Grant Thackray’s New York Times crossword, “Go Up in Smoke”—Amy’s write-up
The theme revealer in this plus-sized 22×21 puzzle is 50a. [With 97-Across, emerge reborn … or what the ends of five Across answers in this puzzle do?], RISE FROM / THE ASHES. The other themers take a bend upwards into the grid, and their ending letters from A on can be switched to ASH to make a different, unclued answer:
- 31a. [Like gasoline nowadays], UNLEADED. The straight continuation is UNLEASH, and the upwards bend is DEDA down, unclued because it’s meaningless in that direction.
- 33a. [30-year host of late-night TV], JOHNNY CARSON with a side of JOHNNY CASH.
- 74a. [Addiction treatment locale], REHAB CENTER, with a side of REHASH browns. (My god, I need to make hash browns and have leftovers to call rehash browns the next day.)
- 111a. [Be completely candid], TALKS STRAIGHT, with TALKS TRASH.
- 114a. [Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw], HOGWARTS HOUSE, side of HOGWASH.
Great theme, though it’s maybe too easy if you give away the mechanism in the theme revealer clue. I do like that the theme pairs contains plenty of lively entries. I’m always gonna like seeing HOGWASH or JOHNNY CASH in a puzzle, for example.
The constraints on the grid with the angled entries mean a lot of locked-down space, which typically means subpar fill. Having CRYER next to CRIER felt inelegant, and the ACT AS/plural AHS start to the puzzle put a bad taste in my mouth. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen 66a. [Some U.N. officers, for short], SGS. Secretaries general? SORER, bleh. There were just things that bugged me scattered throughout. I might’ve not noticed them if the opening corner had been great instead, you know? Sets the tone.
5d. [Something close to a colonel’s heart?], SILENT L. I need a linguist to weigh in on whether we call that a silent L when there’s an R sound there instead.
41d. [___ Minella (Muppet)], SAL. Oh! Did not know this. Delightful. My grandparents were friends with a couple named Sam and Della, and I never didn’t hear that as “salmonella.” Don’t eat over at their place!
AT ONE’S ELBOW? Uh, I guess. Doesn’t ring a bell.
Dinner is here, gotta go. Four stars for the theme, three for the fill.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “CC Me”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: Every themed answer in this puzzle includes a first and last name and each name begins with C, making their initials CC. The double letter combo refers to the (e)mail practice of carbon copying someone so that they receive a duplicate of the correspondence.
20a [“Supermodel with a trademark mole”] CINDY CRAWFORD
37a [“First woman to co-anchor CBS Evening News] CONNIE CHUNG
55a [“Tony winning for ‘Hello Dolly!’”] CAROL CHANNING
This theme was clean and easy to fill in, keeping my solve time for USA Today right around its usual. Once I got through the clues for CINDY CRAWFORD and CONNIE CHUNG, I knew that I was looking for C.C. names. There was also the nice bonus of 37d [“Tough task for a telemarketer”], which is the alliterative hint for COLD CALL. It not only played off of the first C for CONNIE CHUNG, but it also offered a fourth non-name C.C.
Grid-wise, the top right and bottom left corners were easy to fill on the Acrosses, so I didn’t even see the Down clues for them until I started working on my review. I thought that the upper left and bottom right sections were clued well and a nice balance to the shorter words in their opposite corners.
- 17d [“‘Absentia’ actress Katic”] – I loved STANA Katic in Castle on ABC, and, in addition to playing Emily on Absentia, she was also an executive producer on 10 episodes.
- 2d [“Tempt”] & 34d [“Make loveable”] – We got two longer words with en- prefixes in ENTICE and ENDEAR respectively. I liked this dual since I felt like their clues were relatively similar but spaced nicely that the crosses could help navigate those differences.
- 5d [“Symbol on the Somali flag”] – The five points on STAR on the Somali flag each represent an AREA (18a [“Vicinity”]) traditionally viewed as a homeland by a Somali ethnic group. The blue and white were influenced by the United Nations (UN) flag and the coat of arms of the country when it was controlled by Italy. The flag was first flown on October 12, 1954 and became official on June 26, 1960, according to Britannica.
