Byron & Harrison Walden’s New York Times crossword, “Animal Crossings”—Amy’s write-up
Happy Father’s Day to the papas! Today’s constructors are Byron Walden and his young son, Harrison. The “Animal Crossings” theme isn’t about the video game, it’s about phrases that can be clued as if they’re the collision of two different sorts of animals:
- 26a. [A group of them may be called a memory], ELEPHANTS / 5d. [School group], FISH. These two answers cross at the H.
- 24a. [What do you get when you cross 26-Across with a 5-Down?], SWIMMING TRUNKS. Fish swim, elephants have trunks.
- 63a. [Coop group], CHICKENS / 45d. [Ika, at a sushi bar], SQUID. No “group” in the SQUID clue (none of the subsequent themers have “group” clues, so it’s weird the first three animals did), but when you cross chickens with squid, you get:
- 57a. [What do you get when you cross 63-Across with a 45-Down?], EXTRA DRUMSTICKS. Ten legs per chicken rather than the standard two.
- 77a. [Creatures that can have two sets of jaws and teeth], EELS / 40d. [What’s known for its poker face?], RHINOCEROS. That’s a great RHINO clue!
- 82a. [What do you get when you cross 77-Across with a 40-Down?], ELECTRIC CHARGES. A charging rhino, electric eel.
- 114a. [“___ in the Garden” (Robert Frost poem)], FIREFLIES / 93d. [Smallest of the big cats], CHEETAH. I haven’t seen any lightning bugs (which is what we call ’em in this part of the country) blinking yet this summer.
- 116a. [What do you get when you cross 114-Across with a 93-Down?], LIGHTNING SPEED.
Fresh theme, kinda fun. You can almost hear the woeful dad jokes and a kid’s delighted laugh for each “What do you get when you cross…” riddle. Congrats to Harrison on his constructorial debut!
Fave fill: WEST END, HOT WINGS, ‘FRAID NOT, NORDSTROMS, FOCACCIA..
Five more things:
- 25d. [Geographical locale whose name means “waterless place”], GOBI. Did I know that piece of trivia? Probably.
- 13a. [Iranian president Rouhani], HASSAN. I wondered why HASSAN wasn’t clued as comedian Minhaj, but it turns out he spells it Hasan Minhaj, one S. He’s got a Netflix series called Patriot Act, basically him standing up and talking to the audience, and he recently had an impassioned and not funny episode, basically addressing Asian Americans. The video is below. (Content warning: photos depicting police violence, salty language.)
- 56a. [“Cheese” products?], SMILES. Terrific clue.
- 105d. [Hen], BIDDY. Ugh. A gendered word used primarily to insult women. You can clue it as a barnyard [Hen] all you want, but hey, hen also gets used to insult women.
- 87a. [Dandelion look-alike], CAT’S EAR. Never heard of this before. 103a. [Napoleonic symbol], HONEYBEE. A bit of trivia I didn’t know. The puzzle’s theme is less elegant with these one and a half animal entries jostling around near the theme entries.
Four stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Like Father, Like Son” – Jim Q’s writeup
It would’ve been easy for Evan to use me and my dad as themers. We have the same name.
THEME: Schrödinger puzzle where either the father or son’s first name works in both the down/across positions.
- 20D [*Actor in the 1979 western comedy “Wanda Nevada”] HENRY or PETER FONDA. The Schrödinger crosses are HENS/PENS, SKIN/SKIT, BRAN/BEAN, and YEAR/REAR.
- 75A [*Guy in a TV “bunch”] MIKE or GREG BRADY. MOOSE/GOOSE, ARM/AIM, LINKS/LINES, and LANE/LANG.
- 77A [*Musician who performed with the Plastic Ono Band] JOHN or SEAN LENNON. JINGLE/SINGLE, ORS/ERS, HIRED/AIRED.
- 139A [Q: Between the father and the son, which is the answer to each starred clue? A: ___] BOTH.
- 38A [Son’s affectionate nickname for his father] DEAR OLD DAD.
- 111A [Proud father’s expression about his son] THAT’S MY BOY.
Wow. Just wow. Sometimes Schrödinger puzzles are criticized with “cool-but-it’s-been-done-before” side eye, but this is exceptional. For me, the best part was that AHA moment when I got to 139A as I had not realized up to that point what was going on. My down themers looked like a mess because I had a mishmash of “correct” answers in the crosses.
The thing that’s really beautiful about this is that the same clue can be used for both the father and the son, showing that bond between the two. And the title emphasizes that. And of course, the timing couldn’t be better as it’s Father’s Day (Mother’s Day got the better treatment last year! This year dad is up!) Fascinating that in order to pull this off, you need both the father and son in the same AREA who have the same number of letters in the first name. How many can there be?
This may look light on themers, but it’s not at all, as those crosses put an exceptionally tight constraint on the grid. From a solver’s perspective, until the AHA comes, this might feel a bit like a themeless, but I’ll take it any day when all of a sudden you suck in your breath and stare wide eyed at the grid when you realize what’s going on.
Two things tripped me up: 41D [“Gone Girl” actress Pike] crossing my least favorite recurring clue: [Kid’s curt retort] (I never know what this is… it could be anything… in this case DOES TOO), and Emma SAMMS. But really, the most remarkable part of the fill is that the Schrödinger crosses don’t feel forced, or if the do, it’s smile-inducing like 87A [Put to work at a radio station, say] HIRED/AIRED.
I don’t usually star-rate the WaPo, but this is a solid 5 in my book.
UPDATE: There’s a nifty homage to Evan’s own father if you read the across clues carefully- check it out:
I can hear him saying “That’s my boy!” Well done, Evan.
