Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “In the Name of the Mother” — Jim Q’s write-up
Happy Mother’s Day! As you may have guessed by the title, moms are being honored in the WaPo today… in a very veiled way (“veiled” being an appropriate word for the final meta answer).
This is probably the toughest meta I’ve seen in the WaPo, but it’s a worthwhile Aha Moment.
THEME: Mothers of famous television characters
- 25A [Eldest girl of a TV “bunch” (5)] MARCIA BRADY. Mom = Carol.
- 32A [Boy played by Danny Pintauro on “Who’s the Boss?” (6)] JONATHAN BOWER. Mom = Angela.
- 54A [Rapper on “Empire” (6)] HAKEEM LYON. Mom = Cookie.
- 70A [“Family Guy” character with a pink cap (4)] MEG GRIFFIN. Mom = Lois.
- 75A [“7th Heaven” character who becomes a doctor (5)] MATT CAMDEN. Mom = Annie.
- 92A [Orbit High School student (4)] JUDY JETSON. Mom = Jane.
- 113A [Baby who made her debut on “The Tracey Ullman Show” (5)] MAGGIE SIMPSON. Mom = Marge.
- 120A [Charlie’s older sister on “Good Luck Charlie” (3)] TEDDY DUNCAN. Mom = Amy.
So what’s going on here? If you’re anything like me, you assumed that the first letters of the moms’ names in order would spell out the meta answer. But that yields CACLAJMA, which looks like some sort of foreign disease. I did need to Google search some of the names for the shows I was unfamiliar with (“Good Luck Charlie,” “7th Heaven,” and “Empire”), and thankfully, the number in each clue (which matches the number of letters in each mom’s first name) gave me confidence that I was at least on the right track. But nothing in those names alone resembled anything even close to a final answer.
I was about to throw in the towel since I was pressed for time, and jokingly write “I dunno. This meta is making my head hurt… which sounds like something Morticia Addams would appreciate.” But as I went to screenshot the grid, the answer ANGOLA seemed to leap from the screen. Looks awfully similar to ANGELA. And hey… CAROM… you’re a funky lookin’ word… and I see you sitting over there, trying to pretend you’re not CAROL Brady! Sure enough, each of the moms is in the grid, but with one letter changed.
CAROL = CAROM (136A)
ANGELA = ANGOLA (130A)
COOKIE = ROOKIE (107A)
LOIS = LOTS (109D)
ANNIE = INNIE (18A)
JANE = CANE (41A)
MARGE = MARIE (15D)
AMY = AMA (10D)
And voila. Indeed, the final answer is MORTICIA!
Not only was the multi-step meta truly fun to uncover, but the puzzle itself was entertaining and fresh. Some great clues included:
- 107A [Green Ranger, e.g.] ROOKIE. “Green” as in “New at.” And “Ranger” being someone on the Texas Rangers baseball team.
- 37A [Concern in the board game Pandemic] DISEASE. Don’t know the game. Is it any good? Extremely inferable.
- 42A [Piano trio member?] LEG. Ha. Ha. Ha. Coincidentally enough, I just finished playing piano for my final musical of this Spring today… it was The Addams Family.
- 5D [What people use to take in Oxygen?] REMOTES. Well, technically we don’t use the remotes to take it in (I’d argue that we use our senses), but it’s a fun clue. Don’t overthink it like me.
- 79D [ID given to someone who’s late?] TOE TAG. Eeew. Puzzle takes an unexpectedly dark turn here. Great clue, but its cuteness draws more attention than necessary to an unsettling entry.
- 86D [“No, No, No” musician] ONO. If it’s not ENO, and it’s not ELO, then it’s ONO.
All in all, loved this one! Great construction and concept. Title is awesome too. Your thoughts?
And of course, Happy Mother’s Day once again.
Victor Barocas’s New York Times crossword, “Measure for Measure”—Amy’s recap
Neat science-oriented theme. The revealer, ON A SLIDING SCALE, is a play on various measurement scales “sliding” by running down diagonally through the word or phrase that the scale measures. MINERAL HARDNESS has the MOHS scale. TEMPERATURE has, among other things, CELSIUS. WINDSPEED has the BEAUFORT scale. And the intensity of EARTHQUAKES is measured via the RICHTER scale.
