Derrick Niederman’s New York Times crossword, “Opposites Attract” —Nate’s write-up
Hi all! It’ll be a quick write up today, as I’m about a day after getting my bivalent COVID booster shot and flu shot… and gosh is my body doing its job. Even still, I’m glad I got both of the shots and I hope you do, too (if you’re able!), especially to protect those around you who aren’t able to get them.
Ok, now onto the puzzle, which is a study in contrasts:
– 24A: ALFRED NOYES [English poet who wrote “The Highwayman”] – NO / YES
– 30A: POOR RICHARD [Early American pseudonym] – POOR / RICH
– 37A: FACE THE MUSIC [Accept imminent punishment] – THEM / US
– 68A: HEART OF ROMAINE [Caesar salad ingredient] – TO / FROM
– 98A: FIX BREAKFAST [Scramble some eggs, say] – FIX / BREAK
– 107A: ENDODONTICS [Branch of dentistry that specializes in root canals] – DO / DON’T
– 114A: KARLA BONOFF [Noted songwriter behind Wynonna Judd’s “Tell Me Why” and Linda Ronstadt’s “All My Life”] – ON / OFF
– 55D: PANDORA [Her name is Greek for “all-gifted”] – AND / OR
– 46D: ROUTINE [Same old, same old] – OUT / IN
Each theme entry contains contiguous opposites, which is pretty neat! I can’t imagine there are many entries that fit the theme this tightly, which is probably why some of them maybe felt a bit tougher to plunk in. I’ll admit I didn’t know many of the proper name theme entries, but the theme actually helped me fill them in based on obvious opposite pairings. FIX BREAKFAST might have been my favorite themer for its sheer simplicity!
– It felt like there were a few tough crossings that didn’t need to be, mainly CHEAT [Mountebank] crossing SHAY [Horse-drawn carriage] (whose H could have easily been an L or whose clues could have been more gettable) and (for me, at least) ELIA [___ Martell, “Game of Thrones” princess] crossing MCKAY [Longtime sport journalist Jim].
– That said, I really did like the idea of intentional FLAWs via [Persian ___ (rugmaker’s deliberate mistake)].
– 90A: LEAR [Norman or English king?] – Clever wordplay going on here, referencing either Norman LEAR (whose daughter I taught!) or King LEAR.
– 93D: PAYROLL [What all companies try to make] – I don’t know why, but the wording of the clue here irked me, as it implies to me that companies will try to compensate workers for their time and, gosh, if they can’t, what could they possibly do? I understand that the clue is likely implying that some businesses aren’t successful enough to make PAYROLL and profit, but profit shouldn’t come until the workers have been fairly paid. I’d send this back for a clue rewrite.
What did you think of the puzzle? Can you think of other entries that’d fit this theme? If so, let us know in the comments. Be well, get vaccinated if you can, and take care of yourself and those around you! :)
Kevin Shustack’s Universal Crossword, “It’s a Date!” — norah’s write-up
THEME: Things that are, in fact, dates
- DINNERANDAMOVIE 20A [Long-running cooking/film show]
- PLUSONE 39A [Guest’s guest]
- MEDJOOL 41A [Palm fruit known for its sweetness]
- FIFTHOFNOVEMBER 57A [Guy Fawkes Day]
- ELMO 16A [Red-haired TV star]. I am amused by silly ELMO clues, every time.
- NAAN 17A [Bread with palak paneer]. Today is my fourth write up for Fiend and probably the fourth time I’m mentioning a food clue. 🤷♀️
- DUMBO 25A [ ___ octopus (cephalopod named for a Disney elephant). I didn’t know this, but I love a good animal fact!
- MOOD 30D [“This is how I feel,” on Instagram]. That we’ve adapted single nouns like this into entire statements, especially in internet-speak is super interesting to me.
- OREO 60D [Apt name for a black-and-white cat]. Does anyone know a cat named OREO? I’d love to see them, please.
