Daniel Mauer’s New York Times crossword, “Way Out West”—Nate’s write-up
As soon as I saw this puzzle’s title, I put on “Go West” by Pet Shop Boys and got to solving. Highly recommended!
– 34D: PARK [Grant ___, northeast terminus of 114-Across]
– 12A: GERB(IL) [Small rodent]
– 23A: MAR(MO)TS [Large rodents]
– 31A: FOL(KS)Y [Down-to-earth]
– 52A: (OK) SHOOT [“Go ahead and ask”]
– 75A: SILEN(T X) [Roux ingredient?]
– 99A: O(N M)EDS [Being treated, in a way]
– 110A: CR(AZ)IER [More far out]
– 120A: (CA)RNEY [Art in the Television Hall of Fame]
– 83A: PIER [Santa Monica ___, southwest terminus of 114-Across]
– 21A: THE MOTHER ROAD [Nickname for 114-Across coined by John Steinbeck]
– 39A: PAINTED DESERT [Colorful natural attraction along 114-Across]
– 65A: GATEWAY ARCH [Tall, curved attraction along 114-Across]
– 92A: CADILLAC RANCH [Graffitied artistic attraction along 114-Across]
– 114A: ROUTE SIXTY SIX [Theme of this puzzle, which winds its way nearly 2,500 miles through all the shaded squares herein]
So, we’ve got a geographically-depicted tribute puzzle to ROUTE SIXTY SIX, where a number of the entries from the NE to SW corners of the grid depict the states through which the route travels. And, along the way, we have some landmarks noted in the longer across entries. I don’t usually go for tribute puzzles, since the theme sets tend to feel incomplete or random, based on whatever entries have the correct number of letters, but I appreciated the extra touch of the state abbreviations + Grant PARK and the Santa Monica PIER as the termini, all geographically placed in the grid. Overall, it might not be my favorite type of puzzle, but I certainly appreciate the constructor’s approach and multi-leveled theme execution.
Three random thoughts:
– How did “Get your kicks” not make its way into this puzzle somehow? That seems like a decent omission for the theme / tribute.
– 5D: SCHROEDER [Character seen on a keyboard] – This reference to “Peanuts” was a cute misdirect!
– This puzzle’s clues seemed to skew on quite the terse side, which made the solving experience less joyful for me. I guess I tend to like more texture, punnery, and variety. Your ROUTE SIXTY SIX mileage may vary.
That’s all for now – I hope you’re doing well!
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA crossword, “Double Bills”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer contains two words, both of which can go before the word “bills.”
- 16a [“House-warming option”] ELECTRIC HEATING / ELECTRIC BILLS & HEATING BILLS
- 36a [“Draft animal on a rice paddy”] WATER BUFFALO / WATER BILLS & BUFFALO BILLS
- 59a [“Place to grab a bite during a stay”] HOTEL RESTAURANTS / HOTEL BILLS & RESTAURANT BILLS
While no one necessarily wants to be reminded of the bills they have to pay, this was a really well-executed theme, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Naturally, I was pumped to see the BUFFALO BILLS mentioned. None of the answers felt contrived though, and I loved that BILLS could be applied to both words. That’s so clever.
Other things I noticed:
- This grid was asymmetric. There were a lot of really nice corners in here, though my favourite is certainly the bottom right with OPEN LATE, AL DENTE, and a reference to a quarantine trend, the sourdough STARTER.
- 24d [“TV title word after ‘Doom’ or ‘PAW’”] – Could we have gotten two more different PATROL TV shows???
- This was a food-filled puzzle, from 34d [“Enjoy some yakitori, for example”] EAT to 42a [“Chopitos and such”] TAPAs to 47d [“Traditional noodle for New Year’s Eve in Japan”] SOBA to 65a [“Frothy coffee drink”] LATTE. Plus – who could forget 37d [“Taco order with pineapple”] AL PASTOR.
Thanks for reading, folks. Have a good week!
David P. Williams’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Breaking Bread”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Types of bread are “broken” by a black square separating groups of circled squares.
- 22a [“Abso-freaking-lutely!”] / 28a [They’re often lit at garden parties]. “YOU BETCHA!” / PATIO HEATERS. Chapati.
- 35a [Clever comeback] / 41a [“OK, but just this once”]. WITTY RETORT / “I‘LL ALLOW IT.” Tortilla.
- 65a [What moles collect] / 67a [Chicken ___]. INSIDE INFO / CACCIATORE. Focaccia.
- 87a [One celebrating a win energetically] / 95a [SpongeBob’s channel]. FIST PUMPER / NICKELODEON. Pumpernickel.
- 103a [Ben & Jerry’s flavor for Deadheads] / 111a [Large group of troops]. CHERRY GARCIA / BATTALION. Ciabatta.
