Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Twist Endings” – Jim Q’s writeup
Back-to-back metas in the WaPo! Brace yourself for the “Get off my lawn!” complaints. In my opinion, this one was much trickier than last week’s, yet tighter and more satisfying to figure out.
META HINT: “The answer to this week’s metapuzzle is a film from the 1990’s”
- 24A [Type of cereal (1995)] SHREDDED WHEAT.
- 42A [Flop’s antithesis (1970)] BOX OFFICE SMASH.
- 59A [At this time (2007)] FOR THE NONCE.
- 74A [Midsize SUV named after a Colorado city (2011)] DODGE DURANGO.
- 90A [Figurative reminders of past ordeals (2006)] BATTLE SCARS.
- 106A [Morally difficult choice (1996)] ETHICAL DILEMMA.
- 126A [Harbor site on Taiwan’s east coast (1979)] PORT OF HUALIEN.
I’m not the sharpest meta-solver, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s to always keep the title in mind, in this case Twist Endings.
And indeed, that is crucial to solving/appreciating this puzzle on more than one level. First off, it suggests we look at the ends of the theme answers, and it also suggests that we should be keeping movies in mind (especially apt since the Academy Awards are airing this weekend). After briefly struggling to anagram those last words, ALIEN jumped out of PORT OF HUALIEN (you know something funky is happening when Evan includes obscurities as themers). Aha! In fact, each of the theme answers ends with a movie:
SHREDDED WHEAT = HEAT
BOX OFFICE SMASH = MASH
FOR THE NONCE = ONCE (big fan of this movie)
DODGE DURANGO = RANGO
BATTLE SCARS = CARS
ETHICAL DILEMMA = EMMA
PORT OF HUALIEN = ALIEN.
The app I solved in on my phone omitted the year after each of the theme clues, so it was unclear to me if SCRUB BRUSH and ALLAN ADALE were thematic or not. Funny enough, both RUSH and DALE are also movies.
So we found some movies. Now what? Back to the title. Nothing has been “twisted” just yet. I was stuck here for quite some time, and when that happens, I employ another meta-solving strategy: Re-solve the puzzle. Also, the second time, I solved in Across Lite, so the years that hadn’t appeared in my iPhone app helped me to be sure of what was/wasn’t thematic. This time, ELIAN jumped out at me. It’s an anagram of ALIEN! Are there more anagrams of the movies in the puzzle? You bet:
SHREDDED WHEAT = HEAT = THEA (91D)
BOX OFFICE SMASH = MASH = HAMS (30A)
FOR THE NONCE = ONCE = ECON (25D)
DODGE DURANGO = RANGO = GROAN (70A)
BATTLE SCARS = CARS = ARCS (119A)
ETHICAL DILEMMA = EMMA = MAME (77A)
PORT OF HUALIEN = ALIEN = ELIAN (116 A)
And the last meta-solving strategy you need: Always look at first letters in order.
THEA, HAMS, ECON, GROAN, ARCS, MAME, and ELIAN spell out that awesomely quirky movie Michael Douglas from the 90’s
THE GAME, which features one helluva twist ending!
This was great! Especially considering how often the title was employed:
1. It suggested movies
2. It suggested the ending of the theme
3. It suggested anagramming
4. It suggested a final answer that featured a twist ending.
That’s awesome. I was initially looking for someway for THE SIXTH SENSE to fit the bill, since that’s famously twisty at the end and sounds sorta kinda like it lends itself to the creation of a meta-puzzle, but I was much more satisfied uncovering the correct answer instead.
What a twist!
Brian Kulman’s New York Times crossword, “The Emoji Movie”—Amy’s write-up
It’s Oscar weekend, and both the WaPo and NYT Sunday puzzles focus on movies. The NYT theme is really cute: emojis are used to suggest various movies. (I did the .puz file version, which bracketed the words that the clue emojis represent.)
- 1a/115a.??♀️?, KING / KONG. It’s hard to make out what some emojis are, so I’ll tell you that the written version was [gorilla][woman][building].
- 16a.????, ELF. That’s [city at night] in the middle.
- 23a.??♂️?, THE LORD OF THE RINGS. That’s an [elf] in the middle.
- 26a.?♂️❤️?, HER, the Spike Jonze film starring Joaquin Phoenix (who may be favored to win Best Actor). The black thing’s a [smartphone].
- 38a.????, TITANIC. The .puz says the third emoji is [iceberg], but that’s no iceberg. It’s a blue ice cube in the print/PDF version.
- 42a. ???, CITIZEN KANE.
- 55a. ???, DUMBO. Elephant, outsized mouse, circus tent. I don’t know that I want to live in a world where rodents grow larger than elephants.
