Aimee Lucido and Ella Dershowitz’s New York Times crossword, “Heads of State”—Nate’s write-up
At first, this puzzle played like a themeless to me, with lots of fun entries and modern cluing. But, as I got to the bottom of the puzzle, I was pleased to find a revealer:
124A: MIND OVER MATTER [Slogan about willpower… or a hint to four pairs of answers in this puzzle]
Looking back through the grid, sure enough! There are four pairs of words meaning “mind” directly over phases of matter. Wow!
BRAIN over SOLID:
23A: PREGNANCY BRAIN [Forgetfulness experienced by soon-to-be-moms, informally] over
28A: SOLID FOOD [What a baby might start eating at around six months]
SMARTS over LIQUID:
47A: STREET SMARTS [Worldly wisdom] over
53A: LIQUID DIET [Juice cleanse, essentially]
WIT over GAS:
65A: MOTHER WIT [Common sense] over
75A: GAS GIANTS [Jovian planets, by another name]
NOODLE over PLASMA:
92A: POOL NOODLE [Simple flotation device] over
97A: PLASMA SCREEN [TV display option]
What a fun concept. I appreciated the motherdom / pregnancy / baby subtheme throughout many of the theme entries (and other longer entries like PATOOTIE and GO NIGHT NIGHT), and I was also quite pleased as a chemist that the phases of matter went in increasing order (as you heat most substances). All around, a really enjoyable solve, I thought!
Oh! And I almost forgot to mention – what a brilliant title for this puzzle (“Heads of State”) as a hint at both components of the theme. That’s next level.
Other random notes:
– 40A: The spelling of HOWDEDO raised an eyebrow, though I guessed correctly at the E in the BARONET crossing. Hope that treated you okay, too!
– 4D: I viscerally appreciated the SO GOOD cluing of [Words moaned while eating a cheeseburger, maybe].
– 31D: Did you notice the italicized “She” in the [Sheep] clue for EWE? Nice touch!
There was so much to love about this puzzle and its cluing / entries. I’d love to hear in the chat – what did you enjoy about this puzzle? Happy mid-November to all who are scraping by to get through to the holidays! :D
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “In Addition”— Jim Q’s write-up
After some zaniness the past few weeks, the WaPo puzzle elevator has returned to the ground floor with a classic theme type.
THEME: Common two-word phrases where the second word is replaced with a homophone with IN added at the end.
- 23A [Place where Dracula rests and shouts in excitement?] WHOOPING COFFIN. Whooping cough.
- 35A [Part of an Ocean Spray snack for a ballerina, say?] DANCE CRAISIN. Dance craze.
- 50A [Actor Alan, when he gives a thrilling performance?] ELECTRIC ARKIN. Electric arc.
- 68A [Terse way of asking Monty Python member Michael if he wants to grab a midday bite?] LUNCH, PALIN? Lunch pail.
- 70A [Actor Firth’s plundering pirate nickname?] BOOTY COLIN.
- 84A [Hogwarts professor Remus, when giving students responses on their assignments?] FEEDBACK LUPIN. Feedback loop.
- 102A [Let go of a washbowl?] DROP THE BASIN. Drop the bass.
- 144A [Singer Bobby, when he would walk a pair of pooches?] DOUBLE DOG DARIN. Double Dog Dare.
As soon as I uncovered the first themer and the theme revealed itself, I smiled. I knew instantly that this would be mostly a breeze. A light jaunt. A blue circle / green square trail after hitting up a few black diamonds.
I especially enjoyed the top half. Not only were my favorite of the themers up there, but some fun things to learn, like DEAF Awareness Month (it’s September btw). KIA‘s ownership exchange. And picturing ELMO in tap shoes as he sings “Happy Tappin’ With ELMO.”
As I moved south, I felt it got a bit more name heavy than I would’ve preferred, particularly in the theme, where five of them ended in proper nouns, two of which didn’t quite land as solid homophones for me, at least the way I pronounce them: COLIN / CALL and DARIN / DARE.
My two favorite names in the puzzle, however, are welcome anytime! That would be Tig NOTARO and her symmetrical opposite AMANDA Gorman.
Not too much else to say today! All in all, this was an enjoyable romp.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Lead by Example”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: The initials for each person mentioned in the themed answers are “E.G.,” referring to the abbreviation e.g., which means “for example.”
