idol?]. MOM. Cute. But does it mean MOM is idolizing Pop or vice versa?
- 34a [Marshall Tucker Band hit “Heard ___ Love Song”] IT IN A. I guess the [Turner autobiography] clue is taking some time off.
- A couple of less-than-sensitive clues: [Look the wrong way?] for LEER and [Time out?] for COMA. I doubt that people who are subject to either of those find them very funny.
- 57d [It’s big in California]. SUR. No. Obviously this is referring to Big Sur, the gorgeous coastal area in Central California, but the clue is just trying too hard to be cute.
In summary, nice theme answers, but the theme itself left me flat. 3.3 stars.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Free To Say It” – Derek’s write-up
This looks like a themeless that could appear anywhere. The fill is clean, the word count is 70, and the entries are lively. In usual Jonesin’ fashion, this one was fun to solve.
The flavortext here states “a freestyle puzzle with something to say.” What does this puzzle have to say? There are a few entries, most notably 15A [2014 hashtag campaign against gun violence] NOT ONE MORE that are a commentary against weapons violence, and also perhaps a response to the somewhat lukewarm reception to the NYT on 6/19/18 which had guns as the theme. We are likely to always see UZI in puzzles; in today’s climate, perhaps an entire THEME devoted to weapons may not be the best choice. I personally didn’t have an issue with the TRIGGER WARNING puzzle, but I can understand why it may rub someone the wrong way. I say “Well said!” to Matt, although the entry POINT AT at 33A could also have a shooting connotation. (The clue doesn’t “indicate” that at all!) All in all still a fun puzzle, and a fine anti-gun stance. 4.8 stars.
Some notables, including some of those other “thematic” entries:
- 23A [Last Oldsmobile model produced] ALERO – Is this model arguably as crossword famous as the EDSEL? What other car models appear in puzzles that aren’t made anymore? GRAND AM is one …
- 35A [Wallet ID] LICENSE – Clearly this also has a reference to the gun debate, as qualifications for weapon licenses are a hot-button topic.
- 50A [Camera brand that merged with Minolta] KONICA – I still wish I had a nice one of these fancy cameras, whoever makes them.
- 61A [2007 Stephen Colbert bestseller subtitled “(And So Can You!)”] I AM AMERICA – I haven’t read this book, but judging from the YouTube videos I see from his show, he is certainly on the anti-gun side. Perhaps someone who HAS read this can chime in?
- 7D [It looks like it contains alcohol, but doesn’t] MOCKTAIL – Amidst all this political commentary, this may be my favorite entry in the puzzle!
- 19D [Drink that needs a blender] SMOOTHIE – Perhaps this is a form of a MOCKTAIL!
- 34D [Exercised caution] TOOK CARE – Another fine entry. Only 1 NYT hit for this one.
- 44D [Two-tiered rowing vessel] BIREME – This is likely one of the more difficult entries in the grid. Think of all those movies where you see people below decks rowing. A trireme would have three decks of rowers. Not sure how accurate this bireme image is:
Everyone have a great week!
Mike Peluso’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I am not familiar with Mike Peluso as a constructor, but unlike other times when I am unfamiliar with the puzzle maker, I jammed through this one quickly. It actually took me a minute after the puzzle was done to understand the theme:
- 20A [“Fast Times school (Japan)] RIDGEMONT HIGH
- 35A [2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion (France)] MICHELLE WIE – I didn’t remember she has won a major!
- 42A [North Atlantic stretch with no land borders (Mexico)] SARGASSO SEA
- 56A [Permission from the big boss … and a hint to the ends of 20-, 35- and 42-Across (in the country indicated)] FINAL APPROVAL
We are dealing with homophones here, specifically the homophones for the word yes in Japanese (hai), French (oui), and Spanish (si). A clever theme, although maybe a little complicated for a Tuesday. It took me a minute, but that isn’t saying much (!). The difficulty level is still fairly easy, and that is what counts this early in the week. 4.3 stars today.
More to mention:
- 10A [Mt. Rushmore’s state] S. DAK. – Not my favorite abbreviation, but still easy enough. I haven’t been out there in over 20 years.
- 65A [News article intros] LEDES – When you hear the phrase “Don’t bury the lede!” this is what they are talking about. Yes, for years I thought it was spelled LEAD. This is likely in Journalism 101!
- 66A [Tiger Wood’s ex] ELIN – Elin Nordegren is now almost 40, and their children are 11 and 9, believe it or not. Time flies.
- 4D [Cruise/Kilmer action film] TOP GUN – If you don’t feel old already, this movie came out in 1986!
- 8D [Medicare option] PART B – Speaking of old age … !
- 30D [1977 George Burns film] OH, GOD! – This puzzle is trying to make me feel like a senior citizen!
- 34D [Springtime prank] APRIL FOOL – Nice entry, but this is rarely seen in a singular form, right?
See you all on Saturday!