Caitlin Reid’s New York Times crossword, “Theme Shmeme”—Amy’s write-up
I wasn’t expecting to see Caitlin’s byline again so soon—she shared credit for last Sunday’s NYT. This time around, it’s a jumbo themeless. Is this the second themeless Sunday NYT this year? I feel like it hasn’t been very long since the last one. (Also, I want a comma in the puzzle’s title.)
Some people grouse that a 21×21 themeless is just a big slog, yes? I enjoyed this one, though, a good bit more than most themed Sunday puzzles. The fill had plenty of sparkle and a number of clues made me smile.
Fab fill: CRASH COURSE, TRICK OR TREAT, TEA LEAVES, COURT REPORTER, SUGARCOAT, DELETED SCENES, ADESTE FIDELES, “THAT’S OKAY,” SKINNY DIPPING, SLUMBER PARTY, PUMMELS, TERRIBLE IDEA, TEENSY-WEENSY, CRAWDAD, “WOULD I LIE?,” and the WARM SPELL the Midwest luxuriated in last week. If you’re gonna plus-size your themeless, it needs to have plenty of zippy stuff, and this one does.
Clues of note:
- 7a. [Pick a card, any card], DRAW. So says the magician.
- 27a. [Hearing aid?], COURT REPORTER. Clever.
- 55a. [Acts like money grows on trees], SPENDS. Everyone knows money doesn’t grow on trees. Just Barilla pasta noodles.
- 60a. [Family secret, perhaps], RECIPE. The best kind of family secret! Been watching some Finding Your Roots episodes this week and there are some wild family backgrounds that people sure don’t expect.
- 70a. [It’s sedimentary, my dear], SILT. Ha!
- 88a. [Barely afloat?], SKINNY-DIPPING. ’Cause you’re nekkid.
- 93a. [Place you may go just for kicks?], SHOE STORE. Kicks being slang for shoes.
- 17d. [Result of eating the poisoned apple in “Snow White”], SLEEP. Nice angle.
- 35d. [Heat of the moment?], WARM SPELL. Good clue.
- 38d. [Mom jeans have a high one], WAIST. This feels like a clue written by a woman, and I like it.
4.25 stars from me.
Pao Roy’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Turn a Loss Into a Win”—Jim P’s review
The title seems to be what Trump is trying to do since losing the election. But instead of legal action, this puzzle simply changes Ls to Ws for humorous effect.
- 20a. [Muddy child’s plea before being hosed off?] DON’T WET ME DOWN. Ha! A great start to this theme.
- 26a. [Reason sarcasm wasn’t detected?] MISSING WINK. As if anyone would ever fail to indicate snark.
- 42a. [Metropolis with a trash problem?] CITY THAT NEVER SWEEPS. Very nice.
- 68a. [Advice to a nervous floor polisher?] SIT BACK AND REWAX. There are ride-on floor waxers, so this is within the realm of possibilities.
- 94a. [Host’s question while pouring a gifted bottle?] “WHOSE WINE IS IT ANYWAY?” There are a couple extra Ws here, but clearly they weren’t Ls in the original phrase.
- 113a. [Baby food?] WEAN CUISINE. Nice one. Find it in the freezer aisle.
- 122a. [Urgent need for a birth assistant?] MIDWIFE CRISIS.
I loved these. They all flowed so naturally and had great surface sense. For the most part, the cluing was spot on, and helped seal the deal with humor. And this looks like it’s a debut from this constructor which makes it all the more impressive. Super job!
The long fill looks well-polished as well: SENIORITIS, ORGAN MUSIC, ROMANIA, new-to-me TRIP-HOP [Portmanteau genre derived from acid house], OEDIPAL, LEMONADE MIX (though it dupes with MIX CD, tsk tsk), Sinead O’CONNOR, TINA FEY, WEIRD AL, YIDDISH, THIN AIR, MANATEE, E-SPORTS, and WOOZILY. The short fill looks good with very little triggering the scowl-o-meter.
Clues of note:
- 61a. [“Notes of a Native Son” writings]. ESSAYS. The book is a collection by African-American writer James Baldwin and was published in 1955, mostly dealing with issues of race in the U.S. and Europe.
- 102a. [Marked, as a ballot]. XED IN. Did anyone use a ballot that actually asks you to X a box? I would think most require you to fill a box (or circle) completely with black ink.
- 110a. [Civil rights activist Plessy]. HOMER. Plessy v. Ferguson was the 1896 Supreme Court case (which Plessy lost) that resulted in the “separate but equal” doctrine which legalized segregation in the U.S.
- 37d. [Need for one making a stand?]. LEMONADE MIX. Nice clue. But fresh lemonade is apt to sell better.
- 107d. [Thorpe who was the first Native American to win an Olympic gold]. JIM. The extra bit of trivia isn’t necessary, but it’s nice to learn.
- 116d. [“___ a vibe”]. IT’S. Slang for “it’s a feeling.”
I’m impressed with this fun debut! Hope to see more from this constructor. Four stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Four of a Kind” – Jim Q’s Write-up
THEME: A letter is repeated four times to create a wacky phrase.
