David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Saturday puzzle time! Are we all sleepy? No? Just me? Let’s get into this 66-worder.
54a. [Nutty confection], PRALINE? Dammit, I want some pralines right now! I had one in August in Florida and it was perfect. Chicago is not the best place to find freshly made pralines, alas.
Slang I needed the crossings to complete: 14a. [“Don’t mean any disrespect,” in modern lingo], “NO SHADE.”
This stinks because of its dated sexism: 39a. [Part of some love triangles], OTHER WOMAN. People have traditionally thrown lots of blame on “the other woman” in scenarios that aren’t “love triangles,” as the clue would have it, but a dude in a committed relationship cheating on his partner with that other woman. Don’t blame the single woman first—save your disdain for the man who’s crapping all over his preexisting relationship.
16d. [Formal opening], DEAR SIR OR MADAM. This is also dated, because if you don’t know the people you’re writing to, you certainly don’t know that they aren’t non-binary. Has anyone come up with a good gender-neutral alternative to “sir” and “madam” for addressing someone whose name you don’t know? Don’t say “friendo,” as heard in No Country for Old Men.
34d. [Sty, e.g.], PEN. See photo.
Did not know: 23a. [Bánh ___ (Vietnamese cake)], TET. Here’s the Wikipedia article on these glutinous rice concoctions. Make mine the bánh tét chuối, rice with a banana and sweet red bean filling. The next Vietnamese New Year is February 5—watch for your bánh tét then.
33d. [Monthly travelers?], OVA. Cute clue.
45d. [When the Boston Marathon is held], APRIL. So yesterday I saw that Brett Kavanaugh had run the Boston Marathon in 2010 and 2015, and had my marathoner husband look up his finishing times. He presumes Kavanaugh was a “charity runner” because he did not have Boston-qualifier times.
3d: IS THAT ALL? Yes. Four stars from me.
David Alfred Bywaters’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Frequent Stops” — Jim’s review
I finished the puzzle knowing essentially what the theme was, but not knowing what the title meant. We’re presented with several well-known(ish) phrases that have an S added to the front. All of these are in the Down direction.
“Why?” you ask. That’s where the title comes in. “Frequent Stops” should be re-parsed as “Frequent S-Tops,” i.e. we have numerous phrases that are topped (since they’re in the Down direction) with an S. Yes, that’s quite a groaner of a pun, but there’s more…
- 3d [Rallies for rascals?] SCAMP MEETINGS. Camp meetings. I’ve never heard that phrase, but I guess it refers to the religious revivals that took place in 19th century America.
- 6d [Amount owed in a primitive barter system?] SHELL TO PAY. Hell to pay.
- 11d [Starbucks or Heinz plugger?] SHILL OF BEANS. Hill of beans. Two different kinds of beans here, and I usually think of CATSUP when I think of Heinz, not beans.
- 14d [Sty mud?] SWINE COOLER. Wine cooler. I think I like this one best.
- 44d [Traffic jam report?] STALL TALE. Tall tale. This is probably a more acceptable clue than what I’m thinking of. In college (Notre Dame), we had a mysterious user of the communal bathrooms, who would leave extra large, football-player-sized, uh, leavings, in the facilities (sans any paper). The stories and conjecture about the responsible party would spread every time there was such an occurrence, adding to the myth. Together, these stories amount to an unpleasant, but compelling STALL TALE. (We never did uncover the culprit.)
- 56d [Haunted house?] SCARE FACILITY. Care facility. This one’s pretty good, too.
- 62d [Crooked deli offering?] SHAM SANDWICH. Ham sandwich.
- 68d [Willing to eat a diner side?] SLAW ABIDING. Law abiding. Meh on this one. To me, the phrase says, “Obeying the slaw,” which doesn’t make sense.
- 75d [Insist on a gluten-free diet?] SCORN BREAD. Corn bread.
In the end, this is just an add-an-S theme which certainly isn’t original, but could be fun if done right. The theme entries were hit-or-miss for me, and I wish there was another element to tighten the theme up. Still, it’s not a bad Saturday outing.
If you want to get nit-picky about the theme, it would probably be more elegant if there were no other s-topped words in the grid. I’m looking at STINTED at 17d (which is a weird word, by the way, and is a more recognizable word without its S), SPINETS at 37d, SWISH at 92d, and others. But most solvers probably wouldn’t notice those.
Nine theme answers means fewer long non-theme fill entries. My favorite has to be WIESBADEN (98a, [German city nicknamed the “Nice of the North”]). I’ve been to both cities, and I don’t see it, but admittedly I spent very little time in either city. Nice was a stopover on a cruise, and we went to WIESBADEN only to watch our daughter play in a tennis tournament for American high schools in Europe, i.e. we didn’t really get to see much of the city.
