Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Mini Madness” – Jim Q’s writeup
Mini puzzles not constructed by Joel Fagliano? I’m intrigued.
I truly hope solvers took the time to suss out the meta for this, because it’s pretty darn cool.
THEME: The Little Things in Life
The hint solvers are given to cracking the meta is “If you rearrange these 4-by-5 grids in a certain order, they will spell out my advice to you. If you rearrange the grids in another order, they will spell out a hint about two other messages (and their speakers).
Seems a tad daunting, given that there are both rebus squares and circled letters in each of the 20 grids- and the idea of rearranging 20 different grids sounds tedious. But the payoff is worth it.
- Part I (The hint): In each of the 20 grids, the circled letter is in a different position. Put circled letters in order, starting at the top left and moving to the right along the top row, then back to the left in second row. The resulting advice is FIRST LETTERS ALL CLUES.
- Part II (Evan’s advice): Repeat the same process, but this time with the rebus squares, which are also in a different position. The resulting phrase is TAKE SOME TIME TO ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE.
- Parts III and IV: Read just the first letters of all the across clues, then all of the down clues. They both lead to related quotes by two very different people.
Across– “AIN’T NOTHING IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD LIKE THE PEACE THAT I HAVE FOUND IN THE LITTLE THINGS AND THE JOY THEY BRING.” -INDIA.ARIE
Down- “YOU NEED TO LET THE LITTLE THINGS THAT WOULD ORDINARILY BORE YOU SUDDENLY THRILL YOU.” -ANDY WARHOL
If you’re anything like me, you skipped over Part II once the message in the circled letters was uncovered. But while that hint wasn’t by any means “necessary,” it certainly enhanced the overall meta and the required rebus square was fun to find during the solve.
Some time ago, Evan offered another meta variety puzzle that blew me away. At the end of my write-up, I wondered how he would meet the bar he set with that construction. Well… he did. And perhaps he raised it even more. This is fantastic construction. Never mind the fact that he found two quotes with a similar sentiment that use exactly the right number of letters with citations included (see Evan’s note at bottom of write-up). The cluing was spot on and I never suspected there was a message hidden in the clues themselves. Often, when using the first-letter-in-clue gimmick, the wording can seem somewhat forced. Not here.
The added constraints of employing both circled letters and rebus squares in each grid while ensuring that their locations were different 20 times over is mind-boggling.
And, of course, each of the grids was clean. Why would you expect anything less?
I must confess that it took some time for me to put the grids in proper order. I spent 30 frustrating minutes trying to anagram the circled letters with no rationale (all the time knowing that Evan would never ask this of a solver) and wound up with FIRST LETTERS ELCASLUL. Those last 8 letters stumped me. It wasn’t until I wrote over each circled letter in a different colored pen that I noticed my hand moving to a different spot in the grid each time. Silly me. I should’ve noticed sooner.
Unfortunately, solvers who don’t bother with the meta are going to experience a puzzle that seems just fine- leaving them with a “So what?” feeling- as there is nothing particularly challenging about the grids as stand-alone puzzles. Some will no doubt be annoyed by the rebus squares or complain that their Sunday was marred because the constructor dared to do something different. That’s a bummer.
If you fall in that category, I’d ask you to just take a moment to appreciate the work that went into this before you invariably click one star in the ratings. It’s the little things- like solving a unique puzzle on a Sunday- that should suddenly thrill us.
- 9A [No-no for a child] SASS. That’s a no-no? 13 years of teaching in public school makes me think that many children consider SASS a yes-yes. :)
- 49A [Eggs on Halloween] AMMO. I’ve never gotten egged- nor have I gotten a trick-or-treater at my door. I buy the king sized candy bars every year thinking that maybe just this once someone will knock on my door in the middle of nowhere. Or at least hurl an egg my way. Nope.
- 2D [Oscar winner for “Brokeback Mountain”] ANG LEE. Hands up for LEDGER! The right amount of letters for the rebus… but turns out he didn’t win. I found this first grid to be the hardest of all of them.
