It turns red litmus paper blue / TUES 1-24-22 / Baltimore's seafood specialty / Highbrow tower material? / Miso soup cubes

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Hi, everyone! Clare here for the last Tuesday of January. I had such a fun time watching what was quite possibly the most exciting weekend of football; I just couldn’t believe what I was watching! So much last-second drama, and so many incredible passes. I swear Liverpool is going to pull it off and overtake Man City to win the English Premier League title this year. Ooh, did you think I was talking about the super close and intense American football games this weekend? Nah, my Steelers are out of the playoffs now, so what do I care?! European football is where it’s at.

Anywho, on to the puzzle!

Constructor:
Ray Brunsberg and Ellen Brunsberg

Relative difficulty: Fairly challenging
THEME:  Games — each theme answer combines two games whose names are treated as a phrase and given a punny clue.

Theme answers:
  • WAR OPERATION (20A: General's responsibility?) 
  • SORRY OTHELLO (29A: Apology from Iago?) 
  • MONOPOLY RISK (44A: Antitrust concern?) 
  • CLUE CHECKERS (53: Editors of crossword puzzles, e.g.?)
Word of the Day: HIGGS (19A: ___ boson (the so-called "God particle"))
The Higgs boson, sometimes called the Higgs particle, is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics produced by the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, one of the fields in particle physics theory. In the Standard Model, the Higgs particle is a massive scalar boson with zero spin, even (positive) parity, no electric charge, and no color charge, that couples to (interacts with) mass. It is also very unstable, decaying into other particles almost immediately. In the mainstream media, the Higgs boson has often been called the "God particle" from the 1993 book “The God Particle” by Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman, although the nickname is not endorsed by many physicists. (Wiki)
• • •

I thought the theme was clever, and the rest of the puzzle was pretty decent. I did find the puzzle to be on the hard side (whether that’s because I was in a bad mood or the puzzle wasn’t on my wavelength or I just couldn’t get a foothold — who knows!), so that might have colored my overall opinion of the puzzle. Looking back a bit later, though, I can appreciate the idea of two games making up each theme answer. It’s interesting and imaginative, and it’s particularly cool considering this is husband-and-wife Ray and Ellen Brunsberg’s debut as constructors. 

While I was solving, the theme answers seemed a bit disjointed to me. But then I had a big aha! moment with the final theme answer — CLUE CHECKERS — at which point I realized what was going on and went up and filled in some missing letters for the other themers. I think my main issue with the theme is that, once you got one theme answer, you couldn’t necessarily get the others. Usually, once you get one theme answer, you can reason something about the others. But, here, the theme answers were two separate things kind of slammed together, and having WAR OPERATION as the first one didn’t trigger any thoughts for me. 

Some other places I got lost were: I put in Holy “Toledo” instead of Holy TERROR (6D); I reflexively wrote“SAT” instead of ACT for 38A: University entrance exam, for short; and I tried putting in “reel” for 37A: Lure (in) instead of ROPE. I also had never heard of LOW (58D: Make oneself heard in a herd) as a sound a cow makes before, so I tried to put in “moo,” instead. I also have a bone to pick with 25A: In which head shots can be taken for SOCCER. I get that the clue was a misdirection designed to make you think “head shots” was referring to portraits being taken, but as someone who played the sport for many years and watches a lot of soccer (or “football” — Go, Liverpool!), I can tell you that the term is “header” — definitely not a head shot. 

KLEPTOS makes sense for 5D: Thieving condors of Mario games and wasn’t particularly hard, but it wasn’t a term I knew off the bat. Coming out of that NW corner, you can usually get some momentum with either the theme answer going across or with the long(ish) down, but I needed another cross to get KLEPTOS and several to get WAR OPERATION, so I was a bit slow to really get going. 

27D: Part of a horror film address, for short with ELM ST was a bit ugly. ELMST? What’s an ELMST? I especially had trouble because the answer crossed 36A: Millennium, at the beginning and end? for EMS. That M was my last square, and I must’ve stared at it for 20 seconds. So, I found that section to be challenging. 

I know that all sounds like a lot of gripes, and I suppose it is, but I did enjoy the puzzle — almost entirely because I thought the theme was clever. The fill of the puzzle was mostly clean (not a ton of crosswordese), and the theme just didn’t leave a lot of room for many fun non-theme answers because of how much space it took up.

