Eric Berlin’s New York Times contest crossword, “Escape Room”—Amy’s recap
It’s a contest puzzle with a deadline of Tuesday, so no spoilers on the meta. But the puzzle solution wasn’t locked, so the solution grid is fair game. The contest is definitely on the easier end of the spectrum—in Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest terms, this would be a Week 1, the easiest in the month. In escape room terms, this is way easier than any of the steps in the puzzles in the two escape rooms I’ve done. (Only two! I know. I need to do more.)
Here are the long answers:
- 41a. What’s needed in order to escape this crossword], LETTERS ON THE KEYS
- 70a. What to do with the items referenced in 41-Across], PLACE THEM IN THE CORNERS
- 99a. After following the instructions at 70-Across, how to escape this puzzle], READ NEW DOWN WORDS
I had some squares circled, but removed those marks from my solution grid to avoid giving away any more. The puzzle notes are awfully verbose: This crossword represents an escape room, with four articles you’ll need hidden inside. After you complete the grid, follow the directions at 41-, 70- and 99-Across to find what to do next. Working correctly will lead you to a four-word phrase with a total of 12 letters. That is your answer. ¶ When you have it, send it by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twenty-five correct solvers, chosen at random, whose entries are received by 6 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, Nov. 13, will receive copies of The New York Times Crossword Puzzles 2019 Day-to-Day Calendar, from Andrews McMeel. Only one entry per person. The answer and contest solution will appear next week. The winners’ names will appear in the issue of Dec. 2.
As for the crossword proper, there’s some good fill and some blah fill. Good: ROAD ATLAS, LAST GASP, VELVETY, SIMOLEONS, SNOW DAY, BORSCHT, GARDENIAS. Blah: OCHRE OATER EDSEL IMARET in the first few rows, later OREL SPH TSARIST AEONS -ITE ESSE ADDR. DISS. ORAN, weird -er plural SPANKERS.
- Zero idea about 55a. [Tobacconist ___ Sherman], NAT. Googling … apparently this is a Manhattan store for tobacco products. Yuck.
- 73d. [Nut whose name sounds like a sneeze], CASHEW. And ALMOND sounds a little like a yawn, doesn’t it? (That made me yawn.)
- 108d. [California city north of Ventura], OJAI. It’s not currently in a fire zone. Those California wildfires are dreadful, and if any of you are contending with evacuations or terrible air quality, you are in our thoughts.
- 71d. [“The Bridge at Narni” painter], COROT. The painting name doesn’t ring a bell, but it’s at the Louvre.
3.75 stars from me. I prefer my contest puzzles to pose more challenge, but I know that isn’t a universal preference.
Patti Varol’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Hunger Games”—erik’s recap
Patti Varol, certainly one of the five best living crossword makers, found the time in between editing puzzle packs and constructing tournament puzzles and what have you to bring us this toothsome Sunday puzzle, in which common phrases have been repurposed to describe the curious dietary habits of certain professionals, like so:
- 23a. A hungry actor might CHEW THE SCENERY
- 30a. A hungry film critic might TAKE IN A MOVIE (weird, I’ve never seen puzzledom’s resident film critic tweeting about this – only pizza)
- 53a. A hungry locksmith might BOLT THE DOOR (this one made me laugh out loud, great wordplay and great image)
- 68a. A hungry librarian might DEVOUR A GOOD BOOK (Laura B., confirm?)
- 89a. A hungry janitor might BITE THE DUST
- 107a. A hungry banker might DOWN PAYMENTS (such a clever repurposing of “down”)
- 120a. A hungry angler might SWALLOW THE BAIT (this one seems the most feasible, nutritionally and dentally speaking)
Not a bad theme answer in that bunch, and not much bad fill either: I would say HOVE is obscure for non-sailing solvers such as myself, I don’t buy ACR. as an abbreviation, and there’s the across-the-pond crosswordese ETON and EIRE, but that’s all I can work up any animus towards. In contrast, answers like ISOTOPE, SAVE IT, OH SNAP, SUNDAE, POP TART, TAGLINE, TAR HEELS, NEATNIK, VETO POWER, KAHLO, and TOYS “R” US made this an engaging solve from start to finish. More please!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Neat as a Pun” – Jim Q’s writeup
Classic theme in the WaPo today: “I” becomes “U” and wackiness ensues.
- 23A [TV used for moping?] SULK SCREEN. Silk screen.
- 25A [Beach houses owned by a tech giant?] GOOGLE HUTS. Google hits. I’m writing this from the beach of Cape May in chilly November. There ain’t a hut in sight!
- 39A [Small horse that needs only a single semi?] ONE TRUCK PONY. One trick pony.