- 60a. ???, PLANET OF THE APES.
- 72a. ???, SPEED.
- 82a. ☂️??, MARY POPPINS. That last one is a carousel horse.
- 87a. ⚰️??, DRACULA.
- 101a. ????, BIG.
- 102a. ⚾️?♀️?, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN. The print and .puz have a [female symbol] in the middle rather than a female face.
- 112a. ???, TED.
- 30d. ?♂️☠️?, PAN. A Peter Pan origin story from a few years back. I don’t remember this existing. All the other movies were quite familiar to me, though.
- 88d. ???, ALI.
It’s weird to have six 3-letter theme entries in any puzzle, but especially odd in a Sunday-sized puzzle. Also weird to have 16 theme entries, but with the short ones, the surrounding fill is actually pretty solid. I think this is the constructor’s debut, so it’s even more impressive that he wrangled entries like PRO TIP, GAL GADOT, SMUGGLER, PLAYOFF, and STAR TREK, and no junk.
Do you think the filmmakers would be dismayed to know their movies can be boiled down to a trio of emojis? I think yes. It’s fascinating from a linguistic standpoint, though, isn’t it? That a very small number of hieroglyphs, basically, can encapsulate the storyline, characters, setting, and sometimes dialogue of a couple hours of a film?
Seven more things:
- 38d. [Superseder of a silent], TALKIE. Please tell me I’m not the only one who parsed that as “a super seder at Passover” rather than “a thing that supersedes.” I mean, superseder is an uncommon form of the word.
- 48a. [___ on a log (healthy snack)], ANTS. Gross. Raw celery is an abomination. Peanut butter, yum; raisins, passable. These three together? A hard no.
- 74d. [Looked over slides at home, say], UMPED. Great clue.
- 70d. [Reaction shot?], EPIPEN. Another clue I liked.
- 76a. [Cartoon character voiced by Hank Azaria], APU. Not anymore! Azaria announced last year that he will no longer voice Apu. Comedian Hari Kondabolu made a dead-serious documentary called The Problem With Apu, spotlighting the problematic stereotypes the character embodied, particularly when voiced by a white actor.
- 93a. [Water spirit], NAIAD. It’s so wild that distance swimmer Diana Nyad, a true water spirit, legitimately came by that surname. Her mom’s second husband, who adopted her, was a Greek/Egyptian man named Nyad.
- 104d. [Ailment with a “season”], FLU. Friends! If you haven’t yet gotten your flu shot, it’s not too late. If you’re not in Wuhan, you are far more likely to get sick (potentially very ill) from the influenza virus.
Four stars from me.
Yaakov Bendavid’s LA Times crossword, “No More Tears” – Jenni’s write-up
It took me a while to figure out the theme and I got stuck in some silly places (totally my fault, not the puzzle). Once I hacked my way through the mental weeds, I enjoyed this puzzle. The theme answers take the word “cry” out of well-known phrases and replace it with something that rhymes.
- 23a [Chicken lover’s comment?] is NOTHING LIKE A GOOD THIGH.
- 43a [Denial from one with a very recent white mustache?] is a LIE OVER SPILT MILK. This may be my favorite.
- 62a [Local monastery VIP?] is THE TOWN PRIOR.
- 67a [Bad do result?] is A DYEING SHAME. The Google Ngram viewer confirms my sense that it’s usually “dying.” Is this a Britishism, like SPILT?
- 85a [Young shepherd resigned to losing his flock?] is the BOY WHO SIGHED WOLF. My other favorite.
- 108a [Evita’s exhortation to use sunscreen?] is DON’T FRY FOR ME, ARGENTINA. I suspect this was the inspiration for the puzzle.
Kudos to Yaakov for finding two 21s that fit the theme. All the base answers are solid, all the themers are amusing. Nice!
A few other things:
- 1a [Stand array] is ZINES. It took me a looong time to see this even though I knew ZUNI at 1d. Magazine stands aren’t really a thing these days, anyway, and I don’t think of them as ever selling ZINES.
- I also messed myself up by putting in BUCK for 12d, [Cheer (up)]. It’s BUOY.
- 27a [Most exceptional, in recent lingo] is INSANEST. Kids these days.
- Never heard of SEMTEX at 75a, [Big name in plastic explosives]. The M comes from YMCA, which could have been YWCA, so that was a pure guess.
- Happy to see MIA clued as [Soccer star Hamm] rather than a reference to missing soldiers.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that ETHAN COEN co-directed a movie called “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” that STENGEL wrote an autobiography called “Casey At The Bat,” or that Panasonic bought SANYO in 2009. Casey really slowed me down because I somehow missed “autobiography” in the clue and was trying to figure out how THAYER fit in (he wrote the poem).