Jason Flinn’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
We’ve got two quad-stacks plus a central 15, in a grid with left/right symmetry. The predictable PEER ASSESSMENTS is parked in the bottom row, but the other 15s are fresher. STRING ORCHESTRA, “THERE’S NO ‘I’ IN TEAM,” OLDER GENERATION, past-tense ORDERED A LA CARTE and SUITED ONE’S NEEDS, present-tense TELLS IT LIKE IT IS. I’m lukewarm on GOES OVER IT AGAIN and REASON TO BELIEVE as crossword answers.
The stacks’ crossings are not at all dire! IRES, SORA, SENS, ELAM, ONDES—those aren’t assets but they didn’t wreck the puzzle for me. The middle’s LUI EDO XKE were similarly “meh.”
Six more things:
- 58a. [AARP base], OLDER GENERATION. Hang on. Most of the AARP members in their 50s probably have parents who are still alive, and those people are the OLDER GENERATION.
- 32a. [Pioneering infomercial company], K-TEL. I don’t think of those K-Tel music compilation commercials as infomercials. Weren’t they typically maybe 1-3 minutes long? Infomercials feel like half-hour things to me.
- 9d. [20 lashes, maybe?], CILIA. As in eyelashes … which are far inferior to the paramecium’s cilia, if you ask me. You can’t locomote with your eyelashes.
- 46d. [Noted Obama portrayer], PEELE. Jordan Peele, the filmmaker behind Get Out, was the Obama to Keegan-Michael Key’s “Luther, Obama’s anger translator.” Clip below.
- 5d. [Common perfume oil], NEROLI. Sort of orangey, derived from the bitter orange tree’s flowers. I like it.
- 39d. [Blood-typing abbr.], NEG. We all tried ABO first, didn’t we? I guess those are more “letters” than an “abbr.,” though.
3.8 stars from me. Unlike in diving and gymnastics, I don’t award extra points for difficulty, so there’s no grading curve that favors quad-stacks.
Daniel Hamm’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Ender’s Game” — Jim’s review
Before we get started with today’s puzzle, I have to mention a note we received here at the Fiend from Mark Danna, assistant to Mike Shenk, editor of the WSJ puzzles. If you recall, we’ve debated in these pages the reasons why we see so many puzzles from the editor himself (under various pseudonyms, like today). The short answer is that they didn’t feel they had enough accepted puzzles that met their standards, and so Mr. Shenk needed to supplement these submissions with his own work. I will let Mr. Danna speak for himself:
I thought you might be interested to know that none of the weekday puzzles next week in The Wall Street Journal will have been written by Mike Shenk. Moreover, the week after that, none of the puzzles—not even the Saturday ones—will have been written by Mike.
The reasons for this are simple: we finally have enough accepted puzzles on hand to work with so that Mike doesn’t need to supplement them with his own work. This is the first time in the three years I have been handling the WSJ’s puzzle correspondence that we have arrived at this happy state. Mike and I would very much like these current conditions to continue. For that to happen, we need more high-quality submissions and queries to come our way.
Constructors might be pleased to learn that we generally respond to all correspondence within three weeks of receipt. Most accepted puzzles are published within two to three months of Mike’s giving them the thumbs-up. I send constructors a courtesy heads-up shortly before publication dates so that they know when their puzzles are slated to appear. Re rejected puzzles, we generally reply with detailed explanations of why we took a pass.
Submissions and queries by constructors should be addressed to email@example.com.
Feel free to pass this information along to your readers.—Best, Mark Danna, Assistant to Mike Shenk
So there you have it. Constructors, the ball is in your court.
And now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Our theme adds -ER to various phrases with pronunciation changes as necessary.
- 23a [Bank job after closing time?] NIGHT CAPER
- 25a [Suntan lotion brand for bald men?] HEAD BUTTER. I like this one best. At the rate things are going, this is a product I might need in my future.
- 42a [Deep black beer?] JET LAGER
- 45a [Bar in a Transylvania tavern?] BLOOD COUNTER
- 57a [Rain on a sunny day?] FREAK SHOWER
- 69a [Aimless stroll through the halls of Hogwarts?] MAGIC WANDER
- 80a [Mountain man?] SIERRA MISTER
- 82a [Baked potato?] HOT TUBER
- 102a [High boot that’s sized too small?] TIGHT WADER. My second favorite, mostly because I like the base phrase.
