Ross Trudeau’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s review
On April 12, Ross Trudeau announced that for the remainder of 2020 he will not submit any solo puzzles to the New York Times. In his words:
Any grids they receive from me will be collaborative efforts with folks from groups that have been historically underrepresented in that puzzle.
Getting published in the most popular puzzle in the world is a zero sum game. And as someone who’s benefited from a variety of systemic and structural legs up, it feels like it’s past time to pay it forward.
He is also using his website and distribution list to showcase the work of constructors from under-represented groups. I’ve always loved Ross’s puzzles, and I’m delighted to know that he’s a mensch as well as a skilled constructor. Check out his blog and get on his Email list if you want more good puzzles every week. I’m sure today’s NYT was in the pipeline before he made that announcement. It’s a cute theme that struck me as a little edgy for the Gray Lady, although it’s tame by BEQ or AVCX standards.
Four rows of the grid have circles in each entry.
- 12a [Pirate’s plunder], 14a [Follow closely, as a spy might a mark], and 5a [Hot dog holders] are BOOTY, TAIL, and BUNS, respectively. So that’s where we’re going, huh?
- 19a [Places where rouge goes] and 21a [Crash into from the back] are CHEEKS and REAR–END. Yup. That’s where.
- 59a [Car opposite the locomotive] and 61a [Late, as in making payments] are CABOOSE and BEHIND.
- 67a [What’s left of a cigarette], 68a [Kind of roast], and 69a [“Funny Girl” role for which Barbra Streisand won an Oscar] are BUTT, RUMP, and FANNY (Brice). If someone only eats filet mignon, are they a never-rumper?
And the revealer: 38a [Last line of a spreadsheet (as suggested by the circled squares?)] is the BOTTOM ROW. It’s a solid, well-executed, and Monday-accessible theme that’s also fun to solve. Nice. My only real quibble in the fill is UNIDEAL (un-ideal). Not bad for a grid with a lot of theme constraints.
A few other things:
- I can’t see the word APSE without thinking of this song.
- I enjoyed the juxtaposition of SEZ and XES.
- Baseball clues and answers just make me sad. TURN TWO. Sob.
- 45a [Horse’s disapproving vote?] is NEIGH. Hah.
- 53a [The East, to the West] is confusing. The answer is ASIA. Isn’t “the East” what ASIA is called in the West (chauvinistically enough)? To me the clue makes it sound like ASIA is what the East is called in the West. Or maybe I’m just tired.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the Phantom of the Opera’s name is ERIK.
David Distenfeld’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Shake It Up”—Jim P’s review
This looks like a debut, so congratulations are in order. Huzzah!
59a is clued [Uses a wok, or, read as a direction, a hint to the ends of 17-, 28- and 44-Across] and is answered with STIR-FRIES. Each theme answer ends with the letters of FRIES stirred up (i.e. scrambled).
- 17a [Font style like Helvetica] SANS SERIF
- 28a [Major environmental problem in California] FOREST FIRES
- 44a [Winning breed at the 2018 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show] BICHON FRISE
Tidy little theme. Of course, I had trouble parsing that last one with only a few letters here and there, and I was beginning to wonder if I would recognize the dog breed. But it all fell into place once I realized what it was.
I did find another instance of this same theme in the cruciverb database—a Jeff Chen/NYT grid from 2013. The themers are identical except Jeff also incorporated MORTGAGE REFIS. He managed to do so beautifully with great fill, but that’s a tall order when you have five entries and the central one is 13 letters long. And let’s be honest, REFIS is a weird-looking and unfortunate plural.
So this puzzle does fine with just four. I’m not bothered by the duplication since constructors tend to think alike, and if you hit upon the idea of anagramming FRIES by way of STIR FRIES, you’re probably going to end up with exactly one set of viable theme answers.
In the fill, we get additional nine-letter entries in the Across direction, and they’re both great (UNISPHERE and FANATICAL). Elsewhere, goodies include ERITREA (which I think appeared last week), ECLIPSE, TRISTAN, and BATMAN. OBLONGS is weird as a noun [Rectangular shapes], and crosswordesey EFT makes an appearance, but those are the only iffy bits in the fill. The rest is quite nice.
