Alex Eaton-Salners’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
This … was not a fun solve for me. It started out with seeing a face-of-death pumpkin rather than a panda face in the blank grid, and then 1-Across took me right to the Well of Poor 1-Acrosses. Per the constructor’s notes at Wordplay, he originally had the North African pepper paste HARISSA, increasingly popular these days, crossing SUR (Big Sur, Spanish for “south”) at 6d. Instead, we have the editor’s choice, 1a. [Opera style using everyday events rather than myth], VERISMO crossing a French word for “wall,” MUR. Really?? We had salmon for dinner tonight, seasoned with some harissa and topped with hummus and crumbled pita chips. Tasty, and with a little kick from the harissa!
Anyway, so it’s a panda face, and there’s 17a. [National ___ Day (March 16 observance, appropriate to this puzzle)], PANDA, with two unchecked letters. (The constructor notes that he’d hoped for circled squares on that P and A to emphasize the effect of the panda’s eyes, but no.) The other theme material (in this Friday puzzle) is 10d. [Like 17-Across], BLACK AND WHITE, and 11d. [Home for some famous 17-Acrosses, informally], WASHINGTON ZOO. Crikey! It’s the National Zoo. Who is “informally” calling it WASHINGTON ZOO? This should not be in the puzzle.
The low word count (61, I think) brings with it plenty of compromises in the fill besides the ones I mentioned already. Is anyone excited by FEN ESAS ATNINE OZMA ETA SOLDASIS and some assorted abbreviations?
Fave fill: BOW AND ARROW, REN FAIRE, LEA SALONGA, and NEAPOLITAN (though I’d have liked to see a pizza clue instead of ice cream).
Eight more things:
- 18a. [It has a lot of competition on TV], ESPN. It’s a great clue! I like it. It’s just going to be sort of weirdly incorrect for a while, I guess? I predict they’ll take to showing lots of reruns of historic games (Bulls vs. Lakers in the NBA Finals in the ’90s!) in the absence of current competitions to televise. (35a. [League standings format], LADDER—another wan “ha, too bad the leagues are all suspending play, it makes the clue feel weird today” instance. Not sure what sort of standings are in LADDER form, either. And then there’s NIT clued as [Annual hoops event, for short]—anyone think it’ll actually take place in a couple weeks? Anyone? Bueller?)
- 8d. [You name it], NOUN / 21a. [Common recipient of an erroneous apostrophe], ITS. These are too close for comfort, gridwise. Normally nobody really cares if “it” is used in an entry and also another clue, but the NOUN clue really leans into that “it.”
- 28a. [Basketball Hall-of-Famer nicknamed “The Answer”], Allen IVERSON. I did not know that. Anyone know the origin of that?
- 49a. [Collection at the entrance to a mosque], SHOES. I love this clue. I watched the first few episodes of the Hulu show Ramy, and got a glimpse of the whole pre-prayer process that men (maybe women too?) follow. This photo set explains: Remove your shoes and methodically wash your hands, mouth, nose, face, arms, ears, and feet.
- 51a. [Some census info], SEX. Man, the 2020 Census. How will census takers go door to door to make sure everyone’s counted this spring without spreading coronavirus?
- 9d. [Bad place for a long run], HOSE. I think that pantyhose will be largely extinct in the next 20 years, because entire generations just don’t wear it anymore.
- 12d. [People who do not eat meat but do eat fish], PESCETARIAN. Ugh. Pescatarian is the far more common spelling.
- 15d. [Representation of one’s personality in the natural world], SPIRIT ANIMAL. If you’re not of indigenous American descent, you should probably avoid using this phrase in jocular fashion. Some consider it to be cultural appropriation to do so. (This clue is perfectly fine. It’s another thing for a non-indigenous person to say “Coffee is my spirit animal.”)
3.25 stars from me. I do wish HARISSA had been there at 1-Across to spice up the puzzle a bit!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
“It’s better than the panda situation” isn’t exactly a high bar, but honestly, THAT’S ALL I ASK today. This puzzle is a nice palate-cleanser and ensures that we get at least one interesting themeless on this end-times-feeling Friday. There were a lot of propers that I struggled with, and some fill that I’d have left OUT AT SEA, but there’s enough good stuff in here that it makes the grade.
The central long entry, MALCOLM GLADWELL, is a solid grid-spanning 15, but I can’t say he’s the kind of marquee that makes a puzzle exciting. It was more like, “Oh, yeah, that guy.” Other long entries include YEAR OF THE RAT, THAT’S ALL I ASK, HOUSE-SITS, and ENCHILADA. I love colloquialisms like THAT’S ALL I ASK, and the rest are also good, if not exactly revolutionary. But, like I said, today I didn’t need revolutionary from this puzzle; I just needed “better than the panda.”
- Names I didn’t know: James MERRILL, LAYNE Staley, Tracy LETTS, OLGA Tokarczuk, ATLI, LUN Tha. (these last two, I mean… no one else knew these either, right??)
- Fill I could live without: the aforementioned ATLI and LUN, NLER, RIV (?!)
- 24A: AIL – Feel fluish – is a LITTLE ON THE NOSE.
