Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Dress Down” – Jenni’s write-up
This seems like a pretty thin theme for a Fireball puzzle. It’s more like a Tuesday NYT than a Thursday, and as my time suggests, there wasn’t anything in the fill to make it more challenging. I figured it out with the first theme answer (the circles made it hard to miss) and kept waiting for something more….but no. There are three theme answers and a revealer.
- 5d [Unusually good agreements] are SWEETHEART DEALS.
- 7d ]Landmark Supreme Court case of 1803] is MARBURY V MADISON. This case established the principle of judicial review, which holds that the Supreme Court can strike down laws that conflict with the Constitution. I’m sure I knew that back when Mr. Mendelsohn taught AP American History.
- 10d [ Workers in charge of upkeep] are the MAINTENANCE CREW.
The revealer (so to speak): 3d [With 38-Down, the theme of this puzzle] is PLUNGING NECKLINE. SWEETHEART neckline, V-neck, and CREW neck. The necklines move downward across the grid, and so do the two revealers. It’s solid and consistent and all the other things I routinely praise in Monday NYT themes, and that’s all well and good. I want more from the Fireball, and Peter usually delivers. Not this time (unless I’m missing something. Am I missing something?)
A few other things:
- There are two relatively challenging geographic entries in the NW: 2d [One end of the Johor-Singapore Causeway] is MALAYSIA, crossing 14a [Where kwacha are spent], MALAWI. Geography is not my strong suit – it’s not even in my closet. They still didn’t slow me down because the rest of that corner is pretty much gimmes and I have at least heard of both countries.
- 7a [Ones who have gotten body wraps?] are MUMMIES. Cute.
- I may have forgotten the details of MARBURY V MADISON but I remember “Cat’s Cradle” from high school (yes, I read Vonnegut for a high school English class) so 18a [Bokonism is one in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”] was also a gimme. It’s RELIGION.
- 20d [Patrick Creadon’s documentary after “Wordplay”] was IOUSA, on the National Debt.
- 36d [Donation recipient] is GIVEE. Come on.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that anyone would put GIVEE in a puzzle. I also did not know that “Without a Trace” came on after CSI, or that MAR–A–LAGO is a National Historic Landmark. This designation predates its current ownership.
Ed Sessa’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
Today’s puzzle from Ed Sessa has more going on under the surface than may initially appear to be the case:
- 23A: Kansas or Kentucky, politically – [RED] STATE
- 29A: Certain Miller beers – [RED] DOGS
- 43A: Rhetoric for the political base, figuratively — [RED] MEAT
- 45A: Warning sign — [RED] FLAG
these are all well and good, but the revealer shows that the theme is actually RIGHT ON RED (63A, “Traffic go-ahead that should be followed four times in this puzzle”). Looking at the downs that intersect the [RED] squeares, those entries can’t work without some twisting to the right when they hit [RED]:
- 2D: Drunkenness or hypnosis — ALTE[RED] STATE
- 9D: Poodles, but not schnoodles or doodles — PUREB[RED] DOGS
- 31D: Pancetta or prosciutto — CU[RED] MEAT
- 18D: Something waved when a race is won — CHECKE[RED] FLAG
I thought this was cute, even if I caught on to what was going on early and slashed through the majority of the grid.
I think this is my favorite of Bill “BOJANGLES” Robinson’s performances on film
other fill of note: A shout-out to Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Anti-RACIST” at 1A, STAGE ACTOR, HONEST ABE, DON’T PANIC, KARL Lagerfeld, INGOTS, and SPLOTCH
Zachary David Levy & Bruce Haight’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Dodgy Figures”—Jim P’s review
The central revealer is PYRAMID SCHEME (33a, [Financial fraud, and a hint to the circled letters]). The circled letters in the four corners of the grid are shaped like tiny pyramids and comprise words that are synonyms of “scheme.”
Those synonyms are PLOY, WILE, RUSE, and HOAX.
Cute, but once you figure that out, there’s not a lot of enjoyment to be squeezed out of the theme. Grokking the theme did help me in the lower half of the grid—which is the main job of a theme—but I had to look to the fill for further amusement.
I found some in APPLE PAY, BOWL GAME, BUDDY UP, LOCK ONTO, MUPPET, and Aziz ANSARI. I’d never heard of MEAT AXES as another term for cleavers, but that was fun to learn.
What was less fun was RATE CARD [Ad rep’s offering] which feels like something only people in the business would know, and I’d never heard of the painter LIPPI. Also, that NE corner is saddled with some crusty stuff like ECLAT, ENSEAL, and ATINGE. Blurgh.
Clues of note:
- 17a. [Scooter, e.g.]. MUPPET. Scooter was basically the team’s manager and gofer. I always liked Scooter for his positive, can-do attitude and the fact that his eyes were embedded into his glasses.
- 27a. [Hitchcock film that takes place in a Manhattan penthouse]. ROPE. I’ve never seen it, but I believe this is the one that seems to have been filmed in one long, continuous take, although that’s obviously not the case. Cuts were disguised with various techniques, like having an actor walk very close to the camera. But, per Wikipedia, most scenes last up to 10 minutes. Apparently, star Jimmy Stewart was exasperated by the whole procedure with all the planning and practice required.
- 31a. [Friday’s org.]. LAPD. Sgt. Joe Friday of Dragnet.
- 3d. [Phone charger?]. APPLE PAY. Nice clue.
- 20d. [His “Marsuppini Coronation” is in the Vatican]. LIPPI. You can see the painting here. Marsuppini wasn’t the one being crowned; it was Mary being crowned by her son Jesus. Marsuppini was a donor. I guess if you’re rich enough, you get to have your likeness immortalized with the likes of Jesus and Mary and hung in the Vatican.
