A. Tariq’s New York Times crossword — Sophia’s recap
Theme: Each theme answer is a common word or phrase whose second half can mean “group”, and each theme answer is clued punnily as a certain group of people.
17A [Group of Washington politicians?] – HOUSE PARTY
29A [Group of diamond jewelry wearers?] – ICE PACK
47A [Group of profoundly insightful people?] – DEEP SET
61A [Group of big rig haulers?] – SEMICIRCLE
Solid Monday theme today. I enjoyed that the puns all change the meaning of the first word/part of the word along with the group at the end. ICE PACK and SEMICIRCLE were my two favorites of the group as both halves of the pun really worked for me. That said, ICE PACK and DEEP SET feel a little short as theme answers at only 7 letters each – are there any longer words/phrases that would work for this theme?
There’s a lot to like in the grid today too, especially in the down answers (the length of the themed acrosses constrains the length of the rest of the across fill, another reason longer theme answers might have been helpful here). Loved HODGEPODGE and PLUSHY and HEADS UP, as well as the double Italian food entries of PASTA and ZITI. I worry about newer solvers knowing ESSEN, IGER, OSS, and AGHA (especially when the last one crosses DAHL) even though I personally have seen them in puzzles many times, and CYANS is a somewhat odd plural. But overall, a smooth grid for a simple, amusing theme, and that’s all I’m looking for on a Monday.
- There aren’t a ton of proper names in today’s puzzle, but I think it’s worth noting that not a single woman is mentioned in either the grid or clues (… other than the MONA Lisa, I guess).
- I keep parsing ABEAM as if it were similar to an I-beam, although I am not sure how exactly that would work construction-wise.
- And to leave you with my earworm of choice from the puzzle…
Kurt Krauss’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Here we have a theme of the sort that I think was more common 10 to 15 years ago: No revealer, and the themers are connected by the fact that the first three letters of each answer are the same except for a vowel change. A, E, I, O, and U are used in order:
- 17A [One of two rectangles next to home plate] is a BATTER’S BOX. B-A-T up front.
- 25A [Cartoon flapper] is BETTY BOOP. B-E-T up front.
- 37A [Last step, however difficult] is BITTER END. B-I-T up front.
- 52A [“Cheers!”] is BOTTOMS UP. B-O-T up front.
- 63A [Called from the rear?] is BUTT-DIALED. B-U-T up front.
I’m gonna say the theme is less than the sum of its parts here. There are some individually fun answers here — BATTER’S BOX is evocative, BOTTOMS UP makes me want a cocktail, and that clue for BUTT-DIALED is genius. That being said, when I’ve seen themes like this before, the word in which the vowel is changing is the same complete word each time, not part of a word (BAT, BET, BIT, BOT, and BUT would have worked, if there’s a set of phrases that start with those words that lead to a symmetric grid). I think it’s a bit harder to the solver to figure out what’s going on when you’re changing a syllable instead of a word. (My sub-2-minute solving time is in large part due to my having solved this mostly with the Down clues, and not paying attention to the theme at all until after the fact!)
With the fill — I can count the clunkers on one hand, but they are real clunkers for a Monday. EGY, ISERE, and especially OLAF I (we’re asking solvers to care about someone who was king of Norway for five years more than a thousand years ago?). I also could’ve done without the reference to Hurricane KATRINA; I imagine there are people, even 16 years later, for whom that’s a painful reference. I would’ve gone with KATRINA and the Waves (the “Walking on Sunshine” band), even on a Monday.
Lynn Lempel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Hold Your Horses!”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Various terms for horses are identified in familiar phrases.
- 17a. [2008 crossover voter] OBAMA REPUBLICAN. Mare. Apparently, some 9% of those identifying as Republicans voted for Obama that year. Compare that with Biden’s 5% last year. (Got my data from here and here.)
- 27a. [“On the other hand…”] THEN AGAIN. Nag.
- 51a. [Both sides of an issue] PRO AND CON. Roan.
- 62a. [Join a dispute] JUMP INTO THE FRAY. Pinto.
Pretty straightforward, but Lynn Lempel’s a pro at making a Monday puzzle feel fresh and fun, and this one is. This would be a great grid for new solvers to cut their teeth on.
As you’d expect, the fill is free from kludge and has a few sparkly bits worth highlighting: “PRAISE BE!” and BACKDROP most notably.
One clue of note: 70a. [City located where the Saône and Rhône meet]. LYON. Pretty tough clue for a Monday, don’t ya think?
Other than that clue, an easy, breezy Monday grid. 3.8 stars.
Tomas Spiers’ Universal crossword, “It’s a Zoo Out There!” — pannonica’s write-up
- 50aR [Creature comforts? … and a hint to the words that bookend 19-, 24- and 44-Across] STUFFED ANIMALS.
