Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 463), “This Is Us”—Ade’s take
Hello there, everyone. Hope you’re all doing well and staying safe once again.
Today’s crossword puzzle has a lot of US in it, literally. Four theme entries are altered and turned into puns by adding the letters “US” consecutively into them, changing the meaning of common phrases and/or proper nouns.
- LEXUS LUTHOR (17A: [Upscale car named after a “Superman” villain?]) – Lex Luthor.
- MENUS IN BLACK (27A: [Science fiction action film about stylish meal cards?]) – Men in Black.
- BUS RIDE ZILLA (47A: [Overly-bossy diva on a commuter vehicle?]) – Bridezilla.
- ATTICUS FANS (64A: [Cool supporters of Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”?]) – Attic fans.
Bring up the most important topic of this grid at the very beginning of this review: Which dance would you perform on the SOUL TRAIN line if you were on the show dressed in your bell bottom jeans (35D: [Dance/music show created by Don Cornelius])? I’m probably partial to the Campbell lock (named after famous pop-and-lock maestro and pioneer Don “Soul Train”/”Campbellock” Campbell), mashed potato or the robot. Please don’t tell me you’ll chicken out of dancing and would rather be at the chalkboard and unscramble the letters to spell out a music artist’s name!!
Seeing MIXED NUTS made me think of a grid years back where words describing a type of nut were anagrammed and that was the theme (3D: [Snacks with cashews and almonds]). I could look it up now, but I’m being a lazy butt at the moment. To boot, seeing POSTAGE not only made me think of my trip to the post office last week and buying stamps for the first time in a long while, but also thinking about friends who work at the USPS and the unfathomable prospect of letting that service fail financially right now (4A: [Snail mail stamp]).
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…well, but we have corporations to bail out right now, so, the completion of the couriers appointed rounds will have to be terminated.”
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: TITO (7D: [Songwriter/conductor Puente)]) – Most sports fans know current Major League Baseball manager Terry Francona, nicknamed TITO, as the man who led the Boston Red Sox to two World Series championships, including the 2004 championship that broke the 86-year title drought of the Boston Red Sox. As a matter of fact, Tito was a pretty good player as well, especially in the amateur ranks. In 1980, Francona led the University of Arizona Wildcats to the 1980 College World Series championship and he was named the Golden Spikes Award winner as the nation’s best player. Francona played in MLB for nine years, debuting in 1981. In 19 seasons as a MLB manager, Tito has won 1,667 games with a .542 winning percentage, numbers that probably will earn him a spot in Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame).
Thank you so much for the time, everybody! Have a wonderful — and safe — rest of your day and, as always, keep solving!
Joe Hansen’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Did you notice that this grid is entirely asymmetrical? The five theme entries have 8, 13, 15, 10, and 9 letters, roughly representing the relative lengths of the five fingers, though my ring fingers are longer than my index fingers so it doesn’t quite work for me. I don’t understand why the editor would accept an asymmetrical grid from a newish constructor, rather than suggesting that they adhere to the standard rules of construction. Here are the themers:
- 41d. [Hand-to-hand combat?], THUMB WAR.
- 18d. [Calculation using height and weight], BODY MASS INDEX.
- 7d. [Neither left nor right], MIDDLE OF THE ROAD.
- 32d. [Place to duke it out], BOXING RING.
- 36d. [“The Loco-Motion” singer, 1962], LITTLE EVA.
There are ways to render this theme with a symmetrical grid. Bruce Haight did it in a 2017 LAT puzzle that included BOXING RING, and Evan Mahnken had a FINGERS CROSSED puzzle last year with two crossed pairs of “finger” phrases. I’m sure there have been many other permutations over the years. If you want to improve on what’s come before, it’s good to show off without breaking a cardinal rule of construction.
The editorial choice to circle/shade the letters in the “finger” words obscures the entry lengths and instead makes it look like the index and ring fingers are found at the bottom, below the thumb and pinky. Odd.
- 22a. [Netflix crime drama starring Jason Bateman], OZARK. My spouse just finished the latest season of Ozark over the weekend. Now he’s waiting for me to catch up to him in season 5 of Breaking Bad so we can watch it together … and then we’ll watch the last couple months of Better Call Saul episodes. It’s all about ordinary people turning into drug lords around our house these days. (Breaking Bad has such amazing performances, and the cinematography sometimes takes my breath away, and the song choices are so interesting. Yes, I am late to the party.)
