Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword, “Barista Training Day”—Amy’s write-up
This sort of theme is one I associate with Merl Reagle: A story unspools through the theme clues and answers. (I think maybe Merl’s tended to have a larger number of shorter themers?) Joel’s rendition imagines training day at a Starbucksy coffee joint:
- 24a. [Things got off to a bad start when one trainee tripped and …] SPILLED THE BEANS. V. good.
- 40a. [The carton leaked milk everywhere when another trainee accidentally …] SPLIT HALF AND HALF. The base phrase would feel more “in the language” with an IT after the SPLIT, though that would break the theme angle. Awkward, though, because would anybody ever describe that occurrence as SPLIT HALF AND HALF? You’d split the carton, not the dairy product.
- 53a. [The drip coffee tasted grainy because they …] LACKED A FILTER. The base phrase relates to someone not filtering out their ruder impulses.
- 68a. [In fact, every cup they served was …] FAR FROM THE AVERAGE JOE. “Not the average Joe” feels more “in the language” to me.
- 85a. [To make matters worse, the espresso machine …] RAN OUT OF STEAM. This one’s perfect. You know what we bought a few weeks ago? One of those Nespresso machines that takes coffee pods and magically makes my husband happy. Much safer than going out to Dunkin’ every morning, no?
- 95a. [They worried about their jobs — these mistakes were …] GROUNDS FOR FIRING. This one is inconsistent with the others because there’s no coffee angle in the clue, just the “basis” sense of GROUNDS rather than coffee grounds.
- 115a. [Sure enough, when the boss showed up, everyone …] GOT INTO HOT WATER. Again, one that doesn’t present the term literally in a café context.
So that’s two themers I liked a lot, one that works just fine, and four that felt off to me.
Five more things:
- 12a. [Gilda Radner character on “S.N.L.”], BABA WAWA. Barbara Walters does not actually have any sort of marked speech impediment, but here’s a clip (below) where Madeline Kahn joins Radner in being nigh unintelligible. “Vewy weasonable.”
- 46a. [Kitchen bulb], SHALLOT. Are you a SHALL-it or shuh-LOT person? I’m the former; the British are the latter.
- 84a. [Comfort], BALM. Comfort as a noun. I read it as a verb and had CALM, having not double-checked that 84d worked. Alas, the [Crass, classless sort] isn’t a COOR but a BOOR.
- 107a. [Weak ___ (unconvincing argument)], TEA. A contemporary usage, and I like it.
- 113a. [Either weekend day, symbolically], ESS. Yeah, no. Saturday and Sunday are represented by S and only in crosswords would you translate that to ESS.
Fave fill: PHONE TAG, actor ADAM SCOTT (but not the golfer), EARTH DAY (that DAY is duped by the ESS clue), STEALTHY ninjas.
3.25 stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Motion Pictures” – Jim Q’s writeup
This puzzle brings with it a shift in expectations.
THEME: Movie titles are “shifted” within common phrases and the new phrase is wackily clued.
- 23A [“Splendid, Ms. Kahlo!” (1 step left: Holy Week observance)] GOODY FRIDA! Good Friday.
- 25A [Awards for a heroic big cat? (5 steps right: Circular cuts of meat)] LION MEDALS. Medallions.
- 31A [Instruction to insert a picture of Jason’s ship on the web? (2 steps left: Imposed a ban on)] EMBED ARGO. Embargoed.
- 46A [Salmon-breeding ruler? (4 steps right: Chess piece moved in 1. e4)] SPAWN KING. Pawn’s king.
- 58A [That woman’s dark trousers? (9 steps right: Bobby Seale’s group)] HER BLACK PANTS. Black Panthers.
- 72A [Finch family bird father? (2 steps left: Ginger ale brand begun in Toronto)] CANARY DAD. Canada Dry.
- 84A [Someone draws even with boxer Muhammad? (4 steps left: Qualities classified as Type A or B)] PERSON TIES ALI. Personalities.
