David Alfred Bywaters’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “In at the Finish”—Jim P’s review
The title is a less common but legit idiom, so it makes a good basis for a theme. The theme answers are well-known phrases with an added -IN at the end.
- 18a. [Appreciative observation at the Renaissance Faire?] “WHAT A JERKIN!” “What a jerk!”
- 23a. [Breakfast treat with an auriform shape?] EAR MUFFIN. Earmuff.
- 38a. [Prestidigitator’s publication?] MAGIC BULLETIN. Magic bullet.
- 51a. [Expensive material for a crib blanket?] BABY SATIN. Babysat.
- 58a. [Coach’s intellectual equipment?] SPORTS BRAIN. Sports bra.
These are fine entries, but what gets me is that the clues quash any chance at humor. WHAT A JERKIN is a funny answer, but the clue is too run-of-the-mill; it should have equal liveliness and wackiness. My take: [“Thy sleeveless garment is most comely!”?]. There’s not one but two perfect examples of a MAGIC BULLETIN from the Harry Potter books: The Daily Prophet and The Quibbler. And that EAR MUFFIN clue is pretentious when it should be humorous. My take: [Waxwork breakfast treat?]. Okay, maybe that one fails the breakfast test…in more ways than one.
In the fill, GRID IRON I know and like (especially crossing SPORTS_), but PERRAULT [“Tales of Mother Goose” author Charles] I didn’t know. I worked it from the bottom up, and so I was trying to shoehorn newsman Charles Kuralt in there. TV GUIDE, BARISTA, UNDIES, PARIAH, and “AT LAST!” are other niceties.
I’m no fan of the AARE river at 15a, and being in such a small section of the grid, it looks like it can easily be replaced. The other stumbling block was LIEDER [Schubert works], which is completely new to me. The word is the plural of Lied, German for “song.”
Clues of note:
- 1a. [Digital tool]. APP. During the solve, I took this to mean something you use with your fingers (i.e. when you tap an icon on your smartphone), but looking back I think “digital” is being used with its more common meaning.
- 27a. [Site of the USDA’s National Animal Disease Center]. AMES. Neat little tidbit of information. Same goes for 32a. [Its first cover showed the infant Desi Arnaz Jr.]. TV GUIDE.
- 3d. [Burns books, for example]. POETRY. Excellent deception here. Nothing to do with censorship, but rather poet Robert Burns.
- 7d. [Inventor of a lidded glass dish]. PETRI. Based on the P, I went with PYREX. Anyone else willing to admit that?
Not a bad theme and grid. But I think the theme cluing could’ve done more to add to entertainment value. 3.4 stars.
Kate Hawkins’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Our revealer in this maybe-harder-than-usual Wednesday offering is BILLY CLUB, 66a. [Nightstick … or what might form if the beginnings of 14-, 20-, 37- and 58-Across started paying dues?]. Those four themers begin with words that double as the last names of famous people named Billy:
- 14a. [It might cost extra at a beach resort], OCEAN VIEW. Singer Billy Ocean of “Caribbean Queen” fame.
- 20a. [Clairvoyant’s accessory], CRYSTAL BALL. Comedian Billy Crystal, whom I last saw reenacting his The Princess Bride role for a WisDems fundraiser online. He was so good, and he’d even gathered props!
- 37a. [Key lime pie crust ingredient], GRAHAM CRACKER. Preacher Billy Graham, not to my liking but I do appreciate graham crackers. S’mores, please!
- 58a. [Cut above the rest?], PORTERHOUSE steak. Is that the very best or spendiest cut of steak? I’m not a beef person, I don’t know. Billy Porter is the amazing actor from Pose who just needs an OSCAR (28d) to reach EGOT status (he’s already won the Emmy, Tony, and Grammy). I should really watch Pose, I know.
I’m not wild about an all-dude theme set, but at least they’re a diverse foursome.
Did not know: 24a. [___ Dobbs, title detective in Jacqueline Winspear books], MAISIE. I haven’t read much in the mystery genre since my Agatha Christie youth, but if you’re into that 1920s British vibe, check out this series.
Three more things:
- 22a. [Chubby mouse in Disney’s “Cinderella”], GUS. Not the most memorable character. The mice/footmen in the February 2021 movie Cinderella are John and James (John Mulaney and James Corden), and Billy Porter plays Fab G, the fairy godparent.
- 6d. [Southwestern evergreen]. PINYON. Also spelled piñon. Tough entry, no?
- 47d. [Shiny trinket], BAUBLE. I first grew fond of that word when reading Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy series written for kids in the “middle grades” circling around age 10. Princess Eilonwy had a magical golden bauble. The British calling round glass Christmas ornaments “baubles,” it cheapens the word, I tell you!
