Allan Parrish’s New York Times crossword
Wasn’t it thoughtful of NASA to give the space shuttles names that pair up in word length? There are two 10-letter shuttles (CHALLENGER, ENTERPRISE), two 9s (DISCOVERY, British-spelling ENDEAVOUR), and two 8s (COLUMBIA, ATLANTIS). If they’d spelled #6 “Endeavor,” this theme wouldn’t have worked. There are circled letters spelling out SHUTTLE in the grid to define the theme, but to my eye it’s an uneven oval orbit rather than a circular orbit. Too bad the SHUTTLE orbit doesn’t match up with reality. Is there a reason the puzzle is running on this date? Is this a notable space shuttle anniversary? And what does it say about me that I keep typing it “shittle”?
In April, my family visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a day or two before the Discovery launch. The shuttle was already parked on the launch structure. We tried to catch a launch about eight years ago, but that one got scrubbed at the last minute owing to a small cloud in the sky. Seeing a shuttle on the launch pad was infinitely cooler than being stuck in traffic after an aborted launch, I assure you.
What else is in this puzzle? Let’s have a look-see:
- 52a. The biggest surprise is that [Tool] takes us to CAT’S-PAW. Say what? Dictionary says “a person who is used by another, typically to carry out a dangerous task.”
- 39a, 26d. Do you know your intersecting singers? RUBEN (“Ru-u-u-u-u-ben!”) is [Singer Studdard who won the second season of "American Idol"], beating out Clay Aiken, who has been more prominent than Ruben in the music biz ever since. RUBEN crosses CECE, the [Grammy-winning Winans]. She recorded a lot with her brother BeBe, who has also won a Grammy. They’re gospel singers. In crosswords, BeBe Winans doesn’t exist—just BEBE Neuwirth and BEBE Rebozo.
- 65a. What’s more space doing in this shuttle puzzle? THOR apparently isn’t just a Norse god, but is also an [Old space-launched rocket].
- 9d. Really? Didn’t know that WELCH was [Laura Bush's maiden name]. I like that Joseph Welch who put Joe McCarthy in his place, don’t you?
- 11d. Oh! My old heartthrob from when I was 12, young Mr. GIBB, [Andy with the #1 hit "Shadow Dancing"]. Heard another of his songs on the ’70s station the other day and boy, it was not remotely familiar—or compelling. But he sure was cute. Not every fella can pull off a shirt like that, you know.
- 34d. ["I am not what I am" speaker] is IAGO. See? Totally not a straight-shooter like Popeye, who said “I yam what I yam.”
- 43d. PEDANTS are [Nitpicking types]. You know who you are.
- 56a. [Orbit site] made me think of the eye socket first and the space shuttle second. ATOM? That’s a distant third.
Francis Heaney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
- 20a. The 1989 song “Pump Up the Jam” becomes PUMP UP THE RAM, [Technotronic song about a sheep's personal trainer?]. Ah, what a song. The original lyrics, I believe, pertain to the canning of fruit preserves, using an air pump to vacuum-seal the jam jars.
- 28a. [Lady Gaga song about sheep in love?] is BAAED ROMANCE, playing on “Bad Romance.” I only recently learned that BAAED can be pronounced pretty much like “bad” rather than “bod.” I do not like that pronunciation. Is that involved in this theme entry, or is it both a spelling change and a pronunciation change? I’ll vote for the latter.
- 37a, 43a. [Chemical Brothers song about the sounds that make all the sheep swoon?] clues FLOCK / ROCKIN’ BLEATS. Uh…what? Googling…okay, this one was “Block Rockin’ Beats,” It was a much bigger hit in England than in the U.S., but won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Speaking of FLOCK, did you know the Flock of Seagulls won that Grammy in ’83?
- 52a. [T-Pain song about a sheep pickup artist?] clues BUY EWE A DRANK. I’m quite fond of the phrase “get my drank on.”
- L.L. BEAN, KIBITZ, ROOMBA, and ["No shit, ___"] SHERLOCK.
- I like OBAMA‘s clue at 17a, [He really, really wasn't born in Kenya, yeesh]. But Francis, did you really have to cross OBAMA with IMAMS? You know how people get to talking.
- The 48a clue is great: [It's non-PC] isn’t about what’s politically correct, it’s about a MAC.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Also-Rans”—Janie’s review
No, this is not a tribute puzzle to the gentlemen and ladies who did not find themselves among the “ins” earlier this month. Instead, Patrick has attached the word ran to three well-known phrases, turning them into winners all. I really enjoyed the way:
- King of Beasts morphed into RANKING OF BEASTS [Zookeeper's hierarchy?] at 17A;
- Sack race turned into RANSACK RACE [Contest to determine the fastest pillager] at 39A; and
- Sonny and Cher became SONNY AND RANCHER [Cattleman with his boy?] at 62A. While the placement of the added syllable isn’t consistent here with its two predecessors, the concept here, the way the pronunciation of Cher (“share”) changes to “chur” and the way the meaning of the new phrase differs so much from the base phrase all go to making this a keeper.
The non-theme fill is smile-making as well, starting with YOSEMITE [California national park]. Am always happy to be reminded of my visit there this summer. I also like the symmetrically balanced and assonant ENTROPY [Degradation of the universe's energy] and EGGHEAD [Studious sort]. ESKIMO [Pie or dog follower], EXTRA [Uncredited actor] and EX-CON [Past prisoner, for short] strengthen that chain of assonance.
The very clinical [Membrane with rods and cones] clues RETINA; but the EYES in today’s puzzle are not anatomical—they’re meteorological, [Cyclone centers]. And that [Lipton rival]? My first fill was NESTLÉ. But no. NESTEA it is—a Nestlé product. I had to laugh when NESTLE did put in an appearance as the verb meaning [Press affectionately]. “GEE!” ["Imagine that!"].
We get a brief respite from word puzzles to think about logic puzzles, specifically sudoku: from the [Highest sudoku digit] to the [Lowest sudoku digit], or NINE to ONE. For a change of pace, there’s also alphabet sudoku.
Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword
- 17a. [Song involving body parts] is the HOKEY-POKEY. You put your right foot in and you shake it all about,
- 25a. [Driveshaft component] is the UNIVERSAL JOINT. I know about “the joint,” but know nothing of universal joints.
- 41a. [Gulped-down Mexican cocktail] is a TEQUILA SLAMMER. I forgot that drink existed. It’s been a while since my college days.
- 55a. A FELT-TIP PEN is a [Marker].
You know what’s funny? Evad’s post from last week decrying a similar slangy-jail-synonyms theme in CrosSynergy. That puzzle, by Randy Ross, included partial COOLER HEADS, CLINK GLASSES, JUG BAND (“the jug”??), STIRFRY, CELL DIVISION (is “cell” shorthand for jail, or just a component thereof?), the JOINT CHIEFS, plural CANCANS, and a PEN NAME. I’ll give the edge to Gareth’s theme for the liveliness of HOKEY-POKEY and TEQUILA SLAMMER, though the UNIVERSAL JOINT puts me to sleep.
Toughest clues, for me:
- 3d. [Golfer's need, at times] is a RAKE. For the sand traps, I think, but I’m not sure.
- 24d. [Standard] clues FLAG.
- 5d. [Execute a high jump?] clues SKYDIVE. Good answer, better clue.
- 7d. [Valley girl word] is, like, LIKE.