Freestyles 69 and 70 by Tim Croce
We’d suggest you solve the puzzles before reading on but hey, it’s your life. You do you.
Tuesday: Freestyle 69
Peter: Boom, nudibranchs (30A, SEA SLUGS). Dropped that sumbitch in there straight off the hop, followed almost immediately by URINE TOWN (31D: Broadway musical with the songs “It’s a Privilege to Pee” and “I See a River”). I know nothing about this play other than that it exists.
Lena: Boom echo– nudibranchs and I go way back to “Nature” on PBS. They’re so gorgeous as slugs go. More like SEA DIVAS. And same with URINE TOWN— my brain was like “yeah I’ve heard those words together– it’s probably some “Avenue Q” BS; fill it in.”
Peter: That’s a strange name for a musical, I wonder what it’s about ….*googling*… oh, it’s like a dystopian world where restroom usage is overseen and tightly controlled by some Big Brother-esque megacorporation. The original Broadway run was directed by John Rando, which sounds like a cross between an action hero and some placeholder name for a dude you saw last night at a party.
Lena: Hahaha John Rando should be the modern John Doe. Speaking of unknowns, I had to cheat on ANNA PAQUIN because I hadn’t seen “X-men” or at least I didn’t remember anything about it. Also I’m pretty bad with actress/actor names.
Peter: Evidently TC thinks that just asking us for the name of Radiohead’s singer THOM Yorke is child’s play, so he goes deep into their catalog, back to 1995’s The Bends for the clue (51D: “Fake Plastic Trees” lead singer Yorke).
Lena: Along with Spacehog’s Resident Alien I had The Bends on cassette and that’s about the extent of my Radiohead exposure– I just didn’t keep listening to them. I think I made the right choice in the end. But I did really like “Fake Plastic Trees” and also “Just.”
Peter: Just: dat video tho. And I heard Spacehog’s “In the Meantime” for the first time in like a 100 years the other day. In the top 10 of ‘90s one-hit wonders, imo. I see your spacehog-cassette-owning hipster cred and raise you a spacehog cassette borrowed from the public library and dubbed onto a black tape. This happened.
Peter: I just learned of DMS (23A: Privately-sent Twitter notes, for short) the other day, and it’s a damn good thing too because I didn’t have a sniff on the crossing DHS (23D: A.L.C.S. figures). Like, I barely recognize that as a clue. Is A.L.C.S. the American League Championship Series?? Are DHs double headers?? That H took forever to fall because of my unsportliness because of that diabolical clue for LASH (25A: Pull a switch on). Anyway, I probably would have gone UMS / UHS here and clued them with the same clue for yuks, but what do I know.
Lena: I’m so glad we’re on the same sporps page– it cracks me up. Maybe we’re the two least sporpsiest crossword people out there! LASH was obvious to me– must be all those Fireballs; I saw right through that clue.
Peter: That VANNA clue (60A: She could really turn a phrase) is next-level shit. Ditto for SAND TIMERS (26D: They experience lots of turnover in the game industry). I especially like clue/answer combos like this because even when you figure out the misdirection, you’re still left with a ton of options for answers. I had one aha moment when I got the “turnover” thing and a second when I realized it had nothing to do with cards or tokens or dice rollers but timers. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Lena: Brayden and I were so psyched when we got SAND TIMERS that he texted me emoji sand timers. That clue is perfect. People are all hot for clues with modern references and this one flips us around by using tech start-up terms to refer to “old school” board games. Take that, “Words With Friends!”
Peter: Lena, are you proud of me for getting ANISETTE (36D: Drink akin to Galliano) off of just the A and TT? Tbh I have no idea what the hell that is but it couldn’t be AMARETTO and ANISE is a thing with a flavour so sure.
Lena: I am, especially because my mental liqueur oeuvre is so dense that it includes Galliano Ristretto, an espresso-flavored version, and I slammed in TIA MARIA. Apparently it’s a newer thing and Brayden was doubtful that the clue could be referring to that Galliano incarnation. Anyway, Bartenders hate the Galliano bottle because it’s like 3 feet tall and doesn’t fit on shelves, and I’ve never had a Harvey Wallbanger so there’s a lot I don’t know about Galliano– largely on purpose. It took a long time for me to write in ANISETTE <chagrinface>
Peter: I knew “Go and do likewise” (53A) came from either the Bible or Glengarry Glen Ross or both, and since ACTS showed up at 21D (Theater group?) and ALEC BALDWIN doesn’t fit it must be LUKE! Except that 21D is ARTS (I like my answer better, Tim). I swear one of these weeks we won’t talk about dupes.
Lena: Peter, your dupe hangups are so… DEEP. It’s like a meta puzzle trying to figure out what your objection is. I have such vanilla dupe issues. I’m like “nooo don’t use AT at the end twi–” I totally just duped there. At.
Peter: 17A (British slang for a young, attractive female celeb with kids), YUMMY MUMMY. Doesn’t everyone say this? And by everyone I mean not just Brits.
Lena: I have never heard this! It’s sooo gross though because I imagine mossy-toothed leering Brits bein’ gross.
Peter: It’s no less gross when Canadians say it, trust me. I also really liked the following fill: RED-BAITING, JASMINE TEA, GIVE ME TEN, and ETHNIC VOTE. But we’ve jawed a lot about tuesday, shall we move on?
