Christina Iverson & Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Jigsaw Puzzle”—Amy’s write-up
If you’re like me, you’ve spent far more time today on jigsaw puzzles than crosswords, and so you didn’t even glance at the puzzle note telling you how to fill that 7×3 space at the bottom of the grid. You have some pieces, so you fit them together into a rectangular space!
(Now, I hate annotating crossword grids in Preview, so pretend that the colors of the pieces in the grid actually match the colors inside the bottom box.) I eyeballed the “piece” with 5 letters, the only one that’s 3 squares high, and placed that at the right side of the puzzle space (on scratch paper!). Combine your jigsaw puzzle skills with your crosswordy skills for piecing together letters in plausible order, and you get “what jigsaw puzzles provide”: PICTURE-PERFECT MOMENTS. Cute! There are also theme entries that pertain to the process of putting a puzzle together—familiar phrases clued as if they’re about jigsaws.
- 27a. [“First, you’re going to want to dump out the box and ___”] PICK UP THE PIECES. I do not dump out the box! Good lord, why would you do that? You’re buying trouble if you have 1,000 pieces. Just take out a handful or two of pieces, and sort them accordingly.
- 40a. [“What’s most useful next is to ___”] GO OVER THE EDGE. Well, if you’re trying to make things harder, you save the edge pieces for later. It’s the jigsaw equivalent of solving a crossword “downs only.”
- 57a. [“To connect things up you’ll have to ___”] PLAY WITH MATCHES. Matching shapes, that is.
- 83a. [“As you go, make sure you exercise your ___”] FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY. I always do! I mean, where jigsaw puzzles are concerned. I’m taking a break this year from group gatherings thanks to COVID. Six new jigsaw puzzles were delivered here this week. I’m set for August! Maybe even some of September.
- 93a. [“With patience and perseverance you’re sure to ___”] GET IT TOGETHER. Indeed!
Cute theme, especially for the jigsaw puzzlers among us.
What else is in this puzzle? I don’t remember, because I was going to blog the puzzle before going to pick up dinner, and then it turns out the food was ready in 20 minutes rather than an hour, so now I’m back after a leisurely dinner break (Neapolitan pizza).
Fave fill: PARTIES DOWN, jalapeño POPPERS, MINERVA/SWERVE, AMIRITE. Less keen on RESHOW, ODIST, MT. IDA.
A few clues:
- 9d. [A certain degree], MASTER’S. Liked the clue mislead.
- 44d. [Like cioccolato or torta], DOLCE. Or panna cotta, our choice tonight from Spacca Napoli’s Dolce menu. Sweet, desserts.
- 87d. [Name suffix meaning “mountain”], BERG. It’s the German word for “mountain.” So Steinberg is stone mountain, Weissberg is white mountain, and so on.
Four stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “In a Class of Their Own” – Jim Q’s Write-up
A very classy puzzle indeed.
THEME: Famous names are the first word of classes.
- 26A [Teaching class for actor Adam?] DRIVER EDUCATION.
- 45A [Humanities class for singer Neko?] CASE HISTORY.
- 57A [Social science class for chef Julia?] CHILD PSYCHOLOGY.
- 79A [Creative design class for ski racer Picabo?] STREET ART.
- 101A [Environmental science class for singer Keith?] URBAN FORESTRY.
- 119A [Performance class for comedian Chris?] ROCK MUSIC.
- 66D [Natural science class for singer Robert?] PLANT BIOLOGY.
- 70D [Language class for actress Betty?] WHITE RUSSIAN.
If the WaPo puzzle were an elevator, it just came back to the ground floor, welcoming everybody aboard. Evan’s cycle is spot-on in the sense that newer solvers are always provided an opportunity to get hooked on puzzling without the intimidation of wackier themes… like when the elevator doors open a few weeks from now and David Pumpkins is there.
This one was very breezy. I didn’t time it- had a couple of distractions mid-solve. But I have a feeling I came in under 10 minutes, which is very fast for me on a 21x.
As far as the theme goes, some classes are unfamiliar to me. I took History of ROCK MUSIC in college as an elective, but I’ve never heard of a class called ROCK MUSIC. Same with STREET ART (Picabo STREET is a new name for me as well). And we always called it Driver’s Ed. It sounds odd to me without the possessive. But all tiny nits. The overall picture is solid. Impressive that there are that many names that can be the start of classes.
WHITE RUSSIAN for the win, amiright?
Awesome clue for EYE TEST [Character study?].
Not much else to say! Enjoy Sunday!
Drew Schmenner’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Suggested Track”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Well-known songs clued punnily (but with familiar phrases).
