Robyn Weintraub’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
I do enjoy Robyn’s themelesses—though I barely had time to absorb the vibe since this one fell lightning-fast (for me—we won’t discuss Agardian solving times here). I did notice the cool mini-theme: MEET IN THE MIDDLE runs across the middle, and RACE TO THE BOTTOM crosses is in the Down direction. To include 29 thematic squares in a 70-worder and still nail smooth overall fill is impressive.
- There are a dozen other longish (7-11 letters) entries. CLEOPATRA, SWEET TALK (to your HONEYS), SPIT-TAKE, UMPTEENTH, SCATTERSHOT, and “JUST KIDDING” are all quite nice.
- 25a. [One of two polar opposites], ICE CAP. Rather more literal than the usual “polar opposites” usage.
- 42a. [One of the jacks in cribbage], NOB. The clue/answer are “meh” (I’ve never played cribbage), but! You should check out this news feature about constructor Andrea Carla Michaels, distributing pizza slices from San Francisco’s Nob Hill Pizza & Shawerma to the homeless people in her neighborhood.
- 9d. [Got into a pickle?], ATE. I would never. Maybe a pickled carrot, but that’s about my limit. Save your dill nonsense for someone who cares.
- 14d. [Orlando, in the music world], TONY. Boy, this one’s for the solvers in their 50s to 70s. Tony Orlando & Dawn was a pop group in the early ’70s. Video below!
4.2 stars from me.
David Liben-Nowell’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “4.0 Is the New 3.0” — Laura’s review
- [18a: News flash that a patient has revived?]: COMA OVER
[25a: Expresser of poetic condolences?]: SYMPATHY BARD
[39aR: What 18, 25, 54 and 64 Across represent]: GRADE INFLATION
[54a: Coupon for a free box of Uncle Ben’s?]: TICKET TO RICE
[64a: Lounging spots with fizzy beverages close at hand?]: SODA BEDS
In each themer, the “grades” (i.e. the letters in the circled squares) have been turned up a notch — from B to A, from C to B, from D to C, and from F to D. Why is there no E? At some universities, there is no E grade; at others (like where I work), there is no F — and E is considered the failing grade. (The vanguard of educational progress that I attended, some years ago, still has no grades of D, E, or F — just A, B, C, or “No Credit” for us snowflakes.) There are interesting debates among college professors and administrators regarding grade inflation (as well as regarding whether it even exists); I’d like to link to some of those articles, but much of the non-crossword content in the Chronicle of Higher Education is subscriber-only.
- How do you feel, solving community, about question-mark clues when the themer clues also have question marks? I find that they often make it slightly difficult to distinguish the themers, particularly when the grid has numerous longer entries.
- The circles make the changed letters easier to spot; what are your thoughts about having other instances of the changed letters in the same theme entry? Namely, in TICKET TO RIDE and SODA BEDS there is an additional C and a D, respectively; do solvers notice this? Or is it just something that certain editors do or do not tolerate? I have been asked by editors to make sure that the entries in “letter-change” themes not have any additional instances of the changed letters.
- Until a few years ago, [15a: Internet connection offerer since 2000?]: EHARMONY did not offer matchmaking services to same-sex couples, with the justification that since eHarmony promoted marriage, and same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal nationally, they did not want to promote an illegal act — until a series of lawsuits, and then Obergefell, changed all that.
- In the state where [30a: Lincoln ___, former Rhode Island senator and governor]: CHAFEE served, a milkshake is sometimes called a [19a: Secretarial pool?]: CABINET.
[57a: NYC sch. that locked out its faculty in 2016]: LIU or Long Island University. The lockout was at the Brooklyn campus, just at the beginning of fall classes, and from what my librarian friends said about the experience, it was pretty terrible. Here’s an article from Inside Higher Ed that isn’t behind a paywall.
Susan Gelfand’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Short write-up: loved the theme, which is doohickeys in cars clued as though they were items of clothing. They make a lively set, with BRAKESHOES, HEATERHOSE, TIMINGBELT, AIRBAGS and a BATTERYCAP. That is a brilliant concept and execution.
Wish the puzzle was refined / edited more aggressively. With a pinwheel design, there shouldn’t be that much fill that is screaming “desperation”. ATLI would be fine as a single obscurity, but so many areas have nonce constructions of cruciverbal convenience: ITES, ISHOT, ETTES, OSIS, EPIS are truly bottom of the barrel.
NYT: Wow, I had forgotten that song… Haha… Cheesier than I remember! It used to play continuously. But I think it contributed to many yellow ribbons tied around trees to welcome prisoners… Apparently part of a long history with evolving meanings https://www.loc.gov/folklife/ribbons/ribbons.html
What a wonderful story about Andrea- thanks for linking it Amy. When I was a kid, my mother always had a warm meal ready for any poor person who knocked on our door during dinner time, and people came regularly. My daughter is similarly big hearted and even as a kid talked to homeless people like neighbors. It’s a great example.
