Matthew Stock’s New York Times crossword, “Off Brand”—Amy’s write-up
A bunch of brand names appear in lowercase to clue things those phrases could be:
- 21a. [Five guys?], OFFENSIVE LINE. Five Guys is a burger chain. The O-line in football has five players? Maybe? Or six?
- 26a. [Green giant?], WIND TURBINE. Frozen (canned?) vegetables. Wind turbines are ecological (green) and quite tall.
- 48a. [Jolly rancher?], OLD MACDONALD. Hard candies that glue your molars together. Now, Old MacDonald wasn’t a rancher and he wasn’t jolly.
- 65a. [General mills?], MILITARY ACADEMIES. Cereal brand. I like the clue/answer combo here.
- 84a. [Texas instruments?], STEEL GUITARS. TI calculators. Uh, Wikipedia tells us that steel guitars come from Hawaii. They eventually made it to honky-tonks, and maybe those have a Texas preponderance?
- 103a. [Band aid?], SOUND SYSTEM. Admit it—you pretty much forgot that Band-Aid is a brand name, didn’t you? It’s heavily genericized.
- 114a. [Old navy?], SPANISH ARMADA. Friend of mine had a husband (rest in peace) who was in the Marines when he was younger. He had an Old Marines t-shirt styled like Old Navy–branded tees. Loved that!
So the theme feels a little uneven to me, but it’s a clever idea.
Fave fill: GOD COMPLEX, TOO COOL, THICKET, LOSE TOUCH, NEW-AGEY, and SUCCOTASH.
Did not know: 44a. [___ Clarendon, first openly transgender W.N.B.A. player], LAYSHIA. So I Googled the name. He/she/they (the nonbinary Clarendon uses all three pronouns—is NB, trans, male, and female) was featured in a terrific ESPN article a month ago, as luck would have it. They’ve been a leader in the WNBA’s players’ association and a fighter for social justice.
Seven more things:
- 67d. [Like the Hmong language], TONAL. Hey! Sunisa Lee, who just won the all-around gold medal in gymnastics this week, is America’s first Hmong Olympian. The Twin Cities and the Hmong community are overjoyed.
- 62d. [Deserving of a timeout, say], BAD. I don’t like this clue/answer combo at all. Kids who could use a timeout are not “bad.” Sheesh, really?
- 51d. [Relating to land, old-style], PREDIAL. I have no idea what this means. Looking it up—apparently it is a medieval word. Yeah, we don’t need that vocab in our crossword, do we? Begging pardon of any medievalists who appreciate the word.
- 43a. [Apt name for a Christmas caroler?], EWELL. Sounds like “yule.” You were trying to get something like Noel, weren’t you? I sure was.
- 89d. [“… finished!”], “… AND DONE.” This is … weird, right? I don’t care for it as a crossword entry.
- 113a. [Efflux], OUTPOUR. This also feels weird to me. OutpourING, sure.
- 24a. [Shade of purple], PLUM. I wish I felt safe going grocery shopping (I have no antibodies, there’s no mask mandate, and COVID case counts are skyrocketing), because now I want some plums!
3.33 stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Places, Please” – Jim Q’s Write-up
Meta time! And it’s a music meta. Pete Muller would be proud!
THEME: Hot Billboard Songs + Meta
- 22A [No. 1 hit for Lady Gaga with the lyric “A little gambling is fun when you’re with me”] POKER FACE.
- 27A [No. 2 hit for Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville that was a Grammy nominee for song of the year] DON’T KNOW MUCH.
- 36A [No. 8 hit for John Cougar Mellencamp that refers to colorful residences] PINK HOUSES.
- 51A [No. 9 hit for Britney Spears on her 2000 album of the same name] OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN.
- 65A [No. 6 hit for Elton John that was the title of a 2019 film about him] ROCKET MAN.
- 77A [No. 1 hit for Eric Clapton that was a cover of a Bob Marley song] I SHOT THE SHERIFF.
