Jim Hilger’s New York Times crossword, “Product Misplacement”—Amy’s write-up
Took me awhile to figure out what was going on with the theme answers, but eventually things cohered. Six familiar phrases have a generic noun replaced by a brand name for such a thing:
- 23a. [Huge celebration after L.A.’s football team wins the Super Bowl?], MONSTER RAM RALLY. The Rams are again an L.A. football team. It never seemed right when they were in St. Louis, and it seems wrong that the Cardinals are in Arizona. Anyway, Ram (formerly Dodge Ram) is a brand of truck, and monster truck rallies are a thing.
- 38a. [Reason that the prestigious scientific journal refuses articles from President Herbert’s relatives?], NATURE ABHORS A HOOVER. Hoover vacuums, the journal Nature.
- 57a. [Apology from a musician to the other band members?], MY SOLO RUNNETH OVER. Solo plastic cups. This one’s kinda funny.
- 79a. [Volunteered at a nursery?], WORKED FOR PLANTERS. Planters peanuts, legume of choice for monocle fans.
- 97a. [Adding a historic ship as a deal sweetener?], THROWING IN THE BOUNTY. Took a bit for me to remember that Bounty is a brand of paper towel … even though their select-a-size is actually my preferred brand.
- 117a. [Story about a drinking binge?], TALE OF THE SCOTCH. Scotch tape. I know “tale of the tape” solely from Cubs games, in the context of the tape measure distance a home run ball traveled.
I enjoyed the theme, had to work for it a bit.
I liked finding IRISH LINEN in the grid, but it felt like there was too much blah fill for me to enjoy the whole puzzle. OCTA, BAILOR, SEISMS, LOGE, SO RARE, VALOREM (!), AEONS, that sort of stuff.
It’s time for dinner now, so I’ll sign off with a 3.4-star assessment.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “That Makes No Sense” – Jim Q’s Write-up
Perfect title in more ways than one.
THEME: Phrases that have senses in them are clued as if the sense is not there with the crossing entries,
- 23A [Specialized cell that responds to stimuli] TASTE RECEPTOR.
- 49A [Device for many an Apple Music subscriber] iPOD TOUCH.
- 70A [Something picked up at an auto dealership] NEW CAR SMELL.
- 93A [Go through notes, say SIGHT READ.
- 122A [C-SPAN 2 focus] SENATE HEARING.
*Color coded solution grid courtesy of Evan
Yowza this one was tough. The cluing all around coupled with that curveball theme made the whole thing extremely difficult for me, clocking in at north of thirty minutes. To compare, my normal solve time is 10-15 minutes for a WaPo. Lots of elbow grease went into this one. But while definitely frustrating at times, I gotta say I rather loved it. It’s not often a WaPo goes for Fireball difficulty, which is what this one approaches imo.
When, out of the gate, you can’t get a foothold and you suspect something is amiss, the best thing to do is find several entries adjacent to one another that you’re absolutely certain of. For me, I found this foothold in the Southeast corner with ONO, RAP, TBS, ARES, PITA, and SEAL. Noting they all crossed.a longer answer I assumed they skipped over it, and knowing Evan’s style I began to drop in a fourth or fifth letter for each that would still make them legitimate crossword words.
That led to OH NO! REAPS, TABS, PINTA, and SEGAL, which in turn allowed me to see SENATE HEARING quite easily and gave me the AHA I needed so I could be on the lookout for more trickery. Senses are being skipped!
But wow, it was still a tricky path to the solution. Especially in the north. So many stumbles I don’t know where to begin.
ASININE for PUERILE (a word I’ve only read and never heard! I don’t know how to pronounce it. Is it “Pure Isle”?), HOE for CUE (great clue!), ODYSSEUS for ARGONAUT (how do they have the same number of letters?! I mean, I know the former was headed for Ithaka, but I thought perhaps he wanted to do some sight-seeing at Colchis along the way…) STALKED for STANNED (I’ve never heard of STANNED, but STALKED did seem way too creepy an answer for the clue), LOTTA for LOTSA, TAWNY for TONED, ASP for RAM, okay I’ll stop there. There’s lots more.
We’ve seen the “skip-over-a-letter” idea before, but usually the cluing is softened up to compensate for the trickiness of the theme. Not here! In addition to all the aforementioned stumbles were plenty of ambiguous clues that could have multiple answers such as [Object] for ITEM. I mean, “Object” can be a ton of different things, right?
Mind you, none of this is a complaint. I rather enjoyed it. After all, it is a puzzle, right? And puzzles by nature should challenge and baffle. And some are just plain difficult. Difficult ones, in the end, should still be satisfying and fair, and this one fits that bill. My only real nit with the puzzle is that I would prefer if all the senses didn’t actually refer to senses… such as SENATE HEARING. HEARING in that sense doesn’t really evoke the auditory definition, whereas TASTE RECEPTOR certainly points directly to the sense.
There may be an element to the theme or its execution that I am missing. I’m not entirely sure.
One more curious note is a lengthy apology from Evan for the clue for 111D. I personally did not realize that it was controversial. I mean, has anyone ever listened to the “Lucy” episode of NPR’s RadioLab? That’s nuts (and intensely sad). Anyway, you can read the apology for yourself at Evan’s WaPo blog.
