Aries Crosswords – 4/2/16 and 4/9/16

I’ve just returned from Quebec, and oh god I’m behind on these! So let’s try an experiment and I’ll liveblog my solves of PIECES OF APRIL and SHARE THE ROAD, the first two offerings from Andrew in April. As always, you can subscribe here.

This should be interesting. I have a hard out in an hour, so no doubt my critique will be thoughtful and well-reasoned. We’ll start with PIECES OF APRIL, which is rated as Medium difficulty.

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Okay, got pretty far off of the NW corner before running out of clues I could answer. 15A: Aptly-negative review of “Chef,” e.g. is a good one for PAN. I’ve heard that movie’s good, actually. Looks like some kind of “wackily modified common phrase” theme, since all five (including a cross-reference across the middle) have ? clues, but I can’t see it yet. I’ll jump over to the NE.

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That didn’t exactly go smoothly. I saw NEPAL (13D: Kathmandu’s land) and immediately cracked the theme — one letter of APRIL has been added to each phrase. So we get:

  • KEEP YOUR CHINA UP – 17A: Housekeeper’s advice for storing plates out of a child’s reach?
  • EMAIL SCAMP – 23A: One originating oft-forwarded memes?
  • STELLAR STEVENS – With 39-Across, Jobs and Spielberg, for two?

Not bad. I don’t know who STELLA STEVENS is, so that one didn’t really land. And EMAIL SCAMP is a little iffy for that clue, honestly. Haven’t looked at the last two yet.

Anyway, even with the first theme answer in place, I couldn’t get anywhere with the corner, so I dropped down to the middle and solved up. Took a while, but I think I’m in good shape now. NRA (22A: Packer’s org.?) is a good misdirect — I wanted NFC or NFL, of course — and OUNCE (16A: Prevention unit?) is really tricky. That was the last key for the NE corner. On the down side, I could do without ENURE and ENCAMP, especially in the same puzzle.

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The last two theme answers are great:

  • TAXI EVADER – 50A: Uber rider?
  • QUICK ON THE DRAWL – 56A: Kings goalie Jonathan’s opinions about a Southern accent?

The last one is especially good. I laughed aloud when I saw it. Definitely feel more positive about the theme as a whole now. That whole SE corner is good, actually, with 64A: Theater visited by many in the 1950s (KOREA) and 52D: Clear and hard stuff (VODKA).

The X in TAXI EVADER is dealt with pretty smoothly through MIX IT UP (42D: Start a brawl, say), and Canada gets a pair of shoutouts with TOQUE and PROV (27D: P.E.I., e.g.). Yes, I know a TOQUE is what a chef wears on their head, but to us it’s just a woolen cap in winter. I never even knew the other definition growing up.

Pretty good, even though I really wanted 44A: Base affirmation (YES SIR) to be BLUE LITMUS PAPER.

On to SHARE THE ROAD, rated Harder in difficulty.

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Took a little while to see, but it looks like starred Across answers turn and share letters with a Down answer. So GALVANIZED (12D: Stirred into action) is needed to complete DIVAN (22A: *Stretch ottoman, basically). There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why those letters, but perhaps there’s a revealer later.

Oh wait. The VAN has to “share the road”. Okay, I get it. Not bad. I hope there are a few longer ones.

Cluing is very good here. O’CONNOR (15A: Day follower, starting in 1952), PENN LAW (18A: Prestigious Philly school (or the top names on the poster of “All the King’s Men”)) and ROUT (3D: 10-4, e.g.) all get strong, twisty clues.

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Hm. On the one hand, not many more vehicles. VICAR and Duke ABACAB (?!) and that’s it except for a revealer in MERGING TRAFFIC (64A: With 67-Across, theme of this puzzle). So that’s a little disappointing.

Also, seriously, who is Duke ABACAB (36A: *Pop follower of “Duke”)? Oh, I see, it’s a Genesis album. That makes more sense.

Some nice long fill, like BRIC-A-BRAC (21D: Items of little material value), OSCAR PARTYEDIT WAR (72A: Wikipedia dust-up, which gives me a chance to link to this xkcd comic) and ONTARIO (shut up, I think it’s nice). And the cluing continued to be great, like with CASINO (38A: House built with many hands?). Still, I wish there were more to the theme. Feels like there’s more potential here.

The open corners really are nice, though.

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