Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Nickname Calling” – Jim Q’s writeup
A GENEVAN puzzle! [Crossword constructor Birnholz’s nickname when he’s representing a group of solvers within a close age range?] Get it? GENEVAN? GEN(eration) EVAN? Hehe. Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch.
THEME: Common words/phrases reimagined as nicknames when they’re parsed to read a word + a celebrity’s first name
- 22A [Jazz singer Fitzgerald’s nickname when she ate lox?]
SALMONELLA. Salmon Ella. With that nickname, I bet she was jealous of the far more pleasant sounding “Lady Day.”
- 24A [Contralto Anderson’s nickname when she used the metric system?] GRAMMARIAN. Gram Marian.
- 33A [Author Uris’s nickname when he was in the “Round and Round” rock group?] RATTLE ON. Ratt Leon.
- 37A [Rocker Slick’s nickname when she insults people?] DISGRACE. Dis Grace.
- 59A [CNN anchor Lemon’s nickname when he discusses no-longer-current events?] PASSED ON. Passé Don.
- 61A [Actor McKellen’s nickname when he gives a dazzling performance?] ELECTRICIAN. Electric Ian.
- 73A [Actress Heard’s nickname when she uses a stiffening agent at the laundromat?] STAR CHAMBER. Starch Amber.
- 93A [Actress Kendrick’s nickname when she joins a musical group?] BANDANNA. Band Anna. Funny, I only ever spelled that word “bandana,” never realizing that “bandanna” is the more common spelling.
- 95A [Actor Danson’s nickname when he has multiple heads?] HYDRATED. Hydra Ted.
- 113A [Author Grafton’s nickname when she worked as a clerk?] COUNTERSUE. Counter Sue.
- 115A [Guitarist Paul’s nickname when he wouldn’t stop playing?] CHRONICLES. Chronic Les.
Did I get them all? That’s a lot of theme answers! Most were a lot of fun to figure out. If you didn’t know one half of a theme answer, chances were you had an inkling of an idea of the other half and could eventually infer. Names I didn’t know in the themers included MARIAN Anderson, AMBER Heard, and… actually that’s it. For some reason it felt like more during the solve. If I had to do away with one of the themers, it’d definitely be RATTLE ON / RATT LEON. RATT LEON seems like a stretch (probably because RATT was unfamiliar to me as a band name) and RATTLE ON doesn’t strike me as a solid stand-alone base phrase. But, whatever.
There is another layer of something pretty damn cool here: No first names anywhere else in the grid. That’s quite a feat in any puzzle, but certainly in a 21x. I must confess that I was alerted to this elegant touch post-solve and did not notice it myself. Pretty damn cool though.
- 1D [Rock formation?] FIST. Rock beats scissors!
- 46A [Work with the king of Egypt] AIDA. “Work” being the Verdi opera. Or the Elton John/Tim Rice musical I suppose.
- 84A [Message at the end of a “G.I. Joe” episode] PSA. For some reason I wanted USA. Anyone else? But then NIPPY gave me PSA, and I vaguely remember those messages at the end.
- 100D [HBO watcher, usually] ADULT. Doesn’t HBO show Sesame Street now? And judging by the popularity of Game of Thrones within my freshman class last year…
- 92A [Test for screening out bots] CAPTCHA. Didn’t catch this bot:
Had WELTS for WARTS. The correct answer is far more accurate to the clue, even if it’s a bit yuckier. Had no idea that Polk’s middle name was KNOX. And boy did I inexplicably flounder in the Southwest corner for what felt like forever. My time was a few minutes higher than normal, but the bite was enjoyable.
No video game clues?? Say wha?
Until next week!
Joe DiPietro’s New York Times crossword, “Well, Well, Well, If It Isn’t …”—Amy’s write-up
The theme clues complete the puzzle’s title in various ways, with a familiar phrase or word that’s re-parsed to end with a person’s name:
- 23a. [… the guy who vows to take his Stetson to the grave], BURY-THE-HAT CHET.
- 33a. [… the fraternity guy who wants to be a cardiologist], HEART-BRO KEN.
- 51a. [… the guy who barely shows he’s exasperated], SHORT-SIGH TED. I have not mastered the short sigh.
