Nancy Stark and Will Nediger’s New York Times crossword, “Turns of Phrase”—Nate’s write-up
Hello from my Wi-Fi hot spot! We had a gnarly windstorm here in LA last night and our internet is still down, so technology and 5GE to the rescue. (Thankfully, just a few shingles blown off the roof and some branches in the yard – otherwise, we’re good!)
Today’s Sunday NYT collaboration between Nancy Stark and Will Nediger flips our expectations a bit, turning “A of B” phrases into funnily clued “B of A” phrases:
21A: DRAWERS OF CHESTS [Artists sketching pectorals?]
33A: HONOR OF MAIDS [Vow to remain mum about hotel guests’ secrets?]
52A: FOOT OF FLEET [Small distance covered by a naval armada?]
73A: MAN OF RIGHTS [Boxer lacking a left hook?]
89A: PLENTY OF HORN [What brass band music has?]
107A: ABSENCE OF LEAVES [Tree feature in winter?]
14D: COMMAND OF CHAIN [What a dog walker and a strong-willed pooch might vie for?]
45D: BROTHERS OF BAND [The Bee Gees’ Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb?]
This was a fun set of themers – I especially liked PLENTY OF HORN and COMMAND OF CHAIN (why, yes, I do have a strong-headed pup, how did you know?). :)
– 9A: TUBI [Streaming service acquired by Fox in 2020] – I’ve genuinely never heard of TUBI, which might be another marker that I am old.
– 43A: ENBIES [Nonbinary people, informally] – ENBIES comes from the pronunciation of the “NB” abbreviation for Non-Binary. I loved seeing it in the puzzle!
– 98A: SOD [Old ___ (motherland, affectionately)] – I was disappointed to see this remain in the puzzle after I made a note of it in my test solve. Unless you’re talking about grass, SOD always derives back to being a derisive truncation of sodomite, even when it’s said “affectionately” as it is here. As someone who has been derisively called a sodomite one too many times in my Southern upbringing, I always grimace when I see it in puzzles. For more, see noun 2 here: https://www.etymonline.com/word/sod (and please don’t “well, actually…” me here, I beg of you).
[Edited to add: As folks have well actually-ed me in the comments, it looks like I was mistaken and that this version of SOD does refer to grass? Even still, it does make me wonder, as pannonica points out in their comment, about the weight of trauma around words that can have one innocuous meaning and another awful one. Sorry all the same to any queer folks who may have also been irked at seeing this word in the puzzle today.]
That’s all I’ve got for now – what did you think about the puzzle? Which were your favorite themers? Let us know in the comments section. Be well and have a lovely week!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Dropping the Ball”— Jim Q’s write-up
Still celebrating the New Year in a way with a ball drop (sans countdown)! Either that or we’re celebrating our errors. That’s probably more likely. I made a lot of ’em in this puzzle.
THEME: The letter O is dropped from common phrases/words to create other common phrases/words
- CAT TAILS / COATTAILS
- CANDLES / CANOODLES
- LINKING / LION KING
- DNA TEST / DONATES TO
- FLAMING / FLAMINGO
- PATTIES / PATOOTIES
- (pulling double duty as a revealer of sorts) NEGATIVE / O NEGATIVE
I consider anything WaPo puzzle that takes me over 20:00 to complete “very difficult.” This one clocked in at 19:59. So… still pretty damn tricky. There is A LOT to like about this extremely elegant presentation.
First of all, there are no other O’s anywhere in the puzzle outside of the themers (or at all, in a sense). The fact that I really didn’t notice it until I had finished is a testament to the fill itself since it never really felt forced (or not in a way that I had noticed).
Next, the absence of O’s or the presence of O’s still allows for proper crossword fill no matter what. This is to be expected of Evan, but I mistakingly thought this was the new standard for any type of gimmick that would involve skipping over letters (or something of that ilk). Wrong. I solved a similar concept in another publication somewhat recently and winced because it didn’t pull it off Birnholz-style. WaPo solvers are spoiled.
