Sheldon Polonsky’s New York Times crossword, “Cinemagrams”—Nate’s write-up
Happy weekend to you all. I hope this post finds you hanging in there. For any Ukrainians checking in, our hearts are with you.
On an escapist note, let’s tackle this week’s Sunday NYT (Sheldon Polonsky’s second puzzle for the Times), which takes the titles of movies and anagrams them to some more-or-less apt descriptions of those films:
- 22A: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN [Sea captain: robber, thief (2003)]
- 34A: ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE [True fellow is a find (1946)]
- 52A: THE TOWERING INFERNO [Re: town fire one night (1974)]
- 75A: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA [Evil Streep had award (2006)]
- 91A: WHEN HARRY MET SALLY [M. Ryan, what’s her yell? (1989)]
- 1110A: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET [R.E.M.: alarming to the teens (1984)]
The real find of this set is the WHEN HARRY MET SALLY anagram description. It gave me a much-needed laugh, and I hope it (and the other theme entries) brought you joy, too.
Other random thoughts:
50A: GARRET [Unfinished attic space] – This was new to me!
60A: CAR PARK [It’s a lot in London] – Clever!
36D: NYET [Opposite of da] – Interesting editorial choice to keep this in the puzzle…
69D: I DOS [Certain partners’ exchanges] – I really appreciate the gender neutral clue here. My husband and I’s I DOS are included!
72D: ARS [Harvard dropouts, maybe?] – This took me a beat, but this made me smile and remember my visit years ago to Hahvahd Yahd.
114D: RNA [Vaccine molecule] – Nice, modern clue for this otherwise standard bit of crossword fill.
That’s all from me for now. Be well and stay safe. Ukraine, we’re pulling for you.
Hanh Huynh’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Now Streaming”—Jim P’s review
I’m confused. I know I’ve seen circles in Universal Sunday puzzles without the awkward square-counting clues (square counting is only appropriate in a toilet paper shortage, amirite?). But here we are counting squares again. Thankfully in this instance, those of us with circles in the grid can easily ignore all that extraneous verbiage and focus on the entries.
The revealer is CUTS THE CORD (116a, [Discontinues cable, and a theme hint (Bonus: Note what the single indicated letters spell)]. Each theme entry is a familiar phrase with two groupings of circled letters separated by a single uncircled letter. The circled letters spell out a rough synonym of “cord” which is “cut” by the uncircled letter. The uncircled embedded letters collectively spell out CANCEL.
- 19a. [Overhead expense at the office? (In this clue’s answer, note letters 2-4 & 6 … and, separately, 5)] DROP CEILING.
- 31a. [It has two equal sides (Letters 9-12 & 14-15 … and, separately, 13)] ISOSCELES TRIANGLE.
- 52a. [Mental download (Letters 1-4 & 6 … and, separately, 5)] BRAIN DUMP.
- 66a. [Movie technology (Letters 7 & 9-11 … and, separately, 8)] DIGITAL CINEMATOGRAPHY.
- 87a. [Chardonnay, for one (Letters 4 & 6-9 … and, separately, 5)] WHITE WINE.
- 101a. [Majorettes, notably (Letters 7-9 & 11 … and, separately, 10)] BATON TWIRLERS.
Um. Wow. This was masterfully done. Think of all the things that needed to happen to put this set of theme answers together. Our constructor needed to find synonyms of “cord” inside familiar phrases, but those synonyms needed to be broken up by a single letter. And note that some of these synonyms are five- and six-letters long. Not an easy feat. Not only that, but that single letter needed to be a specific letter to help spell CANCEL. Not only that, the phrases needed to be interesting and solvable, and last but not least, fit somewhat symmetrically in a grid.
This last point is aided by the fact that the grid has left/right symmetry, not the usual rotational symmetry. So the entries need only be an odd number of letters in length and don’t have to match with a partner theme entry. But still, this is really impressive with lovely finds like ISOSCELES TRIANGLE and the grid-spanning DIGITAL CINEMATOGRAPHY.
And yet, on top of all that, the fill was smooth and pleasant throughout. I love PROMISE RING at 3d and COME AT ME BRO at 24a. ON AN EGO TRIP is not quite as good, but it’s good still. Elsewhere there’s “I BETTER GO,” BEAR CUB, PARADES, ALMA MATER, “OH DEAR!,” “IT’S BAD,” THE DOW, NI HAO, “AND HOW!”
