Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Back in Town” – Jim Q’s writeup
Well, it’s Father’s Day, and when I saw the WaPo was a meta, I was ready to answer “GOMEZ!” based on Evan’s last meta on Mother’s Day. After all, it is 5 letters. And… erm… it appears to be a city in Texas. Sorta. (I’m reaching here… don’t fact check me too hard).
But of course, that would all be ridiculous. Let’s see what’s going on here.
- 23A [Nonfiction book by Stephen King about the history of the horror
genre (Iowa)] DANSE MACABRE. Hands up for ON WRITING until you realized it was too short!
- 34A [North African coastal area that served as a naval battleground during the First Barbary War (Hawaii)] TRIPOLI HARBOR. Tough answer, but inferable.
- 42A [Title for Ohio politico John from 2011 to 2019 (Ohio)] GOVERNOR KASICH.
- 60A [Lead, e.g. (Arizona)] BASE METAL.
- 68A [Items stocked in a bomb shelter (Utah)] CANNED GOODS.
- 78A [Restriction in some courtrooms (Georgia)] NO CAMERAS.
- 92A [Destructive event of 2011 (Pennsylvania)] HURRICANE IRENE.
- 102A [TV character who once fantasized about eating the moon because it resembled his favorite snack (Alaska)] COOKIE MONSTER.
- 117A [Snipe (Kansas)] TAKE POTSHOTS.
These are clearly the answers we’re supposed to examine, but what’s the deal with the parenthetical state at the end of each? That hint, coupled with the title, should leave the solver to solution step #1. In each, there is a well-known city hidden backwards.
DANSE MACABE = AMES
TRIPOLI HARBOR = HILO
GOVERNOR KASICH = AKRON
BASE METAL = MESA
CANNED GOODS = OGDEN (Had to infer that one. Never heard of OGDEN, Utah.)
NO CAMERAS = MACON
HURRICANE IRENE = ERIE
COOKIE MONSTER = NOME
TAKE POTSHOTS = TOPEKA
Meta solving 101 should lead the solver to the next step: when you have a list of entries like that, look at the first letters in order. Sure enough, they spell out a quintessential crossword phrase: AHA MOMENT.
And the last step should be clear from there. We’re looking for a 5-letter U.S. city. Is there one spelled backwards in AHA MOMENT? I’m guessing people from Nebraska wouldn’t have a problem seeing OMAHA right there.
This is a truly fantastic meta. Very tight. None of the theme answers seems overly obscure, each is two words, the cities are mostly well-known, and all of the cities “bridge” the two words. Last time Evan published a meta (click link at top of post), he fielded some criticism for its difficulty (and for publishing meta puzzles at all). I hope angsty solvers will take a second to enjoy and appreciate this one.
If this genre is new to you, I’d be remiss not to plug Matt Gaffney’s site where he publishes a weekly meta that increases in difficulty week-by-week. The first puzzle of every month is typically very easy. Evan’s puzzle here would likely be a week 2 level.
Rest of the grid, of course, is smooth with fresh fill like ALPHA GEEK, CENSOR BAR, and PAUL BLART.
Besides my ON WRITING misstep that I mentioned above, my other one was when I started to fill in FESTER ADDAMS for 102A [TV character who once fantasized about eating the moon because it resembled his favorite snack (Alaska)]. In The Addams Family Musical, Fester falls in love with the moon (that’s not the stupidest part of the musical either). I figured maybe this tidbit was based on the show.
I stopped star rating Evan’s puzzles… but this deserves some 5 star props.
Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword, “Not In So Many Words (unthemed)”—Jenni’s review
1a is timely, but one entry does not make a theme, and this puzzle has no theme. Have we had an unthemed NY Sunday before? I look forward to Sunday wordplay, and I like my themelesses challenging. Sunday puzzles can’t be particularly difficult because they have to appeal to a wide audience, so this was not my favorite puzzle.
1a is [It was first officially designated in a 1966 Lyndon Johnson proclamation]. That would be FATHER’S DAY.