I’m certain he’ll catch flak for this one, but I hope no one comments about Evan’s lack of ideas. The variety of ideas is what makes opening a WaPo puzzle so exciting every damn time.
Enjoy Sunday. Think snow.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Split Screen”—Jim P’s review
Take the phrase DIRECTOR’S CUT, remove the apostrophe, and you have an apt description for what’s going on here. Famous directors’ names have been cut in two and are found in the circled letters at the starts and ends of the theme entries. The revealer at 115a is clued [Edited version of a film, and a theme hint]. (Not the best clue, since all versions of a film are edited, but its intent is understood.)
- 23a. [Film set worker] CAMERA PERSON. James Cameron, Titanic, Avatar.
- 29a. [Ralph Lauren cologne in a dark bottle] POLO BLACK. Sydney Pollack, Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, Out of Africa.
- 46a. [Metaphorical flop] LEAD BALLOON. Sir David Lean. This name I didn’t know, but that’s on me as he directed some classics: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and A Passage to India.
- 70a. [Classified spot] FOR SALE AD. John Ford, Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet Man. This entry was so hard to parse, mostly because it’s not as common a lexical phrase as “classified ad.” It didn’t help that I thought the correct answer to 48d [Jennifer of “The L Word”] was BEALE not BEALS, and that E really messed me up.
- 91a. [Fixes a damaged friendship] MENDS FENCES. Sam Mendes, Skyfall, American Beauty, 1917.
- 107a. [Frosted, citrusy dessert] LEMON CAKE. Lee, either Ang or Spike or Francis.
- 32d. [Doesn’t gain or lose] COMES OUT EVEN. Coen, either Joel or Ethan, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Raising Arizona.
- 42d. [Section for a nurse] HOSPITAL WARD. Ron Howard, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon.
It’s nice that these directors are all either working today and directing some big-name films or that they directed some of the classics in cinematic history. It’s not so nice that there isn’t much diversity in the names. I’m sure Zhouqin would have looked, but maybe no good entries exist for Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Ava DuVernay (Selma), or Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation). Otherwise, solid theme, expertly executed.
There’s so much theme material—going in both directions—that there’s little room for sparkly long fill. We do get “I LOVE L.A.“, LOOK-SEE, AGE SPOT, OCEANIA, and “YES, LET’S!” but nothing much longer. POOL SALT [Crystals added to a certain swimming place] is a new phrase to me having never been involved in pool management. I am familiar with chlorine, shock, and pH balancers, but I didn’t know people added salt to pool water.
Clues of note:
- 1a. [European bathroom fixture]. BIDET. I’ve been seeing a lot more talk about these here in the States the last few years, especially since the pandemic started. I guess they’re becoming more popular. This article goes into the surprising reasons why Americans have resisted them for so long: Puritanism and sexism (okay, maybe not so surprising).
- 88d. [Frozen Four org.]. NCAA. The clue refers to the collegiate ice hockey national championship tournament.
Paul Coulter’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “Sportscast” — Jenni’s write-up
Getting ready for the Boswords Wintersolve so this will be quick. The theme answers are phrases clued as if they referred to athletes.
- 22a [The troublesome soccer player ___] KICKED UP A RUCKUS.
- 34a [The bombastic archer___] SHOT HIS BIG MOUTH OFF. I knew an archer who shot himself in the foot. Never the mouth. That would be difficult. And yes, I do know it’s not meant literally.
- 44a [The frugal lacrosse goalie ___] SAVED IT FOR LATER.
- 63a [The daredevil baseball pitcher ___] THREW CAUTION TO THE WIND. I hear this in my head as WINDS, but Google NGram viewer says I’m very much in the minority. Good to know.
- 81a [The politically ambitious sprinter___] RAN FOR PRESIDENT.
- 90a [The lucky football received ___] CAUGHT A FALLING STAR.
- 111a [The foolhardy hockey player ___] SKATED ON THIN ICE. That one I filled in without crossings.
A solid theme that was reasonably pleasing.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that CALI is WSW of Bogota.
Here’s what 90a makes me think of.
Jacob Stulberg’s Universal crossword, “Bringing It All Back Home” — Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: The word NET advances in each of the common phrases.
- GREEN HORNET
- FINE TUNE
- PINE TAR
- PHONE TAG
- (revealer) NET PROCEEDS
Well, not my favorite solve of the day. I don’t really see how NET is proceeding. In the grid, it looks like it’s receding to me, but I guess it’s a matter of perspective. I look at the grid north to south. I suppose this one is asking you to look at the revealer first and look south to north. Why not put the revealer north as the first themer? That might be cool- and certainly different.
I got hung up on a lot of fill too, and not in the way that I really enjoy. ARCED/ESSIE is an ugly cross imo, I think of HERBal TEA, not HERB TEA. CAN’T I, A SEC and a few more. I MEAN, I liked GRANDMAMA (I didn’t know she was MAMA… I thought just GRANDMA. According to the atrocious Addam’s Family: The Musical, it’s just GRANDMA).
But a puzzle all the same. Rarely a bad thing. And it wasn’t in this case.
Looking forward to getting back to our regularly scheduled Universals tomorrow!