Howard Barkin’s New York Times crossword, “I’ve Got a Feeling…”—Amy’s write-up
Quick recap, dinner is on its way. Theme is familiar phrases clued as if they’re the feelings experienced by specific individuals:
- 22a. [Upbeat sentry’s emotion?], GUARDED OPTIMISM
- 37a. [Bacteriologist’s emotion upon a new discovery?], CULTURE SHOCK
- 55a. [Novice window-washer’s emotion?], HIGH ANXIETY
- 76a. [Jester’s emotion after the king’s laughter?], COMIC RELIEF
- 90a. [Wild horse’s emotion?], UNBRIDLED JOY. Love this one.
- 110a. [Cat’s emotion while sitting in its human’s lap?], CREATURE COMFORT
- 15d. [Evil genie’s emotion?], BOTTLED-UP ANGER
- 49d. [Farmer’s emotion during a dry season?], GROWING CONCERN
Great theme, executed well.
A few notes:
- 45a. [Any member of BTS, e.g.], TEEN IDOL. They’re all in their 20s. Are TEEN IDOLs the idols of teenaged fans, or idols who are teens, or either/both?
- 20d. [Cable option for film buffs], TMC. “Film” connotes classics, and TMC shows movies like 1987’s Masters of the Universe. It’s Turner Classic Movies, TCM, that draws ardent film buffs.
- 9d. [Actor Wilford of “The Natural”], BRIMLEY. Matt Damon just reached the Brimley/Cocoon line (a fun Twitter account), being the same age (about 50 and a half) Brimley was when he played a very elderly man in Cocoon.
OUT TO WIN, BUGS BUNNY, DEEP CUT, CON ARTIST among the grid highlights. Overall experience so good, I forgave OENO-.
Did not know: 69d. [Silk Road city near the East China Sea], NINGBO.
Four stars from me. Enjoy the holiday if you’re not working!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “It’s a Start” – Jim Q’s Write-up
Well. This is quite remarkable.
THEME: On what level? Let’s see… beginnings? America? The Declaration of Independence? Take your pick.
- 27A [Strongly assertive one (Greek letters)] ALPHA FEMALE. Great entry. Also, ALPHA is the first of the Greek letters.
- 36A [Honda Accords’ competitors, once (planets from the sun)] MERCURY SABLE. I had one. High school. Moonroof. Good times. Both my MERCURY SABLE and a deer crossing the interstate highway met a fateful end. The radio still worked in the immediate aftermath of that crash. Roger Waters was singin’ away. Anyway, MERCURY is the first planet from the sun.
- 55A [Solitary insects that feed on cockroaches (commissioned Navy officer ranks)] ENSIGN WASPS. Heard of ENSIGNs. Heard of WASPS. Didn’t know either of these factoids.
- 58A [English photographer who co-founded Rock Against Racism (rainbow colors)] RED SAUNDERS. An example of how careful cluing can help you out of a jam if you only know half of the answers. Thanks, ROY G. BIV!
- 92A [“No need for us to talk much longer” (Roman numerals)] I WON’T KEEP YOU. Excellent entry. “I” being the first (or the Ist, as the Romans would say) of the Roman numerals.
- 95A [Actress who played Leia (Stephen King novels)] CARRIE FISHER. Well, this was a gimme on both sides of the clue for me, even though I’ve never seen a Star Wars film. However, I have seen Carrie: The Musical. Anyone else? Anyone?
- 111A [Early home of R.E.M. (Olympics host cities)] ATHENS, GEORGIA. Oddly enough, if this were clued as the home of Patrick Berry, I would’ve gotten it much sooner.
But wait, there’s more…
That theme is just fine on its own. But I suspected a Birnholzian layer immediately. That roughly translates to: Always look at the FIRST LETTERs of themers. You never know what you’re gonna get. So I patted myself on the back immediately as I saw the A and the M at the heads of the first two themers and thought AMERICA!
And indeed that is correct. What I didn’t see coming……….
125A [Highly important feature of seven answers (and every clue) in this puzzle] FIRST LETTER.
See that?! I’m right! Every first letter of the answer and… wait what? What’s that tossed-off parenthetical phrase in the clue? If I’m reading that correctly then….
[Highly important feature of seven answers ***(and every clue)*** in this puzzle]
- 141A [You’ll find an excerpt from this document in this puzzle] DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
Slow. F***ing. Clap.
Look at that. Look at the clues. And there it is.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Okay. I’ve had a full 36 hours to digest this, and I’m still blown away. Is it a bit of a stunt puzzle? Sure… I guess you can say that. The stunt is ironically hiding at center stage, actually. But stunt puzzles are so often solely about the stunt. Not about solver enjoyment. In less deft hands, this could’ve been a nightmare. But with Evan at the helm, it’s truly a work of art. The stunt is modest in a sense (while simultaneously hogging the spotlight). It’s like if Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick had been acting in chorus roles of a revival of The Producers for the entire show, but no one pointed it out until the end, and then it’s all your slack-jawed face was focused on.
