Caitlin Reid’s New York Times crossword, “Are We Finished?”—Amy’s write-up
I’m kinda migrainey tonight so I was dreading the puzzle, but whaddaya know, it was actually fun! The wordplay theme (add an R to the end of a familiar phrase to change the meaning, clue the new phrase accordingly) played well, and I actually laughed at the last one. The fill was solid and had some spice to it. And there were so many fresh and clever clues. It’s a real treat to have a 21×21 puzzle that passes all three of these tests, as there are too many that flunk some or all of them.
- 23a. [“Should I not use my oven clock?”?], “IS THIS A BAD TIMER?” Ha!
- 35a. [The “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”?], WORKS FROM HOMER.
- 52a. [Give a ride to an Indiana hoopster?], PICK UP THE PACER.
- 75a. [Printer’s low-ink alert?], “WATCH YOUR TONER.”
- 89a. [What a plumber did for a clogged drain?], TOOK THE PLUNGER. Wondering how much plungers are used for clogs in things other than toilets…
- 105a. [World’s shortest-reigning monarch?], FIVE-SECOND RULER. Ha! Love this one.
What really elevates this theme is that the base phrases are so crisp and fun, and then there’s actual humor in the wordplay wrought upon them. If you are a newer constructor, I’d encourage you to look to this theme as what to strive for—lively phrases like the five-second rule (whereby you can eat food that fell on the floor if you pick it up within five seconds) and “Is this a bad time?” as the fodder for your theme, plus amusing visuals in at least some of the theme entries. Even if you don’t manage to fill the grid with great fill, you’ll have bought yourself a lot of solver goodwill with a fun theme.
Top fill: COMBO MEALS, CODE WORD, PET PROJECT, SWADDLE, “OH, GROW UP,” PHOTOBOMBS, and an I.T. PRO replacing the usual gendered I.T. GUY. And KERMIT the Frog! Always love him.
- 78a. [How balloons are priced?], A POP. Cute. Although the Mylar balloons you’re more likely to buy singly don’t really pop much, do they?
- 67d. [Pops up in a flash?], PHOTOBOMBS. Unfortunate that A POP crosses the entry with “pops” in the clue, though.
- 85d. [Powerpoints?], OUTLETS. Not slide shows using Microsoft software.
Tunnel vision: 56a. [New Year abroad], TET. There are over 1.3 million Vietnamese Americans who can celebrate Tet right here at home. And there are billions of people whose “New Year abroad” isn’t Tet at all.
The only fill I didn’t care for was little bits like SHIER with an I instead of a Y (but it’s legit), dull APSE, and … that’s really about it, which would be impressive in a 15×15 grid but it’s amazing in a Sunday-sized puzzle. The theme doesn’t do any amazing structural things like bending entries, or having added letters that spell out something clever, so it’s a “mere” 4.5 stars for me rather than the 5 stars that I’d accord to a theme that’s both wildly ambitious and perfectly executed. 4.5 stars for a simple (but so well-executed) add-a-letter theme is tip-top. Keep up the great work, Caitlin!
Paul Coulter’s Sunday Universal Crossword, “See ‘N Say”—Judge Vic’s write-up
Regarding the title, imo, we need a second apostrophe after the N, unless the intent is a rendering other than “See and Say.” Having raced through in just over 10 minutes, I did not grok the theme. So, let’s take the starred clues and answers one at a time and see what happens:
- 23a [*Woodsy says, “I adored that ranger, but it was a ___” (Note each starred answer’s initials!)] ONE-WAY LOVE–I didn’t know who Woodsy was, but see now that he is an iconic cartoon OWL of the U.S. Forest Service. This answer gets a lot of Google hits, but it’s not in the dictionary. However, since it is a theme entry, it’s good by me. A looser standard applies.
- 38a *Mr. Jinks says, “Let me ___ these pesky meeces!” CALL ATTENTION TO–Not sure this cartoon CAT ever said those exact words, but I think I get the theme now. This answer is in the Oxford Dictionary as a phrase.
- 46 [*An occupant of Bruce Wayne’s cave says, “Watching him ___ in crime-fighting inspires me!”] BLAZE A TRAIL–Need I write BAT? This answer has dictionary support.
- 69 [*Wilbur says, “Charlotte joined an animal rights ___”] PUBLIC INTEREST GROUP–PIG. Good fill.
- 89 [*Cleopatra’s killer says, “___, I had to bite her”] AT SOME POINT–ASP. It’s dawning on me that Paul really did go through some creative ideation to come up with this theme. Good fill.
- 96 [*Remy says, “It was a ___ when Linguini and I were preparing for the restaurant critic!”] RACE AGAINST TIME–RAT. Good fill.
- 120 [*Mrs. O’Leary’s animal says, “I opened a ___ in 1871!”] CAN OF WORMS–COW. Good fill.
Nicely executed! Clever. Other noteworthy good fill:
- FIRE CODE
- GRACE NOTE
- SMART SET
Nothing awful anywhere! Nice work, Paul!