RIB TIP was a little weird going in. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that phrase. And I didn’t know the name Shohei OHTANI, but then sports is one of my weaknesses.
Clues of note:
- 74a. [“It’s too early to leave!”]. STAY. What a nice touch making this one word into a conversational clue.
- 97a. [“It’s getting late”]. I BETTER GO. Too bad this entry comes after 74a.
- 3d. [Band you wouldn’t see on a first date?]. PROMISE RING. Clever.
- 27d. [NOLA hero?]. PO’BOY. Caught me trying to think of a heroic person from New Orleans. Nice clue.
- 36d. “Hearts and Minds” country, familiarly]. NAM. I didn’t know of this 1974 film which one the Oscar for Best Documentary.
- 64a. [Five-star review]. RAVE. Yeah, I can’t think of any way to improve this puzzle. Five stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Travel Books”— Jim Q’s write-up
Sing in me, Muse! And through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end!
THEME: Book titles become wacky titles when a letter is moved to a different spot.
- [John Steinbeck book about afternoon parties in paradise?] TEAS OF EDEN. EAST OF EDEN.
- [Nora Ephron book about a heat-related injury sustained on this planet?] EARTH BURN. HEARTBURN.
- [Zadie Smith book about boxers who specialize in punching people in the mouth?] WE HIT TEETH. WHITE TEETH.
- [Jack Kerouac book about how musician Yoko is totally gnarly?] ONO THE RAD. ON THE ROAD.
- [E.M. Forster book about director Ron’s TV room?] HOWARD’S DEN. HOWARDS END.
- [Michael Lewis book about the only formal dance he ever attended?] MY ONE BALL. MONEYBALL.
- [Kurt Vonnegut book about a bed for jazz-singing babies?] SCAT CRADLE. CAT’S CRADLE.
- [Stephen King book about parking places in Oregon’s capital?] SALEM LOTS. SALEM’S LOT.
- [Charles Dickens book about the residence where actress Lively, NBA star Griffin, pianist Eubie and poet William have all lived?] BLAKE HOUSE. BLEAK HOUSE.
- [Herman Melville book about a friend who handles the bar tab?] BILL BUDDY. BILLY BUDD.
- [Classic work involving much travel, and what’s spelled out by ten traveling letters in this puzzle] THE ODYSSEY.
Excellent from start to finish. Once I figured out that a letter traveled, and the first word in the title wasn’t simply being anagrammed, it became more fun (and challenging) and I sensed there would be the Birnholzian layer- in this case revealing THE ODYSSEY. Though I must say, I posit that there’s a lot less travel than most would think in THE ODYSSEY… it’s a long journey, but Odysseus gets sidetracked a lot… like being stuck on an island with a sex-starved nymph for like seven years or something. Also, for such a cunning fellow, he coulda used some help in the navigation department. Ithaca is way closer to Troy than his journey would lead one to believe.
Anyway, very notable books (HEARTBURN is new for me, but it looks like a very well-known title), starting with my favorite of all time, EAST OF EDEN. That’s my go-to when forced to answer that unfair What’s-Your-Favorite-(fill in the blank) question.
The resulting phrases are great too. My fave is WE HIT TEETH, followed by ONO THE RAD. BILL BUDDY also brought a smile.
And hey, Evan… can you please let me in on some of the clues that ran through your mind for MY ONE BALL before you settled on the very safe [Michael Lewis book about the only formal dance he ever attended?]. I can think of some pretty good ones.
Fill felt hard for me, but I was solving while trying to monitor stage crew as they prepare for our school’s spring musical, so that was a bit of a mess for me. GRAMM and SWEET DEE crossing the difficultly clued MATE [Animal kingdom partner] was a very tough spot as I knew neither of the names (could be GRAHM and DEB) and I couldn’t not think of [Animal kingdom partner] as some sort of cryptic clue as whenever I see “partner” in a clue, I always think I’m looking for a ______ & ______ kind of answer.
All in all, very well done and solidly executed. A crowd pleaser for sure.
My seniors (mostly) love The Odyssey- Comparing it to O’ Brother Where Are Thou is a fun assignment.
Alan Massengill and Andrea Carla Michaels’ Universal Crossword, “Top Chef”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Last names of celebrity chefs can be found in the first word of common phrases.
- BROWN PAPER BAG. ALTON BROWN?
- CHILD PRODIGY. JULIA CHILD.
- PUCK HANDLING. WOLFGANG PUCK.
