Lynn Lempel’s New York Times crossword
- 37A. PLAYING WITH FIRE is [Doing something risky…or a hint to] the ends of the other theme entries.
- 18A. [Common advice to travelers] is PACK LIGHT. This one feels a little out of place, as the other three are adjective + noun and this one is verb + ad…jective? …or adverb? In any event, LIGHT has nothing to do with FIRE here.
- 24A. A [Race that finishes in a tie] is a DEAD HEAT. A HEAT of a race is not hot.
- 49A. OLD FLAME is a [Bygone love interest] who has not, in fact, been lit on FIRE.
- 58A. ["Omigosh!"] is as quaintly casual as “HOLY SMOKE!” Where there’s “holy smoke,” there’s no FIRE.
How do you like the colloquiality of PANDA BEARS, those [Adorable zoo critters from China]? You may be saying to yourself and the puzzle, “Pfft! Pandas are not bears. They’re more closely related to raccoons!” But check it out: “Molecular studies suggest that the Giant Panda is a true bear and part of the Ursidae family, though it differentiated early in history from the main ursine stock.” Crazy, isn’t it? Next thing you know, they’ll be telling you there are only eight planets in the solar system.
Other lively fill includes LYING AWAKE, SWAHILI, HALF-DAY, and a KOOK. Mostly I’m too tired out from today’s loud and crazy kid birthday party at the bowling alley to think straight.
Speaking of thinking straight, [Uncles' mates] clues AUNTS here. But if he’s your gay uncle, his mate’s also your uncle. Dang, I wish I had a pair of gay uncles. I’ll bet they’re fun.
Updated Monday morning:
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Jocks, but No Sox”—Janie’s review
Short on [Inferior leftovers] DROSS, this puzzle was a great way to start the CS solving week. While the title doesn’t seem quite right (looks to me like there are some “Sox” involved), the theme, the strong theme fill, the lively non-theme fill all get thumbs-up from me. The puzzle as a whole is a shout-out to the professional athletes of Chicago, or as 64D puts it, CHI [City that's home to the jocks of this puzzle's theme, for short]. The “jocks” can be found in the first word of each of the theme phrases–and they’d be:
- 20A. BLACK HAWK DOWN [2001 film set in Mogadishu] for the Black Sox (a/k/a the White Sox), they of the Series-throwing scandal of 1919. Black Hawk Down is a film I put in the same category as The Hurt Locker. Both are gripping, unromanticized, compelling stories of what it is to put yourself in harm’s way as part of a military presence where our help is a mixed blessing at best.
- 37A. CUB REPORTER [Jimmy Olsen for one] or The Cubs. And when a member of this team or the one above literally [Drops the ball, e.g.], he ERRS. Apropos of young Mr. Olsen and hierarchy in journalism–does it still exist? Do newspapers still refer to their neophytes as “cubs”? Maybe someone who’s a member of the fourth estate will weigh in. (Had almost forgotten that “SHY DI” was the [Prenuptial press moniker for the late Princess of Wales].)
- 44A. BULL SESSION [Occasion to shoot the breeze]. Am also wondering if the term bull session is still used by college kids. I graduated 40 years ago (but who’s counting?…) and the term felt kinda “old school” to me then (and was supplanted at times by the more newly-minted “rap session”). The puzzle has other slang I associate with less contemporary times, but which had their moment “back in the day,” namely “NEATO!” ["Peachy keen!"], “ZOWIE!” ["Holy moly!"] and GAS [Hoot]. While the (sometimes) close-but-no-cigar NY Knicks are my b’ball team of choice, I remember being blown away by the sheer “theatre” of the televised Chicago Bulls playoff games in the electric Jordan-Barkley-Rodman days. Yowza!
- 59A. BEAR THE BURDEN [Shoulder full responsibility]. Seems to me the Chicago Bears are about as iconic a representative of the NFL as there is. Any team that once had a player (one William Perry) whose nickname is “The Refrigerator” is one to be reckoned with!
As for the non-theme fill, there’s a good bit of it that deserves mention. Sweet-tooth types will say hooray for both JELLY BEAN [Ronald Reagan's favorite candy] and FIG NEWTON [Cookie named for a Massachusetts city]. While I think of Newton as more of a Boston suburb than a city per se (it is a city, btw), I didn’t know that that was where the cookie got its name and appreciated the bit of tid.
If I was a bit let down by seeing a word in a clue also appear as fill, I did like the attention given to some of the country’s most glorious natural resources: [Grand] TETON [National Park] and [Acadia and Denali] for PARKS. Have been biking in the Tetons and hiking through Acadia, but have never visited Denali. One fine day, however…
Other clue/fill combos that appealed include [Guiding light] for BEACON; [Appear correct, as a theory] for WASH; [Strange sounding lake] for ERIE; [Follow closely] for DOG; and (for bearing yet another interesting factoid) [Instrument whose name derives from "high wood"] for OBOE.
Jeff Chen’s Los Angeles Times crossword
You know what I was going to say about this puzzle? Pretty much what Rex Parker said at L.A. Crossword Confidential this morning. The theme entries are all clued the same way: ["What?"]. The “Huh?” expressions included are (1) “DIDN’T CATCH THAT”—which really sounds like it wants “I” at the beginning; (2) “EXCUSE ME?”; (3) “SAY AGAIN?”—which would prefer to be “Come again?”; and (4) “I BEG YOUR PARDON?”—which works fine but the “I” is optional.
Highlights in the fill include Hostess CUPCAKES (which scarcely belong in the category “cupcakes”), GROOVY, DINGBAT, and SNIFFLE. I like that BRACES are clued as a [Source of teen angst, dentally]—though the angstiest dental thing for teens has got to be headgear. Do orthodontists still use headgear, or have they moved to less visibly horrific technology for aligning teeth?
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”
I did not like this puzzle one whit. It took me a long time, but not because it made my brain work extra hard. Too much sports stuff that if you’re not a sports fan, you just aren’t going to get them. Who the hell is this nobody ERVIN? If he were somebody, I’d know him from crosswords by now. Plus MAZ, NY JETS, and misspelled DWAYNE WADE (which is how I want to spell the name, but it’s Dwyane). And the latter is clued with his nickname…which I’ve never heard. Also vexing: too many clunky short words. Nonstandard-spelling YOWEE, blah HOED and COTE, only-in-crosswords TER. CAP in the grid plus in the clue for SALARY, and CAP is clued as [Fountain covering] but I don’t have a clue what sort of fountain has a CAP. Never heard SACKS UP before. And many of the multi-word answers didn’t do anything for me.