Hemant Mehta’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Ha, there are several religion-oriented entries in this puzzle, which struck me as funny since I’d just read this week’s Friendly Atheist newsletter (which is by Hemant). “GOD, YES,” THE MAGI, LDS, the RED SEA with a biblical clue? Wasn’t expecting that!
I like the drama that plays out in the central stack:
- 28a. [Demand for honesty], “DON’T LIE TO ME.” Tell it to me straight.
- 30a. [Expression in an uncomfortable situation], FORCED SMILE. “Oh god, he’s telling it to me straight. I wasn’t ready for that.”
- 31a. [“No need to elaborate”], “I UNDERSTAND.” In this dialogue, this line is said quietly, with pursed lips and downcast eyes.
Generally I’m not a fan of including multiple “I” quotes in a grid, but I didn’t notice the overlap while solving. There are four, though! I DID, I SAID SO, and I PRESUME along with 31a. How do you folks feel about such repeats?
Fave fill: MALALA, PROMO CODES, SHRINK WRAP (terrific clue, [Moving film?], though I see that MOVE in the grid), ONE-TIME USE, SORDID (I love those -id adjectives), FUTURIST, SISTER CITY, FOOL’S GOLD, BOW OUT.
Four more things:
- 6d. [Plight of the 1%?], LOW BATTERY. Love it!
- 26d. [King Arthur’s slayer], MORDRED. I drew a complete blank on this till I had a couple letters in place and suddenly dredged up MORDRED. Thank you, 1981 movie Excalibur!
- 26a. [Locale for a pin], MAT. As in the wrestling mat.
- 34a. [It’s raised by the best], BAR. This clue raises the bar for clever clues.
Four stars from me.
Rafael Musa’s USA Today crossword, “Photo Finishes”—Matthew’s write-up
Our themers today end with words that go with “photo”:
- 18a [Admire merchandise with no intention of buying] WINDOW SHOP
- 29a [“Roger that?”] DO YOU COPY
- 49a [Blond pooch] YELLOW LAB
- 58a [“Dangerously in Love,” for Beyonce] DEBUT ALBUM
At first, I read these as “SHOP Photo,” “COPY photo,” etc, and that made enough sense to me. But PhotoSHOP, photoCOPY, photoLAB, and photo ALBUM are an even better set, and certainly the way Rafa intended. Love that CHEESE [51a Paneer or brie, e.g.] made it in!
Rafa has a particular skill at fitting tons of current and noteworthy bits of news and pop culture into his grids. I love learning from puzzles, and it’s extremely rare that I know everything in a grid. This is particularly true in the USA Today, which constantly broadens my horizons, but today Rafa presents tons of fill and cluing angles to make a puzzle that is (IMO) both atypical of many large-publication grids in its concentration of current names and proper nouns and also utterly accessible at every turn.
Your mileage may (likely will) vary, but a smattering: Serena Williams, Sappho, DEB Haaland (the second Native American to serve in the Cabinet), REESE Witherspoon, OMAR Sy (the first Black recipient of the Cesar Award for Best Actor), and Mahershala ALI.
(There’s also young English soccer superstar RAHEEM Sterling, who is noteworthy and admirable but for whom I will not be cheering this winter when the US plays England in the World Cup.)
Matthew Stock’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
So…I love putting some interesting trivia into a puzzle as much as anyone, and I love learning something new during a solve. Trouble is, sometimes when there’s a decent amount of trivia in a solve, it either knocks out people who don’t know any of it, or makes what is supposed to be a somewhat challenging solve very easy for people who do. So I do think it’s appropriate for tournament organizers, say, to push for a minimum of trivia overall in a final puzzle, or at least to balance trivia knowledge categories so that the tournament isn’t won or lost based on who happens to have the same knowledge base as the constructor.
That being said, this isn’t a tournament puzzle, so I’m just whining about this puzzle feeling more like an easy trivia quiz than a Saturday solve because the trivia happens to be in my wheelhouse:
- 20A [Woman whose immortalized cell line was used in developing the polio vaccine] is HENRIETTA LACKS. Huh. With only the H to go on, I didn’t even read to the end of the clue — all I needed was “Woman whose immortalized cell line” to drop her name in, and I didn’t even realize that her cells were also used to study polio, since I mostly knew about her from cancer research. Her story has been written about in a book by Rebecca Skloot, which was adapted into an HBO movie.
- 23A [“RuPaul’s Drag Race” regular O’Hara] is a big ol’ gimme for ASIA.
- 48A [“That’s what you’re bragging about? You do you…”], while not trivia exactly, is pretty easy to connect to WEIRD FLEX, BUT OK if you know the phrase. I had only the OK at the end and was able to drop this in from that.
- 5D [Competition series that features Mystery Box and Pressure Test challenges] is MASTERCHEF. I’ve watched enough seasons not to need any crossings here.
- 10D [“She put the Miss in misdemeanor when she stole the beans from Lima” singers] is a lovely throwback to Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? which, as an Xennial, I watched the hell out of back in the day.
This is not to say that there wasn’t any fun wordplay in this puzzle, just that the long answers being easy trivia gets meant that sometimes I didn’t see the best clues until after I was done solving and looked over the puzzle again. A few to point out:
- 18A [Dark days or long days] for SOLSTICES.
- 40A I loved [French dip?] as a clue for PLIE.
- 3D [One guarded on a soccer pitch] for SHIN.
- 8D [Electric company?] for TESLA.
- 27D [Change of fortune?] for LUCKY PENNY. Hee hee!
- 31D [Fence-sitter’s deterrent] is a nice misdirect, seeming to be in the metaphorical sense of “sitting on the fence” as “unable to make a decision,” but it is in fact quite literal as a clue for BARB.
Trent H Evans & Kevin Christian’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Movie Remakes” — pannonica’s write-up
Had an obligation that took up all morning and more, so just the bare minimum for the Wall Street Journal and Saturday Stumper write-ups today. I leave it to the readers and commenters to generate their own discussions.
Theme here is inserting the bigram RE into film titles.
- 23a. [Discounted shipping group?] FREIGHT CLUB (Fight Club).
- 39a. [Biography of actor Christopher?] ALL ABOUT REEVE (All About Eve).
- 46a. [Newsletter covering lute melodies?] AIR REPORT (Airport).
- 65a. [Conflicts between unblinking participants?] STARE WARS (Star Wars).
- 68a. [Saint Nick at his annual physical?] BARED SANTA (Bad Santa).
- 85a. [Town that’s full of temptation?] SIREN CITY (Sin City).
- 95a. [Editor’s mission?] REVISION QUEST (Vision Quest).
- 114a. [Say hello to my little friend?] GREET SHORTY (Get Shorty).
Stella Zawistowski’s Newsday crossword, Saturday Stumper — pannonica’s write-up
(See introductory paragraph in WSJ write-up.)
Surprisingly easy Stumper today. No missteps, although there were some pauses and impediments.