Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Holiday Numbers” – Jim Q’s writeup
21×25 grid and a meta? You have my attention.
THEME: The Twelve Days of Christmas… and some other song.
- 23A [Drug kingpins, e.g.] CRIME LORDS.
- 25A [Ticket dispensers] METER MAIDS.
- 38A [Pin points?] WRESTLING RINGS.
- 55A [Those leading others into danger with false promises] PIED PIPERS.
- 59A [Unforeseen events with big consequences] BLACK SWANS.
- 75A [Some Japanese percussionists] TAIKO DRUMMERS.
- 89A [Honkers in the sky] CANADIAN GEESE.
- 108A [Overprotective sorts] MOTHER HENS.
- 112A [Winged things in magic shows] WHITE DOVES.
- 127A [Redheaded son of a musical sitcom family] DANNY PARTRIDGE.
- 145A [People arriving first] EARLY BIRDS.
- 147A [Drinks that get their color from grenadine] PINK LADIES. Awww, man! I really this were clued Grease! style.
Fun Fact: A total of 364 gifts are given total in this song, most of which are birds. I’ll take the rings! But you can keep your 30 Leapin’ Lords tripping over the 40 Milking Maids. And once I had a standoff with a single goose when I was stuck on a rock in a lake. If there were 41 more, I’d still be there.
Anyway, great puzzle. The fill was super easy, and it fell in quick with the exception of two tricky areas (took me a while to see WRESTLING/WAVE/ORDERS and HOOKE/WAKKO). This is to be expected in an oversized puzzle with a meta (I’m sure there are some traditionalists out there who grumble when Evan offers a meta now and again, so at least it’s a fun and painless ride along the way).
The only problem I can see is that all of the references to The Twelve Days of Christmas are out of order!
Or is that a hint? Hmmm. Let’s try determining how many of each gift there are in the order they appear in the grid:
10 LORDS, 8 MAIDS, 5 RINGS, 11 PIPERS, 7 SWANS, 12 DRUMMERS, 6 GEESE, 3 HENS, 2 DOVES, 1 PARTRIDGE, 4 BIRDS, 9 LADIES.
Could it be that the meta answer corresponds with the box numbers? That would be absurd! There’s no way one would be able to cram a well-known song title into the first three horizontal entries in the grid, is there?
There sure is. In fact, you really don’t even need the order once you know you’re looking for the first twelve boxes. As soon as you see DIVA, LAZED, and FIN (all perfectly fine fill!), it’s hard not to see FELIZ NAVIDAD.
Wow! What a great concept and execution. Made so much more impressive by the “non-forced” theme entries (including the anagram of FELIZ NAVIDAD).
Fantastic all-around. With a sly little wink in the clever title.
FELIZ NAVIDAD, everyone.
Laura Taylor Kinney’s New York Times crossword, “Down for the Count”—Amy’s write-up
It bothers me that the electronic forms of the puzzle capitalize every word in the Sunday puzzle’s title. I can copy and paste the title from Black Ink (a Mac-only alternative to Across Lite), but I have to edit the title into proper title case. /editorialrant
I needed to turn to Twitter to grasp the theme here. The revealer does double duty as a regular themer: 39a. [Abstainers … or the central column’s answers vis-à-vis 20-, 39-, 74- and 101-Across, respectively] clues TEETOTALERS. and there’s a THREE crossing the middle of this entry because there are 3 letter T’s in it. Likewise:
- 20a. [1/x, for x], MULTIPLICATIVE INVERSE. That phrase contains TWO T’s. It’s awfully mathy for a crossword clue, though.
- 74a. [It postulates a space-time fabric] THE THEORY OF RELATIVITY. FOUR T’s.
- 101a. [Little Richard hit with “the most inspired rock lyric ever recorded,” per Rolling Stone], TUTTI FRUTTI. FIVE T’s.
The entire rest of the grid contains no T’s at all, which in large part accounts for all the compromises that were made—the plural GERALDS and SAMUELS, possessive MORTON’S (tell me, non-Chicagoans, do you have any reason to be familiar with Morton’s: The Steakhouse?), plural SESAMES, unpleasant DELOUSED in the opening corner of the puzzle, URI SPEE ISDONE GESTE PULLA ILLE MDL AAS—it all wore me out. On the plus side, EL CAPITAN is solid as a rock, and I was glad to see the Packers’ LOMBARDI, ROGER FEDERER, a DELIVERY ROOM (mine was an OR, fun!), GO BROKE, PORK CHOP, and AIRWAVES.