- 57A [Rebellious big cat?] THE PUNK PANTHER. The Pink Panther… as a badass.
- 70A [Hen’s hiding space?] CLUCK HOLE. ClickHole.
- 87A [Toy dogs covered with some bed spread?] PUGS IN A BLANKET. Pigs in a blanket. Hot dogs just got hotter.
- 105A [Remains on the cover of a celebrity magazine?] PEOPLE SKULLS. People skills. My favorite of the bunch, even though it’s a touch morbid!
- 124A [Music genre pioneered by nurse Clara?] BARTON FUNK. Barton Fink.
- 127A [Nonsense in the upper house of Congress?] SENATE BULL. Senate bill.
With a classic theme type like this, all of the theme answers need to land. And they do here. Mostly, anyway. I can’t say that I laughed out loud at any of them, but that may be asking too much. CLUCK HOLE took me the longest since I was unfamiliar with ClickHole (I assume it’s referring to the site run by The Onion). Otherwise, this was as straightforward as they get from Evan, who is consistently providing variety in his themes.
- 93A [Luxury Hyundai model] AZERA. I had ALERO, which is not produced by HYUNDAI, but A?ER? clued with a car = ALERO! Never heard of the AZERA. The crossing with an unfamiliar author (GAIL Carson Levine) made it tricky.
- 112D [LGBT activist Jones who founded the AIDS Memorial Quilt]. CLEVE.
Had STEVE. I’ve never heard of this quilt project either, but it’s awesome.
- 123D [Soft-shell item, maybe]. CLAM. Had TACO. Then CRAB. Never heard of soft-shell CLAMs!
- 91D [Composer Rota] NINO. I’m wondering if this was clued as a proper noun to avoid the controversy about whether or not a letter with a tilda is acceptable crossword fill. In a puzzle that had a few unfamiliar proper names, I think I would’ve preferred this clued as a Spanish youngster.
- 49A [Nickname of Ohio State’s football stadium] THE SHOE. Unfamiliar to me.
- 10A [It may be covered in melted cheese] NACHO. Clue should’ve been [It BETTER be covered in melted cheese!]. Yum.
- 45D [___ credit] EXTRA. It’s sought out by students with A+ averages already or students with no hope of a passing grade because they didn’t do squat for the first 3/4 of the semester.
- 133A [Like Bob Saget’s stand-up comedy] LEWD. Indeed. The wholesome dad of Full House can be jaw-droppingly filthy. Anyone see The Aristocrats? I’m not even comfortable posting a YouTube link with a NSFW disclaimer. But you can find it if you dare.
In my AT BAT, this crossword was right over the plate. Not a bad thing at all. We can’t expect knuckle-balls all the time. 3.1 stars from me.
Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Chaos Theory:—Judge Vic’s write-up
Some solvers, famously or infamously, do not like quip puzzles. Fortunately for Emily and Henry, I’m not one of those. I liked this puzzle, which is aptly titled “Chaos Theory.” In it, a multi-part clue (beginning with 32a. [Start of a title by Robert Coveyou]) leads to the following rolling out into the grid:
RANDOM NUMBER / GENERATION IS / TOO IMPORTANT / TO BE / LEFT TO CHANCE.
36a. [Coveyou’s field], MATH, balances out the symmetry of the theme answers. It’s not earthshakingly funny, and it’s not a best-selling book. It is, rather, a 1970 article in the journal Studies in Applied Mathematics. And it’s clever, ironic, and smile-provoking–for me, anyway, … and I wish I’d sussed it out for a puzzle before they did.
Non-theme matter to which I was drawn and/or by which I was impressed included:
- 7a. [Heedless haste] MAD DASH—it’s in Merriam-Webster online; who knew?
- 22a. [“Easy, it’s OK”] NOW NOW—it’s been a long time since anyone said this to me, though.
- 29. [The o of Fios] OPTIC—I did not know this.
- 53a. [Kin of paddlefish] STURGEON—I’d forgotten that “paddlefish” related to the shape of the snout.
- 97a. [Lavalava-wearing land] SAMOA—now I know what a lavalava is.
- 6d. [Virile stereotypes] REAL MEN—Real Men books inspired the title Real Lawyers Do Change Their Briefs.
- 7d. [What falls in winter] MERCURY—I injured my forehead when this finally came together for me.
- 14d. [Designed to deter stealing] ANTI-THEFT—good term, this.
- 17d. [Out carousing] ON A TOOT—always makes me smile, for some reason.
- 18d. [Transport for Toto] TORNADO—obvious, but all thoughts of The Wizard of Oz ring positive to me.
- 44d. [The smartest herb?] SAGE—c’mon, you think it’s cute, too, right?
- 64d. [Quick easy gait] DOGTROT—gotta love it!
