Howard Barkin and Kevin Christian’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s review
This was a fun, seasonal Monday offering.
- 20a [*Trilogy set in Middle-earth, with “The”] is LORD OF THE RINGS.
- 37a [*Container for a Kellogg’s cereal] is a RICE KRISPIES BOX. A smidgen roll-your-own, but I’m OK with it.
- 48a [*Reputed place at the North Pole] is SANTA‘S WORKSHOP.
And the revealer at the bottom, where all good revealers should be: 65a [What the answer to each of the starred clues has]: ELVES. I only wish the Keebler Tree could have made an appearance.
A few other things:
- This is the third puzzle I’ve done today with a reference to ORAL exams. Admittedly, one was the giant puzzle in the NYT special section, which had every answer one could think of.
- Love 5d [Physical expression of frustration, in modern lingo]: HEADDESK.
- 7d [Leave off, as the last letter in this clu] is a delightful clu(e) for OMIT.
- Miller LITE is not actually beer. It’s just not.
- We’re going to see the Alvin AILEY performance on December 28th for the tenth or eleventh year in a row! Even though my kid isn’t dancing any more, we still honor our family tradition.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that DUBAI is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates. I should have, but I didn’t.
C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Nate’s write-up
Any time I see C.C. (Zhouquin) Burnikel’s byline, I rest easy, knowing it’s going to be a great puzzle. Let’s dive in!
17A: FILM SCRIPT [Screenwriter’s creation]
28A: FASHION HOUSE [Gucci or Versace, notably]
45A: TRAIN STATION [Grand Central, for one]
60A: GRAPH PAPER [Math student’s plotting sheet]
68A: LINES [Botox targets … or what 17-, 28-, 45- and 60-Across all have]
Clever! Each of the themers has LINES (spoken dialogue, clothing collections, railways, or lines on a piece of paper) in a different way. I also like that the clue for lines wasn’t just [What each of the themers has] – there was the extra bit of whimsy thrown in, which I enjoyed.
For a second while solving, I forget the constructor of the puzzle and then had a !!! moment when I got to 24A [Chickadee kin] = TITS. If this had been a male constructor, I would have a much different reaction to this word sneaking through the editors to the final puzzles, but I have no problem with a woman including it in her grid. A fun little jolt in the Monday LAT puzzle!
– I got a kick out of WAVER and WAFER crossing.
– If read / pronounced a different way, SUBARUS could be a type of dinosaur!
– Loved seeing gay [Mathematician Turing] ALAN in the puzzle. Also, how fun were FAN FICTION and SPRAY ON TAN?
– ALICE, EMMA, and ROSITA made for a woman-focused NW corner, which I dug!
Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Well, Looky!”—Jim P’s review
HIDE / AND / SEEK is the name of the game (4d / 37a / 54d) with the key catchphrase, “Ready or not, here I come!,” hidden in the theme answers.
- 20a [Queen ballad that suggests “Fly away, far away”] SPREAD YOUR WINGS. I didn’t recall this song, and listening to it now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before. Not one of their bigger hits.
- 25a [Worthless person] GOOD–FOR–NOTHING. I’m more accustomed to hearing this as an adjectival phrase, but it works as a NOUN phrase as well.
- 43a [Assuming leadership] TAKING THE REINS
- 49a [Boom of the early 21st century] DOT–COM EXPLOSION. Not sure I’ve heard this phrase either. “Dot-com bubble” and “dot-com boom” sure. But the E made the last word fairly easy to get.
Despite the iffiness of the last one, I thought this was a fun theme. I’m really impressed Jeff was able to find phrases that fully disguised all the words, especially OR NOT, and then get everything to fit symmetrically. And then, on top of that, to get HIDE and SEEK to cross the first and last themers in symmetrical locations is a touch of serendipity.
ELIHU isn’t a great way to start your grid, but fortunately, things improved from there. My fave bits in the fill: “OH HELL” and “I SAY NO.” I thought THE COLTS got an unusual clue [Luck-less team, as of late 2019], and then I remembered there was a Stanford quarterback by the name of Andrew Luck. Did he perhaps go to THE COLTS and then leave them recently? Ah yes, he announced his retirement back in August.
EGGMAN [Fellow mentioned in “I Am the Walrus”] was another fun entry. We would also have accepted [Sonic foe].
Clues of note:
- 1d [They often throw shade]. ELMS. Well, I don’t know about throwing, but I see what you did there.
- 5d [Be successful at a joust]. UNSADDLE. The first definition of this word in Merriam-Webster jibes with my understanding of it: “to take the saddle from.” I wanted UNSEAT as the answer here, but the second definition satisfies the clue: “to throw from the saddle.”
Playful and breezy Monday grid. Four stars.
Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword Themeless Monday #547—Jim Q’s review
Even though I can’t claim a perfect solve, still enjoyed the heck out of this one. Got hung up in the SE with ARID . I entered ARID DUNE (which I convinced myself was a thing). DINA looked just fine (still looks more normal than ZINA!) and I was unfamiliar with the T. Rex frontman, Marc BOLAN, so BULAN didn’t feel too wrong either.
Other hiccups included MIDI instead of MINI and IRK instead of IRE, but they were easier to sniff out. Students in my study hall were eager to call out RED BONE when I asked for some Childish Gambino songs, but were silent when I asked “Who has an album named Hyperspace?” (“BECK!” one Googler finally called… ignoring my established house rules: You can ask other people around you, but no Googling!)
- 57A [Where boxers often go] HYDRANTS. “Go” here meaning “urinate.”
- 5D [Drink enjoyed under water] SHOWER BEER. I spotted SHOWER BEER holders in Bed, Bath, & Beyond a few weeks ago. I confess to being both mystified and appalled.
