Jacob Stulberg’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “The Birds and the Bees” — Jim P’s review
I needed not one, but two a-ha moments to grok this theme. About 3/4 of the way through the puzzle I realized all the base phrases were animals that got changed to wacky phrases with the addition of the letter B. It wasn’t until I started writing up this review that I realized that all the animals were birds. Hence, the perfectly apt title!
- 16a [Sending hostile tweets to athlete Jackson?] FLAMING BO
- 23a [Floor covering for a wide hallway?] BROAD RUNNER
- 34a [New Year’s game in a blizzard?] SNOWY BOWL
- 48a [Winnie-the-Pooh’s mixing device?] HONEY BEATER
- 57a [Flashy jewelry worn on the red carpet?] STAR BLING
None of these is particularly lol-funny, but I appreciate the constraints that were levied by limiting the base phrases to types of birds. I found the conceit behind the theme to be sufficiently clever that the clues could get by without making me laugh.
The only bird I didn’t know was the honeyeater, probably because it is most common to Australia and New Guinea. Nice to learn that there is a Micronesian Honeyeater native to my ancestral home of Guam, however the Égigi hasn’t been seen on the island since 1986. 😢
Having a nine-letter central themer really messes with the grid. As a consequence, we have an upper half and a lower half joined in the middle and there aren’t any long marquee Down entries. The corners are loaded with 7s and 6s, but they’re all mostly support entries like UNLINED, DINED ON, and the like. Fill is not this grid’s strong point.
Plus there’s roll-your-own PRICERS, weird plural TYS, and extra-kludgy ON ABC clued as a partial [ESPN ___ (some sportscasts since 2006)]. Meh.
Clues of note:
- 21a [Order with simple capitals]. DORIC. You know what, I’m going to raise the white flag and ask for help on this one. Anyone?
- 28a [Nondairy milk source]. With _AT, I was really afraid the grid wanted RAT or CAT. Thankfully, it was only asking for OAT (although to be honest, I’m not sure how you milk an OAT).
The theme is the star in this grid and it won me over with its cleverness. 3.9 stars.
Brian Thomas’ New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
Thursday is here (at least in the eyes of the NYT Crossword App, which is what counts, right?) We’ve got a puzzle from Brian Thomas tonight that was pretty easy to figure out the aha on:
- 17A: 1968 Clint Eastwood western with six nooses on its poster — HANG E HIGH
- 23A: Cheer at a Texas football game — HOOK E HORNS
- 37A: Toy boxer in a classic two-person game — ROCK E SOCK E ROBOT
- 46A: “Show the world what you’ve got” — KNOCK E DEAD
- 59A: “Hands in the air!” … or a literal hint to 17-, 23-, 37-, and 46-A — STICK EM UP
That last one explains what’s going on – the Ms from the various `EMs in the answers have been placed one square above, filling in T-MEN, MESMER (both Ms), AMEN, and ISOMER in the down fill. This isn’t a theme I haven’t seen before, but it’s executed well and with a minimum of frequently seen fill.
The Electric Slide, as pointed out by 3D, is a LINE DANCE
Three random notes:
- I have never heard the term CHIN MUSIC and I refuse to acknowledge it as a synonym for chitchat or small talk.
- Crossworder Chris King was once incredulous when I told him that there are two indie bands named for an island in the Caribbean: St. Vincent and St. LUCIA.
- XBOX GAMES is a lovely bit of fill! As is PINE TREES which crosses it.
That’s it for today. TADA!
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Fireball Crossword,”Covert Operations” – Derek’s write-up
Filling in for Jenni on the Fireball while she does HER vacation duties! There is probably a cool way to display what is going on with the grid, but I am not feeling well, so I will just explain it: the theme answers all have blank clues, and the answers are literal meanings of the clue number using a little rebus action. You only see the initial rebus letters in the grid image, but here is what those answers are:
- 18A SIX AND TWELVE
- 28A TWO FROM THIRTY
- 45A FIFTY MINUS FIVE
- 60A SIXTY PLUS ZERO
The crossers for the rebus are as follows:
- 8D [Neighbor of South Sudan] UGANDA
- 29D [“Europe on 5 Dollars a Day” author Arthur] FROMMER
- 35D [Ends] TERMINUSES
- 61D [Soft to the touch] PLUSHY
It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on. The difficulty level of these Fireballs are usually a little high on my scale, but this one was not quite as thorny as normal. My solving time was a guess, but full disclosure: I solved this at work while doing several other things at once! Alex makes great puzzles, and this one is no exception. A solid 4.6 stars from me.
Just a few more things:
- 27A [Couple hanging out in hip joints?] FEMURS – Best clue in the puzzle! Not in small part because my hips hurt a lot!
- 53A [Aficionado’s exclamation] OLÉ! – This is a play on the fact that aficionado is Spanish for fan. I think!
