Jesse Goldberg’s New York Times crossword, “Dig In”—Amy’s write-up
Oh! A missed opportunity to run this puzzle four weeks from now, on the occasion of Julia Child’s birthday on August 15. And yes, I knew her birthday. Why? Because it’s mine, too! The theme is basically “fill in the blanks with punch lines of some funny things Julia Child said”:
- 23a. [“Enjoy the food!”], BON APPETIT. Sort of a theme bonus, connecting with Child’s French cooking.
- 31a. [*“With enough butter, ___”] ANYTHING IS GOOD.
- 38a. [*“A party without cake is ___”] REALLY JUST A MEETING. Fact!
- 65a. [*“If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. ___?”], WHO’S GOING TO KNOW?
- 92a. [*“I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I ___”] EVEN PUT IT IN THE FOOD.
- 101a. [*“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for ___”] THE STEAK TO COOK.
- 119a. [Chef quoted in this puzzle’s starred clues], JULIA CHILD.
I’m late getting to the puzzle because this weekend is Pokémon Go’s GO Fest, so I’m gonna dispense with the usual. Overall the fill was fine, and the theme was funny—I read the themers aloud to my husband and he laughed at least twice. I learned something new about a celebrity: 10d. [Actor Jason who was once on Britain’s national diving team], STATHAM. Overall gestalt vibe, 3.75 stars. Happy weekend to you all!
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Slow Finish”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: Each of the themed clues ended (finished) with a word or phrase indicating meaning that they weren’t moving very quickly (slow).
- 15a [“Premature display of holiday merchandise”] CHRISTMAS CREEP
- 36a [“Core-strengthening exercise done on all fours”] BEAR CRAWL
- 61a [“‘Keep totally still’”] DON’T MOVE AN INCH
It was a solid theme. I felt like DON’T MOVE AN INCH picks up any slack if the solver is having trouble with the first two themed clues. “Slow Finish” immediately sent out “Tortoise and Hare” vibes and so I was almost surprised not to see the two Aesop characters referenced in the puzzle.
Grid-wise, I liked the three-letter across and seven-letter down combos in the top left and bottom right corners of the puzzle. As always, I spend the most time when more than one name clue is started together, so 66a [“Singer Paula or Natalie”] and 69a [“Singer actress Rena”] were tough, but eventually both COLE and OWEN respectively were filled in by the down clues.
My favorite section of the puzzle was the bottom left corner. It was a nice balance of answer length and clue content. For example, 40d [“Noisy insects”] and 41d [“Mythical creature with a horn”] made CICADAS and UNICORN the central down answers. I did this one on the app this morning, and I saw these clues before it was time to switch to the down answers (and still waited excitedly to fill them until I made it through all of the down clues, per my usual routine). I kicked myself for not getting 57a [“Ms. ___-Man”] because what kind of nerd am I that Mrs. PAC-Man didn’t occur to me? However, I never would’ve guessed 47a’s LINERS but appreciate the creative cluing in “Large passenger ships” that required me to stretch my imagination a bit.
Other fun clues for this Sunday included:
- 3d [“Bite-sized pastry”] – I can’t remember the last time I had a tart, let alone a TARTLET (and now I want one). It’s one of those words you don’t hear everyday, so this was filled on my second down round. It was definitely a fun one, and it played in good combination with its crossing clues.
- 13d [“City with many streets named ‘Peachtree’] – I did not know that ATLANTA is not very original in its street names, with apparently more than 70 thoroughfares including the “Peachtree” in their name. If you’re planning a trip to Atlanta and looking to do some Peachtree perusing, DiscoverAtlanta.com posted this list highlighting the top 5 Peachtree-inclusive streets.
- 54d [“Largest Asian population in Minnesota”] – This clue brought some interesting world history to my attention in discussing the high number of HMONG living in Minnesota. A distinct ethnic group with roots in China, the Hmong first sought refuge in the U.S. after violence erupted in Laos in 1975. The Minnesota Historical Society has gathered oral histories, artifacts, and images as part of their “Hmong in Minnesota/Hmoob Hauv Minnesota” initiative.
Overall, I thought that this was a fun solve. There was a lot of crosswordese spread throughout with EWE, GRE, ETD, and the directional 26a [“Direction opposite WSW”] (ENE) that often felt like it sped up my solve time as if the puzzle itself was rushing me to finish. However, there were a lot of great educational clues that extended my time spent after the puzzle looking up some of the references made even in passing.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Going Upstairs” – Jim Q’s Write-up
Step right up to this week’s WaPo puzzle!
