Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
OK, I gotta be quick here.
Likes: AU NATUREL (thinking I was looking for a 9-letter word, that N felt so wrong), SPARE TIRE (clued as a car part instead of flab, yay!), SECRET SAUCE, SHROOMS, ROCKED IT, your TRUE SELF, “Z” IS FOR ZEBRA (the best letter), MARMALADE, KIBITZED, and IGUANODON. And SNL HOSTS feels fresh and new.
Irked by: The I/not overlap in I GUESS NOT and I DUNNO and CAN’T I. SLIEST spelled with an I. A cutesy question-marked clue, [Spinner?], instead of a gendered clue, for the gendered term P.R. MAN—which is especially bogus because P.R. is such a heavily female field now; ban this dinosaur answer. SOTS, ugh.
- 18a. [Small protuberance], KNURL. Who doesn’t love a KN word? Maybe the folks who haven’t heard of this one before.
- 12d. [Samuel L. Jackson has been in six of his movies], TARANTINO. Between Tarantino’s excessive white-man fondness for the N-word in his scripts and his lousy treatment of Uma Thurman, he is on my nope list.
- 40a. [City north of Des Moines], AMES. Why, this Iowa State college town is about 30 miles north of D.M.! Yes, it is. (Can you tell I was trying to freshen up an easy clue for AMES this week?)
Four stars from me. Toodle-oo!
Roland Huget’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Tricks of the Trademark” — Jim P.’s review
Jim P. here covering for Laura who covered for me earlier this week. There’s a lot of that going on around here.
We have a before-and-after theme here today but there’s an added twist. The “after” parts are all trademarked brand names.
- 20a [Prohibitionist in Québec?] FRENCH CANADA DRY
- 25a [Explorer of disputed territory?] NO MAN’S LAND ROVER. I like this one best. It flows well and makes sense.
- 44a [Map of the west side of midtown Manhattan?] HELL’S KITCHEN AID. Another good one, though I only know Hell’s Kitchen thanks to the Daredevil comics I read as a kid.
- 50a [Panic over having no chance at a romantic relationship?] FRIEND ZONE ALARM. See below for more discussion on this one, but I didn’t recognize ZoneAlarm as a company. To me, it sounds like what’s tripped when an area of your house is being broken into.
A few things here:
- I like the consistency of the grid-spanners but am curious about the choice to place the top and bottom entries in the 4th/12th rows, as opposed to the 3rd/13th rows. This would have allowed more space between themers, and presumably eased the constraints that led to CANY and AYR. But for all I know, maybe this grid pattern resulted in better overall fill.
- I’m also intrigued that this is a theme based on brand names. I know that over at the NYT, Deb Amlen has said you won’t see deliberate product placements in their grids (other than as common fill). And yet, at the WSJ this last Monday, there was a puzzle based on detergents (Bold, All, Tide, etc.). They certainly make for rich fodder, but that leaves me confused as to where editors stand on such things and why there doesn’t seem to be consensus.
- And now we come to “friend zone.” It’s shown up in crosswords twice recently (here and here) and both Amy and Jenni have rightly called it out better than I ever could. It jokingly perpetuates a bro-ey sense of entitlement, and it really is cringe-worthy when it shows up in a grid. There are several alternatives that would fit here: STRIKE, DANGER, or COMBAT would all work.
That negative aside, I really like the stacked sets of 6s in the north and south: BRAHMS/RASCAL and CANARY/HYENAS. Also good is the lovely PAYDIRT.
Speaking of which, the “Digging Deep” award goes to the clue at 62a: [Darrin Stephens’s colleagues on “Bewitched”]. Darrin was a slogan writer, and so his colleagues were ADMEN. But the real question is, which Dick are you? Are you Team York or Team Sargent? Here’s the story of how York left the show and was replaced by Sargent. It’s not what you think.
I got hung up at 65a [Blowhard’s offering] which, for some reason, I wanted to be BLAST. It didn’t help that I didn’t recognize the [High-end Swiss watch] RADO. RADL seemed just as plausible, because, you know, those crazy Swiss!
I like a good before-and-after theme, and this one was nice, except for one entry.
Paul Coulter’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
When you first look at this grid, it doesn’t look like a typical themed puzzle. The long answers don’t jump out at you, but the 2 9’s, 2 8’s and central 7 are the longest in the puzzle. They are shorter because they are all one word answers, except they have been repurposed to be two words, as their second half is an animal: NAVI/GATOR, BRIE/FLY, TIMES/HARE, COVEN/ANT, GANG/LION. Cute, if rather broadly defined.
41 themes squares means clean fill, right? What the hell are we resorting to AMIR crossing ARGOSY with TANEY thrown into a quiet corner then? The opposite side has STR/ELOI/TIO, the last two acceptable in a pinch, but there is no pinch there so, why?
Hard but doable and frustrating at times. Never heard of shrooms, it reminds me of Cardi B saying she wants shmoney. Liked Tarantino being in there. I thought z for zebra was clever though it gave me fits.
Hmm, it was super easy for me. I knew all the proper names. I thought the clue for MARMALADE was cute. That’s all I have to say. Gotta run.
Totally agree about the clever MARMALADE clue, [Preserves variety]. I dropped in MIXES IT UP off of the M and had a very nice “aha” moment shortly thereafter.
The NYT is a wonderful puzzle from a wonderful human being. There is so much to like, my favorite being the symmetry of IGUANADON and IGUESSNOT. What really fascinated me was his comment on XWordInfo ” Ah well — the quality of the solving experience has to be the priority, not the constructor’s intellectual stimulation.” This brings the question to my mind, is making a puzzle and art form or an exercise? Do authors write to emphasize the reading experience? Since Jeff is also an author- I wonder. Thank you
@Lemonade714- I agree with your assessment of the puzzle.
I’m not sure what you’re referring re the XWordInfo comment. Do you mean his inspiration regarding using SECRET SAUCE? I thought it was quite funny!
More generally: Even though the puzzle felt impossible when I first looked at it, and though I did not know some of the names, and I’m badly jet lagged, it wound up feeling very smooth and doable. Phrases like SECRET SAUCE and AU NATUREL, once they emerge, are immensely helpful. I thought it was masterfully done…
lovely NYT. Agree with you Amy on PR MAN; if it has to be used, use a dated and gendered clue too: “Many a ‘Mad Men’ character” or the like. Better to scrap it, but can’t see an easy way to fix that corner and the puzzle’s good enough to keep it in, for me.
Disagree with “Kibitzed” as offering unwanted advice.