Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 412), “Not Thinking Straight”—Ade’s take
Good day, everybody! Here is hoping you’re all doing well! Today’s crossword puzzle takes the brain for a spin, as circled letters in the grid form a RIGHT ANGLE (18A: [90-degree turn featured in this puzzle’s theme]) in four different sections and, when filled, the word “brain” is formed. Given the twisted nature to how the word appears, we have MIND BENDER as the other reveal entry, and that phrase is now reminding me of the G.I. Joe villain Dr. Mindbender and, in turn, taking me back to when I was a wee lad and watching cartoons (61A: [Hallucinogen…or an apt title for this puzzle!]).
- BRAY (17A: [Hee-haw]) + SPAIN (3D: [Portugal’s neighbor])
- ABRA (29A: [Start of a spell]) + MAINLY (26D: [By and large])
- LIBRA (45A: [Many an October baby]) + RAINS (41D: [April forecasts])
- SABRA (60A: [Native Israeli]) + FAINT (56D: [Swoon])
The long fill in today’s grid was very sartorial in nature, from BRA BURNER (34D: [Women’s rights participant in a 1960s bonfire]) to HALTER TOP (12D: [Shoulder-baring blouse]) to YOGA PANTS, something I’ll never invest in even with my increased participating in yoga due to being a chaperone at a summer youth camp which features a morning yoga class (11D: [Garment you might wear while doing the Downward-Facing Dog]). Thank goodness that I had a working memory of some of the things and concepts hit on in Remembrance of Things Past to know MADELEINE pretty quickly (33D: [Little cake immortalized by Proust]). Man, I hadn’t come across any reference to MYA in a good long while before doing this puzzle, as she was the “it” singer for a hot minute after “Ghetto Superstar” got a lot of rotation (28D: [One-named singer of “It’s All About Me”]). I’m probably the only person who thought of John Vernon’s role as MR. BIG in the 1980s blaxploitation comedy/spoof, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, when filling in that entry (21D: [Underworld boss, slangily]). If anyone else knows what I’m talking about and/or has seen that movie before, then you’re immediately awesome!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ESPO (14A: [Bruin Phil, to fans]) – When “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, scored a mind-boggling 92 goals in the 1981-82 season and shattered the NHL record for most goals scored in a season (a record that still stands to this day), the player who held record beforehand was “ESPO,” former Boston Bruins great Phil Esposito, who scored 76 goals in the 1970-71 season in becoming the first player to score at least 70 goals in a season in National Hockey League history. After his Hall-of-Fame career ended, Esposito was instrumental in bringing professional hockey to the state of Florida, co-founding the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992.
Thank you so much for the time, everyone! Have a wonderful rest of your Tuesday and, as always, keep solving!!
Erik Agard’s Wall Street Journal crossword—Nate’s write-up
The moment I see Erik Agard’s byline, I know I’m ready to marinate in a great puzzle. Let’s jump in!
3D: EXTRA EXTRA LARGE [Maximal size]
8D: GREAT GREAT AUNT [High branch in a family tree]
10D: AFTER AFTER PARTY [Third function of the night]
14D: OFF OFF BROADWAY [Experimental theater venue]
“Doubling Down” is right! The first two words of each lovely themer are the same, and they’re all downs (instead of the more traditional across) to line up with the title. I dig it, especially with how clean, crisp, and fresh the grid is while containing 58 theme-related squares!
What I loved more about this puzzle is how it had more moments of representation for the black/African American communities than most puzzles I’ve seen lately combined. In this puzzle alone, we have AFRO, Beale Street as one of the referenced STS, Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” as a way to clue SAL, “Girls Trip” actress and comedian REGINA HALL, Leslie Jones as the reference point for SNL, and WEAVE. What is important for constructors (including myself) to notice is that so many of these references and representations were made possible via inclusive cluing. STS, SAL, SNL, and WEAVE could have all been clued in other, non-representative ways, but they weren’t.
More cluing and fill like this as a way to represent folks from underrepresented groups would be fantastic! If you didn’t like this puzzle as much because it didn’t represent you as much as every other puzzle always does, think about how regularly folks from underrepresented groups might crave even one bit of representation or one moment of inclusion in the puzzles they love to solve.
