Alex Eaton-Salners’s New York Times crossword, “Bird Play”—Amy’s write-up
Bird-related wordplay yields the puzzle title, “Bird Play.” The circled letters within some themers suggest a familiar(ish) phrase that appears as another themer:
- 25a. [“Curiouser and curiouser …”], THE PLOT THICKENS. Great theme entry there. HICKEN is a chicken with its head cut off, but 106a. [(What’s depicted by the circled letters) … in 25-Across] is HEADLESS CHICKEN? Begging your pardon, but HEADLESS CHICKEN doesn’t feel at all familiar to me.
- 41a. [Jeer], SCOFF / 49a. [In-group at school], POPULAR KIDS, with OFF and LARK circled. 81a. [What’s depicted by the circled letters in 41-/49-Across], OFF ON A LARK? Meh. I’m not convinced that the OFF is an inherent part of that phrase. The dictionary-attested phrase is just on (or for) a lark, no off.
- 52a. [Preach the gospel], EVANGELIZE. Circled are the spaced-out E-A-G-L-E. 84a. [… in 52-Across], SPREAD-EAGLE.
- 19a. [Best Actress winner of 1999 and 2004], HILARY SK crossing 15d ASWAN. Symmetrically paired with 116a. [… and in 19-Across], SWAN DIVE.
It’s a little weird that two theme pairs are symmetrically paired in the grid, while the pairs in the middle have swapped partners. The HEADLESS CHICKEN and OFF bits kinda wrecked the theme for me.
Four more things:
- 75d. [Peacefully protests, as during the national anthem] TAKES A KNEE. *nods respectfully*
- 27d. [Ocelli], EYESPOTS. As in the light-sensitive spots on a flatworm. Tough clue.
- 14d. [Noncapital city whose name means “capital city”], KYOTO. And Tokyo means “east + capital.” Beijing’s jing also means capital.
- 83d. [Crushed in competition], ATE ALIVE. I would have liked a mosquito clue here, on account of mosquitoes don’t bite me. I didn’t luck out on every physiological front, but this bit is pretty cool.
3.25 stars from me.
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Universal Crossword, “United Nations”—Judge Vic’s write-up
Guessable from the title, the theme is overlapping spellings of countries:
- 16a Intra-European alliance? POLANDORRA. Poland-Andorra. I was unfamiliar with Andorra. Darn that World Geography class for going forward without me.
- 23a European-Asian alliance? CYPRUSSIA. Cyprus-Russia.
- 32a Asian-African alliance? BHUTANZANIA. Bhutan-Tanzania.
- 47a African-European alliance? NIGERMANY. Niger-Germany.
- 55a Scandinavian alliance? SWEDENMARK. Sweden-Denmark.
Very clever. Five of those dudes! Fifty-one boxes. Sixty-four letters total. Fun theme to suss out. Very challenging fill, in places.
Stuff worth noting:
- 9d Black gold TEXAS TEA. Straight from “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme song. I’ve never heard anyone refer to oil as Texas Tea without mentioning that song within the next sentence or two. And I know lots of people from Texas!
- 17d Some grammarians say it’s all wrong ALRIGHT. I have to quibble with all being in the clue here, though I’m not really sure why. I think it is because emphasis on all in the clue, followed by the same with the all sound in the answer seems necessary to get the one-liner that is in play here.
- 31d ATF raid target FIREARM. They’d do a raid for a single weapon that would be called a firearm? Isn’t that word usually used in reference to a small gun?
- 32d NBA Finals and Super Bowl BIG GAMES. I’ll just point out that the phrase big game enters a child’s vocabulary pretty early, in reference to anything from peewee soccer to Candy Land with parents. Also, the clue feels weird, being half plural and half singular.
- 36d Merging CONFLUX. I’d never seen or heard of this word before. Nor had the crossword world, per the Ginsberg database.
- 37d Question asked in a hurry? AM I LATE. This clause has been in crosswords more often than I have heard it used. Do people really say it? Seems more likely to me that there’d be dialogue along these lines: “You’re late!” “Am I?”
