Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 498), “Cover Letters?”—Ade’s take
Good day, everybody! Over a foot of snow is projected to hit parts of the Northeast over the next 48 hours or so, so definitely all of you in the path of the storm will stay inside and stay safe, along with everyone else out there reading this blog.
Speaking of staying safe, we have a clever grid in the puzzle in which four 15-letter down entries all feature four circles in inside of it that, when read from the bottom up, spell out the work MASK. The clue to the reveal entry, PSA, explains why one must read the circles in reverse (59A: [Non-commercial ad (such as “Mask Up!” — a COVID-era campaign suggested by the circled letters in the five longest answers)]).
- KEEPS AN OPEN MIND (3D: [Is receptive to new ideas])
- STAKES ONE’S CLAIM (5D: [Demonstrates ownership of land, for example])
- KRISTI YAMAGUCHI (7D: [Olympic gold medalist between Katarina Witt and Oksana Baiul]) – I momentarily forgot that the span between Witt and Baiul wasn’t eight years, but six, since the 1994 Winter Olympics (Lillehammer) came just two years after Yamaguchi’s 1992 success in Albertville.
- ANNIKA SORENSTAM (9D: [Swedish-born golf superstar, winner of 72 LPGA tournaments]) – More great women in athletics in this puzzle!
- WORKS LIKE A CHARM (11D: [Functions beautifully])
It was such a meaty grid and none of the theme entries felt forced in any way, which might be something that occurs more often than not with five 15-letter entries! Again, another construction to marvel at, and that’s even before talking about the fill and seeing two legends in their respective sports as 40 percent of the theme! Then you throw in some long fill like LONDON EYE (34A: [“Visionary” sightseeing attraction along the River Thames?]) and ANESTHESIA and it surely can take your breath — and consciousness — away (32D: [It’s a real knockout]). Seeing KAOS brought me back to the days when I would watch Get Smart on late nights in its syndication run (21A: [Evil entity in “Get Smart”]). Knowing Liz well is to appreciate the way she weaves her love for figure skating with a couple of entries paying homage to that, like what you see with AXELS (53D: [Jumps perfected by 7-Down and 51-Down]) and…
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ORSER (51D: [Olympic figure skater Brian ___]) – Since the centerpiece of the grid features a figure skating great around the late ’80s/early ’90s, might as well continue in that same vein, with one of the all-time great figure skaters on the men’s side with Brian Orser. In 1984 and 1988, Orser won the silver medal at the Winter Olympics, losing out to an American each time. In Sarajevo, Scott Hamilton was near flawless in winning the gold. In 1988 in Calgary, Orser began the Olympics with the honor of being the flag bearer for Canada in the opening ceremonies. As Katarina Witt and Debi Thomas had their “Battle of the Carmens” on the women’s side (both skated to Bizet’s “Carmen” during the long program), Orser and American Brian Boitano competed for the gold in what was dubbed the “Battle of the Brians.” Orser, who had finished first in every competition since finishing second to Boitano at the 1986 World Championships in Geneva, ended up finishing a very close second again to Boitano in Calgary. Orser then became a figure skating coach, and he helped guide Yuna Kim (2010) and Yuzuru Hanyu (2014, 2018) to Olympic golds.
Thank you so much for the time, everybody! Have a wonderful and safe rest of your day and, as always, keep solving!
Adam Vincent’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
A few weeks ago, I saw a wild Twitter thread basically sorting all the newspaper names into a taxonomy of sorts. I’ll bet some of you would enjoy it but I’ll be damned if I know how to find it again. At any rate, the theme plays on the names of some big-city newspapers:
- 20a. [Where one might find Boston news reporters?], AROUND THE GLOBE. The Boston Globe.
- 37a. [Where a Baltimore news reader’s desk might be found?], UNDER THE SUN. What, they’re stuck in the basement? Longtime Baltimore Sun copy editor and grammar professor John McIntyre has a blog you might like.
- 56a. [Beaten to a news scoop in Los Angeles?], BEHIND THE TIMES. The LA Times.
A 39-square theme leaves wiggle room for sparkle in the fill. I liked POST-IT, “TRUE DAT,” the ICE BOWL (classic bit of Green Bay Packers lore), UNCLE SAM, and a pretty TEA GARDEN (not that I know what one is). It does suggest that there shouldn’t be much iffy fill, and we’re a bit hit-or-miss here. ZEBU, PERE, TOTIE Fields, EVO ([Annual video game competition, for short]?? new to me), and A DUE all feel pretty tough for a Tuesday. Been a while since the ZEBU wandered into a grid, hasn’t it?
Three more things:
- 5a. [Wear, as something snazzy], SPORT. The snazziest thing I’ve worn in the last month or two is a pair of jeggings, much snazzier than the usual sweatpants, joggers, or pajama bottoms.