Fun one from Kevin today. Because there is no revealer and the solve is on the fast side, it’s pretty easy to not really pay attention to the theme while solving. Only after I stopped my timer did I re-read the title, scan the grid, and say to myself four times, “yep, that’s a date!” I’ve never heard of DINNERANDAMOVIE as the show, but it’s certainly inferable and is of course, a date. (Upon reading up on this show I am realizing that it is fodder for potential theme ideas – one episode is called “Drumline” and features a recipe called “The Beets Go On”.) FIFTHOFNOVEMBER is an interesting choice here. One could presumably find many dates that would span the grid, but the real task is choosing one that has a distinct meaning from just being “a date.” PLUSONE does feel a little similar to DINNERANDAMOVIE in that they are usually both dates in a romantic context but it still works just fine for me. Thank you Kevin!
Dylan Schiff’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Shows Up”—Jim P’s review
Theme: One-word Broadway shows are hidden backwards (i.e. going up since all the theme answers are vertical) within familiar phrases. As usual, be prepared to count squares if you’re not fortunate enough to have circles in your puzzle.
(I wonder how many solvers actually do the square counting. For myself, if I was faced with a puzzle—especially a Sunday-sized puzzle—that asked me to count squares to get the theme, I’d probably just find another puzzle to do. I know editor David Steinberg is doing his best to work around the limitations imposed upon him, but still, counting squares in a 21x grid is not my idea of fun.)
- 3d. [A pest can get on yours (In this answer, read letters 7-4)] LAST NERVE. Rent.
- 4d. [Standing offer (letters 6-3)] OPEN INVITATION. Nine.
- 11d. [2007 Linkin Park single with the lyric “I’ll face myself” (letters 7-3)] “WHAT I’VE DONE.” Evita.
- 13d. [Oscar won four times by Katharine Hepburn (letters 6-3)] BEST ACTRESS. Cats.
- 28d. [Colorado Avalanche, formerly (letters 8-5)] QUEBEC NORDIQUES. Once.
- 53d. [European country dissolved in 1918 (letters 8-5)] AUSTRIA, HUNGARY. Hair.
- 69d. [Au pair (letters 8-4)] LIVE-IN NANNY. Annie.
- 71d. [Botched (letters 11-7)] MADE A MESS OF. Fosse.
- 89d. [Place to catch a cab (letters 5-3)] TAXI STAND. Six.
Ignoring the square-counting parentheticals, this theme didn’t do a lot for me personally, since I’d never heard of four of the nine shows, nor the Linkin Park song. The entry I liked best is easily LIVE-IN NANNY because the phrase is common enough, the musical is widely recognized, and—quirkily—Annie rhymes with Nanny.
Looking at the rest of the entries themselves, they’re solid to good. I like OPEN INVITATION as an entry, and I especially like double-Q’d QUEBEC NORDIQUES holding court straight down the middle.
Moving to the fill, the center of the grid is heavily segmented in order to separate themers. That results in somewhat of a slog of three- and four-letter entries. But there’s a fair share of long entries at the top and bottom of the grid. However, they feel mostly workmanlike, probably because they’re almost all crossing two theme entries. Perhaps the grid would have been better served with two fewer theme entries which would allow for more breathing room.
CON ARTISTS tops my list of fun stuff, as well as VEE DUB and I GOT IT. I didn’t know Chef NOBU Matsuhisa, but it’s interesting to read his story as he traveled the world from Japan to Peru, Argentina, Alaska, California, and New York to find his place. I’m still not sure if EYE BEAM [Ray from the X-Men’s Cyclops] is a legit entry.
Fun puzzle if you’re a fan of Broadway. But I felt the theme density made the solve less fun. Three stars.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Sword Play” —Darby’s write-up
Theme: The end of each theme answer is a part of a sword.