Winston Emmons’s Universal crossword — “You Send Me”
Just noticed the title now. Perfect.
THEME: Common phrases that end with something that might be delivered by the USPS.
- 20A [*Big character?] CAPITAL LETTER.
- 31A [*Tone held for a measure] WHOLE NOTE.
- 44A [*Source of a decisive advantage] TRUMP CARD.
- 55A [*Compensation offering] SALARY PACKAGE.
- 61A [Org. that delivers the starred answers’ ends] USPS.
This is about as over-the-plate as it gets! Very straightforward theme, and an ideal Universal puzzle for newer solvers to get their feet wet. It introduces some crosswordese while not going too nutty, and the theme is super consistent and transparent once the revealer is uncovered.
AIELLO crossing ANALGESIA was a bit rough for me, but since the fill has to run through two themers (PACKAGE and USPS), we’ll forgive it!
Solid 3 star puzzle.
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword, “Back to Basics” – Jenni’s write-up
If I were better at cryptics, I’d probably have figured out the theme from the title. Since I’m not good at cryptics despite following Stella’s blog, I didn’t know what was going on until I got to the revealer.
I noticed all the Bs in the theme answers.
- 23a [“Match Game” host] is ALEC BALDWIN. I had no idea “Match Game” was back (and apparently has been for several years). I grew up on the original version hosted by Gene Rayburn. So much sexist leering and innuendo and so many sexist stereotypes. I hope the new version is better. Since I still think of Baldwin as the man who called his 11-year-old daughter a “pig” on a voicemail during a custody dispute, I’m not all that hopeful.
- 29a [The mariachi’s guitarrón is one] is an ACOUSTIC BASS.
- 45a [Whole Foods fruit] are ORGANIC BANANAS. Yes, we have organic bananas in the house and no, they did not come from Whole Foods. Why would we drive past Wegmans to get to Whole Foods? Answer: we would not.
- 66a [Pollution concerns] are PLASTIC BAGS.
- 72a [Stretchable loop] is an ELASTIC BAND.
- 92a [Widespread adverse reaction, as to a new policy] is a PUBLIC BACKLASH, like the one you get if you’re a public figure and you leave your daughter a vicious, sexist voicemail.
- 108a [Item in Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass”] is a PICNIC BASKET.
- 118a [Pungent deli choice] is an ONION BAGEL. Nice touch to have that cross EGGS for a hearty breakfast.
And the revealer: 114d [Basics appearing in reverse in eight puzzle answers], ABCS. “Back” in the title is a signal for reversals in cryptic clues. I learned that from Stella. I’m dipping my toe in the cryptic waters with the archive of Puns and Anagrams at the NYT.
Back to this puzzle: It’s a solid, smooth, Sunday theme. It’s not my favorite kind of theme, which is entirely personal taste. This is well-executed and a nice diversion for a lovely Sunday morning.
Happy Father’s Day to all the STEPDADS, granddads, foster dads, and other dad-figures who might not be recognized today, and compassion to all those for whom this day is difficult.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: the current incarnation of “Match Game.” I also didn’t know there was a Chinese smartphone brand called OPPO or that MIA Hamm hails from Alabama, and I’ve never heard of the ENYA album “Watermark.” Here’s the title track. Don’t listen while you’re driving.
Adam Vincent’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Parting Words”—Jim P’s review
I was wondering how best to explain the theme when I realized I didn’t have to; the title does a pretty good job of it. But to be a little more verbose about it, the Across theme answers identify a word—cryptic-clue-style—which is spread apart in the circled letters of the Down theme answers.
- 22a DIVISION OF LABOR leads to 10d LEAFBLOWERS
- 37a SPACED OUT leads to 6d COOL YOUR JETS
- 46a CHOPPED SALAD leads to 15d BASEBALL CARDS
- 81a EAR SPLITTING leads to 54d RESTAURATEURS
- 89a BED SPREAD leads to 61d BROKEN DREAMS
- 107a TRIAL SEPARATION leads to 64d TURNING TAIL
Wow! Wow Wow Wow! Here’s the thing. Actually here are a few things:
- Each theme entry is a fun in-the-language phrase capable of standing on its own and is an asset to any puzzle in which it appears.
- Each pair of theme answers crosses(!).
- Some theme answers (the first and the last) cross more than one theme answer(!).
- No circled letter in the Down answers is adjacent to another circled letter (i.e. they are all spread out). An elegant touch, given the theme, which may have negated more than a few potential theme answers.
- Twelve (yes, twelve) long, interlaced, and fun theme answers in one grid is phenomenal.
With all that theme material as interwoven as it is, you’d expect a lot of crud in the fill. But somehow the reverse is true. Look at all this good stuff: COIN-OPS, LOVETAP, FROWN UPON, BEARHUG, MADCAP, BIG EAST, FLAMBES, BUTCHERED (pronunciation), SNIPERS (certain eBayers as opposed to riflemen (rifle people?)), and Sofia COPPOLA. Sure there are some bland entries, too, like HAD A SEAT, BETTER AT, RE-RAISE, SAY NO TO, but they’re all gettable. The one challenging area is probably the crossing of TEMPEH [Tofu relative] and MOHS [___ scale, on which quartz is a 7]. But other than that, impressive fill given the theme density.
One clue of note: 4d. [Jake and ___ (comedy duo)]. AMIR. I don’t know these guys, probably because I’m old. They’re two former CollegeHumor writers with their own podcast and hundreds of Youtube videos. If you’ve got a favorite bit of theirs, feel free to link to it in the comments.
Impressively executed theme with equally impressive fill. 4.2 stars.