- 106a [Marketable orchid, say?] CASH FLOWER
Fairly standard approach to an add-some-letters theme, but most of these worked pretty well. The changes in pronunciation were somewhat jarring, but not insurmountable.
What I’ll remember most from this grid, though, were some unusually tough crossings:
- 83d HICKSON [Joan who played Miss Marple] crossing 92a A CRAB [Catch ___ (mistime an oar stroke)] and 98a DINKA [Tribe of Sudan’s Nile basin]. Miss Marple has been played by 13 different actors including Angela Lansbury and Helen Hayes, but Joan HICKSON will always be my Miss Marple. However, that doesn’t mean I actually know her name. Nor had I ever heard of either of those two across entries. Fortunately, the C and K made sense.
- 91a SPARSE [Few and far between] crossing 81d MAPTACK [Round-topped fastener] and 75d ROTES [Mechanical procedures]. I had SCARCE instead of SPARSE which gave me MACTACK (sure, why not?) and ROTEC. Okay, that last one is clearly bogus, but in my defense, ROTES as a plural noun is not much better.
- Speaking of words masquerading in the wrong part of speech, PROSES is clued as a verb [Talks tediously]. Of course, as a plural noun, it wouldn’t be much better.
- One more tough crossing, 79a SPICA [Star in Virgo] crossing 70d DRIB [Minute amount] and 71d ECCE [“Behold!” to Brutus]. DRIB could’ve easily been DRAB, thus causing SPACA (sure, why not?), and if you’re not up on your Latin or at least Latin crosswordese, ECCE could’ve been any number of things.
In the assets column, I like ST. PETER and LUTHERAN, MEDEVAC (though I spelled it MEDIVAC at first; I guess the middle letter starts “evacuation” as opposed to continuing “medical”), WATT-HOUR, BARE-LEGGED, and SULTANA [Yellow raisin]. What an imperious-sounding fruit that is, eh? You get the impression that it would not deign to be mixed into your trail mix.
I’m going to call it quits there. The theme isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s solidly presented. The fill is mostly nice but with some difficult crossings. I’ll put it around 3.4 stars.
That’s it for me. Time to go rub some HEAD BUTTER on my HOT TUBER. No, um, sorry. That doesn’t sound right…
Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
There have been a few LAT Saturday challenges that have played slightly tough for me in the past few weeks. This is another one of those. It is true, though that I don’t always solve these puzzles in “tournament mode,” which demands high focus and total quiet. But I think that even at a relaxed pace I can solve fairly quickly, and even though I do try to track my times for this blog, I think I now know why I don’t track ALL my solve times: This is still supposed to be fun! There is definitely a place for speed-solving, and that is a good barometer of how quick/talented you are, but I cannot do that all the time. It’s too much pressure! And I found this puzzle FUN, which is the point. Yes, a little bit of a challenge, but that is what we solvers want on the weekend! A solid 4.4 stars from me.
More to say:
- 17A [“The Karate Kid,” e.g.] CINDERELLA STORY – Not my first choice for an underdog story, but still true, and a great entry for one of the two 15s in this grid.
- 25A [One hanging around a lifeguard tower] PADDLE BOARD – This clue fooled me, so maybe I need to go watch the movie Baywatch today! (It is free on Amazon Prime!)
- 57A [2013 Hudson’s Bay Company acquisition] SAK’S FIFTH AVENUE – This means nothing to me, other than I think the Hudson’s company is REALLY old.
- 18D [Dr. Skoda on “Law & Order”] EMIL – This character was played by J.K. Simmons, but I don’t remember him. And I, like many people, have watched tons of this show, especially in syndication.
- 23D [Popular online lists] TOP TENS – Yes, these are all over the internet. And they are sometimes interesting, sometimes annoying.
- 27D [Daddy Warbucks, e.g.] DEEP POCKET – I have never seen this in singular form!
- 28D [Former Mormon leader Ezra Taft __ ] BENSON – If I have heard of this dude, I forgot I had!