So before criticism rolls in for the “stuntiness” of it, let’s not forget that this puzzle works primarily at a solver enjoyment level. The stunt is an *amazing* bonus. The puzzle itself is full of all that synergy that theme clues should have… If you don’t know who RED SAUNDERS is, then surely you know the first color in the rainbow, no? Never had the pleasure of driving 70 MPH into an unsuspecting deer whilst lighting a cigarette and cruising down I-84 in your MERCURY SABLE and are therefore unfamiliar with that particular no-frills model (not that that moment of my high school years sticks out as a vivid memory or anything…)? No prob. You know MERCURY is the first rock from the sun.
Then there’s the whole spelling of AMERICA in the first letters of the themers, which is trope that constant WaPo solvers are likely to take for granted. Evan employs that technique frequently. In fact, I’d flat out call it “his.” Still, it’s amazing. I never tire of it.
Then the whole clue thing. Didn’t see that coming at all. And that is exactly why it’s so brilliant. In retrospect, can I point to a clue or two and say “Yeah, I thought that was a tad awkwardly worded…”? Sure. But the fact that I didn’t immediately notice that there was a stunt happening in the clues (after solving nearly all of Evan’s published puzzles, WaPo or otherwise)… that’s quite remarkable. I know Birnholz clues. And while [Exchanged words on the phone] is indeed a weird way to clue TEXTED… it’s almost like he set himself up for this moment. Because that is indeed a very normal way for Evan to clue TEXTED (btw, anyone else want TALKED at first?).
This is a mic drop five-star (plus) moment. And I stopped star-rating Evan’s puzzles a while ago.
Hope the 1-star trolls stay under the bridge.
And, of course, Happy Fourth. America: It’s a Start. It’s the start of something great. We’re getting there. As long as we all keep trying.
P.S. Forgot to point out the oversized grid. 25×21. Doesn’t matter. Just, if I don’t point it out, then I’ll get called out for not pointing it out. So there. Done.
Will Nediger’s Universal crossword, “Icebreakers”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Phrases with the consecutive letters I-C-E in them must be parsed anew with the word ICE.
- 20A [What you should give a lover who prefers quality time over diamonds?] MOMENTS. NOT ICE. Moment’s notice.
- 38A [Announcement at a disappointing open bar?] JUST ICE IS SERVED. Justice is served.
- 57A [What figure skating partners with a lot of chemistry might have?] OFF-ICE ROMANCE. Office romance.
Three winners as themers. That’s all you need! I didn’t see the theme right away after uncovering MOMENT’S NOTICE and had to read the clue a couple of times (and then the title) before it clicked. A very satisfying click at that.
I found the puzzle in general waaaay more difficult than a typical Universal 15x. But in a good way. New for me: IFTAR, ANNEAL, ERIC Wareheim, Sarah Reich, “Treemonisha,” Valletta, DESIS (not new… just forgot it). I think that’s it. Clues in general just seemed tougher than normal (looking at you, APEMEN).
Enjoy the 4th!
Joe Deeney’s Universal Sunday crossword, “One Nation Under God”—Jim P’s review
The title is a turn-off for me because I feel strongly that “under God” should not be in the Pledge of Allegiance. The phrase was only added in 1954, and logically, it has no business in an official pledge of a country that purports to espouse freedom of religion (which I also believe means freedom from religion). It was added as a response to the stated atheism of communism. The main instigator who got the phrase included was a Rev. George Docherty who, in a sermon at which Pres. Eisenhower was in attendance, stated, “To omit the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the American way of life…An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms. If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life.” In my view, saying that non-Christians aren’t ideal Americans runs counter to the freedom of religion that this country was founded on. If you’re interested, here’s a history of legal challenges to the pledge.
But I needn’t have worried that any of that had anything to do with the puzzle which quickly won me over.
Upon looking at the grid, the first thing you notice are the groupings of eight circled squares. Putting that together with the title, you can safely surmise that in each grouping the top circled letters will spell out a god, and the bottom circled letters will spell out a country. And you’d be right.
- 22a [“The Crucible” judge?] DRAMA CRITIC and 26a [“Annabelle: Creation” actress] MIRANDA OTTO. Rama (the seventh avatar of Vishnu) and Iran. Good clue on the first one, and I know the actress as Éowyn from The Lord of the Rings films.
- 38a [Waited at a theme park] STOOD IN LINE and 44a [System administrators, often] SUPERUSERS. Odin and Peru.
- 50a [Feline toon with a bow] HELLO KITTY and 55a [Oversee excessively] MICROMANAGE. Loki and Oman. I love love looove the fact that trickster Loki is hiding in sweet, innocent HELLO KITTY. Ha!
- 68a [Sleepover game question] TRUTH OR DARE and 72a [Robin Williams film about an aspiring doctor] PATCH ADAMS. Thor and Chad (which is kinda appropriate, actually). Really impressed with this pairing of fun entries. Regarding the film, I’ve never seen it and it got terrible reviews with Gene Siskel calling it the worst film of 1998. But it makes for a fun crossword entry. Side note: recently I learned the real Patch Adams and his hospital, the Gesundheit! Institute, never saw a dime from the film’s proceeds.
