Ashish Vengsarkar’s New York Times crossword, “No Ruse”—Amy’s write-up
Hello, weekend party puzzlers!
The theme entries take familiar phrases, remove an R sound, adjust the spelling if needed to make another real word, and clue the resulting goofball phrase. The puzzle’s title is “No Ruse,” which feels off to me. It sounds like “no roos,” with the “roo” sounds changed to “oo”—but “no ruse” isn’t at all a familiar phrase to me. Here are the themers:
- 24a. [Onus for a magician’s disappearing act?], BURDEN OF POOF. Proof.
- 26a. [Study of how gels gel?], GOOP DYNAMICS. Fun with science! Group.
- 56a. [Angry Wisconsin sports fans?], MILWAUKEE BOOERS. Brewers.
- 80a. [Getting “Amscray!” under control?], TAMING OF THE “SHOO.” Shrew.
- 110a. [Power of a cowboy’s shoe?], BOOT STRENGTH. Brute.
- 116a. [Odysseus’ wife whispers sweet nothings?], PENELOPE COOS. Cruz.
- 10d. [Dramatic accusation at a dentist’s office?], “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TOOTH!” Truth. This one spans the grid from top to bottom, intersecting each of the other six themers.
While it is impressive that Ashish got the theme layout to work this way, I’m not sure the various trade-offs in the grid make it worth the effort. EDDA and SMA in the opening corner, for example! Stacks of 6s and 8s flanking theme entries is an achievement, but I don’t always want to forgive the NOLO and ICER and ‘ENRY and OPAHS sort of fill we find in this grid. Are NPR TOTES a thing?
There is a good bit of sparkle here, though. JIM MORRISON and his anagrammatic nickname, MR MOJO RISIN, feel like they should be anchoring the theme, but I think they’re extraneous here. I AM MALALA, NERF BALLS, SMIZE, K-TOWN, SAMOSAS, and the supervocalic word EUPHORIA pleased me.
Five more things:
- 31d. [___ paneer (dish with puréed spinach)], PALAK. Filled it in off just the K! Not a big fan of cooked spinach’s flavor. Bring on the paneer (cheese), though!
- 54a. [___ Khan, prime minister of Pakistan beginning in 2018], IMRAN. There is also a notable cricket player by that name, no? Hold on! Are you sitting down? The cricket star went on to become the PM of Pakistan. I did not know that! And now I will remember who Pakistan’s leader is.
- 71d. [___ Gilbert, co-developer of a Covid-19 vaccine], SARAH. Here’s a profile of Dr. Gilbert. She developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. (Not to be confused with actress/producer Sara Gilbert.)
- Did not know 94a. [McEachern a.k.a. the “Voice of Poker”], LON.
- 17d. [Where “khop jai” means “thank you”], LAOS. Language education! Neat clue.
3.75 stars from me.
Jim Holland’s Universal crossword, “Move Around”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Phrases that mean “move around” are clued as if they no longer mean that.
- 16A [Off and on?] SWTICH POSITIONS.
- 36A [Flea markets and stock markets?] TRADE PLACES.
- 56A [Cash registers and coin counters?] CHANGE LOCATIONS.
A lot of my favorite solves feature just three strong theme answers. It usually leads to good flow and satisfying fill. This one is no exception. I solved steadily from north to south with very few snags. at 3:30, my solve time was definitely far south of what it normally is.
A bit of a different construction with the grid spanners in rows 3 and 12. Each of the themers is parallel to and abutting the grids longer fill: THREW A FIT, MENTALITY, CLEAN AWAY, and NOLAN RYAN.
Cute clue for DEE [Dictionary’s first letter?]
4 stars from me.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “What’s Your Beef?”— Darby’s write-up
This was a great puzzle. It was a nice balance of clues I flew through and clues that made me skip through until I had enough crosses. Also, as a quick aside – the new app format for the USA Today puzzle is great!
The theme this morning was an unexpected one: one of the three United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades of beef was included in the first part of the answer. The theme answers were as follows:
17a [“Desirable real estate”] PRIME PROPERTIES
31a [“Specialized legislative group”] SELECT COMMITTEE
56a [“Choice words”] CHOICE WORDS
I do crosswords to learn something, and I certainly didn’t know exactly how the USDA defines them. If you’d like to learn more about prime, select, and choice cuts for your summer barbecue, the Department of Agriculture has posted a blog post on the subject for your post-crossword pleasure.
