Brendan Quigley’s New York Times crossword, “Words of Introduction”—Amy’s write-up
Various phrases that take the form “__ words” are reinterpreted as demanding that the all-caps word in the blank space be expanded as if it were an acronym.
- 21a. [KIND words?], KOH-I-NOOR DIAMOND. Raise your hand if you either kinda thought of Kohinoor as one word or just plain don’t know the phrase and found it a jarring start to the theme.
- 35a. [HAS words?], HEART AND SOUL. As with the first one, the “__ words” phrase has exactly nothing to do with the theme answer, the answer’s just a phrase whose initials fill in the blank.
- 60a. [BIG words?], BELIEF IN GOD. What’s your favorite big word?
- 82a. [ROOT words?], RUN OUT OF TOWN.
- 99a. [SAFE words?], SET A FINE EXAMPLE. Um, nah. “Set a good example is many times more common.
- 15d. [BAD words?], BEYOND ALL DOUBT.
- 44d. [LAST words?], LIKE A SORE THUMB. I don’t care for this one because the phrase feels so incomplete when not prefaced by stick out. And for the clue, last words feels a little weird without “Any __?” or “famous __”
Can you think of a phrase for H.A.R.S.H. words? C.U.S.S.? S.W.E.A.R.?
The theme is a bit spotty, and it felt wildly random till I realized that all (well, most) of the clues are familiar “__ words” phrases.
- 33a. [Wife of Jared Kushner], IVANKA. Gross clue. 99% of us would never have heard of Jared if Ivanka hadn’t married him. I’m no fan of hers, but it’s cheap to clue her as the wife of that dude rather than via her own professional positions and family ties.
- 41a. [Data for auto aficionados], YEARS. Whoa. The clue feels so specific, whereas aficionados of wine, Scotch, architecture, furniture, collectible books, and so on also pay heed to YEARS.
- 56a. [Leaves ’em rolling in the aisles], SLAYS. Newspaper crosswords are still using SLAY for dragons and comedy, whereas in current usage of the word (probably not yet reflected in most dictionaries) it means to do something amazingly well. If you caught Beyoncé in concert or saw a great performance on RuPaul’s Drag Race, you might well report that “she slayed.”
- 98a. [Moses’ father-in-law], REUEL. I wonder if this is more widely familiar as the biblical name or as one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s middle names.
- 66d. [National chain selling crafts and fabrics], JO-ANN. “Michael and Jo-Ann sitting in a tree, C-R-A-F-T-I-N-G.” Sorry, my mind went there. And Hobby Lobby is left out because it doesn’t have a people name.
Did not know: 50d. [Colonial merchant Samuel after whom a famous island is named], ELLIS.
3.33 stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Chain Links” – Jim Q’s writeup
Let’s see what’s in store for today’s WaPo! (See what I did there? “In store”? Hahaha! Hehe. Ugh.)
THEME: Two corporate names placed together and clued wackily
- 23A [Moody Blues co-founder Laine’s real importance?] DENNY’S TRUE VALUE.
- 39A [Actor Rob’s farm building that he uses for making ceramics?] LOWE’S POTTERY BARN.
- 57A [Hidden evidence that a 19th-century British monarch was actually part turtle?] VICTORIA’S SECRET SHELL.
- 67A [U-boat, e.g.?] OLD NAVY TARGET.
- 79A [Singer-songwriter Fats’s tiny clones of a Roman emperor?] DOMINO’S LITTLE CAESARS.
- 96A [Bland news headline about how Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and Aquaman rescue tons of people?] FIVE GUYS SAVE-A-LOT.
- 116A [“Peter Pan” character’s always going to be the minimum drinking age?] WENDY’S FOREVER 21.
It was fun to try to figure out the theme answers with as little fill as possible- I was able to pull off DOMINO’S LITTLE CAESARS and VICTORIA’S SECRET SHELL with only a couple letters. The cluing style strikes me as very Birnholzian with its so-ridiculous-it-works manner. Oddly enough, my favorite clue of the bunch was [U-boat, e.g.?] because of its brevity (and the resulting spot-on answer).
Overall, however, the theme came off as completely… normal. Evan consistently sets the bar so high with inventive and fresh concepts (see last week’s multi-layered and multi-themed puzzle), that when he does issue the occasional “normal” puzzle, it feels like a sorta kinda bummer. I kept wondering what else the themers had in common other than being corporate names. Four of them start with food chains… but the others don’t. One of them features two chains selling the same product… but the others don’t. Four start with peoples’ names in the possessive sense, but one of those was changed to create a verb phrase (WENDY’S). In other words, the theme seems so much looser than what I’m used to seeing in a WaPo.
[“Fargo” actor works for very low pay?] MACY’S JUST A BUCK! [Straphangers?] SUBWAY STAPLES! [Juicy gossip dished by the Pequod’s chief mate?] STARBUCK’S HOT TOPIC! Seems like without Evan’s usual tight constraints, these are fairly simple to piece together.