Clues of note:
- 11d. [Popeye’s tattoo]. ANCHOR. Nothing special about this clue, but I just like it, so I’m noting it here. There are many angles one could go with for this entry, but I gotta respect the cartoon approach.
- 21d. [Spud of the NBA]. WEBB. I didn’t know the name, but I subsequently looked him up. At 5’7″, he was one of the shortest NBA players in history. Yet he won the 1986 slam dunk contest. Some of us shorter people may be vertically challenged, but he sure wasn’t.
Smooth and clean grid to start the week. 3.5 stars.
Evan Kalish’s Universal crossword, “Let the Games Begin!” — pannonica’s write-up
Simple concept for this theme: phrases beginning with the names of classic board games. I imagine with the lockdown there’s been some sort of uptick in pastimes of all sorts, including old-fashioned board games.
- 17a. [Point of difficulty] TROUBLE SPOT.
- 25a. [Ang Lee film featuring a Bengal tiger] LIFE OF PI.
- 34a. [Insurance companies analyze them] RISK FACTORS.
- 48a. [“C’mon, what’s the big news?’] CLUE ME IN. Recently saw the film adaptation for the first time. Less than the sum of its parts, yet fairly entertaining. Its less farcical spiritual descendant Knives Out was more appealing.
- 56a. [“It was just an innocent question!”] SORRY I ASKED.
Nice and tidy.
Let’s take a spin around the grid and see if there are any highlights.
- That upper middle section has WHOOPI and OOPSIE crossing. Throw in the nearby SPOOF and that a lot of OOs hanging out together. (15a, 8d, 9d)
- 43a. [Animal that may balance a ball] SEAL. I will perennially point out that it is sea lions and not seals that do this (in captivity).
- 4d [Makes some butter] CHURNS. So casual sounding.
- 11d [“Why you little …”] SONOFA. Ha, my favorite clue/answer of the puzzle.
- 23d [LAX (but not lax) org.] TSA. Yet they still manage to let so much contraband, etc. through. Security theater.
- 42d [Si, in English] YES. Ya, without the accent mark it means if. And I checked the web/
- 43d [Investor Charles] SCHWAB. Just noticed it’s schwa + b. Maybe I’ll take to pronouncing it əb.
Found out about this on a board game message board:
It was either that or “Sorry Somehow” by Hüsker Dü.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Short review today because I’m running behind on life and time is meaningless! I can’t say this is my favorite New Yorker puzzle that I’ve solved lately. Opening with BRIT HUME, a man involved in a right-wing propaganda machine claiming to be a journalist, put a bad taste in my mouth from the get-go. The crossing of THEODOR ADORNO and SINESTRO also made me cringe a little (for different reasons– ADORNO actively opposed fascism, for one thing), but the possibility that his last name could have been ADORNA and that Green Lantern’s arch-nemesis could have been a female villain named SINESTRA makes this crossing a tad unfair.
Possible Natick at THEODOR ADORNO/SINESTRO aside, I do like the central staircase quite a bit (TELL TALE HEART / CHESS OPENINGS), and the ADORNO mini-theme is interesting (FREUDIANS / MARXISTS). The fill is good, the cluing appropriately tough for a Monday New Yorker, and I am glad to have been reminded of the Looney Tunes “What’s Opera, Doc?”.
Overall, I enjoyed most of this puzzle, but the couple of rough spots brought it down a bit for me. Still several stars for a clean grid with an interesting designs and some solid trivia/ word play cluing!
Robert E. Lee Morris’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Nate’s write-up
11D: TRIPLE PLAY [Diamond defensive rarity]
17A: BROADBAND [Internet connection touted in the ’90s as faster than dial-up]
29D: HIGH ROLLER [Vegas spender]
38A: LONG RUN [Extended engagement]
61A: JUMP START [Battery boost … and what the first part of the answers to starred clues can literally be]
Triple jump, broad jump, high jump, and long jump. All the theme entries start with a type of jump. Point in favor of this puzzle: it looks like all the major types of athletic jumps are here (though some Googling implies that broad jump and long jump might actually be the same thing?), so it is a complete set of theme entries, which I love.