Overall, this was a smooth solve HELPED (43a [“Gave assistance”]) by its clever cluing and fun theme.
Leonard Williams’s Universal crossword, “Escape Room”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: The word ROOM is missing from common phrases, resulting in wackiness.
- [Tennis parody on “SNL”?] COURT DRAMA. Courtroom Drama.
- 23A [Celebrating after scoring a touchdown?] BALL DANCING. Ballroom Dancing.
- 51A [Italian rice dish whose texture is wrong?] MUSH RISOTTO. Mushroom Risotto.
- 63A [Certain parent, educationally speaking?] HOME TEACHER. Homeroom Teacher.
Fun idea, especially with a great title revealer. Some of the resulting wacky answers should be a bit further removed from the base phrases. For instance, HOME TEACHER and HOMEROOM TEACHER are pretty close in the sense that both are teachers. MUSHROOM RISOTTO and MUSH RISOTTO are still both Italian rice dishes (I’d also add that RISOTTO is, indeed, somewhat mushy). BALL DANCING is… weird. I guess my mind is in the gutter?
So while I like the idea, the entries don’t excite me all that much.
- 48D [Major event, with “the”] BIG ONE. Huh? I’ve never described an event like that. Is this regional?
- 22A [Razor product that’s kid-friendly] SCOOTER. Great clue! With Razor being the first word in the clue, the brand’s capital letter is hidden.
- 24D [Burton of “Reading Rainbow”] LEVAR. Really like his Jeopardy appearance.
- 47A [Popular red wine, for short] CAB. Clued correctly as red wine this time. Last time I solved a Universal with this entry, it was clued as white.
Not my favorite, but still a fun solve.
Pam Klawitter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Strictly Speaking”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Familiar prepositional phrases are re-imagined literally.
- 23a. [Actors usually write reminders ___] BETWEEN THE LINES.
- 45a. [Some digits in a decimal are ___] BESIDE THE POINT.
- 70a. [X-rays give the doctor ___] INSIDE INFORMATION. Hmm. This one doesn’t feel the same as the others. Ah, I know what it is: INSIDE is used as an adjective here.
- 98a. [An intruder who hides in the ceiling vent is ___] ABOVE SUSPICION. I suppose.
- 122a. [One who shuns bread products is ___] AGAINST THE GRAIN. Good one.
- 15d. [Avid readers keep their glasses ___] BY THE BOOK. Also good.
- 81d. [The Chicago Board of Trade Building is ___] IN THE LOOP. My favorite of the lot, I think. The Loop being Chicago’s downtown area.
I liked these for the most part, especially as the puzzle went along. They definitely seemed stronger at the end. Too bad about INSIDE INFORMATION. It would have been nicer if another similar entry was used. It seems like there are plenty of alternative prepositions to turn to: on, off, over, under, below. How about [When U2 plays leapfrog, Bono jumps ___] OVER THE EDGE?
Enough silliness. There isn’t much in the grid in the way of long sparkly fill, no doubt because we have a fair amount of theme entries including some in the Down direction. We do have TIRED OUT and SENATORS as well as OPEN LATE and ISOTOPES. Nothing to scowl about, and that’s no small feat in a Sunday-sized grid.
Clues of note:
- 66a. [Al Roker’s network]. NBC. I just saw that Al Roker’s predecessor, Willard Scott, passed away. I was just going to link to a remembrance that Al Roker gave, but it’s so good, I’ll embed it below. Definitely some must-see TV.
- 79a. [Fighting it out]. AT WAR. This is much too close to [Having a spat]. AT IT. The latter could also mean “working hard,” so that clue probably should have been changed.
- 6d. [December’s Nick at night]. SANTA. Cute.
- 95d. [Bridge statistic]. SPAN. Got me with this. I was thinking the card game the whole time.
- 117d. [Chemistry test?]. DATE. That is, to see if the people involved have “chemistry.” Nice clue.
