Julian Lim’s New York Times crossword, “West-Southwest”—Amy’s write-up
The W-SW theme takes phrases where a word starts with W and makes it start with SW instead:
- 23a. [What an unsteady tightrope walker may do?], SWAY UP HIGH. Way up high, solid.
- 29a. [“It’s just too $%#@ hot!,” e.g.?], SUMMER SWEAR. Summer wear? Feels a little clunky to me. Summer clothes, summer wardrobe, sure, but I’d never call it summer wear. (Macy’s would.)
- 40a. [What a beekeeper receives at work?], SWARM RECEPTION. A warm reception from the bees, cute.
- 67a. [Why the knight went shopping?], FOR WANT OF A BETTER SWORD. Nice, but this one diverges from all the other themers because the W becomes silent and the vowel sound shifts.
- 94a. [Hogs, after being scrubbed clean?], SPARKLING SWINE. Ha!
- 111a. [What the ecstatic janitor did?], SWEPT FOR JOY.
- 117a. [“Michael Jordan’s Top 10 Free Throws” and others?], SWISH LISTS. The clue saves this one.
Theme is OK but the resulting phrases and their clues weren’t quite funny enough to get us over the hump of the Sunday crossword curse, which is that too often there’s just not enough hilarity to make filling the whole 21×21 grid an entertaining venture. But out there in America, there are a zillion people who wait all week for that Sunday puzzle to fill some hours. Me, I’d like the weekly lineup to be something like: Saturday NYT, AV Club, the harder two themeless New Yorker puzzles, Friday NYT, and a rotating assortment of indie puzzles, Inkubator, and sometimes the Thursday NYT. (I really like the sort of fill we see in the New Yorker crosswords. These puzzles don’t usually get very high star ratings from Fiend readers, but I find most of them to be in the range of 4 to 4.5 stars.) If any of those indie puzzles is 17×17 or 19×19 or 21×21, I groan.
But I digress. Seven more things:
- 80d. [Sky fall?], POWER DIVE. I don’t know what this means. Merriam-Webster suggests it’s an airplane trick, but they have a sample sentence involving whales. Anyone?
- 71d. [Paperless airplane reservation], E-TICKET. Oh! What a blast from the past. Remember when e-tickets were new, and you had to take that leap of faith about going to the airport without a printed ticket? When is the last time you had an actual paper plane ticket for a domestic flight? Is a paper plane ticket now a retronym, like land-line phone?
- 58d. [Shish ___], KEBOB. Say what? I tried KEBAB first, but when the crossing OTHELLO mandated an O, I changed it to KABOB. The “shish kebob” spelling is far less common and just plain looks wrong. Took me a long time to fill in 62a. [Little auk, by another name], SEA DOVE, because I had an A at the end. Who really knows so much auk terminology that SEA **VA is obviously wrong and SEA **VE obviously right? Pfft.
- 43d. [Conclude (with)], END OFF. Say what? This one feels weird to me, too. Perhaps it’s more common in Singaporean English (today’s constructor is a professor there). Perhaps the KEBOB spelling is more common in Singapore, too?
- 56d. [Farm-to-table program, in brief], CSA. Short for community-supported agriculture. If you’ve ever bought a farm-share box of produce, that’s CSA. So nice to skirt the pro-slavery alliance’s initials for a change.
- 107a. [Border of a lagoon, say], SAND REEF. Not a familiar term for me, but inferrable. Hard to Google some good examples, because a zillion photos are tagged with the key words “sand” and “reef” but not specifically “sand reef.” If you’ve seen one in person, I’d love to hear about it!
- 39a. [Me-day destination], SPA. I’d like the clue better if a NEW ME weren’t in the grid at 2d. I feel like I’m years away from ever venturing into a spa again. My “me” days involve jigsaw puzzles at home, or walks by Lake Michigan.
3.3 stars from me.
C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “It’s Time” — Jenni’s write-up
I saw the circles at the top of the grid, realized they were abbreviations for March and April, and thought “that’s the theme?” Nope. It’s a bit more complicated than that. The revealer smack-dab in the center of the grid took away any moment of discovery. 68a is [A timely mnemonic, or what the circled letters depict] and the answer is SPRING FORWARD FALL BACK. It’s a solid Sunday theme, made more enjoyable because it shows up the weekend we do fall back.