- 45 Company with a big stake in Juul ALTRIA. Well, slap me naked and sell my clothes! I knew neither Altria nor Juul, so out of touch have I been with anything having to do with Big Tobacco!
- 19a Share with, as a story TELL TO. As in “Tell to me a story”? (It’s a disguised partial, and an awkward one at that.)
- 20a Threads of scientific research? LAB COATS. Very cool clue.
- 43a Place to scribble NOTEPAD. For whatever reason, I love this entry. Perhaps because I take notepads with me almost everywhere. Often disguised as clipboards with stacks of crosswords thereon.
- 51a Puncture result FLAT TIRE. There is a beer by this name as well–an amber ale, actually, with a fairly hefty ABV percentage. It played a key role in a DWI trial over which I presided a few years ago–when I had not heard of said ale brand. The driver testified, “I had a Flat Tire before I got in my car.” I jotted that down on my NOTEPAD with a big question mark in the margin!
Nicely done, Alex! I was most entertained.
Evan Kalish’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Core Concept”—Jim P’s review
I flew through this grid in, what seems to me, a record time for a 21x. It’s smooth, clean, with a nice theme and great fill. A beautiful job!
The theme is revealed at 67a CAPITAL CITY [Center of a nation’s political power … or of each starred entry]. Each theme answer is hiding one of the world’s capitals.
- 22a [*Country dissolved in 1993 (Norway)] CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Uncovering this first, I thought theme answers would all be countries hiding other cities, but that’s probably too constricting of a theme.
- 26a [*Luckless person, in Yiddish (Peru)] SCHLIMAZEL. Thanks to the theme, I was able to spell this correctly!
- 44a [*Low-cost malaria reducer (Ecuador)] MOSQUITO NET. The city is not spanning two words here, but c’est la vie.
- 91a [*Side-by-side evaluations (France)] COMPARISONS. Same comment as the previous entry.
- 106a [*Slow down to see a wreck (Switzerland)] RUBBER–NECK. Very nice. I hate rubber-neckers!
- 114a [*Breakfast order with ham, on some menus (Italy)] DENVER OMELETTE
- 30d [*Front man of the Four Seasons (Ukraine)] FRANKIE VALLI
- 40d [*Pizza oven inserts (Jamaica)] BAKING STONES
Oh, hang on! I just realized that the cities are all at the exact center of each entry! Wow. This makes my nit about MOSQUITO NET and COMPARISONS go away. I’m quite impressed.
And that’s just the theme. Check out the fill: TIPTOES, DARK SIDE, WINE BAR, CLOUSEAU, EATERIES, MAIN ACT, EDIT WAR, WOLF PELT, CITADEL, “STOP HIM!”, AT FAULT, ETERNAL, SLIDERS, GRANOLA, and “FEEL ME?”. Strong stuff!
And there’s nary a thing to scoff at—certainly nothing we’ve never seen before.
Clues of note:
- 39a. [Business with white sales?]. WINE BAR. Nice misdirection.
- 36d. [Nintendo gaming system]. WII. The WII is a couple generations back at this point. These days it’s the Nintendo Switch that has all the momentum.
A really fine, free-flowing grid. 4.25 stars from me.
John Lampkin’s LA Times crossword, “Poetry Slam” – Jenni’s write-up
Fun theme! All the theme answers are “adjusted” to include poetic references. Wackiness results.
- 16d [Poet known for her footwork?] is IAMB WOMAN (I am woman).
- 23a [Shakespeare’s ghostwriters?] are the SONNET COMMITTEE (Senate committee).
- 45a [“Another day, another $%&! Grecian urn”?] is the SAME ODE, SAME ODE (same old, same old). This one made me literally laugh out loud.
- 68a [“Religious Poetry Writing for Dummies” reminder?] is PSALM ASSEMBLY REQUIRED (some assembly required).
- 81d [Tennyson lecture?] is IDYLL TALK (idle talk).
- 94a [Love song written while playing hooky?] is ABSENTEE BALLAD (absentee ballot).
- 121a [Chaucer’s workflow?] is FROM BARD TO VERSE (from bad to worse). My second favorite after the Grecian urn.
All the base phrases are solid, and all the poetic transformations are funny. That’s a win.