THEME: Words that can precede STEP are presented literally within common words/phrases.
- 23A [Ship stabilizer (Final part of a process)] BALLAST. Last step.
- 30A [Orca’s orifice (Interval between A and B, in music)] BLOW HOLE. Whole step.
- 39A [Abstract expressionist who painted “The She-Wolf” (Form of marching closely together)] POLLOCK. Lock step.
- 66A [Original findings (Go past, as one’s bounds) DISCOVERIES. Overstep.
- 102A [Drink servers (Maintain the pace)] BARKEEPERS. Keep step.
- 108A [Weighs (Dodge)] CONSIDERS. Sidestep.
- 97A [It often gets closed at a dealership (Welcome mat’s place)] CAR DOOR. Door step.
- 114D (revealer) [Part of the way up a staircase … and an answer that, when following the circled words, explains seven clues in this puzzle] STEP.
This is very well done. Not that that is a surprise. But, while this might not look difficult to execute, it is a grid with many constraints. Anytime the theme is dependent on letters being placed in a pattern outside of a traditional horizontal/vertical entry, say in a circle or- in this case- on a diagonal, things get dicey. Still, Evan manages 144 words and mostly crud-free fill in this top/bottom symmetry grid.
I thought I had fully grokked the theme as I solved top to bottom after uncovering the first three themers, and thought it was cool that the clues were all twofers in a sense. Clues like that also come with a synergy that can help to get the solver out of jams. When I got to the fourth themer (DISCOVERIES), I balked for a moment before realizing that some of the “staircases” come to a landing where the rest of the entry resides (the –IES in DISCOVERIES).
The fill was much more difficult for me to get through than normal. I have a feeling Evan wasn’t keen on having to cross HUPPERT with POLLOCK, and carefully SIDESTEPPED a Natick by offering an anagram-letters-in-two-other-clues nudge. I used that nudge. For some reason, I didn’t get POLLOCK because I sorta-kinda misread the clue and thought I was looking for a female artist. Nope. The she-wolf is by a he-man. And a STUDBOOK is a record of horses. Get yer mind outta the gutter.
RUNTISH, ALKANES and TREMBLY were among others that were trouble for me. Not a helluva lot of flashiness in the fill, but as I noted earlier, this theme-type is very difficult to execute with squeaky clean fill.
The theme is an excellent payoff though. Well worth any fill “sacrifices.” And, it should be noted that the first parts of each of the themers that appear independent in the grid are perfectly acceptable as crossword fill, even though they go completely unclued. BALL, BLOW, POLL, DISCO, CARD, BARK, CONS. Expected of Evan, but still mind-blowingly impressive.
This is really quite the feat of construction. And enjoyable to solve at that.
MaryEllen Uthlaut’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Flip-flops” — Jenni’s write-up
This is a cute theme that makes the puzzle much easier. Each theme answer is a two word phrase or compound word that is reversed, so once you get one half, you can fill the whole thing in.
- 22a [The drive-through diner scene that was cut became a ___] TAKE–OUT OUTTAKE.
- 36a [The girls who spent the night prioritized chat time at the ___] SLEEPOVER OVER SLEEP.
- 53a [When the dog got loose, some house plants ___] ENDED UP UP–ENDED.
- 81a [The casual quarterback made an ___] OFFHAND HANDOFF.
- 99a [A navel ring is a piercing one may ___] WEAR UNDER UNDERWEAR.
- 120a [The fast-learning police cadet had the ___] PAT–DOWN DOWN PAT.
S0lid, consistent, accessible Sunday theme. I like a little more chewiness in my puzzles, but that’s just me.
A few other things:
- I never read “North and South” and I’m surprised that John JAKES sprang immediately to mind. A bit of searching reminds me that the trilogy was made into a miniseries that must have been a big deal since it clearly lodged in my brain.
- I didn’t connect CHI-CHI to arty. The dictionary suggests I should have. I always thought it meant “elegant” and apparently I missed the “pretentious” part.
- A sea anemone is not what I think of when I see the word POLYP.
- DAFT is a fun word with British overtures. I think I’ll try to use it more often.
- I was amused to see ORGAN under WEAR UNDER UNDERWEAR because I am really twelve.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that CAIRO is on the 30th parallel.
