Christina Iverson and Samuel A. Donaldson’s New York Times crossword, “Cheap Thrills” —Nate’s write-up
– 24A: CUTTING CORNERS [Economizing, as represented by the circled squares?]
Circled SAW and AXE literally cut the NW and SE corners off the grid
– 40A: PINCHING PENNIES [Economizing, as represented twice in 12-Down?]
– 12D: BI(CENT)ENNIAL (CENT)ER [Former name of a Kansas arena that commemorated a 1976 U.S. anniversary]
“Cent” is rebused (pinched) twice in BICENTENNIAL CENTER
– 94A: STRETCHING A BUCK [Economizing, as represented in 58-Down?]
– 58D: SSIINNGGLLEE [Not in a relationship]
“Single” is stretched by doubling each letter. I genuinely don’t know if “single” being the stretched “buck” here is meant to stand in for stag (deer/buck, as in someone single is “going stag”) or xwordinfo seems to suggest the “single” is a $1 bill / buck? Either way, it feels like one leap too many and not as satisfying a click for me as the other themers.
– 111A: MAKING ENDS MEET [Economizing, as represented by the shaded squares?]
CAN, BUM, ASS, and BUTT (ends) all meet in the shaded squares in the middle of the grid
In the puzzle, four idioms that mean “economizing” are represented literally elsewhere in the grid, each in its own way. I appreciated the inventiveness of the overall theme, even if some executions (like that for CUTTING CORNERS) felt more successful than others (I’m still not 100% sure I understand the STRETCHING A BUCK execution correctly). How neat that the idioms were nicely symmetric in length – the constructors must have pumped their fist at that!
I struggled to finish this puzzle because the theme and its execution seemed to result in a few tougher crossings like EGIS crossing INDIC and MARTEN crossing ANI. Immediately after the solve, I would have also argued that a bunch of the fill felt gluey too but, looking back, I think perhaps the cluing just wasn’t on my wavelength. I’m curious to hear how other people felt about the cluing vs. the fill in this puzzle.
Other random thoughts:
– 26D: ELON [Name hidden in “before long”] – Did anyone else originally have OREL here?
– The puzzle certainly felt like a collaboration, given the simultaneous inclusion of entries like BOPS and SAY LESS alongside NO BIG and DEALIO. At the very least, it felt like slang across multiple generations.
What did you think of the puzzle? Let us know in the comments section below. Have a great weekend and, if you observe the occasion, happy Super Bowl!
Universal Crossword, “Middling” by Fred Piscop — norah’s write-up
THEME: The revealer, CENTERPIECE, clues us into the fact that each themer has a PIECE in their centers.
- ICESCRAPERS 17A [*Winter windshield clearers]
- KEGPARTIES 11D [*Frat blowouts]
- HABITAT 38A [*Native environment]
- AUDIOTAPES 29D [*Cassette player inserts]
- CENTERPIECE 61A [Decoration on a dining table, and what’s in the exact middle of each starred clue’s answer?]
Another rare themed Sunday from the Universal crew. We have SCRAP, PART, BIT, and IOTA at the center of the theme entries. And thank goodness they are at the true centers, with an matching number of letters on either end. HABITAT is a bit (heh) of an odd one out, being only one word. All in all, a solid theme.
The grid structure doesn’t allow much space for any long bonus entries – the best we get is RUSTIER and DISTURB, but more importantly it’s filled relatively cleanly. We have PDA, IPO, ESC, STP, SOS, and ENE among the three-letter fill and all are clued in a friendly way and crossed fairly.
Thanks Fred and the Universal team!
Sam Koperwas and Jeff Chen’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Split Peas”—Jim P’s review
Theme answers are paired phrases (two per row) that share a subset of letters. These letters end one phrase and begin the other. Rather than have the duplicated letters existing separately in each entry, there is only one instance of the shared letters, and these are identified by circles which help the solver locate the end and beginning of the two phrases. A block (black square) is placed between the double-P which appears in each group (hence the title).
- 25a. [*Holiday retail positions] GIFT WRAP(PERS).
- 27a. [With 26-Across, hip-hop classic by the Sugarhill Gang] (RAP)PER‘S DELIGHT.
- 43a. [*Semiaquatic pet given to President Coolidge] PYGMY HIP(PO).
