John Ewbank’s New York Times crossword, “If the Clue Fits …” —Nate’s write-up
– 22A: A BIRD IN THE HAND [*”Let’s stick with what we’ve got …”]
– 33A: GREAT MINDS [*”How clever we both are …”]
– 50A: SPEAK OF THE DEVIL [*”Look who it is …”]
– 68A: IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT [*”Timid types shouldn’t be here …”]
– 88A: ALL THAT GLITTERS [*”Looks can be deceiving …”]
– 105A: WHEN IN ROME [*”Well, if the locals are doing it …”]
– 121A: YOU KNOW THE REST [“Etc., etc.” … or a statement about answers to this puzzle’s starred clues?]
One thing I think about a lot as a constructor is who I am assuming my audience to be. For so long, crosswords have assumed a cis, straight, white, male, overly educated solver base, and editors have used this idea to determine what fill / clues feel “fair” to who they assume the solver to be, leaving out or disallowing fill and clues that could be quite gettable to other demographics. This idea of who the solver is assumed to be is forefront today.
The entire crux of this puzzle’s theme is YOU KNOW THE REST, which assumes some degree of English (or even American, though the constructor is British, it seems)-specific idiom knowledge of the solver. And yet, as a nearly 40-year-old overly educated white dude myself, I had no clue that SPEAK OF THE DEVIL had more to it as a saying. Maybe that’s a lack in my own knowledge, but I think it proves a larger point that this theme is only going to be satisfying (if it even is at all?) if you’re among the subset of people who know all of these idioms. If not, and especially if English isn’t your native or primary language, this theme likely falls flat or doesn’t make sense.
Either way, this theme set feels like a random assortment of phrases and half-idioms with no other factor tying them together. Surely, these can’t be the only idioms that stand alone on their first half. The primitive feel of this “theme” (no wordplay, trickery, letter changes, etc.) made it feel like a puzzle from at least 30 years ago, which also detracted from my experience of the solve. Also, ironically, the revealer is just … a random phrase that isn’t an idiom in its own right (as revealers often are). I just … feel like I’m missing something? I know I try to be positive as much as I can, but this might be my least favorite Sunday “theme” in quite some time. Mercifully, the fact that there was no wordplay or shenanigans afoot allowed for quite a quick end to the solve.
What I will say that’s positive is that the grid felt quite clean, which aided in a quick, smooth solve. I enjoyed some of the bonus fill, like SECRET MENU and ENERGY CZAR, though those entries felt more interesting than the theme itself. The top half of the grid felt proper noun-heavy, which I imagine could also impact solvers’ experiences.
I am super curious how others felt about this puzzle – did this theme just miss me but others found it enjoyable? Let me know in the comments below – and have a nice day! To those who celebrate Easter, I hope it’s an enjoyable one. :)
(PS – There seems to be something wonky going on with the votes for these Sunday puzzles. The Saturday puzzle votes have bled into this post – I’m going to see if Amy can help me sort out what’s happened.)
Gary Larson & Amy Ensz’ L.A. Times crossword, “Back Issues” — Jack’s write-up
Themers are phrases ending in synonyms for “issue” as in “problem” and are reimagined as though they pose trouble for a particular person or thing.
- 22A. [Trouble for an orthodox rabbi?] = KOSHER PICKLE. The food item is reinterpreted as a quandary for a rabbi.
- 27A. [Trouble with the sewer line?] = MAIN SQUEEZE. Main as in the sewer main.
- 65A. [Trouble in a candy store?] = SWEET SPOT
- 100A. [Trouble for a barista?] = CAFFEINE FIX
- 107A. [Trouble with an alibi?] = STORY PROBLEM
- 30D. [Trouble with a movie promo?] = TRAILER HITCH
- 40D. [Trouble with a Bronx cheer?] = RASPBERRY JAM. A Bronx cheer is like blowing a raspberry.
