Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Something Different” – Jim Q’s writeup
Fun from start to finish in today’s WaPo. I wouldn’t be a tad surprised if this week’s puzzle was off-putting to solvers looking for consistency in their Sunday puzzle, but I absolutely love “Something Different” puzzles (A.K.A. “Cuckoo Crosswords”). And whether you liked it or not, you have to admit Evan’s willingness to push the boundaries as to what is acceptable for a 21×21 grid in a major publication is admirable. Themeless? Sure. Variety puzzles? You got it. Metas? Not a problem. Quirky rebus themes? Check. Now add “Something Different” to that repertoire.
And there’s even a theme – errr – TWO themes in this puzzle, neither of which has a thing to do with the other!
THEME(S): STORYTELLING ALTERNATIVE + WACKY PRESIDENTIAL NICKNAMES + OVERALL ZANINESS
4D [Streetcar carrying the lead singer of the Police … or an alternative form of storytelling?] STING TROLLEY (which is an anagram of STORY TELLING).
- 24A [Series of bloody, cheerful songs … or an alternative form of storytelling?] TEN GORY LILTS. “Bloody” led me to believe there was something British about the answer. Nope. Good ol’ fashioned gore.
- 37A [“How about we attempt to use jargon … or an alternative form of storytelling?] LET’S TRY LINGO.
- 69A [“Jeepers, we’re about to watch the ‘Light My Candle’ musical!” … or an alternative form of storytelling?] GOLLY IT’S RENT
- 51A [Sick but still powerful … or an alternative form of storytelling?] ILL YET STRONG.
- 85A [Actress Liv misplaced martini liquor … or an alternative form of storytelling?] TYLER LOST GIN.
- 29A. [Nickname of the first U.S. president when he ate a gourd family fruit] GEORGE SQUASHINGTON. I love this entry. Don’t think I’ll ever look at a dollar bill the same way again.
- 75A. [Nickname of the 26th U.S. president when he imitated a cornfield bird] THEODORE CROWSEVELT.
Part of me wonders if, at one time, Evan was planning on building an entire theme around those presidential nicknames and couldn’t find a complete set. Of course, the other part doesn’t care because they were so much fun to uncover in a befitting venue.
And if I’m being honest, I didn’t pick up on the STORY TELLING anagram theme until a minute or so after I’d completed the grid. Usually when I don’t pick up on a theme until I’m finished, I’m left indifferent to the puzzle. The opposite is true here- It made me like it more.
There are far too many great clues and answers to list them all here, but here’s a few that stood out to me:
- 32D [Prudish person riding some sty denizen] PRIG ON A PIG. What’s not to like about that phrase? Perhaps we can find a way to sneak that into our pop culture lexicon.
- 23A [Opposed to the “Rosanna” band] ANTI-TOTO. If you’re Anti-Toto, you’re probably Anti-Weezer as well. Their cover of Africa is remarkably similar to the original version. The first time I heard it I didn’t know it was a cover.
- 39D [Spew out brunch fruits] GUSH MELONS. One of the last answers I uncovered, but the ridiculous visual was worth the wait.
- 88A [Snitch’s Apple product] ISTOOLIE. Which we are undoubtedly supposed to read as iStoolie.
- 59D [“Still, Mr. Rogers …”] EVEN SO, WILL … I really wanted this to be Fred Rogers (can’t wait to see the documentary about him). So I stumbled here.
Honestly, I’m just randomly picking answers from the grid at this point. I liked most of them. Even ALOU SET for its wink at Crosswordese. I’d be interested to hear “Why didn’t you mention _______?!” in the comments.
I do have one entry I absolutely hated:
- 65A [Where to find actress Witherspoon’s organs] IN REESE. Eeew. Just…eeew! This is a visual I wasn’t expecting at all. It makes me feel icky.
If you’re new to this type of puzzle, and you’d like to try a few more, here are a few links to past ones Evan created for his indie site, Devil Cross:
Also, Trip Payne has several at his site and writes one annually for Fireball (on April Fool’s Day). I always look forward to it.
Something tells me this is not the last time we’ll see a “Something Different” puzzle in the WaPo. I’m already excited for the next one.
4.9 stars from me. I have to ding it one tenth of a star because I had to write IN REESE [shiver!!].
P.S. I became an instant fan of the podcast “My Dad Wrote a Porno” which I’d never heard of before last week’s WaPo. As long as you’re okay with (very) NSFW content, I highly recommend it. Hilarious.
Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword, “Uh, What?”—Amy’s write-up
The theme entries are formed by inserting a schwa vowel sound into familiar phrases and cluing the resulting phrase accordingly:
- 23a. [One who’s just moved from Portland?], OREGON TRANSPLANT. Organ transplant.”Hello! If you have any interest in donating one of your healthy kidneys to someone in need, man oh man, is the need ever acute. There are almost 100,000 people on the kidney waiting list in the U.S., and I even know some of them. Hit me up if you’d like more info!
- 35a. [Convert a morgue worker into a spy?], TURN THE CORONER. Turn the corner.
- 48a. [LeBron basketball sneaker, e.g.?], KING JAMES BUYABLE. Bible. BUYABLE as a noun feels awkward as hell, but I love the play on LeBron James’s nickname.
- 69a. [Intense blowback against a signature Trump policy proposal?], RIOTING ON THE WALL. Writing.
- 82a. [Bad person to get paired with for a class assignment?], PROJECT RUNAWAY. Project Runway, the reality competition TV show. Not a kid who has run away from home, just a classmate who flakes on doing the project.
- 99a. [Nickname for a superserious congressman?], SENATOR OF GRAVITY. Center.
I appreciate a theme with six Across entries, not complicating matters by jamming in more themers or running them Down, and further constraining the fill that fits into the grid. The fill’s pretty good here, and with a markedly contemporary/young vibe to it. To wit:
- 63d. [Music genre at a rave], TRANCE. Probably this genre is 20-30 years old, but hey, they didn’t have it when I was coming up.
- 42d. [Gig for an aspiring electronic musician], DJ SET. Fresh.
- 45d. [What “…” may represent], TYPING. If you’re thinking typography and printed matter rather than text messages and chat windows, this doesn’t make sense. Oh, hey. You know what pannonica does that’s borderline evil? Actually types “…” in the chat window. I tell ya, it takes me ages to realize she isn’t still composing a note.
Do not like: 38d. [Uncool], LAME. You know what? People with physical disabilities that can be categorized as lameness can be cool, too. Stop using this word as an insult. I know it’s hard, because many of us grew up using the word without a second thought. But can’t we do a little better? Gold lamé is there for the taking.
Also calling out 87d. [Blue man group?], SMURFS. Smurfette disputes the gendering of this clue.
Favorite clue: 64d. [Provider of green juice?], SOLAR PANEL. Despite the question mark, I was still envisioning horrific vegetable juices.
4.1 stars from me.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked Crossword, “Triplets”—Laura’s review
Phrases with triple-letter strings are the order of the day.
- [23a: Polynesian dress]: GRASS SKIRT. The stereotypical grass skirt of Hawai’ian hula performers was a westernized influence that historians of performance have traced to the early 20th-century vaudeville circuit.
- [25a: Be more specific]: ADD DETAILS, such as we do in crossword blog reviews.
- [38a: More than you should]: TOO OFTEN
- [53a: Birds unloved by apiarists]: BEE EATERS. The family known as Meropidae.
- [55a: Investigation into Bill Clinton]: STARR REPORT. Seems quaint now.
- [72a: Kristin who played a Churchill]: SCOTT THOMAS. She played Clementine Churchill to Gary Oldman’s Winston in the 2017 film Darkest Hour. There’s been a Churchill industry of late, what with Brian Cox in Churchill and John Lithgow in The Crown all in the past year.
- [74a: Sheer thing to climb]: CLIFF FACE. There’s a new documentary out, Free Solo, about Alex Honnold, a climber who scaled the cliff face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes or safety equipment. Don’t try this at home, kids.
- [87a: Quaint kitchen timer]: EGG GLASS. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the eggs of our lives.
- [103a: “Doctor Faustus” et al.]: MANN NOVEL. Namely, German Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann (1875-1955). My favorite Mann novel is The Magic Mountain (1924).
- [105a: Unabridged]: FULL LENGTH, unlike this review. I’m getting over a cold, dear readers, so off to nap.
Mark McClain’s LA Times crossword, “Marked Down” – Jenni’s write-up
Greetings from the Jersey Shore (the real one, not the TV version) where David and I are spending a much-better-than-expected weekend. We’re thinking of our friends in North Carolina and wishing Florence would move right along, even if that means she heads up this way.
Today’s LAT is a letter-substitution theme with a constraint: as the title implies, each switch is for a letter that’s “one down” from the original. 108a spells it out, so to speak: [Classic audiophile’s equipment, and a hint to eight long puzzle answers] is CD CHANGER. In each theme answer, a C in the base phrase is changed to a D. Wackiness results.
