Zhouqin Burnikel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Split Second”—Jim P’s review
Theme: B-TO-B (57d, [Like intercompany trade, for short, and a hint to the starred answers]). Theme answers are phrases that start and end with Bs.
- 16a. [*Tidbit for an ant] BREAD CRUMB.
- 38a. [*Baby grizzly] BEAR CUB.
- 62a. [*Unsatisfactory perm, say] BOTCHED JOB.
- 10d. [*Exfoliating skin-care product] BODY SCRUB.
- 33d. [*Painful chest fracture] BROKEN RIB.
Clean and breezy. However, there have to be many additional phrases that are potential entries here (book club, biology lab, back rub, brew pub, Bausch and Lomb, etc.). I wonder if it would make sense to try to include another constraint. I’m guessing it wouldn’t. The revealer is simple and straightforward, making it just right for a Monday puzzle.
I’ll admit to having trouble trying to make sense of the title, though. My best interpretation goes like this: Take the letter B (the second letter of the alphabet), split it into two Bs, then fill in the gap with other letters to get the theme answers. Sounds a bit dodgy, but it’s the best I could come up with. Help me out if you have other ideas.
With theme answers in a pinwheel pattern, there isn’t much room for flashy long fill. But the mid-length fill is strong, as one would expect from a pro constructor like ZB: TEA ROSE, DOGLEG, ARGYLE, “MY BAD,” “SO SAD,” LISBON, “I’M BEAT,” CAJUN. I like DULLISH, too. It feels…less dull.
Clues of note:
- 52d. [Ready for a nap, perhaps] IN BED. I don’t need to be IN BED to be ready for a nap. For this entry, we also would have accepted the clue [Words added to fortune cookie fortunes, suggestively].
- 43d. [Went the way of the Wicked Witch of the West] MELTED. Oh, what a world, what a world.
Stella Zawistowski’s New York Times crossword — Sophia’s recap
Theme: The first word of each theme answer is a GENRE of book
- 17a [Pastime for armchair sports enthusiasts] – FANTASY BASEBALL
- 29a [Unidentifiable protein] – MYSTERY MEAT
- 45a [Holy site in Jerusalem] – WESTERN WALL
- 61a [Spanish or French, but not German] – ROMANCE LANGUAGE
and the revealer:
- 67a [What the start of 17-, 29-, 45- or 61-Across is, in a bookstore] – GENRE
If you’re familiar with puzzles by my fellow Fiend blogger Stella, you’re probably also shocked to see her byline on a Monday (she has her own site full of super-tough themelesses; check it out here). What’s not surprising, however, is that today’s puzzle is excellent in both theme and fill. All of the theme answers are great phrases (MYSTERY MEAT is the highlight for me), although I did get tripped up by entering “fantasy football” rather than FANTASY BASEBALL. Maybe if this puzzle ran in the spring it would have been more top of mind. It is interesting to me that the 17a clue gives no indication of sport, did other people make this same mistake? It’s also interesting that the GENRE clue specifically calls out books when I think these could also genres of other media as well. Each answer effectively hides the genre meaning of its word, enough so that I had to complete the revealer to understand the theme, which led to a fun aha moment that I don’t always get on Mondays.
The fill today is AWFULLY good as well. I really like BUTTON UP and WAS IT YOU (and it’s fun that it crosses MYSTERY). COIFFEUR is a neat word too, although I have absolutely no idea how to spell it. Also, I went to Carleton College, which is in the same town as St. OLAF. Minnesota represent!
I will note, though, that there are a few abbreviations in this puzzle that are a little tricky – , I could see OAS or TCU being trouble spots, and UPC was new to me and felt especially hard due to the UPBOW crossing, I personally had ??BOW for a bit and couldn’t get the answer; thank goodness for PROS coming through. Oh, and I feel like I see “Est.” or “Estd.” much more than ESTAB, so that answer felt pretty weak to me. But overall, today was a solid Monday with an above average theme.
Robert E. Lee Morris’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
I think I spent longer figuring out the theme on the back end than I actually spent solving this puzzle. The revealer at 54A [Toy that can be either Mr. or Mrs. … and what the first part of the answers to starred clues can literally be] gives us POTATO HEAD. Whew, that’s a mouthful of a revealer clue! What it means is that the first word in each theme entry can be placed before the word POTATO to form a new phrase:
- 17A [*Arkansas resort known for its geothermal waters] is HOT SPRINGS. A HOT POTATO is something you’d rather not deal with.