- 95A [No. 2 hit for the Kingsmen with a repetitive title] LOUIE, LOUIE
- 104A [No. 11 hit for the Trammps featured in “Saturday Night Fever”] DISCO INFERNO.
- 115A [No. 3 hit for Donna Summer that won a Grammy, a Golden Globe and an Oscar] LAST DANCE.
Nice little walk down memory lane with some of those entries. The only titles that eluded me were DISCO INFERNO and DON’T KNOW MUCH. I very much know the songs, just couldn’t remember the titles mid-solve.
Now, on to the meta!
According to the hint, we are looking for a Billboard Hot 100 song from the last decade. I got this meta relatively quickly after my first two ideas instantly failed. The first idea I had (it’s not original at all) was to anagram the first letters of the theme entries. PDPIRSLDL. Nope! That’s not gonna do much. The next idea was to look up all the years that these were hits and see if that had any correlation to the grid. Perhaps, because DISCO INFERNO peaked in 1978, box 78 in the grid would contain a meta-necessary letter. I wasn’t looking forward to googling all the years, and luckily I stopped myself short because there is year given in the clue for OOPS I DID IT AGAIN [No. 9 hit for Britney Spears on her 2000 album of the same name]. It would be awfully inelegant to include just one song that a year in the clue if we were meant to be looking them all up.
My third guess was correct: Each theme clue starts with the resulting song’s peak position on the Billboard Chart. What if we simply referenced the letter in the entry that is in that same position? For instance, since POKER FACE was a “No. 1” hit, we look at its first letter, P. Bingo!
POKER FACE = No. 1 = P
DON’T KNOW MUCH = No. 2 = O
PINK HOUSES = No. 8 = S
OOPS I DID IT AGAIN = No. 9 = I (anyone else shocked that song only rose to number 9?)
ROCKET MAN = No. 6 = T
I SHOT THE SHERIFF = No. 1 = I
LOUIE LOUIE = No. 2 = O
DISCO INFERNO = No. 11 = N
LAST DANCE = No. 3 = S
POSITIONS! By Ariana Grande. Who – not-so-coincidentally I’m sure- is included as a sly little half-reaveler/half-wink in the very bottom right in the grid: ARI.
Excellent, tight meta! And it works as a stand-alone puzzle too, so hopefully the meta-haters are kept at bay. I’m wondering about the process in finding symmetrical entries that worked to spell it out. How much did Evan have to SIFT through? Luckily, the letters in POSITIONS are all relatively common, but I bet there was some digging involved.
Grid itself was pretty easy. I landed somewhere in the 12 minute range, which felt fast. I stumbled badly in the southwest: GOOD IDEA / COOL IDEA / NICE IDEA all before… NEAT IDEA! ALF before ITT. US MAINE instead of USS OHIO. Those slips and crossings that I wouldn’t have gotten without nudges made it very tough for me down there. Luckily I came to my senses with the ship name (it’s always U.S.S.!) and things fell into place.
Thanks for this one, Evan! Enjoy Sunday!
Paul Coulter’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Color Coordinated” — Jenni’s write-up
I’m back! Did you miss me? I have to give a shout-out to American Airlines. We flew from Monterey, CA to Philadelphia yesterday, connecting in Phoenix. Our flight out of Monterey was delayed for three hours and landed 20 minutes before the scheduled departure of our flight to Philly. They held the plane (it wasn’t just us – there were maybe six or eight people, total) and not only did we get on, but so did both of our checked bags. It’s a travel miracle.
On to the puzzle! This theme comes in twos. The first of each pair is a phrase including a color which also serves as the clue for the second answer.
- 22a [One of a West Coast trio] is a BLUE STATE. 24a [22-Across, emotionally] is MELANCHOLY. See how that works?
- 36a [Lover with ulterior motives] is a GOLDDIGGER. 39a [36-Across, in the Old West] is a FORTY–NINER. Have a little misogyny with your puzzle!