- 17a. [Sleeping spot for a baby], CRIB. I cooed at the baby from next door today (he’s about 7 months old), and he smiled in reply! Despite my wearing a mask. Today’s babies are accustomed to faces that are half covered. Imagine his surprise next summer when he sees actual mouths and chins on strangers’ faces.
- 43a. [Org. for Kings and Senators], NHL. I always like a sports league clue that combines an apt pair of teams. Too bad the Washington football team and the Cleveland baseball team aren’t in the same sport.
3.25 stars from me.
Alex Rosen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “A Reflection”—Jim P’s review
ASYMMETRY is the theme, or rather “A” SYMMETRY. The revealer at 62a is clued [Imbalance, or, parsed differently, kind of balance shown by the circles]. Not only do the other theme answers have A’s as their only vowels, those A’s are symmetrically placed within those answers (ignoring implied spaces).
- 17a. [Demographic shorthand for a middle-aged, working-class man] NASCAR DAD
- 24a. [“I had such a great time!”] “THAT WAS A BLAST!”
- 38a. [State capital that began as a railway terminus] ATLANTA
- 51a. [Product with OdorShield and LeakGuard protection] GLAD TRASH BAGS
I didn’t cotton on to the theme until after the solve, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised. We’ve seen themes where entries are limited to one specific vowel, but I don’t recall seeing one that dictated the placement of those vowels within the answer. This felt like a novel and interesting approach, and I thought each answer was a nice find, given that there are at least three A’s in each one. Note that ARENA is at 11d but is not considered a theme answer.
Top fill: “EASY THERE,” LIVES IT UP, and END ZONE, with runners up SEE ALSO, ALCOHOL, AMBIEN, NAMATH, and CHOPRA.
Clues of note:
- 18d. [“Somebody needs ___!” (comment from Mom)]. A NAP. Or Dad, perhaps?
- 43d. [Rectangle often decorated with huge letters]. END ZONE. Kind of a strange, unwieldy way to clue this, and I feel like it’s a missed opportunity for some interesting cluing. How about [Jets’ destination] or [You might dive for it] or [Where the Ickey Shuffle was done]? You can do better. Give us your best END ZONE clue in the comments.
Not much in the way of wordplay, but I still found the theme surprising in a good way. Strong fill as well. 3.8 stars.
Jessie Bullock’s Universal crossword, “‘Loud and Clear” — Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Whistle blowers!
- GYM TEACHER
- NBA REFEREE
- TRAFFIC COP
- DOG TRAINER
- WHISTLE BLOWER
Three of these are very closely aligned with whistle blowing. DOG TRAINER, I think, is the odd one out. I’ve watched a ton of videos on dog training as I’m currently trying to ensure my Great Dane puppy does not destroy my entire house, and no trainer has used or recommended a whistle. Clicker, yes. Whistle, no.
Not that it really matters though. Puzzle was just fine, if a bit trickier than normal. I had a few problems in the Southwest. SCIONS was new for me and I vaguely recalled CAGER from crosswords OF YORE. MAS seems a very awkward plural (Why not just keep it Spanish?), I was unfamiliar with BRENT, and had YAKS for GABS which made UGANDA difficult too. Enjoyed the teeth on this one, though the fill often felt dated (HATERADE being the exception, but even that feels dated in a sense…)
Looks like we’re also trying to avoid Vladmir PUTIN in the puzzle in favor of PUT IN.
Enjoyed the clue for ATM FEE!
Overall, not my favorite. I also solved on the web app, which is awfully clunky and usually gets me frustrated.
Adam Vincent’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Turn on the radio while you solve this puzzle!
- 18A [Drywall material] SHEETROCK
- 24A [Freezer aisle treat] ICE CREAM POP
- 49A [Similar but unspecified things] ALL THAT JAZZ
- 56A [Peepers of a certain color, affectionately] BABY BLUES
- 36A [Instruction to start playing … or a hint to the end of 18-, 24-, 49- and 56-Across] CUE THE MUSIC
I actually thought the clue might have something to do with the starts of the clues until I actually took a second to read what was going on! Sheet is a term in music, but rock, pop, jazz, and blues are all common genres. That makes more sense! Why do I always try to make it harder than it is? 4.3 star today.
Just a few things:
- 10A [World’s best-selling cookie] OREO – These are in puzzles all the time. I still want one now …
- 66A [Ink cartridge color] CYAN – Just bought new toner for my ten-year-old color printer. Amazon or eBay is the way to go; they may not last long but you can get all 4 (and sometimes 5 if they add a second black) for $50 or so. I’ll take it!
