Greg Slovacek’s New York Times crossword, “It’s All On the Table”—Nate’s write-up
Before we get into this puzzle, it should be worth noting that this is the constructor’s debut(!) in the New York Times, which is incredibly impressive, considering what we’re about to tackle. Congrats to the constructor!
Today’s Sunday NYT is a poker puzzle – from the puzzle’s flavor text: “A note on Texas hold’em: Players seek to combine one or more of the cards they hold with the cards laid out on the table to make the best possible five-card poker hand.” Ok, this thankfully gives away that we’re going to likely see some playing cards in the grid… and it turns out that there are a lot of entries related to those cards! I’m going to try and organize this as logically as I can:
Player 1’s hand (22A): Queen of Clubs + Ace of Spades
22A: [QUEEN] ANNE’S L[ACE] – [Plant with clusters of tiny white flowers]
1D: AV [CLUB] – [Pop culture sister site of The Onion]
8D: IN [SPADE]S – [Aplenty]
The square shared by 1D and 22A has QUEEN and CLUB. The square shared by 8D and 22A has ACE and SPADE.
Player 2’s hand (28A): Two of Hearts + King of Clubs
28A: NE[TWO]R[KING] EVENT – [Opportunity for making professional connections]
12D: HIG[H EART]H – [Like a geocentric orbit in which the orbital period is more than 24 hours]
29D: [CLUB] MED – [Resort chain since 1950]
The square shared by 12D and 28A has TWO and HEART. The square shared by 29D and 28A has KING and CLUB.
Player 3’s hand (112A): Ace of Clubs + Ten of Spades
112A: SURF[ACE] [TEN]SION – [What can keep a bubble from bursting]
114D: [CLUB] CAR – [Place to dine on a train]
93D: SAM [SPADE] – [Humphrey Bogart role]
The square shared by 114D and 112A has ACE and CLUB. The square shared by 93D and 112A has TEN and SPADE.
Player 4’s hand (123A): King of Hearts + Jack of Hearts
123A: SMO[KING] [JACK]ET – [Some loungewear]
124D: [HEART]EN – [Give new hope to]
97D: OPEN[HEART]ED – [Honest and caring]
The square shared by 124D and 123A has KING and HEART. The square shared by 97D and 123A has JACK and HEART.
Ok, those are the pairs of cards that each of our four “players” has. Now, let’s see what five communal cards are at the center of the table (from left to right):
Queen of Hearts
81A: WHITE [QUEEN] – [Anne Hathaway’s role in 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland”]
82D: [HEART]HS – [Fireplaces]
Seven of Diamonds
49D: NEIL [DIAMOND] – [“America” singer, 1981]
78A: [SEVEN] SEAS – [Waters of the world, figuratively]
Ace of Hearts
71A: PL[ACE]BO – [Control element in medical trials]
63D: T[HE ART]S – [Literature, theater, filmmaking, and others]
Ten of Clubs
62A: SMIT[TEN] – [Taken (with)]
64D: [CLUB]BERS – [Rave attendees, for example]
Ten of Hearts
58A: [TEN]DS BAR – [Works as a mixologist]
44D: BY [HEART] – [How words may be recited]
In Texas hold’em, you combine your two cards with the three most useful cards to you of the five on the table to make the best possible overall hand you can. (ETA: Thanks for the heads up – in this game, you combine up to two of your cards with as many of the central five cards as need be to make your best possible hand of five cards.) 39D lets us know which player had the best hand:
39D: ROYAL FLUSH – [123-Across’s holding that wins this puzzle’s game]
Player 4 indeed wins with the incredibly rare ROYAL FLUSH. Their King of Hearts and Jack of Hearts was able to combine with the Queen of Hearts, Ace of Hearts, and Ten of Hearts on the board to make a 10JQKA of Hearts – both the highest straight you can have, and all of the same suit. Congrats to Player 4, and kudos to the constructor for figuring out how to make this puzzle work!
42D: MINUTE HAND – [Indicator on a clock … or one of four in this puzzle?] – I’m not sure I get this one? Is it hinting at the small (minute) hands of two cards per player?
131D: ROUNDERS – [1998 Matt Damon film featuring this puzzle’s game]
This largely felt like a success, and I really appreciated that the app turned the rebus squares into their card symbols upon completion of the puzzle. (I hope folks didn’t get stuck trying to have the app recognize their input for those rebus squares!) My only slight gripe with the solving experience was that so much theme fill made for a few rougher sections (especially the NW corner for me). But still, an incredibly impressive feat of construction that hopefully didn’t frustrate solvers. To find four across entries that each held two cards + to be able to lay out the five cards in the middle of the puzzle + to be able to tell a full story of the hand in question is a triumph, indeed. And for this to be the constructor’s New York Times debut? Wow. (It’s also quite possible that this is his first ever published puzzle, as the Crossword Fiend database doesn’t show any other puzzles by him. If so, mind blown even more!)
