Gary Larson’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s review
I think this was a personal best for me. It’s a very smooth Monday puzzle with a solid theme.
We have four theme answers and a revealer.
- 17a [Butter substitute] is MARGARINE
- 23a [One getting mostly A’s in school] is an HONOR STUDENT.
- 51a [Shiny kitchen wrap] is ALUMINUM FOIL.
- 62a [Wallet alternative] is a MONEY CLIP.
What do these things all have in common? 40a tells us: [Winning time after time … or where you might find 17-, 23-, 51- or 62-Across], ON A ROLL.
A few other things:
- We get Frankie LAINE instead of Cleo.
- And more music with Johnny B. GOODE.
- I recently read a plea from Yiru Luo to use the correct Pinyin spelling of Chinese in English crosswords. That would be Mao Zedong instead of [China’s Mao ___-tung]. Pinyin was created in the 1950s and officially adopted by the rest of the New York Times in 1979. It’s time for the crossword to follow suit.
- 57a [Obsolescent phone features] are DIALS. My kid was about 8 when she asked me why we said “dial the phone.” I hauled out the 1930s phone we acquired from my mother and showed her the dial. Mind blown, as the kids say.
- You know you grew up with Dean Friedman when the entry ARIAL starts his song in your head.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: I knew Davy Crockett fought at the ALAMO but didn’t know he died there (or had forgotten).
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Market Forces”—Jim P’s review
Theme: PR CAMPAIGN featuring (mostly) business-related phrases that begin the the letters P and R.
- 17a [“Only one star on Yelp? What a ___! We need to repair our reputation…”] POOR REVIEW. A bit “green painty,” IMO. “Bad review” feels more in-the-language to me.
- 22a [“…Let’s initiate a ___ to get those defective units off the market…”] PRODUCT RECALL
- 48a [“…We should issue ___ so people will hear the good work we’re doing…”] PRESS RELEASES
- 10d [“…We can hold a ___ to motivate our team to provide good customer service…”] PEP RALLY. This phrase is more closely related to academic life than the business world, but I suppose it can be applied.
- 37d [“…Let’s revamp our website to improve our ___ on Google…”] PAGE RANK
- And the big reveal: 55a [“…Our reputation is finally fixed! That was a great ___” (on more than one level)] PR CAMPAIGN
AES has become known for bringing us unusual or tricky themes. This one is a little more straightforward, as befitting a Monday slot, but it’s still a pretty constrictive theme—having to find enough phrases with a business slant that all begin with P and R. And tying it all together in one over-arcing story is in line with the revealer and makes for a nice touch. Cleverly done!
Oh, and notice the crossing themers in the NE and SW corners which is only made possible by the constructor offsetting the themers in the 5th and 11th rows from the edge by one square. It’s always nice when the crossword gods grant you a bit of serendipity, but sometimes the constructor has to make that extra effort to meet the gods halfway. Well-handled.
There’s so much theme material here that there simply isn’t room for any other niceties beyond AVENUES and DREAMED. But there’s nothing scowl-worthy in the fill, and the solver’s interest is kept with entries like DEARIE, and OSIRIS and CYNDI Lauper.
A very tight theme and construction deftly executed. It may seem very simple, but to me it looks like it required a fair amount of finesse to pull off smoothly. Four stars.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s write-up
This tightly crafted puzzle is another installment in the New Yorker’s “Year in Review” crosswords, this one from Natan Last on “2019 in News and Politics.”
I just want to say up front that I *tried* to be the first person to put MUELLER REPORT into a puzzle by building an entire themeless around it the day the MUELLER REPORT was released, and several months later that puzzle was rejected from a not-to-be-named publication, so congrats on beating me to it, Natan *angry face emoji* (jk).
ANYWAYS, that aside, this is a comprehensive recap of the news in 2019! As a rabid consumer of news myself, I appreciate that the puzzle wasn’t straight politics, despite the utter impossibility of consuming news without it somehow eventually being connected back to politics.
