Jon Schneider & Anderson Wang’s New York Times crossword, “Power-Ups”—Amy’s write-up
The theme consists of a bunch of “X to the Y” phrases split into individual X and Y words placed in the grid such that the Y word appears where an exponent would relative to word X, if words X and Y were numbers. The revealer is 70a. [Mathematical concepts suggested eight times in this puzzle], EXPONENTS, and it’s sort of a cute concept but in practice it’s a matter of “here are 18 cross-referenced clues that probably get on your nerves.”
- 30a. [With 25-Across, get as much approval from an audience as possible], PLAY to the GALLERY.
- 33a. [With 29-Across, like a deer in headlights], ROOTED to the SPOT.
- 50a. [With 47-Across, not change anyone’s mind, say], PREACH to the CHOIR. Specifically not changing minds because the choir already agrees with you, not because you’re unpersuasive. Can you suggest a more apt clue?
- 53a. [With 48-Across, stops wasting time], CUTS to the CHASE.
- 90a. [With 85-Across, uncomfortably accurate], CLOSE to the BONE. I feel like this phrase is incomplete without a prefatory “cutting.”
- 92a. [With 88-Across, sacrificed], THREW to the WOLVES. Sort of wish it were THROWN.
- 113a. [With 107-Across, bad sort of competition], RACE to the BOTTOM.
- 116a. [With 112-Across, “Your misfortune is nothing special”], WELCOME to the CLUB. That clue is rude! How about “I can relate to your misfortune”? If you tell me you can’t take NSAIDs for medical reasons, I’ll welcome you to the club and tell you the first rule of No NSAIDs Club. (It’s “Sorry, we can’t take any NSAIDs. Yes, I know Tylenol often doesn’t do the trick.”) I would never scoff “Your misfortune is nothing special” because that would be a total dick move.
Here’s a game to play after filling this grid: Look for other pairs of words where one looks like a superscript to the other, and make “X to the Y” phrases out of them. AIMEE to the SLAVS! (Til Tuesday tours Eastern Europe.) SNEEZY to the EXPONENTS! (Allergic to math.) ASSAM to the ST. PETER. (Bring him some tea, he hasn’t had any in centuries.) WASATCH to the PIETA? (If Mohammed will not come to the mountain … but wait, there aren’t sculptures of Mohammed.)
Eight more things:
- 43d. [___ Woo-shik, co-star of 2019’s “Parasite”], CHOI. I confess I don’t remember the names of the cast members, but they were excellent. (Mr. Choi is 30 now, but played a college-aged guy in that movie.) Now, I would have considered cluing BONG as the Parasite director instead of 110d. [Water pipe], and maybe going with Kenneth CHOI, who plays Howie Han on the Fox drama 9-1-1 (which I am now hooked on).
- 21a. [Slacker role for Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski”], THE DUDE. I saw the movie once, a couple years ago. It was all right but I don’t understand the fixation on it.
- 23a. [Spelman College graduate, e.g.], ALUMNA. I appreciate the choice of an HBCU for this clue.
- 11d. [Kind of cuisine that’s often eaten with one’s hands], ETHIOPIAN. If you’ve never tried it and there’s an Ethiopian restaurant in town, get yourself some takeout. Me, I don’t care for the sourness of the injera, but the vegetarian dishes are pretty darned tasty.
- 1d. [Person who’s being used], CAT’S PAW. Not a super-familiar term to me, but apparently it’s also a breeze and a knot. For the clued meaning, it derives from the fable of a monkey who used a cat’s paw to draw chestnuts from the fire. Hey, monkey, that’s a dick move.
- 86d. [They have your life hanging by a thread], THE FATES. Mythologically, you’ve got Clotho, who spins the thread; Lachesis, who measures the length of your life’s thread; and Atropos, who cuts your thread and then you are no more. Now, which of the Fates best represents the people who refuse to wear masks during a pandemic?
- 128a. [Big name in nail polish], ESSIE. I just stopped blogging and applied a coat of a pale pink polish from Essie called Hi Maintenance. Essie is known for its pale pinks, lots of subtleties. Frankly, Hi Maintenance is high maintenance because you can barely see it until you’ve applied multiple coats, but then again, it’s less noticeable when it chips.
- 41d. [Potentially risky thing to drop in a relationship], THE “L” BOMB. Do people actually call it that? Not just the “L” word?
