Ryan McCarty’s New York Times crossword, “Some Theme’s Missing” —Nate’s write-up
Holy crap. This puzzle was amazing! To make a themeless so smooth and full of fun, lively fill that you don’t mind at all that there’s no theme? Incredible. Wowwwwww. Absolute kudos to the constructor! In lieu of a theme, I’m going to list all the entries that matched how I felt about the puzzle:
– 1A AH BLISS [“I’m in heaven!”]
– 8A MERCI [Word of gratitude overseas]
– 22A THIS IS THE LIFE [“I’m in heaven!”]
– 70A MADE PROUD [Caused to kvell]
– 11D C’EST BIEN [“That’s fine,” in French]
– 16D EN FUEGO [Really hot, slangily]
– 91A GOAT [Parent of kids] or, Greatest Of All Time, like this puzzle’s constructor!
Also, that central stack of entries was mindblowing! BET AWARDS, FEMINISTS, REST STOPS, DESPACITO, and CRANK CALL?! The downs in that region were great too, including WISE CRACK, CHRIS PAUL, and MEME STOCK.
Other fun entries / fun clues:
– 19A CARPENTER ANT [One might crawl out of the woodwork]
– 41A PHOENIX AZ [Largest U.S. state capital by population, on a postmark]
– 96A POUTINE [Quebecois dish of French fries, cheese curds and gravy]
– 2D HALLOWEEKEND [Portmanteau for an extended autumn celebration]
– 3D BLOOMING ONION [Fried appetizer that resembles a blossom]
The only clue I didn’t love was [Joint accounts?] for POLICE REPORTS at 94A. There are too many people locked up with lives ruined for minor infractions for drugs that are now legal to really joke around about this, IMO. Also, can we talk about how relatively clean this grid was for how much it accomplished? Sure, there’s STROM and PAK, but I’ll take those little bits of glue for everything we got! I hope you enjoyed the puzzle as much as I did – stop by the comments section to let us know your favorite bits. Have a great week!
Chris Moss’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Paper Chain”—Jim P’s review
Theme: WRAPPING GIFTS (32d, [Holiday season task, and a theme hint (Note what the first letters of the starred clues’ answers spell)]). Theme answers start on the right side of the grid and “wrap” around to the left side to include the starred clues’ answers. As a bonus, the first letters of the star-clued answers also spell out the word PRESENTS. Note that the entries on the right side of the grid are all valid (though unclued) crossword entries.
- 14a [With 1-Across, secret plot] / 1a [*Software theft]. CONS / PIRACY.
- 27a [With 24-Across, yellow-green color] / 24a [*Get extra life from] CHART / REUSE.
- 52a [With 48-Across, out-of-studio broadcast variety] / 48a [*Overplay a role] LIVE R / EMOTE.
- 62a [With 59-Across, details to “get down to”] / 59a [*Poker players’ piles] BRAS / S TACKS.
- 73a [With 68-Across, raw egg danger] / 68a [*Jazzy Fitzgerald]. SALMON / ELLA.
- 88a [With 83-Across, Chinese regime under which the Silk Road started] / 83a [*Very unkind]. HAN DY / NASTY.
- 113a [With 107-Across, old TV antenna] / 107a. [*Drops of joy] RABBI / T EARS. I love that RABBI TEARS make RABBIT EARS.
- 124a [With 122-Across, owning] / 122a [*Perform a carol]. POSSES / SING.
Whew! A lot going on here even though the solve felt pretty straightforward. I had to get down to the third or fourth theme answer before I began to realize what was going on, and I didn’t bother with figuring out the “first letter” business until after the solve. But yeah. A rather involved construction but plenty of fun, surprising finds.
My first thought on grokking the theme was that I wanted the theme answers to all be “gifts” somehow, since they get “wrapped”. I don’t know what “gift answers” actually would be though—perhaps actual things people might give like a BARBIE DOLL or a SCENTED CANDLE. Or a non-tangible talents like SINGING or INTELLIGENCE. But then you’d most likely end up with nonsensical entries on the right and left side of the grid and it wouldn’t be as satisfying.
I eventually decided to look on each theme entry as a gift in itself to the solver, i.e. we gained the knowledge that HAN DYNASTY can be broken down into HANDY and NASTY, for example. That’s a pretty good gift, ain’t it?
