Lynn Lempel’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s review
Hello, my lovelies! It’s Erin Milligan-Milburn, filling in again for Jenni. Our NYT theme for today is words that can be parsed into three-word phrases consisting of ___ A ___.
- 18a. [Support the pasture entrance?] PROPAGATE, or PROP A GATE
- 24a. [Check someone’s parent to make sure she’s of drinking age?] CARDAMOM, or CARD A MOM
- 37a. [Was introduced to the doctor?] METAPHYSICIAN, or MET A PHYSICIAN
- 53a. [Do some trawling at sea?] CASTANET, or CAST A NET
- 60a. [Criticize Sega’s hedgehog design?] PANASONIC, or PAN A SONIC
The idea is cute, but the theme set isn’t as tidy as I’d like to see it. Themes that rely on pronunciation can fall flat based on both local dialects and foreign accents. The O in CARDAMOM can be pronounced as the O in MOM, but it is usually pronounced as a schwa, so more like MUM. Also, there is only one Sonic the Hedgehog, so it seems weird to me to be criticizing A character design instead of THE character design. Having CABARET as a longer across entry was a bit confusing, too.
- Lots of religious figures: DRUID, POPE, CLERIC, possibly meeting up in the CHAPEL. If only there were a RABBI, since today is Yom Kippur. (To anyone who observes, may you be sealed in the Book of Life.)
- 38d. [Venomous vipers] ADDERS. Did you know that vipers such as adders are oviviviparous? The embryo develops in the egg, then hatches while still inside the mother and is born live. Neat!
- 45a. [Small, lobsterlike crustacean] CRAWDAD. Another example of regional differences, but this time in naming. I’ve been in the Mid-Atlantic region my whole life, and I hear “crayfish” way more often than not. Who hears CRAWDAD most? Anyone more familiar with “crawfish” or “mudbug” or “yabbie” or “ditchbug” or “freshwater lobster”? Or do you use a completely different term? I love hearing about regional differences in animal names.
Gail Grabowski and Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Here comes the familiar Monday pairing of Gail and Bruce with a puzzle that’s where it’s at. In this simple theme, the revealer at 60A [Stop a fight…and a hint to a literal feature of the answer to starred clues], BREAK IT UP, tells us that the word IT will be broken across the two words in each theme phrase. Like so:
- 17A [*Half of a two-piece suit] is a BIKINI TOP.
- 31A [*Indian spiced drink] is CHAI TEA.
- 44A [*Winter Olympics squad] is a SKI TEAM.
- 10D [*Miniature garden grower] is a BONSAI TREE.
- 30D [*”American Crime” actress] is LILI TAYLOR.
Since the two theme entries at 31A and 44A are quite short at 7 letters, the stars help you pick ’em out.
This puzzle was fine. Nothing particularly memorable for either being good or bad, although I’d have clued TOKYO at 3D [Planned 2020 Olympics city] differently. I know it’s current, but IMO we’ve got enough reminders of the effects of COVID on life in every other page of the newspaper (or website). I’d prefer a little escapism in the crossword, and there are so very many other things to say about Tokyo! (This is not to say that I don’t occasionally enjoy the COVID gallows humor that has shown up in indie puzzles here and there.)
It is quite nice that there are five theme entries totaling 43 letters, not counting the revealer, in this grid yet all of the fill is accessible. That’s an achievement!
Barbara Lin’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Flower Show”—Jim P’s review
Our theme takes multi-word flower names—with one of those words also being a name of a famous person—and re-imagines the phrase as pertaining to said famous person.
- 17a. [Nicholson after his call to become a preacher?] JACK IN THE PULPIT. I think the name of this flower was somewhere in my little grey cells but I didn’t recognize it at first. Once I saw an image of it (below) I recognized it.
- 26a. [Ridley sitting for her portrait?] PAINTED DAISY.
- 46a. [Byrne after relocating to the Outer Banks?] CAROLINA ROSE. I don’t know this flower, but it’s apparently found in nearly all 50 states.
- 58a. [Tomlin after her move to San Fernando?] LILY OF THE VALLEY. This is the entry that really cemented the theme for me. I recognize the flower because my wife and I (still) play Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and this flower is a coveted one that you earn only after achieving a 5-star island.
The theme entries aren’t quite all consistent. Daisy, rose, and lily are all names of flowers on their own (as well as names of humans), whereas there is no flower just called a “jack” (as far as I know). But I still enjoyed the theme as it took a while for me to get that definitive aha moment with the last entry.
Still, if a solver happens to not be familiar with any one of these flowers, I can see how it might leave that solver with a feeling of indifference.
RECORD LOW, RICOLA, and ANTI-VAX are the most interesting bits of fill to me. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this moment to remind everyone how important it is to get your flu shot this year. We need to keep the flu at a manageable level so our medical professionals can focus on COVID. Plus, you just don’t want to catch the flu and start wondering if it’s actually something worse.
Clues of note:
- 33d. [52 degrees Fahrenheit in Honolulu, for example]. RECORD LOW. Wow, thinking about Hawaii, that is pretty low. That got me wondering what the records for my ancestral island of Guam were: Low 65º set in 1973 (my dad probably would’ve put on every article of clothing he had I bet), but only a high of 96º set in 1971 (though the humidity makes it feel so much worse).