- 37A [*FDR recovery program] is NEW DEAL. A NEW POTATO is a small, young spud that isn’t yet grown-up enough to have a thick skin. Although I never met a potato I didn’t like, I’d be fine passing on most NEW POTATOes in favor of what comes at 11D…
- 11D [*Affectionate bedtime words] is SWEET DREAMS. SWEET POTATO fries are the best fries, and Japanese SWEET POTATOes — the ones with the purplish skin and the golden-yellow insides — make the very best baked potatoes. Change my mind.
- 24D [*Silky-coated bird dog] is an IRISH SETTER. Today I learned that there is a thing called IRISH POTATO candy, which contains no actual potato but just looks like a cute little potato. (This is just an observation, not a recommendation to make or try them. I hate coconut, so you won’t catch me making these.)
I feel like my 1:51 time belies the difficulty of the rest of the puzzle. For example, SEPTA felt like a tough entry to me; both Jessica LANGE and Jessica TANDY have won Oscars and are of the letter patter ?AN??, which meant I filled in TANDY incorrectly at first for [Oscar winner Jessica]; similarly, [Pest control biggie] at 35D led me at first to ORTHO instead of the correct ORKIN. Would’ve liked to see fully unambiguous cluing at both of those locations on a Monday.
Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Where Am I?” — pannonica’s write-up
Nouns containing specifically appropriate words within them:
- 16a. [Home that aptly contains a family room] RESIDENCE (den).
- 58a. [Airport that aptly contains a TSA agent] LAGUARDIA (guard).
- 10d. [Sea creatures that aptly contain a clownfish] ANEMONES (Nemo). Of course they are sea anemones, whereas anemones are terrestrial flowers. But I feel the implication is strong enough.
- 35d. [Natural disaster that aptly contains a tree] WILDFIRE (fir).
I love the conceit of the theme, but have some issues with the execution. One of the hidden words—NEMO—is a specific named individual while the other three are generic. And another is a direct cognate with its containing word: LA GUARDIA means “the guard” in Italian. So, fully half of these are acutely problematic, which shows just how difficult it is to come up with a strong theme that’s workable.
The remainder of the fill is with few exceptions very matter-of-fact, for a rote solving experience typical of early-week crosswords. The longer downs are nice fill: OPEN-AND-SHUT, UNDERGROUND, EYESHADE, and PATELLAS.
- 12d [Argued in court] PLED. I never know when legalese prefers pled or pleaded.
- 15d [Made less wild] TAMED. Clue dupes a major component of theme answer 35-down.
- 44d [Eggnog or pumpkin spice drinks] LATTES. Those both sound awful, but that’s just my opinion.
In retrospect, I perceive that the significance of the title is that the answer to “Where am I” is here, contained in where.
Aaron Paulsen & Brooke Husic’s USA Today puzzle: Sinking Feeling– malaika’s write-up
Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: The theme answers are running vertically in the grid, hiding the word SAD– so the word is “sinking” in each term.
- Turns a short outing into a dawn-to-dusk adventure: MAKES A DAY OF IT. If you want to pick nits about the word “a” being used in both the clue and the entry, I am begging you to find a better use of your time.
- “Thank god!” in Spanish: GRACIAS A DIOS
- “Hitchhiker’s Guide” author– DOUGLAS ADAMS. These were my older sister’s favorite books when we were younger. One summer I got really into stenciling and I made her a shirt with dolphins leaping that said “So long and thanks for all the fish!”
Such a clever title in this puzzle! It took me a second to realize that the grid was asymmetrical, although I feel like it should have been obvious with just the one Utah shape. Three three-letter words stacked together in a single corner (like the NE) can sometimes feel stodgy, but ensuring that all of the entries are words (rather than abbreviations or initialisms) helps. More notes below:
- Sapak takraw (18A) is a game played in South-East Asia that is similar to volleyball, but you use your feet instead of your hands. I feel like a video of this sport goes viral every year or so in the States, where it is not played as often. (Or at all?)
- HARD PASS (26A: “I absolutely do not want that”) is a great entry
- Ramune (32A) is a Japanese soda that comes in a bottle with a marble at the top. The marble falls into place in such a way that the liquid does not come out. I see these all the time, but never knew their name.
- The highest score you can receive at a drag ball is a TEN (64A). Ball culture is hard to summarize in a bullet point, so if that term was new to you, I encourage you to read more.
- Bowen YANG (10D) is one of the cast members on SNL. I have watched his skit with Simu Liu three times already.
- A worker who does not respect a strike is called a SCAB (48A). Congratulations to the John Deere workers who ended their month-long strike after their conditions (including an immediate 10% raise!) were met.