Were you able to conquer this beast of a puzzle? Let us know what you enjoyed about it in the comments below.
Trent H. Evans’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Weird Al”—Jim P’s review
Sadly, this grid isn’t about the genius behind “Word Crimes,” but it does insert the letters AL into familiar phrases to wacky effect.
- 23a. [Supplier of St. Nick’s steering mechanism?] SANTA’S REIN DEALER. Reindeer.
- 40a. [Consent to the installation of banana chandeliers?] ALLOW HANGING FRUIT. Low-hanging. “Banana chandeliers” would make a good name for a band.
- 52a. [“Shaquille and his entire family are so judgy”?] EVERY O’NEAL‘S A CRITIC. Everyone’s.
- 78a. [What a court ruling prohibiting games with a Nintendo princess would cause?] THE LEGAL END OF ZELDA. Legend. Ugh. I would be crushed. (And I’m not being sarcastic.)
- 98a. [Utopian novel in which people get up late?] A FAREWELL TO ALARMS. Arms. One of life’s little joys is turning your alarm off for tomorrow.
- 115a. [One who didn’t intend to become an attorney?] ACCIDENTAL LAWYER. Accident. Tacking AL onto the end of a word without changing its meaning too much is sort of the “low-hanging fruit” of this theme. But I still like it. Perhaps the Accidental Tourist, accidentally got a law degree in the sequel?
I liked most if not all of these, and I appreciate that they aren’t all easy insertions like the last one, requiring us to rethink and re-parse as needed. Well done.
Plenty of fun fill enjoy along the way as well, like RISOTTO, AREA RUGS, the late TOM PETTY, EAT CROW, “BE HONEST,” PLOT OUT, CAT BEDS, RWANDA, SEAFOOD, GLAM ROCK, MAFIA DON, and “I GOT YOU.” My sticking points were thinking that the musical was titled “Dear Evan HANSON” not “Dear Evan HANSEN,” which led me to IMANAGO for 11d [“It all gets done”]. The other one was not getting the F in MAFIA DON until late in the solve and having a hard time parsing MA_IADON for 84d [Hit maker?]. But I sorted them both out in the end.
Clues of note:
- 83a. [Chess pros, for short]. GMS. Grand Masters. Usually this entry gets a baseball clue.
- 7d. [Limited coverage provider at the Olympics?]. SPEEDO. Ha!
- 36d. [One is pressed for cash (Abbr.)]. PIN. Hmm. I get what they’re going for here, but you don’t “press” your PIN, you “input” your PIN.
- 41d. [“Hold it, horse!”]. WHOA. How long before we see WOAH as an entry? I bet it’s coming. Be ready.
- 48d. [Chris Wallace’s channel]. CNN. I didn’t realize he moved from Fox News recently. Also (duh) I didn’t realize he was Mike Wallace’s son.
Good puzzle. Four stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Period Pieces”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Units of time can be found when the ends of the themers are taken together
- SECURE BOND. Second.
- MINOR DISPUTE. Minute.
- HOUSE PAINTER. Hour.
- DOUBLE PLAY. Day.
- WEEB EWBANK. Week.
- MONKEYED WITH. Month,
- YELLOW POPLAR. Year.
- (revealer) TIME LIMITS.
It’s not often you see a WaPo theme like this. It’s rather typical- more in line with what the rest of Crossworld publishes. I regularly solve the Universal puzzle, and I come across this theme type often. That’s not a bad thing. Just an observation. It’s rare that I solve an entire WaPo and don’t see or care what the connection is between the themers until I hit the revealer. Even then I finished solving, looked at the grid, and said “oh, I see it.”
Themers themselves are fine. I’ve never heard of WEEB EWBANK, but that means nothing. I would categorize my sports world knowledge as “staggeringly bad.” That said, WEEB is an interesting first name. I’m just picturing him getting in trouble and his parents yelling something to the effect of “Weeb! Get your ass down here immediately! Weeeeeb!” I don’t see how they could do that without laughing. ***Looks like his actual name was Wilbur. But still. Weeeeeeeb!
YELLOW POPLAR was new to me too, but inferable.
- 19A [It’s nearly impossible to split its cream equally between both wafers, per research from MIT] OREO. I love love love OREO clues. They always get so wild and out there. This one is fantastic.
- 48A [Season of “Snowpiercer”] WINTER. So this is embarrassing, but I entered WALTER. I’m accustomed to [ ___ of “(insert show/movie here)”] clues yielding a person’s name. So yea. Walter Season. I thought that sounded reasonable.