- 52a [Street warning] is a YELLOW LIGHT. 56a [52-Across, from the sky] is a SUNBEAM.
- 74a [Lucille Ball, e.g.] is a REDHEAD. 76a [74-Across, in the Cold War] is FIDEL CASTRO.
- 90a [Big name in frozen food] is GREEN GIANT. 93a [90-Across, in the forest] is a DOUGLAS FIR. It amuses me that one of these also appears in today’s NYT as a themer.
- 106a [Presidential address] is the WHITE HOUSE. 108a [106-Across, at a winter carnival] is an ICE PALACE.
I liked this theme with the exception of 36a, which I could happily never see again. The idea is original and all the answers are solid. Nice!
Lots of unpacking and laundry ahead, so I’ll skip right to what I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Maracanã Stadium is in RIO.
Steve Mossberg’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Pickup Ball”—Jim P’s review
Did you know…it’s National Orgasm Day and International Female Orgasm Day! How are you celebrating? Actually, it was yesterday, July 31, but it’s worth celebrating all weekend long.
This puzzle gets in on The Act by having thematic O’s move up to a climax. Ostensibly it’s because the O’s represent “balls” (uh-huh), which are “picked up” from the lower phrases and added to the upper phrases. But we know what’s really going on. *wink wink* All right, admittedly there’s nothing about this puzzle that indicates it has anything to do with National Orgasm Day, but it sure is a coincidence. Now that you know, constructors, start prepping your letter-O themed puzzles for next year.
In the added-O category:
- 3d. [Latin lover’s mood?] “TE AMO” SPIRIT. Team spirit. The world would be a better place if everyone had a little TE AMO SPIRIT.
- 5d. [Show about a Florida pig farm?] MIAMI OINK. Miami Ink.
- 9d. [Vessel in Licorice Lagoon?] CANDY CANOE. Candy cane. Licorice Lagoon is a locale in newer versions of Candyland.
- 13d. [Dracula’s watercraft?] VAMPIRE BOAT. Vampire bat. For an instant, I thought there was an added nautical subtheme to this puzzle.
- 16d. [“Haven’t you discussed the Iliad enough?”] “TROY AGAIN?!” Try again. Lately, I’ve been reading novels based on ancient Greece, so this one rings true.
In the lost-an-O category:
- 80d. [Monopoly: Macbeth Edition and others?] BARD GAMES. Board games. Go to the dungeon. Go directly to the dungeon. Do not pass go. Do not wash your hands.
- 67d. [Pieces of furniture used for leg exercises?] LUNGE CHAIRS. Lounge chairs. Not sure how that would work.
- 75d. [Medieval entertainer known for one-liners?] CURT JESTER. Court jester. Steven Wright as a court jester? I don’t think he would last very long.
- 84d. [Go-to swear word?] MAIN CURSE. Main course. What’s your main non-curse curse word. My go-tos are “Machu Picchu!” and “Shostakovich!” But I’m thinking of trying out “Falafel!”
- 70d. [Furry honoree, perhaps?] PET LAUREATE. Poet laureate.
Top fill: ART CINEMA, BAD APPLES, ECON MAJOR, SEAT COVER, SET SAIL, “GOSH, NO!”
In the new-to-me category we find ZOMG [Astonished text]. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive origin story for why the Z is added to OMG, but here’s a listing of possibilities. It may just be a typo that stuck, similar to “pwn.”
Clues of note:
- 47a. [Sabich sandwich’s bread]. PITA. Hadn’t heard of a sabich sandwich. It’s an Israeli sandwich “stuffed with fried eggplants, hard boiled eggs, Salat Katzutz, parsley, amba and tahini sauce,” per Wikipedia. Sounds yummy.
- 94a. [Coating for some cheeses]. ASH. News to me! Find out more about this fascinating tradition here.
Solid puzzle, good execution of the theme. Now go and celebrate the day however you see fit! Four stars.