- 63A: Julian ASSANGE was credibly accused of sexual assault and lived in that Ecuadorian embassy *for almost a decade* to avoid being tried for it… so…. that’s not exactly the kind of energy I want to take into the weekend.
- 1A: The clue on GLUTTON (Dinner date who’s a real downer?) is also unpleasant, although I can’t really think of a pleasant clue for GLUTTON, so..?
Ok, now that I’ve written it up, I feel like we do still come out ahead of the panda, but like, not by much. Overall, a few stars for THAT’S ALL I ASK, SOLANGE, and the Twain quote clue for EVIL.
Lita and Tass Wiliams’s Universal crossword, “Unpopular Travel Destinations”—Jim P’s review
Jim P here filling in for Rebecca whose work life has taken a sudden uptick due to you-know-what. I’ll be covering the Mon, Wed, and Fri Universal puzzles for her for the time being.
And what a fun one for me to start off with. This was my kind of puzzle!
We’re presented with locales that are the sites of various horror stories (one film, one book, and one TV show), and then given a fun punchline at the end.
- 20a [Movie setting known for shark attacks] AMITY ISLAND
- 27a [Literary vampire’s home] CASTLE DRACULA
- 50a [Mind Flayer’s realm in “Stranger Things”] THE UPSIDE-DOWN
- 58a [“You’re pushing it!” … or advice regarding 20-, 27- and 50-Across?] DON’T GO THERE
I love each of the three “franchises” (for lack of a better word) here, so this was right up my alley. And when I got to the punchline, I just had to smile.
And it appears this is a debut for both constructors, so congratulations on a fun one!
The fill is very nice, given the fact that there are only four themers. (Although it’s curious that the outer themers are in the fourth and twelfth rows, not the third and thirteenth rows as is most common.) But there’s much to like here, like “WESTWARD HO!”, SCOUT FINCH, Fred ARMISEN, CD TOWER, a gamer’s HEADSET, a HOODLUM (one of my mom’s go-to words), and a lone DAHLIA. Very nice.
Most of the clues were pretty straightforward, but I will note 38a [Time around nomination?]. NOON. It took me a long time to figure out what was going on here, since this cryptic style of cluing is so unexpected. NO and ON are the first and last letters of “nomination.”
Fun puzzle. Would’ve been perfect for Halloween, but I’ll take it anytime of the year. 3.75 stars.
Lita and Tass Williams’s Inkubator crossword, “A Fish Out of Water”—Jenni’s review
This is a delightful puzzle! The Email suggested looking at the full-color PDF even if you solved online. This is what the grid looked like:
In the AcrossLite version, the blue bars are replaced by another set of circles. Each of those is a body of water:
- 14a [Victoria, e.g.] is a LAKE.
- 32a [Snake, e.g.] is a RIVER.
- 43a [Indian, e.g.] is an OCEAN.
- 63a [Walden, e.g.] is a POND.
The Down answers with circles contain fish:
- 6d [Hand-crafted holiday decoration] is a PAPER CHAIN.
- 4d [Anybody but me] is SOMEONE ELSE.
- 28d [Chill, in a way] is HANG AROUND.
- 26d [Line that goes as the crow flies] is a DIRECT ROUTE.
Each fish is out of the water. Nice!
A few other things:
- I filled in 5a from crossings and assumed it was clued as the delivery company UPS. Nope. It’s [Good times, relatively speaking].
- 13a [___ balls (no-bake cookie confections)] is a new-to-me clue for OREO. Said balls appear to be made from cream cheese, chocolate, and OREOs. That doesn’t even sound remotely appealing.
- 30d [Enchanted role for Anne] is a non-Fitzgerald clue for ELLA.
- Count on The Inkubator to find a way to clue ILIE without reference to Nastase. It’s I LIE and the clue is [“___ on the beach, watching you”: first line of “Exclusive (for my daughter) by Sharon Olds]. It’s a little clunky, but worth it for the mention of that marvelous poem.
- EPCOT is now closed along with the rest of Walt Disney World. Strange times.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the ULSTER overcoat is named for a region of Ireland.
Winston Emmons’s LA Times crossword – Jenni’s write-up
Quickly, because I’m off call, it’s gorgeous out, and a drink is calling my name. Plus society is grinding to a halt.
Each theme answer is a twist on a common phrase.
- 17a [“It’s been a while since I shopped till I dropped”?] is LONG TIME NO SPREE (long time no see).
- 27a [Pastoral exhortation to a graffiti artist?] is SPRAY THE WORD (say the word). “Pastoral” misled me into filling in the last part as LORD, which didn’t make much sense.
- 48a [Bargain hunter’s forte?] is PRICE FISHING (ice fishing).
- 62a [Trojan king struck dumb?] is PRIAM SPEECHLESS (I am speechless). This is my favorite.
And the revealer: 69a [Ad guy responsible for four long puzzle answers?] is PR MAN. I like this theme a lot. It’s amusing; it’s consistent without being obvious, and it has two nice 15s to boot. Fun!
Skipping the other things today.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Salinger’s ubiquitous ESME says “I prefer stories about squalor.”