- 79a [Gives too many personal details] OVERSHARES and 86a [“I swear!”] HONEST TO GOD. Ares and Togo. I was surprised to see the second entry when “God” is in the title of the puzzle.
- 100a [Converted into droplets] AEROSOLIZED and 106a [Aquatic activity involving masks] SCUBA DIVING. Eros and Cuba.
Final score: Hindu gods: 1, Norse gods: 3, Greek gods: 2, Roman/Judeo-Christian/Muslim/Native American gods: 0. It would have been nice if there was a little more balance in the gods chosen, but I’m not going to nitpick about that, because…
Wow, this is a really impressive execution of this theme. Just think on it for a bit. One, you have to find hidden god names and hidden country names in interesting entries. Two, you have to stack those entries so the gods and countries line up, and—crucially—they still allow you to have decent fill all around both entries. Three, you’ve got to fit all these paired theme answers symmetrically in the grid. And four, fill the rest of the grid with not-crud.
That’s a hugely tall order, but Joe meets it with flying colors.
Look at this great fill: PANEER, ASCOTS, Maya ANGELOU, KER-PLOP!, SUB-GENRE, MALLRAT, TAHINI, Fin-de-SIECLE, “DON’T AT ME!,” MEET-CUTE (though I’ve seen it more than enough in crosswords, TBH), AVOCADOS, GENE POOL, RODRIGO, and EGO TRIP. Good stuff!
Naturally, with so many constraints, a few bits of crosswordese creep in (THE A, CDRS). But there’s surprisingly little.
Clues of note:
- 108a. [One unlikely to question a pose?]. YOGI. Cute.
- 16d. [Great Wall of China’s middle?]. ELS. That’s one way to dress up some crosswordese. My reaction is mostly “meh” but the ELS happen to be in the exact middle of “Great Wall of China.”
- 97d. [“Hot Fuzz” director Wright]. EDGAR. I love the Cornetto Trilogy, but I couldn’t have told you who directed them.
Brilliantly executed theme and wonderful fill. 4.25 stars.
Pam Amick Klawitter’s LA Times crossword, “Surprise Package” – Jenni’s write-up
I didn’t figure out what was going on until I got to the revealer, which is the very last entry in the puzzle.
- 14d [*Traveler’s aid] is a PACKING LIST. I’d be better off if I used one. As it is, I usually have to find a store at my destination to replace the things I forgot.
- 22a [*Editorial comment] is a TEXT SUGGESTION.
- 39a [*Part of a school kid’s allowance] is LUNCH MONEY.
- 69d [*Bank transaction] is a CASH DEPOSIT.
- 70a [*Online dating coup] is a TINDER MATCH.
- 101a [*Tough talk tension easer] is an ICE BREAKER.
- 121a [*Fast talk from the on-deck circle] is BATTER‘S CHATTER. No, it’s not.
And the revealer: 130a [Shipping supply that links the answers to the starred clues] is BOX. That made me think BOX would actually be a link, following the first word and preceding the second. Nope. It follows both words. At least I think it does. I don’t know what a LIST BOX is, nor do I know what a BOX LIST would be. It would be a perfectly fine Sunday theme without that and without BATTER‘S CHATTER, which is not a phrase anyone uses. There’s a lot of CHATTER, no doubt, but that’s not the same thing. With those two….not my favorite theme.
A few other things:
- 8d [Overhead storage] is the ATTIC. I have travel on the brain and couldn’t see that for the longest time.
- We’ll have dinner about three blocks from LEHIGH University tonight! We’re going to try an Irish pub that has a great whiskey list; if they’re not open, we’ll walk down the block to an awesome tapas restaurant.
- I was all set to fulminate about dupes when I saw 81a [Solution measures] and had _ITERS when LITRES appears elsewhere. Turns out it’s TITERS. Apologies to Rich and Pam for even thinking you’d do that.
- 88a [Space race initials] are USSR. If you haven’t already listened to the BBC podcast “13 Minutes to the Moon,” do it now. It’s beautifully done and manages to create suspense even when I knew the ending (spoiler: Apollo 11 landed successfully on the moon). I learned a ton about the space program, space travel in general, and the way science and technology progressed in the 1960s. Highly recommend. The second season covers the Apollo 13 disaster and is even better than the first.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Kaley CUOCO played Penny on “The Big Bang Theory.” That probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve never seen the show. Wait, that’s not entirely true. I watched about five minutes of it a few years ago and was so annoyed by the gender garbage and stereotyping that I turned it off. Don’t @me about the smart women portrayed on the show.
Alyson Hannigan’s character is a terrible stereoype. As pointed out in comments, it wasn’t Alyson Hannigan. I wonder who the hell it was? Anyway. And no, it was not Mayim Bialik – I know who she is.