- 23A [Gomez’s texting sign-off to his hairy relative?] COUSIN ITT, TTYL!
- 34A [Promise to provide congers and morays?] GUARANTEE EELS.
- 51A [Take part in a consumer protest over sporty car roofs?] BOYCOTT T–TOPS.
- 68A [Labels for gory movies, as assigned by the Beatles’ Ringo?] STARR R–RATINGS.
- 91A [Striped hyena relative featured on ESPNU?] NCAA AARDWOLF.
- 102A [When a Looney Tunes hunter launches an invasion?] ELMER FUDD D–DAY.
- 119A [Disgusting shipwrecked ship on a TV sitcom?] GROSS S.S. MINNOW.
While this wasn’t my favorite WaPo ever, I was right on its wavelength from the title. I knew I’d be looking for four letters, and as soon as I saw the T repeated as one of the letters in the third themer, I sensed the repeater would spell TETRADS. In other words, yay me. Hehe.
The phrases all embrace the Birnholzian go-big-or-go-home wackiness, but I think the absence of a base phrase behind the themers took some of the satisfaction out of the wacky enjoyment for me. Also, some answers seem to highlight the letter being repeated (D-DAY, S.S., R-RATING) while others don’t (EELS, AARDWOLF). That threw me a little.
That being said, the TETRADS reveal was quite nice.
Fun fill included
- The clue for 122D [Host of the “Louder Than a Riot” podcast] NPR. Nice shoutout to an awesome podcast.
- 52D [They may wear matching outfits during their youth] TWINS. What age does it get to be too much? I saw a new special that featured two elderly twin sisters that did everything the same and wore matching outfits every day. It was scary.
- 33D [The only carbon-negative country in the world (since 2017) BHUTAN. Fun fact!
- 14D [“___ way!”] ATTA. I really wanted this to be THAT-A, or my original answer MAKE.
Also, if you (like me) wouldn’t be able to identify an AARDWOLF in the wild, here you go (I can’t tell if it’s cute or hideous):
Have a good rest of the weekend!
Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal crossword, “Ease In” — Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Adding an extra E to a common name/phrase, and changing a word with a short sounding vowel to a long one- clued wackily.
- 17A [Released Ginger from a contract?] FREED ROGERS.
- 30A [Discussions on the driving range?] TEED TALKS.
- 48A [Leader of a livestock committee?] FEED CHAIR.
- 63A [Floor coverings made of marsh plants?] REED CARPETS.
Took me a while to get cooking on this one. Kept flailing about. Brain working in Slo-Mo.
This one was just fine. The theme answers didn’t land as solidly for me as CC’s puzzles typically do. Perhaps because only the first part of each of the altered phrases is clued differently rather than the whole thing? TEED TALKS in particular felt like a stretch.
I got really hung up on NOAH. I don’t quite get the clue [Man with two dogs?]. Like, I understand that NOAH would’ve brought two dogs aboard the ark, but usually question mark clues are a play on words. Is it a play on a phrase that I’m missing?
Liked DON’T BLOW IT! and the quirkiness of TRADE BARBS. NEO NOIR was new for me (that’s a funny sounding sentence).
Lee Taylor’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “Workplace Superstitions” — Jenni’s write-up
Today’s theme are superstitions clued as “Dos” and “Donts” from various occupations. A couple of them made me smile and a few of them made me frown.
- 15d [Pianist’s “Do”?] is CROSS YOUR FINGERS. I’m a decidedly amateur pianist, and even I know that you cross your hands on the keyboard, not your FINGERS. Frowny face.
- 22a [Weather forecaster’s “Don’t”?] is OPEN AN UMBRELLA INDOORS.
- 38d [Construction worker’s “Don’t”?] is WALK UNDER A LADDER.
- 67a [Carpenter’s “Do”?] is KNOCK ON WOOD.
- 99a [Ice skater’s “Don’t”?] is STEP ON A CRACK. This is only half the saying – “break your mother’s back” is the rest, and it looks odd by itself. At first I thought it was a stretch to say this has anything to do with ice skating because there aren’t really cracks in the ice in a rink, and then realized that maybe they’re talking about skating outside. So half a frowny face.
- 109a [Banker’s “Do”?] is FIND A PENNY PICK IT UP. I have not heard this one recited in the same way as the others. I know it’s a thing – lucky penny, and all that. I’m not sure it’s a saying, per se.
Since it was a pretty blah theme to start with, three entries that made me frown is too many. This is somewhere between “meh” and “feh” on my personal rating scale.
A few other things:
- [Diacritic for a long vowel sound] is a very obscure clue MACRON. There’s a perfectly good French politician with that name. I’d expect that clue in the Saturday Stumper and I still wouldn’t like it. It doesn’t belong here.
- I guess it’s not actually a dupe to have RBI and RUN in the same puzzle. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all if RUN hadn’t been clued as [Baseball stat].
- I’m well acquainted with URSINE and URSA. URSUS gave me pause for some reason.
- BES is not a great entry. It’s well-clued, at least. [Wanna-__ ] amused me.
- Could also have done without EMBANK.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re MACRON. I also did not know that Ray LIOTTA co-starred in “Narc.”