Sam Trabucco’s New York Times crossword, “Letter Dictation”—Amy’s write-up
The puzzle’s title suggests “take a letter,” but that’s not what the theme is. The theme clues are all-caps words with a letter added or removed in such a way as to “dictate” the words in the answer:
- 20a. [GAZACHO], SPLIT PEA SOUP. Gazpacho is a soup, and the letter P has “split,” so it’s a split-P soup.
- 29a. [SMEILL], GIVE THE STINK-EYE. Give “smell,” which means “stink,” the letter I.
- 47a. [ENTURIES], LONG TIME, NO SEE. Centuries with no C.
- 62a. [TECHNIQUEO] OH, BY THE WAY. A technique is a way, and there’s an O by it. “Oh by the way” is included in the lyrics to Kendrick Lamar’s “Love” (below)—one of the songs from his Pulitzer-winning album. All it takes is seeing OH BY THE WAY in the grid, and I’m earwormed again.
- 66a. [DEFINITEL], YEAH, WHY NOT. “Yeah” but the Y is not there.
- 82a. [INSTBANT], BE IN THE MOMENT. B in INSTANT. The answer phrase is a terrific entry.
- 96a. [ENVIRONMENAL], GREEN TEA EXTRACT. Environmental has had its T extracted.
- 110a. [RUMYSELF], ARE YOU WITH ME? I feel like “Who’s with me?” is a little crisper, as phrases goes, but this still works.
Clever theme, and the theme entries are themselves pretty good fill.
Fave fill: ANNA SUI, GEOTAGS, SMOKE RING, BARREL OF FUN.
Seven more things:
- 91a. [1910s flying star], WWI ACE. Uh, is this actually a discrete thing, a term people use? Hmph. Speaking of WWI, I just read about how Woodrow Wilson launched a straight-up propaganda campaign, an utter infringement on freedom of speech, and tried to keep morale up by, you, know, having everyone in the government and the media just plain lie about the influenza epidemic. No telling how many people died unnecessarily because of the lies. (Please let the current administration not hide the scientific truth where the coronavirus is concerned.)
- 51a. [Payment to a freelancer for unpublished work], KILL FEE. This is not to be confused with “catch and kill,” the tactic used by the National Enquirer’s publisher to quash stories that might be injurious to his buddies. The “unpublished”/”kill” combo had me thinking of the latter tactic, though.
- 49d. [Veil over a Muslim woman’s face], NIQAB. Here’s a BBC wrap-up of the various sorts of Muslim hair and/or face coverings that might be worn. There were a few I hadn’t heard of.
- 72a. [Violinist Leopold], AUER. A name I basically only encounter in crosswords. How much do music people talk about him?
- 55d. [Org. to which Jordan once belonged], NBA. Anyone think this was about the Middle Eastern country rather than Michael Jordan?
- 57a. [China flaw], NICK. Really? I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone talk about a NICK in a dish. A chip, sure.
- 86d. [Nickname of the Miami Heat’s all-time leader in points, games, assists and steals], D-WADE, short for Dwyane Wade.
3.9 stars from me.
Gail Grabowski’s Universal crossword, “All in All”—Rebecca’s review
THEME: The word ALL appears in ALL the theme answers
- 20A [View one’s notifications, on many a smartphone] MEDICAL LICENSE
- 25A [View one’s notifications, on many a smartphone] TOTAL LETDOWN
- 48A [View one’s notifications, on many a smartphone] HERBAL LOTION
- 56A [View one’s notifications, on many a smartphone] PERSONAL LETTER
Perfect title for this light and fun puzzle. This was one time where after noticing ALL in the first two theme answers I actually went back to look at the title and got a good kick out of it. TOTAL LET DOWN was my favorite of the themers, with HERBAL LOTION on the other end of the scale, but they all work – and I liked the consistency of the AL – L split.
I don’t time my solves, but this one flew by and felt super speedy. Some really nice long downs kept the puzzle entertaining beyond the theme. PAISLEY & EVEN ODDS were fun to see – and once I got GIBLETS it was fun to see, but for some reason that is just a word that never sticks in my brain – no matter how many Thanksgiving dinners I assist with.
