Timothy Polin’s New York Times crossword, “Food for Thought”—Nate’s write-up
Was today’s puzzle sponsored by Apple? I was surprised to see no iPad references in this grid, but the constructor otherwise dropped quite a few apples in this grid:
24A: JAZZ VOCALIST [Carmen McRae or Anita O’Day, notably] – JAZZ apple
32A: MOUNT FUJI [Endpoint of a Shinto pilgrimage] – FUJI apple
52A: GALA AFFAIR [Fete] – GALA apple
69A: EMPIRE STATE [Birthplace of five U.S. presidents, with “the”] – EMPIRE apple
85A: WHEN IN ROME [Start of some conventional wisdom] – ROME apple
98D: NEWTON [Who was famously hit over the head with inspiration?]
116A: LAW OF GRAVITY [Scientific contribution from 98-Down, discovered in a manner suggested by this puzzle’s theme]
I mostly liked the execution of these different apple types falling down onto NEWTON, demonstrating the LAW OF GRAVITY. I think I would have liked it a tad better (and maybe the constructor tried this and it just wasn’t possible) if the apple types were vertical, not horizontal, to more fully animate the idea of the apples falling down onto NEWTON. Even still, an interesting visual theme.
Bonus theme-adjacent entries (I think?):
1A: SOWN [Disseminated] – Calling Johnny Appleseed!
14A: ADAGE [“Forbidden fruit is the sweetest,” e.g.] – And, specifically, those apples from the Garden of Eden…
104A: I GET IT NOW [“Eureka!”] – It was a wonderful touch to have this crossing NEWTON, given the theme!
3D: WEIGHTY MATTER [It’s nothing to joke about] – I think this is theme-related, at least!
60D: FORCE OF NATURE [Unforgettable, unstoppable sort] – This one, too?
88D: CERN [Lab where the Higgs boson particle was discovered] – The Higgs boson particle gives mass to many types of particles, and we know how objects with mass interact with gravity!
One last shout out – I loved seeing the clue for THEIR at 37D: [Nonbinary possessive]. I’m so glad to see the singular they / their working its way back into the language. Shakespeare would be proud!
What did you enjoy about this puzzle? Let us know in the comments section. In the meantime, be well and stay safe!
Drew Schmenner’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Side Order”—Jim P’s review
The revealer is LAY DOWN THE LAW (60d, [Make it clear what’s allowed, and a hint to filling in four answers in this puzzle]). Taken with the title, “Side Order,” we see that the circled squares spell out words that are synonyms of “law” and/or “order” and are “laid down” to the “side” of the Down entries (i.e. in the Across direction) from which they started. And of course they are still a part of the crossing Across answers.
This is assuming you have circles in your grid. If you had to rely on the parenthetical counting tips in the clues and still solved the puzzle, more power to you. I for one would not want to be counting squares in a Sunday-sized grid.
The “law” words are:
- RULE as part of 21d [Japanese midsize car (… includes letters 7-10 in 41-Across)] SUBARU LEGACY and 41a CREME BRULEE.
- EDICT as part of 3d [Book that lists words backward (Hint: This clue’s answer includes letters 3-7 in 43-Across)] REVERSE DICTIONARY and 43a PREDICTING.
- ACT as part of 52d [X game (… includes letters 7-9 in 74-Across)] TIC-TAC-TOE and 74a SCARE TACTIC.
- CODE as part of 82d [Chunky salsa (… includes letters 4-7 in 95-Across)] PICO DE GALLO and 95a CINCO DE MAYO. Nice pairing there.
This was complex enough for me just to write up. I bet it was a bear to construct. And yet nearly all the entries are lovely. Only PREDICTING is run-of-the-mill; the rest are quite nice. An impressively executed theme.
And the fill ain’t half bad either. I liked LUCKED INTO, KEY GRIPS, PEP BAND, HOPEFULS, SAILOR HAT, TOSTADA, TRIPOLI, and “HEY THERE!” I also liked JOHN C. REILLY [“Stan & Ollie” co-star], but I really wanted the answer to be STEVE COOGAN who did a wonderful job playing Stan to Reilly’s Ollie. (I’ve been a fan of Steve Coogan’s character Alan Partridge since I lived in England. “Aha!”)
Clues of note:
- 99a. [They position cameras on a set]. KEY GRIPS. I always get my key grips and my gaffers and my best boys mixed up.
- 101d. [Afternoon TV dramas]. SOAPS. If you thought the answer to 106a [Sure winner] was SHOe-IN, this clue and entry should have put you back on the right track.
An impressively constructed grid with plenty of fun fill. 3.75 stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “In Character”— Jim Q’s write-up
Back-to-back meta puzzles to kick of 2022!
THEME: Names of fictional characters are changed by a letter addition, creating wackiness
- 25A [Compassionate fire-wielding superhero?] THE HUMANE TORCH.
- 40A [Pontifical blue toon?] PAPAL SMURF.