- 23a. [Streaming music?] SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Well, we don’t usually refer to rain as a “stream.” There are a lot of river songs though: “Take Me to the River,” “Many Rivers to Cross,” “Cry Me a River,” “Swanee River.”
- 32a. [Country single?] BORN IN THE USA.
- 48a. [Auto tune?] DRIVER’S LICENSE.
- 68a. [Closing number?] THE FINAL COUNTDOWN.
- 85a. [Power chords?] ELECTRIC AVENUE. I like this one best, I think.
- 103a. [Bird song?] WHEN DOVES CRY.
- 117a. [Haunting melody?] I PUT A SPELL ON YOU. Well, someone who puts a spell on someone else isn’t really “haunting” them. Best to have a song about ghosts here. “Ghostbusters”? “The Phantom of the Opera”?
There’s a lot of great music here, and it’s probably impossible not to start singing one in your head during the solve. So I enjoyed that part of it. I also enjoyed trying to match the clue with the song. Mostly they work. And the ones I nitpicked on above work well enough. So overall, high marks from me.
What I didn’t know—being an old person—was the song DRIVER’S LICENSE. Usually I will at least have heard of a pop culture hit, but not this time. It’s the debut single from Olivia Rodrigo and it came out in January of this year. That’s not enough to make it crossword-worthy, but the sheer number of awards that followed is. I’ll let Wikipedia take it from here:
“Drivers License” broke a string of records, including the Spotify record for the most single-day streams for a non-holiday song (achieved on its fourth day of release), the biggest first-week for a song on Spotify and Amazon Music. The song topped the US Billboard Hot 100 and made Rodrigo the youngest artist ever to debut atop the chart. The song spent eight consecutive weeks at number-one, becoming the longest running number-one for a debut single. It has been certified triple platinum by the RIAA. Elsewhere, “Drivers License” reached number one in seven additional countries, as well as spending multiple weeks atop the charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. It also peaked within the top ten in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and various others. The song has been credited with launching Rodrigo’s music career.
Oh, one more thing about the theme. I noticed each clue uses wholly different phrasing. That is, none of them duplicates any of the words in any other clue. Only one clue uses the word “song” for example, or “music.” I don’t know if that was on purpose, but it seems like an elegant touch to me.
Top fill: DEMOCRACY, SIDECAR, NOM NOM NOM, CATNAP (at 1a). Boo on OHIO STATE (just because they’re OHIO STATE). I doubt anyone would ever use the word GRUFFER, but there’s something likable about it.
Clues fall on the straightforward side, making for a quick solve. Between that and the music, this Sunday-sized grid was definitely not a slog. Four stars from me.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Up to Something”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: You can put “up to” in front of each themed answer in this puzzle to make a commonly used phrase.
- 3d [“Deodorant brand”] – SPEEDSTICK / “Up to speed”
- 14d [“Par excellence”] – PAR EXCELLENCE / “Up to par”
- 28d [“Chewy treat made with medjools”] – DATE COOKIE / “Up to date”
This was definitely a clever theme, especially because aren’t constructors always up to something in their puzzles? It was a nice combo of answers, though I struggled with both PAR EXCELLENCE and DATE COOKIE, though the latter was more because I was unfamiliar so I’m glad to have learned about this treat (I would link a recipe but they all look so good, so do yourself a favor and browse). I feel like I don’t see enough down-clued themes, so that made for a small bonus.
There were a lot of names in this puzzle, with Erykah BADU, EDNA (from Hairspray), ADA Palmer, CECE Peniston, ISLA (of Isla and the Happily Ever After), OTIS Clay, and Autumn KENT. I appreciated that variety of contexts, but I found some of these to be particularly tricky. However, the distribution was such that I could fill most of them on the crosses.
Some of my favorite clues for today include
- 24a [“Language related to LSF”] – French Sign Language (or LSF “langue des signes française”) was brought to the United States in 1816 by Thomas Gallaudet and was blended with signing systems in the U.S. to create American Sign Language (ASL). The University of Rochester compiled a really neat timeline exploring the history of sign language, which you can check out here.
- 40a [“‘Finally’ singer Peniston”] – Billboard magazine listed CECE Peniston in the Top 100 Top Dance Club Artists of All Time in December 2016. “Finally” as both a single and an album was also certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
- 53a [“Country that’s the world’s largest producer of olive oil”] – If your train of thought is like mine, you may have first filled in Italy here, so I was shocked to gradually change my answer to SPAIN as I did a few of the crosses. Upon looking it up, I found out that SPAIN produces about 1.75 million tons of olive oil a year.
