Tony Orbach & Andrea Michaels’s New York Times crossword, “D.J.’s Spinnin'”—Amy’s write-up
My Sunday NYT debut a decade (!) ago was a collaboration with Tony, also a letter-change theme in which M’s became P’s, prompted by my husband asking if “studpuffins” were a thing. Here, Tony and Andrea change D’s into J’s:
- 26a. [Vacuum cleaner blockage?], HOOVER JAM. Riffing on the Hoover Dam.
- 28a. [Sign at a restricted area of the Playboy Mansion?], JUST BUNNIES. I would have much preferred a little furry mammal clue rather than a Hefner evocation. Rabbits committed to fair play?
- 42a. [Driving through some off-road terrain, say?], ROLLING IN THE JEEP. This one works really well.
- 58a. [San Francisco Giant, for example?], JOCK OF THE BAY. Cute!
- 72a. [Overly serious Irish dancers?], GRAVE JIGGERS. So serious, they’re holding their arms at their sides.
- 88a. [Write an order to replenish inventory of Levi’s?], MAKE THE JEANS LIST. Eh.
- 105a. [Throwaway vault at a gymnastics meet?], GARBAGE JUMP. See also: Every time someone on a Law & Order show or in a movie jumps off a roof and into a dumpster.
- 109a. [Shower gift for a Gemini baby?], JUNE BUGGY. Cute.
As letter-change themes go, this one’s pretty good.
Five more things:
- 36d. [Red Rose], PETE. This tricky clue made me work, given the “wait, which of the 26 letters does it start with?” crossing of 36a. [Where G.I.s shop], PXS. I was thinking of Snow White’s sister Rose Red instead of Cincinnati Reds player Pete Rose.
- 55d. [Cracker brand since 1831], CARR’S. This would have been a lot easier if water cracker had been in the clue instead. Apparently water biscuits or water crackers are made with flour and water, no oil—but Carr’s Table Water Crackers contain palm oil for some reason.
- 14d. [Ponytail holder], SCRUNCHY. Good word. I assume there are plenty of people still using scrunchies despite some people’s disdain for them.
- Vocab quiz: 71d. [Japanese room divider], SHOJI and 108d. [Kind of stick for incense], JOSS. Both words are ones I’ve encountered mostly in crossword grids, but incense fans and people with Japanese houses surely find these ordinary vocab words. (Pokémon Go fans: shoji can be seen in the background of the fighting types.)
- 91d. [More chilly], NIPPIER. This one fills me with rage and dismay. It’s March, and the next 7 days in Chicago will be below freezing. Nothing above 37° is in the 10-day forecast. I mean, I guess I’m grateful not to be grappling with a dreadfully cold polar vortex situation, but I’d love to get past this “it’s the wind chill that really gets you” vibe.”
Top fill: ABOVE ALL, “I, ROBOT,” WISE UP TO, L.L. BEAN.
Four stars from me. No, a letter-change theme doesn’t break new creative ground, but when it’s light and fun and none of the themers make you mad, it works.
Howard Barkin’s Universal Crossword, “Card Catalog”–Judge Vic’s write-up
Once again, I need to start writing and hope this theme comes to me as I do. (When I speed-solve, I often miss the theme.) This process begins with my copy-pasting the theme clues and answers, as I consider what might be contemplated by “Card Catalog” (card types, card games, words/phrases with card in them):
17a [*Intense argument (note each starred answer’s first word[s]!)] WAR OF WORDS—So, I need to pay attention to first words. The first one here is War, the name of a card game. The bracketed s seems unneeded.
22a [*With 51-Across, military honor] TWENTY-ONE–Okay, this is one word, albeit hyphenated, … and the name of a card game. Now I know what 51a is going to be, and it could involve a follow-up thought, so I’m listing it next.
51a [See 22-Across] GUN SALUTE–No star. No need to worry about whether Gun is a card game.
35a [*Behind-the-scenes work] SET DESIGN—Set is a card game designed by Marsha Falco in 1974, which has been in wide distribution since the early ’90s–a factoid I learned 90 seconds ago.
59 *Spanish count? UNO DOS TRES–Clever clue, clever answer. I wonder if Uno is a card game–just kidding!