Misc.:
  • Seeing Bert and ERNIE (51D) in the puzzle reminded me of the moment that went viral on Twitter last week between Elmo and Zoe over Rocco. (You can watch it here.) Seeing Elmo that unhinged was hilarious. 
  • I recently got into watching “The Great British Bake Off” and am mildly obsessed. The show is mainly about baking, but I still feel tempted to now try all of these supposed 100 ways to cook an EGG (11D). 
  • In my soccer carpool when I was younger, there were five of us who had to find a way to entertain ourselves during the 30-minute drive to practice — and back — so we would bring Nintendo DSs and play, primarily, Super Mario Bros against each other. (Yes, we’d get a tad competitive with each other!) I guess we were playing the wrong type of Mario game, so I missed out on ever seeing KLEPTOS (5D). 
  • I’ve got everyone’s newest obsession, Wordle, on the brain, so when I first opened up the app, this puzzle just looked like one really big Wordle grid! 
Signed, Clare Carroll, a fan of (real) football

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ATV with four tires / MON 1-24-22 / UN agency awarded the 1969 Nobel Peace Prize / Fall bloom that resembles a daisy / One of two royal sleeping options / Mate for Hagar the Horrible / Calvin's tiger companion in the comics

Monday, January 24, 2022

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Medium




THEME: STARTING QB (59A: Key member of a football team, in brief ... or a feature of 16-, 29-, 35- and 42-Across) — two-word phrases where the first word starts with a "Q" and the second word starts with a "B":

Theme answers:
  • QUICK BREAD (16A: It doesn't need time to rise before baking)
  • QUEEN BED (29A: One of two "royal" sleeping options)
  • QUILTING BEE (35A: Social crafting event)
  • QUAD BIKE (42A: ATV with four tires)
Word of the Day: QUAD BIKE (42A) —
An all-terrain vehicle (ATV), also known as a light utility vehicle (LUV), a quad bike, or simply a quad, as defined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI); is a vehicle that travels on low-pressure tires, with a seat that is straddled by the operator, along with handlebars for steering control. As the name implies, it is designed to handle a wider variety of terrain than most other vehicles. Although it is a street-legal vehicle in some countries, it is not street-legal within most states, territories and provinces of Australia, the United States or Canada. (wikipedia)
• • •

Extremely straightforward. I guess the "Q" words make it interesting. More interesting than "R" words or "D" words, for example, probably. I don't know if it's because I don't care about football at all anymore or if it's because the theme is so precisely literal, but conceptually this one just felt flat to me. But there's no question about its "working." That is a fine play on the word "starting," and those are all solid "QB" phrases, so there's nothing much to fault. I don't think I've ever heard the term QUAD BIKE before. I thought it was going to be some vehicle unknown to me, but it turns out it's just ... an ATV. Apparently they also come in 3-wheeled varieties, but I can only ever remember seeing the four-wheelers, so what this puzzle is calling a QUAD BIKE is just an ATV to me. Tellingly, QUAD BIKE is folded into the ATV wikipedia entry, offered as a virtual synonym (see the Word of the Day, above). So that was ... odd. But a QUAD BIKE is very much a thing, and even if the term wasn't well known to me, it was easy to get / infer, both from the "four" in the clue and from the theme itself. There's just not a lot to say about this one. The grid is clean enough. The theme works OK. Here it is. It's NFL playoff season, so the puzzle's got timeliness on its side as well. I like HUGGABLE and STAR TURN as answers—very vibrant. I also loved seeing ELVIS Costello (just as I've loved seeing him literally, in concert, five times). Haven't listened to his brand new album yet ("The Boy Named If"), but this oddly touching interview makes it sound really interesting. ELVIS's late career has been remarkably strong. I thought 2018's "Look Now" was one of the best albums he's ever made.


I had a few dumb hiccups, most notably when I wrote in PRRR (?) at 15A: Contented cat's sound (PURR) and ORCS (?!) at 18A: Monster often seen wielding a club (OGRE). "Monster," singular. Not sure how I missed that, but there it is. I also really thought 38A: Created yarn or tales (SPUN) was LIED. If "yarn" didn't mean "implausible story," I wouldn't have fallen into that weird hole. The only fill I really object to today is ILO (International Labour Organization) and OBE (Order of the British Empire), mostly because they are initialisms that positively reek of bygone-itude. They used to be much more common in the "good" old, pre-construction-software days of the 20th and early 21st centuries; I'd never seen either of them before I started solving, and I honestly haven't seen either of them outside of crosswords, that I can recall. But that's just two short answers; nothing else here clanks or clunks very much. It's a very competent Monday puzzle. Not particularly HUGGABLE, but not bad either. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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