Did not know: 35d. [Tending toward an outcome], TELIC, and 19d. [Moon of Saturn named after a Greek Oceanid], TELESTO. Also never heard of MOSS CRABS.
Likes: POTLUCKS, THE ROAD, SPOILERS, THE TUDORS.
Dislikes: HAD AT, plural TINFOILS, RETHREW, TAMMIE, EYEREST, and the crosswordese zone that includes ESS ENOL NOBIS EPOS. There were a few cute clues in the mix, but overall, I wasn’t loving the fill.
3.2 stars from me.
Robert Wemischner and Andrea Carla Michaels’s Universal Crossword, “Picture-Perfect Puns”—Judge Vic’s write-up
With a title like “Picture-Perfect Puns,” what could Andrea and Robert, whom I judge to be a newbie for whom this may be a debut, be up to? Let’s examine the evidence to solve this mystery:
17a [Female French artist’s scribe?] CASSATT RECORDER—Mary Stevenson Cassatt was unknown to me. Looks like she was born in Pennsylvania in 1844 and didn’t get to France until 1865. Her last name has been in 15 puzzles, according to Ginsberg, and the clues identify her as American. Her name does generate a nice pun, as cassette recorder is undeniably an in-the-language stand-alone term.
27a [Result of a gallery fire sale?] MONET FOR NOTHING—Money for Nothing is the title of a 1928 P.G. Wodehouse novel and of a handful of films, songs, and TV shows or episodes. I believe I heard my father say it a lot when I was a kid. He was against it (“Why, that’s like getting money for nothing!”)
49a [Episode One of a painting show?] CEZANNE PREMIERE—Season premiere. That’s a phrase I’ve heard all my life.
65a [Job interview concern, or a hint to this puzzle’s theme] FIRST IMPRESSION–I assume the reveal is telling us that each of the artists was an impressionist. I saw that about Cassatt when looking her up. I think I knew that about Monet and Cezanne. That certainly adds an element of tightness to the theme.
The punny-artists’-names theme is one that comes around. Pretty regularly. Like zodiac themes and Greek letter themes. It was done nicely by Tracy Bennett in a Sunday New York Times puzzle (“Artful Thinking”) in July 2013. Nothing in today’s theme dupes any of Tracy’s entries, and only one artist’s name is repeated (Tracy used ‘TIS THE CEZANNE ).
With 60 theme squares in play, all horizontal, it’s not surprising to find that, after the four 15-letter themers, the longest Across answer is six letters. Among the Downward answers, we find two 7’s: HATS OFF and SECRECY. Nothing wrong with those.
I guess 17 is not an unreasonable number of 3’s for a grid with a 15-15-15-15 theme, but 8 of those 17 are ALT, SHO, IDA, TET, LCD, UTE, ERE, DNA. Not awful. Probably inescapable.
Congratulations, Robert, and welcome to the world of cruciverbalism!
John-Clark Levin and Jeff Chen’s Universal Crossword, “Close Enough”—Jim Q’s write-up
Looks like a debut for Mr. Levin! Congrats and welcome.
THEME: Wordplay with -OUGH words
- 23A [Climax of a bake-off?] DOUGH OR DIE MOMENT.Do or die moment
- 38A [Like a pig’s autobiography?] BASED ON A TROUGH STORY. Based on a true story.
- 47A [Distraction in church?] SACRED COUGH. Sacred cow (unless there’s something called a “sacred coup”!)
- 67A [Herds waterfowl off the green?] GETS ONE’S DUCKS IN A ROUGH. Gets one’s ducks in a row.
- 89A [Like a pirate who walks with a “clunk”?] BOUGH LEGGED. Bow-legged.
- 96A [Baptize a bruiser?] DIPS A TOUGH IN THE WATER. Dips a toe in the water.
- 118A [What a snake would do to lose a tattoo?] SLOUGH OFF THE MARK. Slow off the mark? I think that’s it.
Sure, the original base phrases don’t all share the same sound (“do” and “cow” and “slow” for example). The same is true of the word when it’s altered (“bough” and “rough” and “dough”). So the theme lends itself to an inconsistency, but ironically enough the inconsistency is consistent. Lots of fun phrases and cluing here.