- 95A [Actress Dawber playing actress Dunn? (3 steps left: Expansive views)] PAM AS NORA. Panoramas.
- 114A [Young fox atop autos? (2 steps left: Trapper for whom Nevada’s capital is named)] KIT ON CARS. Kit Carson.
- 121A [Storied toymaker’s reply to an accusation? (1 step right: Lent practice)] ELF‘S DENIAL. Self denial.
- 123A [1983 film with many steps, and what the first letters of this puzzle’s “motion pictures” spell] FLASHDANCE. What a feeling!
Wow! I found this one much more difficult all around than normal, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. Some things I confess I didn’t notice until post solve (I did solve groggily): 1) The movie titles. This is clear as day, especially with the circles and the title, and for some reason I missed it. I don’t think I’m familiar with Dad or Spawn, but still… I shoulda noticed. 2) The relevance of the revealer. Oh, so that’s why the second part of the clue talks about “steps” taken in each answer. May still be somewhat of a stretch, but it’s clever for sure.
Again, one of those themes where the fill and the theme answers synergistically work together. Sometimes I could get part of a theme answer, which would help crack into the fill, which in turn would help reveal the other part of the theme answer. I love it when puzzles work like that.
- 37A [Place with no bars, say] DEAD SPOT. Bars that indicate cell service, that is. But I suppose it works for bars that people would drink at in a sense as well!
- 106D [“Master Melvin”] OTT. Hey! That’s not the OTT clue I’m used to! C’mon! When it comes to OTT and ORR I thought we were only allowed to use two or three different clues! hehe.
- 135A [Start to exchange words, say] ERASE. As in you’re making an edit to a piece of writing.
- 59D [Org. that created a Vaccine Schedules app] CDC. Timely.
- 11D [Certain cookie tidbits] RAISINS. Could also be clued as [Certain cookie ruiners].
- 1A [Word contracted as ‘d] WOULD. I… don’t understand this. But I know I should.
- 60D [Bit of Zen dialogue] KOAN. KOAN/LANDO came very close to a Natick area, but luckily there’s not many letters that would make sense there.
VIDEO GAME CLUE OF THE WEEK:
- 47D ___ pipe (portal in Super Mario Bros.). WARP.
Very clever and lot of fun. Thanks, Evan!
Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal crossword — “Value Pack”
Good bang for the buck in this one.
THEME: Assets are hidden within common phrases.
- 17A [Fallout from an eruption] VOLCANIC ASH.
- 23A [Becoming long in the tooth] GETTING OLDER.
- 36A [How many solve problems] BY TRIAL AND ERROR.
- 48A [Age-revealing process] CARBON DATING.
- 58A [Holding not shown on a balance sheet, or a hint to the circled letters] HIDDEN ASSET.
This puzzle could also be titled “Things you don’t have” and be perfectly applicable to me!
Anyway, a strong basic theme and a very accessible puzzle, especially for newer solvers. That’s what I like and hope for in a Universal. Of course, it’s bothersome that they still can’t figure out how to circle letters in their web app and print forms, which – and I’ve seen this – creates a frustrating experience for newer solvers who are asked to count boxes and make their own circles, but I hope people are getting accustomed to that.
ROAD DEBRIS and NOT A PRAYER round out a nicely filled puzzle.
Enjoy your Sunday!
Sid Sivakumar’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Round Lot”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Toroid-shaped objects.
- 27a [*Dunkin’ option with a white coating (note: the central black square pattern is a hint to each starred answer)] VANILLA FROSTED DONUT
- 49a [*Piece of jewelry on a Hindu bride’s foot] TOE RING
- 83a [*Bit of a whole-grain cereal] CHEERIO
- 106a [*World’s biggest machine] LARGE HADRON COLLIDER
- 24d [*Backboard attachment] BASKETBALL RIM
- 34d [*Water park ride] INNERTUBE
- 47d [*Means of staying afloat?] LIFE PRESERVER
- 54d [*Morsel for Toucan Sam] FROOT LOOP
There’s also the lone central square which gets clued at 67a along with CPR: [Emergency pumps? (Clue for middle square: Circular letter)]. That square gets the single letter O.
