Michael Shteyman’s New York Times crossword
This puzzle is basically a themeless puzzle (72 words, open grid) that happens to have a six-piece mini-theme: phrases that end with -TRA, and which are matrixed together into one single maze of answers:
- 19a. [Subject of a 2010 biography subtitled "The Voice"], FRANK SINATRA
- 39a. [Tabloid TV show co-hosted by Mario Lopez], EXTRA
- 55a. [Compact since 1982], NISSAN SENTRA
- 11d. [Dangerous family], COSA NOSTRA
- 20d. [Colorful fish], NEON TETRA
- 29d. [Affair of the 1980s], IRAN-CONTRA
The non-TRA fill has some juicy stuff amid a lot of arid material. I like BANANAS and FAVICON (see a little orange in front of the URL www.crosswordfiend.com up there? that’s a favicon), PEA COAT and PIT STOP, YOWZA, Porsche CARRERA, EMBASSY / SUITES, and SWAINS (though I think of SWAINS as young men engaged in wooing rather than [Country lads]).
I have never encountered, to my recollection, the word DESCANT (66a. [Decorative melody added above a simple musical theme]). ADSORBS, Port SAID, AGRA, ERICS, ABUTTAL, BOFF, A PAR, UAR, ORT, and RONI, I could do without.
This was weird for a Thursday theme because there’s no backhanded wordplay going on, no hidden games. Right? Unless I’m missing something, it’s just “these things all end with TRA and they are defined straightforwardly.” Where’s the fun in that?
I dispute LADY DI being correct as the answer to 25d: [She was on the cover of back-to-back issues of Time in September 1997]. This was just after Princess Diana died. She hadn’t officially been “Lady Di” since before her 1981 wedding, not even after the divorce. Wikipedia explains, “as she was no longer married to the Prince of Wales, Diana lost the style Her Royal Highness and instead was styled Diana, Princess of Wales. As the mother of the prince expected to one day ascend the thrones, she was accorded the same precedence she enjoyed during her marriage.”
- 33a. [It may have one or two sides], ENTREE.
- 42a. ["Broccoli again?," e.g.], MOAN. I never serve broccoli as a side.
3.25 stars. Not as rewarding a solve as one hopes for on a Thursday.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Rounds of the Game”
Contest puzzle! So no answers this week, and no chit-chat. I solved the crossword proper in, I dunno, somewhere around 5 minutes. Then I looked at the starred answers and I read the meta instructions, threw up my hands, and promptly emailed Evad and Matt to see if one of those meta-heads wanted to blog this one next week. Matt volunteered immediately, having admired the puzzle when test-solving it. At this point, I have zero idea what avenue to take for the meta and I’m putting the puzzle aside.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “It’s a Guy Thing”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Here’s a variation on the old Wheel of Fortune “before and after” gimmick where each of the three theme entries begins with MR., the shortened form of “mister:”
- 17-Across: “Mr. Right” and “right-wing” combine to form MR. RIGHT WING, the [Hall full of handsome hunks?]. They should use that term to refer to the section of the house on The Bachelorette where all of the contestants sleep.
- 41-Across: “Mr. Peanut” and a “peanut gallery” merge into MR. PEANUT GALLERY, the [Pictures of a Planters mascot]. Hopefully there are some candids in the gallery, because Mr. Peanut is especially nutty when he comes out of his shell. (Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week.)
- 58-Across: “Mr. Big” (from Sex and the City, maybe?) joins a childhood fave, Big Wheels, to make MR. BIG WHEELS, the [Limo for the boss?].
With just 37 squares devoted to the theme, there’s a lot of room for sparkly fill. The long Downs, CANNED HEAT and SUPER-SIZED, are great fun, even though I’ve never heard of the [Boogie band that played at Woodstock]. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which answer matches the clue.)
Given the low theme density, I’m mildly surprised with entries like ALAI and INIT (clued as a [Monogram part (abbr.)] instead of something like [Having a chance to win]). There’s also a high concentration of proper names, but that sort of thing never bothers me. The only ones that gave me pause were the instersection of EDD [Byrnes of "77 Sunset Strip"] and TODD, of whom we are told that [He gave Lisa noogies in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch]. Must be from a season I didn’t watch (there are many, alas).
Favorite entry = FISSURE, the [Narrow gap]. Favorite clue = [Courtroom rapper] for a GAVEL. The image of an artist rapping in a courtroom keeps sticking with me. Is this an eyeworm?
Michael Sharp’s Los Angeles Times crossword
You know all those unfamiliar *EY words that are crossword regulars? The REY and BEY and is-she-still-acting Susan DEY? They are here with thematic purpose this time, as *AY words are changed into sound-alike *EY words:
- 17a. [Luminous Spanish king?], REY OF LIGHT. Wouldn’t that be a rey de la luz or something?
- 29a. [Chart containing only threes?], TREY TABLE. We’re going to need that in the upright and locked position, folks.
- 49a. [Turkish sty leader?], BEY OF PIGS. Ha! That’s … weird. And funny.