The only one that was a real head-scratcher for me was SLOUGH OFF THE MARK. I’ve never heard “slow off the mark” before (I’ve just heard “off the mark”), though I’m probably in the minority there, and I wanted SHED instead of SLOUGH, though obviously that wouldn’t fit the theme at all.
Not entirely sure I understand the BOUGH reference with respect “clunk.” I only know of a BOUGH as a tree branch.
Those -OUGH endings in every theme answer provided for some aid in the fill too.
Favorite fill included T-SHIRT CANNON, OSCAR PARTIES, and G-STRINGS.
Apparently plebeians like myself who cannot afford premium seats to concerts and shows are bitter, so we HISS and throw TOMATOES. If I don’t like it, I just walk out (looking at you “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” currently on Broadway).
Stay dry today in you’re anywhere in New York State!
Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Youth Group” — Jenni’s write-up
It’s been a busy Mother’s Day, so this is late and thus brief:
Each theme answer contains the word LAD. It’s a group of youths.
- 23a [Warning during a snowstorm] is a TRAVEL ADVISORY.
- 32a [Octane booster] is a FUEL ADDITIVE.
- 46a [High naval rank] is FULL ADMIRAL.
- 67a [One who can’t put down the phone?] is a DIGITAL ADDICT.
- 86a [Founding Father found in a bar?] is SAMUEL ADAMS.
- 102a [Common login component] is your EMAIL ADDRESS.
- 113a [Shelter mission] is ANIMAL ADOPTION. My daughter was adopted. I really don’t like the use of this term for animals and have never thought of a decent alternative. And no, I don’t equate pets with children.
The theme also “groups” the two words of each answer. Nice and tight.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that CARRIE was Stephen King’s first published novel.
NYT: The cutesy clue for NRA made me throw up a little in my mouth.
I had no clue at all about the WaPo meta. I picked out the 6th, 6th, 4th, etc letters from each answer, as indicated by the number in parentheses, which gave me a set of letters that seemed highly unlikely to anagram to any name. And after that…. nothing. No idea at all. It didn’t help that I hadn’t heard of many of the characters in the theme answers.
It sort of irks me, frankly, to be presented with this kind of puzzle in a venue that has no history of offering metas and an audience that, I presume, mostly has no experience with them. A meta this intricate ought to at least come with some sort of hint, I would say.
Evan has offered many meta puzzles, often very easy. Not sure it’s fair to say it has “no history” of doing so. Sure, many solvers are inexperienced with metas, but how else is there to introduce them to a genre that is growing in popularity by not offering them at all? I would also argue that the puzzle stands alone as a well written, solid puzzle without the meta. It’s okay not to know all of the answers in a crossword. I certainly did not know them all… which is precisely what made it enjoyable to solve and figure out.
It’s true, Evan has published some ‘easy’ metas and some (not all!) were so easy that even I was able to figure them out. But this one was pure mystification.
It’s a good puzzle, as you say, setting aside the meta. But I get the WaPo magazine on Saturday morning and do the puzzle then. When there’s a meta it taunts me silently but maliciously until Sunday morning, when I can come here and have my cluelessness exposed.
I’m not totally convinced that metas are growing in popularity. I know more venues are publishing them but I don’t have any sense of whether more solvers are clamoring for them.
A puzzle that makes you itch for the answer when you’re stumped has done its job!
I’ve written metas on average once every two months for the Post since I began three-and-a-half years ago. To say that there’s “no history of offering metas” in this venue is simply wrong.
Frankly, it irks me when people claim to speak for the bulk of the Post’s audience, or any solving audience, really. There are many Post solvers out there who enjoy metas, and it’s insulting to them to insinuate they’re incapable of solving them. Many Wall Street Journal solvers may not have encountered metas before they started offering them in 2015, and some WSJ metas can be quite hard. Does that mean every WSJ meta should be easy or give explicit hints? Not every NYT solver can finish Thursday-Saturday puzzles; does that mean the NYT should make every puzzle Monday-easy?
Universal: Seriously, what a disservice to Mary Cassatt. Not only does the clue improperly describe her nationality, but she’s the only one whose gender is specified. Plus, Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne are French, though this is not specified in their clues. What kind of weird assumptions are going on here?
