Miriam Estrin’s New York Times crossword, “Title Basin”—Amy’s write-up
The title is a pun on tidal basin, though there is nothing particularly basin-like to the theme. The six themers are puns based on book titles:
- 23a. [Yann Martel’s baking memoir?], LIFE OF PIE. Pi.
- 30a. [F. Scott Fitzgerald’s chivalric tale?], TENDER IS THE KNIGHT. Night.
- 46a. [Voltaire’s sweet novel?], CANDIED. Candide isn’t pronounced the same as CANDIED, though.
- 63a. [Marcel Proust’s kitchen mystery?], IN SEARCH OF LOST THYME. Time. We used to call it Remembrance of Things Past in English.
- 90a. [Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s pet story?], THE LITTLE PRINTS. Prince.
- 112a. [William Shakespeare’s historical romance?], JULIUS SEES HER. Ha! Caesar.
Not much of a common thread—one play, one novella, one kids’ book, and three novels. Five with the last word changed, one that’s a one-word title that changes (and also changes pronunciation). Three are food-based, three are not. Given how many possibilities there are for such a theme, it’d have been good to strive for more uniformity. All novels, say. Or all food-related puns. (War and Peas! Definite pronunciation shift there, though.) All books made into well-known movies (with “adapted screenplay” perhaps useful for the puzzle’s title).
Overall, the fill was rough. I did like SLUGFESTS, HOTDESK ([Share a workspace, in modern lingo]), GERTRUDE Stein, “… AND SCENE!” and the Japanese neighbors SENSEI and WASABI. But it felt like there was more OSSO, ORLY, TEHEE, and the like than I want to see. Given the inclusion of just six themers, smoother fill overall is probably doable with more effort and a willingness to rip out whole sections in search of better entries.
Five more things:
- 3d. [Go back to square one], START ANEW. What? No. Did we all plunk in START OVER and erase a few letters when the crossings denied OVER?
- 57d. [Giggle], TEHEE. Constructors, if this is in your word lists, consider removing it or giving it a low score.
- 50a. [Scan that excites hydrogen atoms, for short], MRI. I love this clue! It taught me something medical/scientific.
- 67d. [What can take a punch?], LADLE. Cute clue. As in punch in a punchbowl.
- 51a. [Can’t keep one’s mouth shut?], YAWNS. Another nice clue. Did reading this make you yawn?
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Expansion Pack” – Jim Q’s
THEME: Initials in common names/phrases are reimagined as an initial for something else and “expanded,” or fully spelled out.
- 24A [*U.S. president who signed the Marshall Plan (direction)] HARRY S. OUTH TRUMAN.
- 27A [*Music festival swag (test answer)] T-RUE SHIRTS.
- 38A [*Like “Argo” or “Fargo” (gearshift option)] RATED R EVERSE.
- 49A [*Pizza chain that once featured animatronic shows (drug)] CHUCK E. CSTASY CHEESE.
- 75A [*Some steak orders (ideal gas law variable)] T-EMPERATURE BONES.
- 96A [*Major antioxidant in orange juice (scale)] VITAMIN C ELSIUS.
- 114A [*Time to attack (element)] H YDROGEN HOUR.
And of course, there’s another Birnholzian layer wherein the initials spell out an appropriate word, in this case: STRETCH.
Odd one to figure out. I caught on with CHUCK E. ?????? CHEESE and finally asked myself What else can E stand for? ECSTASY of course! Also, the result is a very, very strangely themed restaurant.
The biggest distraction for me was reading the clue for 38A. I was distracted because I suddenly remembered there’s a new season of the outstanding TV show Fargo out, and I confess I stopped solving to watch the first episode before falling asleep on the couch. So… yeah… major distraction.
Really struggled in the south with HBO / HYDROGEN area. For 127A [Black trailer?] I had ISH and I was very confident with it (as in the TV show “Blackish”). I also had NITROGEN. Since H–HOUR is not a familiar term to me, any initial would’ve worked. Made my way out eventually after erasing the whole area and trying a couple alternate answers.
Nice to see a new clue for ENOLA!
And an excellent clue for 93A [Mid-Atlantic colonist?] ANT. The word ANT appears in Mid-Atlantic.
Enjoy your Sunday!