- 48a. [Post-O.R. stop], ICU. Most commonly not being used for postop patients these days. Between this entry and DOA, *sigh*.
- NO GO and partial IT GO in the same grid? Tell me it’s NOT SO!
- 26d. [BOGO event], SALE. At least this one doesn’t duplicate the GO of those last two. BOGO = buy one, get one (free).
- 40d. [Danish shoe brand], ECCO. I know the brand but still needed crossings. Fashion designer Mark Ecko and household gadget maker Ekco live in the same part of my brain.
3.25 stars from me, though I was tempted to dock the puzzle another one or two stars for the asymmetry. Advice to aspiring constructors: Work out symmetrical theme sets rather than venturing into experimental formats right off the bat. Hone your skills within the rules and see how far you can go before you start breaking the rules.
William Eisenberg’s Universal crossword — “Shrinking Dimensions” — Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Phrases where the second word gradually “shrinks” (tough to articulate… help!)
- 17A [What has sugar on top?] FOOD PYRAMID.
- 23A [Common romantic situation in telenovelas] LOVE TRIANGLE.
- 53A [Place to grab a tabloid] CHECKOUT LINE.
- 65A [Part of a succinct summary] BULLET POINT.
I know if I try to describe mathematically what’s happening, I’m gonna screw something up. So forgive me in advance. But what starts out as a PYRAMID ends up as a simple POINT. Fair enough? A PYRAMID is the only one I think of as having multiple dimensions though, so the “Shrinking Dimensions” from the title happens pretty fast!
At 80 words (!) there’s not a lot of room in the grid for long, splashy answers, so much of the fill was standard and felt a little crosswordy. I always try to look at Universal puzzles from a new solver’s perspective, and I think this one might be frustrating for some as the theme can be tricky to spot and the fill asks for a somewhat developed crossword vocab.
All in all, a good solve. I just wish the grid had some more breathing room.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Cool, Cool” – Derek’s write-up
This is no doubt another puzzle fueled by the coronavirus shut in situation: we all cannot eat out every meal! Here are the theme entries:
- 17A [ITEMS IN THE FREEZER] LEFTOVERS; GELATO
- 20A [ITEMS IN THE FREEZER] ICE CREAM; CHICKEN
- 40A [ITEMS IN THE REFRIGERATOR] MILK; JUICE; BUTTER
- 60A [ITEMS IN THE VEGETABLE CRISPER] ROMAINE; RADISHES
- 67A [ITEMS IN THE VEGETABLE CRISPER] BROCCOLI; CARROTS
I like how the levels in the fridge are in order, if you have a fridge with the freezer at the top. Many newer ones are nothing like that these days, but this is the traditional order. Also, Matt’s fridge must be bare, as the main level only has the one theme line! We are going to have to get creative in making a meal! I see enough for a salad, perhaps with added chicken, and there are a couple of items for dessert. Hopefully there is some liquor to go with the juice! 4.3 stars for another self-isolation puzzle!
Some more interesting stuff:
- 21A [Affectionate greeting (that I’m guessing there will be a lot of when this is done)] HUG – Yes, these are missed. Even from a professed non-hugger like myself!
- 22A [Raphael’s weapon, in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”] SAI – I don’t know this reference, so there is another movie I can watch while stuck at home!
- 44A [Phone maker from Finland] NOKIA – Does anyone own these anymore??
- 5D [With “The,” 2008 Mike Myers flop] LOVE GURU – Fun fact: Mike Myers plays the record executive in Bohemian Rhapsody. I didn’t realize that he was in it until the very end! If you haven’t seen it, there is ANOTHER movie to watch!
- 10D [Home of Suntory’s headquarters] OSAKA – This is evidently whiskey … ? I am not a big whiskey drinker.
- 19D [Karmann ___ (classic VW model)] GHIA – They don’t make these anymore, but they sure look nice!
- 28D [Actress ___ Ling of “The Crow”] BAI – She has been in a lot of movies I have never seen, including this one. Add it to the list!
