Tom McCoy’s New York Times crossword, “Expansion Pack”—Nate’s write-up
Hi, all! Happy July – I hope this post finds you doing well, or at least hanging in there! Today’s NYT has some flavortext that we should note:
“Seven clues in this puzzle relate to their answers in a manner for you to discover. Standard clues for these answers appear below in mixed order.” (I’ll include the listed clues alongside their matching entries below.)
– 23A: BOTTOM LINE (Accounting total) / B(ee) LINE [Direct path]
– 29A: OLDER BROTHER (Peyton, to Eli Manning) / O(h) BROTHER [“Sheesh!”]
– 41A: PUTTING GREEN (Where golfers practice short strokes) / P(ea) GREEN [Color of the Owl and Pussy-cat’s boat]
– 63A: IN CONTACT (Communicating (with)) / I (eye) CONTACT [Something avoided during awkward situations]
– 84A: CHARLEY HORSE (Leg cramp) / C (sea) HORSE [Fish with a prehensile tail]
– 97A: GIVING THANKS (Showing gratitude) / G(ee) THANKS [“Oh, that’s so nice of you to say!”]
– 105A: THIRD PARTY (Unlikely election winner) / T(ea) PARTY [Mad Hatter’s social event]
Okay, I think(?) what’s happening is that the clue for each theme entry refers to the phonetic first letter + last word of the actual entry in the grid, and that the actual entry in the grid is an “expansion” of the shorter phrase (bee line –> BOTTOM LINE, tea party –> THIRD PARTY, etc.).
It feels like there is another layer / level to this, but I’m not seeing it. I’m not quite sure I understand WHY each shorter phrase is expanding into the theme entry phrase in the grid, as there doesn’t seem to be another consistent parameter aside from the first letter sound turning into that letter and then being part of a larger, unrelated phrase.
The execution of the theme also felt a bit inelegant for me in that five of the themers used the actual first letter, while the other two only used the sound of that first letter. I guess I’d’ve preferred all of one or the other, unless there’s another layer to the theme that I’m missing. Please help me out in the comments section if there is. HELP!
Other random thoughts:
– 32A: GRATED [Like some cheese … or some movies] – GRATED / G-RATED. This nicely scratches the cryptic clue itch in my brain!
– 40D: ON THAT NOTE [Transitioning phrase] – This almost felt like a bonus theme entry where the smaller phrase (ON T) also relates to transitioning. There’s a there there!
– 19A RHEA / 20A NORAH / 22 ELLIE – This puzzle featured more women in a single line across than many feature in the entire puzzle. It’s a low bar, but kudos all the same.
That’s all from me for now. Take care, stay safe, and be well!
Alan E. Wallis’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Earn Your Stripes”—Jim P’s review
Theme: UKRAINE (68a, [What the starred Down clues’ answers stand with, given the letters added to their tops and bottoms]). The theme answers “stand with” UKRAINE by adding the letters BLUE (at the top) and YELLOW (at the bottom) while still being actual words/phrases after the change.
- 3d. [*Swaps political favors –> Certain lists of links] LOGROLLS -> BLOG ROLLS. I wasn’t very familiar with either of these terms, so it was a tough one for me to start off with.
- 6d. [*Knockoff –> Constraint] IMITATION -> LIMITATION. This one’s straightforward.
- 13d. [*Attempt that almost fails –> Bringing to light] NEAR THING -> UNEARTHING. Nice find.
- 16d. [*Hawaii’s billboard ban, e.g. –> Field involving wills] STATE LAW -> ESTATE LAW.
- 67d. [*Piece of a complex machine –> Going-away celebration] MOVING PART -> MOVING PARTY.
- 82d. [*Discover suddenly –> First of three calls] STRIKE ON -> STRIKE ONE.
- 83d. [*Like Atlantis, in legend –> Stamped officially] UNDERSEA -> UNDER SEAL. Again, I don’t think I knew the phrase “UNDER SEAL.”