Gary Larson’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “Driver’s Ed” — Jenni’s write-up
I enjoyed the theme except for one thing.
Let’s start with the fun. Each theme answer has a two-word base phrase that ends with the name of a car. There’s an ED added to the first word. Wackiness results.
- 15d [Took Honda SUVs for demo drives?] is TESTED PILOTS.
- 23a [Wrecked Mitsubishi SUVs?] is TOTALED ECLIPSES. I always want to spell TOTALED with two Ls. It’s always wrong.
- 36a [Followed Chevy SUVs?] is TRAILED BLAZERS.
- 61d [Cleaned the interior of Geo compacts?] is DUSTED STORMS.
- 66a [Found spots for Ford pickups?] is PARKED RANGERS.
- 97a [Selected classic VWs at an online auction?] is CLICKED BEETLES. I think we’re more likely to click on something.
- 112a [Pointed the way for Subaru SUVs?] is DIRECTED ASCENTS.
All the base phrases are solid and the ED alterations are amusing. I’m not crazy about the plurals. Since they’re consistent, I realize this is totally a personal thing and not a valid complaint. I don’t why I’m not crazy about it. I’m just not. There are a couple of other awkward plurals (MASALAS, BETSYS). It’s still a fun theme.
A few other things:
- 20a [Cry out loud] is WAIL, and now I have this stuck in my head. You’re welcome.
- 31a [Iconic ’60s-’70s TV caretaker] is a nice misdirection for AUNT BEE.
- Junior year, one of my profs took issue with my word choice. On the top of my paper, he wrote “SOCIETAL is not a word. Tell all your friends.” Time has proved him wrong.
- Speaking of things that are not a word, WIELDY? Really? I would be gruntled if I never saw that in a puzzle again.
- I AM TINO: new autobiography about the 1990s Yankee Dynasty.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Isabel Allende wrote a book called AVA Luna. I also have never heard of LAUREN Shehadi, and I had never heard of NATE Dogg, a cousin and collaborator of Snoop.
Sebastian L. Iger’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Developing the Backcountry”—Jim P’s review
Well that was different. I didn’t take the time to fully process the the theme until I was all done. The clues for each theme answer were straightforward, so I solved it as a themeless and went back at the end to make sense of it all. I did note that the number of asterisks in the theme answers seemed to be increasing as I progressed down the grid.
Here’s what’s really going on. Theme answers are grouped according to the number of asterisks in the clues. The final words in each answer of the group spell out a country. I won’t list out all the clues for brevity’s sake.
- * 23a GETTING TO + 25a DO NOT PASS GO = TOGO. One of the smallest countries in Africa.
- ** 36a GAMBLING DEN + 38a SAINT MARK = DENMARK.
- *** 57a PI BETA PHI + 63a ZIP YOUR LIP + 67a WHITE PINES = PHILLIPPINES.
- **** 77a WHEAT GERM + 91a HARDLY ANY = GERMANY.
- ***** 93a ORIGINAL SIN + 111a CLOSE THE GAP + 114a COPPER ORE = SINGAPORE.
This looks wickedly complicated to devise. First you have to find countries that you can parse into sections where each section is a standalone word in another phrase. Those other phrases (1) not only have to be commonly-enough known but (2) have to be placed in sequential order in the grid. This makes fitting everything symmetrically in the grid extra difficult since the constructor lacks the normal freedom to swap entries with a like number of letters to improve the fill.
So the fact that I didn’t notice any of this during the solve is an indication of how smooth the grid is despite some onerous limitations on grid design. Impressive execution!
My one nit is that I’m not sold on the use of the asterisks to group entries together; it feels pretty ungainly when you get to the bottom and three of the clues have five *s each. But I can’t think of a more succinct way to do it.
Highlights in the fill include NEPTUNE, TIKTOK, ANTMAN, TRIP METER, MEMOJI (crossing SHOJI), GAG REEL, and “SON OF A…”. I balked at DROLLER [More whimsically humorous], but you know what, there’s plenty of other good stuff to like and considering the theme constraints, it’s easy to give it a pass. Plus, it sits next to GAG REEL which somehow makes it feel all right.
Impressively designed puzzle with plenty of good fill worked in. Four stars. Oh hey! I think this is a debut. Congratulations on a really nice first grid.