Four more things:
- 47a. [Speed that would enable a 23-minute D.C.-to-L.A. flight], MACH SIX. (a) This is an arbitrary number to include, and (b) it’s distracting to have this MACH SIX centered across the TWO THREE FOUR FIVE column. Also, I feel like this clue is giving us all motion sickness.
- 52a. [One who might give you a shot], NURSE. It’s definitely flu season and it’s not too late to get your flu shot! You can also get it from a pharmacist at your local drugstore or grocery-store-with-a-pharmacy. Friend of mine hadn’t gotten her shot yet and the virus brought her low in November. She was sick as a dog for nine days.
- 100d. [Prefix for a polygon with 140-degree interior angles], NONA- / 11d. [The 1 in (1,2), in math], ABSCISSA. Dang, why is there so much math to do in this crossword? What is the multiplicative inverse of too much math?
- 86a. [Who once had all 10 of the top 10 Billboard hits simultaneously], Peter NOONE of Herman’s Hermits. No, wait, the answer is NO ONE. It’s a weird clue.
3.25 stars from me. The difficult-to-construct trick of keeping the letter T out of most of the grid doesn’t make the solve smoother or any more fun. And it might have been better to cross-reference the TWO, THREE, FOUR, and FIVE clues to their crossing themers rather than cluing them straight, just to make the theme pop out more.
Alex Eaton-Salner’s Universal crossword, “Game On!”—Jim Q’s review
Kick off is coming early this year!
THEME: LIV is added to common phrases and wackiness ensues.
- 15A [*With 61-Across, reminisced at an alumni event?] RELIVED
COLLEGE. Not REED COLLEGE.
- 18A [*Hepatologists?] LIVER DOCTORS. Instead of ER DOCTORS.
- 19D [*Fire Dickens’ Twist?] CAN OLIVER. Instead of CANOER.
- 52A [Big game on February 2, 2020 … or a hint to what’s added to the starred answers] SUPER BOWL LIV.
I found this puzzle… bizarre. In a number of ways. Not at all unenjoyable, just bizarre. Here’s a few things that made me cock my head:
- Theme answer placement: Three are going across, one is going down, and revealer is not the last one placed in the grid.
- Odd separation of RELIVED COLLEGE. Made it hard to appreciate the base phrase REED COLLEGE.
- CANOER as a base word. The others are more “snappy.”
- The revealer: The SUPER BOWL part of it really has nothing to do with anything.
- The entry IV LINE. Kinda sorta feels like a themer, doesn’t it? Even though the letters are out of order, there’s LIV at the beginning, and IV LINE is not something I hear all that often.
I’m not complaining. Just found it funky. Nothing wrong with quirkiness now and again!
Peter Koetter’s LA Times crossword, “At the Helm” – Jenni’s write-up
I didn’t figure out the theme until after I finished the puzzle, and only after some thought. The revealer is a little tricky (or my on-call brain is a little fuzzy). Once I figured it out, I liked the puzzle a bit more than I did while I was solving, although one answer pretty much ruined the experience for me.
All the theme answers are starred:
- 16d [*Food chain with a roundheaded spokesman] is JACK IN THE BOX.
- 23a [*Without hesitation] is HOOK LINE AND SINKER. Is that really accurate? I think of it as “without question,” not “without hesitation.” On second thought, maybe those mean the same thing. Hmm.
- 32a [*Opponent of the U.S. entry into WWII] is AMERICA FIRSTER. This is the answer I mentioned above. The group referenced in the clue were racist, nationalist, anti-interventionalists who decried Roosevelt’s “internationalism,” which was a thinly-veiled charge that he was too cozy with American Jews (ironic, given that FDR’s polices doomed thousands of Jews to death when the German government would have let them leave). That’s bad enough. Even worse: the slogan is back as part of our political landscape. I saw an “America First” yard sign the other day supporting Trump’s re-election campaign. My area has one of the highest concentrations of white supremacist groups in the country. I live with this every day and would prefer it not intrude into my puzzles.
- 48a [*”Sheik of … burning sand” in a Ray Stevens hit] is AHAB THE ARAB. Speaking of racism…
- 61d [*1990 Paul Simon song, with “The”] is OBVIOUS CHILD.
