Jeff Chen and Juliana Tringali Golden’s New York Times crossword, “Doing Doughnuts” — Nate’s write-up
My husband and I regularly get doughnuts on Sunday mornings, so this puzzle was a great addition to my Sunday routine!
– 26A CAKE STAND [“I declare this doughnut to be a truly tasty treat!”]
– 45A FROSTED TIP [“Here’s one way to eat a doughnut without getting icing on your nose …”]
– 68A CINNAMON TOAST [“Let’s raise a glass to this outstanding doughnut!”]
– 91A PLAIN TRUTH [“It is an undeniable fact that this doughnut is awesome!”]
– 108A SUGAR BUZZ [“This doughnut is the talk of the town!”]
– 16D OLD FASHIONED IDEA [“This doughnut would be great dipped in milk!”]
– 40D GLAZED EXPRESSION [“I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts …”]
What immediately drew me into this puzzle was the gorgeous, doughnut-shaped grid art … though in retrospect, I wonder if that might have limited the puzzle to a degree. The title of the puzzle (“Doing Doughnuts”) certainly speaks to the grid art, but it doesn’t indicate why the theme clues all reference types of speech or thought (stand, tip, truth, etc.). Moreover, nothing in the theme clues themselves indicate why certain types of doughnuts were being used in each theme entry. I see how each theme phrase is being repurposed for this puzzle, but there didn’t seem to be a stated reason for the theme set (aside from “doughnuts!”) or a title / revealer to explain why this theme set was used, so this puzzle didn’t hit for me as much as it otherwise might have. It’s a bummer because this “type of doughnut” + “type of speech or thought” theme set of repurposed phrases is incredibly tight. But I bet a lot of people will enjoy this puzzle, so that makes the puzzle worth it! :)
– The fill in this puzzle felt quite mixed to me – for every awesome STOOP BALL or RAMEN SHOP there was RAIMENTS or FORSOOTH.
– 18A PIRI PIRI: This one tripped me up until the end because I was much more familiar with peri-peri chicken. Even when I Google it, the peri-peri spelling seems more common.
– 84A UNPC: Instead of [Likely to offend, for short] (which places the onus on the receiver, I’d more aptly clue this as [Likely to be offensive (or socially unacceptable), for short] so that the onus is placed on the source of the insensitivity.
– 99A TRANS [Like those celebrating a “day of visibility” on March 31]: Nice!
– 6D ORACS [Pod cast?]: What a fun clue (a group of ORCAS is called a pod).
Okay, that’s all for now. Keep your thoughts coming in the comments – and have a great weekend!
Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Couples Retreat” — Matthew’s write-up
Six themers are explained by an apt title and even more one-the-nose revealer in this week’s puzzle from Evan: each oddball theme phrase is a more common phrase with a pair of doubled letters removed.
- 23a [Polite request from a predator before going on a hunt?] PREY PLEASE, from “Pretty please“
- 37a [Refusal afore preparing food at a barbecue?] NO ERE COOKING WITH GAS, from “Now we’re cooking with gas“
- 55a [Method of measuring how well things stick?] CLING SYSTEM, from “Cooling system“
- 68a [“There was a chance for you to escape from yours truly”?] COULD HAVE FLED ME, from “Could have fooled me“
- 85a [That place to buy lemonade over there?] YONDER STAND, from “You understand“
- 101a [Go left or right in order to get that brewski?] TAKE A TURN FOR THE BEER, from “Take a turn for the better“
The revealer highlights a classical Birnholz-ian second layer to the theme:
- 122a [Baseball feat that may result in the situation you can spell using the deleted letters in this puzzle] DOUBLE PLAY.
At first I thought this was just a way to use the word “double,” which paired with the title “Couples Retreat,” does enough for my money to indicate the paired letters leaving the base phrase for each themer. But take a look at the letters removed from each: From top to bottom, they spell TWO OUT, a possible situation following a successful DOUBLE PLAY in baseball.