Lots of ups and downs in this grid, which is somewhat appropriate for a pyramid-based theme. 3.5 stars.
Kyle Dolan’s Universal crossword, “Bighearted” — Jim Q’s write-up
Great title! It also serves as the revealer.
THEME: Words that can follow “Big” are at the “heart” of common phrases.
- SOLID EARTH. Big Idea.
- TOMATO PASTE. Big Top.
- PANAMA CANAL. Big Mac.
- MAKE A STINK. Big East.
This is pretty nifty. At first, I thought it was an “unscramble-the-hidden-word” theme since I entered SOLID GROUND and saw IDGR circled. I anagrammed that to GRID and spent a couple seconds trying to think of revealers that would hint at mixing those letters.
Then I realized I misspelled GROUND in order to get it to fit. When I corrected it and saw IDEA the theme was apparent.
Other good stuff in this grid:
- 24A [Heat shield?] MITT. Oven mitt. For some reason, I was picturing the Miami Heat with protective catcher’s mitts on their hands, which would make for an awfully interesting basketball game.
- 22D [Wager for lager, maybe?] TYPO. An excellent callback to the clue for 12D [Wager over lager, say] BAR BET.
- 41D [Grapefruit diet, e.g.] FAD. Glad I never hopped on that bandwagon. I hadn’t heard of it ’til now. Sounds gross.
- 8D [Comedian McKinnon] KATE. She is so wildly talented.
I can’t not include my recurring complaint that this puzzle is better served with circles, and I find it odd that Universal is not addressing its inability to include circles on its widely available platforms more quickly (I was told that a fix was coming, but that was over a year ago). For me, it’s a completely different solve experience with circles. Here is a screenshot of an example:
Without reading the clue, I was able to enter MAC off of the C in MANIC because the theme, the fill, and the circles were working synergistically. I would not be able to do that with the “workaround” where Universal asks its solvers to count letters and mentally circle them in their minds-eyes.
If Universal is confident with the workaround solution, then why bother to offer a different solve experience by including a grid with circled letters on this site?
Anyway, puzzle itself was a lot of fun.
4 stars with circles. 2.5 without.
Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1363), “Unearthly” — Jenni’s review
All the theme entries are well-know phrases that have been punnily reworked to include extraterrestrial references.
- 17a [Things Chewbacca does that prevent the Millennium Falcon from flying?] would be WOOKIE MISTAKES (rookie mistakes). I’m not going to give him that feedback. Any takers?
- 25a [Where Jake Sully spends most of his time during “Avatar”?] is IN THE NAVI (in the Navy).
- 31a [With 46-Across, “Forget about Doctor Who’s enemies”?] is NEVER MIND THE DALEKS. I need some help with the base phrase here – it’s not coming to me. UPDATE: Thanks to David Glasser in comments for alerting me to “Never Mind The Bollocks,” an album by the Sex Pistols. No links since I’m posting this from work (shhh).
- 51a [With 64-Across, that “Star Trek” alien doing somebody’s manicure?] is KLINGON BY ONE‘S FINGERNAILS (clinging by one’s fingernails).
I love a Klingon as much as the next casual Trekker, but that last one doesn’t sit right with me. Hanging on by one’s fingernails, sure. Clinging? Not so much. The Google Ngram viewer agrees with me. I can’t say anything more about this than “all the punnified answers are amusing.” When someone tells me what the Doctor Who reference is based on, I’ll know what I think of it overall.
A few other things:
- Given the theme, I thought 1a [Org. for green-minded women?] might refer to aliens. Nope. Golfers. It’s LPGA.
- I really can’t stand Guy FIERI. Just me?
- 20a [Not one of Dem. folks?] is a great clue for IND.
- Could have done without PRE TV and REAIR. The former is roll-your-own and the latter was replaced by RERUN if it was ever a thing to start with.
- KNORR chicken soup was my favorite commercial chicken soup when I was a kid. Not nearly as good as my mothers, of course, but SO much better than the slimy noodles in the canned stuff.
- Very grateful that my mother didn’t need an iron lung when she had POLIO at the age of 17, shortly before the vaccine was introduced. In related news, get your COVID vaccine, people! It’s the most effective vaccine I’ve ever seen but it won’t work if you don’t actually get it.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of the Coldplay album “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends.” Also did not know that Kirsten DUNST appeared in “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” which has to be one of the great TV series titles of all time. Looks like it’s on Showtime, which we don’t have, so I’ll have to figure out if it’s worth tracking down. Opinions?
Joe Deeney’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Another day with a fairly basic theme concept, but with interesting answers keeping it from feeling stale. The revealer is DUSTJACKET, and as seen in the added circles, four two part answers are flanked by DU/ST. I liked all the entries – DUMMYWHIST, DUNKCONTEST, DUALEXHAUST plus DUEWEST as a clever way to include a fourth entry without weakening the grid design.
- [Muse’s gift, in modern slang], INSPO. Who is saying this? It sounds Australian… They like to end slang in -o. See: bottle-o.
[Everglades bird, EGRET]. Didn’t go there on my last off day, but did visit Strandfontein Sewage Works. The only one of the six true egrets found here I saw was Little, but I did also see (Western) Cattle Egrets, which are not true egrets…
- [Miso soup base], DASHI. New to me, but Japanese cooking is very popular.
- Less savoury fill choices: ARMSSALES & ASSAD. Grim mini-theme that.