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.
NYT: Amy, your note about 96a made me laugh. Yes, we have a president who’s a candidate for Mensa just because he can rattle off five nouns. As I was solving this puzzle, it felt like an unenjoyable slog that I just had to get through to finish. But now I realize it was kind of like what’s called “Type 2 fun,” where you enjoy it more afterward. I’m appreciating now how cool it is to find themers that are alphabetical, can be clued in wacky ways, and also unscrambled to make a common phrase. Plus, the whole puzzle’s a pangram. Well done, Trenton!
I know the NYT didn’t get a lot of fans, but I really enjoyed the twist on many a theme, with not a punning substitution but an anagram. Until I got the revealer, I didn’t realize that the scrambled letters all fell in alphabetical order, and that extra layer was impressive and a fun discovery as well. It also made it easy to forgive “ABC order” as a bit of a stretch. I put it down instead to concision.
Incidentally, print subscribers still aren’t getting to print the puzzle, and I won’t annoy you with my support history on this. Let’s say it didn’t go well, although now they acknowledge the glitch once more. No predictions on date of fix.
ABET AROUND THE BUSH and HOST IN THE DARK were amusing; the rest were clunkers, and I thought most of the fill was stale and the cluing strained rather than clever.
NYT – I’d love to see Huda’s recipes. I make a couple of Lebanese dishes and would like to make more. Her stories certainly add to flavor.
Tomatoes are at their peak which, for me, means fattoush.
As a Billboard subscriber, Evan Birnholz’s WaPo crossword was right up my alley, and I loved it! A couple of quibbles: BILLBOARD is the name of the magazine that produces the charts. Yes, we call the charts “the Billboard charts,” but it sounds weird to say that the chart is BILLBOARD. The singles chart is called “The Hot 100” and doesn’t have the name of Billboard in it. Something like “Maker of charts…” as the clue would have been better, I think.
Also, Reba McEntire and Brandon Blackstock’s father divorced several years ago, so I don’t know if he is still technically her STEPSON.
But those are minor quibbles in a fantastic puzzle! And it was crammed with music-related content! A really enjoyable one!
endives twice in one week, both bywaters
a little strange
My wife and I are fervid Scrabble players (we met over a Scrabble board, basically, and I proposed to her with Scrabble letters). Not surprisingly, we liked the puzzle. We didn’t love it — some of the theme answers were a bit clunky — but it was fun. Yes, it had other problems (like hiding ABC over at 47D), but we rated it as better-than-average.
It’s rare that I dislike a Sunday WaPo puzzle, but this one was a dud for me. I recognized only two of the songs as I was solving, and another one or two seemed vaguely familiar on further reflection. You didn’t need to know the songs to solve the puzzle (fortunately for me) but if you didn’t know them there really wasn’t any sort of payoff at the end.
I figured this one might be polarizing; it’s more meaningful for you if you know the songs than if you don’t. I wasn’t really aiming for an extra layer of theme other than the overlapping No. 1 hits. I just wanted to come up with the wackiest phrases I could.
Anyhow, what I’d recommend if this puzzle wasn’t your jam: Maybe listen to a few of the songs? You might like ’em.
Late in the day to say this, I realize. I knew almost none of the songs but LOVED this puzzle. Fabulous how song plus song = third song at the intersection. Great work!
Later for this one, since it’s 4:00 in the afternoon Monday (10:00 in the evening on the East Coast), but I want to agree here. Evan’s music clues and answers are always interesting, whether I’ve heard the songs or not, and this was a fun solve. I knew all the artists but not all the songs, so I’ll be hitting Spotify in a bit. :)
(I actually said aloud, “Right on!” when I got to the ASIA answer. Huge fan.
I have a subscription to NYT but suddenly can’t print the puzzles, nor online access them. I do have a case open with NYT, but meantime … is the Daily or Sunday puzzle reprinted same day by any other papers, accessible free? If so, which? Thx!