John sent us this relevant picture of a carpenter ANT eating a caddisfly. He comments “Since the wings are hairy, the ant will spit them out. I mean, would YOU eat them?” No. No, I would not.
A few other things:
- 1d [Legendary mountain climber] is MOSES.
- 4d [Addlepated] is a word that should be brought back, because I like it. The answer is CONFUSED.
- 17d [Wah-wah source?] is a CRIB.
- 47d [“How many roads __ man walk down … “: Dylan] is MUST A. I went to a concert tonight and heard “Blowin’ in the Wind” for the first time in a long time. “How many deaths will it take till he knows/that too many people have died?” brought me to tears. No objections to the partial here. We need to hear the message.
- 73d [Colleague of Ruth and Sonia] is ELENA, and I have finally learned how to spell her name. I kept trying to make it ELANA, for some reason.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Phil IVEY is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame (I didn’t know there was a Poker Hall of Fame).
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Themeless No. 11” – Jenni’s writeup
This week Evan gives us a themeless puzzle, just the thing for an aimless Sunday. I found this more challenging than most of his puzzles; this is not a complaint.
I love conversational clues like 3d, [“Wanna try and do better than me?”]. The answer is CAN YOU TOP THIS?
I also loved the two longest Across answers. 47a is a great clue: [Organization that often requires cuts?] for FLOWER ARRANGEMENT. 77a is more straightforward: [Lambda Legal cause] is TRANSGENDER RIGHTS (among other things). I’m delighted to see that in a mainstream crossword.
A few other things:
- 33a [Filing service] has nothing to do with the office. It’s a MANICURE.
- 38a [Bat at fielding practice] is a FUNGO bat. They are longer and thinner than standard bats, which helps the coach who is usually hitting to be more accurate as she aims balls for fielding practice.
- 68a [One of two plants featured on a Zach Galifianakis talk show] is FERN.
- 91a [“___ History” (show with wasted narrators)] is DRUNK. I’m a doc with a background in addiction medicine and the mother of a college sophomore. Drunkenness is not amusing. It’s just not. Normalizing drunkenness is even less amusing. Let’s just stop with that, mmmkay?
- 114a [What those with no class engage in?] is RECESS. One of the abiding mysteries of my kid’s elementary education was that when the kids were too loud at lunch, the consequence was cancelling recess. Um. Isn’t that when you really want them to go outside and run around?
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that there is a video game called ULTIMA with a hero called the Avatar; that John Landis directed “Coming to America;” that the TSARs were advised by boyars; and that there was a show called “Garfield and Friends” that featured a song named “Truckin’ ODIE.” Whoever owns the rights does a danged good job of protecting them, and so you are spared a video of this magnum opus.
Universal Sunday Crossword won’t open in Across Lite. Marked as a corrupted file.
Same problem; AcrossLite crashes when I try to open the puzzle.
Mine opened in xword, but the grid solution was pre-filled. Had to use the menu to erase the contents.
Hi from beautiful lake Tahoe.
I’m not sure how a bad file replaced the good one. I’ve just put the right one back and when I get home I’ll see if maybe David knows.
Thank goodness — and thank you. This lovely puzzle was actually worth waiting for.
Aww, thanks, Norm!
Hope you’re enjoying Lake Tahoe. Such a beautiful place!
NYT: I agree that HEADLESS CHICKEN isn’t quite right, but I still thought it was a pretty original theme because of the way it’s layered, and I liked the playfulness. SWAN DIVE and SPREAD EAGLE and their associated visuals are worth the price of admission.
Amy, I must have the opposite allelic variants because I’m a mosquito magnet… First thing I did when we decided to build a home was make sure we have a screened porch- best decision ever!
The idiomatic phrase is “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” — which is no more appealing, but it has years of usage — and headless chicken was a reasonable substitute in the world of crosswords.
Norm, Yes! That’s it! That’s the phrase I remember and it was my mother who said it. Thanks.
Mom grew up on a farm in southwest Oregon outside Coos Bay/Coquille. She was pretty familiar with the concept.
