Michael Black’s New York Times crossword
Cute enough theme: Four people whose names include relevant three-letter bits in order (but spaced apart in two of the four).
- 20a. [A general and his country], ULYSSES S. GRANT and USA.
- 37a. [A hoops great and his league], ELGIN BAYLOR and NBA.
- 44a. [A comic and his former show], ADAM SANDLER and SNL. Ooh! I watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine for the first time tonight, starring the other A*** SA***** from SNL, Andy Samberg. Hilarious show. Give it a peep if you haven’t seen it.
- 59a. [A president and his conflict], WOODROW WILSON and WWI. It’s “his” war? Okay.
I’d rather see this theme with the circled letters all bundled, as in NBA and WWI. And it would be nice to see a woman or three in the theme, too.
The fill was a bit of a mess. I felt my face scowling so much, I pulled out my phone and took the first ever Scowl-o-Meter selfie. It was … not pretty. Also not pretty: I LOSE, OAST, HYPO, UNPIN, PRS, ENO, DEBI, EATER, ENOL, ALEE, A MOLE, ENA yet again (third time in the last week that I’ve seen it, I believe), A-TESTS, ‘OME (oy!), SYNE, SABO, ELSA clued as [Joy Adamson's big cat] (um, you know how the latest Disney toon Frozen has made $348 million in the US alone? and the soundtrack album dethroned the new Beyoncé album on the Billboard charts? Broadway star Idina Menzel does the voice of ELSA the Snow Queen. This is a rather more current ELSA clue possibility), ELIS, AGIN, NALA, WEIR, RAVI, ISOLA, and GTO. In all seriousness, I would not want to see more than four or five of these entries in a single 15×15 puzzle and we’ve got over 20 of them here. For just four theme entries occupying 48 squares! I don’t understand why the fill is so rough. A 78-word puzzle, 48 theme squares … seems like the grid would have accommodated a better fill. And the theme answers aren’t locked into this layout, either (unlike, say, a vowel progression theme where five entries have to appear in alpha order).
Anyway, it’s not fun to solve a puzzle with one’s brow furrowing and one’s mouth downturned. It promotes wrinkles, for crying out loud. I won’t have it.
2.5 stars from me.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Not For Vegetarians” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Those who eschew MEAT won’t be happy with today’s CrosSynergy puzzle, as it’s found in five theme phrases:
- [Ratty] was WORM-EATEN – rancid meat is sometimes worm-eaten…not a pleasant thought at this hour of the morning, huh?
- ["Finally, I can put my feet up!"] clued “HOME AT LAST!” – I enjoyed this entry, with echoes of “Free At Last!” from earlier this month.
- [Movie line spoken by Renée Zellweger after "Just shut up"] clued YOU HAD ME AT HELLO – Jerry Maguire.
- [Urgent summoner's words] were “COME AT ONCE!” – sounds more like a movie line (cf. theme entry above) than something someone might say to someone else in everyday parlance.
- [Fightin' words] were “LET ME AT EM!” – another fun phrase.
Pretty chatty puzzle; lots of talking going on (or summoning) in these theme phrases. I was a bit surprised to see that the first entry had MEAT split differently than the other four, as I know this constructor pays attention to the consistency of either splitting the word in the same way in each theme entry or having each one be unique. Funny to have EXALT cross EXTOL, since I often confuse the two. Perhaps a missed opportunity to clue them both the same way, as the former was [Pile on the praise] and the latter was [Heap kudos on]. I enjoyed the parallel between the theme clue of [Fightin' words] with the entry AGIN clued as [Opposin']. Fun way to spice up a less-than-great fill word. Finally, CLIP-ON TIE (which I’m sure the constructor has never worn) and GIRL SCOUT were nice down entries in a puzzle with an above-average amount of theme material.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Wherever You May Roam”
The letter U roams wherever it pleases, changing key words into entirely different words:
- 17a. [Group of priests dipping fruit in melted chocolate?], FONDUING FATHERS. Founding fathers. Mmm, chocolate fondue.
- 37a. [Comparatively bare-bottomed military assault?], NUDER SIEGE. Under siege … by buttocks.
- 42a. [East African safari park effort?], GNU CONTROL. Gun control.
- 62a. [Press charges against a Snuggie-clad werewolf encountered on an acid trip?], SUE YOUR ILLUSION. Use Your Illusion, which I’m told is the title of three seminal Guns N’ Roses albums—I and II as well as a compilation of the two. I know one GNR song, and only because it was played by a kickass band at Byron Walden’s wedding.
- 15a. [Comic Marc who hosts the podcast "WTF"], MARON. Haven’t listened to him (not much of an aural person) but have certainly read enough about him to know the name well.
- 21a. [KitchenAid mixer add-on], DOUGH HOOK. I may have a dough hook. Have never used it, certainly.
- 52a. [Give someone else heads], CALL TAILS. Hmm, are CALL TAILS and CALL HEADS not rather arbitrary phrases?
- 4d. [Senator at the center of the 2013 government shutdown], TED CRUZ. This is factually incorrect, per Cruz’s remarks on a Sunday-morning talk show. ”I think it was a mistake that President Obama and the Democrats shut the government down this fall. The reason they did so is that President Obama dug in and said he wouldn’t compromise and he wouldn’t negotiate.” Good and newsy entry, though.
- 10d. [Islamic fundamentalist branch], WAHHABI.
EELER is never welcome in my crossword, but Ben’s clue is funny: 33d. [Pot user out on a boat?]. I could also do without fill like REDUG, OYEZ (but I like the Night Court clue), ODIE, and UKE.
Utterly unfamiliar name: 52d. László who lost repeatedly to Michael Phelps], CSEH. Given that I didn’t know Use Your Illusion was at the root of 62a, it’s good that 62a’s clue begins with “Press charges against.” Has to be SUE, even if CSEH looks so implausible.
C.C. Burnikel’s Louisiana Times crossword—Gareth’s review
We have an interesting take on the state postal abbreviation theme trope today. Phrases that start with two-letter initialisms that are also state postal codes are reimagined as referring to said codes. There are 7 theme entries, though some are shorter than is typical and the overall letter count is 53, about normal. The central MSDOS is the weak link. It is the only one that modifies the second part of the theme answers, and it does so not only in meaning but pronunciation too. That said, in general you want a bit more separation between changed and original phrases than is present; on the other hand, I can’t see a practical way to achieve this here.
- 4a, [Hartford market checker’s action?], CTSCAN. (Originally computed tomography.)
- 17a, [Boise jewelry?], IDBRACELET. (Originally identification.)
- 31a, [Harrisburg loudspeaker network?], PASYSTEM. (Originally public address.) To me this clue’s answer is “PA PA System.”
- 41a, [Jackson hair styles?], MSDOS. (Originally Microsoft.)
- 46a, [Tulsa bull pen?], OKCORRAL. (Originally Old Kindersley, Wikipedia informs me.)
- 64a, [Richmond medical center?], VAHOSPITAL. Never heard of this phrase, but apparently it’s “Veterans Affairs”. I assume this is something every single American has heard of? OK, then.
- 70a, [Baton Rouge equipment?], LAGEAR. (Los Angeles.)
Elsewhere, the snazziest part of the grid are the big corners featuring SENATERACE, LADYKILLER & PINACOLADA. A lot of low-level, inoffensive but neverthelesss “crosswordese-y” answers are present. The only answer that irked me was ADES, which is “not a word”.
Theme: more interesting than most, inconsistencies aside. 3.5 stars