Today’s AVCX is a contest puzzle from Francis Heaney. We’ll have a writeup available on August 10, once the submission deadline for answers has closed.
Gary Larson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Cel Mates”—Jim P’s review
Today we have well-known phrases (*ahem*) where the first word is the name of a famous cartoon character who happens to be a pal (a “mate”) of another famous cartoon character. Clues are given the crossword wackiness treatment.
- 17a. [Surprised reaction from Bullwinkle’s bud?] ROCKY START. Not rocky at all; a nice start to the theme.
- 24a. [Photo of Dale’s furry friend?] CHIP SHOT. Also good.
- 40a. [Microsoft laptop for Itchy’s archenemy?] SCRATCHY SURFACE. Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s a phrase? This is such an outlier compared to the others that it nearly derails the entire theme.
- 51a. [Low marks for Minnie’s love interest?] MICKEY D’S. That’s more like it.
- 63a. [Curse from the Brain’s not-so-brainy pal?] PINKY SWEAR. Not sure how many of the older solvers know about 90s show Pinky & the Brain. We never watched it in our house, but the name stuck with me.
So yeah. That middle one. With SCRATCHY_URFACE, and that blank as my last letter to fill in the grid, my initial reaction was to make it SCRATCH YOUR FACE which is kind of a phrase, I guess. I was ready to lay into the puzzle for re-parsing this themer where the other entries don’t. But the actual answer was certainly no better; the other entries are all in-the-language, common phrases. This one, not so much. Googling “scratchy surface” in quotes, I get a paltry 13,700 hits. Yikes. (For the record, “scratch your face” gets 1.4M hits.) Maybe replace it with LUCY LAWLESS [Linus’s sister run amok?]? An 11-letter central entry is harder to contend with from a construction standpoint, but it certainly could be done.
That huge anomaly aside, this was a fun theme that landed right up my alley. At first, I thought they were all just cartoon characters, but then, applying the title, I realized they were all parts of cartoon duos, which made the concept tighter and more impressive. It’s just a shame about that one entry. And ANNA clued as Elsa’s sister probably should have been changed.
Moving on, did anyone else go with IN CAHOOTS for the clue [Acting jointly]? (Actual answer: IN CONCERT.) Also nice to see LAURA DERN get her full name in a grid (37d, [Oscar winner for “Marriage Story”]). NICETY is nice, but not being an opera guy, I had never heard of LAKMÉ [“Bell Song” opera]. And SOP clued as [Conciliatory gesture], just ain’t in my wheelhouse.
Clues of note:
- 5a. [Hypochondriac’s bookmark, perhaps]. WEBMD. I like the cluing angle on this. A little knowledge might be dangerous, but it’s certainly good to have sources for information when one needs them.
- 62a. [Weathers on-screen]. CARL. Just started watching The Mandalorian on Disney+ and was happy to see Carl Weathers in there. I don’t think I’ve seen him since his Rocky days, and he definitely looks older, but he’s still got it. (Speaking of someone who had a ROCKY START…haha.)
- 68a. [Shirley’s 1963 role that earned her an Oscar nomination]. IRMA. Don’t know why my brain wouldn’t let go of Shirley Temple, but this one was referencing Shirley MacLaine.
- 21d. [Virginia for whom an infant test is named]. APGAR seems like it should be an acronym, but it isn’t. However, two backronyms have been created to match: American Pediatric Gross Assessment Record, and Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration. The test, which assesses newborns, goes from 0 to 10 with 7 to 10 being “normal.”
On the whole, I definitely like this theme and the concept behind it, but I’m still shaking my head at that middle one. 3.4 stars.
Michael Paleos’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The theme is not to my taste, flavor-wise. The revealer is an EVERYTHING BAGEL, 39a. [Breakfast order suggested by the answers to the starred clues]. I prefer a plain or egg bagel, with a schmear of cream cheese, and it’s always nice if you’ve got some fresh berries to add those on top.
- 17a. [*Wicked Witch’s trap for Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”], POPPY FIELD. There aren’t poppy bagels, though. Just poppyseed.
- 60a. [*Colorful architectural features of Moscow’s St. Basil Cathedral], ONION DOMES.
- 10d. [*Storybook password], “OPEN SESAME.” Sesame seed bagels, not just sesame.
- 29d. [*Bratty girl in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”], VERUCA SALT. Sheesh, bread products have enough sodium as it is. You really gotta add salt to the outside?
So two themers end with the bagel appliqué and the other two start that way. Balanced.
This theme has just 2 squares fewer than yesterday’s NYT theme, I think, and a lower word count, and yet the fill is so much smoother. The themers all have their space in the grid, and there’s still room for longer fill like GANYMEDE, CLOWN CAR, OFF LIMITS, SMASH HIT, and LIKE MIKE.
Five more things:
- 54a. [Big draw for Icelandic tourism], AURORA. As in the Northern Lights.
- 59a. [Rolling rock?], LAVA. I saw an alarming video of a fast lava river the other day. No idea how to find it at the moment, but here’s a NatGeo short film to marvel at. Just think: Far below your front yard, your sidewalks, your basement floor, the Earth is filled with just this sort of stuff, fiery molten rock.