Also, the two entries whose two consecutive O’s are dropped (trying hard not to refer to them as the “balls” of the entry, though that’s what the title is making me want to say) are symmetrically placed (PATOOTIES / CANOODLES) and are both equally adorable words. The central crossing, DONATES TO / DNA TEST, also shakes two O’s but it still feels balanced as it’s in the center.
Took me a while to see the base phrase DONATES TO. I parsed it as DONA TESTO and thought it was an opera, or a famed Italian restaurant. Seriously.
I’m short on time, so that’s all I can offer for right now! Will update with some snags I hit later if I can squeeze it in.
Val Melius’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Reversal of Fortune”—Jim P’s review
A good title and a good revealer set up this lovely grid. The revealer is LEAVES NO STONE UNTURNED (99a, [Does everything possible, or a theme hint]). The other theme entries are familiar(ish) phrases that hide precious stones (written backwards) within.
Oh, hey. This puzzle has circles but no awkward 50-word clues. I’m pretty certain I’ve blogged a similar Universal Sunday grid in the past that featured circles as well, and yet the daily Universals still have solvers counting squares. What’s the deal? Their software only works on Sundays?
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming:
- 25a. [Phablet released in 2014] SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE EDGE. Onyx. Wow. This is some grid-spanning find. However, I needed a lot of help with the final two words.
- 37a. [“Disco Inferno” refrain] “BURN BABY BURN!” Ruby. I tried to think who sang this song, but couldn’t come up with it. I looked it up and don’t recognize the group’s name at all. Well, let’s fix that and feature the video below. Enjoy “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps.
- 54a. [Comfortably wealthy] IN THE LAP OF LUXURY. Opal.
- 75a. [Parting words] UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN. Agate.
- 88a. [Broke the ice with humor] CRACKED A JOKE. Jade.
These are all nice finds, and even though I cottoned on to the theme after the first entry, I enjoyed piecing the rest together.
Beyond the theme, there’s plenty of nice fill to enjoy: CORD CUTTERS, HOT TAMALES (clued as the food, not the candy), TOP SEED, “FEAR NOT!,” “‘TIS A PITY!,” COME EASY, CINEMAS, TOOK TEN, REALISTS, JESTER, BOGUS, and KVETCH.
Clues of note:
- 30a. [Juliet’s boo]. ROMEO. I like the modern angle. Someday I want to clue ET TU as [“Really?” if Caesar was a sarcastic hipster?].
- 95a. [“Families of the Mafia” channel]. MTV. Do they even have music videos on MTV anymore?
- 15d. [Its legs go into the dish swikee]. FROG. It’s a Chinese-Indonesian dish, and—fun fact—”swikee” means “water chicken.”
- 61d. [1998 Disney role for Ming-Na Wen]. MULAN. She can currently be seen on Disney+ in The Book of Boba Fett. And get this, her first listed TV role on Wikipedia was from 1985 on one Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (she’s the middle trumpeter).
- 87d. [“Don’t worry,” biblically]. “FEAR NOT.” Can anyone cite a Bible verse that uses this phrase?
- 103d. [“And I should care because …?”] OK SO. I wouldn’t normally be too thrilled with an entry like this, but the clue is spot on.
Nice puzzle. Four stars.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Rain God”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: The first letter of each phrase in the theme answers spells out GOD and essentially drips down the puzzle (since all are Down entries), connecting to the “rain” of the puzzle’s title.
- 3d [“Be shown to the public”] GO ON DISPLAY
- 16d [“Tough draw at a soccer tournament”] GROUP OF DEATH
- 23d [“Time period that inspires nostalgia”] GOOD OLD DAYS
I thought that this title made the puzzle particularly fun and creative. If you were to highlight each first letter in the theme answers, you’d have a cascade of G-O-Ds running down the puzzle, looking like run. Plus, because the theme answers are tiered, with GO ON DISPLAY beginning higher than GROUP OF DEATH, which starts above GOOD OLD DAYS. I really enjoy enjoy Down-themed puzzles, and this made for an additionally fun one.
- 13a [“‘In your face!’”] – BOOYAH is such a fun word to say, and I was thrilled when I realized it fit here. My mind immediately went to Ron Stoppable from Kim Possible and his love of the word.