- 28D [2013 memoir whose part one is titled “Before the Taliban”] I AM MALALA. Student created artwork based on the memoir is currently behind me.
- 20A [Literally, literally] ADVERB. “Literally” has become my least favorite word in our language. Literally.
- 7D [Recess threat] OR ELSE! Do they really say that? Haha.
HAD TOUBLE WITH:
- 44D [Tree used in yacht-building] LARCH.
- 53A [It might make grunts grunt] REVEILLE.
- 11D [Rosebud Motel’s employee on “Schitt’s Creek”] STEVIE. Never saw it.
- 6D [Blood anticoagulant] HEPARIN.
Also SOAPER is just plain weird.
An unsuccessful finish, but nothing much to scowl at!
Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
This was one of those puzzles that I loved because of the things I learned from it. There was plenty that was unfamiliar to me, but now I know them! Crossword puzzles, and especially unconstrained themeless puzzles, have such incredible potential to teach you things. What a fantastic hobby we all share!
I started this puzzle on a tear through the NW, where everything from MOTHS to SHAPEWEAR (hate it) and HATERADE (love it) fell into place in a matter of seconds, but that momentum came crashing to a halt at KARA WALKER, whose name I didn’t recognize while solving, but whose incredible art, I now realize after googling her, I saw at the National Portrait Gallery last year. I love that she is in this puzzle and that I was able to re-encounter this artist whose work I loved but had not committed to memory. Have I mentioned how much I love crossword puzzles?
The K at the end of NORSK was my last square (when I realized it couldn’t possibly be KARA WALEER), and I also had a string of issues in the South, between ARROYO, LOLLOP, and RAINER, none of which I knew. Google tells me an ARROYO is “a steep-sided gully formed by the action of fast-flowing water in an arid or semi-arid region, found chiefly in the southwestern US.” LOLLOP is a fun new word for me, and is almost onomatopoetic. RAINER Werner Fassbinder was apparently quite controversial. Learning!
Just a few things I didn’t enjoy:
- As with Friday’s puzzle, I found the cross of I WANT ‘EM and REN to be too tricky, as that ‘E in I WANT ‘EM is (once again) ambiguous, so if you don’t know REN, you’ve potentially reached an impossible cross. I had I WANT IT for almost my whole solve, but realized there likely wasn’t a film genre called TUMBLECORE (although, honestly, I’d probably watch it if there were).
- Some fill I could live without: ITALS, DEYS, and CRI, all of which lead me to say NOT TODAY, SATAN! (which is itself probably my favorite entry).
Overall, I give this puzzle plenty of stars for its sheer educational value.
PS: I also want to pose a question to the commenters who take issue with the trivia bent of these New Yorker puzzles (and I am genuinely asking, not trying to call anyone out or even necessarily disagree): What else should a themeless puzzle emphasize if not trivia and new fun facts? These puzzles always have a few fun wordplay clues, but for the most part, a themeless puzzle by its very nature isn’t emphasizing fun wordplay. There’s no theme, so really the only thing giving a themeless puzzle its sparkle is its ability to make interesting or informative clues about sparkly words and phrases. Or am I missing something?
Never heard of “Headdesk”. Nor had I ever heard of “Madea”, and am only marginally aware of someone named Tyler Perry – so I had HE_DDESK and “MADE_” until all the other squares were filled. I figured it had to be an “A”, but it was a total guess.
I think this puzzle was misplaced, for the reason you cite and others. It feels like it does not belong on a Monday.
Universal – Excellent theme from DAB. Several years back, I did a tangentially related theme for the Fireball, so I know this took a lot of effort to find theme answers that work. David and David made this accessible for Monday solvers and I particularly liked DAB’s revealer.
Yep, this was a good one. Loved CrashCrow.
RICEKRISPIESBOX is a really specific answer for the cluing and a spanner in the middle of the grid for a Monday, especially given the crosses. Other than this NYT was a decent Monday, but I really despised that central part. But I did know DUBAI.
OTOH WSJ was a really fun little Monday.
NYM, some odd stuff as usual. OK puzzle. To answer the posed question, some of these clever new answers are dependent on your definition of fun. Some do get meanspirited as evidenced with your displeasure at SHAPEWEAR, which I knew cold because of what my wife used to do.
Neither resorted to using the dreaded OREO, so it’s a fine day!
The edit time caught me: HATE has a threshold that is absurdly low at times.
To be clear, as a person who has worn plenty of SHAPEWEAR in my time, I object to SHAPEWEAR itself, not the entry!
toughest BEQ in a while
What else should a themeless puzzle emphasize if not trivia and new fun facts?
For my part, I see a crossword as a puzzle, simple as that. Fun facts can be–well, fun, but they’re not what I do crosswords for. The ideal crossword for me is both fair (meaning unambiguously solvable based on information I have in my head) and challenging. The crosswords that come closest to this ideal for me are Newsday’s Saturday stumpers.
Trivia often doesn’t lend itself well to the twin goals of being fair and being challenging, as, on the one hand, if one knows the trivia in question, it is usually not challenging to plunk in the answer, while, on the other, if one doesn’t know the trivia, it can risk making the puzzle a little unfair. I should note, however, that it’s often possible to clue the trivia in such a way that even if one doesn’t know it per se, he is enabled to make an educated guess at it. That’s where “fun facts” can come into their own, IMO.
Beq … is jars and starts really a match? I had it early but wouldn’t let myself put it in since it wasn’t really right. Soaper was similar but more likely colloquial so it went in. Though I did not know Stevie and some others I felt like this was tough but fair, except for the aforementioned jars. That dinged it to a 4.5 for me. I may be jarred when I have a start. And something that gives me starts may be jarring. I am clearly jarred by this but the only thing I am started on is this mild rant….