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: email@example.com. 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.