With five horizontal themers, you’d expect the Acrosses to offer very little else, but Howard managed to get SLO-MO, X-AXIS, I WIN, and RANT AT in there, furthering my theory that good cruciverbalists go for those ILSA’s (9 Across-ILSA’s is impressive). In the Down arena, the ILSA’s just run wild (8 more, for a total of 17! In a themed puzzle! Are you kidding me?!).
1d [Tweet symbol] HASHTAG–This word has really come into its own. See also a note in tomorrow’s review.
2d [Certain current] AC POWER–Only two previous appearances, both in Newsday puzzles.
3d [Not yet born] IN UTERO–Also the title of a Nirvana album from about a quarter-century ago.
10d [Test that lets you practice after you pass] BAR EXAM–I love this clue, but I could be biased, since I once passed a bar exam.
39d [“Isn’t that surprising?”] WHO KNEW–I use this phrase a lot in my reviews to show, aptly, that I’ve learned something new. See also a note in tomorrow’s review.
43d [“To be honest …”] TRUTH IS–Only two previous appearances, NYT in 2012, WSJ in 2018. But it’s a really common phrase.
50d [Finish by] END ON–Oh, these phrases with terminal prepositions that get clued by, uh, phrases with terminal prepositions. Why not simply [“Let’s ___ a high note!”]?
52d [Sun hazard] UV RAY–Whatever happened to regular, old suntan lotion?
Howard Barkin is clever, witty, resourceful, a former ACPT champion, and one super nice guy! “Card Catalog” features an interesting theme, and it is expertly executed!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Show Tunes” – Jim Q’s writeup
You had me at the title. Okay… so it had nothing to do with actual show tunes, but still- I wasn’t disappointed. Playful puzzle from start to finish.
THEME: Aptly titled songs are offered as “alternative themes” for popular television shows.
- 23A [Alternative theme song to “Parenthood”? (Guns N’ Roses)] SWEET CHILD O’ MINE. Hmmm… “sweet” is a bold assertion for parenthood in general. I estimate that I’ve had 2,000 students go through my classroom at this point- they ain’t all sweet (not that that’s a bad thing)!
- 35A [Alternative theme song to “Cosmos”? (the Beastie Boys)] INTERGALACTIC.
- 43A [Alternative theme song to “Band of Brothers”? (Sister Sledge)] WE ARE FAMILY.
- 65A [Alternative theme song to “The Fugitive”? (REO Speedwagon)] TAKE IT ON THE RUN.
- 74A [Alternative theme song to “Alias”? (the Ting Tings)] THAT’S NOT MY NAME.
- 97A [Alternative theme song to “Survivor”? (the Bee Gees)] STAYIN’ ALIVE.
- 106A [Alternative theme song to “Wings”? (Frank Sinatra)] COME FLY WITH ME.
- 118A [Alternative theme song to “Bewitched”? (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)] I PUT A SPELL ON YOU.
One earworm after another. Not only are the pairings between the TV shows and the songs spot-on throughout the puzzle, but all are solidly iconic. Perhaps THAT’S NOT MY NAME is not as well known, but I had it on my gym workout playlist for a long time… and it’s been in my head since I finished this solve. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s catchy:
Also, it seems like an easy task to pair up TV titles with songs, right? It may be trickier than you think…
Two questions for anyone who wishes to partake: 1) Which of the theme answer songs is your favorite? and 2) What’s another apt pairing not listed in the grid? (no need for either the TV show or the song to be iconic).
I’d have to go with 1) I Put a Spell on You (Nina Simone version) and 2) Lost / “Where Are You Going?” (Dave Matthews Band).
- 1A [He has many hands and a prosthetic leg] AHAB. Nothing wrong with starting a puzzle off with a fun clue! “Hands” in this context refers to deckhands.
- 11D [Seating section with special requirements] EXIT ROW. Yes. But we’re all willing go through brief you-may-be-a-hero training in exchange for extra leg room, aren’t we.
- 30D [___ female] ALPHA. When I think “alpha,” I admittedly think “male.” Another reason why I like crossword puzzles. Necessary redirection.
- 60D [FSU athlete, or SpaceX CEO Musk in reverse] NOLE. Thank you, latter half of clue.
- 64D [Gob stopper?] AVAST. Great clue. “Gob” in this context once again referring to a sailor.
- 80D [They hold contacts and lenses] CELL PHONES. I get the contacts part… does “lenses” refer to the cameras? Either way, fun clue. Also, according to my database, this is a debut for CELL PHONES (plural) in a crossword. Not that it means anything. I just found it interesting.
