If you’re running low on puzzles during your quarantine and you don’t yet subscribe to The Inkubator, the good folks over there are offering a free two-month trial subscription with access to their puzzle archive. Check it out! Click on the “FREE TRIAL” button on their homepage.
You can also download free PDFs of the crosswords Mike Shenk has made for NYC’s annual Bryant Park crossword tournament (2016-2019). Here’s the link. Mike, Amy Goldstein, and Robert Leighton of Puzzability ask that you “pay it forward” by helping someone else rather than paying them.
Evan Kalish’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Climbing the Walls”—Jim P’s review
This seems like an appropriately-titled puzzle for our nationwide quarantine. Although, if you’re climbing the walls already, you’ve got a long way to go. In the puzzle however, it’s IVY (69a, [Wall climber climbing in 3-, 9-, 30- and 34-Down]) that’s doing the climbing. Each of the theme answers has that word hidden inside in the Up direction.
- 3d [Supergirl superpower] X-RAY VISION
- 9d [Requirement for some international tourists] ENTRY VISA. You need a lot more than that these days, I think.
- 30d [Owing to] BY VIRTUE OF. This is a drab entry, but it gets the job done.
- 34d [Second Tudor monarch] HENRY VIII
I don’t suppose there are too many phrases that have the YVI trigram. Oh hey! SHELBYVILLE, the rival town to the Simpsons’ Springfield, does. That would’ve been fun though maybe not so many solvers would know it.
Let’s see, what else have we got? SENIORITY, TRAVEL BAG, AUDIBLE (the Amazon company which serves up audiobooks—great for when you’re lying in bed with COVID and can’t be bothered to open your eyes but can’t sleep because of the pain), an old school WIIMOTE, EATS DIRT, and PECORINO cheese.
In the stack-of-the-day department we have OH DEAR [“This is concerning…”] atop a CORONA [Brand often served with a lime wedge]. A more topical clue would have been welcome, perhaps [Beer brand often on sale these days].
No nits to pick in the fill and the clues seem straightforward enough. Solid theme and execution. 3.75 stars.
Laura Taylor Kinnel’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
I actually felt like I was solving an Inkubator puzzle here. The theme was female, and some of the fill also leaned that way. What a treat!
The theme revealer is 59a. [Chinese appetizers … or a punny description of 17-, 28-, 35- and 45-Across], SPRING ROLLS, a play on “spring roles,” which would be those fictional roles whose first or last names are also spring months:
- 17a. [Laura Dern, in “Little Women”], MARMEE MARCH.
- 28a. [Sarah Drew, on “Grey’s Anatomy”], APRIL KEPNER. Have only ever seen one episode of this long-running show, so I leaned on 30d. [Compensates], PAYS, to get KEPNER’s P. Kenner and Keener were equally plausible surnames. Parks and Rec‘s April Ludgate is more familiar to me, but I don’t know if there’s a workable June character with an 8-letter surname.
- 35a. [Ming-Na Wen, on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”], MELINDA MAY.
- 45a. [Barbara Billingsley, on “Leave It to Beaver”], JUNE CLEAVER.
Other non-dudely fill includes TESSA Thompson, General LEIA Organa, MALIA Obama, a trio of EMMAS, FRAN Drescher, LUNA BAR, OPI nail polish, and USA women’s soccer.
I did pick up a topical pandemic vibe, just as Jim P singled out a stacked pair of 6s in the WSJ puzzle. I suppose it’s inevitable that a tremendous change in all our lives would color our perception of entries like ICU, COMA, and ON CALL. You might find valuable counsel from grief expert David Kessler in this Harvard Business Review interview. Kessler’s framing of our emotional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the upheaval it’s caused as grief is not something I’d have expected would resonate with me, but it was indeed a comfort to think in those terms. Be well, wash your hands, steer clear of people if you can, and wrangle some crosswords or whatever else brings you distraction and enjoyment.
Four stars from me.
