Michael Schlossberg’s New York Times crossword, “The Game is Afoot” — Nate’s write-up
23A: BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD [Fresh pair of loafers?]
38A: CAMPAIGN PROMISES [Forerunners of flip-flops?]
46A: PARKING TICKET [Slip before putting on a boot?]
67A: LIQUID PLUMR [Noted name in clogs?]
83A: SNAKE HANDLERS [Collectors of moccasins?]
95A: ARTIFICIAL HEARTS [Custom-fitted pumps?]
112A: WATERGATE BURGLARS [1970s-era sneakers?]
My experience solving this puzzle was almost bifurcated. On one hand, I generally enjoyed the theme, which explored punny, alternate meanings for types of shoes (hence “The Game is Afoot”). Since the theme/pattern was in the clues and not the theme entries, each one was its own mystery to unlock, which made each one fun to uncover.
On the other hand, many sections of the grid were tougher solving experience for me. There were many references outside my wheelhouse / era; the top left / top middle section was especially tough for me, with TECS DEIDRE ELEANORA AIPAC IAN TABLEHOP REB making it hard for me to get a foothold in that region. That said, knowing some of those entries would give solvers a nice entryway there.
It feels like this puzzle might be most suited to [One saying “Back in my day …”]. Crosswordese like QAT NICKERS AS DO I MKTS didn’t help. Heck, even ELDER Wilfred BRIMLEY (known best these days for the “Brimley Line,” which notes when people match and surpass the age (50 years 9 months 6 days) he was when the movie “Cocoon” hit theaters) is in the puzzle. (In full transparency, I turn 40 this week, so I’m not that far from the Brimley Line myself! And yet, this puzzle felt before my time.)
Weirdly, the middle and bottom sections of the puzzle felt a skosh more current (WAZE), so I wonder if BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD (an unexpected choice for a 2020s puzzle) really constrained the fill in that top region? Then again, even some of the rest of the puzzle felt unnecessarily dated (cluing ELVIS via a 1965 comedy, WATERGATE BURGLARS as a themer), so I’m afraid I didn’t like the puzzle as much as I might have. That said, I’ll be trying to think of other fun shoe types that could be reimagined as bonus theme entries – can you think of any? Let us know what you thought of the puzzle – and have a great weekend!
Zachary Schiff & Shannon Rapp’s LA Times crossword, “You Don’t Belong Here” — Jack’s write-up
Themers are common phrases with the letter U added to make new outlandish phrases with zany clues.
- 21A. [Paid one’s respects to Charlie Brown and Snoopy?] = SALUTED PEANUTS (salted peanuts)
- 31A. [Good name for a salon offering a sweet treat with every haircut?] = DOS AND DONUTS (Dos and don’ts)
- 45A. [Tech for toddlers to play with?] = FAUX MACHINES (fax machines)
- 62A. [TV pilots that soar?] OUTSTANDING DEBUTS (outstanding debts)
- 81A. [Like the birthday money from Grandma to a responsible kid?] = SAVINGS BOUND (savings bond)
- 96A. [Nice vengeful spirits?] = FRENCH FURIES (french fries — Nice refers to the city in France)
- 108A. [Discussion board with topics like “How to get back to your home planet”?] = ALIEN LIFE FORUM (alien life form)
Adding a letter to make wacky phrases is very well-trodden theme territory. I’d prefer to see Sundays push the envelope a little bit more. That said, this is a perfectly fine incarnation of the theme type. Fax becoming faux was a nice find. The non-thematic Us in PEANUTS and OUTSTANDING were distracting because I expected them to be the newly added letters.
With such a conventional theme, I would have liked to see the grid sparkle in other ways, but there wasn’t a ton of non-thematic long entries. USER ERROR and STATUETTE are the longest non-themers in the grid and they don’t exactly sing.
My favorite thing about this puzzle was the cluing. There was a distinct voice coming through in the clue choices and it was a voice I’d love to hear again. Modern, fresh angles on common entries and several clever misdirections. Take 5A. [Mason jar, in a pinch] = VASE as an example. An everyday noun like “vase” is elevated by an unusual and modern clue.
Some more thoughts:
- 23D. [Hands-up time] = NOON. Probably my favorite clue in the puzzle. Hands-up refers to the minute and hour hands on a clock, which both point upward at noon.
- 95A. [Journeys home?] = MALL. Good, tough clue. Journeys is a footwear store found in many malls.
- 88A. [Sumi-e medium] =INK. I hadn’t heard of sumi-e. It’s a Japanese form of painting with ink. Glad to know this.
- 115A. [Preserves, as beef] = CORNS. I confidently plunked “cures” in the grid, which gave me loads of trouble completing that corner.
Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Imaginary Creatures” — Matthew’s write-up
Tough one this week! A number of short entries are clued identically: [“Imaginary” creature that could appear in one of the starred answers]. A number of long entries are marked by an asterisk in their clues, and only fit in the grid if they skip some spaces. The first list, followed by the second:
[“Imaginary” creature that could appear in one of the starred answers]
- 1a: JAY
- 10a: OWL
- 13d: CROW
- 18d: HAWK
- 97a: WREN
- 103a: LOON
- 20a [*Making a bundle, as on a farm] BAL—-ING
- 41a [*”___, Texas Ranger” (1990s crime series)] —WALKER
- 45a [*Excellent] SUPERB—
- 67a [*Flammable gas] ETHAN—-E
- 81a [*Microwave alert sound] —-DING
- 84a [*Doily fabric] LA—-CE
So what’s going on here? Well, each of the birds from the first list can fit into the extra spaces in the second to make a valid crossword entries (and make valid crossword entries of the crossing downs, each of which has an extra square to skip as well). Thus BALING (or BAL—-ING) takes LOON and is BALLOONING. I’ve tried to upload a gif flipping between two versions of the solution grid; one with the birds filled in, and one with the blank spaces preserved, but it doesn’t want to display, so putting each in as a static image here.
Even cottoned on to this gimmick, the revealer was still a pleasant surprise, the strange internet fad (Evan clues it as a “satirical conspiracy theory”) that jokingly suggests BIRDS AREN’T REAL. Dating back to 2017, the theory suggests tongue-in-cheek that all natural birds have been exterminated and replaced with bird-appearing drones and surveillance technology.
Two layers here. First, the phrase has become so widespread in internet culture that I’m almost shocked BEQ hasn’t built a Thursday puzzle around it (I think I’ve seen it used to clue “BIRDS” and/or “REAL” in some indie-minded places.)
Edited afterward: Evan reminds me that BEQ *has* built a puzzle around it, but it was one of his semiannual fundraiser bonuses, so I wasn’t looking in the right place. No wonder it was tickling my mind!
Second, I have misgivings about deliberate misinformation, no matter how tongue-in-cheek, because it can get hard to tell the difference between tongue-in-cheek and sincere foolishness — I think of Kyrie Irving espousing flat-earth theory a few years ago and elementary school children around the country believing him. But I appreciate this quote from the “founder” when interviewed on 60 Minutes: “So it’s taking this concept of misinformation and almost building a little safe space to come together within it and laugh at it, rather than be scared by it.”
All told, a satisfying journey to completion, from the Chekhov’s Gun frontloading of the birds with repeated clues, to the squares that seemingly needed to be blank to work, to the revealer. I’m a particular fan of this kind of mechanism – Evan’s “White Christmas” puzzle from December 2018, the Neil Patrick Harris/David Steinberg NYT collaboration from August 2017, and the Halloween 2013 NYT puzzle from David Kwong all come to mind. I’m sure Will Nediger has done this at least once on his own site, as well.
- 14a [Jam noise] BEEP. I have learned early in my move to Hawaii that it’s considered the height of rudeness to use your car horn here. Of course, there’s not a lot of space for a lot of people and cars, and I kind of wonder how anyone manages.
- 26a [1992 Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award recipient Guthrie] ARLO. I had not heard of this award before, but the awardees are several decades of leaders from all over the globe. An inspiring list to scroll through.
- 37a [Athletic org. that fills in the blanks of “N_tional _ollegiate Athleti_ Association”] ACC. The ACC (“Atlantic Coast Conference”) is a conference of schools within the NCAA governance structure. I found this clue quite odd, but I can’t put my finger on why.
- 54a [___ musubi (Hawaiian meat dish)] SPAM. I happen to know that Evan wrote this puzzle while on a trip to Hawaii, so this cluing angle is apt. I’m told musubi is pretty appetizing; I haven’t gotten a chance yet.
- 61a [Head down a blanket] SKI. As in “… a blanket of snow.” I actually thought this was somehow theme related for a moment, because I had trouble parsing the clue.
- 92a [Brendan of the U.S. men’s national soccer team] AARONSON. Here’s hoping Aaronson’s move to Berlin for the upcoming season helps him get back into form. He’s an exciting player with lots of energy, but needs polish and a little bit of toughness IMO.Sooner than that, the Women’s World Cup is SO SOON – it begins this week! Learn the names Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman if you’re interested, and don’t already know them. They’re the present and future of the US Women’s Team.
- 98a [“Good 4 U” singer Rodrigo] OLIVIA. “Good 4 U” and a number of other Rodrigo songs are absolute earworms. Rodrigo has come under fire for their similarities to other artists’ songs — in some cases having to share writing credit and royalties. It’s a complicated issue.
- 115a [Shape formed by a plane intersecting a cone at an angle to the cone’s axis] ELLIPSE. I left higher-level math (read: anything more than I need to balance a budget and run financial reports) behind many years ago, but I’ve always been intrigued by the conic sections — different curves defined by how a plane intersects with a cone, as ELLIPSE is defined here.
- 119a [Like acid rain] EROSIVE. This made me consider and research, for the first time, the difference between EROSIVE (physical wear) and CORROSIVE (chemical wear). I would think of acid rain first as corrosive, but I imagine there’s an EROSIVE element as well.