Things I liked:
- 11a [Holders of tiny mirrors] are COMPACTS, not DENTISTS, as I first thought.
- 20a [What studies show that men do more than women, conversationally] is INTERRUPT. Men also take up more air time in general conversation, despite the patriarchal stereotype.
- 22a [It might require a quick check] is SPEED CHESS.
- 112a [Buzzer beater?] is FLYSWATTER.
- 48d [Ticker symbol?] is a HEART EMOJI
- 67a [Complete fool] is an ASSHAT. Is this a first for the NYT?
The last two entries in my list tell us this is a 21st century puzzle. Good thing, because ADIT, NOMEN, PLISSE, PARTERRE, APPOSE and ENTRE have a fusty air. THE SLOTS is kind of roll-your-own. FIRE ENGINE is perfectly fine but [Bright shade of red] is an odd clue for it. We have SOPHISTS and SCHOLASTICS for that academic touch.
It’s possible I’m cranky; I’m sitting in bed with my recently replaced knee wrapped in ice, so maybe I’m taking it out on the puzzle. I’ll be curious to see other reactions.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that L’OREAL is the world’s largest cosmetic company, and that someone named DENNIS co-owns Paddy’s Pub on the show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
Pam Klawitter’s Universal Crossword, “Out of Sight”—Judge Vic’s write-up
I got the theme generally, but not specifically, as I sped through this puzzle. Ergo, let’s analyze as we look again at the fun clues and answers:
- 23a [What can be found in 125-Across?] UNDERCOVER AGENT–What on earth could this mean? Let’s examine the referenced other item:
- 125a [Annual athletic awards] ESPYS–Why, looky here. The middle three letters spell SPY, a not-so-obvious agent. Nice. Cute. Fun. The start of an enjoyable theme.
- 39a [What can be found in 7-Across?] CLASSIFIED DATA–What could this theme answer portend? Let’s check the referenced entry to see.
- 7a [Conspiracy theorist’s hat type, perhaps] TINFOIL–Why, there’s INFO in there, data that’s otherwise out of sight, no? FWIW, I now know that tinfoil is one word, not two (it’s still an ILSA, though, for those who were wondering).
- 58a [What can be found in 97-Down?] SECRET WEAPON–What kind of weapon lurks and where will we find it?
- 97d [Jabbing joints] ELBOWS–A bow is indeed a weapon. And there one is, between the L and the S.
- 80a [What can be found in 75-Across?] HIDDEN AGENDA
- 75a [Vehicle with a cabin] AIRPLANE–What, pray tell, is an agenda, if not a plan? And the theme entries just keep coming.
- 98a [What can be found in 16-Down?] BURIED TREASURE
- 16d [Social butterfly’s opposite] INTROVERT—Trove. One more pair:
- 115a [What can be found in 31-Down?] PRIVATE PROPERTY
- 31d [Bad-mouth] SLANDER–Land.
Yay! Totes clever! Mega-enjoyable! And more good stuff is hanging around elsewhere, to boot:
- 19a [Pedicure target] TOENAIL
- 46a [Alberto’s abode] LA CASA
- 70a [Reach before] BEAT TO
- 96a [It was parted in the Bible] RED SEA
- 111a [Nickname of Duke’s Krzyzewski] COACH K
- 124a [Cussed out] SWORE AT
- 126a [“Happy to help!”] ANYTIME
Those are some super horizontal ILSA’s, given the amount of Across theme matter this puzzle contains. And then there are these Downers:
- 11d [Gig for an opening band, maybe] ONE SET
- 36d [NASCAR track] RACEWAY
- 71d [Wrapped, as an injury] TAPED UP
- 72d [Vigilant] ON ALERT
- 79d [Poker cheater] CARDSHARP
- 94d [Manatees] SEA COWS
- 95d [Early laundry vessel] WASH POT
Great work, Pam! 4.2 stars.
Jake Halperin’s Universal Crossword, “Odd Jobs”—Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Common phrases reimagined as jobs
- 17A [Joe or Brian on “Wings”?] TELEVISION PILOT.
