Stella Zawistowski’s Inkubator crossword, “Themeless #3″—Amy’s write-up
Stella recently got back into constructing after a lengthy hiatus, looking to include the sort of fill and clues she’d like to see in crosswords. (You can read Stella’s comments on the topic at Man Repeller.) And so it is that we have writer, creator, director, and actress LENA WAITHE right at 1-Across. She’s joined by other women in the puzzle: YA novelist Angie Thomas in the HATE clue, AYN Rand, LIESL in The Sound of Music, ENYA, Octavia Butler in the SCI-FI clue, NELL Gwyn (scroll to the Legacy section of her Wikipedia page to see examples of her wit), MARY MARTIN, the DIVINE MISS M, UHURA with Nichelle Nichols in the clue, Jessica BIEL, and drummer Kate Schellenbach in the COOKY clue. I know that Stella also loves ’80s music, so these three songs were not unexpected: “THE ONE I LOVE,” “TAKE ME HOME,” and “COOKY Puss.” I only know the first of these. 4d ARE is also clued via an ’80s song by the Go-Go’s.
Four more things:
- 25a. [Dawn production?], SUDS. Great clue! Dawn dish soap does create suds.
- 41a. [Item that ceremonially joined the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads], GOLDEN SPIKE. The Chinese workers who did 90% of the grueling work of laying the tracks were left out of the celebratory group photo memorializing the Golden Spike, and often omitted from anniversary events. Last month, their descendants gathered to mark the 150th anniversary and were an integral part of the celebration this time. NBC News covered the event, and the article includes a nice historical recap.
- Did not know: 22d. [Brit online fashion brand], ASOS. Apparently the company is making inroads into the U.S. market, but it would appear I am too old to have the slightest interest in the clothes they sell.
- 59a. [Not divided into parts], INDISCRETE. Not to be confused with indiscreet. Boy oh boy, is that an uncommon word.
I’ll ding the puzzle a bit for CMAJ, OGEE, and the dreaded NDAK, but they’re offset by the sparkle in the long fill, right on up to that OUTSIDE AGITATOR in the middle. 4.1 stars from me. 15a OVER AND OUT.
Robyn Weintraub’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Another beautiful themeless from Robyn. There are 16 entries in the 7- to 11-letter range, and not a one of them is clunky, unfamiliar, stilted,or contrived. The shorter fill is almost entirely smooth—you can ding the puzzle for having both EAT AT and SET AT (and really, nobody says SET AT and it shows up in too many puzzles), but that’s about it.
Personal faves: GROUP PHOTO and its [Big shot?] clue. “READY OR NOT…”, [Words in hide-and-seek]. SEE NO EVIL. “DON’T BE MAD.” ON THE DOT. CHAKA Khan and LENA Horne. FAMILY TREE clued as [Something relatively complicated?]. The STOP AHEAD road sign. URBAN LEGEND. TIED THE KNOT and the Updike book MARRY ME—June is wedding season, after all. [How John Glenn orbited the earth in 1962] as a clue for ALONE. SIMON SAYS. [It’s in the bag] as a clue for TEA. The puzzle’s chock full of crisp fill and fresh clues. What more could you want?
Three more things:
- Did not remember: 21d. [___ reflex, infant’s instinctual spreading of the arms], MORO. Not to be confused with the grasp reflex, where a finger placed in the baby’s hand will get grabbed. You can read about the “aaaah, I’m falling!” Moro reflex here.
- 34d. [Nail job, for short], PEDI. I noticed a sign in a neighborhood nail salon advertising their “no chip meni-pedi.” Oof.
- 12d. [Hard to grasp, say], EELY. Is this a word any of us have used in conversation, and not when talking about crossword fill? I’m not convinced it is.
4.4 stars from me.
Sarah McDaniel and Debbie Ellerin’s Universal Crossword, “Dinner and a Show”—Judge Vic’s write-up
Hmm. Clever title, regardless of where it leads. I’m looking at punny clues that lead to answers that suggest Broadway shows and include consecutive letters that spell out a food word. But I am doomed to be somewhat disappointed.