This theme is solid enough. There’s only so exciting a theme that’s based off of a list of synonyms can be, but “trouble” has a handful of interesting synonyms so at least it’s a good choice for this brand of puzzle. Many of the themers themselves are great phrases – KOSHER PICKLE, MAIN SQUEEZE, CAFFEINE FIX, and RASPBERRY JAM especially. STORY PROBLEM sticks out to me as the weakest of the bunch. I looked it up and apparently that’s what some people call word problems in math. Am I alone in exclusively calling them word problems?
I didn’t feel on the same wavelength as this puzzle. I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about pop culture, but there are so many people’s names in the grid that I don’t recognize. DEB Perelman, Blake EUBIE, Carmen MCRAE, BEBE Neuwirth, TRACI Bingham, BRET Saberhagen, CAITLIN Sanchez. Maybe it’s a generational difference? I’m sure they’re each individually crossworthy and I enjoy when puzzles teach me things, but getting hit with your blind spots on every corner can make a solve feel laborious. BEBE, EUBIE, and MCRAE even intersect.
I would have appreciated some extra zest in the longer fill. IRON MAN and ROLODEX are nice, but entries like AGEMATE (1A. [Contemporary]) and EELLIKE (Long and slippery) are missed opportunities to give the puzzle some 7-letter personality.
A couple of clues:
- 2D. [Failed fudge, maybe] = GOO, good, tough clue. It took me forever to suss this out. If you fail at making fudge, it might turn out like a goo.
- 52A. [Guinness superlative] = TALLEST. I expected this to have something to do with Guinness the beer or Alec Guinness the actor. The clue somehow doesn’t seem specific enough. Nearly any superlative could end up in the Guinness Book so it feels like this clue is just [Superlative], which I don’t think is targeted enough for TALLEST. Let me know if I’m missing something.
Rebecca Goldstein’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Business News”—Jim’s review
Our theme today takes familiar(ish) phrases whose first words are also the names of well-known companies. The phrases are clued wackily as if they are business headlines about that company, with the second words becoming verbs.
- 23a. [Business headline about a dominant year in the cruise industry?] CELEBRITY CRUSHES.
- 39a. [… search engine censorship?] ALPHABET BLOCKS.
- 48a. [… wasted efforts on incremental iPhone improvements?] APPLE FRITTERS.
- 69a. [… counterfeit products sent through Prime delivery?] AMAZON PARROTS. This feels like the weakest of the lot. The phrase doesn’t seem as in-the-language as the others, and describing the production of counterfeit products as “parroting” seems unlikely.
- 91a. [… extensive airport delays?] AMERICAN FLAGS.
- 99a. [… car rental data processing?] BUDGET CRUNCHES. Must be a slow news day if the headline is about a company processing data.
- 120a. [… construction equipment with faulty brakes?] CATERPILLAR ROLLS. Oof. Dangerous. I was just reading about Jeremy Renner’s accident. I’m assuming the snowplow he was using wasn’t a Caterpillar, but this entry made me think of that. (The incident was his fault, he says, since he failed to set the emergency brake when he stepped out of the vehicle. Also, it wasn’t a Caterpillar.)
Solid theme. Only the one felt a little iffy. I wasn’t sure what a caterpillar roll was at first. I had a suspicion it was sushi, and yes, that proved correct.
Elsewhere, highlights include DOLLHOUSE, SWEET TALKS, “I AM SO DEAD,” FALL COLORS, FINICKY, EDAMAME, TRAITOR, “SPARE ME.” Plenty of fun entries there.
Speaking of fun. I’m ashamed I didn’t know FUN HOME [Best Musical Tony winner in 2015]. Musical theater is not my forte, but still, I should have at least been aware of it. Especially since the story began life as a critically-acclaimed graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, an important work that received numerous awards as well as the attention of book-banners because of its portrayal of sexual orientation and gender roles. The Guardian lists it as one of the “1000 novels everyone must read.”
Clues of note:
- 1a. [Private areas in a modern office]. PODS. Oookay. I don’t know anything about this, but it sounds like a pretty posh office.
