Jim Modney’s New York Times crossword — Ade’s write-up
Is this thing on?? (*taps live microphone*)
Hello there, everyone! Adesina here (AOK) filling in for pannonica for the review of the Monday NYT puzzle (authored by Mr. Jim Modney), and this one got a little physical with us. The theme includes well-known phrases involving body parts and its translation in a different language, with a “body part-TO-same body part” pattern. The punny reveal is in the middle. Sadly, none of the theme entries were “heart-to-heart” or “mouth-to-mouth” (Too soon?)
- HEAD-TO-HEAD : (17A: [Direct, as competition])- Any time people use this phrase, bighorn sheep everywhere should snicker, since they literally engage in head-to-head competition. Human weaklings.
- TÊTE-À-TÊTE : ((25A: [17-Across, literally: Fr.])- First thought? Bighorn sheep with berets.
- MANO A MANO : (48A: [58-Across, literally: Sp.])- What did Roberto Durán say to Sugar Ray Leonard when they went mano a mano in their 1980 prizefight? No más.
- HAND-TO-HAND : (58A: [Direct, as combat])- Or as eight-year-old girls would call it, patty-cake.
- BODY DOUBLES : (35A: [Star stand-ins…or a hint to 17-, 25-, 48-, and 58-Across])
There’s some really nice fill of intermediate length, including where I want to vacation, TAHITI (1D: [Polynesian paradise]), where I might want to go for lunch today, WENDY’S (47D: [Hamburger chain that offers the Baconator]) and what I might have as a snack afterwards, GELATO (31A: [Italian ice cream]). Maybe I’ll put a MILANO or two on top of my gelato while I’m at it (45D: [Certain Pepperidge Farm cookie]). It also adds the less-utilized CAIRN for the almost always-utilized reference to a terrier in a crossword (15A: [_____ terrier]).
Funny thing my mind noticed (or thinks it noticed) was the furtive nature of the puzzle, with NINJA (50D: [Masked Japanese fighter]), BLENDS IN (35D: [Is inconspicuous, say]), SQUEEZES (11D: [Hugs tightly]) and QUIETED (12D: [Shushed]). Am I about to be sliced and diced alive by a ninja above my head who squeezed in through the window quietly and blended in with the ceiling paint in my place?
The crosswordese in the grid includes OUTDO (33D: [Best in competition]), IDS (27D: [Driver’s licenses and such, for short]) and John Gotti’s very, very distant cousin, GOTTO (31D: [Reached]). It’s not the city not the demonym, but a version of Omaha, OMAHAS, crept in to the grid (43D: [Plains Indians]). Cue Peyton Manning:
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: INDY (62A: [Memorial Day race, informally])- For those unfamiliar with my write-ups I usually do for the CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, I expound on an entry that refers to sports (or I stretch it to make the entry allude to sports) to edify you on the topic, with me being a sports journalist by trade. This time, it’s The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500, which is just less than a month away from its 98th running. The winner of the race receives the Borg-Warner Trophy (another way to clue “Borg” without referencing the tennis great, Bjorn) and also traditionally downs a bottle of milk, which started after driver Louis Meyer requested a glass of buttermilk after winning the race in 1933 and then received a bottle three years later when he won in 1936. Before Major League Baseball expanded to Miami and Denver in 1993, I remember seeing a profile on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which stated that the Speedway is so big, each of the then-26 Major League Baseball stadiums could fit inside of it simultaneously. Yikes!
Thank you so very much for your time today, and the usual amazing cast of characters will resume their posts providing better/wittier/more insightful crossword talk about the NYT puzzle tomorrow. Take care!!
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”
I got to thinking this puzzle was rather drab and dull. It’s not my fault—Brendan put DRAB right up there at 1-Across, and had DULL in the bottom center. Plus a few crosswordese nuggets, such as RAJA, ERTE, NEHI, ANAT, ST LO, TORII, RHEAS, and EL-HI.
But! He also had two bands anchoring the grid, with MATCHBOX TWENTY (which mostly does spell out its number, as opposed to, say, U-TWO) and JANE’S ADDICTION, which I mistyped as JANE’S ADDITION and that got me thinking of drop-a-letter math themes. Between the bands, the LOWER FORTY-EIGHT (in the dictionary with the number spelled out) is also rock solid. How often do we see spelled-out numbers as part of crossword answers and they’re bogus? Nice work, Brendan. No ONE-A or A-ONE to be found.
Four more things:
- 14a. ["Fuuuuuuuuu....."], OH, NO. I liked this clue.
- 18a. [Gelatinous substance the Japanese call Kanten], AGAR. Learned something new about AGAR.
- 44a. ["Jesus Christ the Apple Tree," e.g.], NOEL. In the running for “least familiar Christmas carol of all time.”
- 27d. [Branch of geometry dealing with curved spaces (named after the German mathematician Bernhard)], RIEMANNIAN. Tough fill for non-mathy types.
Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Spa Package”—Ade’s write-up
Hello everyone, and welcome to a new week! Never take that for granted.
For all the people that have done a day at the spa and have been treated to the whole nine yards of the services they provide, then I’m jealous. (Unless it was a real bad experience, then I’ll feel better.) This puzzle by Ms. Gail Grabowski just adds to that jealousy/relief by mentioning all of the services offered at a spa with the last word of four theme entries, two across and two down.
