Heads-up on fun! The Boswords Spring Themeless League (an online crossword tournament) starts with the preseason puzzle and Twitch broadcast on Monday at 9 pm Eastern, and then everyone competes on a new themeless every Monday in March and April. Three difficulty levels: Stormy, Choppy, and Smooth compare to the ACPT final’s A, B, and C clues. If you think Twitch is a mysterious thing that’s just for kids these days, know that you can sign up for free on Twitch, and that’ll let you both view the live Boswords videos (which include fun mini-movies from Boswords’ Andrew Kingsley, games, watching a guest solver work the puzzle, and interesting interviews with constructors and guest solvers—a highlight is asking each interviewee for their favorite crossword memory) and chitchat with other participants in the text chat window. Andrew and cohost John Lieb run everything smoothly, the constructors are good, and editor Brad Wilber massages each puzzle’s three sets of clues. The link above has more info and the registration buttons. Oh! And if Monday nights don’t fit your schedule, you can watch the interviews etc. later and solve on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Margaret Seikel & Sophia Maymudes’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Easier than I was expecting, but your mileage may vary. I enjoyed the mix of references Margaret and (Team Fiend’s own) Sophia compiled here.
Fave fill: GRUDGE that “you maybe shouldn’t hold,” the NO-MAKEUP MAKEUP look (it takes a lot of product and effort to look as if you naturally meet beauty standards sans makeup), a SNEAKER HEAD, SHROOMS, a TACO BAR (I do wonder, though, how many post-1970s TACO BARs involve filling a hard shell rather than a soft tortilla), MATCHA LATTE, CONTENT CREATOR (this is less odious to me than “influencer”), Jason ALDEAN, “NO RUSH,” MEZCAL,GAY ICON, and a BALL HOG (fun clue: [One unlikely to make a pass]).
Food confusion: For 26d. [They’re good for poaching], I could only think of poached eggs and hunters poaching on private property, rather than poached pears like BOSCS.
Nobody is enlightened by [Gaelic tongue]/ERSE in a crossword, are they? I reckon Irish, Gaelic, and Irish Gaeilge are all terms in broader use this century than ERSE.
Did not know: 2d. [___ climbing (discipline that debuted at the 2020 Olympics)], LEAD. Wikipedia explains.
4.2 stars from me. Thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle.
Sam Koperwas and Jeff Chen’s Universal crossword, “Early Shift”—Jim P’s review
The revealer is BABY TALK (61a, [Childish language … and a phonetic hint to 17-, 25-, 36- and 51-Across]). The other theme answers are familiar phrases that have had their “BAY” sounds switched to “BEE” sounds.
- 17a. [Inexperienced insect?] GREEN BEE. Green Bay.
- 25a. [Dog show loser?] PLAIN BEAGLE. Plain bagel.
- 36a. [Water, yeast, malt and hops?] BEER NECESSITIES. Bare necessities.
- 51a. [Row of runway lights?] BEACON STRIP. Bacon strip.
I’ll admit I needed the revealer here to sort things out. That first entry made me think it was a play on “queen bee,” and so I was confused for a good long while. Then I thought we were just adding or changing letters. Finally, the revealer made me realize it was the sound that changed, not just spelling.
Given that the revealer is BABY TALK, I wonder if the constructors considered limiting the entries to phrases that are usually spoken aloud. But that might not have been possible, and I can’t come up with a good example, anyway. As it is, the theme works solidly, though it didn’t elicit any chuckles from me.
The fill is quite nice, though, with TIKI BARS, EVEN ODDS, ICY STARE, and PRESTIGE as highlights.
- 8a. [They might grab food before takeoff]. TALONS. Good misdirection. Here’s a recent video of an osprey emerging from the ocean with a barracuda in its clutches.
- 21a. [Typical “Bluey” fan]. BLUEY. I know Blue from Blue’s Clues but not BLUEY (no relation). I guess I’m officially too old now.
- 68a. [If you drop it, you’ll trip on it]. LSD. I don’t think I’ve seen this variation of all the “dropping” and “tripping” clues. Good one.
Solid sound-changing theme. 3.75 stars.
Sally Hoelscher & Wendy L Brandes’ Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
Took me a while to see the theme, but it was prior to the revealer.
