Adam Wagner, Michael Lieberman, and Rafael Musa’s New York Times crossword, “In Play” —Nate’s write-up
Happy New Year! I hope this moment of transition finds you well, with bright promise in 2023. Luckily, we get to start the year with this fun puzzle from a trio of super talented constructors!
– 23A: RECTANGULAR PRISM [Stick of butter, geometrically] with RECLAIM encircled
– 71A: GET BACK IN SHAPE [Recommit to one’s fitness … or what 23-Across depicts literally]
RECLAIM (GET BACK) is in RECTANGULAR PRISM (SHAPE)
– 31A: LOVE WILL TEAR US APART [Seminal 1980 hit by Joy Division] with ERUPT encircled
– 82A: BREAK OUT IN SONG [What characters in musicals often do … or what 31-Across depicts literally]
ERUPT (BREAK OUT) is in LOVE WILL TEAR US APART (SONG)
– 50A: MOUNTAIN STATES [Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming, among others] with MATES encircled
– 98A: FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES [Useful people to know … or what 50-Across depicts literally]
MATES (FRIENDS) is in MOUNTAIN STATES (HIGH PLACES)
– 61A: DOCTOR DOOLITTLE [Hit 1998 Eddie Murphy comedy based on books by Hugh Lofting] with DOODLE encircled
– 110A: PICTURE IN PICTURE [Screen feature that facilitates multitasking … or what 61-Across depicts literally]
DOODLE (PICTURE) is in DOCTOR DOOLITTLE (PICTURE)
WOWIE, talk about theme density! In each pair of themers, the first contains a word spelled out sequentially, while the second reimagines a common phrase to describe that word-within-a-phrase. There are other options that could make for themers in a puzzle like this, but I was really happy with the ones that made the cut here, and the timing of this puzzle is probably not unrelated to the GET BACK IN SHAPE entry that resonates with January 1. Nice job, constructors!
Other random thoughts:
– This was a really clean grid that filled super quickly for me. Here’s hoping many of you started the year with quick times, too!
– I cracked up at the pairing of the “Stick of butter…” clue with GET BACK IN SHAPE in the first pair of themers. Which is it??
– 78D: POSES NUDE [Barely sits still?] – Clue of the puzzle? This made me smile.
– 103D: CDC [Agcy. that advises against eating raw cookie dough] – But it’s so tasty!
That’s all from me for now. Wishing you all the best in 2023!
Universal Crossword, “Themeless Sunday 22” by Rafael Musa — norah’s write-up
- SPILLTHEBEANS 25a [Tell a secret]
- ANGIE 40A [“Blackout” co-author Thomas]
- WHATHAVEIDONE 41A [Cry after making a horrible mistake]
- BYTE 59A [10110111, e.g., to a computer]
- ENDTABLE 7D [Remote support?]
- READYSETGO 10D [Running start?]
- PLAYTHEGAME 21D [Do things the accepted way]
- IKNOWRIGHT 27D [“Tell me about it!”]
- WATT 35D [“I love you a ___” (pun on a cute lightbulb sticker)]
You know what’s better than a Rafa puzzle to start the year? TWO Rafa puzzles to start the year. :) No surprises that this grid is jam-packed with playful phrases with delightful cluing to match.
TRANSPRIDE stacked with LOVEYDOVEY feeds the soul, don’t you think? 🏳️⚧️😍 “Blackout” is on my TBR for 2023! The clue for BYTE feels fun and fresh, but thank goodness for the “to a computer” or I would have been lost!
Thank you Rafa, and Happy New Year to all!
Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Out With The Old, In With The New” —Matthew’s write-up
Happy New Year! Let’s dig in to Evan’s first puzzle of 2023.
We’ve got circled letters at the beginning of each themer, a basic letter-shift theme, and a note from Evan that “new letters spell out an apt phrase. The old letters spell out another apt phrase.”
- 23a [Money you get for a strong poker hand?] FLUSH FUNDS // “Slush funds”
- 25a [The wild spree of a cellular messenger?] RNA RAMPAGE // “On a rampage”
- 42a [Gag about how many people it takes to change the devices of a whole chandelier, maybe?] EIGHT BULB JOKE // “Light bulb joke”
- 50a [Knight who slays with a musical ax?] SIR GUITAR // “Air guitar”
- 71a [Deluges of dogs?] HOUND WAVES // “Sound waves”
- 73a [Takes bad golf shots quite often?] SHANKS A LOT // “Thanks a lot”
- 90a [Course where people wear frat party robes?] TOGA CLASS // “Yoga class”
- 98a [Sitcom character from Melmac sitting next to some books, say?] ALF ON THE SHELF // “Elf on the shelf”
- 118a [What pirates say to their leader when they want a type of whiskey rather than grog?] RYE CAPTAIN // “Aye captain”
- 121a [“Move your butt” and “Shake your booty,” e.g.?] TUSH ORDERS // “Rush orders”
So the “new” letters (in the solution grid) spell “FRESH START,” while the “old” (from the base phrases) spell “SO LAST YEAR.” Apt phrases indeed.