- 45a. [With 44-Across, rear pouch on pants] (HIP) POCKET.
- 61a. [*Jesus’ final meal] LAST SUP(PER).
- 64a. [With 62-Across, high society] (UP)PER CRUST.
- 74a. [*Bumble, Muzz or Tinder] DATING AP(P).
- 78a. [With 76-Across, small fruit pastry] (AP)PLE TART.
- 97a. [*Backyard fryer?] BUG ZAP(PER).
- 100a. [With 98-Across, relates (to)] (AP)PERTAINS.
- 112a. [*”Forget it!”] “NOT GONNA HAP(PEN).”
- 116a. [With 115-Across, horns, tails and such] (AP)PENDAGES.
Well, this was confusing at the start…and even at the finish. Two main reasons contributed to the confusion for me.
First, each right-hand entry’s clue starts with “With xx-Across…” This goes against the crossword convention where the “With” indicates that what we find at that cross-referenced entry comes after what is in the current entry we’re looking at. Instead, what’s there actually comes before the current entry. Also, there really are no xx-Across entries at all. For example, 27a says “With 26-Across…” but there is no 26-Across. There’s a square marked 26 which is the start of the phrase that is clued at 27a, but if you’re looking through the clue list for 26-Across, you won’t find it. This means that the constructors had to put a block above each such start of the second phrase in order to ensure there was a number in that square. Kind of a crazy constraint. I get it. I see why they did it, and I’m okay with it. It just took a while to sort it out.
Second, it sure seemed like the circled letters were spelling out words. For the first 2/3 of the puzzle, they were. And then they weren’t. When I finished the grid, I was scratching my head and asking “What’s APPER? What’s APPEN?” So again, it took a few beats for me to realize that the circled letters simply indicate what’s shared between the two entries. It just so happened that in the first four pairs of entries, the circled letters spelled a word that belonged to one of the phrases. In the final two pairs, the circled letters are parts of other words for both phrases.
Okay? So all confusion aside, it’s a nifty theme, and the theme entries themselves are all pretty fun (except for APPERTAINS—APPERTAINS can just eff off; we’re all doing perfectly fine with “pertain,” thank you very much).
What’s really impressive here is the dense amount of theme material plus those extra necessary blocks I mentioned above all adding to constraints on the grid, and yet there’s a still plenty of juicy long fill. Highlights for me include: AMARETTO, BENTLEY, ARAPAHO, RIVIERA, “EN CHANTE,” SYRIANA, AGED OUT, DEAD HEAD, TAMALES, USA TODAY, FINE TUNE, and PANATELA (didn’t know it, but it makes for nice fill). The only one I question is VAPE HITS since I wouldn’t know if that’s a colloquial phrase or not.
Clue of note: [46d. Money’s equivalent?]. TIME. At first I thought this was something to do with magazines. It’s not. It’s from the phrase “Time is money.”
Interesting theme, and I like that our constructors aimed to do something different, but it was still confusing. Loads of fun fill. 3.75 stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Team Picture” —Matthew’s write-up
We’re prompted with a meta this week, and told the answer is “an NFL team.” I flailed for quite a while at each step of the way here, and Evan’s own weekly review at the Post might have a bit more clarity than mine. It’s an intricate puzzle that comes together nicely:
Seven themers contain the singular form of NFL teams, and have two enumerations in their clues:
23a [Revolver inventor (9) (4)] SAMUEL COLT
34a [Student newspaper at a Southern university (4) (5)] THE DAILY TEXAN
44a [Cry of encouragement at a rodeo (4) (5)] RIDE EM COWBOY
71a [Francis of Assisi or Catherine of Siena, to Italy (5-2-3) (8)] PATRON SAINT
98a [Device that powers up an Android (9,4) (7)] PHONE CHARGER
106a [Amphibious aircraft that sounds like a vacation spot for Blackbeard’s crew (6,4) (4)] LAKE BUCCANEER
126a [“Iron Chef America” host (6) (4)] ALTON BROWN
And I suppose 135a [Picture designed for an NFL team, say] LOGO.
