Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Animal Tracks” – Jim Q’s writeup
In thinking about how to start a write-up, I decided that “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys would make for nice background music. Even if they’re not all pets per se.
THEME: Animal homophones in song titles
23A [Elvis Presley song about a legendary bird that’s locked up?]
JAILHOUSE ROC. Hmmm. Mythical creature. Seems like an outlier.
- 35A [Train song about greeting a flatfish sibling?] HEY SOLE SISTER. Only song not attributed to a person/band. ***Update: Train is the band. Duh. For some reason I was thinking it was some sort of bluesy railroad song.***
- 41A [Celine Dion song about her persevering deer?] MY HART WILL GO ON.
- 63A [Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song about nearly wounding their long-eared pet with a knife?] ALMOST CUT MY HARE.
- 70A [Louis Prima song ’bout a leap plus hepcat slang plus a marine mammal?] JUMP, JIVE, AN’ WHALE.
- 91A [Kinks song about being completely stumped by a sheep?] EWE REALLY GOT ME.
- 100A [Huey Lewis and the News song about desiring medication for a wildebeest?] I WANT A GNU DRUG.
- 117A [Byrds song about three shorebirds?] TERN TERN TERN.
I’m a sucker for homophone themes. They are always reliable, and easily accessible to newer solvers. Sure, the “animals as homophones” has been done before (both the EWE and the GNU are probably like “Enough already!”), and it’s not exactly ground-breaking to be using song titles as a platform, but it was an enjoyable solve. I do appreciate the level of diversity in the themes (from easily grokked to mind-bending) in the WaPo. Nothing is more boring than predictability.
This is the type of puzzle that hooked me as a solver decades ago, and I hope it does the same for someone else. I like that the last theme entry was almost a punchline with all of its words being repetitive homophones.
Weird that my first entry in the grid was GIANT PANDA. Not only because I started in a bizarre spot, but it’s another animal that is unrelated to the theme.
- 49D [Part of speech?] PAGE. I think this refers to someone’s speech being written down on a page? Maybe a stretch.
- 2D [Conductor who received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015] OZAWA. With O?A?A in place, I almost convinced myself OBAMA could be considered a conductor in a sense…
- 118D [#Boycott___ (gun-control activists’ hashtag)] NRA. Clued excellently.
- 74D [Fan’s sound] WHIR. Not ROAR like I had. That would probably deserve an apostrophe after the clue’s S.
NEW TO ME:
- 58D [Engine also called a “flying stovepipe”] RAM JET. Sounds fun.
- 127A [Elvish symbols, e.g.] RUNES. I feel like I may have known this… but that U was rough for me, especially crossing TRU, which was clued unfamiliarly.
- 17D [“Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” actress Cornish] ABBIE. That’s my cat’s name. But I don’t know how to spell it. I keep changing it from ABBY to ABBIE to ABBEY. She seems purrfectly fine with any spelling.
No probs with this puz! It has its merits in the WaPo lineup, even if it might not pose too big a challenge to the seasoned solver. You know what that means, though… expect a curveball in the near future.
Tracy Gray’s New York Times crossword, “On the Up and Up”—Amy’s write-up
Phrases that include up are rendered visually by running the word that precedes up in an upward direction perpendicular to the rest of the phrase. That upword is also clued as a Down word that’s the backwards version.
- 25a. [Maintain the impression of well-being], KEEP up APPEARANCES, crossing PEEK.
- 39a. [Reconciled, as a couple], KISSED AND MADE up, crossing EDAM.
- 41a. [Ab-targeting exercise equipment], SIT-up BENCH, crossing ‘TIS.
- 67a. [Method for identifying mystery callers], REVERSE PHONE LOOK-up, crossing KOOL-Aid.
- 91a. [Some cheesecake photos], PINup GIRLS crossing NIP. Meh on “girls.”
- 95a. [Accelerated alternative to broadband], HIGH-SPEED DIAL-up, crossing LAID. I think the fastest dial-up internet access is accelerated only in relation to older, slower dial-up, and not to the various broadband connections. Apparently there are rural areas in the US that still rely on dial-up, and there’s plenty they can’t access because of the slower speed (even when “high-speed”).
- 108a. [Voltage-increasing electrical device], STEP-up TRANSFORMER, crossing PETS. Nope, this is not a thing I have ever heard of.
I mostly liked the theme all right, and the fill was solid. Bright spots include DROP-CAP, BASE TAN (wear your sunscreen!), VIOLETS, Vidal SASSOON, EL CHAPO, BEE STING (apparently bumblebees have taken to stinging people this year! what’s up with that?), BEER GARDENS, SUSSED OUT, and PRESS PASSES.
Five more things:
- 75a. [Athlete’s knee injury, familiarly], TORN MCL. We all started with ACL, didn’t we?
- 79a. [Symbol between two years, often], EN DASH. Yes! As in 2019–2020, rather than 2019-2020.
- 106a. [“I feel the same way!”], ME TOO. Surprised it’s not a #MeToo clue.
- 9d. [Mideast capital once known as Philadelphia], AMMAN. Trivia tidbit!
- 16d. [Woman’s name that’s one letter off from a fragrant flower], YASMINE. Yasmine Bleeth, call your agent. You should have booked this clue.
3.9 stars from me.
Erik Agard and Nguhi Muturi’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Summer Break”—Jim Q’s review
This appears to be a debut from Nguhi Muturi! Congrats and welcome!
