Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 387), “Halloween Hangout”—Ade’s take
Good morning, everyone! Here is hoping things are going well with you on the eve of Halloween! Speaking of “Fright Night,” today’s puzzle features one of the creatures that is a staple of October 31, the BAT, with the circled letters, when connected alphabetically (starting with circled “A” toward the bottom of the grid), forms the shape of our nocturnal mammal (63D: [Vampire’s alter ego who is “sleeping” upside down in the starred answers]). Those six starred clues/entries, all going down, act as the picture frame in the grid, allowing you to better see DRACULA in bat form in the grid (88A: [He’s our favorite vampire!]). The pattern of cluing with “DRACULA” and the starred clues are similar.
Addendum: Of course I did not notice the theme entries each having “TAB,” which is “BAT” spelled backwards — and, for purposes of this grid, hanging upside down — until hours after solving! Straight cuteness!
- ANITA BAKER (3D: [*Our favorite vampire loves this “Sweet Love” singer…])
- RUNNING A TAB (14D: [*…and this type of bar account…])
- FANTABULOUS (45D: [*…and this exclamation that means “Absolutely terrific!”…])
- WHAT ABOUT US (49D: [*…and this 2017 hit song by Pink…])
- FIESTA BOWL (73D: [*…and this annual college football game in Arizona…])
- TABLE WINES (77D: [*…and these types of household spirits])
For a while, I had absolutely no idea what those starred clues had to do with the theme, which also took me a while to figure out because 1) I could not see the shape of the bat in my confusion, and that was due to 2) not figuring out which circle was the starting point to begin connecting the circles, especially since I initially started my connecting at the top, with the “KLM…’ circled letters toward the top. Only after I wrote out all of the letters, starting with K, did I realize that it was in alphabetical order. Classic overthinking on my part, anticipating something more byzantine than it really turned out to be.
Given that, though, once figuring things out (after puzzle was solved), I really liked the execution, and give Liz credit for nailing the outline of the bat with its wings wrapped around it. Extra points for nailing the pointed ears at the bottom!
The fill outside of the them entries was pretty fun, too. For a little while, I thought the long entries of AVID READER (22A: [One whose hobby is an open book?]) and EURO DISNEY were part of the theme until noticing the starred clues (24A: [Original name of a Paris amusement resort]). Those are two awesome entries, by the way! If you’re into writers with initials, you’re in luck with both A.A. MILNE (30A: [Winnie the Pooh’s creator]) and E.L. JAMES (37D: [“Fifty Shades of Grey” author]). Though the clue to HORN (53D: [Unicorn feature]) has nothing to do with music, it was nice to see it intersect with TROMBONES (62A: [Instruments with slides]). Oh, and there’s definitely more than just a hint of sports in this grid, with FIESTA BOWL, TINO (17A: [Ex-Yankee Martinez]) and AIKMAN being part of the grid (51A: [Quarterback Troy]). Guess I could have talked about the basketball feats of Wilt “The STILT” Chamberlain (35D: [Long-legged shorebird]), but decided to go in another direction…
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SOW (48A: [Piglet’s mom]) – Senegalese soccer player Moussa SOW is currently a forward playing professionally in the United Arab Emirates, but, in 2010-11, he played a major role in bringing an unlikely championship to a team in one of the top five leagues of European soccer. Playing for French side LOSC Lille Métropole, Sow led the French top division, Ligue 1, with 25 goals in leading Lille to their third French top-flight championship in club history. Sow played 50 games for the Senegalese national team, scoring 19 goals in international duty. Though he was on the Senegal roster at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he did not enter in any of the three group games. Sow retired from international duty in August of this year.
Thank you very much for your time, everyone! Have a great rest of your Tuesday and, as always, keep solving!
Jules Markey’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The theme revealer, sort of, is 34a. [Late night for a working stiff … or a hint to the circled squares], GRAVEYARD SHIFT. There are six Across answers that contain the letter sequence RIP, which might be seen on the occasional gravestone but GRAVEYARD isn’t necessarily something I associate with it. The SHIFT part is there because the entries with RIP have those circled letters shift rightward as you go down through the grid. Everything other than 34a is clued as if the puzzle’s themeless, so it’s got an odd feel for a Tuesday puzzle.
It’s also got too much fill that feels out of place in an easy Tuesday grid. To wit: ORONO, SEEPY, Spanish DAMA, A-OKAY (isn’t A-OK more familiar? what do you all think?), EDA LeShan, The ERL-King, French AUSSI, old Nixon initials RMN (with a tricky clue to boot, [J.F.K. alternative in 1960], right on the heels of LGA with a similar clue), and variant spelling EGIS.
Three more things:
- 27d. [Big number], MYRIAD. Dang it, crosswords have ruined me. My first assumption was that the answer was something like FINALE, and then I tried to think of something 6 letters long that provides numbness/anesthesia.
- 42a. [Put on a windowsill to mature, say], SUN-RIPEN. What fruits lend themselves to windowsill ripening in the sun? (That reminds me: I need to check on that somewhat green Bartlett pear in the kitchen and see if it’s yellowed up in the shade.)