- 16a [“‘Collect yourself!’”] GET A GRIP
- 28a [“Employee monitoring camera feeds”] SECURITY GUARD
- 55a [“Bone also known as the scapula”] SHOULDER BLADE
Put these themers together, and you get a fully-formed sword! I thought that they were nicely removed from their meanings as part of a weapon. GET A GRIP felt particularly funny. I had COLLAR at first instead of SHOULDER but then realized that it only went with BONE, so I quickly switched it. Also, if you’re a fan of the legend of King Arthur, it’s also extra fun to see 3d [“Unchangeable”] SET IN STONE. STEED and ELIXIR also felt like some great bonus theme content too.
This grid is asymmetric, and it’s fun to see things like ALTO SAX, GAS CUP, and TEASER AD smattered throughout. It was also entertaining to go from 31d [“Granny”] NANA to its crossing with NONE (41a [“All’s counterpart”]) to 43a [“Nothing, in Spanish”] NADA.
A few other things I noticed:
- 65a [“Dirtiest Great Lake”] – This was such an unsettling – but not unsurprising? – thing to learn. Maybe there really is a Lake ERIE monster.
- 21d [“Instrument for Vi Redd”] – Vi Redd was born in 1928 and is most known for playing jazz on the ALTO SAX. However, during her lifetime, because she was a woman, many other male artists preferred that she stick to singing rather than playing. You can read more about her here.
- 48d [“Freestyle skier Gu”] – Gu Ailing EILEEN is a Chinese skier who was the first woman to execute a forward double cork 1440 correctly. She also competes in the half pipe, big air, and slopestyle events at the Olympics, a rare combination of skills among skiers.
What a fun, imaginative puzzle for Sunday!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Making Sport Of It” —Matthew’s write-up
Evan takes familiar phrases, gerund-izes the second word to create fanciful sporting events:
- 23a [Sport that takes place in an inexpensive rink?] CHEAPSKATING
- 35a [Sport in which attorneys jog around a courtroom?] TRIAL RUNNING
- 49a [Sport in which people from the neighborhood jump into the pool?] LOCAL DIVING
- 67a [Sport where the fastest rodent wins?] RAT RACING
- 82a [Sport where you pick up a utensil?] FORKLIFTING
- 100a [Sport involving a fight between candidates?] BALLOT BOXING
- 113a [Sports in which astronauts ride bikes on the moon?] LUNAR CYCLING
- 3d [Sport involving a wheel of brie sliding on ice?] CHEESE CURLING
- 58d [Sport with crew teams in a diplomatic mission?] EMBASSY ROWING
Amusing theme set, and fun to pause and muse over the changes in the “sport” words — perhaps “lift” in “forklift” retains some of its meaning.
- 1a [Evan’s crush in “Superbad”] BECCA. Now there’s a movie I haven’t thought about in quite a while. I don’t remember the character well at all, only Emma Stone’s Jules.
- 12a and 41a [“Red and Blue” singer on “Sesame Street”] ELMO and GROVER, respectively. I’m not familiar with the skit, but including both muppets in the grid is a nice touch.
- 27a [Basic Fun! toy brand] K’NEX. I have no concept of how well known K’NEX are – I had them as a kid, as a follow up to Tinker Toys, but presume they’re less popular than Lego.
- 57a [Oscar winner Garson] GREER. For the 1942 film Mrs. Miniver.
- 74a [Dog breed nicknamed “the king of the terriers”] AIREDALE. I was unfamiliar with this nickname, but I do know the breed. They’re stately indeed. My terrier mix, Remy, could learn a thing or two from them!
- 94a [Site of the Sun City Craft Beer Festival] EL PASO. Sports fans may note in the many clues for EL PASO that UTEP’s football stadium there is called “the Sun Bowl.”
- 40d [Hammer thrower of Norse myth] THOR. It’s unclear to me in the limited time I have this afternoon whether the hammer throwing was always a characteristic of Thor, or only came about once he entered the comics universe.
- 48d [“Born a Crime” author Noah] TREVOR. This is a good book that I encourage you to read.
- 99d [The NHL mascot Gritty’s color] ORANGE. Gritty is the mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers, who also sport the color orange. His internet star has waned a bit from his first season, but he’s a memorable character, even if you’re not much of a hockey or Philadelphia fan.