Overall, the fill is quite good, which is all the more impressive since the constructing duo are first-timers. I liked the theme better when I was done with the puzzle than when I was working through the clues and needing to hit the crossings to piece together the cross-referenced theme answers. 3.75 stars from me.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “What a Week!”—Jim P’s review
When solving for time, I don’t always catch onto the theme before I’m done. Such was the case here. I saw the revealer at 97d [Lunchtime, and a hint to the starred answers’ center three letters] MIDDAY, and assumed I’d find the word DAY in the middle of each theme answer. Uh-uh. Instead, all seven days are represented with their three-letter abbreviations in the exact middle of each entry.
- 23a. [*”Foul!”] “THAT’S UNFAIR!”
- 34a. [*Device near a crib] BABY MONITOR
- 50a. [*Oscar, e.g.] STATUETTE
- 65a. [*”Need our help?”] “WHAT CAN WE DO FOR YOU?” This feels a little forced with the plural pronoun, but I’m sure pickings were slim in trying to satisfy all the requirements.
- 81a. [*Clumsy] ALL THUMBS
- 98a. [*Deep-fried finger food] CORN FRITTER
- 112a. [*Things to do] TASKS AT HAND
I’d say this about perfect for a Sunday Universal theme and puzzle. The theme needs to be clear and accessible, the fill needs to be gettable, and the cluing needs to be at a Monday/Tuesday NYT level—all making for a quick, pleasant solve. This fits the bill just right.
There are some entries I’d rather not see like ICAHN [Corporate raider Carl] whom I only know from crosswords. L.A. RAM ain’t great either, but it’s one of those entries solvers have to learn to put up with.
But mostly there was a lot of fun fill: WET BAR, GAG GIFT, ROOT BEER, CHOWDER, SOY MILK, CROATIANS, SCRAMS, TOUPEE, ATE RIGHT, and all the wonderful conversational entries “LET’S GO!,” “I’M TIRED,” “BAD IDEA,” “OH DARN!,” “BEATS ME,” “I HATE THIS.” I, however, love this!
Clues of note:
- 10a. [Job transfer, informally?]. RELO. Why the question mark here? I guess a normal job transfer doesn’t necessarily require the employee to move, but still. The question mark implies wordplay, and I’m just not seeing it.
- 44a. [Droopy-eared hound]. BASSET. Penny, my lemon-colored BASSET/beagle (lemon bagle) doesn’t have those extra-long droopy ears, but we still love her.
- 44d. [Another name for bingo]. BEANO. Never heard this usage. Anyone have experience with this?
Fun puzzle all around with a theme that provided a surprising, aha moment. Four stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Knight Vision” – Jim Q’s writeup
A puzzle that’s very reminiscent of another constructor’s style… but more on that later.
- 23A [He played this puzzle’s subject in 1989] KEATON.
- 26A [He played this puzzle’s subject in 1995] KILMER.
- 110A [He played this puzzle’s subject in 2016] AFFLECK.
- 113A [He played this puzzle’s subject in 1997] CLOONEY.
- 96A [High light of action films?] BAT SIGNAL. Fun clue.
- 124A [With 127 Across, what you must do alphabetically to reveal the 96 Across] CONNECT THE DOTS.
EASTER EGG THEME 1:
- 46A [“Pride and Prejudice” protagonist Bennet] ELIZABETH.
EASTER EGG THEME 2:
- 1A [Wedge-shaped mollusk]
- 7A [Entertaining Bernie]
- 10A [Sci-fi sound effect]
- 13A [Tough bounce for a shortstop to handle]
Another astonishingly impressive puzzle. Week after week. Just unreal.
Look how spot-on the bat image is! Coupled with the (lovely) tribute to ELIZABETH Gorski, a a veteran constructor who is known for including grid art in her themes, this is one to remember.
The grid is very constrained with the A-Z placement of the letters (I don’t think the casual solver knows just how difficult it is to place letters like that… much easier to fill when the grid consists of “traditional” themers that stay linear). So difficult was it, that Evan was unable to fit Adam WEST’s name in- just a simple four letters (read: not at all simple). So instead, there’s a little homage in the first four across clues.
Here is a note from Evan about this puzzle:
This crossword is a tribute puzzle to Liz Gorski for her many Sunday-sized puzzles with connect-the-dots images. It’s more specifically a riff on a New York Times puzzle of hers from Halloween ten years ago called “Fangs for the Memory,” where you connected the circled letters alphabetically to draw a picture of a bat (though that one wasn’t Batman-themed). It was a stroke of luck that I could fit her own name ELIZABETH at the top of the Bat Signal.
(One other Easter egg that’s not easily noticeable: I tried for a while but couldn’t fit Adam WEST in the grid, so I put his name in the first letters of the first four Across clues.)