- 56a. [… the guy who always shows up unannounced], POP-IN JAY.
- 70a. [… the gal who delivered the greatest put-down ever], WHAT-A-DIS GRACE. You know what? “Gal” and “guy” are not really counterparts. “Guy” is super-common and “gal” just feels awkward. Would it have been so off-putting to use “woman” and “man” in some of these? Or “cowboy” for the first one, say?
- 86a. [… the guy who takes aerial photos for the military], DRONE DON. This one’s a bit of an outlier as the others work best with some hyphen action.
- 91a. [… the gal who loses it when pass plays are called], GROUND-NUT MEG. Are there actually football fans who dislike the passing game and just want to see a running game? Clue could also have gone the groundnut route with a mention of goobers.
- 108a. [… the gal who spends all day at the hairdresser], ROLLERS KATE. Another no-hyphen entry.
- 121a. [… the guy who can’t stop bragging about Bragg], FORT-LAUDER DALE. Somehow this feels like it might have been the seed entry for the theme.
The theme entries were kinda fun to work out. Would’ve been nice to have more guy/gal balance. Can you think of any alternate themers using a woman’s name at the end? Probably there are fewer workable phrases that end with A or I, so that knocks out a goodly chunk of options.
Distracting: Two long Down answers that end with men’s names but aren’t part of the theme: 17d. [“Star Trek” catchphrase said by Dr. McCoy], “HE’S DEAD, JIM” and 73d. [Shade for a field worker?], FARMER’S TAN, which could also be FARMER STAN. Of course, a farmer’s tan isn’t the hue, it’s the pattern the tan takes. Face and neck, and arms not covered by shirt sleeves.
Did not know: 130a. [Actress Taylor of “Bones”], TAMARA. If you didn’t know the name either, take a look at her filmography. You’ve probably seen her in things.
Five more things:
- 2d. [Prolonged period of excessive imbibing], DRUNKATHON. Say what? If that’s actually a thing, it certainly shouldn’t be glorified. Binge drinking, it ain’t a healthy habit!
- 13d. [Gained a lap?], SAT. Not sure why there’s a question mark in this clue. Haven’t we all pretty much seen this “tricky” clue for SAT a hundred times before?
- 41d. [Dieter’s “I”], ICH. Ach du lieber! I thought this was some single-letter abbreviation that dieters use, but the clue’s hiding the capital D in the German name Dieter. Ich is the first-person pronoun in German.
- 79d. [Father of Enigma in DC Comics], THE RIDDLER. I did not know this. I thought the Riddler was Edward Nygma, didn’t know there was an Enigma.
- 78d. [Gambler’s exclamation], “COME TO PAPA.” Kinda wanted COME TO MAMA here.
There’s some sparkle in the long fill, and not too much meh-ness in the short fill (DAK OOO YNEZ EDY PDT, meh). Four stars from me.
Mark McClain’s Universal crossword, “Crazy H”—Rebecca’s review
THEME: -ASS to -ASH to make common things “crazy”
- 3D [Pictures of mismatched outfits?] CLASH PHOTOS
- 18A [Make a 3-pointer with a wheel of brie?] SWISH CHEESE
- 28D [Jeep from a 1972-83 TV show?] MASH TRANSIT
- 61A [Impudent simian?] BRASH MONKEY
This puzzle was fine. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it also isn’t the most exciting to solve. BRASH MONKEY was my favorite of the theme answers, but they all work. My biggest issue here was grid layout – each themer almost felt like it was part of a completely different puzzle with how broken up the grid is.
Favorite clues today were TPS [“Decorates” with rolls, informally] & HONDA [Fit with wheels?] both of which made me laugh and I’ll take an eBay clue over a gun one any day for SNIPER [Last-minute eBay bidder].
Having TAG UP so near to ONE UP made the repeat of the UP difficult to figure out – especially since I’m unfamiliar with TAG UP. Otherwise, the fill was really clean, but as with the theme, just didn’t do much to excite.
Random solving thought – because of the below clip, I had FOLDS before MELDS [30D. Combines] – for those unfamiliar with Schitt’s Creek, I highly recommend changing that.