- 17a [“Early anarcha-feminist”] EMMA GOLDMAN
- 38a [“‘Love Me Like You Do’ singer”] ELLIE GOULDING
- 57a [“She played Sophia Petrillo on ‘The Golden Girls”] ESTELLE GETTY
Once I finished the puzzle, I was focused on what about these particular women was meant as the “example” part of the clue, partially because of the cluing for EMMA GOLDMAN. Then, I focused on first names, but it hit me that all of their initials were “E.G.” Of the answers themselves, ELLIE GOULDING was the only one I got without having to totally rely on the crosses, but even though I wasn’t familiar with EMMA GOLDMAN or ESTELLE GETTY, it was fun to see women as the focus of these answers.
Grid-wise, it was fun to see 34d [“‘Time to begin!’”] LET’S START and, even more so, 41d [“Antiquated”] OBSOLETE. Both are clued easily, and I was especially excited to see OBSOLETE since it is a word I don’t expect to always see in a puzzle. These longer answers were also complimented by the upper right corner, with TRASH CAN and RAMEN EGG. However, this isn’t to say that we didn’t get some fun shorter answers as well. I thought that, the way the grid was built, ELLIE GOULDING interlocked nicely with words like ERIE, LAVA, LOIS, and many of the other shorter fills that crossed it.
A few other things:
- 1a [“A kamidana is a small one”] – A kamidana is a small ALTAR or shrine that is used for daily worship as part of practicing Shintō.
- 17a [“Early anarcha-feminist”] – EMMA GOLDMAN (1869-1940) was born in Russia and moved to the United States in 1885, where she first settled in Rochester, New York. During her lifetime, she expressed radical views on women’s rights and sexuality. She was eventually deported from the United States in 1919. You can read more about her here.
- 30d [“Poet ___ Red Elk”] – LOIS Red Elk is an enrolled member of the Ft. Peck Sioux. You can read more about her here, and if you’re in a poetry mood this morning, I recommend “The Knife Wearer.”
Overall, a great example (get it?) of a Sunday puzzle!
Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Also …”—Jim P’s review
Theme: AND is added to familiar phrases resulting in crossword wackiness.
- 22a. [“No problem if someone robs our train”?] I DON’T MIND A BANDIT. Bit.
- 35a. [Surrender surfing gear?] HAND OVER BOARDS. Hover.
- 69a. [James Joyce or Enya?] IRISH STANDOUT. Stout.
- 100a. [Local region known for small oranges?] MANDARIN COUNTY. Marin.
- 119a. [Leaving team members behind after an away game?] STRANDING PLAYERS. String.
- 14d. [Formal orders to jog every day?] RUNNING MANDATES. Mates.
- 44d. [Sarcastic response to Marlon’s anecdote?] COOL STORY, BRANDO. Bro.
Solid add-a-word theme. I especially liked the more surprising, longish entries (Marin -> mandarin, stout -> standout) and the Brando one, for sure.
Speaking of standouts, GOOD KARMA is one among a slate of good fill entries such as SEA CHANGE, ENDEAVORS, LATE TAG, “LET’S SEE,” and “IT’S FATE” (although, “It must be fate” feels more common to me).
There’s definitely an international flavor peppered throughout the clues. I enjoyed these in particular:
- 17a. [People who prefer “Aotearoa” to “New Zealand”]. MAORI. “Aotearoa” is pronounced “ow-tay-uh-ROE-uh” (with a slight trill on the R).
- 96a. [King Sunny ___ (Nigerian juju legend)]. ADÉ, pronounced ah-DAY. And juju is a genre of popular Nigerian music. Per Wikipedia, juju comes from “the Yoruba word ‘juju’ or ‘jiju’ meaning ‘throwing’ or ‘something being thrown’. Juju music did not derive its name from juju, which is a form of magic and the use of magic objects.”
- 15d. [Country that celebrates Nowruz]. IRAN. Nowruz is the Iranian or Persian New Year which falls on the vernal equinox.
- 58d. [Amy Tan or Dan Brown]. WRITERS. Ha! A simple clue, but you can tell some thought went into it.
Solid, enjoyable grid. 3.75 stars.
Paul Coulter’s Universal Crossword, “Uplands”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Countries can be found backwards (or going up) in common phrases.
- PICTURE POSTCARD. Peru.
- DALAI LAMA. Mali.
- DIANA RIGG. Iran.
- OBTAIN A MORTGAGE. Romania.