3.8 stars from me.
Erik Agard’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Team, it’s finally almost over. The next post I write will be from 2021. I know things won’t magically change overnight, but it just feels like we may finally be turning the page on this horrible year. And if 2021 brings with it more New Yorker puzzles like the ones we got to experience in 2020 along with its fresh start, well, that would be 100% fine by me.
Today’s puzzle is (one of?) the last of the Year-in-Review holiday puzzles from the New Yorker, and this time we have Erik Agard with 2020 in Sports. Now, I love the Pittsburgh Steelers, but other than that, I can’t say I know much about sports. But even with my limited sportsing and narrow focus on one particular black-and-gold team, I found this puzzle totally accessible. The theme entries were:
- CLAY [The King of ___ (nickname for Rafael Nadal, who won his thirteenth French Open in October, 2020)]
- RACE [Event in the Marble Rally, which went viral in 2020]
- FOOTBALL TEAM [Name of Washington’s football team, as of 2020]
- SAY HER NAME [Phrase on the backs of W.N.B.A. warmup shirts during the 2020 season]
- WILDCAT STRIKE [Direct action initiated by the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2020 N.B.A. playoffs]
- NAOMI OSAKA [Tennis player who wore masks drawing attention to police brutality and racism during her winning run at the 2020 U.S. Open]
- BUBBA WALLACE [Driver who successfully lobbied Nascar to ban Confederate flags in 2020]
- DANCE [“The Last ___” (2020 basketball docuseries that spawned the meme “. . . and I took that personally”)]
- ASTRO [Member of the M.L.B. team whose manager and G.M. were suspended and dismissed in January, 2020, due to a sign-stealing scandal]
- …and a bunch of other sports-flavored clues for entries that weren’t strictly about *2020* sports
This puzzle does a great job of highlighting how sports and social activism collided in 2020, with all of the long entries relating to an action by an athlete or team to use their prominence to call attention to police violence and/or systemic racism.
A few more things:
- I laughed out loud putting in FOOTBALL TEAM as the answer for [Name of Washington’s football team, as of 2020]. Erik has been very clear on his stance that he does not care about dupes, as this clue/answer pair makes abundantly clear. This is a hilarious, boss move.
- The grid design is chunky and cool — no free-floating individual squares at all. Even crossword puzzles can play team sports!
- I had never heard of RENMINBI and have now googled and learned that there is a subtle difference between RENMINBI and the more-common-in-crosswords “yuan” that I still do not fully grasp
- I was going to call TUH fill I could live without but… after saying it in my head a few times, I mean, yeah, that actually totally works???
Overall, buckets of stars from me. SEE YOU IN 2021, INTERNET FRIENDS!
Amanda Rafkin and Ross Trudeau’s Universal crossword, pannonica’s write-up
I had thought that ‘cutoff tees’ were the same as crop tops, but some internet searching failed to confirm that; instead, it seems that term may refer to tee shirts with the arms cut off, which results in a garment that’s akin to a tank top, but fuller.
Regardless, in the context of this crossword, what’s happening is that doubled letter Ts are removed from familiar phrases for—it’s hoped—wacky results. Unfortunately, for this solver, the authors ERR (46a) in a serious way on the first one.
- 16a. [Surge in summer swimsuit sales?] BIKINI BOOM (bikini bottom). Sure, framed by the clue, this is benign. But seeing it in-grid, I can’t help but think of the awful atomic bomb blasts that took place on the Bikini atoll. Not the right foot to start on.
- 20a. [Captain’s declaration before a team hits the bar?] WE DESERVE BEER (we deserve better).
- 36a. [Prophet from Dublin?] IRISH SEER (Irish setter). Not to be confused with the landseer.
- 55a. [Select your hay pragmatically?] PICK YOUR BALES (pick your battles). Hey, that’s quite humorous.
- 59a. [Where stage directors learn their craft?] CUING CLASS (cutting class).
Check out those mega-overlaps in the first and last two themers! 8 letters. That’s some serious stuff.
Anyway, aside from the uber-dubious first salvo, the theme is quite entertaining and good.
- 3d [Place to dip a quill] INK WELL is gratuitously duplicated by 8a [Squid ink holders] SACS. factette: the internal shell of a squid—which helps keep the mantle shape—is called a pen because it is feather shaped. All ties together, eh?
- 5d [One may visit earth, in movies] ALIEN. Speaking of which, I just watched Arrival (2016) for the first time. The ‘Heptapod’ visitors in that film are vaguely squid-like and communicate by creating circular logograms with an ink-like substance that they produce internally. I know I’m well behind the curve, but if you enjoy language per se, this linguistics-driven story might be for you.