- 65A [David portrayer on a TV show starring David (as himself)] HINES – I don’t know what this clue is talking about …
- 3D [Fish used in making dashi] BONITO – This, to me, is a toughie. I consider myself a mild foodie, what with as much Food Network as I have seen over the years, but I don’t hear this term that often. Perhaps because there is not much fresh ocean catch here in the midwest!
- 11D [2004 thriller with the tagline “If the signal dies so does she”] CELLULAR – Ah, back when not everyone had one of these. Kinda like that other movie, The Net from 1995!
- 12D [Mean in the 90s] A AVERAGE – Nicely done.
- 37D [Tombstone graveyard] BOOTHILL – I think I saw this in a trivia contest not too long ago. Learned League maybe?
- 38D [Like Crayola crayons] NON-TOXIC – I like this too. I also know kids that have eaten these things …
That is all! See you back here on Saturday.
Ross Trudeau’s Universal crossword, “Canned Speech” – Jim Q’s writeup
Beans! Beans! I hear they’re good for your heart…
THEME: Two-word phrases in which either word can precede “beans.”
- 17A [*Benevolent spellcasting] WHITE MAGIC. “White beans” and “Magic beans.”
- 24A [*Chocolate ingredient] COCOA BUTTER.
- 47A [*Basic Starbucks order] BLACK COFFEE.
- 54A [*”Three Little Pigs” comedy rock band] GREEN JELLY.
- 32A [Energetic, or what the starred answers are] FULL OF BEANS.
I was delightfully surprised to see GREEN JELLY in the grid- I’d bet a lot of solvers don’t remember that band with their goofy “Three Little Pigs” stop-animation music video from the ’90s. I remember that they were sued by Kraft as well, since their original name was Green Jello. Turns out this band is still around, though it’s had a revolving door of members.
Grid felt smooth- hangups for me included SANTA (as clued), APHASIC, and SHORT RANGE. Had trouble seeing ADVENTS too, but crossing AFIELD (a word I’ve never used), it was tough to get the A. OLLA is always ugly. Plural makes it uglier.
Overall, a fun puzzle with a tight theme.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword, “Wicked Game”—Andy’s review
I’m back from my travels and on a new assignment! Let’s get down to BizQuigness.
Today, BEQ invites us to EMBRACE THE SUCK [Consciously accept unpleasantries, and an alternate title for this puzzle] at 38a. Four long across entries have embraced the word BAD, to punny effect:
- 17a, DOUBLE BADU [Defend Erykah on the court with two players?]. DOUBLE U + BAD.
- 23a, ONE-L LAMBADA [Forbidden dance done by first-year law students?]. ONE-L LAMA + BAD.
- 48a, SINBAD TAXES [“Arabian Nights” hero‘s levies?]. SIN TAXES + BAD.
- 59a, CARLSBAD JR. [Youngster in the New Mexico caverns?]. CARL’S JR + BAD.
Fun revealer, fun puns — just what you hope for from a theme like these. The puzzle is 14×15 to accommodate the 14-letter revealer, but there was still plenty of good stuff packed in here:
- 3d, MOTHER’S BOY [Child with clinging issues]. I’ve only ever heard this as “mama’s boy,” but it is certainly a trope.
- 28d, LOUIS XVIII [French kind nicknamed “the Desired”]. How much of that nickname do you think was appeasement? “Oh yes, sir, you’re very… desired.”
- In the “did you know?” category, the clue for 8d informs us that Cypress Hill and Rage Against The Machine are both banned for life from SNL.
- The Inspector LYNLEY mysteries were totally new to me at 27a [Inspector in Elizabeth George mysteries].
Great clues on 7d, KEBAB [Sticky lunch?] and 33a, ZIP UP [Deal with a fly]. And a shout-out to EVAN Birnholz at 58a [Puzzle maker Birnholz]!
Until next week!
Gary Larson’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
This was one of those retrospective puzzle themes, at least for me. I didn’t see anything thematic at all while solving apart from the revealer. BREAKINGBAD has been used as a theme revealer before, though I don’t recall the specifics (nor the venue). I don’t know why this puzzle brings Rolling Stone into it, since when are they arbiters of the merits of TV shows? Anyway, the theme – four rows have hidden words split across black squares: SUB/STANDARD, TER/RIB/LE, UN/PLEAS/ANT and DIS/GUS/TING. An elegant touch is that each word crosses all the black squares in that row.
The long synonyms make for a quite ambitious arrangement, and looking back and seeing the theme helps explain some of the seemingly baffling fill choices. 1D, RISKER looked so unnecessary, for instance, but it’s actually holding up two theme entries. In the same corner, ROSITA/CASERTA are a tough pair of crossing names. Another entry that caught me by surprise was DAMA, which in most puzzles is DONA. We get the less common answer to that clue today, however.
3 Stars. Fill was a chore, but at least it was holding down a more ambitious than usual theme.