Even before that layer, I really enjoyed this theme. The first entry, PREY PLEASE, isn’t as obviously derived from “Pretty Please” as later entries, so I didn’t click what was going on until getting “NO ERE…” and confirming that odd letter combination worked with all the crossings. Even understanding the mechanism, each themer was a puzzle inside itself with its own click. I particularly liked “NO ERE …” and “YONDER STAND,” as the base phrases for each feature their double letters across word boundaries.
Highlights don’t end with the theme, as with “only” seven theme entries (fewer than the last few weeks, at least), there’s room for a flowing, connected grid with minimal three-letter entries. And while I know Evan doesn’t care about maximum word counts, that this smoothness comes in a 140-word package rather than 144+ is another feather in this puzzle’s cap. There may be more ambitious themes, more punchy aha moments, more “whatever” in Evan’s catalogue, but this is everything I think of when I think of an “Evan puzzle”, and it’s likely one I will point to for a long time to introduce solvers to his style in 21x grids.
- 1a [Literary character describer as “a Khan of the plank, and a king of the sea, and a great lord of Leviathans] AHAB. I love how many descriptions of Ahab there are in Moby-Dick. It’s like the never-ending quotes used to clue “ART” in puzzles.
- 19a [Host on one side of the 2010 “Tonight Show” conflict] LENO. I’m surprised it was that long ago. I’m not sure how much there was actual conflict between Conan and Leno, or if the fault lies with network executives, but as a Conan fan, this episode largely turned me off of the late night shows in general.
- 21a [Cara who portrayed Coco Hernandez in “Fame”] IRENE. How many times have we seen [Actor Irene of “Fame”], or [Actor Cara…], and this is the first (I believe) I’ve actually seen her character also appear in the puzzle!
- 28a [___ badge (scout’s honor)] MERIT. A brilliant misdirect, relegated to a parenthetical! Imagine [Scout’s honor] cluing MERIT BADGE in a Saturday Stumper!
- 34a [U. of Maryland team] TERPS. A shorthand for the formal “Terrapins.” At times, Maryland Athletics have run branding campaigns around “Fear the Turtle”
- 45a [Dar Wililams song “I Won’t Be Your Yoko ___] ONO. I’m not familiar with this song, but I’ll choose to believe it’s a decade-plus delayed response to Barenaked Ladies’ “Be My Yoko Ono”
- 54a [Pen-ny stock?] PIGS. Another clue, that with some small edits, might be suitable for a tough, tough themeless. Fun to think about how fine differences in difficulty can be.
- 82a [Picked in a primary] NOMINATED. This only catches my eye during the recap, and not during the solve, but I wonder if it’s not quite right — I’m not sure a single “primary” is a nominating exercise, but rather a pledging-delegates exercise, while the nominating happens at the convention, or as a result of a series of primaries and caucuses.
- 93a [Disaster response?] STRESS. This made me chuckle mid-solve — all the grand, big picture things that happen in disaster response, and it’s this very personal, individual feelings of “stress”
- 126a [Lack of enthusiasm] ENNUI. I learned this word from crossword puzzles two decades ago, and I don’t think I’d need to take my shoes and socks off to count how many times I’ve seen it outside of puzzles.
- 16d [Wagon rod purchases in “The Oregon Trail”] AXLE. I am of the generation whose elementary school computer lab time was dominated by this game. I was never brave enough to play this game without starting as one of the wealthier professions. Always had two or three of each wagon part spare, rather than trying to barter at Chimney Rock, or wherever.
- 59d [NFL coach Sean who won Super Bowl LVI] MCVAY. Note that uncertainty around A vs E is helped by a parenthetical in the across clue for RANI.
- 80d [Actree Markey of Tarzan films] ENID. A new angle to this entry for me, at least.
- 83d [Resting position?] I NEED A NAP. As in a “position” one might take in an argument.
- 111d [Gospel of Matthew travelers] MAGI. Of the four canonical Gospels, only Matthew’s includes the Magi, and does not specify a number. We’ve arrived at three, as three distinct gifts are mentioned.