- 17d [Contract to protect trade secrets: Abbr.] NDA. I’m quit fed up hearing about how a certain individual uses these all the time.
- 22d [AP exam company] ETS. Educational Testing Service, which is also behind the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) [Exam for some college srs.] (25a)
- 35d [Word with a record 430 OED definitions] SET. That’s an impressive bit of trivia.
- 46d [Lumet film whose title is Latin for “horse”] EQUUS. From the play by Peter Schaffer.
- 53d [Pampering initials] TLC, 31d [What getting a massage is an example of] SELF CARE.
- 61d [“Blueberries for __” (kid lit classic)] SAL. New one on me, and a new clue for this crossword staple. Oh wait. I’ve looked it up and definitely recognize it. A Caldecott winner in 1949.
- 12a [Mother’s sister, maybe] AUNT. Help me out here.
- 13a [Laze] LOLL. My only misstep in this rather quick and easy solve. I tried LOAF first.
- 62d [Word before “novel” or “store”] DIME. 65a [Hit the brakes] STOP. Providing an usual case of inversion with dime on a stop.
So, to tie everything together again, here’s some inversion behavior in the vampire squid (nb not a true squid):
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s AVCX, “Gifted Individuals” — Ben’s Review
BEQ has the final AVCX of 2020, and, like me, it’s already done with ’20 and looking forward to ’21:
- 18A: With 60A, actor Jamie got under the skin of the red car from “Cars”? — FOXX IRKED/LIGHTNING
- 23A: Fitness book author Jim reenacting a scene from “Pinocchio”? — FIXX IN WHALE
- 37A: Declaration that one indeed rules as regent over Mötley Crüe’s bassist? — THE KING OF SIXX I AM
- 53A: Annual occasion when people post novelist Murdoch’s phone number online? — DOXX IRIS DAY
I caught that something with XXI was happening in all of the theme entries in the grid with FOXX IRKED, but didn’t fully process how this worked until I got to DOXX IRIS DAY and realized that without the XXI, we had DORIS DAY. Similarly, without any of the other XXIs, we have FORKED LIGHTNING, FIN WHALE, and THE KING OF SIAM.
BEQ’s grid ACTS AS a great primer into the breadth of musical fill – in addition to Nikki SIXX in the theme clues, we have INI Kamoze (whose “Here Comes the Hotstepper” topped the Billboard singles chart in 1994), we have ARP synthesizers, NINA Simone, BMI (“ASCAP rival”), Matador Recordings’ catalog listing code (a new way to clue OLE), BOX SET (“Completist music fan’s purchase”, which I assumed would be B-SIDES), and DMX (“‘Ruff Ryders’ Anthem’ rapper”).
We’re almost to 2021 – have a safe and warm finish to your 2020!
Hoang-Kim Vu’s LA Times crossword—Jim P’s review
Jim P here pinch-hitting for Gareth.
We have a synonym theme today where each theme phrase ends in a word that can mean “speedy.” The revealer is POSTHASTE (56a, [With immediacy, or a hint to the four other longest puzzle answers]), where POST seems to be indicating “after,” or in other words, the tail end of the phrase.
- 18a. [Academy attended by James T. Kirk] STARFLEET
- 24a. [Artist with a record 32 American Music Awards] TAYLOR SWIFT
- 34a. [Deeply hurt] CUT TO THE QUICK
- 49a. [Inviolable, as a rule] HARD AND FAST. Here FAST means “secure.”
That’s a nice set of themers. My only gripe is that HASTE is a noun where all the theme’s keywords are adjectives.
The 13-letter central entry results in large corners which are filled pretty well with one exception. I like the theme-adjacent “STEP ON IT“as well as FAT CATS, ELECTRIC, and CUBE ROOT.
The challenge in this grid is its proper names. In the northwest NIALL and TRURO were tough but gettable. Same with NEFF in the northeast. What was brutal was the mash-up in the southeast: QUINN / NIEKRO / MAKEBA. The only one of those I was reasonably sure of (once most of the crossings were in place) was MAKEBA [Folk singer Miriam known as “Mama Africa”]. The others I had no idea about and ended up guessing wrong with QUINT / TIEKRO. (Quint was the boat captain in Jaws; no idea why I went with that name over the more common QUINN.) Oh yeah, FERMI‘s in that corner as well, but most people should be able to suss him out with a few crossings. My point is: Do try to avoid crossing proper names, and definitely don’t cross three or four names.
Clues of note:
- 40a. [Double duty?]. STUNT. Nice one.
- 6d. [Late-summer orientation mtg. holders]. Hmm. Not as nice. In fact, it’s a long way to go just to get RAS.