- 67a [*Back-to-basics food regimen] is the CAVEMAN DIET. I guess so, although Google gives 2.5 million hits for this and 78,000,000 for PALEO DIET.
- 84a [*Moments requiring decisive action] are CRUNCH TIMES.
- 100a [*Groups that pervert justice] are KANGAROO COURTS.
What do all these have in common? Let’s look at 112a, [1865 classic not written for the characters that start the answers to starred clues], which is O CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN. I thought “characters” referred to the letters beginning each answer and started to write them all down in order, and then the penny dropped. They’re all captains: Captain JACK, Captain HOOK, Captain AMERICA, Captain AHAB, Captain OBVIOUS (by far my favorite), Captain CAVEMAN (new to me, not surprising since he debuted when I was 17), Cap’n CRUNCH, and CAPTAIN KANGAROO. It’s a fun theme and I would have enjoyed it a lot if not for 32a.
A few other things:
- Is YUK really a goofy laugh? I guess it’s reminiscent of the Three Stooges?
- 13d [Self-indulgent sort] is a CAKE EATER, when there are no lotuses around.
- I think of the [Chichén Itzá builders] as the MAYA or MAYANS, not the MAYAS.
- 63d [Industrial settler?] is a good clue for SMOG.
- 103d [Logical “razor” creator] was OCCAM, a gimme for anyone who went to med school. Occam’s Razor tells us to seek the simplest explanation that fits all the evidence, and is a foundational principle for diagnostic thinking.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of Jay CHOU; didn’t know that Bing Crosby played ALAN–A–DALE in “Robin and the 7 Hoods;” didn’t know that the letter EPSILON inspired the symbol for the euro; never heard of AGATHA Raisin in either book or TV form. I read American mysteries and don’t much care for British whodunits.
I leave you with Jay Chou, “Jasmine Orange.”
Yeah, nothing fun about the NYT puzzle unless you’re a math teacher … which I am. And it still wasn’t fun. I came here to find out what the theme was and was only impressed with the construction challenges but not with the result; it was funky but just wasn’t funny or fun.
So then nothing fun about the NYT puzzle even if you’re a math teacher?
I’m not sure I understand how the title hints at the theme, though. The count is going up from two to five as you’re moving down the puzzle. And the first themer is so oddly esoteric, it’s an interesting choice given that there are so many other 21-letter-long phrases out there with only two Ts (PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE, EXTERNAL AUDITORY CANAL, QUOD ERAT DEMONSTRANDUM, VARIABLE-RATE MORTGAGES, to name a few).
Of those, only VARIABLE-RATE MORTGAGES has a central T necessary for the crossing TWO.
Morton’s is in most major cities throughout the US and a few cities in other countries. I still think of it as Morton’s of Chicago, but it appears that is no longer the official name. So I think many of us non-Chicagoans have reason to be familiar with the name. (Morton’s, like seemingly most other chain restaurants, is owned by Landry’s.) I didn’t have trouble with that answer, but struggled with a lot of the other trivia in the puzzle. I would never have noticed the lack of T’s in the non-theme answers if Amy hadn’t pointed it out (and I didn’t really care).
It always strikes me as absurd when the WaPo has a meta. From the handful of WaPos I’ve done, even the easiest meta is going to prove more difficult than the beginner level grid.
Luckily for you, it still stands alone as a themed grid without the meta! And for people who do enjoy the occasional meta (or for people that have yet to be introduced to a genre they might enjoy/love), there’s something for them too.
Happy holidays to you too, Luther.
I got an excited text from my sister in DC yesterday, before the puzzle was posted here. She had solved her first meta without help and was beside herself. She’d never seen a meta before Evan’s tenure and I’ve been giving her decreasingly significant hints for each one.
Evan has hooked another satisfied solver.
I don’t understand what Luther is saying. There shouldn’t be “beginner” metas? I’m terrible at metas and am happy that there are both easier and harder ones.
Morton’s Steakhouse is literally everywhere, so a bit of diversion. I used to live in Chi-town and am a meat eater, so I ran through all the local faves in my noggin. Morton’s is honestly a letdown for that clue, it is virtually never associated with Chicago any longer unless you are from Turkmenistan or points east and you’ve just landed.
As is typical for a larger format, I got fed up and checked the last few answers I didn’t have on here. So tedious when these randomities are used in addition to someone’s particular view of Names and names.
