Mark Diehl’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
So this is a themed 70-worder, with four theme answers. You know what happens when you jam 50 theme squares into an open, 70-word grid? You get some nightmarish fill and crossings. 1-Across announces the sort of fill you can expect, as that [Blue dye] is crosswordese ANIL. (The opposite corner flails with SABOT ESSES IAMSO). If you don’t know that the fisherman of yore is IZAAK Walton and that the old game-show legend is Paul LYNDE, then you’d better know ANIL and you’d better know the spelling for SUZY Q CAKES has a Z, or you’re not finishing this puzzle correctly.
The tough clues would play a lot better if there weren’t so much awful fill in the puzzle. Clues that stymied me for a bit:
- 20a. [Heads to Nome, say], LEAD DOGS. “Heads” is a noun here, the heads on a trip to Nome. Can’t say I knew there are specific LEAD DOGS on a sled dog team.
- 5d. [Bills no more], ACTS. As in legislative bills, ACTS after they’ve been passed and signed into law.
- 27d. [It may be looped for a throw], ROPE. Raise your hand if you have ever formed a lasso to throw a rope. (I see the attempted mislead with “thrown for a loop.”)
- 32a. [Back on board?], DEE. As in the letter D at the end of board.
Did not know: 28d. [Green-conscious grp.], USGA. Is … is there a U.S. Golfers Association? Nope. This is the United States Golf Association, an org for golf courses and clubs. Why would anyone know about that? Also did not know this was a thing that existed: 30d. [Surveyor’s instrument], PLUMB RULE. According to my husband, the plumb rule is to always use a plumb line, which is a thing we have heard of.
So, that theme. Hostess SUZY Q CAKES, which are sold as Suzy Q’s chocolate cakes, so rather a bogus wording for a crossword answer. One singular Reese’s PEANUT BUTTER CUP, which is semi-bogus. Plural Mars 3 MUSKETEERS BARS, with a numeral and in the plural for no reason other than “that’s how it fits into a 15 to match the singular PEANUT BUTTER CUP.” And then the weirdish Nabisco OREO COOKIE, just the one. So as themes go, I suspect this would have been rejected out of hand in a ≥74-word grid. And none of this explains why a dentist is packing all this sugary junk food into his crossword! Tsk.
2.3 stars from me.
David Alfred Bywaters’s Universal crossword, “Very Funny”—Rebecca’s review
THEME: H and A added to phrases to make wacky answers.
- 17A [*Modest groundbreaking ceremony?] SHACK LAUNCH
- 25A [*Good name for a depilatory brand?] HAIR AWAY
- 40A [*Desperate canoer’s means of paddling?] HAND OAR
- 51A [*Terse order for two drinks without ice?] BOTH NEAT
- 64A [*”Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”? (Hint: Each starred entry has two added letters!)] SHINGLE PLAY
I solved this much like it was a quirky themeless – most of the puzzle fell really nicely and for the themers, the clues were clear enough that just a few crosses made each one solvable. After finishing the puzzle I was scratching my head a bit as to what exactly the theme was. For me it took the 2-letter comment in the last theme, the title, and the clue for 7 down [Hoped-for reaction to this puzzle] to get my aHA moment. Take the HA out of each themed answer.
Is this puzzle clever and well-constructed? YES
Did calling Cat on a Hot Tin Roof SHINGLE PLAY make me LAUGH out loud? YES
Did I understand the why of this puzzle? NOPE
But really I don’t need a why to enjoy a puzzle and the absurdness of these answers was great, with SHINGLE PLAY and HAND OAR definitely the stand-outs of the day. The only one that really didn’t do it for me was BOTH NEAT – BOTNET felt out of place among the other entries that were 2-word phrases and much more common.
Fill-wise I absolutely need to shout out the celebration of women that is the fill in this puzzle! Loved the clues for LATINA [Jennifer Lopez or Sonia Sotomayor] and DR NO [Bond film starring Ursula Andress] – as well as the inclusion of RUTH Bader Ginsburg and HEIDI Klum – JUST YES TO ALL OF THIS!
Didn’t love HASP, GESTE, or KOA – actually the P in HASP was my last letter filled in because no matter how many times I see HASP in a grid my brain can’t remember that it’s a word. Some beautiful long bonus entries like OVERWORKED and CLOISTERED here more than made-up for any of the less exciting fill.