- There’s lots of long fill, unusual for a Tuesday puzzle: the themelessly clued themers RIPOSTES, TRIPTYCH, MR. RIPLEY, SUN-RIPEN, EGO TRIPS, and GIVE A RIP along with GO FLY A KITE, ASPIRATE, STYLIZED, and READS ALOUD. These are nice, but for me, they don’t fully offset the clunkier fill mentioned above.
In entering the constructor’s name for the blog tag, I realized he usually uses the middle initial P. in his byline, but it’s omitted here. Huh.
Three stars from me.
Colin Gale’s Wall Street Journal crossword—Nate’s write-up
Colin Gale’s second Tuesday WSJ puzzle in three weeks has us in pieces!
17A / 19A: PROTE STER NUM BS
23A / 26A: AGRIP PA TELLA LL
50A / 52A: MRSPA UL NA TTERS
55A / 58A: CAC TI BIA STIRES
37A: BROKEN BONES [Fractures found in this puzzle’s circles]
As a solver, this ambitious puzzle brought me both joy and pain. I really enjoyed the theme and its execution throughout the grid, and I liked that the title (“Skeleton Crew”) is so perfect for Halloween week, even if the puzzle isn’t related to the holiday at all. I also appreciate that the constructor didn’t just go for the bones with the shortest or easiest names to incorporate into the grid. They went for it, especially with STER/NUM and PA/TELLA.
However, this puzzle might have had a record number of Naticks for me, perhaps because of the constraints informed by the 67(!) theme-related squares. By the time I filled in what I knew and would have just been guessing at the rest, I had the following squares blank (which is troubling since some of these were theme entries):
- The L in ALSOPS/LILI and the I in SITKA/LILI.
- The G in AGRIPPA/GAM and the A in BAINES/GAM.
- The N in LIN/UND (though that was more gettable).
- The A in CARSON/NATTERS and the S in CARSON/BIASTIRES.
I’ll admit that part of this is me needing to study up and learn more in general, but a lot of this also fill just feels tough for a Tuesday puzzle. I think this puzzle would have been just as successful but more enjoyable had there been three themer rows with BROKEN BONES + the revealer at the end, though I acknowledge the symmetric constraints of an 11-letter revealer in this puzzle’s setup.
#includemorewomen: In today’s puzzle, we have the clued Leslie Caron (LILI), fictional MRS PAUL, and [Sculptor/architect Maya] LIN for women in the puzzle. That’s it. Not great, especially considering all the men in the puzzle: AGRIPPA (and clued Augustus and Mark Antony), BAINES (and clued Fitzgerald and Milhous), ABE, the clued bachelor (but not bachelorette?) in I DO, EMPEROR Augustus, both ALSOPS, GENTLE BEN, and CARSON McCullers. Is it crazy that Augustus alone gets almost as many mentions in this puzzle as all the women combined?
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Mark the Ballot” – Derek’s write-up
Timely theme, as the midterm elections are next Tuesday. This means the end of all the political ads, which I am sure there is bipartisan agreement in the dislike of those annoying things. The theme is a quote by Larry J. Sabato: EVERY ELECTION IS DETERMINED BY THE PEOPLE WHO SHOW UP. That may be true, but after gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics, it may be more idealistic than factual. Regardless, there are sure to be some fireworks next Tuesday night/Wednesday morning in the news! I am willing to give props just for finding a quote that breaks evenly into three 15s! 4.6 stars today.
Some grid highlights:
- 31A [ __ in “elephant”] E AS – This is an easy way to clue ?AS, but a slightly more pop culture-y way, in my opinion, is to use the Sue Grafton novel titles! She got all the way to “Y” before her death in 2017.
- 44A [“Baker Street” instrument] SAX – You know this song. It’s from the 70s:
- 2D [“Take Five” pianist Brubeck] DAVE – You know this song, too. Even if you’re not a huge jazz fan:
- 12D [Alternative to Windows] UNIX – My son installed Unix on one of our old laptops, and gave it new life. It is still functional for 90% of what you would do on a computer (email, web surfing, etc.). I have no idea how to do it myself, though!
- 26D [Lyft transactions] RIDES – I have taken and Uber and a Lyft to work, and the price difference was literally pennies. Interesting! They are encouraging use of these services in downtown South Bend since there is nowhere to park.
- 39D [Bar Bart barrages with crank calls] MOE’S – This show hasn’t lasted 30 years because it isn’t funny!
- 51D [Former Minister of Sport of Brazil] PELE – Who else would it be? Is that even a job?
- 61D [ __Clean (product once pitched by Billy Mays)] OXI – Billy Mays passed away nearly 10 years ago! He has many of infomercial successors, though. He was the master of high enthusiasm during these 3 am insomnia sessions!
Enjoy your week!
