Best of luck to everyone at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! If you were able to make it, we hope you’re having a great time. If you weren’t able to make it, you’re in good company with your FOMO. :)
Byron Walden’s New York Times crossword, “Soft Options”—Nate’s write-up
The phrase “soft options” – the title of today’s NYT puzzle – was new to me, so I looked it up: the easiest of two or more possible choices. Let’s dive in and see if we’ll have some decisions to make as we solve!
– 23A: SEA OF TRANQUILITY [Apollo 11 landing spot]
– 32A: SETS OF TONGS [Items used by barkeepers, barbecuers, and blacksmiths]
– 61A: SANDS OF TIME [Metaphor from an hourglass]
– 89A: SON OF TARZAN [Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, with “The”]
– 101A: STATE OF TENNESSEE [Its motto is “Agriculture and Commerce”]
– 15D: SCHOOL OF THOUGHT [Intellectual movement]
– 32D: SHROUD OF TURIN [Pope Pius XII called it “a holy thing perhaps like nothing else”]
– 39D: STARS OF TOMORROW [Entertainers with bright futures]
No decision to make at all! Instead, each of the them entries follows the form S___ OF T___ (spelling SOFT as a short hand). This felt like a classic device, which made for a more straightforward theme set. Most of the themers felt like solid phrases (SEA OF TRANQUILITY, SHROUD OF TURIN, STARS OF TOMORROW, etc.), but a few (SETS OF TONGS particularly) felt like green paint or at least not as uniquely standalone as the others, which made the puzzle slightly less enjoyable for me. I wonder which S___ OF T___ phrases the constructor had in his initial list that wouldn’t fit into the grid! Sense of touch/taste is the only one that immediately comes to mind. Can you think of more? Let us know in the chat!
Other random thoughts:
– 20A: REAR WIPER [Clearer in hindsight?] – Clever!
– 27A: AIDS [Helps] – This word has only ever been clued twice in the history of the New York Times crossword in reference to the disease that wiped out an entire generation of queer people: one in 2007 [___ quilt (modern memorial)] and once in 2016 [Affliction in “Philadelphia”]. I know it’s a tricky subject, but the NYT puzzle rarely ever acknowledging it feels like erasure of a pandemic that robbed us of so many. Maybe it could be clued soon via the newly developing mRNA HIV vaccine, inspired by the same technology used in many of the COVID vaccines?
– 24D: RAPPER [Kid Cudi or Lil Baby, e.g.] – This feels like a missed opportunity to include more women/non-men in the puzzle. Including someone like Nicki Minaj in the clue gets to the same answer and shifts the puzzle toward more of a gender balance in terms of representation. The NEOSOUL clue at 51D does this well by including Erykah Badu along with D’Angelo.
That’s all from me. I hope you have a nice Sunday and a wonderful first full week of April!
Taylor Johnson and Christina Iverson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Do’s and Don’ts of Filmmaking”—Jim P’s review
Our theme consists of familiar phrases (that have nothing to do with filmmaking) re-defined as if they were tips on filmmaking. In each case, the phrase includes a word that has a specific meaning in filming.
- 22a. [(Do) Visualize the actor’s movements before filming?] HAVE A MENTAL BLOCK. Blocking is the practice of staging or positioning actors to facilitate the scene. I only know this because my daughter did some theater work. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a clue.
- 37a. [(Don’t) Film without lighting?] TAKE A SHOT IN THE DARK. Good one.
- 55a. [(Do) Decide on a soundtrack?] SETTLE THE SCORE. Also good. Maybe the smoothest of the lot.
- 77a. [(Don’t) Edit out the good-looking extra?] CUT A FINE FIGURE. Ha. Cute.
- 90a. [(Do) Keep filming during fight scenes?] ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES. Nice.
- 112a. [(Don’t) Get in front of your camera?] APPEAR ON THE SCENE. Unless you’re making a cameo, that is.
That was a fun set. Good choices on theme answers, and I especially liked how they alternated Do’s and Don’ts. I’m sure that was intentional. Maybe a subtle point, but an elegant one.
Let’s check out the fill. Look at all this good stuff: BANANA PEEL, POPSICLE, METALHEADS, “ACCEPT IT!”, CUTIE PIE, and ANKLE TAT (clued opaquely as [Pic under a sock, maybe]). That last one was tough to fill in but provided its own aha moment. Elsewhere there are POODLES and TIGERS running RAMPANT as well as a SALAMI SLALOM.
Clues of note:
- 52a. [___ Light (beer brand, informally)]. NATTY. I don’t think I’ve heard this, but then I’m not one to partake of Natural Light, rated by this website as the worst of all beers.