- 31D [“Late Night” host Meyers who’s currently broadcasting from home] SETH – I don’t stay up late enough to watch this show, but his clips on YouTube are a staple for our house.
- 59D [“The Sky ___” (1950 Italian drama)] IS RED – Is this ANOTHER movie to watch??
That’s all for now!
Debbie Ellerin’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Didn’t I just review a puzzle by Debbie Ellerin? I believe I did, which means she is getting prolific in her submissions! Which is not a bad thing, since her puzzles are always fun! For this one, we have some intriguing circles, that lead to a revealer at the end:
- 17A [*Longtime Nabisco cookie] FIG NEWTON
- 21A [*Badgers’ school] WISCONSIN
- 33A [*Outback choice named for a bone] RIBEYE STEAK
- 41A [*One on a “Most Wanted” list] PUBLIC ENEMY
- 51A [*Pour on the criticism] DISH IT OUT
- 60A [Go-between … and a hint to each set of circles] MIDDLE MAN
I put the circled letters in red, and the words in them can all precede the word man. (new man, con man, etc.) Very nicely done. The revealer was a pleasant surprise at the end, even during a relatively quick solve. But it is a Tuesday puzzle, so it would be problematic if this solve took a while! Also, SIX theme answers! 4.6 stars today.
Just a few more things:
- 39A [“Twittering Machine” artist Paul] KLEE – Here is an image of this painting. It sounds like a nickname for a Twitter troll!
- 7D [Bills with Hamilton] TENS – This makes me think of the play I still haven’t seen, and much like the movie theater industry, plays are on the back burner for a while.
- 26D [Big name in garden products] ORTHO – … but we can all get out and do some gardening! We have more time to look at our own yards now, if we have one.
- 31D [“So I was wrong!”] “SUE ME!” – Somehow I think this virus is going to spawn a lot of lawsuits in this litigious country.
- 41D [Least speedy] POKIEST – I have a son who I describe like this all the time! I thought I was the only one who used this word!
Everyone have a good week and stay healthy!
Ross Trudeau’s Wall Street Journal crossword—Nate’s write-up
In isolation, my husband and I have been using our devices so often that one of the most common things we ask of the other is the same as today’s puzzle’s title: “Plug it In”. Let’s see what Ross Trudeau and WSJ have in store for us:
4D: BUS BOYCOTTS [Civil rights era protest campaigns]
14D: CIRCUS BARKERS [“Step right up!” caller]
19D: NOTORIOUS B.I.G. [“Juicy” rapper]
25D: AMICUS BRIEF [Legal document filed by one who’s not directly part of a case]
35A: USB CONNECTION [Common PC hookup, and a feature of the four longest Down answers]
I loved this puzzle and it was a joy to solve! In each fresh and fun theme entry, the letters USB stretch across that entry’s two words. Even more, they each span in a __US B__ fashion – I appreciate that attention to detail. And, it’s not often in mainstream puzzles that we get to highlight and celebrate BUS BOYCOTTS or the NOTORIOUS B.I.G., so hats off to Ross Trudeau! And, did you notice that the USB CONNECTION revealer in the middle crosses all four of the theme entries? Wow! Talk about a connection!
I want to focus the rest of today’s review on Ross’s commitment to mentoring and elevating new and underrepresented constructors. If you’re interested in making puzzles as fun as Ross’s and would love to learn how, hit him up on social media! You can find his handles on his website (https://rosswordpuzzles.com/). You can also find a bit more of his philosophy there, too:
For the remainder of 2020, I’m not going to submit any solo puzzles to the New York Times. Any grids they receive from me will be collaborative efforts with folks from groups that have been historically underrepresented in that puzzle.
Getting published in the most popular puzzle in the world is a zero sum game. And as someone who’s benefited from a variety of systemic and structural legs up, it feels like it’s past time to pay it forward.
To this point in 2020, I’ve co-submitted puzzles to various publications with 14 different women and people of color. Nine of them are previously unpublished constructors whom I’ve done my best to mentor. But those puzzles are, in a real sense, competing with puzzles that I construct and submit alone. At the end of 2020, I’ll revisit and potentially extend this commitment.