The theme answers:
- 22a [Swindler] is SCAM ARTIST.
- 24a [“It’s hopeless”] is NOT A PRAYER.
- 43a [Meat brand spelled out by a four-year-old in ads] is OSCAR MAYER. That one is not an abbreviation, of course. And you’re all singing it now, right?
- 48a [C-SPAN addict, say] is NEWS JUNKIE.
- 93a [Some Nehi drinks] are GRAPE SODAS.
- 96a [It may be cracked with a key] is SECRET CODE.
- 119a [Cable company offering] is TV ON DEMAND.
- 121a [Fugitive trackers, at times] is POLICE DOGS.
It’s quite a feat of construction. First C.C. had to find words with the relevant months forward and backward. Then she had to arrange them in the grid so the spring months were in the top half and the fall months in the bottom, and get them in calendar order to boot. There are a couple of clunkers in the fill (RETEE, anyone?) and I’m willing to pay that price for a really clever set-up.
A few other things:
- I had one of my periodic battles with EXCEL yesterday. I hate spreadsheets (and yes, I know that’s not how it was clued, but that’s where my mind went).
- 16d [Hamburger’s three] stumped me for a while. There aren’t three of any letter in “hamburger.” That’s because the clue is talking about someone who lives in Hamburg, and the answer is DREI – I fell for the old hidden upper-case letter trick.
- Not only do we get YOO HOO in both the NYT and the LAT today, but it’s clued the same way – [“Over here!”] The Great Crossword Conspiracy strikes again.
- [“Look before you leap,” e.g.] is both ADAGE and OLD SAW.
- I confused myself by dropping in I‘M STUMPED for [“It puzzles me”] at 80d. It’s I‘M AT A LOSS.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that ASHE Stadium is the largest tennis stadium in the world. I also did not know that Pizza Hut has its headquarters in PLANO, Texas.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “The Sound of Music” – Jim Q’s Write-up
After last week’s mind-bender, it’s no surprise that this week is a straightforward theme-type.
THEME: Common phrases reimagined as if they are musical pieces (due to the musical nature of the second word in the phrase).
- 22A [Imaginative instrumental work composed by a stoner?] HIGH FANTASY. Fantasies such as this one that is…
- 33A [Sacred choral work composed by a detractor?] CRITICAL MASS. Hard to be overly critical of a mass like this one.
- 48A [Instrumental piece composed by a South Korean car salesman?] HYUNDAI SONATA. You can blast this sonata while speeding down the highway in your Hyundai!
- 66A [Multi-movement work composed by a concierge?] HOTEL SUITE. If you can afford a fancy hotel suite, maybe you can also hire your own personal cellist to play this suite during your inevitable massage.
- 69A [Theatrical musical work composed by a jockey?] HORSE OPERA. In case you’re missing Jerry Springer these days, don’t worry, there’s an app for that… I mean opera. (nsfw)
- 83A [Contrapuntal musical piece composed by a fiction author?] LITERARY CANON. If you haven’t been to a wedding as of late due to COVID restrictions, you probably haven’t heard this canon in a while.
- 100A [Rhythmic musical piece composed by a dissident?] PROTEST MARCH. It’s unlikely you’ll hear marches by Sousa at a protest march in DC I suppose…
- 115A [Vocal piece composed by a yodeler?] MOUNTAIN AIR. Another wedding standard is this air, by Bach.
I was going for time on this one since I started off strong out of the gates, so I didn’t really stop to consider the theme all that much, but I figured it out with LITERARY CANON. That did help me fill in every themer below it (PROTEST MARCH and MOUNTAIN AIR), and later I was able to fill in some missing gaps, especially where I got hung up in the BEN/VALET/LAYERS/IT’S LIT/DILUTE/TINA section.