Point against this puzzle: it was written in the late ’90s, since either the BROADBAND or RAPTORS clues are the most recent references in the puzzle. And I guess I wouldn’t mind a 20+ year old puzzle running now if the clues were updated to reference modern things, but that didn’t even happen here, so it feels like an archive reprint, which takes much joy away from the solve. Particularly, entires like ISHTAR, OPIE, RHONDA, TAZ, and JEFF Foxworthy make it feel like a puzzle from a different era.
At least I learned TORX [Six-pointed star-shaped screw head] and STEN [British weapon acronym]; the latter is an acronym of the names of the weapon’s designers.
NYT: A couple of weeks ago (Saturday, 4/25), we had TIT and ASS in the same puzzle. Today it’s just all ass. To be clear, though, I’m happy to see the Gray Lady’s reins of propriety loosening a bit more. Also, I agree with you, Jenni, that UNIDEAL was, well, less than ideal. That’s my only ding on this otherwise amusing puzzle.
UNIDEAL is unideal but Will looks to Merriam-Webster as the determining factor for usage in a NYT crossword and, sho’nuff, there it sits in M-W, with a cheshire cat grin, loving the attention.
un·ideal | \ “+ \
Definition of unideal
: lacking ideals or ideal qualities : deficient in idealism
To be fair, it’s only in M-W’s unabridged dictionary. UNIDEAL does not appear in my hardcover 1600-page M-W Collegiate Dictionary that I just checked.
anon- Better upgrade.
The 2020 copyright edition of the M-W Collegiate has 1,664 pages and 225,000 entries.
The M_W unabridged dictionary has 2,816 pages and 476,000 entries.
That’s a lot of words to be missing and one might never finish a NYT Saturday puzzle with such a deficit of definitions.
Well, obviously an unabridged dictionary has more entries. Still, I’d have said that most people, including setters and crossword editors, use MW 11th Collegiate as a determiner of what’s a common word. It was also the main resource for daily use, especially of what spelling to use, at pretty much whatever publishing house I worked as an editor. (It’s not a determiner of what counts in the Sunday Times magazine’s Spelling Bee, which drives me crazy in trying to guess what to include.)
UNIDEAL is also not, surprisingly, in the long list of UN-words that precedes those meriting full entries. Still, I can’t say it bothered me at all. Crosswords often have mildly unusual words. (FWIW, it’s in RHUD.)
Unabridged version means more iffy entries; the collegiate version is a more discerning reference, which is why it’s preferred by many.
I never said it wasn’t in a dictionary. I said it was a bad entry, and it is. It’s, well, UNIDEAL.
I’ve decided to parse it as UNI-DEAL. Like a unicycle is a bike with only one wheel, a “uni-deal” is an agreement with only one person involved. Or maybe when only one card is dealt from the deck. :-)
Uni-deal could be short for unilateral deal, as in an offer you can’t refuse…
BOGO sea urchin.
That took a second–hilarious.
NYT: Cracked me up…
NYT: Great theme — with impressive, uh, density. And good for Ross for sharing his experience with new constructors!
TNY: Agree with Rachel; some of the harder crosses in recent memory. I’ve vaguely heard the name at 32A but didn’t know much about them. The New Yorker puzzle is great for exposing me to artists/writers/thinkers, though, so I enjoy the post-solve google to find out more.
ADORNO was actually my handle (almost the only one) on TNY, so I got that central entry first and had a little help with Marx and Freud in two corners. It was the SW and especially NW that were killers for me, along with the bit of Chinese at center. I never thought I’d finish.
FWIW, brilliant as Adorno was, I don’t recommend him to newbies. His style is easily the densest of the Frankfurt School. It’s defeated some strong-hearted readers.
Struggled with the New Yorker when its intellectuality gets out of my interests as today, so I cannot be a good judge. Even those items with which I am familiar didn’t lead to much else. Used the check/reveal too much.
NYT – I hope Trudeau can be less UNIDEAL with selection of new contributors to introduce in the future. Also, solving on NYT site at midnight was very unpleasant with all the highlighted areas jumping back and forth with the themers and directions, ugh.
WSJ and Universal were more pleasant experiences, U particularly so.
For any beginners out there, check out my new YouTube channel, where I do daily video Tutorials for the NYT Crossword!
Help! How do I download the New Yorker puzzles into an app that works.
re: New Yorker 3D… clue should be rock or punk…not pop