Wyna Liu’s Inkubator crossword, “Themeless #5″—Jenni’s review
This is the toughest puzzle I’ve done in a long time aside from Tim Croce’s Club 72 freestyles, which are brain-crackingly difficult. For reference, I do the Saturday NYT puzzles in well under ten minutes. Wyna’s puzzle comes very close to Tim’s degree of difficulty. It’s clean and wide-open with a grand total of four three-letter answers. Some of the fill is a bit obscure and the cluing is, well, fiendish. No complaints – it’s a great puzzle.
There’s the hidden-upper-case-letter trick: 17a [Degree, e.g.], which is DEODORANT. There’s slang that’s not overtly signaled as slang: [Domes] and MELONS are slang synonyms for “head.” There’s the clue that’s accurate but so vague that it’s not really helpful: 20d [King’s rival] is MAV, because it’s the basketball team, not an actual king or Elvis or Billie Jean. There’s punnery: 24a [Stingy group?] is the FBI. There are connections I’d never thought of before: 40a [Ooze or conceal] is SECRETE. Now that I think about it, that one seems a bit off. “Ooze” is passive; SECRETE is active.
I suspect that solvers who object to trivia will not like this puzzle. There’s pop music trivia (CREEP), programming trivia (HELLO WORLD), actor trivia (ANYA Taylor-Joy of “The Witch” and Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar-winning turn as ANASTASIA), foreign-language trivia (TANTO, which is a samurai sword) and sports trivia (HOYAS). Something for everyone, at least.
A few other things:
- 1a [Mark of healing] is one of those answers where I fill in three of the four letters and wait for crossings, because it can be either SCAR or SCAB.
- 29a [Bravo subjects] is another misleading clue. It’s not the cable network. The answer is OPERA SOLI. That’s a bit roll-your-own.
- I loved 35a [Comment after “helping”]: FIXED THAT FOR YOU.
- 56a [Early professional exposure] is CAREER DAY. Pro tip: if you invite someone to career day to talk about being a doctor, do not make her a nametag that says “Mrs. Smith.” True story. Smith is my husband’s name and my daughter’s name, but not mine, and I was not there to talk about being a Mrs.
- I also liked 59a [Cold comfort?] for HALLS.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: this could be its own blog post. I didn’t know the samurai sword, HELLO WORLD, ANYA Taylor-Joy, Bergman’s Oscar-winning role, the 90s music trivia, that EL CID means “The Lord,” or that LAO is a descendant of the Tai languages. I did know that EXCEDRIN contains caffeine.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Wow, two puzzles in a row on Crossword Fiend by gifted Chinese-American constructors! I haven’t done Wyna Liu’s Inkubator puzzle yet but I do look forward to it, as I always look forward to Zhouqin’s work. We even get an extra column of grid in this NYT puzzle.
Favorite fill: “CAN YOU NOT?” is #1 for me. ENERGY BAR, LASER PEEL, RED HERRINGS, the Onion’s AREA MAN, and “ABOUT THAT …”
Ten things that caught my attention:
- 20a. [___ Jahan, leader who commissioned the Taj Mahal], SHAH. From the Mughal Empire that ruled India for a few centuries. I recently read Dexter Filkins’ lengthy New Yorker article on Indian P.M. Narendra Modi and his followers, and the anti-Muslim animus they espouse (including resentment towards the Mughals). The intensity of the bigotry, the destruction of a free press … things are scary over there.
- 28d. [Site for some celebratory dances], END ZONE. So the NFL dropped its previous policy of punishing end zone celebrations. When my husband’s watching a game and there’s a group dance routine in the end zone, he rewinds it to show me because it’s just so delightful. I like joy! (Not keen on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, of course.)
- 43d. [Kendrick of rap], LAMAR. Remember when Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for music for his album Damn.? I’m fond of the song “Love” from that album (video below).
- 18a. [Actress whose full name can be made from the letters of DO RE MI], DEMI MOORE. Neat clue!
- 29a. [Boomsticks?], TNT. Echoes of the movie Army of Darkness, the sort of goofball sequel to the first two Evil Dead movies—Ash time-travels into history and has a shotgun, which the people of yore had never seen before. “This is my boomstick.” (Video clip.)
- 31a. [Largest steel producer in the U.S.], NUCOR. Who? What? This doesn’t ring a bell at all for me.
- 54a. [1/2 vis-à-vis 1/3, say], EVE. 1/2 and 1/3 are dates here, not fractions.
- 60a. [Irritates, with “on”], GRATES. Anyone else in the mood for cheese now?
- 63a. [Best Play and others], ESPYS / 62a. [Critic’s award], STAR. Boy, my mind went the wrong way on both of these. I thought of theater awards rather than sports plays, and I thought of awards for critics (like Roger Ebert’s Pulitzer) rather than what critics might award. Speaking of critics! I relished Anthony Lane’s review of the new Cats movie in the New Yorker.
- 9d. [Country with hundreds of islands in the Red Sea], ERITREA. Islands! I did not know this. I’m fond of geography trivia.