- RAY OF SUNSHINE. RACHEL RAY.
Alton BROWN isn’t familiar to me- Google seems to think that’s it. I’ve only recently started dabbling with cooking, so The Food Network is never on in my house. I knew the others quite easily though.
Solid theme! Well presented. A nice little nod to Emiril’s tag line in there too with BAM!
Really liked the clue for DRE [Nickname hidden in “gold record“]. Universal gives lots of clues like this, but sometimes they are not apt. In this case DRE being found in “gold record” is very apt. I wish they were all like this!
Thanks for this puzzle!
Katrina Lee’s La Times crossword, “Juicy Tidbits” – Gareth’s summary
The title in Katrina Lee’s puzzle doesn’t give too much away, but the circles sure do. I quickly discovered that they always satisfied “___ tea”. It took a little longer to figure out why certain across answers wouldn’t work though. The LA Times officially has a no rebus puzzle rule, but puzzles like this have a similar feel. Each of four across answers has a hanging chad made out of a tea type that must be inserted into the middle for it to make sense: T(OOLONG)DIDNTREAD; AWHOLEOT(HERBAL)LGAME, BIL(BOBA)GGINS, and DE(GREEN)OTCOMPLETED. It’s a fun way to include extra-long theme answers that are difficult to include even in a Sunday puzzle. Personally I haven’t ever heard of the last answer, though it was inferrable, nor the final revealer: SPILLTHETEA. It seems to be a neologism of sorts, and hyper-American? Americans sure do love wasting tea!
There were several other “out of my wheelhouse” answers today, including where I had my error:
- BUCKAROO clued as part of Copland’s ballet – to be fair, the clue is well written, as it actually has “Rodeo” at its end (see 1A) – crossing old actress RUTA Lee. I put RITA and moved on…
- THETAG clued as what one Rickey Henderson often beat. This appears to be baseball, and I don’t think? it’s a six-letter partial.
- “Ghost Story” author Peter is STRAUB. Couldn’t pick the book or author out of a line-up…
Elsewhere, there were a number of chatty medium-length entries: ACTCASUAL, GOASKMOM and PRAISBE. There were also two full(-ish) names DRFAUCI and RENELACOSTE.
I also appreciated an ANEMIC clue as [short on iron, maybe] referring to its medical meaning rather than some wishy-washy “weak” angle.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Hidden Additive”–Darby’s write-up
Theme: Each theme answer includes BPA, which is often used in the production of plastics, spanning the two words in each answer.
- 17a [“Some koftas”] LAMB PATTIES
- 39a [“Place where a vegetable with tart stalks grows”] RHUBARB PATCH
- 63a [“Chemistry class collaborators”] LAB PARTNERS
Shout to Sally Hoelscher’s blog today in helping me understand that the titular additive was BPA, which immediately led to a “duh!” moment for me. I thought it was interesting that each themer began with P, which both threw me off and also was interesting since oftentimes themers will try to split up the hidden word differently. However, I really liked the theme answers. Both LAMB PATTIES and RHUBARB PATCH made me hungrY. Rhurbarbs also always reminder me of a favourite summer cocktail that combines rhubarb with strawberries, so I’m longing for warmer days.
Grid-wise, this was a really interesting asymmetrical grid. We get some mirroring in the 5-5-3 upper- and lowermost sections of the grid, but this diverges when we hit the center, getting several Tetris shapes. I think that this works well for the relatively open corners, but the bottom middle section does feel a wee bit segmented off from the rest of the grid, though NOT TO WORRY and BAD APPLE seem to connecting the top and bottom halves of the puzzle together.
Other faves include:
- 21a [“Baja’s opposite”] – Baja means “low” in relation to ALTA, which means “high.”
- 44a [“Track star Gittens”] – TYRA Gittens is an Olympic athlete who is only 23 years old.
- 39d [“People with integrity”] & 40d [“‘Job treating you OK?’”] – These longer eights in REAL ONES and HOW’S WORK respectively were a lot of fun together to form the RH of RHUBARB PATCH.
As 57a says, “HAVE a good one!”
Some people (me, for one, but probably also some of those who keep the Spelling Be so popular) are fond of anagrams. Others hate them, and I imagine ratings will divide accordingly. Its an impressive feet anyhow to come up with these and make them all halfway relevant. Which is not to say any was LOL, but still.
But wasn’t there only recently a puzzle with punny entries on films clued by year like this?