Brooke Husic’s Universal crossword, “Twice as Nice”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: “IT” can be found in both words of a common two-word phrase.
- SWITCH HITTERS.
- SPLIT INFINITIVE.
- LIMITED EDITIONS.
- (revealer) MAKE IT A DOUBLE.
Took me quite a while to see the theme after I had finished the solve and gotten the revealer. It’s easier to see it now with the words separated, but in the grid my eyes were drawn to the “double” nature of HH and TT in SWITCH HITTERS. The IN – IN double in SPLIT INFINITIVE. The ED ED double right in the middle of LIMITED EDITIONS. I’m a bit surprised that didn’t raise eyebrows before publishing a theme with a “double” gimmick. But if you emphasize the IT in MAKE “IT” A DOUBLE, you have the true revealer. Glad I figured it out!
Lots of new stuff to me:
AMAL Clooney (not new… just had trouble remembering the spelling), GRACE Hopper, Opal TOMETI, Faith EVANS, DIVACUP, BANH MI (forgot the spelling), LISA Frank. Lots of familiar names as well: RAE, RIRI, ADELE, OPRAH, PIPPI, VAL, ERNST.
I AM, I SAW, I’LL GO seemed a touch repetitive.
Enjoyed the cluing all around and the opportunity to learn a few things. I’m out to lunch on the theme as presented just because I think there were lots of “doubly” lookin’ things in those entries that had nothing to do with the theme.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Few and Far Between”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: The word “RARE” appears in the middle of each themed answer. “Rare” could be defined as “few and far between,” so that’s what the title is alluding to in this puzzle.
- 17a [“Building stats”] – FLOOR AREAS
- 37a [“Wearing makeup and a stylish outfit, say”] – CAMERA READY
- 59a [“Purposely”] – FOR A REASON
I appreciated the challenge of this theme in using a definition for the hidden word rather than putting it directly in the title. I got FLOOR AREAS and FOR A REASON first, so initially, my thought was that the theme had something to do with “far” since F and AR are split up in both of those answers. I had to stare at CAMERA READY to see it.
There were a lot of long answers in today’s puzzle, with only short bursts of 3-letter areas that allow the larger ones to take the spotlight. Content-wise, it was a great mix of clues, from poets to train sets to fashion. A few clues could’ve been stronger in my mind. I felt like 39a [“Stereotypical robot noise”] was a stretch for BLOOP, and we saw both A LIST and A TEAM in 14a [“Lineup of VIP guests”] and 51d [“Lineup of first-string players”].
However, there were plenty of clues and answers I was excited about:
- 1a [“Very strong winds”] – I first learned about the word GALES because of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. If you’re in the mood for a long ballad this Sunday afternoon, I included the YouTube video below. The subject is the famous sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on a gale-filled, stormy night on Lake Superior. The ship also inspired my favorite beer, coincidentally, Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald porter. All of this, plus the excellent cross with 1d’s [“Embarrassing blunders”] (GAFFES), and I was sold from the start.
- 40a [“Nikola ____ Museum, Belgrade”] – Shout-out to much needed cluing here. I was excited not to see Elon Musk’s name appear in the hint to TESLA. He’s been in the news enough lately.
- 58d [ “Canadian poet ____ El-Mohtar”] – AMAL El-Mohtar isn’t just a poet; she is also a science fiction and fantasy columnist for The New York Times Book Review and a novelist in her own right. You can check out her full bibliography here. She, with the inclusion of the Edmonton ELKS (53d [“Edmonton’s CFL team”]) and Gordon Lightfoot’s song, makes a trio of Canadians in today’s puzzle.
Aside from some MINOR (29a [“Not that important”]) cluing issues, I’d say that this was a FUN (20a [“‘Whee, this is ____!’”]) start to my Sunday. I felt pretty satisfied when I finally said, “I’M DONE” (46d [“‘All finished here’”]).