Very nice. I like the international flair here. We have Indian, Mexican, German, and two Italian breads. Fun choices and some nice finds here. I’m doubtful anyone actually uses the term FIST PUMPER, but I’LL ALLOW IT.
There’s good theme density as well, but that doesn’t seem to hamper the fill which I found to be quite enjoyable, even if there aren’t any long marquee entries. Those upper stacks of “I’M ON FIRE” / ROULETTE and “I SEE NOW” / NEGRONI / and EYESHOT are quite nice. Also, TACO BELL, ALL-STAR, G-FORCES, “I HAD TO,” FULCRUM, “I’M THERE!,” and SCHTICK (even marked as a “var.”) add to the fun.
Clues of note:
- 1a. [“___ Dreams of Sushi” (2011 film)]. JIRO. Lovely film. It’s really a study on the relentless pursuit of perfection. See the trailer below.
- 6d. [Steps for dinner or disaster]. RECIPE. Ah yes, stir in a little danger and add a dash of clumsiness.
- 15d. [Campari cocktail]. NEGRONI. Here’s the NYT Cooking RECIPE. Plenty of customization options in the comments.
- 50d. [Mathematician Terence]. TAO. It’s not often you see a mathematician clued in a crossword. Per his Wikipedia article, Dr. Terence TAO scored 760 on the math portion of the SAT at the age of 8, was taking university-level math classes at the age of 9, and eventually became the youngest-ever full professor at UCLA by the age of 24. “He is widely regarded as one of the greatest living mathematicians.”
- 100d. [Ball containers in probability textbooks]. URN. I’m getting a serious mathy vibe here. I took some probability classes but I don’t remember urns. Maybe I’ve just blocked off all those memories.
Simple but well-executed theme. Smooth fill all around. 3.75 stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Jumping to Conclusions”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: The first letter of common phrases is moved to become the last letter. Wackiness abounds.,
- 23A [Share photo evidence of oolong online, say?] POST A TEA. APOSTATE.
- 30A [“If you’re thinking that belongs to Mr. McCartney, you’re wrong”?] “AIN’T PAULS!” SAINT PAUL.
- 49A [Military leaders in charge of dessert wines?] PORTS BRASS. SPORTS BRAS.
- 51A [Informal name of a college where black-and-white animals fight in boxing matches?] PANDA BOUT U. UP AND ABOUT.
- 65A [Newspaper headline about how comedian Philips managed a hydroelectric facility?] EMO RAN DAM. MEMORANDA.
- 82A [What a karate master hope the answer is to “Which dojos are better than mine?”?] “NONE, SENSEI.” IN ONE SENSE.
- 84A [Some spotted baby birds spotted] OWLETS SEEN. NOW LET’S SEE…
- 98A [Leeway for pleading?] ROOM TO BEG. GROOM TO BE.
- 109A [Jumping to conclusions, and what’s spelled out by the eight letters that have literally jumped to conclusions] ASSUMING.
An excellent presentation for [Those who really enjoy solving crosswords] PUZZLERS. A simple enough theme- very easy to grok- but surprisingly (and enjoyably) difficult. I uncovered “AIN’T PAUL’S!” first- my favorite of the themers- and thought “easy-peasy!” But no. That one just happens to be easier than the rest because the altered phrase sounds similar to the base phrase, SAINT PAUL. The rest are wildly different. Like, NONE, SENSEI sounds nothing like IN ONE SENSE, etc.
It is also very Birnholzian in two senses:
- Go big or go home on wackiness. Yes, some of the altered phrases and clues are more eye-roll inducing than others (looking at you, PANDA BOUT U), but they work because they are so over the top.
- The added layer where the altered word spells something. I assumed that would happen in this puzzle. And I was ASSUMING correctly.
I really flailed in the fill. I’m going to blame it partly on my groggy mindset this Sunday morning after a very busy Saturday. But I never felt like I had a solid foothold. Oddly enough, PUZZLERS was one of the more difficult entries for me. However, once I figured it out, it got me out of a big jam up there.
A handful of new-to-me names in this one (EDNA, OLGA, ROBIE). And an excellent Knock Knock joke involving an interrupting cow that I didn’t see coming.
A PLUS from me. This was really well done.
Lynn Lempel’s Universal Crossword, “Front Man”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Superheroes who shake the “Man” part of their name can be found at the “front” of common phrases.
- IRON CURTAIN. Ironman.
- SUPERBOWL Superman
- BAT BOYS. Batman.
- AQUA VELVA. Aquaman.
- SPIDER PLANT. Spiderman.
An extremely smooth solve for this delightful 15x. But, of course, “smooth solve” is practically synonymous with “Lynn Lempel.” I love how clean and simple this theme is.