- 92D [“Dear ___ Hansen”] EVAN. At least one musical found its way into a puzzle titled “Show Tunes”! If you haven’t seen it, I highly suggest. Bring a box of Kleenex.
- 98D [Pooch living in 2062] ASTRO. That moment when you realize that there’s a chance you may still be alive in The Jetsons era. I’m looking forward to getting ready for work ala George Jetson… but not so much the predicted regression of gender stereotypes in the modern household.
No picayune things to pick here. 4 stars.
P.S. I vaguely remember a video game clue, but can’t find it now.
Zhoukin Burnikel’s Universal Crossword, “Loads of Fun”–Jim Q’s write-up
Took me a second to get going- was shocked to see circles appearing in the Universal puzzle. I solve in AcrossLite, but I’m hoping that it appears the same way universally (mediocre pun intended). Otherwise, I can imagine a lot of confusion. Fingers crossed… but I hope that Universal is now embracing the power of the circled squares.
THEME: Synonyms for “Lot” (as in a quantity) appear backwards in theme answers.
- 23A [*Grand masters?] PIANO TEACHERS. Ton. Been solving crosswords for 30 years now. Teaching piano for 20. Saw the question mark. Still thought it was a golf clue.
- 36A [*One of two in “USA”] VOWEL SOUND. Slew.
- 53A [*Some office bugs] PHONE TAPS. Spate. Yeesh. Not an office I want to work in. I’d rather teach English and defend my right to compose sentence fragments, ending them with prepositions as I see fit.
- 75A [*Ship sinkers, it’s said] LOOSE LIPS. Pile.
- 88A [*”It’s a Wonderful Life” director] FRANK CAPRA. Pack.
- 105A [*”Get on Your Feet” singer] GLORIA ESTEFAN. Sea.
- 31D [*Jimmy Carter’s onetime profession] PEANUT FARMER. Raft.
- 40D [*Carried off secretly] SPIRITED AWAY. Wad.
- 108A [Studio filming place, and a hint to the starred answers’ figurative synonyms] BACKLOT.
One of my favorite constructors, though I’m sure a lot of constant solvers sigh with relief when Burnikel is the surname in the byline. Essentially, you’re guaranteed a consistent, understandable solve experience with solid fill. In that respect, it doesn’t disappoint.
I saw early on that the circled letters read another word in reverse, but still didn’t grok the connection until the revealer. Good “Aha!” moment uncovering BACKLOT, but I guess I just don’t find the word “lot” or its synonyms all that exciting.
With so many theme answers (all solid and fun to uncover regardless of the theme), the fill is still impressively clean with longer answers such as PIE CRUST, EAT DIRT, FIRE LANE, MET GALA, IT’S A GO, and WIN BIG adding to the overall quality.
Anyone else enter SHADE for DRAPE, then DUCK for PORK as a result and have a momentary mess in the NE?
RAMEKINS clued as [Small baking dishes] took me a while too- As a person who started working in restaurants at thirteen years old and hasn’t completely left yet, I’ve only known them as “quaint sauce holders.”
Thanks for this one, C.C.! 3.7 Stars.
CC Burnikel’s LA Times crossword, “Revisiting the Past – Jenni’s write-up
I’m posting from Newark Airport, where we are awaiting a flight to Iceland. I may have had a glass of a very nice Chilean sauvignon blanc with dinner, which may account for forgetting to turn on the timer and for not being entirely sure I’ve grokked the theme.
I think that each theme answer contains the abbreviation AD. Well, I know that’s true. I think that’s the whole deal with the theme, and it seems pretty thin. If I missed something, I trust you will let me know in the comments.
The theme answers:
- 23a [Process that may transform a neutron into a proton] is BETA DECAY.
- 28a [Line on a package] is STREET ADDRESS.
- 45a [Navy bigwig] is a FLEET ADMIRAL.
- 53a [Online pop-up, say] is an INTERNET AD.
- 69a [Common animal welfare goal] is PET ADOPTION. Oh, how I wish there were another term for it. My daughter, who was adopted at birth, hates this phrase.
- 90a [Tip for a loser?] is DIET ADVICE.
- 97a [Barbershop standard] is SWEET ADELINE.