- 32A [Sailor who’s heard but not seen?] INVISIBLE HAND.
- 48A [Subject of a company’s photo shoot?] BUSINESS MODEL.
- 61A [Spy aiming to break up alliances?] DISSOLVING AGENT.
Theme feels familiar, but fun enough. I like wordplay themes, even if it’s the type that’s been done and done. INVISIBLE HAND was new to me as a base phrase. Actually, now that I Google the term, I recall hearing it in the past, but I guess it never sunk in.
Nice longer answers and ILSAs (to borrow Judge Vic’s term) include HANG GLIDERS, I AM SAM, and ILLUSIONISTS.
I’m a bit confused how 10D [Passed an oral exam?] gives us SAID AH, even with the question mark.
The middle west of the puzzle gave me some trouble too (I don’t know why I didn’t associate a REVUE with a satirical show… every definition that I scanned used some form of the word “satire” ).
Nice, light wordplay to start a Sunday. Enjoy the day!
Matt McKinley’s LA Times crossword, “Low-Tech Glossary” – Jenni’s write-up
Today’s puzzle takes technical terms and defines them non-technically. Mild amusement results.
- 23a [Part of a parallel parking lesson?] is the BACKUP PROCEDURE.
- 32d [“I’ll skip it, thanks”?] are PASS WORDS.
- 35d [Poirot’s note-to-self about locating the Orient Express murder weapon?] is SEARCH ENGINE. This is my favorite.
- 39d [Meteorologist’s rainfall prediction measure?] is CLOUD STORAGE. I guess because the rain is stored in the cloud before it falls….this is not my favorite.
- 46a [Cookie recipe?] is a BATCH FILE.
- 57d [Tide table?] is FLOW CHART.
- 65a [Déjà vu?] is a VIRTUAL MEMORY.
- 87a [Spider-Man?] is the WEBMASTER.
- 112a [What a jittery camera operator may be having?] is TROUBLE SHOOTING.
They all work (with the exception of CLOUD STORAGE, which is pretty weak) and they’re not all that entertaining.
A few other things:
- The crossing of PYM, clued as [Poe title stowaway], and NAMPA, clue as [City west of Boise] is terrible. I will no longer say I’m Naticked. I will now be Nampa’ed. And yes, I have now learned that NAMPA is the third most populous city in Idaho and the home of Ronee Blakely. Big whoop.
- The crossing of NYUK and NYAH, on the other hand, made me laugh.
- 45d [Land with a 59-Across] confused me. 59a is ROD. A land with a rod? Huh? Then I realized that “land” was a verb and the answer is REEL IN. Aha.
- 55a [Pretty pitcher] is an EWER. Are they always pretty?
- 90d [Workout wt.] is TEN LB. That seems fairly random. My gym has weights ranging from one lb to 30 lbs, at least (I stop at 12, so I don’t know how far it goes).
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that a chamber work by Louis Spohr was the first to bear the title NONET. It’s a pretty piece.
Jenni, I wish you a speedy recovery and adjustment to your new knee. All the best to you.
May your healing and rehab be fast and with as little discomfort as possible.
NYT. Kind of an odd puzzle. Some nice stacks but a bit of a slog. “ohohoh” should be “oohooh” for example. No theme on a Sunday is strange but at least we have “father’s day” and “oedipus Rex” juxtaposed. Is there some hidden message there?
Good luck with the knee. My wife has had both hips replaced…. nearly 20 years ago!… Changed her life. It’s all about the rehab.
I can’t lie. I loved seeing “asshat” in the Times.
And it’s a debut!
NYT: A themeless was a nice change of pace, and this one had entries that were lively and satisfying. I am intrigued by the INTERRUPT clue/answer and am going to do a little informal empirical research in that area.
Thanks for a fun Sunday.