- 84d. [*”Ode” subject in a 1967 hit –> “Uptown Girl” rocker] BILLY JOE -> BILLY JOEL. Nice one.
- 86d. [*Perfection is its enemy –> Soup brand] PROGRESS -> PROGRESSO. This one feels like a little bit of a cheat since the brand name is based on the word “progress,” but I’ll allow it.
- 71d. [*”Terrible idea!” –> “Is this better?”] “HOW ABOUT NO?” -> “HOW ABOUT NOW?” Another nice one.
Excuse my grid image. I used the actual correct colors for the letters, but when you look closely at the blue squares, they look terrible.
At first, I was confused when I hit upon the revealer. How was adding letters to the tops and bottoms of answers “standing with” UKRAINE? But I’ve come around after giving it some thought. First, the entries are vertical, so you can think of them as “standing.” Second, many individuals and businesses added the Blue and Yellow to show their support for UKRAINE. This puzzle adds the Blue and Yellow by tacking on those letters to existing phrases while ensuring we still have valid phrases in the grid. Pretty nice, actually. And I’m especially impressed that our constructor found entries as long as these to incorporate.
I just noticed the grid has left/right symmetry instead of the usual diagonal symmetry. This makes sense since the top has four theme entries, and the bottom has six. You’d think, therefore, that the bottom half would be quite choppy and constrained, but there’s still some nice fill in there like ALEX HALEY, “HOO BOY!,” and “OH, POOH!” The top half, though, is loaded with goodies like LION TAMING, TELEPORTER, GOLD COINS, SWISS BANK, BON AMI, ENGLAND, BANSHEE, IN-N-OUT, GRANOLA, and DINGOES. You can really see the result of theme constraints in this one grid from the top half to the bottom half.
Clues of note:
- 23a. [Zookeeper’s dangerous job]. LION TAMING. Hmm. Do zookeepers tame lions? I wouldn’t think so. Not the way circus “lion tamers” do.
- 88a. [Name hidden in “read between the lines”]. ELI. Anyone actually parse that phrase to get the name? I just waited for the crossings.
- 73d. [Like an untidy bed]. WEEDY. Think “flower bed.”
- Fave clues: [One sticking with the program?] for ROBOT and [Snack bar food?] for GRANOLA.
Most of all, I’m impressed that this is a debut puzzle for this constructor. It doesn’t look it, but this is a complicated construction, and yet the grid is smooth and enjoyable, and the theme has some lovely wordplay. Kudos on this excellent construction! Four stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “State of the Art”— Jim Q’s write-up
Meta time today!
The notepad tells us that we’re looking for a Grammy Award-winning song.
I just finished solving the puzzle and haven’t even started considering the meta as of now. It didn’t reveal itself to me mid-solve, as often happens with the more simple WaPo metas, so let’s see if we can’t hash this out now.
There are quite a few longer entries (many of which struck me as unfamiliar or a tad awkward) and a curious clue in the SE. The entries I’m going to focus on at the moment are:
- ALOHA SHIRTS
- BAY OF BENGAL
- PALMETTO BUGS
- GEM CUTTERS
- BADGER GAME
- KEYSTONE KOPS
- SHOW ME THE WAY
- PRAIRIE DOGS
- BEAVER DAMS
- PEACH COBBLER
- NATURAL HAIR
- BEEHIVE OVEN
and the nudge down south:
[Like the third letters of three-letter answers (many of which you’ll need to solve the meta)] LAST.
Now what? Am I supposed to look at all of the three-letter entries? That’s asking a lot. There’s 64 of those in the puzzle. So there must be a way to whittle down the ones I need. Wait a second… what am I doing? Step 1 of meta solving: Look at the title.
State of the Art.
And immediately state nicknames jump out from the entries above.