- 65a [“Insect with a waggle dance”] – Knowing how important BEEs are to our environment, this clue just made me smile.
- 66a [“Pic on a pec”] – I thought this one was clued really well here, forming a nice three-letter word trio through pic, pec, and TAT.
- 56d [“Mathematician Autumn”] – Autumn KENT is a trans mathematician who has published over 20 papers. With Harrison Bray, she also helped to organize LGB&TBQ, a conference to bring together LGBTQ+ mathematicians.
That’s all from me for today! I hope that your Sunday has been good SO FAR (35d [“Up to this point”]).
Matthew Stock’s Universal crossword, “Where the Action Was”— Jim Q’s write-up
Fun title. Just seeing it now. I don’t know why I can’t make a habit of consistently reading the title before starting.
THEME: -ING is removed from common phrases, resulting in wackiness.
- 16A [*Organizer of a classic music convention?] ROCK CHAIR.
- 10D [*Op-ed about a certain longhorn?] STEER COLUMN.
- 24D [*Bushy-tailed creature with cool style?] FLY SQUIRREL.
- 55A [*Dinner request from actor Gregory?] PECK ORDER.
- (revealer) KNOWING (NO -ING)
That FLY SQUIRREL is also living in the early 90s. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone use the word “fly” to describe something cool… remember the Fly Girls on In Living Color?
Fun puzzle! Didn’t see that revealer coming! Bizarre word for a revealer, no? I mean it totally works, but typically revealers are colorful phrases. It caught me off-guard.
Two entries stole the spotlight from the theme though: FOR THE WIN and EAR HAIR.
EAR HAIR is so delightfully weird… just something one doesn’t think about ever until all of a sudden you’re thinking about it.
Byrant White’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Split Decisions” — Jenni’s write-up
I don’t like the Split Decisions puzzles that show up occasionally in the Times (why can’t they publish a real Rows Garden now and then? anyway) so the title made me roll my eyes. This is not like those. I still wasn’t crazy about it because the theme has nothing to do with the solve, at least not for me. I ended up going back to figure things out after I finished. I only did that so I could write this; I wouldn’t have bothered otherwise.
The revealer tells us what to look for: 66a [Product with lots of shapes…or what each of four black squares effectively is?] is ANIMAL CRACKERS. Each pair of theme answers has an animal name that goes across the square dividing them and each of the four squares has a set of Across and a set of Downs. I’ll present them that way.
- 11d [*Biblical possessive] and 33d [*Put on the books] give us THY ENACT.
- 28a [Wine ingredient?] and 29a [*Sarah of “Suits”] combine for LONG I RAFFERTY.
- 20d [*Gene variant] and 56d [*Ghost] are ALLELE PHANTASM.
- 49a [*Slip through the cracks] and 50a [*Traffic stoppers] are OOZE BRAKES
- 38d [*Norse mythology battle used as the subtitle of a 2017 “Thor” film] and 92d [*Place abuzz with activity] are RAGNAROK APIARY. This was my favorite because OKAPI is an old crossword staple and I saw one recently at the San Diego Zoo.
- 86a [*Take by force] and 88a [*”A Clockwork Orange” antihero] match up for HIJACK ALEX.
- 88d [Dangerous strain] and 1116d [Next to nothing] give us E COLI ONE.
- 104a [*Closely match] and 109a [*Aconcagua’s range] are PARALLEL ANDES.
The theme is solid and well-executed; my dislike is a matter of taste, not quality. I needed the asterisks to even find the theme answers; it solved like a large and not particularly difficulty themeless. This is why I don’t usually rate puzzles. I don’t know if I’m rating based on my enjoyment or my assessment of quality. The two do not always go together. It’s like my experience with “A Clockwork Orange.” I knew while I was watching it that the film was incredibly well-made – a film genius at the peak of his powers. I was miserable while I watched it and would have walked out if I hadn’t been with a friend who chose it as his birthday outing. It was Art and I was miserable. This puzzle was not excruciating and for that I’m grateful.
A few other things:
- 5a [Shrink] is ANALYST. At first I thought it was “shrink” as in “get smaller” and then I thought it was ANALYZE, which makes very little sense except that I had verbs on the brain.
- Why do I know the word KERFS? I have no idea.
- It was nice to see Paul ONEILL and his batting title.
- 94d [Sent raspberries to?] is JEERED. And PHHHTBT to you, too.
- 101d [1994 rival of Nancy] had me thinking Reagan despite the year. It’s figure skating, not politics, and the answer is TONYA.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that UKELELEs are traditionally made of koa wood.