- 48D [Wednesday, to Fester] NIECE. I’m currently musically directing The Addams Family musical. This is the third time I’ve been roped in for assisting with that show. It’s quite possibly one of the worst musicals ever.
I asked Evan if he wouldn’t mind describing some challenges he met in creating this week’s puzzle. Here is a portion of what he sent:
The puzzle itself went through several phases and I gave it a major overhaul after test-solvers looked at it. I don’t know how long I spent looking for suitable quotes that could fit with the right number of letters. I nearly settled on this quote from Alexandra Adornetto’s book “Halo” to be the 40-letter rebus element, but I pulled back on that for reasons I don’t remember. Maybe it’s because I’d have had to fit in HALO somewhere in one of the grids as like a revealer when fitting around the rebus letters might have been tough, or maybe the rebus bigrams themselves weren’t ideal. Anyway, that was the only “little things” quote from any source I could find that fit nicely into 40 letters without chopping it up or deleting words here or there to make it fit, so it felt like a lucky find whether I used it or not. The song lyric by India.Arie and the quote by Andy Warhol felt like unlucky finds at first until I realized that adding their names made it all work.
A solid 5 stars for the meta and construction.
And of course, this:
Paul Coulter’s New York Times crossword, “Represent!”—Amy’s write-up
I love the theme! Sort of a “solve this rebus puzzle,” outside-the-box thinking, creative challenge.
- 23a. [13579 AZ], ODDS AND ENDS. 13579 are odd numbers, A and Z are the ends of the alphabet.
- 36a. [Large large skip skip], TOO BIG TO IGNORE. Two “big” synonyms, two “ignore” synonyms.
- 56a. [AT hot dog hot dog RA], FRANK SINATRA. Hot dogs (franks) in AT–RA. This would be better with pictures of hot dogs in between the AT and RA.
- 66a. [Wound + dis], ADD INSULT TO INJURY. Injury synonym + insult synonym.
- 80a. [PP UU BB], PARALLEL BARS. In the newspaper version, this clue’s presented as the two parallel instances of the word PUB running downward.
- 94a. [Per spire], BREAKING A SWEAT. The “A” bit is a little hard to account for in the clue. I wouldn’t call perspire “a sweat,” just a synonym for “sweat.”
- 117a. [Yearn ÷ do], LONG OVERDUE. As in calling 5 ÷ 2 the fraction “5 over 2,” and changing “do” to DUE.
I like that the solver has to take a different approach to unraveling each themer. I hope you all enjoyed the process, too! But I can imagine that the puzzle pissed off people who prefer the more customary sorts of wordplay.
Five more things:
- 76a. [Comment on a blog], POST. No, no, no. Comments are comments, posts are posts. You’re reading a post. What you do to your comment is post it, but that doesn’t make it “a post.” Thus has the blogger decreed.
- 25a. [Hash houses], BEANERIES. I have never once called any sort of restaurant a beanery. Raise your hand if you actually have ever done that, and not in a crosswordy mocking fashion the way I like to announce “I go” to my husband when I’m leaving the house.
- 49a. [Opening in a battlement], CRENEL. I know the adjective crenellated, and crenellations, but CRENEL was newish to me.
- 101a. [___ Caovilla, Italian shoe designer], RENE. Is this Caovilla’s first time in an American crossword clue? I’ve never heard of him. Let’s Google … Oh! Fancy women’s shoes. Like cashmere boots that extend above the knee and look like gray sweatsuit material, for €1150. In America, you can shop for his footwear at Neiman Marcus. Please share a picture of you wearing your new Caovillas.
- 79d. [Durable yellow cotton cloth], NANKEEN. After I had the first three letters, I knew it was that fabric named after Nanking, but did not recall how it was spelled. Seems like a rather ignorant spelling.
There wasn’t a whole lot that I really liked in the fill, and plenty that felt difficult and/or clunky. 4.5 stars for the theme, 3.25 for the fill.