- 59A [Group of stars or, after changing the last letter to a K, a star] ASTERISM. Good clue with a helpful nudge because I’ve never heard of that word.
- 62A [On edge] RESTIVE. I was today days old when I learned RESTIVE is not synonymous with “Restful.” Please don’t tell anyone.
- 105A [Its first letter is represented by a closed fist with the thumb alongside the index finger] ASL. For those who solved online through the WaPo applet or in the PDF, you had a pretty cool visual clue in place of that:
- 4D [Work on a column?] SCULPT. Good one. My mind wanted something to do with editing.
- 14D [Greenland sharks have long ones] LIFE SPAN. 272 years!!! That’s insane!
- 16D [Costner-Russo film set at the U.S. Open] TIN CUP. Why does this movie have lasting power? I mean, I never even saw it, but I knew the answer immediately.
- 29D [Waiting periods?] DINNERS. Good one. Referring to a server tending to you during your meal, of course.
- 79D [Guy in charge of handling stage items] PROP MAN. We always say PROP MASTER. I prefer it that way.
- 108D [Cut-and-dried] NORMAL. I’ve been saying “cut and dry” all this time. Are they interchangeable? Or have I been wrong for forever?
- 53D [“Things just ain’t what they used to be”] I’M OLD. Hahaha. I’m not so sure people are confessing that they’re old when they say that as much as they’re expressing disappointment with people who are not them.
New/Difficult names for me:
Aforementioned WEEB EWBANK, forgot ALDO Gucci, DAN Froomkin, MAURA Tierney (though I feel like I’ve seen her names in crosswords a handful of times), KEN Norton, ENOS Mireille.
I don’t think that this will go down as one of the most memorable WaPo themes I’ve had the pleasure of solving, but I enjoyed nonetheless. Happy Sunday!
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Edit Down”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer contains EDIT going downward in the puzzle
- 4d [“Didn’t take any chances”] PLAYED IT SAFE
- 17a [“Trench used to channel excess water”] DRAINAGE DITCH
- 21a [“Regimen for a Padawan”] JEDI TRAINING
JEDI TRAINING was so exciting to fill in here, and I had no problem punching that it in immediately. PLAYED IT SAFE came through pretty quickly as well, especially once I got the stacking RASPY–AGILE–CUT AND DRIED–EASY top left corner. DRAINAGE DITCH took a little bit longer, but that was more due to my confusion over a double I in my once-partially filled in I IMAGINE SO.
This grid is asymmetric, and there’s so much interesting stuff in here. Between the Down theme answers and some of the longer fill like CUT AND DRIED and I IMAGINE SO. Everything flowed together really well, especially through the middle. I switched to focusing on Downs, and I cruised.
A few other things:
- 31a [“Pungent fruit with a thorny rind”] – This was a fun description for DURIAN, which I’ve never had but am so curious about. I love the fascination with its smell, and this article from Smithsonian Magazine quotes food writer Richard Sterling, who says that “its odor is best described as…turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.”
- 40a [“‘Watch ___ space’”] – We’ve become so accustomed to even digitally checking spaces, and so I knew immediately that I was meant to fill in THIS, despite how vague the phrase is. Isn’t that crazy?
- 43a [“Bird that can grow to be nine feet tall”] – I definitely did not know this fact about OSTRICHes. They can also weigh up to 320 pounds, so watch out for these giant birds!
That’s all from me for today!
Doug Burnikel & C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword, “All-star Break” – Gareth’s summary
This puzzle by C.C. & Doug Burnikel features common names of individual stars spelt out across two words, and circled for convenience. We have:
- [Stopped suddenly], SCREECHEDTOAHALT & [Makes public], AIRS hiding ALTAIR in Aquila, the 12th in apparent brightness.
- [Summons for a certain assistant], HEYSIRI & [Medication warning], USEASDIRECTED hide SIRIUS, in Canis Major, #1 in apparent brightness.
- [“Marie Antoinette” director], SOFIACOPPOLA & [Gets higher], RISES hide POLARIS in Ursa Minor, #48 in apparent brightness, but famous for marking true north.
- [Zen temple feature], ROCKGARDEN & [Tide fluctuation], EBBANDFLOW hide DENEB in Cygnus, hide DENEB #19 in apparent brightness.
- [Thyme unit], SPRIG & [Many a Pro Bowl player], ELITEATHLETE hide RIGEL in Orion, #7 in apparent brightness.
- [News program format], LIVEBROADCAST & [Dessert with a crushed cookie crust], OREOPIE hide CASTOR in Gemini, #24 in apparent brightness.
- [Glowing review], RAVE & [Get an advantage over], GAINTHEUPPERHAND conceal VEGA in Lyrae, #5 in apparent brightness.