Enjoyable theme. Fill is clean but not necessarily sparkly. 3.7 stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Cutting Carbs” – Jim Q’s Write-up
An Atkins friendly puzzle today.
THEME: First letter of foods is deleted and clued wackily. The collective missing letters, in Birnholzian fashion, spell a revealer of sorts.
- 23A [Cut of meat from Mork’s home planet?] ORK ROAST. PORK ROAST.
- 30A [Treats baked by a classic auto company?] REO COOKIES. OREO COOKIES.
- 36A [Treats baked by a classic auto company?] ART CHERRY. TART CHERRY.
- 55A [Greeting to a group of seared fish dishes?] “HI, TUNA STEAKS!” AHI TUNA STEAKS.
- 69A [Actor Tom providing cuts of holiday bird?] HANKS GIVING TURKEY. THANKSGIVING TURKEY.
- 84A [Poultry served in the mountains?] RANGE CHICKEN. ORANGE CHICKEN.
- 100A [Dairy product from a hydroelectric facility?] DAM CHEESE. EDAM CHEESE.
- 107A [Fast-food sandwiches grilled by actress Grier?] PAM BURGERS. SPAM BURGERS.
- 120A [Carb-rich side that may be cut, and what’s spelled out by the letters cut from the starts of this puzzle’s foods] POTATOES.
Remarkably tight, yet seemingly simple puzzle today. I don’t think I fully appreciated that all the theme entries were foods until near the end of the solve. Not sure how I missed that, but that’s a lot more fun than lopping the first letter off of any old phrase.
I did have a sense from the first entry that those missing letters would spell something (because Birnholz). That gimmick (wrong word… gimmick sounds tacky, but the correct word is eluding me) never fails to enhance the puzzle. Tried to guess it but once I figured out the first three letters (POT), my mind was thinking it had something to do with cookware.
Struggled in the middle east of the puzzle. Could not for the life of me do anything with the clue [Joint seen while wearing flip-flops] with AN?LE. Ran the alphabet twice. Poorly, obviously. A big forehead slapper as my mind never considered another definition of “joint.” Great clue. Couldn’t see DOSE or TANKED for a while either. Just a big f***in’ brainfart for me.
Favorite themer = HANKS GIVING TURKEY. It’s a delightful visual, and let’s face it… who doesn’t want Tom HANKS at your dinner table on Thanksgiving?
New for me:
ARI Lennox, ISIAH Whitlock Jr., DOOHAN, and TOSSER.
Eye roll clue of the day: [Animal with pants?] DOG. Yes, dogs pant.
A very apropos vid to end today’s post:
Brad Wiegmann’s LA Times crossword, “Parting Company” – Gareth’s summary
The title of today’s puzzle, “Parting Company”, is rather inscrutable. What I can see is there are circles in 8 theme entries that spell out JMBARRIE. In addition, those 8 entries each contain one half of four Neverland characters (none of the Darlings are included). The first and last entries, PETERjennings and flashinthePAN, form PETERPAN; two and seven are CAPTAINamerica and gettingtheHOOK; five and three are TINKERtoys and sleighBELL; six and four are TIGERteams and easterLILY.
About a third of my solving time was occupied finishing off the area below SKIIN. Not sure I’ve seen that before. Between names I wasn’t sure of, especially their spellings: STAGG (stang?), KIMMEL, INES (z?), and RIAN (not a Y?); opaque clues for INNATE, AMNESIA and LEAD and a phrase ___INGTHEHOOK that seemed like it could be any of many things stymied me for some time. However, my mistake was GTA/ASTO. Guess I don’t know my abbrs./Latin well enough!
- [Novel category], ROMANCE. Romance was once a synonym for novel.
- [Yankee quipper?], BERRA. I don’t see the need for a question mark. The clue is meant to sound like Yankee Clipper, but it isn’t actual word play per se.
- I’d have thought ICICLE/ICEPACK wouldn’t be a Kosher crossing…
- [Brown shade], UMBER. I went through TAUPE and OCHER first…
- [Old dagger], SNEE. Haven’t seen you in a while!