Well, I’d be lying if I said this was my favorite Paul Coulter puzzle. It isn’t by a long shot. The biggest problem for me not being the puzzle itself, but the fact that this is definitely a circle-dependent puzzle (read names in phrases backwards), and… ya’ know. Universal. Can’t publish circles. Loves circle-dependent themes. Go figure.
I’m actually just assuming the other published grids are circle-less other than the .puz version found here at this site. I can never find the 15x Universal on a Sunday other than here, which also strikes me as somewhat strange.
Thematically, it didn’t quite land for me either. We’ve seen a lot of find-the-word-going-up-in-common-phrases theme, but here the phrases strike me as a bit of a stretch. Like PICTURE POSTCARD.. Aren’t they just known as… POSTCARDs? And as wild as it is that ROMANIA can be found backwards in anything, it’s still in OBTAIN A MORTGAGE, which doesn’t strike me as an in-language phrase, despite the fact that I’ve indeed heard those words together many times. DIANA RIGG is a very new name for me. So DALAI LAMA was the one that worked best.
Cute clue for MIC CHECK! [“Testing” session?]
2.75 stars from me today with circles.
1 star without.
NYT: Nice bit of construction. I liked that each “mind” was the same number of letters as the corresponding “matter.”
Overall, it was fun and felt fresh. I didn’t know FURIKAKE, TUKTUK, or KATE DiCamillo, so I left the SE for last and guessed at the K.
I didn’t know them either, so that corner was a sticky one for me. Generally, it was a name heavy Sunday. As Amy says, it felt themeless (or maybe, given the reveal forcing a fresh look, a meta puzzle. Not bad, but still a bit like last week’s themeless only with more trivia. I liked the last one better.
NYT: MOTHER WIT? Googling turns up many dictionary definitions, but it’s new to me.
WaPo: I agree that the pronunciations of COLIN/CALL and DARIN/DARE make those entries a little weaker. And I don’t know what ‘drop the bass’ means and am too lazy to google.
Yeah, MOTHER WIT was news to me too…
One of my test-solvers had said they didn’t buy the DARIN/DARE pronunciation either, but I have to admit I still don’t understand that. Is this a Midwest vs. East Coast regional difference? Here’s a video that shows Dick Clark introducing Bobby Darin on “American Bandstand,” and the way he says the first syllable of “Darin” is pretty much exactly how I would say “dare.” How do others pronounce DARE, and how is it different from the beginning of DARIN?
But even if the pronunciation between DARIN/DARE and COLIN/CALL are a tad different, the answers BOOTY COLIN and DOUBLE DOG DARIN struck me as funny enough that I don’t think it’s a major concern.
I completely agree on those pronunciations, and I’m having a hard time finding much variation on DARIN or DARE. People are often so distracted by spelling that they think that they pronounce things wildly different than they actually do.
NYT: Great concept! I’m always grateful for a well constructed Sunday that avoids being wacky… which usually falls flat as far as I’m concerned.
And thanks, Nate, for pointing out the progression in theme. I had not noticed that. I wonder how to think about the progression from BRAIN to NOODLE…
My wife, who is a chemical engineer and focuses on plasma treatment of surfaces, was quite pleased when I told her that plasma made the cut in the puzzle.
LAT: Anyone else catch the faux pas at 113A: “Didn’t do well AT all” for stankAT. :/
42A – “I need this ASAP” = DOITNOW and
110D – “Rush job letters” = ASAP
Overall I liked the puzzle and the theme answers (especially 25A “Pot for Sebastian of ‘The Little Mermaid'” = CRABGRASS), but the bottom few rows really had me shaking my head.
In addition to STANKAT and ASAP, the theme entry at 116A fell flat for me – “Topping Daffy created?” = DUCKSAUCE. Unlike all the other theme answers, which involved some misdirection in meaning, “duck sauce” is really just . . . a topping.
Finally, you have 117D “Beehive State native” = UTE. Someone from the state of Utah is a Utahn or Utahan. The Ute people are an indigenous people originally (and even currently) from the Southwest in general (including Colorado and New Mexico), and not just “natives” of Utah.
Bobby Darin was always pronounced Dare- in as I recall when he was popular. What is the meaning of the shaded word and letter in the puzzles?
I’m pretty sure the shaded word/letter is just where the reviewer’s cursor happened to be when they did a screenshot of the finished puzzle. Sometimes they might highlight a theme answer or the revealer (as above (Universal, NYT)).
Pilgrim, thanks. I’m still a pen and paper crossworder. Haven’t tried online.