Trenton Charlson’s New York Times crossword, “Made-to-Order”—Amy’s write-up
Let me start by saying that 47d is a bizarre place to tuck your 3-letter theme revealer. ABC is the [Kind of order for the circled letters in this puzzle] … though who among us would call alphabetical order “ABC order”? It’s just weird. So the theme entries are familiar phrases where one word’s letters are sorted into alpha order, rendering a different word:
- 22a. [Facial feature of a Lego man?], SQUARE CHIN. Square inch.
- 33a. [Emcee during a power outage?], HOST IN THE DARK. Shot. Anyone else think the third themer would somehow relate to Jay Leno after the chin and the host?
- 48a. [“The elite fighter pilots may skip the rest of the lecture”?], ACES DISMISSED. Case.
- 67a. [Drive a getaway car through Australia’s outback?], ABET AROUND THE BUSH. Beat.
- 89a. [What you might do after the movie previews are finally over?], BEGIN WATCHING. Binge watching.
- 106a. [Where spaghetti and orzo rank in terms of their suitability for making necklaces?], BELOW MACARONI. Elbow. Okay, this one made me laugh. You’re gonna need some precision tools to make beads out of orzo.
- 120a. [One who believes exclusively in a sea god?], OCEAN DEIST. Tides.
Theme’s okay. One themer amused me, but ideally you end up with lots of fun theme content.
What else? Let’s see:
- 108d. [Ancient empire builders], INCAS. How old is “ancient” to you? The 1200s to 1500s are medieval to Renaissance times in Europe. Are those called “ancient”? Nobody ever clues DANTE as an “ancient” writer. (I checked.)
- 86d. [Home of the Komodo dragon], INDONESIA. At the Chester Zoo not far from Liverpool, they had a Komodo dragon named Flora. She hadn’t been keeping time with any male dragons, and yet she laid a clutch of eggs and had herself a bunch of babies. Parthenogenesis for the win. (We got to see the babies in May 2007 when in town for a friend’s wedding!)
- 105a. [“The devil’s lettuce”], POT. Boy, that’s a new one on me. (The household young adults knew this one.) And here I thought kale was the devil’s lettuce.
- 96a. [Group who ought to know better?], MENSA. Person, woman, man … camera, TV.
- 65d. [Shrub that produces a crimson-colored spice], SUMAC. I’ll bet commenter Huda has some recipes and remembrances involving sumac. Perhaps it adds 3d SOUR NOTES, but in a good way?
- 68d. [Common thing to lie about], AGE. I’m 72.
- 6d. [Isaac Newton, by hobby], ALCHEMIST. Trivia! Did not know this, am glad to learn it.
- 69d. [Rule that ended in 1947], RAJ. “Rule” is a rather benign word for the British colonial domination of the subcontinent, no? (Remember the scholarly Raj on What’s Happening!!, the best American sitcom to have a double exclamation point?)
3.4 stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post Sunday Puzzle — “Smash Hits” — Matt’s review
Circled letters in each long theme entry today from Evan, with each clue framed as an addition problem. Let’s see if we can do the math, but first we get a hint at 23-A: [Chart with Top 40 hits, including all songs in this puzzle’s theme] is BILLBOARD. And they are:
25-A: [Holler heard in a Texas border city? (Marty Robbins + Tears for Fears = Rihanna)] is EL PASO SHOUT. So we’ve got Marty Robbins’s “El Paso” plus Tears for Fears’s “Shout”, with Rihanna’s S.O.S. formed across those two. The others work the same way:
39-A: [Friendly greeting to a group of feral equines? (Adele + The Rolling Stones = Flo Rida)] is HELLO + WILD HORSES = LOW
59-A: [Patriotic spirit before it’s been released? (Wham! + Christina Aguilera = Usher)] is FREEDOM + GENIE IN A BOTTLE = OMG!
84-A: [Deadly spider that’s totally obscure? (Iggy Azalea + The Tony Rich Project = Jay Sean)] is BLACK WIDOW + NOBODY KNOWS = DOWN
102-A: [Explosive handled by a big primate? (Bruno Mars + Taio Cruz = Kenny Rogers)] is GORILLA + DYNAMITE = LADY
122-A: [Your plea to everyone in paradise that they employ your services? (Bryan Adams + Bill Withers = Bananarama)] is HEAVEN + USE ME = VENUS
And then at 125-A, the final touch: [Smash hit’s position, reached by each of this puzzle’s circled hits] = NUMBER ONE
So that’s fun, and was probably a lot tougher to create than it may appear at first glance, especially considering the constraint that all the newly-created songs have to be #1s.
13-A: [Rule for building on others’ ideas in improv] = YES AND. An interesting concept which I was familiar with as a conversational technique but not as an improv rule (I didn’t know it had a name, period). It keeps a conversation flowing nicely when you acknowledge and then add to what your interlocutor has just said.
9-D: [Brandon Blackstock, to Reba McEntire] = STEPS ON. Who is Brandon Blackstock, and why is he stepping on Reba McEntire? Oh, wait.
126-A: [“This is my last card!”] is a fun clue for UNO.
Fun theme and lively grid full of many non-theme musical references. 4.03 stars.
David Alfred Bywater’s LA Times crossword, “Endives” – Jenni’s write-up
I really enjoyed this theme. The title is literal in a cryptic sort of way. There are four pairs of theme answers, all in the Downs. The top answer is missing an N; the lower one has an extra – so the N dives. To make it even tighter, the first words are swapped. It’s easier to show than explain!