This puzzle gets 2.5 stars from me
Gary Larson’s Universal crossword, “Sound Casting Decisions”—Jim Q’s review
THEME: Celebrities whose last names are homophones.
- 23A [“Some Like It Hot” actor’s used car salesperson character?] JACK LEMON.
- 25A [“Chicago” actor’s mechanic character?] RICHARD G
- 38A [“Batman Begins” actor’s criminal defense lawyer character?] CHRISTIAN BAIL.
- 54A [“Charlie’s Angels” actress’ plumber character?] FARRAH FAUCET.
- 69A [“Cleopatra” actress’ garment-maker character?] ELIZABETH TAILOR.
- 88A [“Dr. Strangelove” actor’s sommelier character?] PETER CELLARS.
- 100A [“Frasier” actor’s editor character?] KELSEY GRAMMAR.
- 118A [“The Quiet American” actor’s sugar farmer character?] MICHAEL CANE.
- 122A [“10” actress’ oil tycoon character?] BO DERRICK.
It’s a familiar theme, for sure. But not unwelcome, and presented consistently throughout the puzzle. New for me was SYSTOLE [Part of a heartbeat], ANNETTE clued as [One of the original Mouseketeers], RICHE [Nouveau ___], and I had no clue what a DERRICK was until now, though the answer was easily inferred. All of those fall in the category of “glad I know that now” (until I forget next time I see them in a puzzle, of course!). I don’t really associate sommeliers with CELLARS. I mean, I get the wine CELLAR reference… but I don’t picture them hanging out in a wine CELLAR. Can’t think of a better way to clue it though.
Otherwise, standard fill which felt a touch heavy on the crosswordese. But this is one of those puzzles that is accessible and valuable to new solvers: it has an easy to grok theme and can teach the ropes of the world of AGARs, ELANs, RAJs, BAHTs, ETTUs, FETEs, and the many different types of letter shaped fasteners… in this case a T BOLT (not the U BOLT I originally entered).
3.1 stars from me. Playful, mostly fun, and simple.
Pancho Harrison’s LA Times crossword – “Oh, It’s You Again” – Jenni’s writeup
It took me a long time to figure this one out, despite the assistance from the title. Each theme answer has a U substituting for an O. Wackiness results.
- 23a [Kiss during a nature walk?] is a TRAIL BUSS. Part of the reason I didn’t suss the theme is that TRAIL BOSS is not familiar to me.
- 35a [Window installer’s course of instruction?] is PUTTY TRAINING. I’m much more familiar with POTTY TRAINING and that’s where the penny dropped. So to speak.
- 38a [Jam component?] is a STUCK CAR (stock car).
- 54a [Charles Goodyear, notably?] is a RUBBER BARON (robber baron).
- 70a [Eccentric who has status in the community?] is a NUT WITH STANDING (notwithstanding).
- 88a [Big galoot serving as first mate?] is CAPTAIN SLUG (captain’s log).
- 104a [Dent in the hockey arena’s protective shield?] is a PUCK MARK (pockmark).
- 106a [Cesar Millan specialty?] is PUP PSYCHOLOGY (pop psychology).
- 124a [Measure of complacency?] is the SMUG INDEX (smog index). This may be my favorite.
Aside from TRAIL BOSS, all the other phrases are quite familiar and the resulting changes are funny. A good Sunday theme.
A few other things:
- 1d [Animal rights gp.] is PETA, not SPCA. That little mistake made it even harder for me to get started. If he’d used [Misogynist animal rights gp.] I’d have got in right away.
- 15d [What “strikes deep,” in Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth”] is PARANOIA. Now I have an earworm.
- Don’t like ROLLO crossing ROLL, especially since ROLLO as a name for a comic-strip rich kid probably comes from the same sense of ROLL that is used in the clue.
- 46d [Formal jacket feature] is a COATTAIL. I’m confused. I think of a “formal jacket” as a tuxedo. They don’t have tails. Morning coats and evening coats have tails, and they are coats, not jackets, hence the name COATTAIL.
- I will forgive this puzzle pretty much anything, though, because of 120a [Hanna-Barbera’s __ Doggie and Doggie Daddy]. I love AUGIE Doggy and his Daddy!
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that BONN is on the Rhine. Anyone who has played me in Learned League knows geography is not my strength.