Do you like oversized 23×23 crosswords? Or semi-naughty themes? Or Caleb Madison’s work? Or crossword theme contests? If I know most of you, the answer is “all of the above.” You’re in luck! Caleb’s “Skinema” puzzle is available as a premium for American Values Club Crossword subscribers, or for a stand-alone $5 fee. The contest deadline is Thursday, February 14, and the top prize is $50 plus a four-year subscription to the AV Club puzzles. Details here.
Dan Schoenholz’s New York Times crossword
Hey! Can it really be? An early-week puzzle that leaves it to the solver to figure out what the theme is? We don’t see too many themed puzzles without titles that don’t club us over the head with a theme revealer that explains all the mysteries. Here, the theme is car parts and they’re found in other contexts at the end of each theme answer:
- 20a. [1991 film that earned John Singleton a Best Director nomination], BOYZ N THE HOOD. Dang! I spelled BOYZ right but went straight for IN and ran out of room at the end.
- 29a. [What a blind man mistakes for a snake, in a fable], ELEPHANT TRUNK.
- 44a. [Test at a football tryout], FORTY-YARD DASH. I tried FIFTY.
- 54a. [Singer of the 1975 #1 hit "Before the Next Teardrop Falls"], FREDDY FENDER.
Our British Empire solvers are grumbling that the theme lacks a BONNET and a BOOT. And for all I know, in England a dashboard isn’t a dashboard and a fender’s not a fender.
Likes: LAPTOPS and GRANDDAD.
Things that underwhelmed me: 8d. [Like Olivia Newton-John’s last name] clues HYPHENED?? Never seen that one before. Lots of shorter fill in the dull VEIN, including INGE ENS ESS DEO OLDE ALPE ASET NTEST TYNE ADAIR UTE LYS and 53d: [Singer Terence ___ D’Arby]/TRENT. However! I am amused to learn from Wikipedia that Darby (he began without an apostrophe) legally changed his name to Sananda Maitreya in 2001, after a series of dreams. That’s plain goofy. But his young sons have Mingus and Elvis as their middle names, and that’s awesome.
The theme is solid but I’m not sure what shaped the fill in this 78-worder. Can’t help feeling the fill could have been smoother. 2.9 stars.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Oh, You Kid”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The title of today’s puzzle had me thinking we were going to see some little ones in the grid. But instead the emphasis is really on the first two words of the title. We take five common two-word terms (all of which have a U as the second letter as the first word) and swap an O for the U:
- 17-Across: “Sure-handed” becomes SORE-HANDED, [Like someone who has been knitting all day?].
- 25-Across: An [Heir in a downpour?] would be SON-DRENCHED, not “sun-drenched.”
- 37-Across: The [Vehicle for transporting double agents?] is a MOLE TRAIN (not a “mule train”). I liked this one best because it’s the most “transformative.” That is, a “mule train” is a team of mules, not a locomotive (or, if your prefer, choo-choo train). Changing “mule” to “mole” also changes the meaning of the second word (well, more so than is the case for other four theme entries, anyway).
- 52-Across: A “bunny rabbit” turns into a BONNY RABBIT, a [Cute Scottish cottontail?].
- 62-Across: The [Cotton fiber bazaar?] is not a “bull market” but a BOLL MARKET. I really wanted this to be BOLT MARKET, but I knew it couldn’t be since BOLTS, the [Fabric units], crossed at the first L.
There isn’t much to be said about the theme, and the same goes for the fill. I did like the two corners of triple 7s, and those entries were the best of the lot. Those who love partials have a lot to like here. There’s ON RYE, OH SO, A DEAR, A SEC, and ON ME. Fans of Crosswordese will appreciate SHOAL, LST, GIRO, ASTA, ATLI, and EPOS.
Favorite entry =PIGSKIN, a [Football, slangily]. Favorite clue = [Time-out spot, usually] for the CORNER. The most intriguing clue, it should be noted, was [New coin of 2002] for the EURO. Would [New coin of 1866] be a good clue for NICKEL?
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Free to Be”
The themeless bug bit Matt again and he’s freestyling this week. The puzzle’s got a lot of juicy fill bound together with some “Wait, what?” fill. First up, the goodies:
- 18a. [Debate attack], AD HOMINEM. If you disagree with my review of the puzzle, you’re obviously a troglodyte.
- 27a. [Sinatra song with many lines starting with “this time”], “DIDN’T WE.” Never heard of it, but the entry looks kinda cool.
- 62a. [Clean version of a song], RADIO EDIT. As in Cee Lo’s “Forget You,” or the cuss-less version of Drake’s “The Motto.”
- 1d. [Lollipops and peppermints and such], HARD CANDY.
- 5d. [Anchor that stayed put for many years], CRONKITE. You weren’t fooled into thinking of ship anchors, were you?
- 8d. [“Autobahn” group], KRAFTWERK.
- 31d. [Deck diversion], CARD TRICK. Crossworder Ben Bass boggled my mind with a bunch of card tricks at LaGuardia after the ACPT two years ago.
- 38d. [Scrape covers], BAND-AIDS.
- 43d. [It may clash with the rest of the suit], LOUD TIE.
For 60a: [Grocery store number], did anyone else have **IT**ICE in place and jump from “grocery” to WHITE RICE? Yes, I know rice isn’t a “number” and UNIT PRICE is.
I was markedly less fond of these oddballs:
- 13d. [More lively], SPARKIER. Does anyone use that adjective?
- 44a. ["If you asked me..." follow-up], I’D SAY NO. Not lexically chunky enough to stand on its own in the grid. If you asked me if you should include this in your grid, I’d say no.
- 56a. [Con artist's cube], LOADED DIE. I’ve never encountered this in the singular.
- HOD, MCDL, RYDERS, TAL ESSE, TIME I, ON AS, ELIEL meets RINNA.
Overall rating for this 70-worder, 3.5 stars.
Melanie Miller’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Hey, look! It’s another one of those themes that expects the solvers to figure out the common element themselves rather than putting an explanation in the theme revealer. These four phrases begun with words that double as synonyms for “candid”:
- 17a. [Club used as a weapon, say], BLUNT INSTRUMENT. Nice echo in 16a: [He hunted with a club in the "Odyssey"], ORION.
- 29a. [Kid-friendly comfort food], FRANK AND BEANS. I always heard it as “franks and beans.”
- 48a. [Tests during which checking notes is allowed], OPEN-BOOK EXAMS.
- 64a. [Candid sort], STRAIGHT SHOOTER. (See also 36d. [Target practice supply], AMMO.)
Did not know:
- 3d. [Xbox battle game], BRUTE FORCE. But the non-brand-name phrase is, of course, familiar.
- 33d. [African countries on the Mediterranean, e.g.], ARAB STATES. This isn’t a term I hear bandied about much.
- 20a. [Nonagenarian actress White], BETTY. Do you know any other nonagenarian actresses?
- Nice pairing here. 32d: [More like Felix Unger], NEATER and 12d: [Randall who played Felix Unger], TONY.
The lower right corner is overloaded with RST and AEIO. Look at it! AERO RIATA IOTA TEAS ASTI TARSI ATEAT STATES. It all blends together visually. The lower left is better with PUNKS and SNEAK, although nobody yearns for ERNE.