- ALOHA SHIRTS = ALOHA STATE = HAWAII
- BAY OF BENGAL = BAY STATE = MASSACHUSETTS
- PALMETTO BUGS = PALMETTO STATE = SOUTH CAROLINA
- GEM CUTTERS = GEM STATE = IDAHO
- BADGER GAME = BADGER STATE = WISCONSIN
- KEYSTONE KOPS = KEYSTONE STATE = PENNSYLVANIA
- SHOW ME THE WAY = SHOW ME STATE = MISSOURI
- PRAIRIE DOGS = PRAIRIE STATE = ILLINOIS
- BEAVER DAMS = BEAVER STATE = OREGON
- PEACH COBBLER = PEACH STATE = GEORGIA
- NATURAL HAIR = NATURAL STATE = ARKANSAS
- BEEHIVE OVEN = BEEHIVE STATE = UTAH
How many did you google? For me, about half. But that’s clearly the key to solving this meta. Now what? Let’s peep that nudge again:
[Like the third letters of three-letter answers (many of which you’ll need to solve the meta)] LAST.
I’ll say it again: I’m not gonna examine 64 entries for this puzzle. However I just glanced at the grid and my EYEs landed right on UTA… which is very reminiscent of UTAH. Let’s see if that yields anything… maybe the three-letter words we should look at begin with the state abbreviation, and then we take the third letter of each to spell out our meta. That’s my guess. Let’s see:
- ALOHA SHIRTS = ALOHA STATE = HAWAII = HIT
- BAY OF BENGAL = BAY STATE = MASSACHUSETTS = MAH
- PALMETTO BUGS = PALMETTO STATE = SOUTH CAROLINA = SCI
- GEM CUTTERS = GEM STATE = IDAHO = IDS
- BADGER GAME = BADGER STATE = WISCONSIN = WII
- KEYSTONE KOPS = KEYSTONE STATE = PENNSYLVANIA = PAS
- SHOW ME THE WAY = SHOW ME STATE = MISSOURI = MOM
- PRAIRIE DOGS = PRAIRIE STATE = ILLINOIS = ILE
- BEAVER DAMS = BEAVER STATE = OREGON = ORR
- PEACH COBBLER = PEACH STATE = GEORGIA = GAI
- NATURAL HAIR = NATURAL STATE = ARKANSAS = ARC
- BEEHIVE OVEN = BEEHIVE STATE = UTAH = UTA
*before we go any further, if you haven’t seen this bit yet about state abbreviations, it’s very entertaining:
And out meta answer is THIS IS… ‘MERICA?
Oops. I’m missing an entry:
- FIRST TEST = FIRST STATE = DELAWARE = DEA
THIS IS AMERICA. That sounds more like it.
Wow! That’s a helluva idea, and so well executed. I must confess, I wasn’t really in a meta mood. And I wasn’t “feeling it” during the solve with some rather (imo) tuff-to-suss longer entries. But once again, Evan has outdone himself with a multi-layered brilliant meta, perfect for July 4th. Just… wow. That’s a lot of theme entries too! So I won’t nitpick in the fill. Okay.. I’ll nitpick one spot: SALVO / ORR was a Natick crossing for me. I may be alone there, and I did guess the O correctly, so there’s that. But I think that’s the first time I ever felt a need to flat out guess in a WaPo.
The INTRANET, ABASH (I had ABASE), DAMN (I had DOOM), BET (I had LOT), STRAND (I thought it was something that had to start with D or N or A), SHOW ME THE WAY (I had COME SAIL AWAY [Top 10 title for Peter Frampton and Styx]… I mean c’mon… that isn’t fair. Same number of letters! And the last three are the same!) HACK AT section I found very difficult as well. But I HACKed AT IT and got it eventually!
- The BOBBLE area was tough for me because I had FUMBLE, and it’s so hard to change the answer when the last half of the error fits perfectly.
- [Nice guy’s friend?] AMI. Good one. The clue is referring to Nice, France.
- [Yours are important to you] VALUES. They certainly are. However, forcing them on others ain’t right. Ask 79-Across.