- 30D [Actress Knightley] KEIRA – She is only 33 years old. Why did I think she was older?
Still watching the Tour de France! Maybe I will go for a bike ride later today!
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
I had a true Stumper experience with this one. After a few fairly pleasant solving weeks, this one gave me that feeling of unease as I stared at a nearly blank grid for what seemed like an eternity. The lower left quadrant was the easiest, once I learned that, at 59A, a [Common clock setting] would be a BED TABLE. I don’t have a clock on mine, so maybe that is why I was confused! (I use a Fitbit with a silent alarm to wake up, but I am also old and I wake up early automatically!) I count 72 words in this toughie, which is another gem from Brad. 4.5 stars.
Lots of highlights:
- 1A [Josiah Wedgwood’s scientist grandson] DARWIN – Who would know this??
- 16A [Venerable reference publisher] LAROUSSE – This is also tough. It appears like they publish lots of language dictionaries.
- 18A [Fourth moonwalker] ALAN BEAN – The fourth AFTER Michael Jackson? ;-)
- 39A [Walking leaf mimicker] KATYDID – I knew this, but the word escaped my for a few moments. These do look like leaves, perhaps to attract some sort of insect prey.
- 41A [20 Down’s complaint] & 6D [What a 20 Down might complain about] NONO & OWIE – Is it just me, or could these clues have been worded exactly the same? Either would work, but I prefer 6D.
- 56A [Weekly synagogue signal] SHABBAT SIREN – I will reiterate that there is a minimal Jewish presence here in north central Indiana, so I have never heard of this.
- 2D [“__-première” (French dress rehearsal)] AVANT – Is this something a theater person would know? I am not a theater person!
- 8D [Where tumblers have worked since the 1860s] YALE LOCK – This company has the patent for keys as we know it today. According to their site, the patent was from 1861. I learned something new!
- 11D [Applications for Kansas City, St. Louis, etc.] RUBS – These cities are also types of ribs. I don’t each meat much at all, anymore, but I was raised eating ribs, and this kind of sounds delicious. I will have to find some sort of replacement!
- 24D [Key prop in “Parsifal”] GRAIL – Knowing this play is about the Holy Grail would help. I didn’t know it, so it didn’t help!
- 32D [Person at Waterloo] IOWAN – This one TOTALLY fooled me! I was thinking of Napleonic generals or something. Best clue in the puzzle!
- 53D [Parte de paella] ARROZ – This is all Spanish, and arroz is rice. This clue is also making me hungry.
- 57D [Transportation that sounds like a restaurant] T-BAR – Never thought of it this way, but I guess it does! And I am now hungry AND thirsty!
Whew! Time for a nap!
Knowing that you lied straight faced while I cried.
NYT: i felt the top half played so much harder than the bottom. i had a terrible time getting a toehold up top, and eventually had to admit defeat and cheat a little. i’m still a newer solver so that’s not too unusual for a saturday for me. still, i don’t love those crosses between the top and bottom of this and enough was out of my wheelhouse that it felt like doing two completely separate puzzles.
i had ACT for a long time for 27D, and i always have trouble guessing on french pronouns, so i figured 40A (“good name for a model?”) was TEE. so it took me quite a while to get to SUITEDONESNEEDS.
can anyone explain 24D, DOT, being clued as “Sign of the times?” sometimes those itty bitty answers are what kill me.
i always like seeing Jordan PEELE in a puzzle. besides that entry, my favorite is probably 43A, FORK, clued as “Road divider,” because i tried BERM, CURB and KERB first and felt proud to land on the actual answer with my own brainpower.
I also thought the bottom was much easier than the top.
I am not sure about DOT. I thought it was the dotted i in “the times.”
My question revolves around DIVOT as the answer to ROUGH PIECE OF LAND. If it is intended to be a golf term, it seems odd. It is possible to take a divot on most shots in golf, although it is usually associated with a shot from the fairway or the first cut of rough, not the deep rough. You usually don’t make a divot from the deep rough because you are unlikely to get your club through the shot, but it is certainly possible. Is there some other explanation?
Yes both these clues seem like a stretch. Also agree with Amy that infomercials aren’t really what KTEL was known for. It’s a thin line between a challenging clue for a Saturday & something that’s not quite right.