The only spot I had any hangup was a pause at the DEV / AQUA VELVA crossing. That was a tricky one for me. I’m unfamiliar with AQUA VELVA. And though I’m certain I must’ve crossed paths with DEV at some point, I’m damned if I can remember. I’m unfamiliar with that term as well.
I’m a tad surprised at the layout of this one. TASTE BUD and SEA OTTER are in the traditional spots for themers, and they certainly look like themers… two words… the correct length. But no. They’re wannabes. You have to look for the asterisk in this one, which I frequently don’t pay attention to.
Fun puzzle! Thanks Lynn! 4 stars.
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword, “Major League Divisions” – Gareth’s summary
Hands up if you guessed most of the theme based on the titles and circled squares? Anyway, Zhouqin’s theme today features circled letters that spell out big four US sports team nicknames. Brace yourself for gratuitous plurals…
- [Groups for aspiring grandmasters], CHESSCLUBS. Chicago Cubs. Baseball? Yes.
- [Vocalists who combine musical styles], RAPSINGERS. NY Rangers. Ice Hockey? Yes. Didn’t know a rapper and a rap-singer were not synonyms…
- [Weekend trips for two, e.g.], ROMANTICGETAWAYS. Tampa (Bay) Rays. Baseball again? Yes
- [Frequent changes of direction], TWISTSANDTURNS. Minnesota Twins. Basketball? Nope, more base-. Wait the Texas Rangers are a baseball team, it’s all baseball isn’t it?
- [Films that may follow a band on tour], ROCKUMENTARIES. Colorado Rockies.
- [Well-balanced people?], TIGHTROPEWALKERS. Detroit Tigers.
- [Unusual sorts], RAREBREEDS. Cincinnati? Yes
- [Music festival setups], MERCHTENTS. NY Mets.
Top five non-theme entries: APPLETINIS, GREENMAMBA, CAMERACREW, OPENLETTER, IMPALA.
In general, an easier puzzle, with the most difficulty coming from off-beat choices for proper nouns:
- [Remy’s brother in “Ratatouille”], EMILE
- [John of “Coming 2 America”], AMOS. Wanted Cena.
- [CBS News correspondent Barnett], ERROL
- [Test prep giant], KAPLAN
- ESPN broadcaster Shriver], PAM. Also winner of… checks… 22 tennis grand slam tournaments.
- [“Hanna” actress Creed-Miles], ESME
NYT: I truly enjoyed the theme. My husband and I have made many road trips, including ones that took us on parts of the old Route 66. The WigWam Motel on Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ, was a fun place to spend the night. And we’ve seen Grant Park, the Gateway Arch, Cadillac Ranch, and Santa Monica Pier, so this puzzle brought back a lot of nice memories.
I solved this pretty quickly; my only geographical error was running the highway through Nebraska instead of Kansas. But there were enough challenging clues (“U.C. in the O.C”) to make it interesting.
I have memory of a Matt Gaffney puzzle from maybe 10 or so years ago in which the state codes followed the Appalachian Trail south to north and wiggling east and west as needed. I think the name of the trail [or maybe just AT] was the meta to be solved. I found that one much more interesting than this collection of trivia, and the theme here was disappointingly obvious from early on, so I just filled in the likely state codes and tried to see how many answers I could get without any other letters. Made the puzzle offer a bit of the challenge it was otherwise lacking.
Before I forget, let me congratulate Evan on a brilliant WaPo. That’s the sort of trickery I love to see.
Uni (small grid Sunday): I thought this was a very smooth and easy puzzle, but I’m not sure that I understand the theme (unfortunately, a more common occurrence than I’d prefer). I recognize IRONman (from IRON CURTAIN), BATman (BAT BOY) and SPIDERman (SPIDER PLANT) as comic book superheroes, but is there a SEAman (SEA OTTER)? And what about TASTE BUD, which appears to be in a thematic position in the grid? TASTEman?
TASTE BUD and SEA OTTER do not have asterisked cues and are not part of the theme. The other two themers are downs: AQUA VELVA [Aquaman] and SUPER BOWL [Superman]. Very tidy puzzle.
Thx… I completely missed the asterisks and had the same question as sanfranman. With that, you’re right, a very nice and tidy puzzle! :)
Thanks Grumpy … Like marciem, I missed the asterisks in the clues. Doh! Details, details …
It is a tidy puzzle. I missed the asterisks on the two down clues, so I originally thought the theme was a bit thin.
Do they really still sell Aqua Velva? That seems so 1960’s.
Jim P.: Terence TAO showed up in the May 5 NYT puzzle.
NYT theme execution, with the state abbreviations in order, was both impressive and a real aid in solving. I live close to the Santa Monica Pier and enjoyed the bit of local color in the New York puzzle.
LAT by Zhouquin Burnikel was a fun, cute, theme also. I think Patti Varol is doing a good job there. I enjoy seeing my local puzzles doing well.