- 120a [“A Man Called ___” (2022 Tom Hanks film)] OTTO. A remake of a Swedish film, itself an adaptation of a book, this is an excellent film. Too sad for me — I teared up just reading the plot summary.
- 5d [ZZ Top cover?] BEARD. Except for the fellow in the band actually named “Beard,” if I have my trivia right.
- 109d [Louie and Mae’s monster child of kids’ TV] ELMO. Today I learned Elmo has parents.
Michael Berg’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Silent Films”—Jim’s review
Theme answers are film titles that have had SH inserted, and they’re clued as if they were sequels to other films. The revealer is QUIET ON THE SET (112a, [Shout preceding “Action!” … and the inspiration for the six imagined sequels]).
- 23a. [*The Net 2: ___] SUPER SIZE MESH.
- 34a. [*Psycho 2: ___ ] KNIVES SHOUT.
- 49a. [*Alice in Wonderland 2: ___] A SHROOM WITH A VIEW.
- 65a. [*Bermuda Triangle 2: ___] PLANET OF THE SHAPES.
- 83a. [*Napoleon Dynamite 2: ___] SHTICK SHTICK BOOM.
- 97a. [*Office Space 2: ___] SHRED NOTICE.
The thought process seems to be thus: Find a movie title to which you can add SH. Then think of a different movie which could conceivably be related, even if that relationship is fairly tenuous.
So let’s go through them.
- A mesh is a net, I get that. Both films were widely known in their time, and I can imagine the conspiracies in The Net only getting bigger (super-sized) for the second film. This one works nicely.
- Psycho had knives in it, but I’m having trouble envisaging shouting knives…even if it’s meant to be a metaphor.
- I do like A SHROOM WITH A VIEW although I personally would’ve made it a sequel to the recent The Super Mario Bros. Movie, what with it being set in the Mushroom Kingdom and all.
- A triangle is a shape, obvs. But who the heck remembers that there was a Bermuda Triangle movie from 1978? Wikipedia says it was a Mexican-Italian science fiction horror film. Not so much about geometry.
- I will admit to not having heard of Tick, Tick… Boom!, the acclaimed 2021 film that garnered numerous awards and nominations. That’s completely on me. But maybe I can be forgiven for thinking we were referring to the 1970 film Tick, Tick, Tick starring Jim Brown. Anyway, Napoleon Dynamite wasn’t really about shtick nor was it really about dynamite, so I’m having trouble with this one.
- The last one works fine, especially since Office Space is comedic in nature. However, I had to look up Red Notice to remember it was a recent film with Gal Gadot, The Rock, and Ryan Reynolds.
In the end, hit-or-miss for me. The revealer, title, and the key concept of adding SH work together to form a great basis for a theme. But the clues sometimes have to stretch pretty far to form connections between the original films and the imagined sequels. On the other hand, points for creativity tip the scales for me, so I can give this one “two thumbs up.” Maybe some slight adjustments in cluing would satisfy me.
Moving on, fill highlights include ONE-LINERS, “HERE’S HOW,” ICE SKATE, SWEATS IT, and “LET ME BE,” although the latter crossing SOON-TO-BE rankled a little bit. Not sure if I like C’MERE, but we’ve seen C’MON in other puzzles, so why not?
I’m not a fan of crossing proper names, so HYNDE and KYLE might catch some solvers, even though that Y is the evident choice for KYLE. I do enjoy listening Chrissie HYNDE’s voice, and I do like the clue [Major Pretender], but why not go with [Great Pretender]? (Oh, I guess because [Major pretender] is the clue for POSEUR.)
Other clues of note:
- 12a. [Grew smaller]. SHRANK. I like the oxymoronic clue.
- 38d. [One hearing “Checkmate!” or “Gin!”]. LOSER. Ouch.
- 50d. [“Woman yelling at a cat,” for one]. MEME. Pictured.
Creative puzzle that mostly works, especially if you give it a little leeway. 3.5 stars.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Lash Lift” — Darby’s write-up
Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: Each theme answer includes LASH spelled backwards, going up on a Down answer.
- 2d [“What a big raise might result in”] HIGH SALARY
- 7d [“Tub additives that relax sore muscles”] BATH SALTS
- 19d [“Dish often topped with warm bacon dressing”] SPINACH SALAD
- 32d [“Many flea market transactions”] CASH SALES
This was an unusual set of themers, but they worked well together. I appreciated the inclusion of four of them, especially since it really helped emphasize the theme. Having a word backwards in an answer is always really interested, and i find it makes me pay attention more to the composition of words themselves, which I think is a great tool for a constructor.
I feel like I piece-mealed some of this puzzle, and it took me longer than usual. SPINACH SALAD and HIGH SALARY are not words i often use together, so they really came together based on the crosses. I also appreciated how open this grid felt, giving us ROOT CANAL, TEA CULTURE, and FRESH AIR in addition to the themers. It was a really nice, clean puzzle.