When I uncovered MOUNTAIN AIR, I had the sense that I’d seen this theme before. And then I remembered this article series written in the NY Times where constructors discussed step-by-step how to create a crossword. The theme they came up with in the article is decidedly similar (MACBOOK AIR, CALL NUMBER, PUZZLE PIECE, TENURE TRACK), but I like the classical nature of Evan’s set. This is not to suggest anything other than a coincidence- that sort of thing happens all the time.
Digging the clue for 78A. I just realized that TRUMP and BIDEN have the same number of letters. I just don’t particularly enjoy seeing one of them any more than I have to, so glad to see the other in the crossword.
Felt very smooth overall though- I typically get hung up on names in the WaPo as Evan prefers to feature those who aren’t constantly getting the crossword treatment, but fairly crossed as always, so no complaints there.
Here is something that’s very worth checking out and in the spirit of this puzzle. It’s a virtual choir that Evan participated in- you can catch a glimpse of him around the one minute mark. Extremely impressive.
Happy November! Last day to vote early in New York, so heading to the polls now. Enjoy!
Jordan Hildebrandt’s Universal Sunday crossword, “ Chemical Change”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Well-known sayings have one letter changed to create wacky chemistry-related phrases.
- 22a. [Glass vessel with disappointing results? (note what each circled letter was before the constructor changed it)] BEAKER OF BAD NEWS. Bearer… I always hated it in chem lab when I didn’t get the intended lab result.
- 31a. [Slogan for soccer star David’s glue ad?] BOND IT LIKE BECKHAM. Bend… Of course, this entry looks different today with the passing of Sean Connery yesterday.
- 53a. [Flavor crystals mixed into Spock’s water and such?] VULCAN SOLUTES. …salutes. Too bad this was pluralized; it’s much stronger in the singular.
- 65a. [Acid neutralizer’s past usage?] BASE HISTORY. Case…
- 71a. [Particle from placing a dairy product in an atom smasher?] QUARK OF MILK. Quart…
- 92a. [Crime of falsifying a negative particle?] ELECTRON FRAUD. Election…
- 105a. [Acidity measure used when testing holy water?] PH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Oh… Meh, I’m not sold on this one.
- 122a. [Positive particle procession? (now read all the original letters in order)] PARADE OF CATIONS. …Nations. This was a rough one to end on for me, since I don’t remember hearing the word “cation” before. But then again, chemistry wasn’t my strong suit, in high school or college. I probably purged it from my memory banks.
Cute. Some work better than others, and there’s a little bit of a consistency issue. Most of the clues seem rooted in the chemistry lab except for two (BOND and SOLUTES). As someone who never particularly enjoyed chemistry class, those two were more relatable to me, but they felt like a departure from the rest.
As noted in the parenthetical instructions, we’re to read the original (pre-changed) letters in order. Together, these spell REACTION. Nice, thematically-consistent touch. This would have been a good puzzle for the Chronicle of Higher Education, back in the day (i.e. last year).
That’s a lot of theme material, so there isn’t too much in the long fill department. FIST BUMP is great, and I like PELOTON. There’s also STORE ADS, DISASTER, and HERB TEA (I’m used to hearing “herbal tea.”)
Clues of note:
- 13a. [Person with a line of credit?]. ACTOR. Oooh, nice clue.
- 43a. [Evil org. in 007 novels]. SMERSH. How many solvers have read 007 novels? (*raises hand*). Probably not many, making this entry old crosswordese. But we’ll give it a pass today for Connery’s sake.
- 47d. [Heracles’ leader?]. HERA. This is more of a cryptic-type crossword clue that we don’t normally see in regular crosswords. According to myth (i.e. what I just read on Wikipedia). Hera had a special hatred for Heracles (originally named Alcides) as he was the product of one of Zeus’s many infidelities and she was tricked into suckling him just after his birth, thus granting him godlike powers. The child was renamed to Heracles to mollify her.
- 110d. [Uploaded content acronym (hidden in “craft vodka”)]. VOD. Okay…what? First off, VOD stands for…Video On Demand? I think? Second, VOD is hidden in “vodka”; what’s “craft” doing there?
Overall, good theme and solid execution in this grid. 3.8 stars.