- 14a [“Got out of hand”] – RUN AMOK was one of three particularly fun non-themer phrases in this puzzle. 16d [“Start to fidget”] GET ANTSY and 58a [“Say without thinking”] BLURT OUT were the two others.
- 40a [“‘Luster’ protagonist”] – Luster is Raven Leilani’s debut novel about EDIE, who is a 23-year-old Black woman invited to stay with Eric and Rebecca, a middle-aged white couple, and their 12-year-old daughter Akila. This review from TIME intrigued me, and I’m looking forward to adding this to my list.
Have a good week!
Julian Lim’s Universal Crossword, “Beginning of Winter”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Phrases where the first word is a synonym for winter-like weather
- RAW TALENT
- GLACIAL PACE
- BITTER TRUTH
- BITING WIT
- (revealer) COLD OPEN
Wanted SNAILS PACE and BITTER PILL. BITING WIT is an unfamiliar phrase to me, I think. Of course it makes sense- just don’t think I’ve heard it.
Other new stuff for me:
- GINA Torres
- The song “Unpretty”
- LET IT BE = Swan Song album
I think that’s it. Felt like more during the solve.
Nice clue for VAPOR! [Word aptly removed from e___ation]. Clever.
3.5 stars. Solid puzzle. Standard fare.
NYT: ABSENCE OF LEAVES is the best theme answer. I also liked MAN OF RIGHTS.
NYT: But the “sod” in the phrase “old sod” is clearly referring to grass/turf/earth, so I’m struggling to understand the objection. It’s not like the phrase is a shortening of “old sodomite.” Strikes me as a clue and entry completely and entirely free of any possible offense.
The Old Course in St. Andrews Scotland, (motherland of golf, even) is the real OLD SOD, more correctly AULD SOD and will always be the end of an actual instead of a fairy tale pilgrimage. Sure – “sod it “is slang, caddies say it, old sod is a more widely used affectionate term, certainly North of Hadrian’s Wall.
… what they want to see.
I needed crosses to ensure enbies was correct, what a horrible white male I am, but I learnt something I didn’t know which will now be a fill-in-the-blank since it’s modern and therefore wholly unambiguous.
And “Old [or “auld”] sod” is also, need I add, a reference to the Ireland many Irish emigrants and many merely sentimental folks of Irish extraction have either emigrated from or never been to but wish to visit.
Sod in this case does indeed refer to grass/turf.
Sorry to be piling on, but I concur that Nate has gravely miscalculated in his offense at “sod” in the NYT. But I guess it could be seen as an object lesson in how deep and traumatizing insults can be.
Thanks to everyone correcting my mistaken understanding about SOD. I think pannonica might be quite right all the same. I think it’ll always sting to see words like that.
WaPo: I had the same problem understanding DONATESTO, except I thought it might be a fashion designer.
Raises hand on parsing Dona Testo!! Designer? Opera Character? Don Atesto… Sports manager/coach/player??
LOL, great puzzle and aha moment there! :)
another vote for DONA TESTO and on how great a puzzle this is!
re WaPo – I had an issue with 81 A, “Below Par”. If I go out for a round of golf and shoot below par (only hypothetical – it’d never happen IRL) I’d be doing great. Also, if a bond or other instrument is selling below par that doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”; it represents a financial fact that can be either good or bad depending on one’s investment objectives.
I understand the meaning represented here, but I think the others are much more common.
From MW: First definition that pops up
Definition of below par
: worse than expected : not very good
Someone else can give the number of hits for other meanings.
WaPo: I hate to belabor the probably-obvious, but Jim Q didn’t explicitly note that the crossing down answers also make real words (or at least acceptable crossword answers such as TROU and APOP) when the O is added. Evan is such a genius at this kind of feature. I should have known that there would be yet another feature (absence of any other Os in the grid), but I’m not observant enough to have caught that. Solid 5 stars.
Yep. Evan pretty much had me at “drop trou.” Brilliant!
I did note that. Rather explicitly. In a whole paragraph.
@Jim P (since you asked) … Isaiah 41:10 (KJV): “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” In other translations, the verse begins “Fear not”.