Lena: Yes. But I kept forgetting to mention that I noticed the clue to last week’s consternation-evoking NO MSG (Deli counter concern) was back, this time with the oh-so-appropriate answer THICKNESS. Yup, now I’m in a deli I know and trust; butchers holding up meat slices for evaluation and approval.
Friday: Freestyle 70
Peter: So, the theme of this otherwise themeless puzzle is “the only answer that could possibly fit the clue is either too long or too short.” See, for instance, 17A (“What a beautiful badonkadonk…”). Started with “well it’s gotta be DAT AS… wait, that’s so many squares to fill” *double-checks that this isn’t a variety puzzle* “welp, let’s move on” *fills in a few other random letters* “NICE TUSHY…is…a thing that people say…sure, I’ve heard people say that probably.” Took a while to come full circle to DAT ASS THO. I know DAT ASS and I know DAT (whatever) THO, but have never seen them coexist. I think I like this tho.
Lena: Good lord– it sounds like you dug right in while I stood in the middle of a vast desert, in a stupor, heading haltingly towards mirage after mirage. I had, like, four answers lightly penciled in and scattered all over. But one of my first moves was to put ASS right at the ass end of 17A. That led to some issues with the sports-related NO HANDS (8D: Cry from one with their arms raised). I had HES SAFE and ITS GOOD, trying to keep that ASS in posish. At least I knew it was sports! It’s like how dogs can sense tornadoes or something.
Peter: Had LINE BOBS for SINE BARS (40A: Simple angle-measurement devices) foreeeeever, which really slowed me down in the SE (what dafuq is up with “slow up”? who says that? what’s wrong with “slow down”?). Anyway, I don’t know what those are and needed all the crossings. Luckily the INEB string is common to both my guess and the answer, cause I needed all the help I could get on the vaguest clue ever, [Common urban streetscape sight] (36D: BIKE LANE – wonderful entry btw).
Lena: Your “slow up” problem just reminded me of my EASE ON (21D: Mosey along) problem. “Mosey along” is way more stand-alone than than EASE ON. “I’m going to mosey along now” vs. “I’m going to ease on now.” Erik taught me the “substitution test” and I try to be very mindful of it when cluing. I might have just clued this as a [“___ Down the Road” (Diana Ross/Michael Jackson duet in “The Wiz”)] or something.
Peter: Since when did someone other than Mary have an immaculate conception? Who tf is STE ANNE (43D). This was a typical wtf Croce get for me: guess somewhat arbitrary letters that kind of could be something but I’m mostly just joking around and then it turns out to be correct.
Lena: The SE was hard for me with SEDALIA/ALAN PATON/STE ANNE/ROB LOWE. MIND BLOWN was a very satisfying and much-needed get in that neighborhood!
Peter: I only know 61A (“Whoa, what an amazing fact!”) with an =, like MIND = BLOWN.
Lena: Do you, like, say “mind equals blown” in conversation? Inquiring minds want to blow. I’ll tell you what blew my mind: YSHAPED (20A: Like forks). I had POINTED and PRONGED… My second cheat, TESSA (6D: Actress Thompson starring in the 2015 film “Creed”), was essential for me finishing the NW– although Brayden had wanted HOLD IT IN (1A: Don’t go when you should) from the beginning– woof. I think IN THEORY (7D: It may not be enough to work only this way) and LET ON TO (3D: Tell, as previously unknown knowledge) were a little awkward– the former’s clue and the latter’s answer. I could explain why, but I think it would be pretty boring.
Peter: Touche, I do not say the “equals”.
Sometimes the toughest answers in a hard-as-balls puzzle like this are the easy ones, because you don’t expect them. Like, I was certain that 49A (Potter’s coat) was going to be some insane misdirection or some totally wtf pottery arcanum. But no, it’s plain old ENAMEL, the first thing I guessed but didn’t write in for some reason.
Lena: Yeah this was consistently hard-as-balls alright. My first cheat was on DOO DAH (37A: Repeated bit in a Stephen Foster song refrain) because… man, why would I know that? The Camptown Racetrack song was clearly written by Foghorn Leghorn.
Peter: The cheating began in earnest in the SW where LTE and LAM were just never gonna happen for me and I kept wanting ANGUS (56: Steakhouse menu word) to be AU JUS despite the facts that a) it’s two words and b) it makes no sense given the clue. Also, holy ass that’s some deep “Full House” trivia for STEVE (60A: DJ’s longtime boyfriend, on “Full House”). Holy ass is totally a Lena term. You’ve infected me. Anyway, OH EM GEE is either amazing or shithouse. I mean, I say that, but I see it as OMG in my head when I do. I dunno, it’d kinda be like using EM TEE VEE as an entry wounnit? What do you think?
Lena: HOLY ASS, we thought it was JESSE! I was too busy watching nudibranchs on PBS to be bothered with that “Full House” trash, so when Brayden put in JESSE I was all “yeah great perfect.” Turns out Jesse is DJ’s unc, eh? Oops.
Peter: This one was haaaaaard, but so rewarding. So much top-shelf cluing and I love HOLD IT IN, SNOOKERS, ANT TRAP, MIND BLOWN, BIKE LANE, NO HANDS, it goes on and on.
Lena: Agreed. Can’t wait for next week’s Crochening– it’s going to be Puzzle 100, folks!