- 40d. [iPod type], NANO. We really need to get out of the habit of cluing NANO via iPods. The Nano was discontinued three years ago. Sure, people still own them, but I think far more people are using iPhones and apps like Spotify or Pandora rather than listening to the music they’ve stored on an iPod.
- 47d. [Opposite of luego], AHORA. Later vs. now, in Spanish. I am most familiar with AHORA from the phrase in ads, “llame ahora,” “call now.”
- 55d. [Foreign city that surrounds a country], ROME. Vatican City is an enclave within Rome.
Four stars from me, despite the missing SEEDs in two theme clues.
Matt Skoczen’s Universal crossword, “When in Rome” — pannonica’s write-up
Simple theme, and it seems familiar. One of those that seems like it’s been done multiple times previously—which is not a knock on this puzzle.
- 39dR [The starred answers’ starts are Roman ones] NUMERALS. That is, familiar phrases are reinterpreted as if letter abbreviations* were Roman numerals.
- 3d. [[*600 funny strips] DC COMICS. Looks like a case of historical RAS syndrome. Not sure what the company’s timeline looks like, though.
- 18a. [*40 warm garments] XL SWEATERS. Not extra large,
- 27a. [*400 legal matters?] CD CASES, not compact discs.
- 48a. [*4 faucet problems] IV DRIPS. Not intravenous.
- 58a. [*1,100 fancy homes?] MCMANSIONS. *Not an abbreviation. Just a spelling thing: McMansion. Would have been a better theme if there wasn’t just this one anomaly.
Briefly for the rest, as alas I have much to do today:
- 67a [Scottish lock with the greatest volume] NESS. Due to the depth of this crevice lake.
- 33d [Manhattan spirit, traditionally] RYE. 4d [Top-__ (of the highest quality)] SHELF. Recent years have seen a big resurgence in the production and available of top-SHELF RYEs, which is definitely a good thing. Just remember to use decent vermouth and amarena or real maraschino cherries. Thus endeth the lesson.
- 54d [Organ section?] TORSO. Most of them, anyway.
- 37a [Themed musical work] FUGUE.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Good morning fiends! (Is that what we call you? Or are we the fiends? Unclear.) Today we have a beauty from Natan Last, with 4 long acrosses that are fun and fresh. I was on track for this to be a relatively easy solve, and then could not figure out how to fill in my final square, and spent a lot of time running the alphabet in my head trying to figure out the final letter. But other than that moment, this was a thoroughly enjoyable solve!
The sparkly long entries we have today are: NEW PHONE WHO DIS / CONNECTS THE DOTS / INSIDE-THE-PARKER / THE BUTLER DID IT. I was not familiar with an “INSIDE-THE-PARKER” and went back and forth between E and H for that second to last letter (“INSIDE-THE-PARK-HR” seemed just as plausible), but the crossing with THE NET pulled me through. I *love* NEW PHONE WHO DIS. For those unfamiliar, this is a meme, not just a random thing a person could text. I think the first time I became aware of its memedom was Seth Meyers’s 2014 opening monologue from the Emmys, or possibly from the Mindy Project (see pic)? THE BUTLER DID IT is also a delightful entry.
A few more things:
- The crossing that tanked my solve was, for some reason, HOME PERM / HAIL. I just couldn’t figure out that H! I went through ROME PERM / RAIL, SOME PERM / SAIL, TOME PERM / TAIL… in retrospect this crossing is obvious, but I had a thorough brainfart around it.
- I’m not sure I agree with the clue on ROTS AWAY, as parts of my garden keep trying to go to seed but definitely are not rotting!
- I was unfamiliar with I DOOD IT and I do not think I like it very much??
- I’m so pleased to learn that PIRANHA just means [Literally, “tooth fish”]
- I did not know there was a Peanut named FRIEDA
- Representation: balanced! For every Bee Gee there is an Indigo Girls, for every Whittier a Phife Dawg.
- Favorite clue: [Pegged or fingered] for IDED — Natan!!!! ??
Overall, very fun solve with exciting long acrosses and fresh clues for many of the more standard entries. A lot of stars from me!
P.S. – If you are into solving crosswords, you should consider signing up for Lollapuzzoola, a crossword tournament held each year on a Saturday in August! This year, on August 15, you can join (at least) 500 of your closest internet friends to compete (at whatever pace you want!). The constructing roster this year includes new New Yorker constructor Robyn Weintraub, fiend blogger joon pahk, Brooke Husic, Sid Sivakumar, Stella Zawistowski, and, uh, me! So if you’ve ever read my reviews and been like “who does she think she is, criticizing other peoples’ puzzles,” come solve mine and then tell me how many stars it gets (or doesn’t get!).
Bruce Haight & Blaire Bas’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s puzzle is a tad unusual. It features people who are WELLROUNDED, but in the sense that their surname is something round – a ball, a pearl, a moon and a marble. Another commonality is their early to mid 20th century centre of gravity: KEITHMOON is the most recent, and he’s not.
Also worth noting, out of several more mostly common-enough names, Ms. RAISA Gorbechev has not been forgotten!