- 62aR [Decorate for Christmas, in a way, and how to make sense of the answer to each starred clue?] TRIM THE TREE. Each of those entries is a regular phrase or name, but if you remove the tree name spelled by the three circled letters in each, it provides a wacky answer to the question-marked clue.
- 17a. [*Pilot’s reputation among airport agents?] GATE CRED (GATE-CRASHED – ASH).
- 30a. [*Triage site’s gooey alternative to sutures?] ER’S GLUE (ELMER’S GLUE – ELM).
- 46a. [*Practice for “The Voice” while in the shower?] SING WET (SOAKING WET – OAK).
Got to confess, this theme didn’t grab me. Even though the mechanism works fine and is consistent across the theme entries, there’s still—to me—an arbitrary sense about them. Can a theme feel not tight overall when its elements are ostensibly tight? Strange.
- 29d [Trouble with locks?] BAD HAIR DAY. I know I’ve done too many crosswords when I get that answer with only the initial B in place.
- 40d [Cable row targets, for short] LATS. While zipping through the crossword, I didn’t recognize the exercise but recognized that the clue was asking for a muscle. Now, at relative leisure, I’m guessing that it isn’t a specific exercise but the type of exercise machine: one of those rowing simulators that uses cables—rather than weights or flexing material—for resistance.
- 58d [“__ Vep”: HBO miniseries about a remake of the silent film “Les Vampires”] IRMA. You’ll notice that Irma Vep is an anagram of vampire. Further, the miniseries is a ‘reimagining’ of a 1996 French film of the same name.
- 22a [Sharp set] HDTV. In two senses, as Sharp is also a manufacturer of high-definition televisions. Good misdirection, as I was immediately thinking of something akin to MENSA. Factette: the company’s name comes from its early signature product, the mechanical Ever-Ready Sharp PENCIL, introduced in 1915. (38a [Freebies at some crossword tournaments])
- 37a [HS equivalency test] GED. Hum, I had thought that GED stood for Graduate Equivalency Degree, but no. The company responsible for it is General Educational Development, so the proper full name of the exam is GED test.
- 49a [Shepherd’s docs?] VETS. I guess the question mark is there to alert the solver that the shepherd is of the non-human variety. But what kind of doctors (or documents) would a human shepherd require? Weird clue.
- 53a [Perseverance’s home] MARS. Has anyone seen Good Night Oppy? Looks as if it might be worth watching.
- 66a [Good scents] AROMAS. I still don’t buy into the dichotomy where aroma = ‘pleasant’ and odor = ‘unpleasant’, which seems to be axiomatic in crosswords.
- 69a [Heavenly figure] SERAPH. From Wikipedia: “In Hebrew, the word saraph means “burning”, and is used seven times throughout the text of the Hebrew Bible as a noun, usually to denote ‘serpent’… The reason why the word for ‘burning’ was also used to denote a serpent is not universally agreed upon; it may be due to a certain snake’s fiery colors, or perhaps the burning sensation left by its venomous bite.” Presumably there was some (theological) evolutionary development away from the ophidian.
Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “En Route”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: Answers with EN are connected diagonally down the puzzle, forming a route of EN from 22a to 52a.
- 22a [“Start”] COMMENCE
- 27a [“One-named ‘Only Time’ singer”] ENYA
- 29a [“Bumper flaw”] DENT
- 33a [“Name that’s a number missing a letter”] SVEN
- 40a [“Take the ___ route”] SCENIC
- 44a [“Ballpoint, for example”] PEN
- 47a [“Person whose job is taxing”] IRS AGENT
- 50a [“What tenants do once a month”] PAY RENT
- 52a [“Finish”] END
There’s a lot of great intricacy in this theme. First, it literally “Start[s]” and “Finish[es]” in the answers and cluing of 22a and 52a. “Route” is mentioned in 40a, which forms the exact center of the path, with four EN answers before and after it. When it comes to visually thematic puzzles like this, I often try to think of how the constructor was able to make this puzzle, and in this case, I imagine it started with a path of ENs, COMMENCE, and END, a little mini-map around which everything else was built. It’s super fun.
Outside of theme content (of which there was clearly so much), I really liked BASICALLY, EXECUTIVE, ENIGMATIC, and HOW DARE SHE! The reference to 51d [“Denmark ___, 19th century freedom fighter”] VESEY was also really great.
Overall, this was an awesome Friday!