And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a load of goodies in the fill. Just look at those stacks at top and bottom: TWO PAIR, CIABATTA, COBRA POSE and “MY IT’S LATE,” ALL IN ALL, and PET TOYS. Plus there’s SALSA BARS, TIBETANS, CATALAN, MANSPLAIN, IT’S ALL AN ACT, In-N-Out’s ANIMAL STYLE (for us West Coaster’s only, so nyah!), CRYSTALS, and AD SLOGANS. Oh, by the way, ANIMAL STYLE means a burger or fries topped with all the fixin’s, including caramelized onion and special sauce.
There were a couple new-to-me terms in the grid. The first is MOSAIC LAW [It includes the Ten Commandments], which I hesitated to type in. Does the art style actually come from the name Moses? I’d also never heard the term FINTECH [Crypto’s field] though it makes sense.
Clues of note:
- 78a. [Stirring the pot, literally]. MIXING. Well, not literally. Literally, you’re stirring the contents of the pot.
- 79a. [Barriers to heaven]. GATES. I was thinking this would be something to do with sinning. Good misdirection.
- 49d. [Relatives of reindeer]. ELKS. Dictionaries list both “elk” and ELKS as acceptable plurals.
Get this: This lovely grid with its multi-layered theme and strong fill is a debut! This is going to be a tough act to follow, but I’m looking forward to more from this constructor. 4.25 stars.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Crosscut” —Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: The word CROSS is split between the beginning and end of each theme answer
- 16a [“Person in control of a racket”] CRIME BOSS
- 27a [“Royal heir apparent”] CROWN PRINCESS
- 56a [“Actress who originated the role of Eve Donovan on ‘Days of Our Lives’”] CHARLOTTE ROSS
I really enjoyed this theme. It was relatively straightforward and didn’t affect my fill, though perhaps I should have paid more attention since CHARLOTTE ROSS came together entirely on crosses for me, save for the first T crossing THAT. CROWN PRINCESS fell neatly into place, but I also needed some help with CRIME BOSS, associating “racket” with sports more than with the criminal aspect of it. Maybe I should’ve been thinking more SNOOPing, SCAMs, and SHAMS, and that would’ve fallen in more quickly.
This was a really smooth puzzle, and I finished moving from top to bottom without a second go-through. I really liked ALL THE RAGE as helpful going down and providing some aid with 18a [“Brass or pewter”] ALLOY, 35a [“Our home”] EARTH, and 25a [“People in ‘Inside the Simple Life’”] AMISH.
A few other things:
- 49a [“Holes for shoelaces”] – There are some words that I’ve learned and really want to remember, but they often don’t come to mind when I actually need them. I was super pleased to remember EYELETS, but it prompted me to think about the name for shoelace tips, which I’ve tried to cement in my long-term memory for years. (They’re called “aglets,” in case you were wondering.)
- 51a [“People, in Chinese”] – I thought that this was a great way to clue REN, even though I didn’t notice it until after I finished the puzzle. I saw the filled word and fully expected a Kylo REN reference, but this was a great way to change it up.
- 63d [“Qingqiang backdrop”] – Qingqiang is a genre of Chinese opera that would, of course, need SETs.
Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Themeless No. 21” —Matthew’s write-up
My computer crashed before I had saved my initial write-up, so today is going to be a bit quick, unfortunately. Six grid-spanners structure the themeless grid — I quite like NETFLIX ORIGINAL SERIES and THAT GOES WITHOUT SAYING — all while making space and flexibility for a pretty low word count, as 21x’s go, no? I know Evan doesn’t care much about word count, but my personal preference is almost always toward low-count themeless grids.
A few notes:
- 1a [IndyCar racer Patrick] DANICA. I’ve gotten into Formula 1 in the last year or so, which means I hear a bit of IndyCar news. That knowledge led me astray here, as Danica Patrick is well more mainstream than the hypothetical driver, first name “Patrick” I was trying to remember.
- 73a [Wrapper with scales] BOA. I quite like this, as a feathery BOA comes to mind, but only fits half the clue. It took me a moment longer to reconsider “wrapper” in the sense of a constrictor snake.
- 91a [“The Ryan White Story” actor Lukas] and 106d [Composer and conductor Lukas] HAAS and FOSS. I reached 106 before 91 in my solve, and let’s just say I don’t actually know either of these gents outside of crosswords, and I had a nice chuckle when I reached a space where HAAS *was* correct.
- 12d [Images of Belle and Sebastian, e.g.] CELS. The misdirection (“Belle and Sebastian” are a music group) was lost on my pop-naive self.
- 61d [Occasional Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, oddly] PHRASE. This got a big chuckle out of me, but it’s true when you think about it!