- 17a [Historical French musical that racked up ticket sales?] LES MISERIBS–I sit with this one for a few seconds while solving, going “Huh?” I get Les Mis. Then I wonder whether to focus on miser, rib, or ribs. And, if my focus is on either of the two latter items, then, what to do with the stray e? And if the focus is to be on rib only, then what to do with the s? I also get that racked is related to rib or ribs.
- 26a [Substitute teacher musical for ham actors?] SCHOOL OF HOCK–I know this is a play on School of Rock, plus I get the ham reference. I revert briefly to the previous theme answer and assume I am supposed to come away with Les Miseribs. Problem being I have to pronounce that s, which is not pronounced in Les Misérables. An inconsistency I am programmed to be bothered by. Aggravated by the fact that I never hear people say hock in a food context, except when it is preceded by ham. YMMV.
- 44a [Charleston musical with a meaty plot?] PORKY AND BESS—Meaty, check. But by the time I get to this one, I simply see pork as crucial to having a theme and surmise that the reveal is likely to be the best entry.
- 60a [Apt name for a restaurant that shows 17-, 26- and 44-Across] AVENUE BARBQ–My surmise is correct.
- 49a [Smoked Texas meat BRISKET]–Two ways to look at this answer. Is it a bonus and, therefore, an asset? Or is it a word that had to be used because of patterns formed by its neighbors and, thus, a liability? Either way, it has more meat than the theme, imo. It certainly stands out from the crowd.
Other stuff to comment on includes PAN FLUTE, OF COURSE; a SAFE HOUSE for each CO-CREATOR; and BB GUNS for THE WHO.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword—Jenni’s review
The New Yorker intends to have easier puzzles on Fridays “to ease us into the weekend,” and this one lived up to that billing. Lots of fresh fill, fun to solve, and not difficult.
I liked the four 15s:
- 17a [Street-portrait photo blog started by Brandon Stanton] is the wonderful HUMANS OF NEW YORK. The project has grown to include cities all over the world. If you’re reading this, you must have seen at least one of the stories because they are Internet ubiquitous. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t.
- 20a [2014 Justin Simien movie set at the fictional Winchester University] is DEAR WHITE PEOPLE.
- 51a [He said “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way] is COLIN KAEPERNICK.
- 58a [“A Good Man Is Hard To Find” writer] is FLANNERY O’CONNOR.
I like the diversity of this set, in every sense. HUMANS OF NEW YORK was started by a white guy, but the photos and stories are as diverse as, well, New York City. I appreciate Natan’s commitment to broadening the horizons of the crossword world. You can hear his take on this in this video from The New Yorker.
A few other things:
- 5d [“Ugh, let’s do literally anything else] is the wonderfully conversational CAN WE NOT?
- 6a [Art-class feedback session, slangily] is CRIT. Is it? I’ve never been in that kind of an art class. Is this a term in regular use?
- 25d [Canvassers often need to replace them] are SOLES. My husband, now retired, has become very active in local politics and has indeed gone through a couple of pairs of shoes while canvassing.
- JOHN gets an up-to-date clue as [Legend of music].
- [Tokarczuk who won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize] is OLGA. Has her last name appeared in a crossword yet?
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the GOJI is also called the wolfberry, that VINNIE Colaiuta played drums with Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Faith Hill, and Herbie Hancock, and that the eight-century poet Otomo no Tabito wrote a tanka called “Thirteen Poems in Praise of SAKE.” According to one source, a tanka is a Japanese 31-syllable poem, traditionally written as a single, unbroken line; according to others, it has five lines with 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7 syllables. Here’s a sample (in English).
Peter Gordon’s The Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Golden Light”–Jenni’s write-up.
I had no idea what was going on with this theme until I found the revealer at the bottom of the puzzle. This is a crossword for the specific audience of the Chronicle; since I’m not in academe, it didn’t appeal all that much to me. It’s well-done and was fun to solve.