I didn’t even think of “rough” being part of a golf course (I’m not a golfer), but just that a DIVOT is a piece of dirt roughly torn out of the ground.
I agree on both the difficulty between top & bottom, and was similarly confused by 24D. However, as a polo player (hence my moniker) I found DIVOT to be quite appropriate to its clue, as they make a polo field an exceedingly rough piece of land indeed!
The dot is most likely meant to be the centered dot used to indicate multiplication (in place of the x sign).
I read DOT as referring to dot com, dot org, dot gov, etc. and thus a symbol of the current age, but I think I like David’s explanation better.
I like David’s answer the best, also. However, I guess with Saturday cluing leeway, we can excuse that “times” in the clue is a noun and “times” as a math symbol is either a verb or an adjective.
….. I thought the DOT clue was referring to one of the dots in the colon marking time (12:00, 1:oo, etc). When was the last time a clue for such a short answer was this ambiguous?
ahhh thank you! so interesting to see many different takes on this.
Surely it’s the multiplying dot, and it’s not particularly ambiguous despite the “the.” Hated the XKE and K-TEL crossing (could not finish) but otherwise the puzzle was nice for me for a Saturday. Didn’t know NEROLI but the crossings were fine. THERE’S NO I IN TEAM was delightful. Like Maxine, I had ACT instead of ASK for a while, but I got that bit finally. I agree with Jim Hale and I’m giving it 4.5.
NYT: Amy: “You can’t locomote with your eyelashes” – perhaps not literally, but Elizabeth Taylor got a lot of mileage out of hers :)
I liked the quad stacks in this puzzle and feel that the crosses didn’t take the fun out of the puzzle for me. SORA was interesting, good to learn. I would love to see one. It has a fascinatingly yellow beak.
REASON TO BELIEVE. it’s a real thing. oh yes!
Beat me to it, janie!
The Carpenters, Bruce Springsteen, and Rod Stewart all recorded this, that I know of…there may be others.
great minds… same gutter…
The Springsteen song isn’t the same song, if you mean the one on “Nebraska.”
Jim, thanks for passing on the WSJ note. Have to agree with everything Mark said – they are great to work through constructing a puzzle with!
Charles Darwin was married to a first cousin of his, also a grandchild of Josiah Wedgwood. That double dose of the Wedgwood fortune enabled ol’ Chuck to travel the world for SCIENCE!
Marrying first cousins, though …
Great puzzle, unlike others commenting here, the top went really quick for me and the bottom was more of an issue. Needed all the crosses for ktel as I’d never heard of it. That being said it, the puzzle was very doable and I gave it a 4.5 rating.
Newsday: Can somebody please explain the Bridge arrangement/BIGRED answer to me? Is this a reference to a physical bridge, or to the card game? I am blanking hard on this even after Googling, which has only pointed me to the Golden Gate – a big red bridge.
I had to resort to “reveal word” more times than I care to admit on this one. Brutal.
I didn’t understand it while solving either but looking at it again I think it’s a cryptic-style clue for anagramming “Bridge” to get BIG RED.
WOW. What a forehead-slapping moment for me. Thanks, Evan!
It’s an anagram (I was looking for all kinds of answers related to the card game or civil engineering, but then got BIGRED from the crosses and saw the light).
Now that it’s pointed out to me, it’s so obvious. Thank you!
Thanks, Jim, for passing on that note. That said, I wonder why they didn’t say anything sooner? I’m sure people talking about how Mike did such a huge percentage of the total had to be bothersome to some degree. “We’re trying to get enough good submissions” would have been enough to silence it all. If that ends up being true that we see Mike in the WSJ only on rare occasions in the future, it’ll definitely be a good thing!
(1) But the Acrostics will still be under his byline, right? (2) So at the WSJ there’s a Mike Miller (Mike Shenk’s boss) and a Mark Danna (Mike Shenk’s assistant)- is there an actual Mike Shenk? I could have sworn I saw him a week and a half ago in person, but I am getting along in years…..(3) Is there something wrong with the daily/Sunday puzzles that Mike does?
Loved the Times NINE grid-spanners. Is that a record?