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Correspondence! The handwritten form has quickly become a dead art, but I have learned through my semi-deep dive into fountain pens that there are people out there who still LOVE to write, whether in a journal, taking school notes, or actually writing someone a letter or a card. Let’s look at those themers:
- 17A [Easy -to-read character] BLOCK LETTER
- 24A [Cruise stop] PORT OF CALL
- 40A [Microsoft Outlook service] E-MAIL
- 43A [FaceTime alternative] SKYPE
- 52A [Emphatic typeface] ITALIC TEXT
- 65A [Parting words suggested by all or part of the answers to starred clues] KEEP IN TOUCH
Yes, the theme answers are parts of some and all of others, but there are still 6 theme answers, and the intent seems crystal clear. This is a Tuesday puzzle, so we don’t want to think too hard! We have just about every form of communication here except for carrier pigeon! Actually, there are several more forms, but these are probably the most commonly used by far. I still haven’t pulled the trigger on a super expensive fountain pen, but I will let you know when I pull that trigger! Another smooth puzzle from C.C. Burnikel; a solid 4.5 stars from me.
A couple more things:
- 15A [“Z: The Beginning of Everything” star Christina] RICCI – A fresh way to clue this crossword-famous actress. She will always be Wednesday Addams, won’t she?
- 34A [Kagan of the Court] ELENA – Her name is certainly more crossword friendly, but I have yet to see a clue referencing BRETT Kavanaugh! Too soon?
- 37A [“Grr!,” say] SNARL – See next entry:
- 68A [“Grr!”] “I’M MAD!” – Clever clue similarity!
- 11D [One-pot New Orleans dish] JAMBALAYA – One of my all-time favorite dishes. Speaking of one-pot, everyone is raving about the Instant Pot. How is it different than a Crock Pot? Faster, I assume?
- 38D [Hudson Riv. tech school] RPI – Tyler Hinman’s alma mater!
- 58D [Saint __: Caribbean island] LUCIA – I have never been there, but I am heading to the Western Caribbean in the middle of February. I think I could handle island living! That show on HGTV is inspiring!
Have a wonderful day!
Carson McCullers is a woman.
She’d have been 101 years old this year. Wrote “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”
Better known for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.”
And Gentle Ben is a bear.
WSJ Circles (10-30-2018): https://www.dropbox.com/s/n3ojrwm06bxucc7/wsj181030-d.puz?dl=1
The file posted on Today’s Puzzles also has circles.
NYT: I liked this puzzle and it felt easy to me, although I take Amy’s point about crosswordese.
I entered RMN for Nixon as I was listening to two installments of a podcast series by Rachel Maddow, released last night right at the end of her show called “Bag Man”. It’s about Spiro Agnew and his criminal activities not only before his vice presidency but into the White House. Fascinating!
Both sobering and hopeful.
Of course, my problems are always in the Harry Potter / Star Wars sequels / contemporary pop culture universe, but the WSJ selection didn’t seem objectionable to me. I didn’t remember GAM (having learned “pod of whales” way back), but, goodness, LBJ was president and a commanding figure in American life not THAT long ago, and when a past president is known with a middle name, like Arthur, it tends to stick in the mind.
Carson McCullers was in a lot of mandatory junior high reading, althougb not mine, and Alsops is more crosswordese than arcane. I’d seen NATTERS before, too, although (as usual the NYer never encountering cars) not BIAS TIRES, so all gettable without much work. But really you better find out who Lyndon Baines Johnson was. Maybe ask about JFK, too.
If ALSOPS were crosswordese, I would know it. And I don’t. Ergo, I’ll agree with Nate that it’s arcane.
Please don’t insult our bloggers with remarks like “But really you better find out who Lyndon Baines Johnson was. Maybe ask about JFK, too.” Given the HUNDREDS of things you complain you don’t know in the crossword puzzles … and you insist the problem is in those crosswords and not in your knowledge base.
re: xword nation — >Those six starred clues/entries, all going down, act as the picture frame in the grid.
and, more literally… by [Vampire’s alter ego who is “sleeping” upside down in the starred answers], we are being given the hint that the vertical letters T-A-B are embedded within. an elegant touch, INDEED. ditto the halloween-clued extras of ELM street, HAG, (witch’s) HAT, and OWLS.
Thanks, Janie – I hadn’t noticed that the starred entries made a picture frame. I also liked that the black squares were purple. That’s great attention to detail.
Owls are always a welcome addition to any puzzle :-)
I also did not notice that feature. Another wonderful puzzle from Liz Gorski.
NYT 27-D: here I thought the “big number” would be GOOGOL. Eventually sorted it out even without the Across clues . . .
In today’s climate, my first thought to 40D was “Gun.”
The Jonesin’ theme is obviously topical, but the fill was totally Google-worthy, again. Who the hell calls annoying online accounts ‘robots’? My version of ‘The Ballad of Peter Pumpkin Head’ is by CTD (Crash Test Dummies), and not XTC, the ‘movie crowd member’ clue was absolutely disingenuous, and corn husks tend to contain, well, corn of some sort, absent a qualifier.