3.75 stars from me today for enjoyment and wackiness
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword — Rachel’s write-up
Themeless Fridays are the best because I get to do TWO themeless puzzles… except for today, when someone (not naming names, but they’re reviewed elsewhere in today’s post) apparently forgot that Themeless Friday is a thing. Fortunately, this beautiful themeless from Natan Last more than made up for my disappointment (and craving for Reese’s Cups).
- The marquee entry ELECTRICSCOOTER made me smile; it’s a fresh 15-letter entry, and it also felt a little like a crossword inside joke about putting E- in front of everything to make new fill, as if the constructor were saying “look, you can actually write out the whole word!”
- *Loved* seeing ILHANOMAR in the grid, and putting her across from to LABORSONG (a new one for me as well) really punched up that middle section.
- I struggled briefly with CATCHERSBOX because I had a mental image of Tiger Woods crouching and was convinced that this was a golf clue.
- CHOMSKYAN was a little iffy for me– I had CHOMSKY– and could not figure out how to adjectify him. Maybe if I were a little bit better at theoretical linguistics I could have theorized a suffix!
- Last section to fall for me was the NW. For some reason my pre-coffee brain was *convinced* that you needed an EPEE for a biathlon? Turns out it’s SKIS and rifles, but how much more fun would it be to watch people ski and fence??
- Other miscellaneous loves: ACTNORMAL, GORDITAS, IAMSOTHERE, FAMILYSTYLE, the 90s music clue on IRIS, AWMAN, … I’m about to list all of the entries if I keep going, so I’ll leave it there.
Overall, fantastic, satisfying, non-snackfood-filled (did you see that BRAN muffin tho? That is a *choice*) Themeless Friday.
Olivia Mitra Framke’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Puff Piece”—Amy’s write-up
This theme would have worked without the revealer, since CHE is a venue that uses puzzle titles. But CENTRAL AIR is in there, clued as 60a. [Perk highlighted by real-estate agents … or a hint to this puzzle’s arrangement of circled letters], and there’s AIR in the exact center of five rows. The themers are SPLIT HAIRS, DAIRY FARM, STATE FAIR RIBBON (my cousin, her husband, and their kids just won five ribbons at the Will County Fair!), SOLITAIRE, and PAIR OF ACES. All solid.
The fill doesn’t suffer much from CENTRAL AIR being stacked atop the final themer—you could grouse about partial A PEAR and prefix PETRO if you were so inclined.
Five more things:
- 1a. [Limerick rhyme scheme], AABBA. Did we all start sounding out a limerick in our heads to make sure we had this right?
- 59a. [Food-warming fireplace shelves], HOBS. My pick for most obscure entry in this puzzle.
- 12d. [Channing of Hollywood], TATUM. Generational test: Did you think of Carol Channing before Channing Tatum came to mind?
- 30d. [Mormon settler’s adversary in the 1853 Walker War], UTE. According to this Wikipedia piece, Walkara/Wakara, the chief the war was named for, was not a Ute at all. She article section on the war, though, refers to the Ute plenty.
- 40d. [Chili morsel], BEAN. Some chili fans are ardently opposed to beans. I’m not much for meat, though, so bring on the beans!
Four stars from me.
Bruce Haight’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Jenni & Amy’s writeup
Jenni: I wrote this draft once and WordPress ate it, and now I’m out of time, so here’s the theme:
Literal football players.
- 18a [Philanthropic football player?] is a GIVING BACK
- 24a [Football player who’s PR-savvy?] is a MEDIA CENTER.
- 36a [Football player with a line?] is a FISHING TACKLE.
- 50a [Football player with management skills?] is a BUSINESS END.
- 57a [Football player at the beach?] is a COAST GUARD.
Amy: Here’s the solution grid.
I wasn’t too keen on some of the multi-word answers, like ON ME, SAME AS, AIMS AT, I AM TOAST, and TAKEN TO. And there was A BIT of a stodgy-fill vibe, with RIA, ESTER, SSNS, SOUSE, and SAHIB. I did like BE NICE, I NEVER, ON COURSE, and PANACHE, though.
CLAM ROLL frightens me. I don’t do shellfish, and I’ve never seen CLAM ROLL on a menu here in Chicago.
Three stars from Amy.