- 22a [Silo in a rural valley?] is a DELL TOWER (“Dell” as in where the farmer is in song, not the computer maker). I didn’t catch the C-D part of the theme right away because I thought the base phrase was “bell tower” instead of “cell tower.”
- 27a [A+ for a struggling student?] would be an AMAZING GRADE (“Amazing Grace”). Still love the Judy Collins version.
- 41a [Neat places to get beers?] are DANDY BARS (candy bars).
- 46a a [Nightmare?] is a SOUR DREAM (sour cream).
- 62a [Terse Supreme Court decision for lions?] is THE PRIDE IS RIGHT (“The Price is Right”). This one made me giggle.
- 80a [Challenge from an ex-president?] would be an OBAMA DARE (Obamacare).
- 100a [Wall Street bear?] is a SHARE DROPPER (sharecropper).
I like the fact that the C–>D wasn’t always in the first word of the answer. It’s a nice, consistent theme and all the base phrases are solidly in the language. Not a bad way to spend eight minutes of my Saturday night.
A few other things:
- 1d [Arrogance, in slang] is TUDE. Those of with teenagers are all too familiar with this.
- We have geographic cross-references with Italy as the MAINLAND if you’re on CAPRI, and EGYPT clued as the location of KARNAK. Am I the only one who always thinks of Johnny Carson first? Here’s a classic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76wzA2A2T1Q
- I suspect many of us are more familiar with MAUREEN McCormick than MAUREEN O’Hara. Just saying.
- Really don’t like 102a [How Albee’s “The Zoo Story” is written]: IN ONE ACT. I mean, yeah, it’s a one-act play, but who says “It was written in one act?” That’s just odd.
- Classic novel characters: Phileas FOGG from “Around the World in Eighty Days” and SANCHO Panza from “Don Quixote.”
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that “The 100” even existed, let alone that OCTAVIA was Bellamy’s sister. The Wikipedia article on the show helpfully tells us that “The 100” is pronounced The Hundred, which will save me from embarrassment if I ever have to discuss it.
Thanks, Jim. Sorry about IN REESE.
Neither GEORGE SQUASHINGTON nor THEODORE CROWSEVELT was part of a previous puzzle that couldn’t find a home. I just thought of the first one while writing this, then I spent a while looking for another presidential pun to match in length. The rejected one was WILLIAM HOWARD SHAFT.
It turns out the “Spell It Out” metapuzzle had originally been slated for the “Alternative Storytelling” issue of the magazine, but then that issue got postponed just as I’d finished writing the metapuzzle. So, they let me make two variety puzzles instead of one. Hopefully it’s not the last Something Different I get to construct for them; they’re so much fun to write.
Enjoyed the heck out of it. Great job, Evan! Keep them coming, please.
Refreshing. Laughed at George Squashington.
WaPo: Strange and delightful and so much fun. Charming work, Evan. Sorry, Jim, but I loved the Reese Witherspoon entry. Made me laugh along with many other answers in the grid.
IN REESE made me laugh because it sounds vaguely like a couple of other IN phrases (IN MEDIA RES, or IN REM, the former of which is relevant to her being an actor). I think that is the key to making a good Something Different puzzle: the best entries sound almost-but-not-quite like other things that are actually in the language. That’s what separates funny from arbitrary. Great puzzle, Evan.
Pretty good puzzle… everything derivable from crossings for me. Had never heard of “phablet”, even though I apparently have one, “murse” (does a tote Patagonia knapsack count?), asphodel or snood.
New constructor to me and the cluing was different. I was thinking man purse with multiple letters in a square for a while. I usually can finish a Sunday NYT starting with one answer and working off a letter from connected answers. No such luck today!
NYT was good just not sure that every group of people singing IN UNISON are necessarily “harmonized.” Church choirs, glee clubs, etc, sure, but we’ve all heard Happy Birthdays & the like that were not harmonized at all.
There are nonmusical senses of “harmonized,” which gives thesaurus sanction to the clue/answer combo.
I very confidently wrote “chin” for Hitchcock triple feature. Took a long time to work my way out of it!
I actually like your answer better, Pamela! Unfortunately, I think it would destroy the puzzle’s center of gravity.
Today’s NYT hit the right level for me this week. I learned about ASPHODELs from Googling after the solve. I, personally, liked the clue for SMURF a lot, as one lone SMURFette is far from gender parity.
One reminder: your containers need to be both EMPTY and clean to be “ready for recycling.”