The only thing I didn’t like was the AHN / HAHA / ADIA / SEDAN area. Had no clue on AHN, couldn’t remember ADIA (though it’s been in crosswords many times), and found the clue for HAHA a bit too difficult [“Oh man, that’s classic!”].
And my favorite batman didn’t make the cut! ARNETT! Keep your KILMER and gimme ARNETT any day! Hehe.
Again, I don’t rate Evan’s puzzles, but this is another 5 star.
Also, this is intensely enjoyable:
David Alfred Bywaters’s Universal crossword, “Different Tastes”—Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Phrases with [Vowel] + P in them are switched to O + P. I think.
- 17A [Squad cars?] COP HOLDERS. Cup Holders.
- 24A [Wetland on a certain migratory route?] GOOSE STOP. Goose Step.
- 36A [Places to buy an eyepatch and a parrot?] PIRATE SHOPS. Pirate Ships.
- 47A [Like a well-fed pig?] SLOP HAPPY. Slap Happy.
- 57A [Unconventional military activities, and this puzzle’s theme] SPECIAL OPS.
I found the revealer somewhat confusing because OP as a whole unit is replacing letters or being added to the base phrase. Just the vowel before the P in the original phrase is being changed. So that didn’t sit right.
I do like that each of the vowels being changed is different. U then E then I then A. Strangely in backwards order, but fine!
GOOSE STEPping for me conjures up negative images, I think because when I first learned the term my middle school history teacher was describing Nazi soldiers in Germany, so I always associate it with that. I’m very surprised that it is making an appearance in a crossword.
Enjoy your Sunday!
Paul Coulter’s LA Times crossword, “Breakfast with Your Sunday Puzzle” – Jenni’s write-up
This crossword definitely passes the breakfast test.
Before I start, let’s get one thing straight. An EEG is not a scan. It is not. It is a diagnostic test which identifies and tracks the electrical impulses that travel from the brain to the skin. I know it’s got useful letters. I’m not asking constructors to banish it from their word lists. But please, please, constructors and editors, FIND ANOTHER CLUE. [Neurological test], [Reading material for neurologists], [Epilepsy indicator], [Seizure signal?]. There are lots of options. Just not “scan.” I’m begging you.
OK, back to the theme, which I enjoyed. Each theme answer is a common phrase clued as if it had something to do with breakfast.
- 23a [Wry suggestion at breakfast about what to feed the cat when you’re out of milk?] is GIVE IT SOME JUICE.
- 34a [Suggested which breakfast bread to brown?] is PROPOSED A TOAST.
- 52a [Sign of a sloppy breakfast eater?] is EGG ON ONE‘S FACE.
- 71a [Secure a breakfast supply?] is BRING HOME THE BACON. (and cook it up in the pan….I’ll take “Sexist commercials of the 1970s for 100, Alex).
- 92a [Breakfast complaint about getting the oolong by mistake?] is NOT MY CUP OF TEA.
- 107a [Breakfast go-with that comes from a plant?] is CREAM OF THE CROP.
- 124a [Reference with rows and columns covering all varieties of a breakfast drink?] is a COFFEE TABLE BOOK.
All the answers are solidly in the language and clues are amusing. It’s a nice Sunday theme – entertaining, not challenging.
The fill, on the other hand, was neither entertaining or challenging. SSA, SSN, and SST are not great on their own. When they’re all in the same puzzle, they’re flat-out terrible. What the heck is a PROEM? I looked it up; it’s an introduction to a book or speech. Never heard it before and I thought it was a typo, except that I got Mr. Happy Pencil so I knew it had to be right. TAU and KAPPA is one Greek letter too many, especially since they’re both clued with reference to the alphabet. Plus we have partials A HASH and A NAP. It all gave me a scowl.
A few other things:
- How old is this puzzle? Warner OLAND (who starred in one of the most horrifyingly racist portrayals ever put on a Hollywood screen, and that’s saying something), ARTE Johnson, Lehrer’s partner MACNEIL (who retired from NewsHour in 1995), NANU all by itself (ugh), ELLEN clued as a title character who owns a bookstore when she’s had a huge hit talk show, also eponymous, for years. The whole thing is fusty.
- Surely more people know LAMAR Odom than can name Truman’s birthplace. See above re: fusty.
- If you’re going to have a fusty puzzle, why not reference IDA Tarbell instead of a non-standard abbreviation for Idaho?
- Is it just me, or is [Intensified] an odd clue for AMPED? I’d expect a “with up” attached, since the common usage is AMPED up.
- I could happily live the rest of my life without ever seeing a _STAR answer in a puzzle again. This one is KSTAR. Whatever.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: PROEM. I also didn’t know that Jerry’s show started off as “The Seinfeld Chronicles.”