Brian Thomas’s Universal Crossword, “Top to Bottom”—Judge Vic’s write-up
THEME: See title and the following:
- 18a [“C’mon, think!”] USE YOUR HEAD
- 29a [Mingle (with)] RUB SHOULDERS
- 48a [Super cool] THE BEE’S KNEES
- 61a [Nickname for a good dancer] TWINKLETOES
Just like in the exercise song:
“Head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes) ….”
And then there is:
- EXTRA BALL
- RARE STAMP
- FREE TRIAL
Plus good, clean fill otherwise. Nicely done.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Losing the Plot” – Jenni’s writeup
It’s a meta so easy that even I could figure it out! The instructions say “What nine-letter noun has been lost from this puzzle?” Let’s see what we can find.
- 23a [Political drama about a Democratic president, his advisers … and a flooded White House section?] is THE WET WING (The West Wing).
- 25a [Dramedy set on a luxury cruise ship … whose captain is a creature with a romantic squeeze?] is THE LOVE BOA. I tried LOVE BOT first. (The Love Boat).
- 46a [Legal drama about the spouse of a disgraced politician … who happens to be a deity?] is THE GOD WIFE (The Good Wife, which has been helping me while away the hours of my convalescence).
- 48a [Drama about penitentiary inmates planning an escape … using only a bird’s bill?] is PRISON BEAK (Prison Break).
- 62a [Dramedy set in the 1960s and 1970s … featuring Kevin Arnold’s magical listening organs?] is THE WONDER EARS (The Wonder Years).
- 77a [Sitcom about a pair of roommates … and a quirky two-door car?] is THE ODD COUPE (The Odd Couple).
- 94a [Sitcom about the Seaver family … and cookware items that never stop increasing in size?] is GROWING PANS (Growing Pains).
- 110a [Sitcom about scientists, their relationships … and a gigantic purse?] is THE BIG BAG THEORY (The Big Bang Theory).
- 121a [Horror drama that serves as a prequel to “Psycho” … but set in a lodge full of flying mammals?] is THE BATS MOTEL (The Bates Motel).
When I wrote down the letters missing from each entry, I found the word STORYLINE. Nice! All the theme answers are funny in their own right and the meta is a nice added fillip.
A few other things:
- 1a [Piece moving in 1.e4] is a PAWN. This gave me unpleasant flashbacks to last Sunday’s NYT.
- We get [Battery component] for ANODE and TEST. We’re just missing PITCHER and CATCHER.
- 103a [They’re split in debates] are HAIRS.
- 93d [High-risk group?] took me a bit to figure out. It’s SWAT TEAM.
- 116a [Cry from Kirk or Picard] is RED ALERT.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Bert LAHR won a Tony (for the musical “Foxy,” which I’d never heard of).
Mark MacLachlan’s LA Times crossword, “Code Crackers” – Jenni’s write-up
I found it a slog to figure out this theme. It’s clever but I’m not sure it was worth the effort. My effort, that is.
I had no idea what was going on until I got to the revealer at 120a [Govt. employees encoded by the nine other longest across entries in this puzzle … and who might be called in to decode them]. The answer is FBI AGENTS. So I went looking for FBI in the longest entries. Nope. I went back and looked again and realized that each theme entry points us to a letter:
- 23a [One way to enter a pool] is FEET FIRST. The FIRST letter is F. See where we’re going?
- 29a [One end of a church key] is a BOTTLE OPENER. The OPENER is B.
- 36a [Physical location?] is a MEDICAL CENTER. The CENTER of MEDICAL is I.
- 54a [“Mobile” communications device used in law enforcement] is a DATA TERMINAL. The TERMINAL letter of DATA is A. (Meanwhile, why is “mobile” in quotation marks? Is it not really mobile? Aren’t those terminals in police cars?)
- 64a [Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” has one that includes cannon fire] is a BIG FINISH. The last letter is G.
- 72a [2012 Beyoncé hit with the repeated line “Say you’ll never let me go”] is END OF TIME. The END is E.
- 81a [Summing-up words] are IN CONCLUSION. That would be N.
- 102a [Guru whose opinions are trusted] is a THOUGHT LEADER. The first letter is T.
- 110a [2019 “Game of Thrones” event] is the SERIES FINALE. Last letter again: S.
If we follow the directions, we get FBI AGENTS. Which we already had from the revealer. Not my favorite kind of theme.
A few other things:
- 1a [College loan co-signer, maybe] is DAD. Mom gets her due at 21a [Reunion attendee], ALUMNA. My alma mater has decreed that we are all alumni. Sigh.
- 15d [College address ending] is DOT EDU. No one every writes out DOT. Just, no.
- Hebrew alert: ELUL and ALEPH. The end of the year and the beginning of the alphabet.
- Am I the only one who dropped in AXIOM for 46d [“Great minds think alike,” e.g.]? It’s actually ADAGE.
- 83d [A piece of cake] is the amusing DUCK SOUP.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: I’d never heard of ice dancer TESSA Virtue. She’s Canadian. We also have VIRTU in the grid at 61d [Love of antiques] which feels like a dupe to me.
Here’s TESSA in action.