- [Traffic circle?] RECORD. That’s pretty good. Traffic, the band that is.
The fact that before I even started this puzzle I had a “meh” attitude and wasn’t much in the mood for solving (or writing), and by the time I figured out the meta my attitude completely changed… well that’s a huge testament to this fantastic offering today.
Thanks, Evan! Happy 4th!
Pam Amick Klawitter’s LA Times crossword, “Ease Off” – Gareth’s summary
The title of today’s offering by PAK, “Ease Off”, had me thinking it was a letter drop theme. Instead it’s the rarer sound change theme, where the “iː” sound becomes “eɪ”. This is quite an open-ended theme type, so one should be able to attain some real lulus.
Today, we have:
- [Cleaner who doesn’t bother with corners?], STRAIGHTSWEEPER. STREET. Not a strong opening, since only one of two sounds change and it makes the puzzle very confusing.
- [Soft sounds from the barnyard?], GENTLEBRAYS. BREEZE
- [Gardeners who can tend a plot really, really fast?], SPADEDEMONS. SPEED.
- [Words on a sale poster?], PRICEPHRASE. FREEZE. I like the radical change of spelling, although the phrase itself is rather humdrum.
- [Squabble over whose turn it is to get the car fixed?], MAINTENANCEFRAY. FREE
- [Interruption during the America’s Cup?], SUSPENDEDSAILING. CEILING.
- [Race official?], JUSTICEOFTHEPACE. PEACE.
The clues were quite straightforward today. The main resistance was from several tougher entries:
- [Cotton thread], LISLE. Old-skool crosswordese. Is friends with IXTLE and ISTLE.
- [“The Checklist Manifesto” surgeon/author Gawande], ATUL. Continuing editor PV’s attempts to expand our literary horizons…
- [“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” novelist Vuong], OCEAN. See previous.
- [Seoul airline], ASIANA. Luckily the crossing with ISU was fairly intuitive. Their intersection was my final square.
- [Harlem Renaissance novelist Larsen], NELLA. Continuing the literary mini-theme.
Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today crossword, “Endgame”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: The end of each theme answer is a game title!
- 19a [“‘I’m prepared to gamble on that’”] IT’S WORTH THE RISK
- 35a [“‘My sincerest apologies!’”] I’M TERRIBLY SORRY
- 50a [“‘Now you see what I go through all the time!’”’ WELCOME TO MY LIFE
I knew immediately from the title that this was Part II of an incredible Avengers Infinity War/Endgame USATXW duet, and after solving, it became apparent that this reference was also to one of my favourite things: board games. So, needless to say, I was all about this puzzle. I loved that the theme answers were also all clued as statements, which I think lent a really nice symmetry throughout. Plus, they were all grid-spanners! Such a great combo.
A few other things:
- 22a [“One of the protagonists in ‘Heartstopper’”] – I haven’t watched Heartstopper yet, but I’ve seen so much about CHARLIE and Nick that I’m excited to dive in when I’m more emotionally prepared for what seems like an adorably queer show.
- 34d [“Puns and such”] – I love seeing fun references to crossword and other fun games in puzzles, so it was delightful to plunk WORDPLAY into this grid.
- 46d [“___ Shi (‘Turning Red’ writer-director)”] – Not only did DOMEE Shi work on Turning Red, but she also directed Bao in 2018, which won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Turning Red is also super adorable, and I definitely would recommend it.
All in all, a great puzzle.
I liked the NYT much better than the others, based on ratings thus far. It took me a bit to get the idea, with a genuine aha!, and it diidn’t bother me that there’s no special reason uniting what are spelled out in the full entries. Indeed, I felt GIVING THANKS as a flaw in the puzzle, because THANKS here means just the same as in the shorter clued answer, GEE THANKS.
The puzzle did go easy (too easy to my tastes) but turned harder near the bottom. I don’t know whether the inconsistency is also a glitch in construction or in my solving skills.
