Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword —Ade’s take
Good day, everyone! Ade here subbing for Jenni today. Hope you’re all doing well to start the new week!
Today’s grid, brought to us by the long-time CrosSynergy contributor, Mr. Alan Arbesfeld, hits on one of my nightmares when this 6-foot-4 crossword blogger books a flight: being assigned the middle seat! There are five theme entries that all contain a “hidden” seat, with letters embedded in the middle of each answer spelling out a type of seat. The sixth theme entry, MIDDLE SEAT, acts as the reveal (62A: [Cramped spot for a plane passenger…or a hint to something hidden in 17-, 26-, 34-, 42- and 51-Across]).
- PIPE WRENCH (17A: [Plumber’s tool])
- COMES OF AGE (26A: [Reaches adulthood])
- DUTCH AIRLINE (34A: [KLM is a “royal” one])
- A LOT TO MANAGE (42A: [Too much on one’s plate])
- IT’S TOO LATE (51A: [“Oops, missed the deadline”])
I liked that none of the theme entries seemed forced in executing the theme, which never hurts when trying to appreciate the grid as a whole. Yes, there’s ALLOT in the grid, which looks almost a carbon copy to the beginning of “A LOT TO MANAGE,” but that was not anything that stuck in my craw (29A: [Apportion]). Was there a meta that was a nod to the Windy City in the grid? Sure seemed like it, not only with THE LOOP (31D: [Business district in downtown Chicago]) and ELL (53D: [Building wing]), but with a delicacy that, as far as I remember, is a Chicago staple, the PIEROGI (6D: [Polish dumpling]). Now I feel bad that Amy is not in this pace talk more about more of the awesomeness contained in the City of the Big Shoulders.
Was definitely a dated feel with some of the entries, with answers such as EGAD (40D: [“Omigosh!”]), ELSIE (68A: [Cow in classic borden ads]) and one-half of The MACNEIL/Lehrer Report (8D: [Newsman Robert, former PBS partner of Jim Lehrer]). Almost any highlight for me in observing grid entries is the inclusion of African geography and/or African excellence, and that definitely is in this grid with the inclusion of Helen Folasade Adu, a.k.a. SADE (24D: [One-named hitmaker born in Nigeria]). Favorite Sade song? Definitely “Smooth Operator.” What’s yours?!?
For those who are sports averse, here is hoping, for your sake, that current Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and 2014 first-round draft pick Zach ELFIN does not become a superstar in the Majors, therefore justifying his name in grids as an alternative to the clue presented in today’s offering (57A: [Small, like Santa’s helpers]). Elfin did lead the National League in complete games in 2019, so…
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: PILOTS (46D: [Their prospects are up in the air]) – In 1969, Major League Baseball expanded by four teams, but one of those teams lasted all of one season in the city where it originated. The modern-day Milwaukee Brewers were born as the Seattle PILOTS in 1969, as Seattle was given an expansion team because, in part, of baseball’s popularity, via Minor League Baseball, in the city. However, due to financial troubles and worsening conditions at Sick’s Stadium, the Pilots owner agreed to sell the team at the end of the 1969 season to a Milwaukee-based car salesman — future Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. After Selig’s purchase of the team, he moved the franchise in 1970 to Milwaukee, where the team was rebranded as the “Brewers.” Seven years later, the city of Seattle was awarded another expansion team, the Mariners, who now hold the distinction of playing in one of the best ballparks in the bigs (T-Mobile Park, neé Safeco Field) and the distinction of being the only active MLB franchise to have never participated in the World Series. One day, Mariners fans! One day!
Here is hoping you did not mind my take on today’s grid, given the normal incisiveness contained in this space on Mondays regularly! Thank you so much for your time, and have a great rest of your day!
Evan Kalish’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Only You…”—Jim P’s review
You know, this is a fire-related theme, and of course, all I can think of with is what’s going on in Australia. I realize this puzzle was created some time ago, but I’m thinking it might have been a better idea to hold off on running this puzzle until a quieter time. Of course, with the way our climate is changing, it’s always fire season somewhere. This USA Today article lists some places you might consider donating to in order to help those who are still battling the devastating blazes down there.