- 121d [Hibiscus necklace, perhaps] LEI. I haven’t yet seen a hibiscus LEI since moving to Hawaii – most commonly they’re made from plumeria, orchid, or carnation. But I’m sure they’re out there.
Adam Simpson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Cross Bar”—Jim’s review
The revealer is MIXED DRINKS (22a, [Cocktails (that are made five times in this puzzle))]. But instead of anagrams or some other bit of wordplay, theme answers are the main ingredients of commonly-known cocktails clued via said cocktail and crossing somewhere in the grid.
- 31a & 26d [Black Russian]: VODKA & KAHLUA.
- 43a & 21d [French Connection]: AMARETTO & COGNAC.
- 67a & 51d [Black Velvet]: CHAMPAGNE & GUINNESS.
- 73a & 74d [Dark ‘n’ Stormy]: GINGER BEER & RUM.
- 95a & 94d [Greyhound]: GRAPEFRUIT JUICE & GIN.
I probably should’ve realized it sooner, but there’s a big martini glass in the center of the grid. It even looks like it has an olive in it.
My problem was that I’ve only actually heard of one of these cocktails (and that Black Velvet sounds horrific), so I ignored the theme for most of the solve and relied on the crosses. Some of you mixologists may have appreciated the theme more.
I was hoping the letters at which the ingredients cross might spell out something pertinent, but that’s probably asking too much of a tight theme. For the record, those letters are A, A, N, R, and I.
Plenty to like in the long fill such as NOT TOO BAD, DEAD NAME, WINDSURF, SOCRATES, BACK SEAT, GO FISH, TREASURER, NAIL SALONS, TOE RINGS, and MET GALA.
Didn’t know Eugene IONESCO nor Tommy GNOSIS, but the crossings were fair enough.
Clues of note:
- 17d. [Driver way behind the wheel]. BACK SEAT. Umm, I don’t think so. “BACK SEAT” is an adjectival phrase; the clue wants a noun.
- 66d. [Jab that hits hard]. DEEP CUT. Good phrase, but I’m not finding this meaning anywhere online. Why not use the commonly accepted meaning?
Solid puzzle. 3.5 stars.
Matthew Stock’s USA Today crossword, “Stick to the Status Quo (Freestyle)” — Darby’s write-up
Editor: Amanda Rafkin
This High School Musical-titled puzzle switches it up as a themless entry into this great saga of grids. Marquee entries included:
- 16a [Six-sided solid] HEXAHEDRON
- 35a [“Careful not to cause any issues”] DON’T ROCK THE BOAT
- 56a [Aesthetic that incorporates both black and bright colors] PASTEL GOTH
I really loved learning PASTEL GOTH, and I thought it was fun that it was so close to 43d [Genre for Paramore] EMO POP. HEXAHEDRON was challenging for a little, and so I plunked in HEXA and let the crosses do the rest of the work, but that came together very quickly. DON’T ROCK THE BOAT was also a really fun spanner, and it really helped the grid to feel very connected and cohesive as I moved through it. Plus, it was nice to have the marine-oriented HARBOR crossing it. Other fun longer fil included IT COULD BE, TOODLE-OO, STONEWARE, and NEATEN UP. I was surprised to find that this was the Merriam-Webster spelling of TOODLE-OO; I think I expected it to be TOODLE-LOO instead, but obviously that wouldn’t have fit in this 8-letter spot.
As always with USA Today, the shorter fill really adds character to a puzzle, and I thought that this was really apparent in some of the longer entries I’ve already mentioned, in addition to things like 40a [“Attention, townspeople!”] HEAR YE (I love this cluing), 47d [“Changing the subject…”] ANYHOO, and 50d [“Ew, I’m never gonna ___ that!”] UNSEE. I also really liked the reference to Fannie Lou HAMER, and 3d [“Shoot a message my way”] TEXT ME.