Dear Evan Birnholz: Please do not stop making puzzles. Ever.
u must be referring to the meta
the fill was ordinary as is often the case
evan’s talent is wasted on these oversized, easy offerings
always have to laugh at the imbalance of difficulty between wapo fill and some metas
WaPo: Ahhh, don’t give us Counting Crows!
I found the NYT unusually tough for a Sunday, in a good way, with clever clues and less than routine fill. Maybe like a Thursday puzzle, where most Sunday puzzles are more like Wednesday, and I prefer hard. My only real annoyance was the crossing of the soccer star with the character, but once I had all but that crossing the name DENNIS felt necessarily right.
Still, having to keep at the larger grid of a Sunday puzzle without a theme to hold it together made this not quite fun. But then I prefer themed puzzles period, so I don’t want to speak for others.
Jim – Say ah. Think of a doctor’s exam.
It seems evident to me that Jim appreciated the intended reference. The issue would be with the verb ‘pass’. Even with the question mark.
NYT was an unexpected joy. Thanks, Joel and the NYT team!
I take back every mean thing I said about Evan doing metas on Sunday. This one was great — intriguing, clever, and satisfying.
What I mean is, I actually figured it out! (I thought at first there was another name hiding in the puzzle itself, but then I wrote down a list of the hidden cities — meta solving 101, I guess — and immediately had an aha moment…)
All the best with the knee, Jenni. Everyone I know who’s had a joint replaced, me included, ends up saying, darn, I should have done it sooner….
Re WaPo: The College World Series started yesterday in? Omaha. And, playing at Jiffy Lube Live last night? 105D. Coincidence? I think not.
NYT. Regarding the theme, or lack thereof: I took the theme to be the relatively low word count…”Not in so many words.” I don’t have the stats but the highest clue number is 112 which seems low for a Sunday of standard size.
I don’t understand 57 D “slap” for Hit, as a double bass. I don’t even know what a double bass is. Heck, I don’t even know whether the word bass has a long “a” or not here.
Google a little — it’s a great tool. (Not being mean — googling can bring you all sorts of info you weren’t even looking for — very interesting.)
A double bass is a stringed instrument (like a cello, but bigger –about as tall as the player); sometimes the player “slaps” the strings (instead of plucking) to create a different sound.
Shall We Dance (1937) features a Fred Astaire routine called “Slap That Bass.” Warning before you click the link below: Like all movies of the era, it includes black people as stereotypes or fixtures rather than people, so if you don’t want to experience that, don’t click.
Thank you very much for the info.
You might not realize that the mini “lesson” about googling felt demeaning. I believe it’s called “mansplaining.” I google, I bing, etc. all the time. The only reason I didn’t do it for this was that not knowing even the genre of this clue, I was afraid if I worded my search in the wrong way, I’d be directed to some slimy, bad-taste action or slang.
I wrote (Not being mean — googling can bring you all sorts of info you weren’t even looking for — very interesting.) I think I took reasonable precautions to make sure you knew that I offered the info in a friendly way.
The fact that you hadn’t looked up “double bass” in a dictionary, as a starting point, suggested a non-use of internet. (I’m not judging people who don’t; I’m explaining why I thought you didn’t.) That’s why I encouraged you to google.
Btw, I’m incapable of mansplaining, given that I’m a woman.
“I wrote (Not being mean — googling can bring you all sorts of info you weren’t even looking for — very interesting.)”
Why not choose other language if you feel the need to explain it.
I enjoyed having this themeless in The NYT today. I think Patrick Berry’s in November was the first.
WaPo: A great meta became a spectacular meta with “Aha moment.” So clever, tongue-in-cheek, *fun*. Thanks, Evan.
As a side note: 43D in today’s puzzle is my way of paying tribute to my uncle Tony Oliva, who passed away in April. (Yes, he shared the same name as the Twins player.) I didn’t know him too well since we lived in different states and never got much chance to visit, but I’ve gotten to know three of his sons during various family reunions over the past six years. My thoughts are with his family on this Father’s Day.
God bless you and your Uncle Tony and all your loved ones and family members, Evan.
Jenni, many prayers for your speedy recovery!