- 79d. [Incompletely cooked] PARBOILED—I do some parboiling with root veggies before cooking ‘em up!
OTOH, 67a [A mean Amin] IDI is no longer in my wheelhouse, as I deleted IDI and AMIN when Amy was my editor a few years ago. I do understand the thought, though, that even the negative guys in history are fair game in crosswords, as long as they’re clued as non-heroic.
I wish the authors would have avoided crossing BARTAB with TABS 95A/89D, but … maybe that’s just me.
All in all, I enjoyed the solve. It took me about 25 minutes on the P.C. using AcrossLite. I’d rate it a solid 3.5 for middle-of-the-road difficulty and above-average enjoyment.
Judging from some of the comments on NYTimes WordPlay, this puzzle is a “streak killer”, in that there are two puzzles to solve and solving both, or only one, will kill the streak. I am torn. I have a 700 day streak going, and I do not want to risk it. This is terribly unfair.
I only have 3 of the keys, so I am pooched anyway.
If you found three, you can find the fourth. If I did, no doubt you can, especially considering you have that impressive 700 day streak.
What they said
Fun NYT! And I love that Corot painting. I like his slightly blurry style. At least, it looks that way – a little smudgy – to me.
I always enjoy Eric Berlin’s puzzles; his series for young readers (The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, etc.) is also fun. Someday I will have to try an escape room.
Count me as one of those people who would have hated the NYT if the fill hadn’t been fairly straightforward. Played like a large early week puzzle aside from theme, which keeps it accessible.
NAT Sherman is an iconic cigar brand whose store & lounge is near Grand Central (the cigars are sold elsewhere too). They’re a bit pricey for non-Cubans but very good.
I haven’t read Amy’s report and indeed haven’t touched the puzzle. (I usually start or finish Saturday evening, but the Times had printer delays, so the magazine was not delivered until just now, with Sunday’s paper.) But I’m surprised and glad she has one.
Seeing a puzzle with meta troubled me, not just because I’m not all that into them (and am not on the WSJ meta wavelength), but also because I figured a contest means no discussion here for a few days. That’d mean no feedback for me on filling in the puzzle. Boo hiss! But with luck, not so.
I think IMARET is pretty unfair, since one of the letters is basically unchecked.
Maybe I just don’t get the whole idea of this puzzle but can someone explain
or does this involve spoilers in which case I shall remain ignorant.
Or you keep working with the important clues you found.
UNO would just be the card game UNO if memory serves. Explanation of the other two would involve spoilers.
I never knew NYT had a meta contest. I use the NYT Crossword app on my IPad and I see now that the instructions are on the I tab, but how do you know to look for it? How often do they have the contest?
Marty they rarely have contests in general. Like once or twice a year. (I’m sure someone in the ether will pounce if I have worded that incorrectly.) Usually it’s a note in the header of your app that draws attention to the contest.
Actually NAT Sherman and IMARET were gimmes for me, NEKO CASE and STRAUB definitely not.
Tricky in one spot in that the component of a doctor’s exam has two spellings, making that my last to enter and needing the theme,then, BEFORE the fill. I think I have it, but one of four turns on guessing a phrase new to me. I’ll find out from Amy Tuesday.
Pugs in a blanket ;)
I’m stumped on the meta by one word, grrr. Gone over it again & again, don’t see how it can work…
Oh, wait….Never mind.
I was so very pleased to see NEKO CASE show up in the NYT puzzle. She’s been one of my favorite artists for over a decade now—it’s criminal how little exposure she gets, even now.
Pretty bland meta, but if it helps get more people hooked on metas, that’s to the good.
Did not know SIMOLEONS. Every time I think I’ve learned all of the slang terms for money, Will Shortz finds another one to lob at me.
I figured out the meta, but it took a while. I thought there were a couple of inelegant elements in the puzzle that made it harder to see.
Honestly, though, working out this meta has not made me eager to do more. I mean, I’ve done the crossword but now there’s extra homework with it? No thanks…
I’m really happy that NYT is giving meta puzzles and contests a chance. And I understand how they wouldn’t want to throw a curveball at solvers who have no familiarity with the concept.
All that being said, compared to WSJ, MMMM etc. this is a very subpar meta. It is caught in no man’s land, and thus the solving experience suffers immensely.
AFAICT there are multiple solutions to this meta puzzle. I hope they accept all of them.
Multiple solutions that make nonsensical four-word phrases instead of a plausible one?
I agree with Sarah. I can see at least three ways of phrasing the answer, four if you count Yoda-speak.
FWIW, I was scared by the reference in the instructions to an escape room, since I’ve never heard of that. Fortunately, looks like I don’t need prior knowledge to follow the instructions.
Walk out or not.