- 54a. [Veggie in homemade red hair dye, say]. BEET. Fun cluing angle. Novel, yet easy to infer. Has anyone tried this?
- 111a. [At no charge?]. DEAD. Ha. I made sure to charge my devices overnight so I’m ready for virtual ACPT. Who’s with me?!
- 41d. [Peter Parker portrayer Carney]. REEVE. On the stage, not on screen. From the musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Smooth puzzle with strong, consistent theme. 4.25 stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Cutting Costs”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: A letter (or a certain percentage of the entry) has been removed from common phrases to create wacky products one might buy at a grocery store.
- 22A [“Attention, shoppers! Save 10 percent on nursery talc and get some ___. Your infant needs to be strong!”] BABY POWER. BABY POWDER.
- 32A [“We’ve taken 7 percent off a pill to treat anemia so you can get a ___. Who wouldn’t want extra time with Hollywood director Howard?”] RON SUPPLEMENT. IRON SUPPLEMENT.
- 43A [“Want your own rowing teams from southern Ireland? Save 10 percent on wine bottle openers and get ___!”] CORK CREWS. CORKSCREWS.
- 53A [“Get 9 percent off a General Mills cereal and get ___. They’re the most fortunate injuries you’ll ever have!”] LUCKY HARMS. LUCKY CHARMS.
- 56A [“Save 9 percent on a surfing item and get a ___. Shakespeare has gotta shake, shake, shake his booty on the dance floor!”] BOOGIE BARD. BOOGIE BOARD.
- 76A [“Ever wanted to hire people to protect flying insects? Now you can when you save 9 percent on dental devices and get ___!”] MOTH GUARDS. MOUTH GUARDS.
- 80A [“We’ve cut 9 percent off cuts of beef so you can get ___. They’re still cuts of beef, but this time you take criticism for having them!”] FLAK STEAKS. FLANK STEAKS.
- 89A [“Save 10 percent on an artist’s tool and get a ___. It’s the same tool, just a bigger hassle!”] PAIN BRUSH. PAINT BRUSH.
- 100A [“That game console is 7 percent off. With that kind of savings, you can get a ___, a spellcaster who will play video games with you!”] NINTENDO WITCH. NINTENDO SWITCH.
- 114A [Results of cutting costs, and what’s spelled out by the letters cut from nine products in this puzzle] DISCOUNTS.
A clever take on a familiar theme. Cluing each of the entries as if they were discounted products (I haven’t done the math, but I’m assuming the percentages represent how much has been cut from the base phrase after dropping a letter) made this feel fresh. Also, a certain suspense built up for me as I knew the cut letters would spell something (in Birnholzian fashion), but I wasn’t sure what. Solving steadily north to south was the way to go as not to spoil by uncovering DISCOUNTS too quickly.
The themers were all pretty damn good too. My favorite being BOOGIE BARD (coincidentally, I was just watching a clip from the musical Something Rotten! where Shakespeare is indeed portrayed as a BOOGIE BARD). BABY POWER was a close second. LUCKY HARMS and PAIN BRUSH were enjoyable too, though side-by-side like that there’s something a tad disturbing about the pair!
- 1A CODA. Surprised this wasn’t clued with the Oscar winning movie. I haven’t seen it yet! Heard it’s quite good.
- 46A [“Hot” time?] DATE. I always thought DATE was referring to the person in the context of “Hot DATE.” I guess it’s referring to the actual event of the DATE itself! I was now-days-old when I learned that.
- 10A [Savings event?] RESCUE. Great clue/answer pair in and of itself, but extra great with the theme in mind. (also ACT NOW!)
Maybe one or two names that didn’t fall off of the tip of my tongue immediately, but far fewer new-to-me proper nouns than the WaPo average.
Overall, a lighthearted crowd-pleaser of a puzzle. Easily accessible to newer solvers with a clear, consistent theme.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Upvote”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: Each theme answer includes the letters spelling AYE going upward between two words.
- 4d [“Australian travel hub”] SYDNEY AIRPORT
- 14d [“Person discussing the Whitecaps or Blue Jackets”] HOCKEY ANALYST
- 22D [“Goof off”] MONKEY AROUND
This was a great Sunday grid, and I came in with one of my faster solving times for a Sunday at under four minutes. I expected neither the AIRPORT nor the ANALYST of SYDNEY AIRPORT or HOCKEY ANALYST, but they worked well regardless. MONKEY AROUND was definitely my favorite of the themers. When I first started the puzzle, I thought that 20a [“List of unadvertised restaurant items”] was certainly going to be one of the theme answers at eleven letters, not YET having reached the Down cues (or really having looked as closely at the grid as perhaps I should’ve.