Changed my mind
that’s one hell of a construction in the LAT
True. Very Bindholz-ish.
But what did “Juicy Tidbits” have to do with anything? I’m baffled.
Never mind. Just saw it. Only “learned” of TEA as a slang for gossip the other day.
NYT: As a (former) English person, I would like to say that ‘All FOURS (English card game)’ is completely unknown to me.
Still not sure how a solver would know theme uses anagrams. Puzzle wasn’t fun or clever. I was disappointed. I’m also disappointed at the now common absence of any critiques in the brief commentary in this app’s puzzle write up.
I think the title was meant to be a play on words or a portmanteau of sorts. I just solved it as a boring puzzle with move titles. Did not catch the anagram aspect until the very end, and even then it was backward reasoning to see that the title matched the clue rather than vice versa.
WaPo was tremendous IMO. Never heard of WHITE TEETH [or Zadie Smith, for that matter] but that’s on me, and the fill in that sector was fair [even though I’ve heard never of MEW TWO either]. MY ONE BALL cracked me up [AVCX would probably have used a raunchier clue, no?], and that was enough of a Bay Area connection for me to forgive Evan’s failure to clue BLAKE HOUSE as the former official residence of the President of the University of California. Beautiful gardens BTW if you’re ever in the neighborhood.
I quite agree. Several of Evan’s “images” were hilarious. I particularly liked 22A, 55A, 81A, and LOVED 98A. I’m waiting for GIF’s to be be created for some of these. As usual, Evan’s work puts me in a good mood–something helpful with the grim news about Ukraine on one’s mind. The Times Sunday puzzle was, as usual, a slog with almost no pleasure involved.
NYT: Kind of an odd experience for me with this puzzle. I’m generally not real fond of Sundays – usually tiresome themes and mediocre fill – and I often don’t bother to finish.
With this puzzle, I had absolutely no idea what the theme was (and didn’t until I came here). But I recognized it had to do with movie titles, and all the titles were familiar to me (shocking!), so it played kinda like a themeless where the clues for the movie titles were vague and oddly-worded. Only the final themer was a little frustrating – having a specific entity (R.E.M.) in the clue when it had nothing to do with the movie, especially after clues with Streep and Ryan, was a little confusing.
And the fill seemed to me to be quite good, for a Sunday. Not a lot of crossword glue, not too many names (and only a couple of new ones for me) and plenty of solid 5-plus letter answers.
I liked CHESS SET, CAR PARK, STRIKER, GLACIERS, BOSE, ARS, GRRR crossing SNARLS, and EMPANADA (nothing special about the clue – I just like empanadas). Not so fond of the clue for GARRET. I’m familiar with the word, but don’t necessarily associate it with “unfinished.” M-W uses that term in their definition – other sources don’t.
Agreed that the use of REM in a clue felt forced and that GARRET isn’t defined well. Both slowed me up, too.
“having a specific entity (R.E.M.) in the clue when it had nothing to do with the movie”
The movie has to do with dreams (specifically nightmare) which mostly occurs in REM sleep. So to say that it has nothing to do with the movie is spectacularly wrong.
As you wish – and I’ll bet you can come up with an example or two where the sleep stage is actually referred to as R.E.M. rather than REM. If this was the constructer’s intent, then I’ll retract some of my praise of the puzzle – using R.E.M. for REM sleep as opposed to the band R.E.M., especially when you’ve already referenced specific celebrities – Meryl Streep and Meg Ryan – in other themer clues doesn’t work for me.
WaPo: This is why I love Evan’s puzzles. I didn’t know most of those books, yet I could still do the puzzle and also not have to Google anything. Evan- you need a tip jar!
NYT 99D. No comments on that? Not even about the price? Quite a stir. The owner of Gurha made the not unreasonable observation that BLM only cares about blacks killed by whites, not all the blacks killed by other blacks. Then the shit hit the fan. Interesting.
Nice try, but BLM cares a lot about black-on-black violence, but they think the way to solve it is to get more people to care about black people’s lives at all. If the police were more interested in solving and preventing crimes committed against black people instead of themselves committing crimes against black people, then there would be less black-on-black violence. Black people in America are simultaneously overpoliced (for committing petty crimes) and underpoliced (when the victims of crimes), and BLM believes that addressing that problem is more useful than submitting to police violence until white people decide that their lives matter.
Thanks for lovely write up and catching the BAM! I didn’t know Alton Brown either but Alan and other foodies love him!