- SEALING WAX: (17A: [Letter closer of yore])
- ORANGE PEEL: (53A: [Bartender’s twist])
- TURKEY WRAP: (11D: [Deli sandwich])
- EGO MASSAGE: (28D: [Praise bestowed on an I-minded type])
It was a disappointment that it took me a while to get LIMIT off the bat (1A: [Put a cap on]). Don’t know why I thought part of word had to have “lid” in it. Oh, well! It’s interesting to me that the entry right in the middle of the grid, STAIR (36A: [Part of a flight]) is the bottom step of a small flight of stairs of S’s, with SPREE (31A: [Indulgent outing]) and SAY NAY (29A: [Cast a contrary vote]).
Not the biggest fan of “say nay,” and there’s a partial in I MEANT (26A: [Backpedaler’s words of clarification]) and BBS as well (49A: [Small ammo]). I should have remembered SIM much earlier (38A: [Scrooge portrayer Alastair]), but not doing do made the crossing of that and IRIS (26D: [Novelist Johansen]) a particularly rough one. But definitely making up for it was the very sightly LA SALLE (44A: [Mississippi River explorer]) and AMSTEL underneath it (47A: [Heineken brand]). Throw in TOGA (56A: [Frat frock]) along with those two entries previously mentioned, and you have the makings of an epic party at La Salle University!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: TWINS (39A: [It might be hard to tell them apart])- Harmon “Killer” Killebrew, Kirby Puckett, and Bert “be home” Blyleven are all Baseball Hall-Of-Famers that used to play for the Minnesota Twins, a franchise that started as the original Washington Senators in 1901. When the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1960, a new Washington Senators was formed, only for that franchise to move to Texas and become the Texas Rangers in 1972.
My doubleheader is over typing up crossword reviews today! Time to put the fingers on ice!
Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
Frequent Monday-approved theme here, vowel progression. This time it’s long sounds, following an S, as the first syllable in a phrase.
- 17a. ["Waiting for your signal"] SAY THE WORD.
- 24a. [Be in complete accord] SEE EYE TO EYE.
- 39a. [Sound that may be "heaved" in a classroom] SIGH OF BOREDOM. Quotation marks are unnecessary here.
- 54a. [Oath-ending words] SO HELP ME GOD. Oh, I read that as “offending words.”
- 64a. ["Alphabet series" mystery writer (she's up to "X") SUE GRAFTON. She's on the record—or a record, anyway—as saying it "almost has to be Xenophobe or Xenophobia."
So-so theme answers, none particularly exciting. Not part of the theme: SATE, SEEP, SONYS, SUMO, with a side-eye at the short-u SUN. I prefer no such perceivable overlaps as a nicety. (29a, 71a, 72a, 39a, 43a)
Overall the puzzle played creaky, with a warhorse type of theme, and some far-less-than-thrilling tendencies among the fill. Talking about abbrevs. EOE and UAE, GSA and TSA and RNA, crosswordese OLIO and OGEE. VEE next to EEE in the upper right corner for a fingernails-on-chalkboard effect. And FITBs SUN-dried tomatoes, URSA Minor, El GRECO, Robert DOWNEY Jr., DEF Leppard, OUR daily bread; that many feels gratuitous, even for a Monday.
Six-stacks vertically in the northwest and southeast corners, but nothing special comprising them. The longest non-theme answers—AGREES TO and IN A HURRY—are also blah.
Cute clue at 10-down, [Word before boll or Bowl] COTTON. Clue/answer I’ve seen too much of recently: 49d [May-December wedding issue] AGE GAP.
Felt below-par, but perhaps I’m being overly rigorous since I haven’t solved any crosswords at all for the better part of this past week. Nevertheless, I can’t easily imagine a novice solver being particularly inspired by this offering, beyond a certain satisfaction of completing a crossword.
Evan Birnholz’s Fireball contest crossword, “White Lies”
This contest puzzle didn’t have any sort of meta answer to suss out—if you figured out the gimmick in the grid, you had the contest answer right there. The Down answers are all entered normally, but the first letter of every Across answer (which I’ve circled) looks wrong as it’s been replaced by whatever works in the crossing Down answer. So Studs TERKEL at 1-Down has three letters replacing the initials of HIJACK, STANCE, and FRIARS, and so on.
The thematically changed letters spell out THE TRUTH IS RARELY PURE AND NEVER SIMPLE. It’s a quote by OSCAR WILDE (8d. [With 9-Down, writer of the essay "The Decay of Lying"]), and the spaces opposite his name spell out FALSE START (48d. [With 49-Down, track error ... and a feature of every Across answer such that, when read in order, a hidden quote by 8-/9-Down is revealed]).
How nifty is that? I’ll tell you how nifty it is: Very much so. I don’t recall ever seeing a puzzle with this particular angle, and I can’t imagine how Evan put this whole grid together without losing his mind several times over. To place the letters that spell out the quote just so, and get them to fit into Down answers and into mangled Across answers … Evan, tell us how many hours this took you, whether you were slaving away on paper or in software, and whether you used database power to work the theme out.
Hey, look! The TER in TERKEL and the TIA jogged below it spell out my South African buddy Tertia‘s name. If only the contest answer had been to find the hidden African blogger.
Evan’s puzzle has some boring old fill in it, but a crossword that works your brain hard hides its fusty spots well. MOTETS appears as LOTETS, there’s an ARN, and I’m still waiting for ECOCAR to prove to me that it’s in wide use. Mind you, three fusties in a 15×15 is a fraction of what we find in plenty of daily puzzles with far less ambitious themes. The hardcore Peter Gordon editing gets the bulk of the credit for all the Fireballs’ smooth fill.
4.75 stars from me. I hope all of you diehard Fireball fans were able to crack Evan’s code too!