So, trying to separate that in our minds from the puzzle, SMOKEY BEAR is our revealer at 56a clued as [Character who’s wary of the starts to this puzzle’s theme answers].
- 17a [Tense moment for Venus] MATCH POINT
- 23a [Showing a course to follow] LIGHTING THE WAY. This one feels a little less solid than the others.
- 33a [Is worth keeping, to Marie Kondo] SPARKS JOY. I do like this phrase. If you prefer your Marie Kondo in manga form, you can get that here. Makes a great gift.
- 39a [Events marked by steep discounts] FIRE SALES
- 45a [Classic 1974 comedy western] BLAZING SADDLES
Again, trying to separate the puzzle from world events and think of, say, a festive bonfire, I like the progression here from match to blazing. It’s impressive that Evan was able to keep that progression while still maintaining symmetry.
The rest of the grid is solid though maybe not especially shiny. DO A BAD JOB is a thing I guess? I hear more about “early voting” than a singular EARLY VOTE. UNRELATED doesn’t particularly spark joy, and so that just leaves HAIR BRUSH as our most interesting piece of non-theme fill. Of course, now I’m thinking about brush fires all over again.
I could do without HET UP, especially on a Monday, and NOAH / WYLE might be difficult for anyone who was not a fan of ER or Falling Skies. We watched ER pretty regularly, at least early on, so this wasn’t too hard. I still remember his part in that shocking Season 6 finale!
In the end, this is still overpowered by the Australian fires, even though the message here is one of prevention. I would have waited a while before running it. 3.5 stars for the puzzle. 2 stars for the timing.
Seriously, do consider donating to help. Here are even more ways to do so.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
This was a pre-coffee solve for me today, so my bleary brain struggled in a few places it probably (hopefully?) otherwise wouldn’t have, but I still thought this was an overall solid themeless. Two central 15s, four vertical 10s, and two triple-stacks of 8s make this grid feel very open and lovely. My only gripes are with the fill holding all of that together, which I’ll get to below (but spoiler: MDSE???)
First, my own missteps that slowed me down:
- Plunking down CALL A CAB instead of TAKE A CAB in the NW really mucked up that section for me (“What city on the Thames could possibly start with LT__?!”), but returning later in the solve ironed it out.
- Forgetting that alcohol exists? I struggled with VODKA (Hard parts of screwdrivers?) and BLENDED WHISKEY (Hard parts of Rusty Nails?) until the bitter end (and if I had bitters and an ORANGE PEEL I could have made an old fashioned out of this puzzle!). But this was a 6am solve, and for some reason cocktails were not computing. Also, why is Rusty Nail capitalized but not screwdriver?
Things I loved:
- CAPSULE WARDROBE: This is one I could just plunk down because I am fascinated by the concept of the CAPSULE WARDROBE and if anyone wants to tell me about their experience using one I am available to listen!! Also a very neat and modern 15.
- IDIOT-PROOF (not this puzzle!)
- the clue on EN-DASH (Long–ish line?)
- Miss Jean Brodie getting her due as an EDUCATOR
Fill I could live without:
- MDSE: ok, what? This doesn’t even really google! Allegedly this is an abbrev. for “merchandise” but I am skeptical that people actually use it ever. This is some garbage fill right here.
- ORTS: also what??? Google says “ort” is “archaic + dialect” for “a scrap or remainder of food from a meal,” and I think if your fill is both “archaic + dialect” you should delete it from your wordlist.
- GER: bluh
- MCC: keep your Roman numerals plz
- NEC: nope
- CDE: clever clue, but still nope
- ELD: ehhh nope.
- DTEN: nope as clued. I think I’d be fine with this if it were a reference to a 10-sided die? But as a “Guess in a game of Battleship” it just seems arbitrary.