Jennifer Mara’s Universal crossword, “Endgame”—Jim P’s review
CHILD’S PLAY is at 49a and is clued [Something simple, or a hint to the final words of 20-, 33- and 40-Across]. Each theme answer ends in a word that is also the name of a children’s game.
- 20a [Green-and-orange cereal] APPLE JACKS
- 33a [New Yorker’s toll payment device] EZ PASS TAG
- 40a [Doctor or lawyer, perhaps, to your mother?] GOOD CATCH
Pretty sure I’ve seen an “Endgame”-themed puzzle before, but it was probably one based on board games. I like the different approach here to restrict the theme to children’s games by using the revealer as a basis. A nice touch.
That said, I was able to suss out EZ PASS ___ pretty easily, but that last word feels like an almost-random tack-on, at least for someone not aware of the workings of the NY toll system. What could it be? CARD? STICKER? TRANSCEIVER? TAG did not leap to mind. Of course, knowing the theme would have helped, but I hadn’t gotten to the revealer at that point. That said, I wasn’t slowed down too much—just needed a couple of those last crossings.
ZODIAC SIGN, EGG SALAD, and FOOD FIGHTS make for great fill. SAT SCORE rounds out the long stuff.
Clues of note:
- 17a. [Played Grand Theft Auto, for example]. GAMED. Would’ve loved to have seen a more topical clue here. The gaming world is either playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons or Doom: Eternal both of which came out last Friday. They make for odd bedfellows. We’re in the former camp since ACNH is family-friendly and really makes for a perfect quarantine game.
- 45d. [Thanksgiving dinner ritual?]. GRACE. I’m not sure why there’s a question mark here. Seems like it would be just fine without it.
A pleasant puzzle. 3.7 stars.
Patti Varol’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
The puzzle is certainly has a more playful theme than most. Three fifteens are clued as [March ___]. The answers are nouns – one common, and two canonical three-part names; two refer to military marches, but the final refers to the surname. A tad lop-sided, but more fun to work out than most themes, and we also get both JOHNPHILIPSOUSA and LOUISAMAYALCOTT, with the latter’s signature work recently adapted into film again.
There was also a push for “themeless grade” longer answers, something I typically associate with C.C. Burnikel. Today has MALLSANTA and EDSHEERAN going across and ATHLEISURE ONTHEHOUSE going down.
Trickiest clue: [Overseas coppers], PENCE. Not POLIS or somesuch…
There felt like a lot of short names in this puzzle, though few gave me trouble personally. Don’t know […voice actress Strong], TARA but she’s also a particularly gorgeous dachshund so I can’t complain…
Rebecca Falcon’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #46” — Ben’s Review
It’s been the type of day where I could use a themeless grid to point my brain at for 5-10 minutes, so I’m happy this feeling aligned with today’s AVCX offering from Rebecca Falcon. Rebecca organized the Women’s Crossword March that we’ve seen across numerous publications, and this is a lovely capper on the AVCX’s contributions to that.
First off: I love this grid shape. I feel like themelesses so often fall into a few different standard grid formats (usually a stair-step in the middle for crunchy longer entries), so this round-ish grid was a feast for the eyes.
- TRACEE ELLIS ROSS was the first entry I filled in today. She’s great as Bow on Black-ish, and also has a fantastic name for crosswords.
- The other long fill across the top and bottom of the grid was equally nice – SPEARHEADED and CHANGE OF HEART up top, I MUST BE DREAMING, ENTERTAINMENT, and SECRET SAUCE down below.
- I feel like in the last year I’ve seen more clues for ISSA Rae, either by first or last name. Insecure is a delightful show, and as much as I like Charlotte Rae from The Facts of Life, I’m glad we have a fresher entry for that particular trigram
- If you, like me, thought “hey, wasn’t that the talking gatekeeper from Legends of the Hidden Temple” when entering OLMEC into the grid (“Early Mesoamerican”), yes. It is. You’re welcome.