- 12-A: GRETA [___ Thunberg, sixteen-year-old environmentalist and organizer of the 46-Across (September, 2019)]
- 15-A: HUNTER [Biden who figures prominently in the onset to the impeachment story (September, 2019)]
- 16-A: HONG KONG [Site of pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests (starting March, 2019)]
- 21-A: MUELLER REPORT [Text whose public version is about ten per cent redacted (April, 2019)]
- 37-A: MONARCH [Japan’s Naruhito, for one, as of May, 2019]
- 38-A: NBA [Org. embroiled in scandal after a general manager tweeted support for the 16-Across protests (October, 2019)]
- 46-A: CLIMATE STRIKE [Its 7.6 million participants made it the largest environmental protest in history (September, 2019)]
- 57-A: WORLD CUP [Event won by the U.S. Women’s National Team (July, 2019)]
- 59-A: RAIDED [Like Jeffrey Epstein’s private island, by the F.B.I. (August, 2019)]
- 9-D: ABORTIONS [Procedures nearly banned in Alabama (May, 2019)]
- 10-D: YANG [Andrew ___, 2020 Presidential hopeful associated with 36-Across (UBI)]
- 17-D: KURD [One arguably stranded by Trump when he withdrew Special Forces from Syria (October, 2019)]
- 19-D: GREENS [Party that surged in 2019 European elections]
- 26-D: ORBS [Spiritual balls associated with the 2020 Presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson]
- 27-D: SCAR [Chiwetel Ejiofor voiced him in 2019’s “The Lion King”]
- 29-D: UBER [Company whose I.P.O. was the worst-performing, dollar-wise, in history (May, 2019)]
- 37-D: MODI [He described his Hindu-nationalist power grab in Kashmir as “a new era” (August, 2019)]
- 41-D: UKRAINE [Country that elected the comedian Volodymyr Zelensky to the Presidency (April, 2019)]
- 53-D: AWAY [Like the winning team in every World Series game, for the first time ever (October, 2019)]
That’s so much theme! I think what makes this puzzle so impressive is that it doesn’t sacrifice fill for content and instead found a way to build a really solid grid around a few key entries (MUELLER REPORT, CLIMATE STRIKE, HONG KONG, WORLD CUP, UKRAINE) and then clue as much of the fill as possible in relation to the news in 2019. Nothing feels shoehorned in, except maybe the Marianne Williamson angle on ORBS, but that’s actually hilarious and I’m glad it was included. I guess I could live without Epstein’s RAIDED private island.
Regardless, I loved this puzzle. Lots of stars from me.
Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword Themeless Monday #547—Jim Q’s review
I was having a good time… and then I hit the south. Ouch!
I finally gave up in that SW corner after struggling to spell YANG ZHOU. COCHISE vaguely rings a bell as a name. WIMSEY was unfamiliar to me. And because I refused to change 48A [“This guy!”] from HIM to I AM (thumbs pointed towards self), I never had a shot. I figured the answer to 49D [In repose] was IDLE or perhaps even ICED, though neither induced any sort of confidence. Lastly 52A [Major African flower] ZAMBEZI RIVER was unfamiliar to me (and yes, I initially fell for the “flower” trap thinking I was looking for some sort of foreign petunia or something, but the RIVER part fell in eventually). ZORK and K STREET was another brutal crossing.
Everything north of that river was just fine though!
- 37A [“Hard to believe it went this way”] AND YET HERE WE ARE. Great central crossing.
- 50A [Whiz] WEE. As in urine. Solve enough BEQ, and you’ll recognize a uring clue when you see it.
- 18A [Some members of the bands Hüsker Dü and Mötley Crüe] METAL UMLAUTS. I’m unfamiliar with this is a phrase, but it was fun to figure out. And it has its own Wikipedia page! One of those phrases that I’m happy to learn.
- 6D [Your average collegian?] C STUDENT. Good clue.
- 10D [Grammy-winning They Might Be Giants song used for the theme of “Malcolm in the Middle”] BOSS OF ME. Awesome band.
- 30D [Din from a bowl] RAHS. Bowl as in an arena where football is being played. I don’t typically like it when clearly ugly fill tries to hide behind a cute clue. Makes it stand out more imo.
- 42A [Dreidel marking] NUN. Ok.
- 33A [Five and a half yards] ROD. Now that I Google it, it makes sense. I didn’t realize a ROD was a unit of length.
And of course, the aforementioned SW + ZORK.
A little too crunchy for me today.
Mathew Stock’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Nate’s write-up
Happy almost New Year! Let’s dive into today’s debut puzzle (hooray!) to see if it has any year-end words of wisdom for us.
17A: LAUNCH ANGLE [Baseball batting statistic measured in degrees]
28A: XANTHAN GUM [Common food thickening agent]
50A: ARCHANGELS [High-ranking heavenly beings]
62A: HANG IN THERE [“Don’t give up yet!” … or a hint to the answers to starred clues]
Each of the theme entries literally has the word ‘hang’ in it, maybe as a lovely way to remind us to HANG IN THERE as we head into 2020! This theme was cute, if not a bit light on theme entries (only 42 theme squares), but I’d rather it that way than overpacked with grid fill that’s rough. I’m not much of a sports person so I’d never heard of LAUNCH ANGLE before, and I imagine that XANTHAN GUM might be tough for the non-cooks/scientists, but it all felt fair to me in the end. Bravo to Matthew for his first published puzzle! Here’s to many more lovely puzzles to come.
– Women in the puzzle today: Princess DIANA, ALISON Brie, LANA Del Rey, ELIN (sadly only clued through her abusive ex-husband), Pat Benatar, and ROE [___ v. Wade]. A nice (if all white) mix representing a few different eras of pop culture.
– There was also a nice food/cooking subtheme: GHERKINS, HEAT, XANTHAN GUM, ROOT, TAMARI, RYE, and DAL. My diet starts in January!
– This puzzle was a smooth, lovely solve – thanks for a strong puzzle-solving ending to 2019!