NYT: I liked this more than a bunch of the raters did (maybe someone’s out to prove Evan’s point from yesterday?). I didn’t read the “note” before solving, and this is one where it might have been more fun if I had. As it was, all of the longer-form answers were pretty familiar phrases (IN CONTACT was less-so, as a standalone phrase), so they made sense.
I thought the fill was pretty good. Liked the clues for SPOCK, POLO SHIRT and FRIED EGGS. Some nice phrases in the long downs.
A couple of rough spots for me: I’ve not seen this spelling of GALLIVANT before (xwordinfo says it’s a debut). CLANGOR and AMANDA Gorman were new to me, and I can never remember the names of the Furies, so that spot took some time.
NYT: I work this puzzle in the NYT app, so I didn’t see the instructions about the additional clues until I finished. (I almost never check the info box.) Even with them, the theme feels rather clunky.
NYT: If this puzzle was from Birnholz, I would have expected the “expanded” letters to mean something or do something, but they just sit there like bumps on a log … and the “standard” clues in the Notepad added nothing. I kind of like the puzzle, but it felt incomplete.
I really enjoyed the NYT, and it got pretty easy once the “aha” hit. I thought it was well executed, with the possible exception of “giving thanks” and gee thanks which are pretty synonymous, I think.
WaPo: even reading the long convoluted explanation I do not see how the “meta” was finally arrived at, so …. bzzzzzt IMO. I don’t work that hard on Sundays . I guess it is fun for those who do .
LAT: Don’t want to say much before the write up, but I thought it was fun and the clues/answers amusing.
Steps for the WaPo meta:
1. See that the 13 theme answers start with keywords from U.S. state nicknames. Identify the 13 states.
2. Take note of the clue for LAST.
3. Find three-letter answers that start with those 13 states’ postal abbreviations. The last letters of those 13 answers, in thematic order, spell out the meta answer.
I find it rather insulting to dismiss my post as “long” and “convoluted.”
I don’t ask for anyone to like what I wrote, but I did put quite a bit of effort into it, and this is volunteer work.
Rather, if you could tell me specifically which part of my write-up is unclear, I would appreciate that as constructive feedback. Many commenters do that, especially with metas, and it is almost always helpful.
I gave up on trying to solve Evan Birnholz’s clever (as always) meta. But your explanation of it seemed pretty clear, and even made me wish I had spent a little longer trying to figure it out myself.
Today’s puzzle reminded me of a few other of Evan’s meta puzzles that I have tried — most of the grid fills in like a Tuesday or Wednesday NYT puzzle, and then the meta makes me feel a bit dumb.
(If you’re still wondering, Benjamin Orr played bass in The Cars, who were pretty big during my college years. I think this puzzle is the first time I’ve seen ORR in a grid where it’s not clued to either the Boston Bruins legend or “Catch-22.”)
Thanks to you and all your colleagues for taking the time and making the effort to write up these puzzles.
NYT; I wrestled with this puzzle, not at all sure of what was happening with the theme. Near the bottom I began to catch on but my take on it wasn’t anywhere near what is being purported here and in the review. The result, for me, was an uneven and chaotic solve, jumping all over the grid. That took some of the pleasure out of it for me.
The small font used in the notes makes it difficult for me to read them on a good day. With my nose pressed to my monitor screen, I was still at a complete loss. The phrases in quotes make no sense to me. How I was able to complete the solve is beyond me. In line with the conversation from yesterday, I judge a puzzle in a thoroughly subjective way. Like ’em or not, I do them all because that’s what I do.
The constructor’s notes at Wordplay persuade me that his original concept would have made more sense than the mess the editors came up with
Still catching up after the long weekend … I agree that the constructor’s original intent was likely sabotaged by the tinkering of the editors, who rarely, it seems, are able to leave an interesting concept alone. Still, lots to like IMO, and the 2.6 rating seems a bit harsh.
One head-scratcher in 99-A: How is Disney-controlled Hulu a competitor to Disney+? They’re complementary services, even sold together as a package.