Speaking of the grid, this was full of some really fun answers, including 11d [“Felis, for domestic cats”] GENUS, 48a [“Ma’amoul filling”] DATE PASTE, and 44d [“Long steps”] STRIDES right next to 51d [“‘___ the Yard’”] STOMP.
Short and sweet today, but I was definitely KEEN to solving this puzzle.
Adrian Johnson’s Universal Crossword, “Universal Freestyle 14″— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Things that can… get bent.
- THAT RULES
- CHEESE STRAWS
- THE BEES KNEES
- I’M ALL EARS
- (revealer) GET BENT.
Interesting. I mean, rules bend, some straws bend, knees bend… but the revealer is telling us that they “GET BENT.” Which seems weird to me. I think it’s a syntax thing. Also, I think LEND when it comes to EARS, not bend (nor that they “GET BENT“).
Was just talking one of my high school senior students who is a Simpsons uber-fan. We were discussing the changes in Bart’s vernacular since the show’s inception. Like how he doesn’t say “Cowabunga!” all that much anymore. We didn’t discuss GET BENT, but I’m wondering if that’s something that he still says frequently?
Fill was just fine. Embarrassing confession : I know I read Jane Eyre at some point. I even saw the Broadway musical (yes, that exists). But it seems I can never retain anything about the story. Had no clue she was an ORPHAN.
CHEESE STRAWS? Is that a regional thing?
Not my favorite today, but well conceived with a strong grid.
NYT: Thought this was a pretty good Sunday. Finished with an error at the crossing of ARRS and SAURON. It’s been 40 years or more since I read Lord of the Rings, and I thought pirates said “Arg!”
The theme got a little muddled for me because of SETS OF TONGS and SANDS OF TIME, where S-O-F-T appear in sequence and I found myself wondering if “soft options” meant that the word was going to be broken up in different ways in the themers.
Thought the fill seemed pretty clean.
Yes, I too thought that SOFT may need to be buried inside the theme answer.
Also, when I got SEA OF TRANQUILITY I though that the theme responses would imply some sort of ease or soft feelings… SET OF TONGS (which I did feel was green paintish) disabused me of both notions.
Huda, I was talking the other evening to a friend who said that the term JUNKDNA is obsolete, because it’s been found that the noncoding sections of the genome serve various purposes. Is that how you see it?
David, your friend is correct. JUNK DNA is now known as Non-Coding DNA– i.e. it does not code for mRNA/protein sequences, but at least some of it codes for regulatory activities- transcriptional controls, enhancers, silencers. Some of it turns into non-coding RNA which also has its own functions. There is still a long way to go to understand all the functions of non-coding DNA, but it’s a reminder that just because we don’t understand something, it doesn’t make it JUNK…
Same same on both counts… actually my first thought was with the tranquility I was looking for softish things, but when ‘set of tongs’ came thru I was looking for hidden words, so I was mystified.
Enjoyable puzzle though.
NYT: SETS OF TONGS is green paint. STATE OF TENNESSEE? Why not “State of Texas”?
Possible entry, though perhaps itself green painty: “screams of terror.”
“Sure of themselves”? Same length as STATE OF TENNESSEE, nearly as many cross-friendly letters, and avoids the plural first word that creates the S-O-F-T sequence.
WaPo: Brilliant and fun, as always.
Jim’s answer grid has a mistake at cross of 73 down and 85 across. Should be Alan and Amal, respectively. But his write up is brilliant and fun, as always.
Thanks for that! Nice catch :) Fixed.
SPOT OF TEA (9)
SETS OF TOOLS (11)
SENSE OF TASTE (12)
SENSE OF TOUCH (12)
SLICE OF TOAST (12)
SEA OF TROUBLES (13)
SPOOL OF THREAD (13)
There are many more if ones fitting the pattern S* OF THE * are allowed. Some of them:
12: SOUP OF THE DAY
13s: SIDE OF THE ROAD, SONG OF THE YEAR, SON OF THE SHEIK, STATE OF THE ART
14s: SALT OF THE EARTH, SEAT OF THE PANTS, SIGN OF THE CROSS, SIGN OF THE TIMES, SMALL OF THE BACK, SONG OF THE SOUTH
15s: SCENE OF THE CRIME, SHIP OF THE DESERT, SINS OF THE FATHER, SLIP OF THE TONGUE, SONS OF THE DESERT, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, SPUR OF THE MOMENT, STATE OF THE STATE, STATE OF THE UNION, STILL OF THE NIGHT
16s: SALE OF THE CENTURY, SOUTH OF THE BORDER
17s: SEASONS OF THE HEART, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SONS OF THE PIONEERS, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
Fun list!!!! thanks for compiling it.