Gary Larson’s Universal crossword, “Figures of Speech”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Names of notable women are homophones for the first words of common phrases.
- 16A [Actress Arthur discussing proper names for things?] BEA ON GOOD TERMS. Be on good terms.
- 29A [Actress Midler discussing a side in chess?] BETTE ON BLACK. Bet on black.
- 46A [Actress Tyler discussing U2’s lead guitarist?] LIV ON THE EDGE. Live on the edge.
- 60A [Actress Washington discussing emotional stumbling blocks?] KERRY ON BAGGAGE. Carry-on baggage.
I hadn’t noticed that they all follow the (Name) ON ______ formula and that they are all clued as discussions until now, which is a very crucial part of the theme and makes it much more tight and interesting than I had originally taken it for. It also clears up my misunderstanding of the title.
New (I think?) for me is the phrase BET ON BLACK. It definitely a thing- looks like it’s more common with the word ALWAYS before it.
Very standard fill here. The lack of longer entries didn’t add much excitement. Been a while since I’ve seen KLEE!
3 stars from me.
Matthew Stock’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Occupational Guidance”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Familiar phrases are re-imagined as advice for appropriate professionals.
- 21a. [Career advice for an anesthesiologist?] DON’T KNOCK YOURSELF OUT. This one’s humorous, but the only knock against this is that “Knock yourself out” is the more common phrase.
- 36a. [Career advice for a water polo player?] KEEP YOUR HEAD UP. I would like this better if there was a play on words with the word “head.” Maybe this would work for a brewmaster?
- 53a. [Career advice for an apiarist?] MIND YOUR OWN BEESWAX. Good.
- 75a. [Career advice for a comedian?] YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING. This one’s a little different, and I like it. The base phrase is usually an incredulous statement rather than words of advice.
- 92a. [Career advice for a trumpet player?] SAVE YOUR BREATH. I think this would work better for a swimmer, yeah?
- 110a. [Career advice for a groundskeeper?] LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD. Another good one.
Despite my few nits, I enjoyed these quite a bit. Sure, there’s some duping with the “you”s and “your”s, but entertainment factor outweighs strict adherence to rules in my book, and that’s the case here. I would have gone with a different title, however. “Pro Tips” seems like it would have been perfect for this. Oh, except that PRO is in the grid at 71a.
Fill-wise, I’m not seeing much along the lines of long sparkly entries, but everything is solid. YOUTUBER dupes (yet again) the “you”s in the theme, but I can live with it. Elsewhere, I like OBADIAH, COVER-UP (the article of clothing, not the scandal-avoidance technique), and SWABBIE.
DEROZAN [Four-time NBA All-Star DeMar] is new to me, AGE-MATE [Peer in school] sounds a little weird, and S-HOOKS [Pots may hang from them] looks bizarre without the hyphen. Oh, and I just spotted another “you”: YOU UP is at 23d. I’d say that’s one “you” too far.
Clues of note:
- 72a. [Actor Kapoor]. ANIL. The actor was in Slumdog Millionaire and is the Indian version of Jack Bauer in 24: India.
- 83a. [“I can’t ___ that!” (reaction to a cringeworthy photo)]. UNSEE. Reminds me of Weird Al’s “My Own Eyes.”
- 84a. [Lip balm brand]. EOS. New clue alert! Never heard of this brand. You?
- 87a. [East ___ Alto]. PALO. Having grown up as a South Bay Area resident, I approve of this entry. Here’s a neat factoid I didn’t know. Per Wikipedia: “In 1990, 43% of East Palo Alto’s residents were African Americans, which was the result of redlining practices and racial deed restrictions in Palo Alto. Latinos now constitute about 65% of the total population, while the proportion of African Americans has decreased to about 15%. A small minority of Pacific Islanders also reside in East Palo Alto, most of Tongan, Samoan and Fijian origin. East Palo Alto has the largest concentration of Pacific Islanders of any American city or town outside Hawaii.”
- 14d. [Stock option?]. BROTH. Because MATTHEW is too long.
- 33d. [Wanda’s partner in “The Fairly OddParents”]. COSMO. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of this show, but I can picture the character. Nice cluing angle.
- 75d. [Celebrity chef Martin]. YAN. Is he still around? I always liked him.
Fun puzzle with solid fill. Four stars.