This was fun. Definitely something different. Sure, there’s a little extraneous stuff like the VANILLA FROSTED part of VANILLA FROSTED DONUT and the TOE in TOE RING, but symmetry needs must prevail. And even though it’s weird to see a singular CHEERIO and FROOT LOOP, they make sense with the theme.
I love the grid’s isolated central donut shape. I started in the NW and worked my way systematically counter-clockwise around the grid. Once I got everything outside the circle completed, I attacked the center.
Everything flowed smoothly and there’s a glut of good fill in here, even with so much theme material (including some stacked theme entries!): STATE SENATES, NANOGRAM, SKILLETS, ICE COLD, WORE OUT, CROSSOVER SUV, LIMO RIDE, WHITE LINES, PALLBEARER, WARLORD, FERMAT, and DVOŘÁK.
Those stacked entries in the East/West are responsible for some of the clunkier fill like BE ONE, EPODE, and A DULL, but really, if that’s the only price to pay, I’d take that any day. Really top notch filling in this grid.
Cluing felt pretty straightforward which accounts for my relatively zippy Sunday time. I did like [It’s exciting to take a back seat during one] for LIMO RIDE, and [Bottom feeder?] for UDDER.
Wonderful puzzle. 4.25 stars from me.
Fred Piscop’s LA Times crossword, “UR Out!” – Jenni’s write-up
I filled in part of the first theme answer, glanced at the title, and immediately knew where we were headed. Each theme answer is missing UR from a base phrase.
- 23a [Where a displaced ex-hubby may sleep?] is a DIVORCE COT (divorce court). I wonder if there will be a spike in divorces after all this forced togetherness? History would suggest the marriage rate will drop; that’s what often happens during economic downturns.
- 25a [Determination as to which twin is born first?] is the NATAL ORDER (natural order). I think of the phrase as “the natural order of things,” but I’ll take it.
- 44a [Poem about the letter nu?] is ODE ON A GRECIAN N (Ode on a Grecian Urn). One of my favorites, and not just because I hear “nu” in my grandmother’s voice. She spoke Yiddish, not Greek, just to be clear.
- 63a [Progressive Insurance icon’s layoff?] is the SACK OF FLO (sack of flour).
- 69a [Dried, pulverized onions?] is CRY POWDER (curry powder). I don’t think dried onions will make you cry.
- 89a [Three movies about skeletons?] is THE BONE TRILOGY (The Bourne Trilogy). One of my other favorites.
- 111a [Extension of an embargo?] is a BAN RENEWAL (urban renewal). OK, I have three favorites. So sue me.
- 114a [Della’s notable facial feature?] is her STREET CHIN (street urchin). Della STREET was Perry Mason’s secretary. Kids, ask your grandparents.
I enjoyed this theme. It was just right for a mellow Sunday.
A few other things:
- I had the S to start 14a, [Prep for surgery] and thought it was SHAVE, which is no longer routinely done. Nope. It’s SCRUB. My daughter learned her pandemic hand-washing technique from Gray’s Anatomy.
- Not at all sure how I knew that AKELA was [Kipling’s “Lone Wolf”] but I did.
- Clues that could reference a woman and don’t: 60a [Elsinore natives] could be [Actor Clare]. The answer is DANES.
- I spell SAVANNAH with an H on the end. Google N-gram viewer suggests that I’m in the minority; SAVANNAH has fewer mentions and some of them are probably the city. Noted.
- I’m glad we had the “unibrow” clue for BERT and not KAHLO.
What I didn’t know before I did the puzzle: that Shaquille Oneal won the NBA MVP award in 2000. I did know he was a LAKER. I also did not know that Salvador DALI helped Alfred Hitchcock design the dream sequence for “Spellbound.”