Structurally, this was a grid that utilize 5-letter clues well, both across and down, letting words like EPSOM (32d [“English salt town”], MICRO (52a [“Prefix meaning ‘very small’”], and TRESS (54a (“Lock of hair”]) stand out. In some cases, these crossed with the longer down clues that bordered the middle and lower sections of the puzzles, making 33d [“‘Whatever!’”] (LIKE I CARE) and 37d [“Chats about business matters] (TALK SHOP) strong supports for the across fill.
Other clues that piqued my interest:
5a [“____ pants”] – I’ve been listening to a novel in which the first part takes place on CAPRI, so the ankle-length pants were not my first guess here, but ‘tis the season!
15a [“Crude-carrying ship”] – I struggled with this one until “crude” and its hyphen kicked in to make me filL in OILER. I loved this clue because of the red herring in the wordplay. “Crude” made me think of an antiquated boat until the hyphen clicked, and I went immediately to OILER.
44a [“ISP whose greetings are voiced by Elwood Edwards”] – I had no idea on this one, but I love this fact about AOL and its signature “You’ve got mail.” A fun fact is that Edwards also lent his voice to an advertisement to the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks-classic You’ve Got Mail.
38d [“Heaviest fencing weapon”] – I used to fence, so I always get a little giddy when it’s mentioned in puzzles. I’m especially excited this morning to see EPEES this morning since it’s the type of weapon I used. You have to love the three-E combo in the word too.
58d [“Color that’s an anagram of ‘cure’”] – ECRU makes me think of Moby-Dick through a convoluted process involving The Art of Fielding. I thought that the use in the puzzle today was a good differentiation from the various shades of beige clues that could have been used, even if it perhaps shortened the solve time.
Overall, definitely a solid Sunday puzzle, one that rose to the occasion with everyone else in 47a’s “Everyone please stand” (ALL RISE).
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Altogether Separate” – Jim Q’s Write-up
THEME: Words that mean “together” are found as a whole unit in familiar phrases. Words that mean “separate” are found separated in familiar phrases.
- 22A [Jareth’s ruling title in the film “Labyrinth”] GOBLIN KING. Link.
- 42A [Company that makes Purell hand sanitizers] GOJO INDUSTRIES. Join. You’d think after this last year, everyone would know that name, right? Not me!
- 77A [Determine the age of paleontological specimens, say] CARBON DATE. Bond.
- 113A [Reissued publication] NEW EDITION. Wed.
- 24A [British term for a sixteenth note] SEMI-QUAVER. Sever. Completely new term for me after 35 years of piano playing.
- 56A [Colorful description of fast, colorful language] BLUE STREAK. Break.
- 92A [Creditor issuing mortgages that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis] SUBPRIME LENDER. Sunder.
- 115A [Removal of a five o’clock shadow] CLEAN SHAVE. Cleave.
I’d be lying if I said hidden-word themes are my favorite. They’re not, especially in a 21x grid. So I solved this mostly as an enjoyable themeless. I didn’t really see the “separate” words until post-solve. A lot of the themers were unfamiliar to me (or at least it’s been a long time since I’ve heard them). Totally forgot the title GOBLIN KING, despite knowing David Bowie’s role as Jareth in the film Labyrinth (I saw parts of that movie relatively recently… it doesn’t hold up as well as my memory thought it did). SEMI-QUAVER is very strange to me. BLUE STREAK and GOJO INDUSTRIES were also new.
- 29A [Apt desserts for a church social?] SUNDAES. Had the AES at the end and thought I must’ve had something wrong.
- 89A [Like this clue if you removed all but the first three words] TERSE. Ironically clued. Clever.
- 96A [Present-day phrase?] FOR YOU. I had FOR NOW. That’s present-day right?
- 73D [Ted on TV’s “Fargo”] DANSON. Completely forgot he was in that. Season 2. Love this show. It’s so, so good.
- 83D [Jordan who narrated the 2019 reboot of “The Twilight Zone”] PEELE. How come Twilight Zone reboots never last?
For no good reason, the SHARE/ARIA crossing stumped me for a long time. Really had trouble seeing ARIA as the entry for [Single track?]. I get it now (in the “yeah, okay, I guess so” sense)… it’s a “track” performed by a soloist.
A solid puzzle for introducing this theme type, even if it’s not entirely my cup of tea.
Rebecca Goldstein’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Seasoning Blends”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Herbs and spices (only eight, not eleven) are scrambled inside (mostly) well-known phrases.
- 22a. [Changes of heart, say? (Theme hint: The word “tarragon” is scrambled within this answer)] ORGAN TRANSPLANTS.
