Sarah Keller’s New York Times crossword
Sarah’s puzzle has a simple Monday theme, no trickery: a vowel-progression theme in which phrases beginning with M*D progress through A, E, I, O, and U:
- 17A. MAD MAGAZINE has been a [Humor publication since 1952]. Crossword constructor Patrick Merrell has worked for Mad. He may even know many of the usual idiots.
- 25A. MED STUDENTS are [Docs-to-be].
- 38A. [Tricky operation for extending a plane's flight] is MID-AIR REFUELING.
- 46A. MODEL TRAINS don’t start with a stand-alone MOD unit, so this entry strays from the model the other theme answers follow. They’re [Lionel products], to name one brand.
- 57A. MUDSLINGING is a [Dirty campaign tactic].
I’m never fond of having to choose between ON END (67A: [Nonstop]) and NO END. Both phrases tend to have strikingly similar clues, much like the AVER/AVOW and SEETHE/SEE RED pairs. I wish I had solid advice for distinguishing between these answer choices based on their clues, but I don’t.
Another ON phrase is ON RED, or 36D: [When right turns are often allowed]. Did I ever tell you about the time I was at a weird three-way intersection, saw no NO TURN ON RED sign, and turned…left? Good times. The police station was on the same corner.
I do not at all like the clue for 41A: PRETTIEST: [Causing the most wolf whistles, perhaps]? Feh. Street harassment isn’t about women being pretty, it’s about those men being sexist. Did you know you can spell the word SEXIST using the letters in the upper right-hand corner of this grid? There’s even a bonus X left over. That’s an X chromosome.
“What about the Y?” you ask. There aren’t a ton of words or phrases starting with MYD, but the MED STUDENTS would know MYDRIASIS, or dilation of the pupils.
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Who J”—Janie’s review
This little puzzle delivers a lot. It’s theme-rich, has lots o’ scrabbly letters in the mix (thanks, in part, to that theme) and has some lively non-theme fill and cluing to boot. Let’s look at that theme fill first. Randy has included the names of seven people (or companies) who are or were known by their initals (and their surnames). The catch is that in each case, the second initial is “J” — which gives us seven Js for starters. Here’s the roster:
- 2D. P.J. O’ROURKE [Author of "Give War a Chance"]. (Patrick Jake) This one-time “left-leaning hippie” is now a right-wing-type rock (and occasional panelist on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”)–so it’s not surprising to see him sharing the grid with ANN [Conservative Couter]… P.J. crosses
- 13A. TJ MAXX [Discount clothing store]. One just opened up right around the corner from where I live. First cousin to Marshall’s, there’s something to be said for the “retail therapy” one can experience there. (And dig those double Xs!)
- 26A. S.J. PERELMAN ["Horse Feathers" humorist]. (Sidney Joseph) Where zany is concerned, he’s the granddaddy of ‘em all, from the Marx brothers to Woody Allen. Short stories, scripts , screenplays–he wrote ‘em all. One funny guy.
- 39A. H.J. HEINZ [Name on a pickle jar]. (Henry John) Also the name on a ketchup jar. Seems H.J. was an unusually principled business man and I suspect the company’s longevity (140 years) is due in no small measure to its founder’s example. (Love the Z at the end of the name, too.)
- 53D. R.J. REYNOLDS [Winston-Salem company]. (Richard Joshua) Here’re some fascinating, seriously colorful Wiki backgrounders on the man and the company he founded, and which sketch out the far-reaching impact of the Reynolds family in North Carolina as well as American commerce. Seems it was R.J., btw, who made packaged cigarettes all the rage in 1913.
- 36A. O.J. SIMPSON [Celebrity defendant of 1995]. (Orenthal James) We know too much about him already, don’t we? Alas. But he crosses
- 70A. K.J. CHOI [South Korean golfer with seven PGA tournament titles]. (Choi Kyung-Ju a/k/a K.J.) Choi is a complete unknown to me, but I did learn that he was the first Korean to earn a PGA Tour card.
So in the high-scoring Scrabble-letters column we’ve got all those Js, the Xs (including EXES [Alimony recipients]), the Z, and a couple of Ks, too. I’m especially fond of the way one of them connects KAHLUA [Black Russian ingredient] to SKELTER [Second half of a rhyming Beatles title], referencing The White Album’s edgy, angular “Helter Skelter.”
Other clues and/or fill I enjoyed seeing include [Tulip town] for AMSTERDAM, [Seen by TV viewers] for ON SCREEN, [Bowl of tobacco] for PIPEFUL (I had no idea where this was going, somehow picturing a bowl of tobacco soup… [don't ask...]), MINOLTA [Camera company], SAMOSA [Stuffed Indian pastry], VASTNESS [Feature of outer space], and best of all, deliciously disdainful POOH-POOHS [Regards as insignificant].
Holly Barnes’ Los Angeles Times crossword
I never figured out if this was another Rich Norris pseudonym. There’s a “really” lurking in the letters of “Holly Barnes” (like “really Rich”/Lila Cherry), but…”really Shnob” doesn’t sound like Rich. “He’s born all Y”? No.
The theme is Donald Trump’s TV catchphrase YOU’RE FIRED, with AX, CAN, and BOOT contained within longer words at the beginning of the other three theme entries:
- 17A. [War on terrror foe] is the AXIS OF EVIL. I can’t say I like having this answer crossed by IMAM and MULLAHS. It hints at having an agenda.
- 26A. “CANDLE IN THE WIND” is the [Elton John tribute rededicated to Princess Diana].
- 46A. BOOTH TARKINGTON is clued as ["Alice Adams" novelist]. Have any of you ever read Tarkington? I have not.
Endangered fill alert: 15A: WAMU/[Insolvent banking giant, familiarly] is bound to fade from memory soon. I can’t imagine seeing it in a crossword three years from now. Then again, ESSO! That one seems to be immortal. And the occasional IPANA.
Strangest-looking word: 48D: NETFUL/[Trawler's haul]. “How much fish did you catch?” “A NETFUL.”
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Zip It”
The theme is STFU (65A: ["Zip it!" initially, and what's hidden in the middle of] the theme answers BLAST FURNACE, ALMOST FULL, TRUST FUNDS, and EXHAUST FUMES—all solid. I liked the little “aha” moment when I looked to see what letter sequence appeared in all the themers. STFU, if you don’t know, stands for “shut the f*** up.”
Highlights: MRS. FIELDS cookies, a BUM RAP, THE NBA, Amazon’s KINDLE, THE METS, crosswordese URAL clued as [Mountain range known as the Great Stone Belt in Russian], and the blue [Alien race in “Avatar” called NA’VI.