Theme: The first word of each theme answer is something that can be CAST.
- 20a [Topic of debate regarding online service providers] – NET NEUTRALITY
- 35a [Feign sleep] – PLAY POSSUM
- 44a [Helpful feature for tyops … um, typos] – SPELL CHECK
- 56a [Opposition party group in British politics] – SHADOW CABINET
- 71a [Action that can be done to the starts of 20-, 35-, 44- and 56-Across] – CAST
This is a pretty standard theme, but the quality of the answers themselves makes it stand out. While I was solving, I had no idea what the connecting thread of the answers was, but as I found each one I thought “oh, that’s a nice phrase”. NET NEUTRALITY is my favorite (and an important issue to understand), and I didn’t know SHADOW CABINET but was interested to learn more once I got it. (Also, I thought playing possum was playing… dead?… rather than sleeping? So that took me a while to get). Then I got to the revealer, which I got entirely on down crosses since anytime a clue is that long I try as hard as possible not to read it.
Looking back on the puzzle afterwards with the revealer in place, I appreciate how each form of CAST is different – the puzzle would not be as strong if it included both “cast a net” and “cast a line”, say. Oh, and the things that are being CAST are nearly all used in different meanings as well – think of a physical net versus the internet. Between the fun phrases and all these wordplay layers, there was a lot to enjoy during this solve.
The fill, by and large, is fine. Long downs SEE YA LATER and TALENT SHOW are nice, although I don’t love the clue of [“The X Factor” or “The Voice”] for the latter – I feel like reality singing competitions are different than straight talent shows? Let’s just say there’s no one doing magic acts there…. Other highlights for me were references to Eric ANDRE, Guy FIERI, and Bette Davis winning Best Actress TWICE. I also love whenever the Times needs to be meta and clue itself for NYT. Today, they went with [Its motto is “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” in brief].
There were a couple less Monday friendly sections around. I struggled right off the bat with “head” instead of BEAN for 1d[Noggin]. I only know ETAPE from filling my own crosswords, and even still I wrote “etage” first. The only TATI I know is Westbrook, and if the clue for an answer includes the words “dated slang”, I’m never gonna like it (looking at you, STINKO). But overall, a solid Monday puzzle, and one that I had fun solving.
Hope everyone had a lovely weekend!
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Hold That Position”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Familiar phrases that hide a job title within. The revealer is INSIDE JOBS (58a, [Employee-assisted crimes, and a hint to the circled words]).
- 16a. [Marmalade component] ORANGE RIND. Ranger. Hmm. “Ranger” doesn’t feel like a job title like the others.
- 19a. [Software tryouts] DEMO VERSIONS. Mover.
- 37a. [Desire intensely] ACHE FOR. Chef. Meh. There has to be a better option than relying on an awkward phrase like this for a theme answer. “Last ditch effort” also hides a chef (and it’s a lovely grid-spanner).
- 52a. [Cause widespread anger] KICK UP A STORM. Pastor. Hmm. I’ve heard of “kicking up a fuss,” but not this one.
Maybe you liked this better than I did, but only one of these worked for me right off the bat.
As for the fill, it’s mostly workmanlike with no long marquee entries. I do like seeing Voltaire’s CANDIDE, and SLIM JIM makes for a fun entry. Not so keen on weird partials A DIVE and AT YOU.
Clues are about as straight as they come, so that helped speed things along.
Jake Halperin’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
If the last couple of weeks have been an indicator that in the Patti era, “Monday” does not always mean “revealer,” I’m here for it. Here’s a simple but fun theme in which a three-letter syllable is repeated in each theme answer to produce a phrase:
- 17A [Admonition to an Egyptian boy king?] is TUT-TUT, TUT, as in saying “tut-tut!” to King Tut of ancient Egypt.
- 29A [Pothole filler made from fish-and-chips sauce?] is TARTAR TAR. The clue makes for an interesting mental image.
- 46A [Say farewell to a Dickens character?] is PIP PIP PIP, the third PIP being the protagonist of Dickens’s Great Expectations. I was not familiar with the British expression “pip pip” as a way to say goodbye before this puzzle, but the mechanics of this theme are so easy to grasp that that shouldn’t be an impediment to solving.
- 62A [Is able to do high kicks in a chorus line?] is CAN CAN-CAN. This is a pun that’s been milked in at least two songs that I can think of off the top of my head, but it still works.
Fave non-thematic entry: ABFAB at 9A, duh.
Kate Chin Park’s Universal crossword, “Breakfast Scramble” — pannonica’s write-up
Straight-up anagram theme, with the relevant letters pre-circled.
- 17a. [Sugary treat in a colorful stripe (In this puzzle, anagram each set of circled letters)] RIBBON CANDY (bacon).
- 28a. [Switches to a different approach] CHANGES GEARS (eggs).
- 45a. [Account of assets and liabilities] BALANCE SHEET (cheese).
- 61a. [Halt at a red, e.g.] COME TO A STOP (potatoes).
