Julian Lim’s New York Times crossword
It’s December. It might be downright chilly where you are. (Gareth, we’re not talking to you Southern Hemisphere types.) Wouldn’t a nice, warm bowl of soup hit the spot? (Morning blog readers, we’re not talking to you. Have a hearty bowl of oatmeal!) Julian’s theme is SPLIT PEA, and the word PEA is split in each of the theme answers. You’ve got HOPE AGAINST HOPE and the ROPE-A-DOPE, which had me thinking all the theme answers would have a couple *OPE words in them, but no. There’s also SLEEP EASY, LANDSCAPE ARTIST, and LOP-EARED bunnies and puppies. But wait! What’s this over here? A couple amped-up TYPE A‘S, without a “this is a theme entry” asterisk beside its clue? Small oops.
This is a fancy grid for a Tuesday puzzle, with a word count of just 72. The corners all have 6-letter answers stacked four deep. My favorite fill includes the Latinate plural SANCTI, the exhortation “GO, GIRL!,” and the PAPAYA in a bizarre biblical sandwich (though I’m never excited to run into MENE, that [Word on a biblical wall]). And MCPHEE! I’m so glad the name’s clued not as that American Idol contestant from the other year, but as [Writer John who won a Pulitzer for "Annals of the Former World"]. My favorites among his many books are Oranges (all about the fruit and its history), Basin and Range (a geology-centric book that I had read well before I took Intro to Geology in college, and it made me excited to see those things in real life on our field trips), and The Control of Nature (which tells you so much about what the Army Corps of Engineers did in Louisiana with the Mississippi River, some of which has surely changed in recent years). The book in the clue today refers to a volume that collects five (!) of McPhee’s geology books. If you like your nonfiction engaging and thoughtful, not dry, you might enjoy McPhee.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Their Hearts Grew Three Sizes That Day”
The title cops a line from Dr. Seuss’s Grinch tale, which was easy enough to grasp. But it took some doing for me to grok what was happening in the theme entries. The “hearts” of three people’s 5-letter first names are tripled by splitting the names into two words:
- 19a. Helen Hunt becomes HELL LEN HUNT, [The underworld chase for author Deighton?].
- 34a. ROBB BIN GIVENS could be [Things you know are going to be in former Virginia governor Chuck's recycling?]. I don’t know about you, but I’d never really think about calling items destined for the recycling bin “givens.” Also, one demerit for playing on Robin Givens’ name and including the first name in another clue: 48d, [HLN host Robin] MEADE. And what’s a word from the puzzle’s title doing in the grid, too? 58a: [Crux] clues HEART.
- 52a. [Football Hall-of-Famer Ronnie, playing an extra in "Lord of the Rings"?] clues TREE ENT LOTT, for Trent Lott. This one changes the pronunciation markedly, though, as “TREE ENT” is clearly two syllables.
It’s not your usual theme so it gets points for freshness, but I didn’t feel it really worked so well. I do like the long non-theme fill a lot, though—your PSILOCYBIN shrooms, a CLOSE SHAVE, CEVICHE, GOES ON TOUR, the famous WOODLAWN cemetery, “WE’VE MET.”
Three more clues:
- 1d. [Jacob's son, in the Bible] is SIMEON. Not one of the top 10 biblical names found in crosswords. ESAU, ENOS, ADAM, EVE, HOSEA…I know I’m missing others.
- 11d. UVULITIS makes perfect sense as [Inflammation of that dangly thing in the back of your throat], the uvula—and yet never in my 20+ years of medical editing have I encountered the word. Don’t turn hypochondriacal and claim you have this, okay?
- 13d. [Derisive (or James Brown-ish) laughs] are HAHS. You have got to go read this J.B. anecdote! Not many people can truthfully claim that James Brown plucked them out of their mother’s arms and sang to them.
Steven J. St. John’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
- 20a. [...in golf] – ARNOLD PALMER
- 28a. [...in stock car racing] – RICHARD PETTY
- 45a. [...in swing music] – BENNY GOODMAN
- 41a. [...in rock 'n' roll] – ELVIS PRESLEY
It’s a cute “what do these people have in common” theme that includes big names in both sport and music, which makes it nice and accessible. Call me NEEDY, but keeping a puzzle DEVOID of obscure names is crucial to making an early-week puzzle work.
I’m sitting here looking at this puzzle, and there’s really not much else great to say about it. WILD WEST is nice, and I’m a fan of MONDRIAN‘s work. The pairs of RED and DRY and ORAL/EXAM trump IRR./ARR. Honestly, the only thing I know about RPI is that Tyler Hinman went there. There’s some more nonsense in the crossword: what the heck is -ENCE doing in here? Worse still:
- 29d. [Health care gp.] – HMO. But what does this stand for? HEALTH Maintenance Organization. None of that, please – this isn’t the USA Today.
Sorry if I come across as unenthusiastic, but it feels like much more emphasis was put on making this puzzle a pangram then making it really fun. 2.9 from me.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Technical Difficulties” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Something’s not quite working right in this puzzle, and that would be the four theme entries, all clued [In disrepair]:
- 18-Across: OUT OF WHACK. That was my third answer, after OUT OF ORDER and then, having seen the crossing OSH [___ Kosh B'gosh], OUT OF SHAPE. That made for some sloooow-going in the northeast corner. It was only after I got RUE McClanahan as [Blanche in "The Golden Girls"] that I had the confidence to try SAKES as the [Japanese spirits], which finally led to the right answer. BTW, that corner had a nice clue: [Some of them are French] for DOORS (glad I only contemplated MOORS for a half-second or so).
- 28-Across: SHOT TO PIECES. Hmm. To me, this means “totally ruined,” not just merely “in disrepair.” But it’s a lively crossword entry.
- 49-Across: DOWN THE TUBES. On the origins of this phrase, one website guesses it stems from “the soil-pipes which are connected to lavatories.” A lovely image.
- 64-Across: ON THE FRITZ. Another great expression, which can also be the answer to [Where to find Mondale's sweater].
There’s some nice non-theme fill here, especially POOH-POOH, GO FISH, and V-SIX. This tax jockey always likes to see entries like ITEMIZES, even if they are clued without any reference to taxes (thus deleting virtually all of the pizzazz from the term)–this one is clued as [Lists individually]. That’s okay, but look at how much jazzier [Lists individually, as tax deductions] is for a clue. (If you need to clean up from all the excitement, go ahead–we’ll still be here when you get back.)
It sits two time zones away from me, but I swear I could Amy’s Scowl-O-Meter ping twice. The first was for SPEE, the answer to [Admiral Graf von ___]. Isn’t that the squid-head guy from Return of the Jedi famous for this line? The second was for DAHS, the [Bits of Morse code]. I know, I know–I seem to be the only person in the English-speaking world who hates this word. My Morse code has dots and dashes and nothing else. I know I’m wrong, but dammit, I’m right.