Back to the puzzle: I especially liked the meta-message of the crosses, of meeting in the middle contrasted with racing to the bottom (and hurting everyone, as clued).
That article about Andrea Carla Michaels is really great!
There are several card games in which the jack has some importance: euchre and klabberjass are two. In cribbage, after the deal, the deck is cut and one card is turned over. If a player has the jack of that suit in his hand, he scores one for “his nobs.” If the card that is turned over is a jack, the player who turned it over scores two for “his heels.” Cribbage is considered by many to be the best card game for two people.
Very easy puzzle for me this week.
This puzzle made me so happy! It was beautiful and very smooth. I liked Alice MUNRO, SIDLE (just fun to say out loud and think about a person sidling ;) ) SCATTERSHOT vs INTERLACE and MESH.
A long time ago, I played cribbage every day at lunch at work, so I knew NOB. I remember cribbage fondly and still have my set. I loved the names for the special cards.
Really excellent clue: 27D “Letters sung as mi, mi, re, re, do”. Hand up for having sung it out loud.
I had _ _ _ _ O and kept trying to make the alphabet song work, but that would have been LMNOP.
why the pickle hate!!??? we pickle everything!
You’ll have to seek your pickle-loving crossword-blogger solidarity from Deb Amlen at Wordplay.
Have you ever tried spicy Indian pickle? Mango pickle is a common one. They are usually hot/spicy and made with oil.
Very different from dill or sweet pickles.
I’ll raise my hand as one of the editors who has asked Laura to eliminate stray instances of affected letters in an orthographic gimmick. In the theme entries for the CHE puzzle, there were no other occurrences of the letter needing to UNDERGO a grade inflation change…F in 64A and D in 54A, C in 25A, B in 18A. When you have letter adding, swapping, or dropping, “wiping the puzzle clean” can get crazy and maybe pass over into unreasonable, but here (perhaps) nobody is going to say, “By rights that letter should be a ___.”
Sometimes if a theme is good enough and stray letters must stay, I have encouraged constructors to do an even split of “clean” theme entries and “dirty” ones, trying to send the message of a deliberate compromise by everybody, rather than an oversight, if that makes sense.
Interested to hear what others think about this and about the non-theme question mark clues (I understand that point being raised; my hope is to minimize them, but sometimes leaving a question mark off is simply unfair). Please don’t let the fact that an editor has weighed in allow the comments to grind to a halt. We’re all solvers together.
In the CHE I felt the circles made eliminating duplicate letters unnecessary.
The non-theme question marks didn’t bother me, either. The circles pretty much identified the theme entries.
I usually don’t worry too much about some of the technical aspects of puzzle construction. For example, as a statistician I love symmetry even though much of the data I’ve analyzed lack it. But I could easily live without symmetry in my puzzles.
Don’t mind question marked clues mixed between theme and non-theme entries. But, I enjoy ? clues in general. I don’t even mind when some theme clues get question marks and some don’t.
I like question mark clues, theme or non. The additional question mark clues were fun and I would not have enjoyed the puzzle as much, if the question marks had not been there.
I agree with PJ Ward that “the circles made eliminating duplicate letters unnecessary” and I do not usually notice duplicate letters. I do appreciate, however, when a reviewer points out that there are no duplicates, and I marvel at that level of attention to detail.
I liked the puzzle very much. Welcome, Lois LOWRY – is she a debut? The NW was the last to fall. For the longest time, TOAD was my only entry in that area. The clue for TOAD reminds me of a children’s book called “Toad Rage”, by Morris Gleitzman, starring Limpy the cane toad, who is outraged that driving over cane toads seems to be a national sport, and wants to raise cane toad awareness by becoming a mascot for the Sydney Olympics.
Don’t pass by the fun article Laura posted about milkshakes, frappes, and cabinets. I was sputtering as soon as I read that a New England milkshake does NOT contain ice cream – ice cream means a frappe.
“Now for those who wonder if a chocolate milkshake in New England is basically just a glass of chocolate milk [yes, me: BEW], the answer is a resounding NO. Chocolate milk is the casual stirring of chocolate syrup into a glass of milk. A chocolate milkshake is the vigorous shaking (or blending) of the two until the consistency is perfectly creamy and a frothy head is formed.”
NYT: I loved the mini theme when I figured it out. I also liked a few of the clues (although I usually expect more on themeless days). In that regard, it was a B+ puzzle.
However, the fill was really drab. SPITTAKE, SWEETTALK and CLEOPATRA were nice, but they didn’t do enough for me to compensate for LINO ESTD NOB TKOS etc. I finished the puzzle way under my average Friday time, but when that happens I usually have a big smile on my face. This felt meh overall. 3.05 stars.
What a great story about Andrea. A pizza must be thrown away after sitting on the shelf for several hours? F ridiculously stringent health regulations. If America didn’t waste so much perfectly edible and unspoiled food, we alone could probably eliminate world hunger once and for all.