Insult to injury: this on Mothers Day*, when so many of Cassatt’s paintings celebrate motherhood. Have a look.
* Merits of its current popular incarnation notwithstanding; a separate discussion.
I accidentally wrote a review of this puz before realizing Vic was doing the 15x today, and I seconded both of your points here.
Terrible of me to ask that you spell me and review both puzzles today and then rescind the request and review it as though certain you’d received my rescission and approved it. That won’t happen again.
I read your review in the draft room. I’d been fine with your replacing mine with yours–or, better yet, just adding your text to mine. The Cassatt entry deserved calling out, though possibly not as harshly as Panonica indicates (though, being a woman, she’s the one to tackle that!). Cassatt is not as well-known as the others (this, I believe, is why the author and editor noted her as “female”). I noticed but didn’t write about her mother-child art.
I genuinely feel that none of those defenses have standing. And she’s far from obscure—not that that was the exact implication here. But consider some of the reasons historically and sociologically why she might be less well-known than the other two and then consider whether qualifying her in this manner might perpetuate such “othering”.
Incidentally, on artistic merits alone, I’m not a huge fan of Cassatt, nor of Monet, save for a few pieces. Cézanne, on the other hand, I find far more interesting and appealing.
My favorite Mary Cassatt painting is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, so we go way back. “The Child’s Bath” may actually be where I got my fondness for the color combination of purple and green.
Wikipedia tells us that the painting’s been among the most popular pieces in the Art Institute’s collection. It bears noting that it’s in the museum’s American Art section (and not with the other Impressionists in the European zone), so I have no idea why the crossword clue calls Cassatt French.
She lived more than 50 years among the Impressionist painters in France although it is true she was born in PA, lived there for the first 22 years of her life, went to France, came back for 5 more years in the US and then returned to France. Sorry for the mislead.
No worries at all! I take the blame, actually! (for not checking my messages more frequently).
With respect, Vic, I think pannonica was on target: Her criticism was fair, not “harsh.” (If you *really* think that she-as-a-woman gets to make the call and you-as-a-man don’t, then why did you include that whole “harsh” and “she gets to make the call” bit?)
A lot of cultural assumptions* that result in harm to women (we earn less; we’re in more physical peril) are reinforced through language, so it’s important to note these instances and urge those-who-assume to stop assuming.
*Did you know that women, though safer drivers than men, fare worse in car collisions because car safety is assessed using man-sized dummies? That many Rx meds intended for both men and women are tested on only men, even though women’s bodies are likely to metabolize them differently? Assumptions. No conspiracy, nothing mean-spirited — but assumptions, and they affect women’s lives and health. So when a woman tells you there’s a problem with clues or fill, please listen to her. No one is attacking you; you needn’t feel defensive. Please just hear us and work on doing things in ways that don’t exclude us, pigeonhole us, or mark us as Other. Thanks.
WaPo: Excellent puzzle and meta, Evan! Challenging without being too difficult on a lazy Sunday. To anyone who found it mystifying… “theme answers elsewhere in the grid with one letter changed” is a pretty standard (which is not to say boring) meta construction technique.
I’m extremely impressed that the grid managed to include 8 theme answers, each of which pointed to another answer (the TV mom), with each of those pointing to another answer in the grid — all coming together to provide the meta answer, in order! I’m not sure people are appreciating how ridiculously difficult that is, especially while the keeping the rest of the grid free of ugly filler. Awesome job.
This was an excellently crafted multi-layered meta. I’m glad to see the variation in Evan’s meta difficulty; he provides something for every solver who is up for a meta, plus, the puzzle stands on its own, as Jim Q. said.
It would have been a little easier if I had known any of the mothers’ names besides Marge Simpson and Jane Jetson. Did anyone out there know them all?
Thanks, all. This has nothing to do with the meta and I wouldn’t expect anyone to notice this without my telling you about it, but I hid my own mother’s name (Elaine Elizabeth Farrell) in the clues:
45D: [Elaine or George, to Jerry]
128D: [Sen. Elizabeth Warren, e.g.]
64A: [“The ___ World” (2005 Colin Farrell film)]
She’s a retired neonatologist, hence the clue for 10D, too.
I wondered about that clue – it seemed oddly specific. That was a wonderful way to make her feel special.