I don’t want this to read as a complaint, because it’s not. It’s an observation. It was a joyful solve with plenty to like and a super smooth grid. But more often than not, I say to myself “I never would’ve thought of that!” or “I can’t imagine there’s any other theme answers that would’ve worked…” after filling in a WaPo grid. This wasn’t the case here, but it should also be noted that this is a perfect crossword for a newer solver (it even introduces that numbers can occasionally be used in place of letters!).
So rating this with stars becomes tough- I hate this part. 3.8 stars were I solving it in some other publications? 4.5 stars were I new to crosswords? But 2.4 stars in comparison with Evan’s other work? I dunno. It was fine. I think I’m going to forego leaving a star rating for the WaPo in the future. Seems unfair to rate one person week after week against himself.
P.S. Enjoy this classic that I had playing in the background whilst blogging!
Jeff Chen’s Universal Crossword, “Faithfully Yours”—Judge Vic’s write-up
- 51d [“The Lone Ranger” friend whose catchphrase can be heard at the starred answers’ starts] TONTO–Okay, … if the person pronouncing the third syllable is from Bahst’n.
- 17a [*Instrumental figure] KEY PLAYER–No problem here. Even in the deep South, we pretty much say key the same way, no?
- 29a [*”Why I oughta …” Stooge] MOE HOWARD–See above and sub Moe for key.
- 40a [*Had vision trouble at a bar] SAW DOUBLE–I’m not hearing this syllable in Kemo Sabe, at least not south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Or west of the Mississippi.
- 56a [*Superfood from a hive] BEE POLLEN–See 17a and 29a commentary and make the appropriate substitution.
Cute concept, though. Clever clues. Nice fill, including
- SETS TO
- EASTER EGG
- SKOR BARS
- ICE BEER
- DEW POINT
Fun! 3.5 stars.
Anne Flinchbaugh and Erik Agard’s Universal Crossword, “Just Solve Da Puzzle!”—Jim Q’s write-up
Flinchbaugh and Agard in da house! This looks like a debut for Anne, so a big congratulations- especially with it being such a tight theme and fun puzzle.
THEME: Words that start with DE in a base phrase are changed to DA (the) + homophone.
- 23A [Like a hungry fish?] UP FOR DA BAIT. Up for debate.
- 34A [Organizer of pickets?] DA FENCE SECRETARY. Defense secretary.
- 52A [Coexisting with crocodiles and hippos?] LIVING IN DA NILE. Living in denial.
- 71A [Accept new podiatry patients?] ADMIT DA FEET. Admit defeat.
- 90A [Keeping dust off a gripping tool?] CLOAKING DA VISE. Cloaking device.
- 105A [Radioactive origami?] DA PLEATED URANIUM. Depleted uranium.
- 119A [Prepare a cheese shop display?] SPACE DA BRIE. Space debris.
That’s a great set of theme answers. I wonder if the theme idea spawned from the DA NILE answer since that’s a familiar pun- but the others are all solid as well, especially given the constriction that they all use homophones after DA.
I was unfamiliar with CLOAKING DEVICE in the base phrase, but I’ve never watched Star Trek. It seems to be some sort of invisibility shield. Makes sense.
Great debut work from Anne Flinchbaugh! Looking forward to seeing her name in a byline again.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword, “Ooh, I Get It!” – Jenni’s write-up
It’s vowel-substitution time! As the title suggests, we put OO in place of I. Wackiness results.
- 24a [Grinch victim in the Wasatch Range?] is ROCKY MOUNTAIN WHO (Rocky Mountain High). I do not hear the initial sounds of “who” and “high” the same way. Research (and discussion with people from various parts of the US) suggests that this is my quirk.
- 37a [Bilks corporate bigwigs?] is TAKES IN THE SUITS (takes in the sights).
- 45a [Puff’s ailment?] is the DRAGON FLU (dragonfly). I didn’t realize this was a theme entry at first and went through the song lyrics trying to figure it out.
- 56a [Nickname for a seafaring Smurf?] is CAPTAIN BLUE (Captain Bligh).
- 77a [Amphibian College curriculum?] is NEWT COURSES (night courses).
- 93a [Exceptional wind?] is FIRST CLASS FLUTE (first class flight). That is the weakest base phrase of the lot, to me.
- 111a is [18-Down?]. 18d, in turn, is [Wake-up call provider] for ROOSTER, so the theme answer is FATHER OF THE BROOD (father of the bride).
Once I dropped my objection to WHO/HIGH, I decided this was a solid and successful theme. 56a and 111a really tickled me.
A few other things:
- I like entries that sound conversational, like 1d [“Let’s not do that”]: SKIP IT.
- It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that 4d [Whence some garters?] are SNAKE EGGS. I couldn’t see anything but EYES for the second word, and that made no sense.
- 41d [Warning about overexuberance] is DOWN, BOY. One of the favorite parts of my job is meeting people’s pets. Yesterday I made the acquaintance of a very dignified and calm Golden Retriever.
- I filled in 70a from crossings and couldn’t figure out what to make of I SOUR. Turns out I needed to make IS OUR – the clue is [“God __ refuge and strength”: Psalm 46] Not a great entry.
- Speaking of not-great-entries, there’s 94d [Filled with rage]. When was the last time you used IREFUL in conversation?
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Judd APATOW directed a movie called “Trainwreck.”