- 42A [Great Dane who leads people into destruction?] SCOOBY DOOM.
- 54A [Web-slinger with long and heavy hair?] SPIDER MANE.
- 81A [Homer Simpson’s dweeby neighbor?] NERD FLANDERS.
- 91A [Heroic pooch who provides financial support?] FUNDER DOG.
- 94A [Manga android who bobs up and down in a harbor?] ASTRO BUOY.
- 109A [Green Avengers heroine who builds a storage structure?] SHED HULK.
- 122A [Disney heroine who wore a jangling cat collar?] PRINCESS BELLED.
And the added letters spell our meta answer, ELMER FUDD.
That’s about as easy as you can get for a meta puzzle. So I hope the never-meta grumblers are kept at bay, especially since the puzzle works just fine without any meta answer at all. In fact, the resulting alterations are almost all winners. Great visuals. I especially love SCOOBY DOOM, but I’m biased as I have two Great Danes, both of whom seem to be leading me to my inevitable self-destruction (in the most lovable way possible). The only one that felt a little off was PRINCESS BELLED, first because I don’t ever recall of anyone referring to her with the royal title in front of her name (I can’t think of her as anything other than “Belle”), and second because BELLED is tough to swallow as an adjective.
I’m wondering if there is a particular reason ELMER FUDD was the meta answer, or if that’s just how the letters fell best. There could be a layer that, perhaps, I am missing.
The puzzle itself I found much harder than the meta, stumbling over many spots and names I did not know. As always with WaPo, it worked itself out due to fair crossings, but my solve wasn’t a pretty sight to behold. Names and other entries that tripped me up were HANA Mandlikova (although I should have known that), GREGG Berhalter, CONSUL, PETREL, Leopold AUER, EVAN Winter, ASHLEY Feinberg, DOSAS, Jean AUEL, IRENE Ryan, and KALEL (it’s in the back of my brain but couldn’t summon it at the time).
Other tricky spots for me were LUMP [Like it or ___ it] as I don’t recall hearing that phrase (I thought “leave” or “love) which made TUM (TUM) unusually difficult for me. Also I had MAGI for MAGE making STRASSI for [Hamburger’s “street”], so I figured there was a road called “STRASSI Street” somewhere in the U.S. that was famous for its hamburgers. Duh. It’s the correct entry actually makes a great clue/answer pair. STRASSE is how one would say “Street” in German, and Hamburger, or course, is a German city.
I remember thinking it had a modern feel for much of it with [“i’m dead”] for LOL and a few others which I can’t seem to remember now.
All in all a good time, featuring our favorite character on TIPTOE (“Shhhh! He’s huntin’ wabbits!”) ELMER FUDD.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Backroad”—Darby’s write-up
Edited by: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer includes ROAD spelled backward.
- 17a [“Label on some health food products”] USDA ORGANIC
- 38a [“Fruit from the Sunshine State”] FLORIDA ORANGE
- 62a [“Tropical flower with fragrant five-petal blooms”] VANDA ORCHID
I was able to get the first two of these pretty easily, and because of that, I figured out the theme as I was solving. This made it much easier to get VANDA ORCHID, which I was not familiar with at all, but the backwards ROAD helped me get ORCHID, causing the rest of the answer to tumble into place on the crosses. Generally, I enjoy backward/anagram-based themes, so this was a nice treat for me today.
I thought that this grid was interesting because if you look at where 51a [“Daisy relatives”] ASTERS meets the black squares beneath and adjacent to the S, you can see where Zhouqin deviated from symmetry. There’s a full L up by 26a [“Strong suit”] FORTE, but the S breaks into it in ASTERS. It’s so close, which I thought was interesting but opts to remain asymmetric.
A few other things I noticed:
- 11a [“Little taste of sujeonggwa”] – Sujeonggwa is a Korean cinnamon that looks delicious to SIP on, combining the flavors of cinnamon and ginger with garnishes of pine nuts, jujubes, and persimmon. You could also opt to 42a [“Prepare genmaicha”] BREW, a green tea.
- 55a [“‘I’m in my flop ___’”] – According to this VICE article, a ‘flop ERA’ refers to “to (more often than not female) artists whose star power was floundering in comparison to their heyday or had received a lacklustre reception to an album.” It has since been used to describe things like the Oscars, regular people, and even seasons. But the ‘flop era’ also implies the ability of one to emerge into a new, more successful one!
- 42d [“Criticized sharply”] – Speaking of pop culture colloquialisms, the use of BLASTED in this answer reminded me of “put on blast.”
This was a great Sunday with a fresh theme and fun answers. Before I go on too long, I’ll SHUSH, but have a good week!
Rebecca Goldstein’s Universal Crossword, “Barbershop Quartet”— Jim Q’s write-up
- HAIR OF THE DOG.
- AIR FRESHENER.
- A.I. TECHNOLOGY.
- I BEG TO DIFFER.