Overall, the fill was quite smooth, but not especially full of surprise or sparkle. A solid four stars from this critic.
David Alfred Bywaters’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up
I know the LAT doesn’t follow the same increase-the-difficulty pattern as the NYT; I still expect something a little chewier on Friday. I really enjoyed the theme and the revealer made it more fun. Some of the fill had me raising my eyebrows. Overall I give it a thumbs up.
We have four theme answers, all familiar phrases with something added.
- 3d [That one curl that makes the whole hairdo work?] is the KEY RINGLET.
- 18d [Breakfast theater offering?] is HAMLET AND EGGS. I filled that one in without any crossings while eating ham and eggs. No lie.
- 9d [Perfectionist butcher’s pride?] are CUTLET CORNERS. At first I thought this was badly clued, because a perfectionist butcher wouldn’t be proud of cutting corners. Then I realized she would be proud of perfect corners on her cutlets. Got it.
- 30d [Hollywood’s latest canine discovery?] is a DOG STARLET.
And the revealer: 26d [Disappointment … and a hint to four puzzle answers], which is LETDOWN. All the themers are in the Downs. Nice!
Not fond of BASSI or BEFOG or NO LOSE. TORI is a perfectly good woman’s name with at least two well-known examples I can think of; why is it clued as a word no non-mathemetician ever uses? [Bagels and donuts, shapewise] is a clunky clue. Why? I blame the patriarchy.
A few other things:
- 17a [Words before snapping] are SAY CHEESE. Snapping photos.
- You know you do too many crosswords when you drop in RIA for [Inlet] instead of ARM.
- 5d [Man cave setup] is a STEREO. Still? We got rid of ours in favor of a Sonos system last year. Of course, the only thing in this house that qualifies as a “man cave” is the workshop in the basement.
- 42a [Hard wear] is ARMOR. Nice clue.
- BIG MESS is a bit green paint-y.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that ALBEDO is the [Planetary reflected-light ratio]. OK, then.
Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
After getting off to just a totally dead wrong start in the NW with TEE as the “Concert merch” (missed the “formerly”) and TRACTS as the “Prospectors’ purchases,” I managed to mostly right the ship and sail through this puzzle. I don’t have a ton to say about it, other than “Patrick Berry is very good at making crossword puzzles,” although this one was somewhat less exciting (though equally clean and well-made) compared to some of his other recent New Yorker offerings.
The marquee entry ACCIDENTS HAPPEN is a neat 15, but it’s also kind of a meh phrase? The 9s weren’t particularly more interesting either (ARGENTINA, HOOVER DAM, TAKES TIME, LEAD APRON, HEADLAMPS, WIND CHIME). Nothing wrong with any of those, and LEAD APRON is weird enough to stand out, but I can’t say this was as chock-full of excitement as I’ve come to expect from the New Yorker.
Also, ok, CREOSOTE? It’s valid and I learned something new, but I wonder where the line is on “miscellaneous chemical compounds” that can be included in the grid.
A few more things:
- Plenty of should-baring dresses have necks, so I’m skeptical of NECKLESS. Not sure how else one would clue that, though.
- I can never remember that ELFIN is spelled with an I and not a second e. It just looks wrong to me! I think I probably just want ELVEN instead? But that’s a different word altogether (like, ELFIN is elf-like, and ELVEN is “made by elves,” yeah?)
- Names I didn’t know
- Leo CARRILLO — for a while I had CARRALLO/WASHING, because some people use wells for washing? Idk, not my finest moment.
- Michelle AKERS
- I only know who ADAM WEST is because of Family Guy.
Overall, not my favorite puzzle by Patrick Berry, but only because I have unrealistically high expectations of wow factor from this constructor and this publication. It’s solid and well-made and has no bad fill, so it’s still getting lots of stars from me.
Rob Gonsalves and Jennifer Lim’s Universal crossword, “Rise and Shine”—Rebecca’s review
THEME: Star Wars / Starbucks mash-up in today’s puzzle – with drink orders from famous characters
- 19A [How Darth Vader likes his Starbucks coffee?] ON THE DARK SIDE
- 31A [How Han drinks his Starbucks iced tea?] FROM A SOLO CUP
- 40A [Like Skywalker’s Starbucks coffee, temperature-wise?] JUST LUKE WARM
- 56A [What Kylo Ren gets when Starbucks opens?] THE FIRST ORDER
With The Rise of Skywalker opening today, this puzzle was very timely – entertaining enough that even this non-Star Wars person really enjoyed it. ON THE DARK SIDE is definitely the strongest entry here, but all are clever and fun. I think SOLO CUP and LUKE WARM are great parts of this puzzle, but the intros to them – FROM A and JUST – felt a bit thrown on to the answers and slightly less legitimate.
Tons of great fill here – OVER IT, LIBERACE, IS IT TRUE, AVATARS, ART DECO, SWIVEL were all fun finds. Also some great cluing here – always great to see inventive and clues on words that pop up all the time and I loved ACE [Best club in Vegas, usually?] and ACRE [It might be a lot].