All of those can be combined in a skillet to make a breakfast scramble, and ‘scramble’ of course refers to anagramming.
- 3d [Site with a Symptom Checker] WEB MD, for all your hypochondriac needs.
- 11d [Reacts to a hilarious screwup] FACEPALMS. But I could also see it in response to an EPIC (12d [Large-scale) screwup .
- 25d [Safe at first, maybe?] ON BASE. Not sure why this has both a ‘maybe’ and a question mark. Or either, actually.
- 32d [Uno + dos + tres] SEIS.
- 42d [Insect within “mantis”] ANT. Ants are common prey for mantids, but here is a photograph of the Asian ant mantis, Odontomantis planiceps.
- 53d [Tibetan dumpling] MOMO. Have not seen this in crosswords previously.
- 5a [One may consider a Gen Xer old] ZOOMER. Well, I had feared this was going to be BOOMER and was preparing for a big ‘wha?’ take here, but 5d ZINNIA showed otherwise. This Xer was unfamiliar with the neologism ZOOMER, so I guess that means I’m old or something.
- 20a [“Not nice!”] SO MEAN. Was trying to figure out how SOME NERVE or similar could be made to fit here.
- 33a [City where the Africanfuturist novel “Lagoon” takes place] LAGOS. ‘Africanfuturist’ is not a (single) word I’ve ever seen, as compared to the two-word version or afrofuturist.
- 58a [Musical interval] OCTAVE.
Good puzzle, and now I’m a bit PECKish (22a).
Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword—Amy’s write-up
Kind of a collection of seven small crosswords in this 70-worder, with the middle’s quintet of 8- to 9-letter entries linking the other six zones.
Fave fill: COACH K(rzyzewski), MADELINE, “PERIODT” (on the new RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars: All Winners, judge Carson Kressley used this, “period, with a T on the end”), CIGAR BUTT, MEMEWORTHY, MR. DARCY, filmmaker Olivier ASSAYAS (haven’t seen any of his films but want to).
Less keen on filler like WE DO, MOA, NEHIS, SRO, ALIT, OCTA-, ANODE, KENO. OVERAWES feels weird—is the adjective overawed much more commonly used than this verb?
Did not know: [“Can’t and Won’t” author celebrated for her very short stories], LYDIA DAVIS. Here’s a New Yorker profile of the author. Here’s one of her short pieces of “flash fiction,” a surprising little tale called “Everyone Cried” (is it bad that I was amused?). This is one of those “Oh! I’m glad I learned this” answers.
Three more things:
- 9a. [It’s all around you], SKIN. I disagree. Without skin, you’re not quite you, and the skin is very much a part of you rather than something surrounding you.
- 34a. [Like science fiction concerning the ethics of artificial intelligence], ASIMOVIAN. Why, just yesterday, I was refreshing my knowledge of Asimov’s gross proclivity for groping women in public spaces. Eww. Last night, I saw the three installments of the “Three Robots” short films in Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots anthology—there was an AI that had become sentient in one, and the three robots are sentient as well.
- 1d. [Accessory that reduces drag], SWIM CAP. Raise your hand if you guessed 1a was SPAS and immediately filled in a car’s rear SPOILER here.
3.25 stars from me.
Good morning folks! The theme in this puzzle did not immediately present itself, because the theme answers are mid-length. (I thought there would maybe be a hidden anagram, like Rebecca’s puzzle from a while back.) But the title and clues eventually made it clear what was going on. Three herbs (TARRAGON, CILANTRO, and PARSLEY) are clued as anagrams of matching entries (ARROGANT, CONTRAIL, and PLAYERS). The six theme answers are arranged symmetrically in a symmetrical grid. I haven’t really seen a theme like this before, which is unusual for a USA Today puzzle where the themes tend to be pretty standard.
This puzzle really blew me away. USA Today puzzles will compromise on literally everything (word count, number of three-letter words, symmetry, black squares) in order to allow for the cleanest possible fill. But this puzzle made no compromises, and still avoided the random Latin, contrived plurals, and old-fashioned abbreviations that you’ll see in other publications. Such a low word count (74), with stacked long answers in all four corners… and all this with six theme entries!
So much fun stuff throughout, like TAMALES, ANGSTY, MASCOTS, NONAME clued as the rapper, VEGAN, SAY MORE, SOUVENIRS, GAY ICON, ENTOURAGE. I did notice the dupes of NO NAME / NO MA’AM / UNNAMED, but I don’t mind them.
An enjoyable puzzle in an otherwise blah day. YMMV may vary with 6- and 7-letter-heavy themeless grids, because you’re invariably going to have some glue, but I usually like the difficulty some of that brings.
MCPIZZA, CEMBALO, GAVOTTE, and YAO MING were highlights, while I’m not so sure about SILENT A [58a “Logically” sound] — gotta be very careful with pronunciation clues, I think. EIDER is a word I first learned from crossword puzzles that I’ve occasionally seen off the grid.