You know what I like best of this fantastic little puzzle? No revealer. HAIRCUT would be the obvious one, but it’s nowhere to be seen. Instead we have the title, Barbershop Quartet, and four themers that are seemingly unrelated. It allows for your own AHA moment without the too-often-obligatory push.
- Heckelphone? What’s that?
- D-LIST. Who is on that list these days? Has Kathy Griffin made it off yet?
- YOINK is a great entry!
- I like the name-hidden-in-word clues that Universal often does, but when the name is unrelated to the word, it can be weird. Like CHET hiding in Archetype.
- Never heard of Floor is Lava. Any good?
- DJ BOOTH feels a tad forced to me. Is that an in-language phrase? Cluing it cutely doesn’t make it feel any more familiar.
- [Like those seated after the opening number] LATE. Those moments when RUDE, INCONSIDERATE, AND OBNOXIOUS doesn’t fit. I’m late to everything. Except theater.
- DIANE von Furstenberg is new. Never saw it in the puzzle till now. Got all the crosses without reading the clue.
- Is CRABBED a common verb synonymous with “Kvetched”? I’ve only heard it used in fishing terms.
- Very odd to see TRESS in the bottom right corner after a whole haircut theme. Anyone else want to snip it?
Really enjoyed this one 4.25 stars.
NYT: I definitely took “Force of Nature” and “Weighty Matter” to be theme-related. I did also like that all the apples are above NEWTON. Enjoyed this one!
COMEONDOWN and FREEFALLIN are also certainty theme-related. I loved the theme density here!
Can we also add MMMBOP to the theme? Or only if it was right on top of NEWTON? :P
ICARUS too, I’d say. (9d)
NYT: I needed to read the Wordplay column to understand the down theme answers. I’m glad I did, because up until that point, I was underwhelmed by the theme.
I gave the puzzle an extra half a star just for the clue for ICARUS. I didn’t see that one coming.
Somehow it didn’t occur to me that the circled letters were kinds of apples, which I didn’t know. So I struggled a while with what they might have in common with one another or gravity and Newton, and I also never made the leap to seeing them as falling down on Newton. (Not sure I ever would, given how normal it is for long answers to be themed throughout.) Oh, well. I even took the reference to a visual component in the instructions to be unnecessarily misleading.
In the NYT puzzle app, the note makes no reference to any visual component of the grid.
I’m not sure it would have made a difference to how I solved the puzzle.
I don’t know if it was Shortz or some clever magazine editor trying to personalize that section of the paper still further, and I’m cheating to call it instructions. (I was wondering actually whether the app includes it.) But these days the puzzle is preceded in the print magazine by a short bio note on the constructor. (So-and-so is a professional contract killer who fell in love with puzzles when he murdered someone solving one. This is his 500th puzzle for the Times and his negative first Sunday puzzle. As in his past puzzles, it reflects his interests in mass murder.)
THis one was tough for me, especially the NW corner, but I love that down the middle you have ICARUS LOSESTO NEWTON.
This anti-meta grumbler quite enjoyed today’s puzzle, thank you very much.
I also liked that several of the long down entries had gravity-type answers.
WEIGHTY MATTER, COME ON DOWN, FREEFALLIN, FORCE OF NATURE.
WaPo – 106A – Never in my life have I heard “don’t FAIL me now” without either “feet” or “feets” in front. That A was my last entry.
Universal – I was just going over my grid again and saw a revealer at 63D, answer CUT. TBH, I didn’t notice it while doing the puzzle.
My paper ran the 12/26/21 NYT “Pest Control” puzzle on 1/9/21. Since 12/26 comments are closed, let me as some here.
This was a slog. The theme was cryptic, and really required solving the “puzzle clue” (113 Across) to understand. Even then, removing the “bug” part of the theme clues to yield a new clue – while novel – wasn’t satisfying.
Several other clues are just, well, wrong. A B&B is not a PUBLIC HOUSE; it’s open only to its guests. GI for “gastrointestinal” has no periods; “G.I” is for the military. ABHOR” means “can’t stand”, not “can’t be able to stand”. APE for Echo? Perhaps not. Finally, nepotism is the favoring of relatives, not former classmates (SCHOOL TIES).
Others commented on AFROED. Let me add ENHALO, the Egyptian god is usually AMON RA, not AMEN, SADDEN for “Burn Out”?, HAG for “Folklore villain” is a stretch, and is Queen Elizabeth particularly connected to PEARLs?
Might you have misread BUM out for the SADDEN clue?
Why is there no write-up of the LA Times Sunday puzzle, I have questions.
Because Gareth was to do it and he has been supposed to do the past 2 months Sunday and I think he did one during that time. I don’t know if writers are assigned or volunteer for this job. However, he needs to stick with a weekday or two if he is that busy.
Perhaps this site can help you out:
Thanks for the site. I didn’t get the theme until reading C.C.’s analysis.
Thanks Gary R. I checked out the site and was very pleased to read the comments and have my question answered.
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