Mark McClain and George Telfer’s LA Times crossword, “Hangers-on” – Jenni’s write-up
Is this George Telfer’s debut? We didn’t have a tag for him, so I think so (at least in the puzzles we review). This puzzle could also be titled “Hang-ers On.” Each theme entry has an extra “ers” hanging on a base phrase.
- 23a [What the acrobatic landlady liked to do?] is JUMP OVER BOARDERS (jump overboard).
- 32a [TruTV show for board game enthusiasts?] is REALITY CHECKERS (reality check). Does TruTV have a show called “Reality Check?” I couldn’t find evidence of that. There was a show by that name in 1995 starring Ryan Seacrest as an inventor who gets stuck in his mainframe computer.
- 52a [When a pro might practice at Augusta National?] is BEFORE THE MASTERS. “Two Years Before The Mast” is a 19th-century memoir by Richard Henry Dana.
- 69a [Gym employees for those getting in shape fast?] are EXPRESS TRAINERS (express train). In Britain, those would be Flash Gordon’s sneakers.
- 90a [Gold medal winners at the Renaissance fair?] are TRIUMPHAL ARCHERS (triumphal arch).
- 104a [Wedding chapel’s main form of advertising?] is HITCHING POSTERS (hitching post). I present today’s earworm.
- 120a [Where bills should be put after an audit?] is BACK IN THE FOLDERS (back in the fold).
This is a solid, consistent theme. None of the entries are particularly amusing but they’re not boring, either.
A few other things:
- I could have done without the side-by-side fill-in-the-blank clues at 2d and 3d. YOU’RE it and NOM DE plume are awkward partials.
- Anyone else bothered by 7d [Sandwich shop order]? I don’t think ON RYE is an order. It’s part of an order.
- 25d [Guy’s girlfriend] is tricky, since “Guy” is the French man’s name, not the English slang word. The answer is AMIE.
- 53d [Legally off base] is the military usage, not baseball. It’s ON LEAVE.
- 71d [Words near an “F,” maybe] made me think of music, but it’s grades – the answer is SEE ME.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: I’d never heard of the INCA ruler Huáscar.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s CRooked crossword, “Themeless Challenger”—Judge Vic’s review
Here we have a 130-word crossword without a theme. It’s a toughie, as CRookeds go, but it does have its fun aspects. I liked:
- 33a [Galaxy rival] IPHONE XS MAX (I had to look up how to space that),
- 92a [Life preserver?] CEREAL AISLE,
- 11a [Homes for some bats] EQUIPMENT ROOMS, and
- 49a [Was somewhat loopy] HAD A SCREW LOOSE.
I did not particularly care for 4d SKEANS, 65a PREDATORIAL, 110a UNEASILY, 18d ENSNARED, 77a ENTRUSTS, 76d SINECURE, and 81d ICONICAL. YMMV. Otherwise, …
8a [*NSYNC member] ASTERISK–Clever clue, to which I’d like to add a pronunciation footnote: “The second S in this word is not silent and it’s not at the end!” I doubt a single reader of this review needs that information.
40a REHAB is accompanied by 19d DETOXES and 47d [Strip alkie] CAPP–an odd, and possibly unintentional mini-theme.
16d EDGES OUT and 17d YOUR MOVE are good, solid ILSA’s and feel somehow related, through their tone of competition.
Speaking of ILSA’s, there’s nothing wrong with 57a PARADE REST,
3d KAMALA HARRIS, 74a COME NOW, or 21a SEAQUAKE.
I like 44d FACETIOUS, in which five vowels appear alphabetically in a 9-letter word.
Gotta love 61d JE NE SAIS QUOI! I never see it spelled vertically.
I noted, emotionlessly, that the fill seemed to contain an unduly large amount of trivia-type answers: CAPP, COLLINS, ELGIN, ERNEST, ERNO, HACKMAN, JANINE, JLAW, KAMALA HARRIS, LAREDO, LINUS, MALTESE, MAVS, MESSI, MEX, MOORE, OLMOS, PELE, PELOSI, SAHL, SAJAK, SAMSONS, SUSAN, TEXAN, WESER. Not saying it’s too many. Just asking.
I’m giving this one a 3.5.