Fav clue today goes to PUBERTY [“Raging hormones” period].
You all didn’t think I’d leave you without a BETTE Midler video did you? I know it’s the wrong time of year but I can’t help myself.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “States of Confusion” – Jim Q’s writeup
Much tougher than usual!
THEME: State abbreviations are “switched” in two different entries on four different rows.
- 16D [Hypothetical upload of a person’s memories into another brain … or
a three-piece hint to the substitutions in this puzzle’s third row?] MIND TRANSFER. MI and ND are “transferred” in the answers SEMIS/RANDS. The answers should be SENDS/RAMIS.
- 13D [Movement that may precede passing … or a three-piece hint to the substitutions in this puzzle’s seventh row?] LANE CHANGE. LA and NE are “changed” in the answers LASSIE/NESTS. The answers should be NESSIE/LASTS.
- 72D [Shift between dialects in conversations … or a three-piece hint to the substitutions in this puzzle’s 15th row?] CODE SWITCH. CO and DE are “switched” in the answers COBRA/DECKED. The answers should be DEBRA/COCKED.
- 61D [Plastic surgery procedure for making skin marks less noticeable … or a three-piece hint to the substitutions in this puzzle’s 19th row?] SCAR REVISION. SC and AR are “revised” in the answers SCUBA/AREN’T. The answers should be ARUBA/SCENT.
- 66A [Turned, as states on the electoral map (and in this puzzle)] FLIPPED.
Once I got through and finally interpreted those unwieldy down theme clues, I very much enjoyed this. I wasn’t about to count rows though. I figured it best if they just revealed themselves, which they did. This is the kind of theme where figuring it out helps to solve other portions of the puzzle. For instance, I figured out the COBRA/DECKED pairing, which helped me to enter CODE for CODE SWITCH, which in turn cleared up some difficulty I was having with fill. Those are my favorite types of puzzles; when there’s a synergy of sorts between the fill and the theme.
I can see how this puzzle may eat at some who are trying to figure out the “three-piece” nature of the down entries or who aren’t making the connection as to why some answers are just plain “wrong” in the grid. It’s also confusing that all but one of the switched pairs have their first letters switched. So this is probably not a puzzle that’s for everybody, and it’s sure to addle a beginner solver. The added bite in the cluing all-around seems to recognize this and embraces its difficulty in comparison with easier WaPo offerings.
- 19A [Opera star’s props?] BRAVO. “Props” as in “I gotta give you props for such a great rendition of that aria!”
- 39A [Flute section] STEM. The glass in which one would serve champagne. Not the instrument.
- 50A [Electronic notes?] RINGTONES. I had to accompany a choir yesterday on piano. An audience member’s ringtone horribly disrupted a beautiful piece. Don’t let that be you!
- 15D [Actress Th_r__n] UMA. Always like a fresh UMA clue!
- 41D [Leave a game room?] ESCAPE. As in ESCAPE rooms.
- 84D [One with savings accounts?] HERO. Slow clap for this clue.
- 114A [Ancient locale of Paris] TROY. Paris of Greek Mythology.
NEW TO ME:
ELLA Baker, AMINE, MANAMA, ALEC Berg, and PESACH. There was also plenty of stuff that I’d heard of but didn’t know until a couple of key letters were dropped, like 39D [Lalomanu Beach nation] SAMOA.
I’m off! Happy March!
Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal crossword, “Neigh Sayers”—Jim Q’s review
This puzzle requires circled letters, which Universal is unable to do unless solvers come to this site and download the .puz file. Ironically enough, solvers that would know how to do that are less likely to need the circles. Newer solvers who come across this puzzle in print are missing the strong visual element and are likely faced with bizarre instructions as to which squares to pay the most attention to (I don’t know the specifics since I can’t find the Universal Sunday online).
The solution is simple: Universal should circle its letters when required like every other major publication does. But the puzzle that, per its website, “…sets the standard for all daily crosswords” does not.
THEME: Horses hidden “around” the theme answers!
- 23A [*Got juice from] PLUGGED INTO.