- 3D [Marked by widespread growth] EPIDEMIC – Timely, for sure.
- 21D [Money-back offer] REBATE – A tactic you see often this time of year; the problem is with the shipping. The delivery times during December are a crapshoot. This coming from a former UPS driver!
- 34D [Summery headwear] SUN HAT – I have to wear one of these now when I am out. I usually have a baseball cap on, but for prolonged periods I need my safari hat that covers the nape of the neck (crossword word!).
- 43D [Monopoly maker] HASBRO – They also own Scrabble, yes? Possibly more pertinent to a crossword crowd!
- 46D [Like a baker’s apron, probably] FLOURY – Or your clothes, perhaps? Is it baking season yet?
That is all!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “J’Accuse!” – Derek’s write-up
I thought I had made a mistake until I’d figured out what the theme was! Only three theme answers, but you come up with a better one than these three:
- 20A [Bygone laptop company’s fiscal year division?] COMPAQ QUARTER
- 37A [“How does a company reserve a symbol to trade?” and “How does it differ from NYSE?”] NASDAQ QUESTIONS
- 59A [“Me shooting 40% at the foul line is just God’s way to say nobody’s perfect,” for instance?] SHAQQUOTATION
The clues are the best, especially that last one! Yes, as the title hints at in a homophonic way, there are double Q’s in all the theme answers. Very entertaining; and a quest for a fourth themer just might bring down the rest of the puzzle. This was highly entertaining, even by Jonesin’ standards! 4.5 stars today.
A few points (nothing too obscure this week!):
- 15A [Early online newsgroup system] USENET – Matt and I are about the same age, so he normally references stuff I remember that younger ones may not. Or computer savvy people may not. I remember not knowing how this worked 30 years ago!
- 70A [Adult ___ (Cartoon Network offshoot)] SWIM – Is this channel still around?
- 5D [___ Dots (cryogenic ice cream brand)] DIPPIN’ – Now I am getting hungry! These are easy to find if you’re at a fair or a mall; can you buy these in the store? I don’t think so. (My wife says yes, but I don’t go to the store!)
- 8D [Platform for the “Animaniacs” reboot] HULU – I have Hulu, I will have to look for it!
- 36D [“Pretty sneaky, ___” (Connect Four ad line)] SIS – This is also dating Matt (and me!) because this commercial is from the early to mid ’80’s. I think I found the YouTube commercial and posted it before.
- 39D [Many Super Bowl MVPs] QB’S – This is the problem with football: the quarterback is too important. This pandemic (specifically the way they have shoved football through no matter what, especially college football) has changed how I view what was once my favorite game. This is on top of the blatant concussion/CTE risk.
- 46D [Argentine soccer superstar Lionel] MESSI – Is this player famous enough that you should know him even if you don’t know the first thing about soccer? I think he is. If you do know anything about soccer, you realize just how good he is.
- 48D [Dish prepared with garlic butter and white wine] SCAMPI – I was hungry already for some Dippin’ Dots, and now I want some Red Lobster!
Everyone have a safe and healthy week!
Sorry, unrelated to the crosswords, but in Spelling Bee– Why is ROADMAP not a word? Sometimes, I know the word I’m trying is valid but maybe scientific or esoteric in some way, but sometimes I’m truly baffled by what is not acceptable. I wonder what reference source they use…
Did you see “The Genius of the Spelling Bee” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/16/crosswords/spellingbee-puzzles.html)? Not that it made me feel any better, but it does explain how the word list is developed.
Oh, thanks! I didn’t know about it. I will check it out. I’m definitely curious…
I tried it three times. The most egregious example I can think of was COPE, which prompted an apology. HABOOB and LANTANA were recently accepted after previous rejections. There are always lots of rejected words. Most are pretty obscure, but there is no legitimate reason for others. Keep grinding!
As far as I can see from skimming the article Flinty Steve has given us a link to, ROADMAP as one word is a kind of specialized term. As an actual map for the road, it usually appears as two words, and therefore hasn’t been accepted online, I guess. As I recall from a linguistics class around 50 years ago, one relies on convention regarding when there is a space between two words that are indeed one concept, or de facto really one word. However, that convention can make or break a word one needs for the Bee or for Scrabble. My husband and I work on the Bee in the print edition, so we can decide whatever we want!
Amy, what are jeggins? All I get is joggings.
I learn something new every day!
They’re a cross between jeans and leggings—the look of skinny jeans, but with a stretchy waist.
I enjoyed the Jonesin’ puzzle – great theme! But a note to constructors on 60D: The luxury liner is the QE2 and the person is QEII. The original Queen Elizabeth liner was named after QEII’s mother, also an Elizabeth. The QE2 is the second ship so named, and this is a common confusion.