- 34a. [Conflict threatening democracy (… cilantro …)] CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS.
- 52a. [Color for a traffic cone (… oregano …)] DAY-GLO ORANGE. That first part was hard to parse, but I eventually dredged it up.
- 63a. [Outfit for the slopes (… paprika …)] SKI APPAREL.
- 68a. [Detective in a 2020 reboot (… rosemary …)] PERRY MASON. Beautiful, symmetrical find with only two extra letters bookending the herb.
- 76a. [Certain cactus fruits (… parsley …)] PRICKLY PEARS. Mmm. There’s a place on the San Antonio Riverwalk that serves yummy prickly pear margaritas.
- 94a. [Paraphrased line from Kermit (… ginger …)] IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN. Ironic that “ginger” is what’s hidden in this phrase (and with RED-HEAD elsewhere in the grid). But why “paraphrased”? Isn’t that the name of the song? Holy cow, watch Ray Charles’s version below for all the feels.
- 113a. [Downloadable show like “Serial” (… turmeric …)] TRUE CRIME PODCAST. “Meh” to this one since turmeric is contained completely inside “true crime,” and TRUE CRIME PODCAST has a definite green paint feel.
On the whole, impressive finds of long words inside interesting phrases. It’s curious that the editorial team chose not to use circles for this puzzle, when I think it would benefit the solver—especially newer ones.
Fill highlights: HAS-BEENS, SORE SPOT, PATISSERIES, IRISH SPRING, OUTTAKES, WEB COMIC, RED-HEAD, SKA BAND, LENS CAP.
Names to know because you’ll no doubt see them again in crosswords, or because, you know, you want to be culturally aware:
- Ijeoma OLUO, author of So You Want to Talk About Race
- ALIA Shawkat of Search Party, the HBO series
- Jonathan Van NESS, grooming expert on Queer Eye
- CLEA DuVall, director of Happiest Season. She was also in Veep and The Handmaid’s Tale.
- Lisa LING of CNN.
Clues of note:
- 92a. [Group of hippos]. BLOAT. Your factoid of the day.
- 122a. [Gender-neutral plural pronoun]. Y’ALL. Ha! Love this clue and entry.
- 13d. [Shops where Macron buys macarons]. PATISSERIES. Cute.
- 65d. [Welcome green substance in the shower]. IRISH SPRING. Weird clue. I guess it’s trying to make you think of mold and mildew, but I think it’s trying too hard. Does anyone actually “welcome” this particular brand of soap?
Very nice puzzle. Four stars.
Margaret Woodruff’s LA Times crossword, “It Takes Two” – Jenni’s write-up
As I’m sure everyone knows by now, I like wordplay themes. This isn’t one. Each theme answer is the second part of a phrase that starts with a repeated word, and the clue is the repeated word, but only once. That’s the whole deal. Margaret Woodruff is not in our database, so this may be a debut. I hope to see more from her that I like better.
- 22a [*Extra] READ ALL ABOUT IT (“Extra, extra….”) We start with a very old phrase that even I, ancient as I am, only know from old movies.
- 32a [*Bad] LEROY BROWN. We move on to a song that’s only 40 years old.
- 40a [*Liar] PANTS ON FIRE. Now we’ve got something relevant to current politics.
- 65a [*Hail] THE GANG‘S ALL HERE.
- 88a [*Ladybird] FLY AWAY HOME. If you don’t know this nursery rhyme, you’re lucky. It’s supremely creepy.
- 97a [*Wait] DON‘T TELL ME.
- 112a [*Hush] SWEET CHARLOTTE. Never heard of this. Apparently it’s a film from 1964.
This theme would have felt dull to me even with more up-to-date content. As it is, the fustiness + the dullness = not any fun at all. If I hadn’t been reviewing it, I might not have bothered to finish it.
A few other things:]
- Is a ONE–TWO a [Kind of punch] or is it a sequence of two punches?
- PIPS are the dots on the faces of dice, hence the clue [Dicey spots?].
- I know ORS and TUTORS aren’t really dupes. It still looks odd to see them right next to each other, and ORS is not a great entry, anyway.
- I’ve heard of thumb wrestling but never THUMB WAR. Google NGrams suggests I’m out of date.
- A MOWER, to me, isn’t a [Grass accessory] but a necessity. A garden gnome or a gazing ball would be an accessory.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: SWEET CHARLOTTE. I also did not know that there is a wasabi OREO flavor in China. Isn’t wasabi Japanese?