- 25A [*Bread with a swirly pattern] MARBLE RYE.
- 37A [*Made ecstatic] FILLED WITH JOY.
- 54A [*Low-altitude sky sight] STRATUS CLOUD
- 77A [*One may be centered around an ingredient] FOOD FESTIVAL.
- 90A [*Toyota Prius rival] CHEVROLET VOLT.
- 105A [*Caribbean music ensemble] STEEL BAND.
- 108A [Behave boisterously, or a hint to the starred answers] HORSE AROUND.
Easy, fun puzzle to kick off Universal’s “All Women Constructors” month. And who better to get it started on a Sunday than Zhouqin “CC” Burnikel?
Nothing much tripped me up here. I was trying to determine whether one answer was STREUSEL or STRUDEL, and then STRUDEL popped up in the very next answer I looked at. Haha! My favorite mistake was for 26D [One may sleep while you’re out] LAPTOP. I was confident that my LAPCAT would also sleep while I was out.
I admit, I’m very biased when it comes to puzzles that, imo, need circled letters to properly be enjoyed, and knowing that this is appearing in newspapers all over without that element irks me. But that is definitely not the constructor’s fault.
3.8 stars with circles.
1.3 stars without.
Mike Torch’s LA Times crossword, “Lo and Behold” – Jenni’s write-up
I enjoyed the theme in this puzzle. The fill…..not so much.
Mike took well-known names and phrases and added LO for comic effect.
- 24a [Film VIP’s influence?] is DIRECTOR‘S CLOUT (director’s cut).
- 35a [Derision of a parade entry?] is FLOAT SHAMING (fat shaming, which is pervasive and pernicious thing).
- 43d [Prosthetic eagle claw?] is a FAKE TALON (fake tan).
- 52d [Imitation semolina?] is FAUX FLOUR (faux fur).
- 57a [Calligrapher specializing in punctuation?] is a COLON ARTIST (con artist). This is my favorite.
- 77a [Hardwood seller’s markup?] is FLOOR PROFIT (for-profit).
- 92a [Period when Lindsay ruled?] is the LOHAN DYNASTY (Han dynasty).
- 112a [“Two Women” actress teaming up with a cartoon cat?] is LOREN AND STIMPY (Ren and Stimpy).
Solid, consistent, and fun – a good recipe for a Sunday theme.
Unfortunately, the theme is mired in some truly terrible fill. The NW corner has ENSILE and ANODAL, neither of which should ever see the light of day again. They should be buried alongside ABUTTAL. There’s the partial I FOR, abbreviations NEUT (for neutral), PREC (for preceding, which – what?) and ROBT (for Robert), and the annoying TER. Why clue UTE as the awkward name of a vehicle that’s usually called a sport-UTE rather than the American Indian nation of the same name? I could go on. I’d rather not. It was so bad that I didn’t even mind UNLET or IN E for [Like Vivaldi’s “Spring”].
There are also two entries that seem to have wandered in from a different theme, or maybe a completely different puzzle. Peter Gordon periodically publishes Wacky Crosswords as part the Fireball series. That’s where I expect to see things like 43d [Prosthetic eagle claw?] for FAKE TALON and 52d [Imitation semolina?] for FAUX FLOUR. They’re cute, but they don’t belong. I’m a dolt. These are theme entries. Thanks to the commenters who caught my mistake.
A few other things:
- I did like 6a [“Hmm … “], WE‘LL SEE.
- 51d [Gofer guy] is an alliterative clue for ERRAND BOY.
- 64d [Izod competitor] is NAUTICA. When preppy style came back for the umpteenth time, then 14-year-old Emma decided to explain to me what it was. She was stunned when I knew. I went to Princeton and graduated in the early 80s. Dude.
- Speaking of Princeton, Justice Elena Kagan makes an appearance in the clue for OBAMA.
- We went to THE MET yesterday and saw more than one AMPHORA.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that “draconian” comes from the [Harsh Athenian lawmaker] DRACO (and that J K Rowling didn’t make up that name). I also did not know that a B–STAR is a [Bright, blue-white heavenly body]. Random letter + star is still not a great entry but at least I learned something.