- 3d [Tearjerker’s quality?] is SOB APPEAL and 69d [Tales of social climbers?] is SNOB STORIES. The base phrases are SNOB APPEAL and SOB STORIES.
- 7d [Mysterious foliage-sprouting proclivity?] is CHIA SYNDROME; 88d [Ceramic dog, maybe?] is a CHINA PET. This one made me laugh.
- 12d [Remit with goatskin?] is PAY IN KID, paired with 65d [Western hero noted for his thoughtfulness?], BILLY THE KIND.
- 16d [Vehicle for transporting bark spice?] is a CINNAMON BUS. 83d [Farmers market baked goods?] are LOCAL BUNS. This is the weakest pair. For one thing, the extra Ns in CINNAMON are distracting. For another, LOCAL BUS doesn’t sound like a familiar phrase – not on the same level as the others, at least.
Four pairs of phrases, each of which totals 20 letters, fits into the symmetry of the grid, and has the N-DIVES pattern; that’s quite the feat of construction. I enjoyed it enough to tolerate the final set.
A few other things:
- I fouled myself up by forgetting where Jutland is and putting LATT rather than DANE at 1d.
- My husband, who models in N-scale, firmly maintains that LIONEL makes toy trains, not model trains. I think this is one of those things that experts notice and the rest of us don’t care about. I mention it to give his nitpicking equal time to my medical terminology complaints.
- Speaking of medical terminology complaints, could we stop using “weakness” to clue ANEMIA as if the two were synonymous? Pretty please? ANEMIA is one potential cause of weakness. Most people who are anemic are not weak. Let’s look at it this way:
- Loved seeing GLOM in the puzzle. Such a fun word.
- My clearest memory of TETHERBALL is being slammed in the face by a ball hit right at me by a classmate. I preferred reading.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Ice Cube’s first name is O‘SHEA (I looked it up to see if it included the apostrophe).
David Alfred Bywaters’s Universal Sunday crossword, “This Will Only Hurt a Little”—Jim P’s review
I love the title on this one, calling to mind getting a shot at the doctor’s office. The patient must have been quite loquacious and had to get a lot of shots because each theme answer is a common phrase interrupted by an OW!
- 23a. [Someone who knows when to chicken out?] SMART COWARD. Smart card. “You got to…know when to walk away. And know when to run.”
- 34a. [In no need of a cosmetic pencil?] WELL-BROWED. Well-bred. Like Bert on Sesame Street, presumably.
- 52a. [Really impressing pedestrians?] WOWING WALKERS. Wing walkers. I don’t know this base phrase. Ah, it refers to stunt performers who defy the odds by performing feats on the wings of airplanes.
- 71a. [Kindergartner’s exceptional skill?] PRINTING PROWESS. Printing press. This is the most natural-sounding of the themers. Nice.
- 93a. [Big challenge for a barber?] DOUBLE COWLICK. Double click. As someone who suffered a single cowlick, I can only imagine the horror of it being doubled.
- 109a. [Directive to a bouncer outside a super-exclusive club?] ALLOW STARS. All-stars. This is the most awkward-sounding entry of the set.
- 126a. [Advice on communicating with your cat?] JUST TRY MEOW. “Just try me.” Ha! I like this one quite a bit.
This was imaginative and playful. I enjoyed it very much.
Fill highlights: ON THE RISE, THROW SHADE, SIDE GLANCE, PINS DOWN, NESCAFE, PIE CHART, and RED TAPE. We got a whole neck mini-theme going on with NECK BONE [One may flavor turkey gravy], CRICK [Pain in the neck], and CRANING [Sticking your neck out]. They’re spread far enough apart that I didn’t notice during the solve, but now that I see it, it’s rather surprising.
Other than that, solid fill throughout. Coupled with a strong, humorous theme, I’d say this one’s a winner. Four stars.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Universal crossword, “I Can Finish This” — Matt’s review
Add an I to end of familiar phrases, and wackiness ensues:
17-A: [Cassius Clay’s name change announcement?] = YOU CAN CALL ME ALI. From Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” which was a good song but had one of the worst video concepts of all time.
29-A: [Cocktail for a college VIP?] = DEAN MARTINI. From Rat Packer Dean Martin.
40-A: [Most convincing Himalayan cryptid sighting?] = THE BEST YETI. From the best yet. I think he put “sighting” in there since there’s only supposed to be one yeti. How could that be? There are either tons of yetis or zero. I suspect tons but it could be zero. If you know for sure please reveal in comments.
57-A: [Cab passed down through generations?] = INHERITANCE TAXI. From “inheritance tax.” There has to be an inheritance taxi somewhere in the world. What if the person who inherited said vehicle solved this crossword and said, “What’s so funny about that?”
Cute theme, and each one was grinworthy.
***I like the entry ELM TREE at 19-A [National Mall growth] because of the unusual VCCCCVV pattern, plus all three of those V’s being the same. I can’t think of another entry that fits those criteria; ONLY TOO is close but that Y is of course a vowel there.
***Amusing clue pair at 43-A and 49-D, which are EROS and ARES, clued as [Maker of love, not war] and [Maker of war, not love].
***Lots of good multiword fill: ON A DATE, READ A BOOK, KEPT FOR, YES IT IS, CUTS IN TWO, and the aforementioned ELM TREE. Keeps the grid lively!
Funny theme idea with well-chosen entries, above average fill and clues. 3.85 stars.