- 68a. [Key in a “three-finger salute”]. DEL. Another new-to-me phrase. It’s referring to the keyboard combination Ctrl-Alt-Del and the act of shutting down a running program.
- 73d. [Patel of “Ghosts”]. RAVI. Nice to see a new cluing angle for this name. I enjoyed the couple of episodes of this show that I watched, but the original British version (shown on HBO) tops it, mainly because the cast of that show have been working together for decades and have excellent chemistry.
Solid theme with plenty of strong fill. 3.75 stars.
Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Things Are Going Swimmingly”—Matthew’s write-up
A pair of word ladders move us from BASS to SOLE and TUNA to PIKE. I was initially expecting fish in each set of circled letters, and was thrown off by the BASE in ABASEMENT
The revealer sets us straight: [Structures aiding in the migration of aquatic creatures, illustrated twice in this puzzle] FISH LADDERS.
It’s been a minute since I’ve seen a word ladder, I think. While I don’t love them, they’re nice every once in a while. I appreciate that we have two working in parallel in this grid. And of course, as I’ve fully come to expect from Evan, a relatively flexible theme constraint means we have eleven theme entries, once we count both ladders and the revealer. Breezy for a holiday weekend.
Stella Zawistowski’s USA Today crossword, “Bra Tops” —Darby’s write-up
Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: Each theme answer begins (or is “topped” by) BRA.
- 4d [“Device to assist those who are blind or have low vision”] BRAILLE DISPLAY
- 8d [“Toys known for their eye shadow and glossy lips”] BRATZ DOLLS
- 15d [“What neurotransmitters affect”] BRAIN CHEMISTRY
- 30d [“Fiber-rich breakfast option”] BRAN MUFFINS
The four themers in this puzzle brought a great variety of this puzzle, and I especially appreciated both the 14s in particular, as BRAILLE DISPLAY and BRAIN CHEMISTRY have to cut across so much. BRATZ DOLLS was also a nice throwback to the pop culture of my childhood, so I was pumped up.
Aside from the themers, great fill permeated this puzzle from PULL TAB to RAMPED UP to it animal crosses of ROBIN, MACAW, and PANDA. 32a [“‘Understood!’”] and 67a [“‘According to me…’”] I SEE and I SAY respectively were interesting in their dupes of I, though I like them as an alliterative combo. Also 19a and 21a [“Gender-neutral possessive pronoun”] THEIR and ITS were solid in the the doubling up of the clue.
Overall, a great puzzle!
I enjoyed the theme and can’t agree that the themers had nothing in common. They’re meant to be phrases that often stand alone apart from their completion. You way “When in Rome” with a sidelong glance, and everyone understands. (Need I say more.) You say the whole, and indeed you’re probably written off as cliched and tedious! Not all themers achieve this status to my ear, but still.
I still had misgivings because the fill started off hard and got easier. Working from 1A, I didn’t know FRETSAW, which crosses a Doctor Who factoid I never knew and a Toy Story name I didn’t remember. Soon came the Brit SHIRE and the Santana song I didn’t know. (I guessed MAGIC.) So a surprise indeed that working up instead made things solvable.
The puzzle itself was easy, but I thought the theme was very clever. From the moment I saw “A bird in the hand”, I wondered “where’s the rest of it?” So the revealer took care of that, and made me smile! The revealer also helped me to guess the other themers, and I always enjoy a puzzle where figuring out the theme speeds up the solve.
The Devil phrase is completed with “and he will appear.” Which is why we say, “Speak of the devil…” when the person we’re talking about suddenly shows up. I can definitely see how the puzzle wouldn’t be enjoyable to anyone who doesn’t automatically know all the idioms.
I’d heard it as “Speak of the devil” to be followed silently by “here he comes now.”
