Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 437), “Half-Baked Scheme”—Ade’s take
Welcome to the ides of October! Here is hoping you all are doing very well today!
Today’s grid is delivered to you RAW, as each of the five theme entries contains those three letters in a row right in the middle of the entry. To boot, those letters appear as an entry which reveals the theme (56D: [___ in the middle (like this puzzle’s theme!)]).
- EUDORA WELTY (16A: [Pulitzer-winning author of “Delta Wedding”])
- ANGORA WOOL (23A: [Soft sweater material])
- CHANDRA WILSON (34A: [Actress who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey on “Grey’s Anatomy”])
- GO FOR A WALK (47A: [Engage in low-impact exercise, say])
- FRITTER AWAY (55A: [Waste])
The northwest part of the grid was the last to go down, especially with an entry that was unfamiliar to me, RED EARTH, crossword two of the theme entries that also were unfamiliar (2D: [Skin care brand that makes detoxifying clay masks]). At least I was familiar with another beauty product that featured today in TABU (53D: [“Forbidden Fragrance” by Dana]). Along with Eudora Welty, the crossword also introduced me to SHREVE, and will have to look her works up as well (46A: [“The Pilot’s Wife” author Anita ____]). I’m probably one of the few people you know that is not a fan of AVOCADOs (42A: [Guacamole base]). Can’t put my finger on it, but it just never did anything for me when tasting it and seeing it as a spread. I’m sure there are some similar fruits that I would like instead, but haven’t yet come across them. (Well, I’d have to look for them first.)
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ASTRO (32A: [George Jetson’s dog]) – Did you know that “ASTROs” was not the original nickname of the Houston Major League Baseball franchise that’s currently playing in the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees? In 1962, when the franchise came into existence, it was known as the Houston Colt .45s, named after the revolver. It was in 1965, the same year the team moved into the Houston Astrodome, that the franchise adopted the nickname “Astros.” On a personal note, I became a Houston Astros fan in 1986 and have been a supporter ever since. (Yes, that means I was in New York City as the Mets were beating the Astros in the NLCS and Boston in the World Series yet decided to be one of the few people in NYC not rooting for the Mets. Weird, I know.)
Thank you so much for the time, everyone! Have a wonderful rest of your day and, as always, keep solving!
Julie Bérubé’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The theme in this 16×15 puzzle is a bit uneven. The revealer is 13d. [Holder of the contents of the circled squares?], ARK, and there are five phrases that contain a pair of hidden 3-letter animals:
- 18a. [Frank discussion, perhaps], MAN-TO-MAN TALK. Two ANTs. I like to imagine that this chat is between two guys named Frank. One pronounces it Frahhnk.
- 24a. [Courses without letter grades], PASS/FAIL CLASSES. Two ASSes.
- 40a. [Road Runner’s call], BEEP BEEP. Both of the BEEs appear in the same repeated word, less elegant.
- 53a. [By whatever means], CATCH AS CATCH CAN. Again, the CATs are both in the same word.
- 63a. [1970 W.W. II drama with a repetitive name], TORA, TORA, TORA. Two RATs, found in the same repeated-word crossovers.
The theme is muddled terribly by the inclusion of a bunch of single animals in the grid. These are not part of the Noah’s ark story! They’ve got to be in pairs. COW, AHI not clued as [Animal …], BISON, SHREW, SHEEP, KOALA, “tiger” in the ESSO clue (and ESSO appearing at all in a Tuesday puzzle isn’t good), “Elks” in CLUB clue, NEWT, SONIC the Hedgehog, “horse” in the I-sure-didn’t-know-this CENTAURUS clue, CAMEL, “wolf” in the AKELA clue, “puppy” in the AWS clue (and plural interjections are best avoided as fill). You know what happens when you jam in a bunch of “bonus” thematic material? The fill suffers. Tell me what newbie solvers will know these (along with ESSO and CENTAURUS: 4a. [Old rocket stage], AGENA, and 49d. [Walled city on the coast of France], ST. MALO. (Change AGENA to AGENT above RUNES, crossing ARM and General TSO, and you’ve ditched the terrible AGENA. Why the constructor or the editors didn’t do this, I cannot explain.)
There are also at least five entries that happen to contain ANT or CAT within them, which was another detraction from the theme.
Merriam-Webster’s primary entry is YECH (45a. [“Ugh!”]), with yecch as a variant, but (1) I much prefer yecch, and (2) YECCH outpaces YECH 29 appearances to 17 in the Cruciverb database.
2.25 stars from me. I think it would have been more enjoyable without the smattering of singleton animals throughout the grid, and maybe with just the 12/15/15/12 themers (dropping the central 8 that forced the 16×15 grid) to gain even more filling flexibility.