- 61a. [Rock in actress Susan's path, perhaps?], DEY TRIPPER.
- 10d. [Casual greeting craze?], HEY FEVER.
- 39d. [How owls know when mice are bluffing?], PREY TELL. Nice. Owls and mice playing poker; owl always wins.
The base phrases are mostly a lively batch—ray of light, boring tray table, Bay of Pigs, “Day Tripper,” hay fever, and “pray tell.”
I’m a little surprised to see the clue for NAE repeating a theme answer key word: 20a. [Lassie's "In a pig's eye!"].
- 38a. [Groggy response], I’M UP.
- 47a. [KoKo or Yum-Yum, in Lilian Jackson Braun mysteries], CAT.
- 6d. [Teens conflict, briefly], WWI. So soon after acne treatment OXY, were you thinking of teenagers rather than the 1910s?
- 62d. [Brown in a bed], TAN.
Best fill: IPHONE, GET-GO, CLENCH, “THAT SO?,” SCRAGS, POTPIE, and Michael’s shoutout to his wife’s native land at 1-Across, MAORI. Worst fill: HASP atop EWER, NAE plus TAM (limit one Scottishism per customer, please), Pea-less SWEE, avis-less RARA, AHS, SYNE, ECU, PCT.
Overall, it’s got a 3.66 stars kind of vibe.
Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Day Shift” — Matt’s review
Started this one in the upper-left, where I saw that we had a wacky wordplay theme going on. SEAM HERE fell quickly and then TAME BUILDING, but I had time to notice the nice clue [Chick with 18 Grammys] for COREA and the nice entry HAS DIBS [Lays a claim (on)]. Heading east wasn’t working so I went south, where THE APOSTLES broke things open (Matthew is one of them, so I wasn’t going to miss that). Did you know that Sean CONNERY was People’s Sexiest Man of the Century? Now you do.
Swung around that wide-open corner quickly; had to guess at the I in MELINA/RICO but it was intuitive. LOW SNAP [Cause of a flubbed field goal, often] is a great entry and I also liked PRECIP and PAN IN down there. Blitzed through the center with AMBLE CANADA [Take a leisurely stroll through the Great White North?] and then knocked out the pretty and pretty easy NE corner, especially digging the poorly-behaved John MCENROE (getting his comeuppance at the link there).
Bottom right fell last, as it often does. HATE SEX is good, though I’ve usually heard that phrase with a more graphic noun instead of SEX. The last two themers (ENTRANCE AMEX and FAUX IAMS) fell and I was done in under 7 minutes.
I looked at the theme quintet for a couple of minutes but had to IM the puzzle’s author to find out what was going on:
10:51 AM me: hey
not sure I quite grok the theme today
can u enlighten me?
10:52 AM Brendan: AM (day) is shifted (moved to another part) of the word
TEAM BUILDING ==> TAME BUILDING
me: aha, OK
thanks — I thought you were going for just shifting the M, which didn’t make sense and wasn’t even true
OK, off to blog
And here we are. Reasonable theme, nice fill, fun clues, 4 stars.
Byron Walden’s American Values Club crossword, “Intermezzos”
Each theme answer has two intermezzos spelling TERM, because 2 TERMS is [What President Obama has in common with this puzzle's theme entries]:
- 18a. [Ticket writer in skinny jeans and black glasses?], HIPSTER METER MAID.
- 21a. [Furry weasels on the edge of the litter?], OUTERMOST ERMINES.
- 36a. [When a Hallowe'en DJ might play "Thriller"?], AFTER “MONSTER MASH.”
- 50a. [Creative genius at a graphic design firm?], POSTER MASTERMIND.
- 56a. [Stage direction for a nearsighted cartoon character?], ENTER MISTER MAGOO.
Each of the 16-letter theme answers is a contrived phrase that has one TERM fully within a discrete word/phrase and the other connecting the shorter word to the longer word/phrase. The latter TERMs break TER/M four times and T/ERM once. The 2 in 2 TERMS crosses the 2 in 2PAC, although I personally prefer the Tupac spelling.
Assorted 6-, 8-, and 9-letter Down answers smoothly crisscross three theme entries. Did you know 33d: [Lana Turner's role in "The Postman Always Rings Twice"], CORA SMITH? I did not.
Normally you’d raise an eyebrow at a numerical prefix entry, but I kinda like the DECA/HEPTA pair both clued as [Numerical prefix in an Olympic event]. They are, of course, the -thlons.
- 30a. [Tie in the sky], BUNGEE CORD. To keep you from plummeting to the earth like a cartoon character when bungee jumping.
- 2d. [Den offering], OPIUM. Some people call the den their “family room.” Opium optional.
- 6d. [Drive-in movie holder, perhaps?], CD-ROM. As in the CD drive on a computer.
- 10d. [Snuggie offering], WARMTH. I really should get a Snuggie.
Much of the fill is, as you’d expect in a puzzle with five full-width theme answers (four of them stacked), on the short and dry side. ONEC OMRI ESSE ELIE ASTA ISY IFI, etc.? There’s not much you can do with those.