Still have Saturday WSJ to do, likely not to generate a comment from me, I’m guessing. But Morton’s deserved a comment.
Math is fun, but not in words/puzzles …
I’m from west of Turkmenistan (NJ to be precise) and I thought Morton’s was totally fair.
I agree this was a slog, and I missed the theme and lack of Ts until I came here. I find that any time someone tries a feat of construction like this one it’s a lousy solve. Maybe there’s some place where people can share those, but it shouldn’t be the Sunday NYT
NYT: I cottoned on to the theme, enjoyed the theme, and was impressed by the lack of T’s in the rest of the grid. A lot of the black squares in the grid are T-shaped as well. Sure, there are some sloggy areas in the fill, but the theme impressed me enough. Kudos!
could someone please explain what a “meta” puzzle is/means?
would you happen to know one i could use as a sample?
Roger- I’m sure everyone would agree that the master constructor of this genre is Matt Gaffney, who has his own website. It’s here: http://xwordcontest.com/.
He releases a new puzzle every Friday, and they get progressively more difficult throughout the month. Whenever I introduce someone to this genre, I always have them solve a Week 1 puzzle. When you’re stumped, which is likely in the harder weeks, the puzzles are discussed on this site after the answer is due. The more you solve them and read about them, the more likely you are to start being able to figure out the harder ones. They’re frequently fascinating and often the highest rated puzzles on this site.
Any Friday Wall Street Journal crossword from the past few years would be a free one to sample.
NYT: Fascinated by the fact that “Tutti Frutti” contained the “most inspired rock lyric ever recorded,” I had to look it up. The lyric referred to was “ A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!” The entire song has been cited at the “birth of rock and roll.” (In 2007, an eclectic panel of renowned recording artists voted “Tutti Frutti” No. 1 on Mojo’s The Top 100 Records That Changed The World, hailing the recording as “the sound of the birth of rock and roll.” In 2010, the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry added the recording to its registry, claiming the “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music”. In April 2012, Rolling Stone magazine declared that the song “still contains what has to be considered the most inspired rock lyric ever recorded: ‘A wop bop alu bop, a wop bam boom!’ ” Also, check out this Wikipedia article for the original lyrics to the song that the record producer, Blackwell, suggested be cleaned up for “purity’s sake!” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tutti_Frutti_(song)
I saw a story on television (maybe some kind of biopic) about Little Richard. Among the featured stories was the one about Pat Boone’s cover of Tutti Frutti. Here is a little of the history:
I didn’t find the NY Times too much of a slog despite some rough spots, but did, once I got the theme, felt let down. Is that all? However, I didn’t spot the lack of T’s elsewhere in the grid, and learning that from Amy’s review does help a bit, at least for me.
We have many great constructors putting out a lot of content from an impressively growing number of points of view. Thank you all!
Evan B. is my favorite. I usually look at puzzles as a combination of solving experience and my post-solve reaction to the construction (both concept and execution). He very consistently delivers high levels of both. And more often than I can reasonably expect I get a very enjoyable solving experience followed by a Holy Crap! reaction to the construction.
Happy Whatever, y’all!
Another problem with MACH SIX is that the clue is wrong. MACH SIX is about 4600 mph, and DC to LA by plane is about 2300 miles—so it’s about 30 minutes at that speed.
The America First reference that Jenni mentions was part 1 of a double downer for me. When I got to the end I winced at the light-hearted treatment of Whitman’s elegy on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It wasn’t written for Cap’n Crunch, indeed.
Good point. I was so annoyed by then I just kept going.
WaPo: Although I thoroughly enjoyed this puzzle, I question Canadian geese. Isn’t the correct name Canada geese?
It’s also called Canadian goose, colloquially.
Jenni: “ Is YUK really a goofy laugh? I guess it’s reminiscent of the Three Stooges?”
I don’t know the etymology, if YUK derived from NYUK.
But I have certainly heard, in response to someone laughing at something, “oh, sure. YUK it up.”
It seems fair to me.
Well this math teacher loved the mathy clues, and the variety of ROGERFEDERER etc. Kind of sad that maybe 10% of math teachers these days even know what the ABSCISSA is. Had to (well, decided to) stop and calculate to get NONAgon.
Didnt notice or need the theme at all. Not all themes or constructions are going to inspire. I kinda prefer themes that arent so crossword-self-referential
But then again I’m quite used to having a totally different take on things than most people. Would suspect that many of you are similar.