Hope everyone is enjoying their holidays. Let’s blow through some catch-up here with a trio of Aries puzzles. Subscribe here if you’d like the puzzles, and then read on for “START, MIDDLE, FINISH“, “AIRED CONCERNS” and “THEMELESS CHALLENGE 3“, rated Easier, Medium and Harder respectively.
Also, Andrew has offered the last one free to anyone who’s curious about the puzzles — hit him up on Twitter as @ariespuzzles. Spoiler: It’s quite good.
Start, Middle, Finish
Theme: Appropriate hidden words in the beginning, middle and end of the theme answers.
- 17A: GENE SISKEL – Big name in film criticism
- 31A: NOW HEAR THIS – Announcer’s “Pay attention”
- 63A: BARTENDING – Skill for mixologists
- 47A: PROPER PLACE – Correct positioning… which each of this puzzle’s circled letters are in
Cute theme. Unusual to see a revealer come second-to-last in a grid, but presumably Andrew really wanted to keep GENE SISKEL, which is the best of these. Slightly inelegant not to have HEART cover all of the words in the phrase, but it still works fine.
Unusually racy grid with FOOD PORN (38D: Photos of enticing but unhealthy dishes, in slang) and SEX REHAB (11D: Treatment with no-contact rules, maybe). Both good clues! My favourite is SELENA (9D: Gomez who released a greatest hits album at age 22 (sigh)) — nicely understated. I like the open corners, but not sure they’re worth the price of AMEBAE and ECCE.
Theme: Fictional companies clued as the sitcoms they appear on.
- 17A: MONK’S CAFE – “Seinfeld”
- 19A: BLUTH COMPANY – “Arrested Development”
- 35A: DUNDER-MIFFLIN – “The Office”
- 56A: KWIK-E-MART – “The Simpsons”
- 53A: SHOW BUSINESS – Entertainers’ realm… and a description of this puzzle’s theme answers
Since I’ve never seen “Seinfeld” and barely remember “The Office”, this was harder than I’d have expected. Also, apparently I want to spell KWIK-E-MART with a Q. This is nicely executed with a great title, but I wish the theme clues were a little more interesting.
Interestingly, despite having a denser theme than the first puzzle, I think the fill is a little cleaner here — the worst crosswordese here is a REFI, which is nothing. (I’ve never heard of ARSENE Lupin or the ALTAI Mountains, but that may be a knowledge gap on my part.) I have literally never heard of “Ctrl-U” as the shortcut for UNDO — I always use Ctrl-Z — but it appears to be legitimate.
Liked the clues for ARCADE (32A: It’s all fun and games), FACE (60A: Many a Twitter avatar), ANKARA (8D: Turkey part noted for dryness?) and PESTO (47D: Green bow tie topper). Solid puzzle — my favourite of these three.
Themeless Challenge 3
Good, clean freestyle puzzle with a light Christmas theme (there’s a triple stack of HOLIDAY CARD, GIFT RECEIPT and SECRET SANTA). The clue on the first one was too easy for my taste, but 35A: Slip that’s priceless? and 36A: Means of an anonymous donation? are more like it.
Ended up solving the right half of the puzzle first and working my way left, which is unusual but turned out fine. It’s because I really wanted MELTED instead of MOLTEN (26D: Liquified by heat), and the LTE letters work perfectly with the central stack, so I had to work my way in from above and below to see my error. Otherwise pretty easy
Several devious clues here — 6D: Low coverage provider? (MAXISKIRT) gets a question mark, but 15A: Burns unit (STANZA), 27A: D on a quiz, often (OTHER) and 37A: Duke’s line (A-TRAIN) are brutal. Honestly, I could have done with a few more of those, but the ones we got were fun.
Clean grid, solid work as always.