My mom grew up on a ranch outside of Pendleton, Oregon. If they were having chicken for dinner, her mother or grandmother had to go out to the chicken coop and grab a bird (or several, I suppose), wring their necks and prep them for cooking. I knew both ladies and couldn’t imagine either one doing that. I’d likely be a vegetarian if that was required for me to have poultry for dinner!
I loved HEADLESS CHICKEN. I say that all the time: I’m running around like a headless chicken. Maybe it’s regional? Maybe I just don’t like talking about heads being cut off? Maybe it came from my mother? Dunno.
OFF ON A LARK sounds British-ish to me. I loved the theme and enjoyed the puzzle.
… or the dominant feature of a peacock’s tail, or the false eyespots of moths, caterpillars, fish, et al. used in mimicry.
I knew that Kyoto was the for a long time the capital before Tokyo (Edo), but when I consulted Wikipedia I learned that during that period (794–1869) it was called Heian-kyō. Further, it is currently the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, so in one sense it is a capital city.
UNIVERSAL: Really enjoyed “Threads of scientific research?” as a clue for LAB COATS.
I agree about the two awkward theme entries. I’ve always heard about running around like a chicken without a head, but never a like a headless chicken. And interesting point that “off” isn’t quite intrinsic to “on a lark,” although it’d be ok for me, except that it felt part of a greater inconsistency in the theme. Here we circle a word that’s not a bird, the only time.
Similarly, I first got the circled SWAN and, from there, filled out SWAN DIVE, reconsidered the circled entries, and realized the across had to refer to Hillary Swank (about whom, ok, I had only a vague memory, but no criticism intended). That seemed clever. I took that as the pattern and then was confused that other entries were normal, just serving to hold circles.
So I’d say a good idea for a theme that never really came to be. There was also, ok, a lot of trivia, and I again have to insist it’s not about my saying what should or should not be in a puzzle because of my taste. It’s just, to a lesser degree, if sheer volume causes a trivia night or a slog and, more important, if crossings become did not finish. In this case, I can take comfort in that my trouble spots matched those in Wordplay. I could not remember the spelling of Diana N. and so had to guess an appropriate nickname for the university. I saw no reason to choose between TIC and TAC, so had to decide what vowel gave a more promising name for that nation. I got both right, but still a sore point. I liked the difficulty, in that I had a long train ride to fill. But still.
Thank you JohnH. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one completely misled about the theme by “HillarySK.” Even after finishing the puzzle and seeing all the clues for the other birds, I still looked to see if there were more like the first one I saw.
I’ve gotten so used to random assortments of letters for rappers’ names that I accepted HILARY SK without question [acting folks are not my strong point] and had to come back to that one to appreciate it. I really really really liked this puzzle.
Thank god for this site or I would have been up all night trying to figure out who the hell hilary sk was. Never caught the “wan” insertion which seems completely out of the blue in this puzzle.
Again today, the Universal Daily had two bad crossings. I was finally able to guess the “c” in Cait and conflux, though I’ve never heard of that word and it doesn’t even seem to make sense. But the “L” crossing in Arlo and Altria was impossible. I took multiple guesses and finally had to get it filled in for me. And I do know what Juul is, but that didn’t help. The theme was very good, but not worth the maddening ungettable crosses.
I think that’s a very legitimate criticism. Alice’s Restaurant or even the comic strip are more in my wheelhouse. Who’s the most famous Arlo these days?
NYT very messy, inconsistent and thin-themed. Like throwing spaghetti against the wall.
Several ugly crosses including one with two technically correct answers. Lost interest.
Will have to try some of the others.
Unable to access Evan Kalish’s puzzle. There aren’t any links to the puzzle above!
It’s on the Today’s Puzzles page.
Tried everything! Different name comes up despite clearing cache. Do you have a direct link? Very strange! Thanks!
Did you click on the Sunday Universal puzzle?
The daily Universal is different.
To go further on “jing”, Beijing is the Northern capital, and Nanjing (which was the capital of the Republic of China before the Cold War) is Southern.
Woe betide the solver who doesn’t know their old-timey Finnish runner. I only know PAAVO from years of solving, and PAiVO would probably have seemed like a legitimate possibility if I hadn’t known his name.