So, the theme:
- 19a [*Presidential figure plagued with recurring malaria] was JEFFERSON DAVIS. Malaria is no longer endemic in the US; the mosquito-borne infection was eliminated in the 1950s through the combination of insecticides, drainage ditches, and window screens. There are still about 1,500 cases in US hospitals each year because people arrive here having acquired the disease elsewhere. Malaria most likely arrived in North American courtesy of the enslaved Africans brought by European invaders, and some scholars speculate that the presence of malaria in the South encouraged the use of African slaves, who were more likely to be resistant to the disease, rather than the indentured servants of European extraction who were more common in the North. (I said I wasn’t in academe. I didn’t say I wasn’t an annoying know-it-all. Malaria is fascinating).
- 33a [*Old-Hollywood choreographer known for kaleidoscopic production numbers] was BUSBY BERKELEY. Here’s a good example.
- 45a [*Globetrotting villain of edutainment] is CARMEN SAN DIEGO.
And the explanation: 58a [Wth 59 Across, Latin motto of the University of California, which can claim campuses in the cities ending the answers to this puzzle’s starred clues]. The UC system has campuses in DAVIS, BERKELEY, and SAN DIEGO, and their motto is FIAT LUX (let there be light). Solid, consistent, and probably amusing to UC faculty.
A few other things:
- 9d [What to say when ordering a shake?] is PUT IT THERE, because it’s a handshake, not a milkshake.
- 14d [Live-stream think piece] is a TED TALK. Mine was not live-streamed; it was recorded and posted weeks later.
- 40a [“Junk” piece burning at the end of “Citizen Kane”] is a SLED. No spoilers!
- 51a [Unisex fragrance with an existentially mellow name] is CKBE. I needed the crossings for that one; I am not a fragrance user.
- 49d [Group born in the late ’60s or early ’70s] is GEN X. That’s right, folks, there are Gen Xers who are grandparents.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that JEFFERSON DAVIS had malaria, or that the OBOE had a cousin called the heckelphone. Here’s Heckelphone Party:
Bruce Venzke & Gail Grabowski’s LA Times crossword – Jenni’s write-up
Filling in for Gareth, who lost power in a storm as he was solving the puzzle. I like this kind of theme – four answers with the same clue – and this one has two 15-letter entries. It’s an appealing grid. I’m not crazy about a couple of the answers, though.
All the theme answers are clued [That’s a wrap]
- 17a is GIFT BOX COVERING. That’s certainly true, but it’s not a phrase anyone uses. “Oh, look at that lovely gift box covering! My mother-in-law saves all the gift box covering every year.” Just doesn’t work for me.
- 27a is TERRYCLOTH ROBE. Solid. Well, soft and cozy and comfy – but solidly in the language.
- 44a is ROLLED SANDWICH. Again, it fit, but it’s not a phrase I’ve ever heard anyone say. I don’t dislike as much as 17a, though.
- 60a is END OF A FILM SHOOT. While this also isn’t a commonly used idiomatic phrase, it is much more believable.
So two work, one really doesn’t, one sort of does. I like the idea of the theme more than the execution.
A few other things:
- 1a [It’s sold in bars] for SOAP showed up in another puzzle I did in the past 24 hours. I’ve been doing a lot of old puzzles during my enforced time sitting still, and I don’t remember if it was one of those.
- 5d [Like angel food cake] is SPONGY. Hmm. To me sponge cake is spongy, and that’s a different texture than angel food cake. Now I want cake.
- 19d [Iconic Chevys] are VETTES, with the shortened version of the name signaled by “Chevys” in the clue.
- 35a [Bushy-tailed canines] are FOXES, which Gareth would probably have gotten faster than I did. I got stuck on dogs.
- 64a [Bay, play or gray follower] is AREA. Nice.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that OLGA Kurylenko was in “Quantum of Solace.”