- “SHE Used To Be Mine” (57D) is a heart-wrenching song from the show “Waitress.” You can listen here. Last year it made it onto my Top 100 Most Played Spotify Songs which gives you an idea of the kind of year I had.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday crossword—Matthew’s review
I enjoyed this grid from BEQ today – I always like S-shapes like this.
My highlights today include THANKS I HATE IT (12a- “What a unappealing post!”) and especially the answer/clue combos for HARPOONED (24a- Stuck on the ocean), WASHING MACHINES (45a- Spinning equipment), and LOCAL TV (27a- Downtown station?).
Not much in the way of out and out lowlights, though I didn’t like OTT or LOCOS, and INCENT and THE COAST felt like compromises.
- 29a- (Sturdy fastener) LOCK NUT. The term is new to me, but with a Google, I’ve totally seen these around.
- 2d- (The Darkness singer Justin) HAWKINS. Even considering general… patriarchy, there really aren’t a lot of women on the “Hawkins (surname)” Wikipedia page.
- 10d- (Alexander _______ (president of Russia in “The Sum of All Fears”)) NEMEROV. I haven’t yet read any of Tom Clancy’s books, so I needed some crossings on this, but I’m sure it was a gimme for some.
- 15d- (Tossed Scott outside) TPED. I thought this was a cutesy cryptic clue for “tees” at first, but it’s a nice play on Scott as a person’s name and a brand.
- 20d- (Praying figures) ORANTS. Whoo, that is some old school crossword fill there.
- 27d- (Mexican nuts?) LOCOS. I mentioned this above, and while your mileage may vary, I just don’t like punny clues on “crazy” or “nuts” or the like.
- 36d- (NFL MVP between Patrick and Aaron) LAMAR. That’s LAMAR Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens. If you didn’t know it, I think the crossings were reasonable.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword—Amy’s write-up
Okay, so Natan and his editors may have miscalibrated the difficulty level, because I expect a Monday New Yorker puzzle to hit in the 5:00–6:30 range, and this took me 10:48 to solve, including highlighting my wrong squares so I could piece things together correctly. I suspect the tough clues for a number of answers crossing spelling bee champ ZAILA AVANT-GARDE‘s name account for most of the low ratings for this puzzle, particularly the unusual Joycean word DARKLES, clued [“It ___, (tinct, tint) all this our funnaminal world”: “Finnegans Wake”]. I tried DANKLES first, though I guess DARKLES connects to the tinct/tint bit a little. [Mulled-wine ingredients] are ZESTS, but I tried LAILA for the speller’s first name (giving me LESTS) and later had to run the alphabet to find something you might put in mulled wine. I also flailed on [Like the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?”], trying WARNERIAN (Warner Bros!) instead of WAGNERIAN. With easier clues on ZESTS and WAGNERIAN and a definitional clue for DARKLES with “gloomy” in it to point the way, this would have been a lot easier for those of us who neglected to make a mental note of the Scripps winner’s name.
If wrestling with the name ZAILA AVANT-GARDE made you cranky, please read this new article about her. She sounds absolutely delightful! (And brilliant, and physically gifted, and curious.) Also, her dad’s last name is Spacetime.
Gorgeous grid with that center stack of five 9s, and it’s a mere 64-worder so not easy to construct. Fave fill: a BIG TENT, HOME FRIES, DOVETAILS, ANAKIN SKYWALKER, IN VINO VERITAS, NICE TO MEET YOU.
Top five clues, and it’s hard to narrow it down to five because there were so many tricky and interesting clues here:
- 30a. [Guys on the take?], CAMERAMEN. As in a “take” when shooting a film.
- 36a. [Smiley smile, for short], PAREN. The smiley emoticon is this face, :-), and the smile portion of it is a parenthesis.
- 49a. [Lit, for fun], SLANG. As in “this party is lit,” meaning it’s fun, in contemporary(ish) slang.
- 5d. [Buzz saw?], IN VINO VERITAS. An old saw, or saying, connected to getting a buzz, getting tipsy, as by drinking wine. I always assumed this meant “In wine, truth,” but apparently the gist is “under the influence of wine, you’ll blab the truth.”
- 15d. [It’s said while shaking], NICE TO MEET YOU. Shaking hands, that is, and not quivering, shaking the dice you’re about to roll, sprinkling salt and pepper, etc.
This puzzle kicked my ass and I liked it. 4.5 stars from me, along with a wish that the crossings for ZAILA AVANT-GARDE would have been more pliable.