Most of the grid is serviceable and works as intended. The prepositional phrases NEED TO, YEARN TO, FEAST ON, and SLID ON, stuck out a little bit as being duplicative, especially those first two. The crossing of PULASKI [Polish nobleman who led the American cavalry] and KOTO [13-string Japanese instrument] at the K was likely troublesome for more than a few solvers. Thankfully for me, my wife is from PULASKI County in Arkansas.
All in all, a fairly standard add-a-letter theme. A smaller number of theme answers might have allowed for some flashier fill.
Gail Grabowski’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
This puzzle took me a tad longer than a normal Saturday LAT. Surprisingly, it took me almost as long to finish this puzzle as it did the Stumper! (See review below!) I wonder sometimes if environment makes that huge of a difference in solving times. Maybe mindset as well? I am not always frantically rushing to solve, as if in tournament mode, but it is more of just spending several uninterrupted minutes in concentration. That is a large part of the joy for me; experiencing that zone is probably not to dissimilar to being engrossed in a great book.
I digress again! Gail has a great puzzle here, and there is a lot of fun stuff to talk about. 4.4 stars for a solid 72-worder.
What is there to discuss?
- 10A [Prefix meaning “coil”] SPIRO – This makes me think of the Spirograph I had when I was a kid. I may buy a new one of those just for old time’s sake! Chase and I can mess around with it!
- 23A [Write the wrong number on, perhaps] MISDATE – I had the MIS- part, but the last four letters eluded me for a while. Not a word I use much, even though I rarely know what the date is!
- 33A [Support on the way up] PITON – I am not even remotely interested in mountain climbing, especially if it involves hammering one of these things into a rock so you won’t plummet to your death. No thank you!
- 36A [One of a nursery rhyme trio] BAKER – Partner in crime of the butcher and the candlestick maker. Why do these stand out? And do kids today learn these nursery rhymes? I am not sure my son Chase knows these at all.
- 53A [Bicycle tire feature] VALVE STEM – This took too long for me to get, even though I ride fairly often!
- 10D [Sensitive health class subject] SAFE SEX – Certainly this couldn’t have been ORAL SEX! Then why did I write that in …
- 13D [It’s often used to make paste] ROMA TOMATO – Why are these better for tomato sauce? That is a question?
- 24D [Elastic wrap brand] ACE BANDAGE – On the Fill Me In podcast, they were discussing brand names used as common names. I had brought up adhesive bandages, and how everybody calls them “Band Aid”s, but I would venture to say that this is another case of that. The proper name for this is an “elastic bandage.” Who says that??
- 37D [High-tech communications portmanteau] PHABLET – Best entry in the grid! I have an iPhone 7 plus, and I likely would now find it hard to see anything smaller! I am really opposed to getting the new iPhone XS; it costs as much as my MacBook!!
Have a great Saturday!
Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
I think I am getting better at these! Another time under 10 minutes for me! When starting this puzzle, I actually found it a little easy, but then I got to some of the thorny parts, and it turned into an actual Stumper, although not a pull-your-hair-out-rage-inducing Stumper. A good start makes all the difference in a great time, and when you have a good foothold that helps a lot. I am used to staring at seas of white squares for more than a few moments when embarking on one of these Stumper solves, and of course that is NOT conducive to a good time! Like the LAT, this puzzle also contains 72 entries, but unlike the LAT, this one has crossing 15s in the middle. A solid 4.6 stars this week.
- 1A [Mississippi constituents] DOTS – Clever, although there are only four dots in the name! (When writing in upper/lowercase, of course!)
- 33A [Triple hedge] KINDA SORTA MAYBE – Fairly certain this has not appeared in many puzzles before this. Verifiably not in a NYT before. Awesome!
- 47A [Kid-lit intro since 1960] I AM SAM – I believe these are the first words to Green Eggs and Ham, but the book is probably more know for the phrase “Sam I am.”
- 59A [Oath invoked by Pope] YE GODS! – This is referring to Alexander Pope, the writer, yes?
- 7D [Oriental Avenue neighbor] READING RAILROAD – This is one of the clues I thought was TOO easy. This is immediately evoking a Monopoly board, and what else is 15 letters? Stan, I am surprised you let this clue slip through!
- 11D [Salsa-like] TOMATOEY – I thought for sure this wasn’t a word. It is!
- 33D [Boom alternative] KABLOOEY – I thought for sure this wasn’t a word, either! I’m not sure that even the campy Batman from the 60s used this word! But it, too, is in the dictionary!
- 35D [29-nation emblem] NATO FLAG – Fooled here a bit: I had NATO SEAL in here for a little bit. Tricky!
- 42D [Cannes contraction] M’SIEUR – This has one NYT. From 1962. Wow.
- 50D [Force seen in Spider-Man films] NYPD – There is no indication of an abbreviation here, but New York’s police force may in fact be referred to more often simply by this famous acronym.
See you all on Tuesday, or perhaps in the chat if there is a Twitch stream this weekend!