Jordan Hildebrandt’s Universal crossword, “Glued Together”—Jim Q’s review
Another Universal that— unless you’re solving in Across Lite— asks the solver to count letters. The circles are a great visual aid as you can clearly see the embedded words and make a connection. Asked to count letters and remember the hidden words is an unfair burden on the normal solver who has never heard of Across Lite.
THEME: Based on the title, I’m going to say the theme is words that can be used to describe a quantity of glue are hidden across common phrases. Is that it?
- 18A [“It’s time, team!”] LET’S DO THIS.
- 23A [Played Double Dutch, say] SKIPPED ROPE.
- 36A [“Honey, I need some help …”] WOULD YOU BE A DEAR?
- 48A [Namesake of Harry and Ginny’s firstborn son] JAMES POTTER.
- 56A [Stuff-y mall franchise?] BUILD A BEAR.
Without a standard revealer, I’m not sure if I made the correct connection between the hidden words. Amounts of glue, right? I’ve heard of a dab of glue. And a bead. Maybe a drop too. Spot of glue? To accompany your spot of tea? Dot of glue?
I simply can’t imagine someone enjoying this puzzle who is solving without the circles. Especially a novice solver. They have to 1) find the hidden words by counting squares as instructed in the clue 2) remember those words 3) make the connection between them, which is not entirely evident to me.
- 35A [27-Down’s capital] CUZCO. The cross-reference is 27D [Ancient Peruvian] INCA. INCA here is clued as a person, so 35A therefore reads [INCA’s capital]. I suppose we’re supposed to read it as Capital an Incan would regard as his/her own, but boy that’s tough to discern. Also, with neither CUZCO nor APHORIZE being at the forefront of my vocabulary, this was tough all around.
- 7D [Up and at ’em] ASTIR. ALERT or AWAKE makes me think Up and at ’em! ASTIR makes me think “I need a cup of coffee before I’m at ’em…”
The theme answers as stand-alones are all solid, in-language phrases. With five, there’s not much room in the grid for splashier entries.
I’ll end the post with my “please-include-circles-in-your-normal-puzzles-when-they-are-required” plea. It’s uncanny how many Universal puzzles are run that would be exponentially more accessible and enjoyable if they included the standard circles.
2.4 stars with circles. 1 star without.
Christina Iverson’s Wall Street Journal crossword—Nate’s write-up
Within about 30 seconds of starting to solve today’s WSJ puzzle, I could tell it was written by a woman. You know why? Because of how many women it included and celebrated in the grid and cluing! This puzzle also felt very fresh, modern, and joyful. It was fun to solve!
17A: GUMMY BEARS [Chewy candy] – circled letters spell MYERS
24A: LONG OVERDUE [Way past the appropriate time] – circled letters spell LOVE
38A: WHAT’S YOUR POISON [“Gin? Whiskey? Rum?”] – circled letters spell TYSON
47A: PEANUT SAUCE [Condiment also called bumbu kacang] – circled letters spell PENCE
59A: HIDDEN MIKE [Covert listening device, and a hint to the circled letters]
Each of the them entries has the surname of a famous Mike hidden inside. The HIDDEN MIKE in each themer is a nice play on the “Under Surveillance” title. Even though this is a theme designed around men, I really enjoyed it because the theme entries themselves were modern, fun, and playful and there was a range of Mikes represented (even PENCE, who I would normally loathe to see in a grid!).
The theme and the grid feel representative of lots of different types of people and experiences, while also being fresh and modern. We have fun SLANG, BIG IF, UGGS, AFRO (not cringe-ly clued), GIMME THAT, HITS A NERVE, and IN PARADISE. Literally my only negative might be the weirdly heteronormative and dated cluing of DADA, which implies mama as a baby’s first word. But even with that and even with a wildly homophobic VP included as a theme-related Mike, I really really enjoyed this puzzle. My immediate impulse after solving this was to find out any other puzzles Christina Iverson has published and dig into them as fast as I can!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “This Grid is Haunted” – Derek’s write-up
Yup, it must be October! There is a spooky vibe going on here:
- 16A [Ink with obvious spelling errors?] TATTOO OOPS
- 25A [The study of eggs from certain parrot relatives?] COCKATOO OOLOGY
- 32A [Unidentified slime threatening animals in captivity?] ZOO OOZE
- 40A [Brass band sound inspired by a marsupial?] KANGAROO OOMPAH
- 53A [Altogether unlike the Addams Family?] NOT TOO OOKY
Can you think of any other phrases that have four consecutive Os? Yeah, I can’t either! This is a great idea that brought a smile to my face. I think the Addams family clue is a play on a word in their theme song; I won’t link it here so that it won’t be stuck in your head all day, but even just by mentioning it, the damage may already be done! Are we going to have Halloween themed puzzles for the entire month of October? Time will tell! 4.36 stars today!