Even with the constraint of a phrase, Evan would have a lot of flexibility setting this grid up, so I’m glad to see both the inclusion of a second phrase and *ten* themers in this one, especially as for my money, it didn’t sacrifice fill quality. Mileage with humor-based themes will always vary, but I liked the bottom half of the themers more than the first — “TUSH ORDERS” is a gas — which is always pleasant to keep my attention through a grid, especially after the theme has become apparent.
- 20a [“So You Think You Can Dance” judge Phillips] ARLENE. Pleased to see this entry clued to a real-life woman of note rather than a fictional cat!
- 27a [Borghese Gallery city] ROME. I might not have been able to pull “Borghese” if the clue were reversed. I see that the Gallery houses a number of Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio paintings. In case you’re out of ideas for your next trip to Rome!
- 85a [Pilot’s hot spot] GAS OVEN. “What kind of oven?,” I grumble to myself, only to smack my forehead a moment later. “Pilot” = “gas.”
- 94a [Ector County, Tex. city] ODESSA. A good example of “puzzles should be puzzling.” I couldn’t tell you where Ector County is, but there’s only so many six-letter Texas cities, and a few crossings make it clear.
- 97a [Org. planning the Lunar Gateway] NASA. The Lunar Gateway is part of the Artemis plan, a space station that will sit in lunar orbit.
- 110a [Goddess who offers Zagreus the Owl Pendant in the video game “Hades”] ATHENA. I am not much of a gamer, but I downloaded Hades recently upon Evan’s strong recommendation. It’s a neat story concept – the character fights to escape the Underworld through multiple levels and boons from the Greek Pantheon. Lots of replay value. If solvers are unfamiliar, “goddess,” “owl,” and “Hades” help pin the answer down.
- 4d [Cry that appears only twice in “A Christmas Carol”] BAH. 1) Huh! 2) I don’t envy the fact checker who needed to confirm that
- 12d [“___ and the Engine” (Lauren Gunderson play about mathematician Lovelace] ADA. This play is probably a bit more serious than my favorite bit of Lovelace pop culture: a steampunk graphic novel “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer” that brings Charles Babbage into the mix.
- 13d [Ma Rainey’s real first name] GERTRUDE. I quite liked this — I see RAINEY and MA RAINEY in puzzles often, but this turns the table.
- 80d [“Rosanna” and “Pamela” rockers of the 1980s] TOTO. Hot take: both of these songs are superior to “Africa.”
- 88d [Giant feat?] NO HITTER. A baseball term — throwing a NO HITTER would be a significant feat for a San Francisco Giant pitcher. The Giants actually had no-hitters in four consecutive seasons from 2012-2015 but none since.
Drew Schmenner’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Dancing With the Stars”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Zodiac signs are found anagrammed within familiar phrases. The revealer is OUT OF ORDER SIGNS (119a, [Indications of disrepair, or the zodiacal scrambles in the starred clues’ answers?]). As a hint, each clue also tells us the appropriate zodiac symbol.
- 23a. [*Secretary of state’s counterpart (twins)] FOREIGN MINISTER. Gemini.
- 33a. [*Reverses course (bull)] MAKES A U-TURN. Taurus.
- 43a. [*What the LiMu Emu and GEICO Gecko promote (crab)] INSURANCE COMPANIES. Cancer.
- 63a. [*Conveyances in “Up” and “The Wizard of Oz” (scales)] HOT AIR BALLOONS. Libra.
- 72a. [*When certain dinosaurs roamed (fish)] JURASSIC PERIOD. Pisces.
- 95a. [*Marketer’s claim of high demand (ram)] “SUPPLIES ARE LIMITED!” Aries.
- 104a. [*Renowned Mexican muralist (maiden)] DIEGO RIVERA. Virgo.
Nice! I especially liked that there weren’t any circles in the grid or really awkward clues telling us which squares to count. Granted, I didn’t catch on until I got to the revealer, so the theme didn’t actually help me solve the puzzle, but I liked the extra challenge of finding the anagrammed words on my own. The chosen entries are all perfectly in the language, and the revealer provides a satisfying aha moment. Well done.
The fill is solid though not as flashy as we sometimes see in a 21x grid. Highlights for me include FALCONERS, MACHETE, Yom KIPPUR, and MANHUG (though I think “bro hug” is more common). Otherwise, the fill was smooth throughout. Okay, Jyn ERSO of the film “Rogue One” is probably new to a lot of people. But what a handy name to have in your word list!
Clues of note:
- 41a. [Chicago mayor Lightfoot]. LORI. It’s nice that we now have another cluing option for this name. Are there any other common-ish names you can think of that need a fresh angle? “Erica” strikes me as one that has always been hard to clue. There’s writer Erica Jong of course, but it seems like there should be more famous Ericas. Any other names?
- 86a. [Letter before sigma]. RHO. Do solvers really know the order of the Greek alphabet? I can get to Epsilon, and of course I know Omega is last, but everything in between is just a void for me. When your alphabet has Zeta somewhere in the middle, all bets are off.
- 130a.[ ___ Fighters (“Everlong” band)]. FOO. Did we really need the parenthetical hint? I mean, a three-letter FITB before “Fighters”…what else are you going to put?
Nice puzzle. 3.75 stars.