Yeah, the puzzle and its theme felt fine to me. With the exception of SPEAKOFTHEDEVIL, all the theme answers were obviously incomplete popular phrases. Not sure why this puzzle felt off for you – but you are allowed to not love it; typically you respond to puzzles with such positive energy. Hoping you see the puzzle cup half full next time!
I would be quite glad to be in the minority on how I felt about this puzzle. Glad folks are enjoying it!
In thinking about what you wrote, it occurred to me that for people who are not as familiar with English, this puzzle might have been all fine except for the revealer, because they may (like you with SPEAKOFTHEDEVIL) ONLY know the more commonly said part of the phrase.
On top of that, people who have less facility with English are always going to find parts of a puzzle to be challenging, in the same way, say, that I find puzzles that have certain themes very difficult. One can’t know everything. I thought the theme was fine. Not going to win puzzle of the year, but a perfectly comfortable Sunday.
NYT: The incomplete phrases were easy to get from just a few letters, giving me one of my faster Sunday times.
But it did make me wonder: If I remember correctly, the NYT puzzle submission guidelines frown on partial phrases of more than five letters. I’ve always wondered if something like A BIRD IN THE HAND is considered a partial, since everyone (or almost everyone) knows the rest of it.
As John Morgan said, this is a perfectly serviceable puzzle but nothing special. I did enjoy learning the second half of SPEAK OF THE DEVIL.
LAT: I wonder if it’s a regional thing, but I’ve overwhelmingly heard the phrase STORY PROBLEM in school / growing up more than WORD PROBLEM. (Which is funny, because “WORD PROBLEM” yields nearly 10x the Google hits, so yeah, not sure what that’s about!)
I’m not familiar with the term STORY PROBLEM. I think they were always called them ‘word problems’ in the Ohio schools I attended shortly after the Dark Ages.
Well, I thought the NYT was a total dud. Filling in familiar phrases? Nothing exciting about it all.
I am in the “word problem” camp – “story problem” didn’t click with me until I read the review, and then it seemed only vaguely familiar. I would like to see some examples of how “Pik” is used as a suffix. Is it like “-gate”, which has become a suffix meaning scandal? How else would “pik” be used?
I’m with you on ‘story problem’ but I had also never heard of a ‘word problem’ in math. But I was at school a long, long time ago.
Water-pik is a company that makes devices to clean your teeth with a jet of water as an alternative to flossing. I don’t know of any other use of ‘-pik.’
I didn’t know that “Speak of the devil!” had a “rest”.
(What is it?)
I had no problem with the theme other than that it was boring.
“Speak of the devil and he will appear.”
It was new to me, too.
I, too, did not recognize many of the same names mentioned by Nate.
But I do know of Eubie Blake (1887-1983): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eubie_Blake.
Re LAT puzzle: I am extremely unfond of the use of “octopi” as a plural for octopus, and I truly wish crossword editors would just disallow it.
The thing in today’s NYT that I don’t understand is 10 down?
In a team’s schedule opponents whose names are preceded by an @ sign are road games. Here is an excerpt from a college football schedule:
SEP 2 – MTSU
SEP 9 – Texas
SEP 16 – @USF
SEP 23 – Ole Miss
SEP 30 – @Miss State
OCT 7 – @ Texas A&M
If it’s any consolation, I’m one of the biggest sports fans you’ll ever meet and I still needed to read the clue several times and get several crosses to come up with it.
Same. But it took the note above for me to understand.
NYT: while I understand Nate’s point about non-native English speakers potentially having trouble here, Will Shortz leans so heavily into wordplay/obscure alternate definitions/ puns/ etc that I think a non-native speaker probably struggles with many of the NYT puzzles as it is.
LAT: I mostly agree w/ Jack’s assessment that there just wasn’t enough pizzazz in the cluing. Maybe I’m not on the same wavelength as Patti Vitriol, but her wording doesn’t connect with me…
NYT: Just read Rex Parker’s views and some comments which were not mentioned here.
47D secret menu? new to me
122D Either of two lead characters in Kiss Me Kate, Completely eluded me …”K”