Fill aside, the long entries are great, and I appreciate the neat structure of the grid, but I’m not sure I can see past MDSE and ORTS. Maybe I’ll reconsider after I’ve had coffee? Several stars from me for the long entries and some clever cluing.
Matt McKinley’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Nate’s write-up
Happy Monday! Let’s dig into today’s puzzle:
18A: NAIL CLIPPER [Manicurist’s tool]
28A: FREDDIE LAKER [Eponymous ‘60s-‘80s “Airways” entrepreneur]
47A: CYBER WARRIOR [Attacker or defender of online information systems]
62A: STEPHEN KING [“It” novelist]
65A: NBA [Org. for the ends of 18-, 28-, 47- and 62-Across]
The end of each theme entry is the singular of an NBA team. A straightforward theme, though I’m curious to see how recognizable FREDDIE LAKER is to solvers. According to Wikipedia, his airline went bankrupt before I was born, so he’s new to me!
Other random thoughts:
– The bottom of the grid was tough for me, including the section with GNMA and NCR and the side with STROH and AFTA.
– The women in the grid? CHATTY Cathy, Scarlett OHARA, Monica SELES, and Alice in Wonderland. Some, but not much.
– Loved seeing POP TART in the grid! I don’t know that I’ve seen that before, and it felt like a vibrant pop.
NYT: It’s 2020. Pretty unfair to cross a man who retired in 2003 with a man who retired in 1995. NOT NEAR is already so contrived, why not make it GOT NEAR, then at least you’ve gotten NEN out of there. (All due respect to Robb Nen, but… come on.)
This really stood out to me as a non-Monday crossing.
At least Robb Nen was an actual player. The Phillies player mentioned in Ade’s write up doesn’t exist. The player’s last name is Eflin, so the description of Santa’s helpers remains in the crossword lexicon.
TNY. A Rusty Nail contains Scotch Whisky (not whiskey). The plural of “whisky” is “whiskies.”
I’m afraid the puzzler is well within her rights here. MW11C simply labels the spelling without an E a variant, suggesting strongly that the E is preferred. RHUD gives it, more encouragingly, as a variant used especially for “Scotch or Canadian whiskey.” That can’t make it mandatory, however, especially as the explanation speaks of “Scotch whiskey”! I can see how a connoisseur would want to respect the spelling where the stuff is made, bottled, labeled, sold, and savored, but I wouldn’t call the choice a mistake.
Overall, I was so grateful for a Gorski puzzle and liked it far better than Rachel (whose reference points generally differ from mine). It felt far less reliant on proper names and other trivia than the usual. And while ORTS may be crosswordese, for that reason I wouldn’t call it unfamiliar to solvers.
The Scottish have used the different spelling historically as a way to distinguish their whisky from Irish whiskey for cultural & trade reasons. American editors tend to favor the “e” but I wouldn’t recommend walking into a pub in Glasgow and calling whisky a “variant.”
I don’t get the title of the WSJ puzzle. (True, I didn’t know NOAH WYLE, but the crossings were fine. But you know, I also remember the revealer character as Smokey the Bear, with THE.)
I had the same reaction at first. All I could think of was the Platters’ song from the 1950s. Then my memory clicked and I realized that the title comes from the Smokey Bear ad campaign: Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires. And apparently “the” was inserted to maintain the rhythm of a song created for the campaign, but the official name is still Smokey Bear. Who knew.
Good info. Is he called Smoky Bear in Scotland?
NYT: Amen @Ade … Just thinking about airplane seats make me cringe. I’m 6’3″ and often no longer fit in the seats that the airlines cram onto their planes and charge me hundreds of dollars for. And that’s before the person in front of me, without any warning, suddenly slams their seat into a reclining position. When I flew back to San Francisco from Ohio 10 days ago, I stood for virtually the entire flight between O’Hare and SFO. Argh!
Public service announcement … Those of you who like to recline on airplanes, please, please, please, at least give the person behind you a heads-up before you take part of the small amount of space we’re allowed. Better yet, ask the person behind you if it’s okay if you recline before doing so. There are people in the world who have longer legs than you do.