Case in point: I was recently solving a back stack of recent puzzles and came across a clue for ELIO in a Peter Gordon puzzle that was simply [Oliver’s lover in “Call Me By Your Name”]. To see gay love (and sexual at that!) clued as straightforwardly and matter-of-factly as it was stopped me dead in my solve out of sheer joy and astonishment. Is it crazy to say that it’s one of the only times I’ve really felt seen in mainstream crosswords lately? That one little clue could do so much for me as a queer person is just an example of how meager the bits of representation are of non-white/cis/straight men in puzzles. How much richer the solving experience would be for a larger community if there were more representation and inclusion! Thank you, Peter, for that clue. And thanks, Erik, for today’s great puzzle!
Other tidbits I loved in this puzzle: XOXO, Meryl Streep as a reference for OSCAR, and BAE. What a fun solve!
Ed Sessa’s Universal Crossword, “Battle of the bulge”—Judge Vic’s write-up
So, Ed has provided four 15-letter ILSA’s, within which AGE
becomes A G E,
then A G E,
then A G E.
Ed wastes no time in establishing this theme, giving us the reveal right up front:
- 17a [Fortysomething’s woe, or this puzzle’s theme] MIDDLE-AGE SPREAD
- 24a [Threat to peace] ACT OF AGGRESSION
- 42a [Handshake precursor, perhaps] VERBAL AGREEMENT
- 56a [One shunning pesticides] ORGANIC GARDENER
Notwithstanding this 15-15-15-15 theme, Ed manages a couple more nice ILSA’s in the horizontal lineup:
- 20a [Already taken] SPOKEN FOR
- 51a [Union label?] MADE IN USA
and more in the vertical arena:
- 4d [“___ and Broomsticks”] BED KNOBS
- 6d [Discombobulated] IN A FOG
- 24d [Where to see “20/20”] ABC TV
- 29d “Uncle!” I GIVE
- 31d [Big bomb trial, briefly] N-TEST
- 38d [“Slammin'” golfer] SAM SNEAD
- 44d [Biter in a colony] RED ANT
The above fill excellence seems to have come at a small price–a slightly disproportionate number of plural nouns and singular verbs: PCS, OUZOS, BLABS, COTS, PRIGS, etc., but that did not take away from my enjoyment.
Nice job, Ed! 4 stars.
Amanda Chung & Karl Ni’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Cute theme. The PET SOUNDS revealer is clued: 64a. [Beach Boys album with the hit “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” … or things hidden in 17-, 31-, 37- and 49-Across]. And the circled letters in HOMEOWNER, TWO OF A KIND, TATTOO INK, and THIS SIDE UP spell out a cat’s MEOW, dog’s WOOF, pig’s OINK (there is actually a pet pig living in my urban neighborhood), and a … snake’s HISS, or maybe also a cat’s.
Five more things:
- 5a. [Mars candy bar with caramel and milk chocolate]. TWIX. Who will bring me a Twix bar right now?
- 14a. [“___ she blows!”], THAR. No matter how many times I see this in crosswords, I still can’t get Words With Friends to accept it as a word.
- 54a. [Popular European comic book hero], TINTIN. This Belgian character never really did break out in the U.S.
- 3d. [One with a squeaky wheel?], HAMSTER. Cute clue! And a nice bonus pet in the puzzle.
- 59d. [Final Fantasy and others, in brief], RPGS. Role-playing games. Much more pleasant than a rocket-propelled grenade.
Fave fill: WINNOW, THWART, FACE PAINT, KING TUT. Unfave (aka tough for a Tuesday): TES, ACRO-, TSAR, maybe CORONET.