Some more high points:
- 1A [“Don’t Know Why” singer Jones] NORAH – This song is like 20 years old, is it not?
- 15A [“Rendezvous With ___” (Arthur C. Clarke novel)] RAMA – I have never read this book, but I do enjoy science fiction. Perhaps I will put it on my Kindle … once I find it!
- 35A [“Aaron Burr, ___” (“Hamilton” song)] SIR – Still haven’t seen Hamilton either! It is still playing in Chicago down the street; I will have to cement some plans for this winter!
- 46A [“The House That Gave ___ Treats” (2001 Halloween Homestar Runner cartoon)] SUCKY – This surely wins the award for the Jonesin’-pop-culture-reference-I-don’t-know of the week! But it isn’t alone …
- 52A [“Mockingbird” singer Foxx] INEZ – … because I don’t know this singer either! This is from the 60s, and therefore “before my time!”
- 2D [Ilhan of the “Squad”] OMAR – Not too much news from the “Squad” recently. I think the news about her failing marriage is true, and she will likely get raked over the coals for it, but she could probably get the same treatment for walking down the street, and that is highly unfair..
- 27D [Satya Nadella, for one] CEO – This dude is the CEO of Microsoft. I will say: their stuff has been improving; maybe Bill Gates was the problem all along!
- 40D [Tool’s Maynard James ___] KEENAN – I trust you.
Until next week’s Jonesin’!
Michael A. McDonald’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
We have another new constructor name that is not in the database! In true LAT fashion, we have some themers and a revealer at the end:
- 20A [“Hell’s Kitchen” chef] GORDON RAMSAY
- 31A [Risky low-lying area to build on] FLOOD ZONE
- 48A [Not someone an amateur should play poker with] CARD SHARK
- 55A [Narrative device that peeks at the future … and a hint to the start of 20-, 31-, and 48-Across] FLASH FORWARD
Who hasn’t heard of Flash Gordon, a flash flood, and a flash card! Very nicely done. If this is a debut, congratulations on a very fine one. Keep ’em coming! 4.5 stars for a great puzzle.
Some more stuff I liked:
- 28A [Lorelei’s river] RHINE – It was either this or RHONE!
- 50A [Adidas alternatives] PUMAS – One of my favorite soccer clubs, Manchester City, has switched to Puma from Nike. They are big in soccer in general, and I think Puma sponsors Ricky Fowler, the golfer from the Farmers Insurance ads. I haven’t owned a pair of Pumas since, well, never! I may score a City jersey one of these days, though!
- 22D [Oklahoma athlete] SOONER – The Sooners are still undefeated, and it is only a matter of time before they throw $50 million in Lincoln Riley’s face and make him go coach the Dallas Cowboys!
- 25D [“Total patient” philosophy] HOLISM – It seems like I hear the term “holistic” more than this word. Still gettable.
- 26D [Low-hemoglobin condition] ANEMIA – I had this when I had my cancerous tumor a few years ago I had to take iron pills, and all I remember is everything tasted like a penny!
- 30D [“Where are you?” response from a nearby room] “IN HERE!” – Great casual phrase!
- 49D [“Keep __ Weird”: Texas city slogan] AUSTIN – Is Austin weird? I hear there are a lot of great BBQ joints there!
Everyone have a great week!
I guess the YETIS didn’t make it onto the ark?
NYT: It’s a fair critique. And I also realize Noah was a lot more inclusive than critters with 3 letter names. It still made me smile to see the repeats within the theme entries, but also to note all the singletons. It felt like the constructor couldn’t stop thinking about animals.
NYT: I kind of liked the idea of some of the animals being in their pens or whatever with both and the rest were just wandering about the ark. Although I’m not much of a critic in general.
I will say, I thought it was odd that 4/5 of the theme entries had the same words repeated but one didn’t. I think make it 5/5 either way, whether repeated words or not repeated, but 1/5 being different is odd.
WSJ Review: In a crossword review why the need to include extreme politics like “a wildly homophobic VP included as a theme-related Mike”
Good question–I guess Tyson is O.K. even though he was a wife-beater
Or make dada into an object of sexual preference
It’s not “extreme politics” to object to Pence if you’re LGBTQ or an LGBTQ ally—I defend Nate’s right to defend his own humanity against the anti-gay stance Pence espouses. And Nate created and curated last year’s Queer Qrosswords fund-raiser puzzle pack and this year’s sequel, specifically because things like DADA clues assuming there’s a mama in the house (there are two-dad and single-dad households that don’t include a mom) make him feel unseen and unrepresented. I bet a lot of straight people would complain if crossword clues for MOM, DAD, MAMA, DADA, MAS, and PAS all assumed these parents were in same-sex relationships, or if every IDO clue cited a pair of brides or a pair of grooms.
I’m not keen on Mike Tyson, who also is probably a rapist. He doesn’t affect public policy, though.