Given enumerations like (5-2-3), I figured at least the first set of enumerations didn’t point to extracting letters from words. A little help from Onelook.com got me FLEUR-DE-LIS, which is happily a description of the Saints’ logo. That explains the first number in each clue: HORSESHOE, BULL, STAR, FLEUR-DE-LIS, LIGHTNING BOLT, PIRATE FLAG, HELMET
HELMET is curious, reminding me of the odd clue at 132a [Protective cover at a stadium] DOME. Turns out each of the logo descriptions we’ve got in the previous step can be a second answer to another clue in the puzzle:
HORSESHOE: 1A [Item tossed at a stake] RING
BULL: 21A [Beast with horns] ELAND
STAR: 37D [Night sight] DREAM
FLEUR-DE-LIS: 57A [Symbol historically associated with the French monarchy] BASTILLE
LIGHTNING BOLT: 69A [Flash] INSTANT
PIRATE FLAG: 76D [Where you might see a skull] RUIN
HELMET: 132A [Protective cover at a stadium] DOME
I got stuck again here trying to make the second number in each theme clue work with these answers, but turns out they just indicate the length of these other answers in the grid, while the first letter of each answer spells out REDBIRD, which describes the logo of the Arizona Cardinals. Funnily, the Super Bowl is taking place in the Cardinals’ stadium.
It’s only been a few months since I took over from Jim on the WaPo reviews, so I don’t have a ton of experience with Evan’s metas, but this was certainly a step or two beyond what I’m used to (Evan to his credit did warn me it was a bit tougher). The first few steps are clear in retrospect, and the LOGO clue at 135a was a solid point in the right direction. But I found the second set of numbers in each themer a bit distracting — looking for clues in the grid that might fit the words you’re working with is a common enough tactic that I wasn’t expecting to have a helping hand there.
I’m late enough with this as it is, so will stop there.
Amie Walker’s LA Times crossword, “Ten Minutes to Win It” – Gareth’s theme summary
I heard a rumour there is some sort of splendid bowl on offer tomorrow… Amie Walker gives us eight answers with two OTs in them to commemorate this, revealed at DOUBLEOT:
- [Cheap digs], POTSHOTS
- [Rip-roarin’], ROOTINTOOTIN
- [Kiosk at some wedding receptions], PHOTOBOOTH
- [“Changing the subject … “], LETSNOTGOTHERE
- [More than a little mentally fatigued], TOOTIREDTOTHINK
- [Staley Da Bear, for one], FOOTBALLMASCOT
- [Blank expression?], IGOTNOTHIN
- [Slow-moving tree-dweller], TWOTOEDSLOTH
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Outside Child”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer spells out TOT in its outer letters.
- 17a [“Internalized”] TOOK TO HEART
- 28a [“‘That was really helpful,’ sarcastically”] THANKS A LOT
- 47a [“T.C. Bear, for the Minnesota Twins”] TEAM MASCOT
- 61a [“Something staked in a garden”] TOMATO PLANT
Who doesn’t love a TOT-themed puzzle? It’s a fun word for a kiddo, so I was delighted in realizing that TOT would bookend each of the themers. These all fell into place pretty easily, and I sped through, finishing under 4 minutes (which is fast for me!). TEAM MASCOT was my favourite, though I also liked the invocation of sarcasm in the clue for THANKS A LOT.
For a puzzle with four themers, there was also a lot of other long fill that was run. I took longer than I should have with FUNNEL CAKE, calling it FRIED DOUGH at first. I KID YOU NOT was also particularly fun, given the kid-friendly nature of the grid itself. SKI RESORTS and HITS A NERVE were also very fun. Also, I don’t think I’ve seen 4d [“Drinking vessel for nigori”] SAKE CUP or 46d [“Empathetic phrase”] I FEEL YA very much, making them feel very fresh for this grid.
A few other faves:
- 23a [“Like a just-picked Zestar”] – Zestar apples look amazing CRISP and tasty, and their mention was one of many food-related words in this puzzle, including 26a [“Moo ___ pancakes”] SHU, OKRA, 6a [“Chamoe or cantaloupe”] MELON, TARO, and FIG 11a [“___ Newtowns”], not to mention TOMATO PLANT.
66a [“Country with teh world’s oldest capital”] – I didn’t know this about Damascus, in SYRIA.
The child-oriented theme also is a good reminder about Grids for Kids, if you haven’t donated already!