3.8 stars from me.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Start the Picture” – Derek’s write-up
I literally laughed out loud at the theme answer at 38A! We have a movie themed puzzle today, with the revealer at the very end:
- 18A [It’s put on when being courageous] BRAVE FACE
- 23A [Cereal with a cuckoo mascot] COCOA PUFFS
- 38A [Delivery person in a brown uniform] UPS DRIVER
- 54A [Host of “The Voice”] CARSON DALY
- 61A [Blockaded] WALLED OFF
- 73A [Movie studio that the beginnings of the 5 theme answers have in common] PIXAR
I put the movie titles in red to better explain the theme. Like Matt, I have children, so I have seen some of these Pixar movies, but believe it or not I have never seen Brave or Wall-E, and only most of Coco, even though I think they can easily be seen for free at times on different platforms. My 6-year-old doesn’t often sit through movies, so that is a big reason why. But the key entry is smack dab in the middle; a stark reminder of my constant brown uniform for nearly 30 years! UPS is often a puzzle entry, but UPS DRIVER would be a debut NYT entry. A solid 4.6 stars this week.
A few more high points:
- 11A [“Power Is Power” singer born Solána Imani Rowe] SZA – You have heard her music. She may not be a household name yet, but in the R&B world she is a big name. Her album “Ctrl” has several songs that are quite popular in streaming. I’ll bet you have heard her in the Black Panther theme song.
- 41A [He played House] LAURIE – I love this show, so what I think was meant to be a tricky clue I’ll bet will fall into most people’s wheelhouse. Hugh Laurie will ALWAYS be Dr. House!
- 72A [Campus head, in headlines] PREXY – Is this short for “president?”
- 19D [Early Civil War battle site in Tenn.] FT. HENRY – The abbreviation indicator is clear with Tennessee being shoretened in the clue, which is all I ask when answers do this!
- 34D [Phantasmagoric] SURREAL – Or just plain scary1
- 37D [“Elena of ___” (Disney Channel cartoon)] AVALOR – Ah, the obscure (at least to me!) pop-culture reference of this week. Suffice it to say I almost NEVER watch the Disney Channel
- 57D [Plural seen way more in Ancient Greek history than in the modern decathlon] DISCI – Yes, this is the plural of DISCUS! This is not the greatest entry, but it makes perfect sense! It is so rare to me that it just looks like a misspelled word!
- 62D [Comedian Siddiq] ALI – I don’t know this comic, and surprisingly, I don’t see a Netflix special for him, which is where I thought I had seen his name before. Time to watch more Comedy Central!
That is all!
Robert Fisher’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
The key with solving Downs Only is trying to figure out what the theme is. This one was straightforward enough to enable a fairly smooth confidence-bolstering solve in just under 6 minutes. The revealer at 58A explains it all. Even though I solved without them, here are the theme entries:
- 17A [Small plucked instrument] THUMB PIANO
- 24A [New York region, or its narrow bodies of water] FINGER LAKES
- 33A [Tropical tree leaf] PALM FROND
- 51A [Fluttering pitch] KNUCKLEBALL
- 58A [Popular necktie knot … and a hint to the starts of 17-, 24-, 33- and 51-Across] FOUR-IN-HAND
So once you can see parts of the hand in an across entry or two, it was fairly obvious what was going on, but the glue entry at 58A definitely ties this one up in a neat bow. This one was fun. 4.4 stars today.
Some Downs highlights:
- 6D [Like teenagers in the comic strip “Zits”] SKINNY – I know this comic, but I wouldn’t describe them this way. Not all of the kids in that strip are thin. Here is an example:
- 12D [Source of machismo, perhaps] MALE EGO – This was much better. And also something I know nothing about! ;-)
- 26D [NFL analyst Tony] ROMO – He has actually turned into an excellent football analyst. In a playoff game this past January, he was practically predicting plays with high accuracy. He will be a star for years to come.
- 38D [Require much (of)] ASK A LOT – This also was a little tough in Downs Only mode, but a great entry.
- 48D [“Best in Show” org.] A.K.C. – I know my stance is not that popular, but I am not a big fan of dogs, and I certainly don’t understand what is happening at these dog shows. We have zero pets at this time, and it is quite peaceful!
- 61D [“The Da Vinci Code” author Brown] DAN – His books certainly aren’t literary masterpieces, but I enjoy them, especially this one, from the puzzle standpoint that was a key element in this book and the subsequent movie.
Have a great Tuesday, everyone!