- 114a [Anonymous fan] is a SECRET ADMIRER.
and a revealer at 122a [Makes retroactive … or what the eight other longest Across answers have]: BACK DATES. This is what confuses me. We’re still in the AD era (well, I’d prefer we refer to it as CE, or the common era, which is non-sectarian, but that’s a separate argument) so why do themers have BACK DATES? The letters AD aren’t universally in the back of the clues. I really do think I missed something.
A few other things:
- There’s an awkward partial at 5a [At the drop of __] A HAT. Meh.
- 31a [Hefty closer] is a TWIST TIE. I’m not the only one who was thinking “Hefty Hefty Hefty…wimpy wimpy wimpy…”
- 42a [Ostrich relative] is an EMU, and gives me the chance to link to this article.
- 50d [Franklin and Jefferson, religiously] were DEISTS. This is not the same as Christian, just in case you thought the US really was founded as a Christian nation.
- 111a [Longtime comic with a “Great Jewish Joke Book”] is ALAN KING. I knew this because my parents owned the aforementioned joke book and a book called “Help! I’m a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery.” King died in 2004 and was most popular in the 1950s and early 60s. I suspect this entry was mysterious to many people who are younger than I am and not Jewish.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that TED Danson appears in the TV version of “Fargo.”
Universal syndication doesn’t support circled or shaded squares, but David has bowed to comments here and elsewhere so includes them in the 21×21 Across Lite version when appropriate. I have no idea what the puzzle looks like in print.
The 15x15s are converted from the Andrews McMeel distribution (with permission, of course) so they can’t include circles. If a daily cries out for circles, we can gently remind David but I’m sure it would be a major battle.
The Wall Street Journal daily now supports circles and the Across Lite conversion preserves them, and it would be great if the Universals do too some day. But the 21x21s are hand tweaked by David for our solving pleasure.
Thanks for the clarification.
WaPo: Tetractys (in the clue for 12D) – lovely! I love it when numbers arrange themselves artfully. Triangular numbers are not only beautiful, but are useful in sports (for the number of matches in a round robin) and can also be seen in network connectivity applications. Thanks for including number theory in the puzzle. It’s nice to see math and science entries.
The theme was fun, too. Lots of earworms, like Jim said. I have “I Put A Spell On You” roaming around in my head right now. I probably would not have ever heard it, except that it is a track on our Halloween collection CD.
NYT: Excellent rendition of the change-a-letter theme for a Sunday. I imagine the J is not easy to have repeatedly in the middle of your (constructor) business. Yet the crosses were great… SHOJI being a case in point— I have some Shoji screens that I use in a variety of ways. JOCK of the BAY was really cute. In general I liked the San Francisco vibe including the SPAN of the Golden Gate Bridge. And lest we forget, we got ACME’s signature tucked right there on the West Coast at about the right latitude.
Very good cluing as well. Overall, a wonderful collaboration, smooth, fun and playful by a talented duo.
New York Magazine: I cannot see the puzzle on my Mac. A couple people on the magazine’s website mentioned the same problem. Is anyone else having problems accessing this puzzle? It’s snowing here (again), and I could use another Sunday puzzle!
What does ILSA’s mean in Judge Vic’s write up?
That’s a great question. ILSA is a term he coined which means “In Language Stand Alone.” His explanation of it to me is one of the many helpful pieces of advice when I started to construct. Essentially, it’s the most desirable fill. The entry BLACK by itself is not an ILSA. It’s not a word/phrase that stands alone. Similarly CAT is not an ILSA. However, BLACK CAT is. It’s “in-language” (as opposed to ORANGE CAT which- although it exists- isn’t really a term people use), and it stands alone as a recognizable “thing” that needs no further qualifiers. It’s the kind of entry that makes you go “Ahh!” rather than “Eew!” Typically, themeless puzzles are chock full of ILSAs. Much harder to get this type of “Aah!” fill in a themed puzzle due to restrictions.
D0n’t think anyone’s commented on this yet but re: LAT – the word “date” is backwards in the theme answers. Doesn’t have anything to do with AD.
Was about to say the same. And Ted Danson was a welcome addition to season 2 of Fargo.
Thanks, I had no idea what the theme referred to.
My weekly local paper prints the Sunday Universal Crossword on the following Wednesday, so I just saw it.
There are no circles in the paper. Instead, the theme clues have the letter numbers. So 23A is “Grand masters? (see letters 6-4)” Not quite as obvious as circles would have been, but it worked fine. And I’m so delighted to finally have good puzzles that I’m not about to complain about circles.