I hope you solved this in Across Lite so you weren’t STYMIEd by having to count and circle your own letters. Because, ya’ know, Universal loves to run themes that would typically include circled letters. It’s just that they refuse to provide those circles. Of the last 8 Universal puzzles I’ve reviewed, half of them would’ve include circled letters by any other publisher. I feel like I’m being trolled.
THEME: Words that can follow “hot” are broken up on the outsides of familiar phrases.
- 3D [*Mounds bars contain it] DARK CHOCOLATE. Hot DATE.
- 14D [*Words on the first circulated U.S. coin] MIND YOUR BUSINESS. Hot MESS.
- 40D [*Addressees of some school letters] STUDENTS AND STAFF. Hot STUFF.
- 42D [*Place for funny bits] COMEDY CLUB. Hot COMB.
- 48D [*”Mirrors” singer Justin] TIMBERLAKE. Hot TAKE.
- 62D [*Dangle] HANG BY A THREAD. Hot HEAD.
- 29A [*Succinct] SHORT AND SWEET. Hot SHOT.
- 114A [Scorcher complaint, and a hint to the starred entries’ circled letters] IT’S HOT OUTSIDE!
This is a very nice puzzle, especially considering the number of theme answers and the clean (for a Sunday), hip grid. I’m especially impressed with the two horizontal themers cutting through the grid without creating any confusion.
Favorite fill included:
PUB GAME (even though I’ve never seen Jenga played in a pub), I SEE NOW, BY GOD, FOMO, DAD BOD, and GENOTYPE. Also I never get tired of MEH. It’s just fun to say. Every one of the theme answers was also firmly in-language and the trivia for MIND YOUR BUSINESS [Words on the first circulated U.S. coin] was fantastic!
Some ugly stuff, like DIP IN (?), and RIDIC (modern, for sure… just not sure my brain can process it as a written word). But overall very smooth.
I end with a screenshot of the very simple plea to Universal. I understand that seasoned solvers aren’t likely to balk at having to count their own squares, but I think puzzles like this would be far more accessible to all if they included circles (as it was likely intended). Also, for a newer solver the circles pique curiosity and may encourage him/her to dive in.
4.2 stars with circles. 2.4 stars without.
Gary Larson’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Film Openings”—Jenni’s write-up
I enjoyed this puzzle. Each theme answer is a word or phrase that starts with a movie name and is clued accordingly.
- 16d [TV commercial for a 1983 Chevy Chase comedy?] is a VACATION SPOT.
- 22a [Review of a 2013 Disney musical?] is a FROZEN ACCOUNT.
- 39a [1:58 for the duration of a 2016 Amy Adams sci-fi flick?] is ARRIVAL TIME.
- 62d [Pretentious chatter about a 1960 Hitchcock thriller?] is PSYCHOBABBLE. This one’s my favorite.
- 70a [Author of a 1990 Swayze/Moore fantasy romance?] is the GHOST WRITER.
- 101a [Box-office receipts for a 1988 Tom Hanks comedy?] is BIG BUSINESS.
- 117a [First draft of a 1995 De Niro/Pacino thriller?] is HEAT TREATMENT.
All the base phrases are solid, all the theme clues are amusing, and it was fun to solve this puzzle sitting here on my porch watching birds bathe in the fountain. You might not enjoy it quite as much without the porch, the birds, or the fountain.
A few other things:
- There’s an egregious dupe. 71d [Wonderland drink] is TEA and 79a [Events with tea, perhaps] is right there – even in the same area of the puzzle. (That answer is SOCIALS). I don’t normally fuss too much about duplicates but that one is bad. If I’d filled in 79a before I saw 71d, I would spent some time wondering what else the answer could be since it CLEARLY couldn’t be TEA. Not good.
- And while I’m quibbling, 25a [Small shooter] is a perfectly fine clue for MINICAM, but reading the clue made me shudder, especially after looking at the front page of the NYT this morning.
- The top half of the puzzle features the musical stylings of EARTHA Kitt, Sarah VAUGHAN, and ADELE. That would be a good playlist.
- 34d [Super Bowl highlights?] is TV ADS. That works for me without the question mark, because it’s true.
- 90d [Subject of some random acts] is KINDNESS. This is also the subject of one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that STRUDEL means “whirlpool” in German.
Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Working Side by Side”—Rebecca’s review
THEME: Each theme answers “shares” two jobs
- 17A [Long sandwiches (see letters 1-3 and 4-9)] SUBMARINES
- 29A [Pop corn? (letters 1-2 and 3-4)] DAD JOKES
- 47A [Change a program’s structure (letters 1-3 and 4-8)] REFACTOR
- 60A [Arrangement for multiple part-timers, or a hint to 17-, 29- and 47-Across] JOB SHARING
This theme is fine – and I suppose the revealer works? Two jobs are shared in each themer? It felt like something co-workers would be be more appropriate with these answers than JOB SHARING, but it’s inferable by what was done here. My biggest issue here was how inconsistent the answers were. Of course, it’s going to be easier to find answers that have words like ACTOR or MARINE and not necessarily District Attorney, but having some abbreviations and partials, while others were full titles, felt mismatched.
To me, this puzzle shined a lot more in it’s non-theme answers. Long downs like DEMO TAPE, OUT OF PRINT, MINI SKIRTS, SEA LANES, NEMESIS, SARONGS, OVATION were the real joy of this solve. DEMO TAPE also had my favorite clue of the day [Rock sample?] with PAT SAJAK [Spinning instructor?] a close second – just for the mental image of him leading an actual spin class.