Peter Ritmeester of PZZL.com (who used to handle the old NYT crossword applet) in Amsterdam has just assembled a miscellany of printable puzzles and online apps, including crosswords (from Gail Grabowski, Stan Newman and Fred Piscop), logic puzzles, sudoku, and word searches for kids (from Helene Hovanec). You can access them all here.
This week’s AVCX puzzle is a contest puzzle – we’ll have a post up explaining the puzzle once the entry period closes.
Frank Virzi’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Help! Help!”—Jim P’s review
AU PAIR (63a, [Live-in help, and what’s contained in 17-, 23-, 38- and 49-Across]) is our theme today. Nothing to do with gold (chemical symbol Au), but each entry contains two instances of the bigram AU.
- 17a [Seat of Wisconsin’s Marathon County] WAUSAU. Unusual to have such a short themer, and it’s not even asterisked. The next entry, DONATION, is two letters longer and is non-thematic. And oy. Wisconsin. Did the Republicans ever pull a number on you yesterday.
- 23a [Smog contributor] AUTO EXHAUST. This is fine, but who uses the word “auto” to refer to a car in normal speech?
- 38a [Southern lights] AURORA AUSTRALIS. I had the beginnings of this entry and the end, and started typing in the more well-known (at least in this hemisphere) northern lights, but caught myself just in time.
- 49a [“Tahitian Pastoral” painter] PAUL GAUGUIN. Easy for me as we honeymooned in Tahiti and saw Gauguin’s work everywhere. (Pro tip: Do NOT ignore the signs warning about sea urchins lurking at the bottom of pier ladders.)
A straightforward-enough theme that works, yeah? Like I said, it’s unusual to have a short six-letter theme answer, but it fits the bill and makes for a good symmetrical partner to the revealer.
I’m puzzled by the title, though. AU PAIR is clued as “Live-in help” and I guess the “pair” is what gets us the two-word title. It’s a bit of a stretch. (The term actually translates to “on par” indicating that the helper is an equal in the family unit.)
Elsewhere, I’m not finding a lot of sparkle other than REGGAE, PAELLA, and maybe TOBACCO. The puzzle doesn’t seem too theme-heavy so I wonder if some grid rearrangement might have allowed for more interesting fill. Maybe, maybe not. But we do get a fair amount of crosswordese like ALII, ASLANT, ELAN, ADLAI, AARE, ELATES, and ITSA.
Clues of note:
- 69a. [Chico, of the Marx Brothers]. ELDEST. Shouldn’t this clue have an “e.g.” at the end or a “Like” at the beginning?
- 34d. [Invite to dinner, say]. ASK OUT. Not these days. The best you could do today is ask someone over, assuming they’re in your quarantine orbit.
- 59d. [Feels lousy]. AILS. I hope everyone reading this is not feeling lousy. Stay home. Keep your distance. Act like you have the virus.
I like the theme fine, but the fill feels like it could use a little oomph. 3.4 stars.
Sam Buchbinder’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
We’ve had bowling themes before, and possibly ones similar to this. But this theme’s intricately constructed—BOWLING ALLEY down the middle, crossed by four phrases that begin with bowling terms. Slight demerit for STRIKE, SPARE, and TURKEY being score things while SPLIT is the layout of un-knocked-over pins (though the revealer clue says they’re all rollable). Here’s the theme set:
- 17a. [Quick attack groups], STRIKE FORCES. Would be better in the singular.
- 31a. [Like many TV news interviews], SPLIT-SCREEN.
- 43a. [Producer of jingle-jangle in the pocket], SPARE CHANGE. Jingle-jangle!
- 56a. [Aid for a Thanksgiving chef], TURKEY BASTER. Or for home-based artificial insemination.
- 16d. [Where you might roll the starts of 17-, 31-, 43- and 56-Across], BOWLING ALLEY.
I actually went bowling this winter. I was terrible.
Lots of fill here that I liked, particularly GO DARK, Ambrose BIERCE, GUNNED IT, and FAN MAIL.
- I only hang u-eys. Is it a regional thing to PULL A UEY?
- Not 100% sure what a RED TAG sale is, exactly.
- 53a. [Mom on “Modern Family”], CLAIRE. Series finale is Wednesday night, I hear. I stopped watching a year or two ago.
- 58d and 59d make the palindromic TATE ETAT.
- 45d. [Pawned], HOCKED. We would also have accepted [Expelled a loogie].
Four stars from me.
Todd Gross’s Universal crossword, “African Leaders”—Jim P’s review
I thought the theme was based on country names that, when you lop off the first letter, give you a well-known person’s first name. But it’s tighter than that. A glance at the title informs us that it’s limited to just African countries.
- 20a [Comedian in “Black-ish,” after being “nationalized”?] RWANDA SYKES
- 37a [’80s tennis champion, after being “nationalized”?] GHANA MANDLIKOVA
- 57a [“Love Story” co-star, after being “nationalized”?] MALI MACGRAW
I don’t know what it could possibly mean to have an individual be “nationalized.” I guess here it means having a letter added to become the name of a country. Can you think of any non-African countries that this would work with?
Pretty tight theme. I had a glance at other African nations and couldn’t come up with any others, except of course, Enya and Kenya. But unless you knew that Enya’s anglicized last name is Brennan (in Irish it’s Bhraonáin), you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed that entry. I certainly didn’t know that.
VITAMIN A (had to wait for the cross to get the last letter) and ON SCREEN are our long Downs today with a cartload of 6s sprinkled throughout the grid. How did you do with your OH GOOD and AH YEAH? Do you consider that a dupe? I’m okay with them because I like the clues [“Phew!”] and [“That’s more like it!”] respectively.
Clues of note:
- 3d. [Nutrient found in carrots]. VITAMIN A. You know what would have made sense? If they had just said, “Hey this carrot has a lot of this vitamin in it. Let’s call it Vitamin C for ‘carrot’.” But noooooo…
- 9d. [Powerful table tennis shot]. SMASH. We also would have accepted [Mario fighting game, for short].
- 38d. [Underground rock]. MAGMA. I hate that MAGA has ruined the word MAGMA for me. I wonder how people named Magda feel.
- 40d. [In a sitcom, say]. ON SCREEN. This clue feels odd to me. I would have preferred something such as [Like some romances]. The geek in me would have loved [“Put it on the main viewer,” to Picard].
Interesting theme. 3.5 stars.
Zachary David Levy’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Appropriately, today was a rare sub-3-minute solve for me. The theme is PIECEOFCAKE, and four answers start with words that satisfy “___ CAKE”: POUND, CARROT, SPONGE & FUNNEL. A fairly standard theme design, but well-executed with interesting answers. I wasn’t 100% sure of what a funnel cake was, but it’s American. As a red (auburn) head, I can confirm that if your name is similar enough, you just get called “CARROT”.
An early week theme, and although the puzzle is blocked off it has big stacks for an early week puzzle. The answers are a mixed bag, BEANBAG, CRAYOLA, SOUTHLA, HIPSTER and IRECKON balanced by hoary things like IMARET and IONIANS.