- 19a. [Valuable designation for a collector] LIMITED EDITION. Saw the ED ED sequence and thought that was going to be the theme, especially as 7d [Hawaiian goose found in “pine needles”] NENE seemed to be a bonus entry/indirect revealer. But instead of looking into the heart of the entry we’re supposed to examine the ends, in this case to find lion.
- 24a. [Prepare to order a drink] BELLY UP TO THE BAR. Had SIDLE for a while. Bear in this one.
- 44a. [Balancing daredevil] TIGHTROPE WALKER (tiger).
So. Two of the three are four letters long and divided evenly in two, while the third is five with an uneven 3-2 split. However, “lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)” is a very famous trio from an exclamation in the 1939 film of The Wizard of Oz. Yet there’s no explicit connection made here, no OH MY as a bonus entry, no framing in the revealer, nor is the sequence intact. Maybe it’s just my own experience, but the end result is that it had me just a bit off-balance.
- 24d [Godzilla, for example] BEAST. Is this theme commentary? nb: KAIJU did not work.
- 53d [Whispery video genre, for short] ASMR. That stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and many people find such stuff soothing.
- 23a [How many ’00s mixtapes were stored] ON CD. Should mixtapes be in quotes, or has the term achieved generic status?
- 35a [Boxer Nico __ Walsh] ALI. Callback to 4d [ __ in Manila (iconic 1975 boxing match)] THRILLA, and unrelated to 30d [Nickname that sounds like a passageway] ALLIE or 47d [Singer Grande, familiarly] ARI.
- 36a [Requirement when buying booze] LEGAL ID. Also a thing in radio and television broadcasting.
- 58a [Main point] GIST, 59a [“Ah, gotcha] I SEE.
- 60a [Drink with a pumpkin spice variety] LATTE. AHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhrrrgh!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday crossword — Matthew’s recap
Ooo-eee, look at all these long downs! I worked clockwise around this grid, starting with SYSTOLE (7a- Cardiac cycle moment when the heart muscle contracts), so I hit the toughest (for me) section in the northwest last.
I can see your reaction to this type of grid depending on how much you need the shorter stuff to supply the longer, but even so, this grid minimizes the kludgy crosswordese that we could have seen. And the payoff is rich, which a handful of trickier clues for EVENING NEWS (2d- Sources of bedtime stories?), TOLEDO OHIO (10d- Holy city?), and SCREENPLAYS (25d- They might have laugh lines) and educational (a plus for me) clue and answer pairings in MEDICINE HAT (3d- Alberta metropolis nicknamed “The Gas City”) and AUTOLOGICAL (24d- Like words describing a property they already possess (like “noun” or “pentasyllabic”)).
BLUE CHECK MARK (15d – Sign of authenticity) is a classic BEQ marquee entry. For the Twitter-less, a blue check mark is a status symbol for noteworthy folks on the platform.
- Does the 63,000-strong MEDICINE HAT, sixth-largest city in Alberta, behind Red Deer and Lethbridge, count as a ‘metropolis’? I suppose it’s an exercise for the reader.
- It took me a google post solve, but PEPE (51d- Sale’s companion in Italy), is ‘pepper’ in Italian.
- Did MIDAS (23a- Alchemist of myth) actually practice alchemy? Seems like his situation was a little different, than say, a metallurgist.
- Stumped on BLOW OPEN (15a- Render no longer competitive)? The object of ‘render’ is a close contest, not a competitor. Tight games become routs after being blown open.
- 43a- (Wilderness Road designer) is Daniel BOONE. Not sure how I missed that one in years of ELHI education!
Hoang-Kim Vu & Kate Chin Park’s USA Today puzzle– malaika’s write-up
Title: To Be…
Theme: The first word of each theme answer comes after “to be” in a common phrase
- 20A: HONEST MISTAKE: Error that anyone could’ve made
- 32:A SURE THING: “You got it!”
- 38A: FAIR FIGHT: Voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams
- 48A: CLEAR FAVORITE: Most likely winner
My favorite theme answer of the bunch was FAIR FIGHT for two reasons. First, it’s an awesome organization that seeks to end disenfranchisement. Second, I love when common phrases get new cluing angles when they become proper nouns. (You see this a lot with music, like SWEETENER now being an Ariana Grande album.) I think there’s something very cool about the entry itself being timeless, but the clue anchoring it to a time period.
- I liked the clue for ROTI (19A: Flatbread in Indian and Caribbean cuisines) because it meant I didn’t have to wait for crosses to see whether this would be “naan.” I used to work in a Caribbean neighborhood in Brooklyn, and for lunch we loved to get Trini rotis stuffed with potatoes and goat. While we’re doing a ROTI World Tour, Malaysian ROTI canai is also extremely good.
- The quilts from Gee’s Bend, or Boykin, (mentioned in the clue for 24A, ART) are beautiful. Take a look.
- Misloach manot are baskets of food and drink given to friends during the holiday PURIM (27D).
- The fill in this puzzle was really spotless. Theme answers with thirteen letters can sometimes constrain a grid, so I thought this was impressive.