- 46d. [Echo location?]. Great clue for CANYON.
Nice Monday grid that took a little while to suss out. 3.5 stars.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
One of my favorite things about Natan’s puzzles, which is also a thing that I think stymies a lot of his solvers, is his blend of intellectual high culture (like WALTER BENJAMIN) with pop culture minutia (like ARIANA Grande’s Christmas album). This puzzle nails that vibe, although there are some crosses that raise the challenge level to just around the edge of what we might consider “fair.” I love the grid design, and there are some *excellent* clues here, but the abundant proper noun crossings are sure to trip up many solvers (myself included!).
The long entries are themselves pretty great; we have FORCE OF NATURE / WALTER BENJAMIN / KINDRED SPIRITS / EROGENOUS ZONE / ONE PERCENT / ANNE CARSON / MOLDERING / TEENY TINY. I particularly love FORCE OF NATURE and EROGENOUS ZONE [and, just fyi, every time I have typed that word out in this post, I have had to correct it from “erogenous zoon,” which, honestly, maybe we should just roll with because that’s hilarious??].
I was *thoroughly* stymied in the N section of the grid. I didn’t know WALTER BENJAMIN, so its crossings with ARTIE + YER + CC’ED + ANNE CARSON + RAJ were all challenges. I knew WALESA, but I can see that giving some solvers a hard time as well. I especially struggled with CC’ED and YER crossing MACY’S and WALTER BENJAMIN because the clues were just not working for me. I had MALLS for [Setting of David Sedaris’s “Santaland Diaries”] which admittedly doesn’t actually suggest a plural, and the clue on CC’ED [In the blast radius?] just stretches the concept of cc’ing someone on an email a little too far. It has to be an *angry* email for a person who is CC’ED to be in the blast radius, you know? Unless there is some other meaning of blast radius I am missing? OH. Like an email blast. Ehhhhh now I think we are maybe stretching the meaning of the word “radius”! Idk, this clue didn’t work for me and made that section so much harder! The S half of the grid fell muchhh more quickly and felt a lot more fun to me.
A few more things:
- Fill I could live without: YER / GIPP
- Representation: Good! Appreciated TLC and NAENAE (full disclosure, was trying to figure out how to make “Radiohead” work for [“Creep” group]. I knew LAHIRI from her recent appearance in Learned League.
- Favorite clues:
- Hot spot? for [EROGENOUS ZONE]
- False front? for [PSEUDO]
Overall, despite the significant challenge in the north of the grid, this was a satisfying and crunchy solve. Lots of stars from me!
Roland Huget’s Universal crossword, “I-on Exchange” — pannonica’s write-up
Theme here is that the letter I has been exchanged for the letters ON to create wacky phrases.
- It seems a gossamer theme, justified only by the title.
- More robust would be phrases containing both an I and an ON bigram, swapping those (and of course creating new, wacky phrases)—obviously much more challenging to create.
- At least maybe eliminate Is—or Is and ONs—from the ballast fill?
On to the themers:
- 17a. [What a U2 singer keeps] BONO RHYTHM (biorhythm). “A” U2 singer? Please reassure me that there’s only one of him.
- 25a. [Gothic typefaces, for instance?] RETRO FONT (retrofit). “Gothic” to mean blackletter is more of a British typography thing. In the US, “Gothic” is synonymous with grotesque fonts, those that are sans-serif with straight lines of even width. This image, which would be gauche to include in-text because of its size, offers a crash-course in typography classification.
- 36a. [Muscle-firmness measure?] TONE SCORE (tie score).
- 50a. [Musical by Homer Simpson?] MAMMA MONA (Mamma Mia). Is that the most recognizable MONA available to a general audience? I can see why a partial reference of La Giocanda would be awkward, but what about the novelist Mona Simpson (coincidence‽)? … [some time passes] … Alright, apparently there aren’t too many famous people-Monas. Fair enough, then.
- 60a. [Percussion instrument that doesn’t wobble around?] STEADY GONG (steady gig).
These are … okay, but nothing special. And since I wasn’t exactly impressed with the overall theme conceit, the individual entries would have to have been exceptionally good for me to feel more warmly about the crossword.
- 15a [Stepping on money, e.g., in Thailand] CRIME. Duly noted. This skimpy Wikipedia page is more useful for the bibliography than its content, I guess.
- 29a [Word before “love” or “story”] TRUE. I always appreciate it when these type of clues elegantly suggest a tacit link between the offered words. Conversely, I also appreciate it when the offered words seem so wildly disparate that it’s difficult to guess what the adaptable complement would be.
- 35a [From an earlier time] OF OLD OLDER OLDEN. Third time’s the charm.
- 47a [Pandora’s boxful, mostly] ILLS. Plus hope, yay.
- 3d [Las Vegas nickname] SIN CITY. 57a [Took out, as a wrong answer] ERASED.
- 41d [Note-worthy thing?] MEMO PAD. This relatively straightforward clue fooled me pretty well.
- 45d [Tiny bit] SMIDGEN. Pigeon, widgeon, pidgin … English, get your spelling act together, why don’t you.
- 57d [Biblical location within “sedentary life”] EDEN. Is this hidden-word-clue-in-regular-crosswords a bona fide trend now?