Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
It’s Amy filling in for the vacationing Jenni, and happy to see Erik’s byline awaiting me. I knew where the theme was heading after the first two themers, but didn’t know the names of all the various suits and tiles. There’s also a lot of variation in what’s included, depending on the country.
- 20a. [Flower of the tree Prunus mume], PLUM BLOSSOM. Feels like a hard clue and entry for a Monday, but the crossings were all pliable.
- 33a. [Bringer of cold weather], NORTH WIND.
- 39a. [Winged beast on the Welsh flag], RED DRAGON.
- 50a. [Game piece on which 20-, 33- or 39-Across might be pictured], MAHJONG TILE.
I’ve never played mahjong, but my in-laws picked up a set of tiles a few years ago and there’ve been some games played when we’re visiting. Who knows when it will be safe to visit them again? I am familiar with most of the tiles from one of those solitaire mahjong games on my iPad, try to clear the board by matching the tile pairs, emptying out your mind along the way.
Representation matters: CHER, RUTH Bader Ginsburg, TWISTS and WEAVE both with [Hairstyle option] clues that apply to Black hair, Lindsay LOHAN, ENYA, filmmaker Dee REES, [Alpha Kappa Alpha, for one] as a Black SORORITY, Anne HATHAWAY (I wonder if Erik originally clued this name via singers Donnie or Lalah) are all out here representing women and/or people of color. The closest thing to spotlighting a white man in this puzzle is, I think, a Dashiell Hammett book included in the NOVEL clue. And the theme has an Asian focus. Refreshing!
Five more things:
- 46a. [“Take that!”], “BOO-YAH!” I like it.
- 29d. [Comment made with a pat on the back], “GOOD FOR YOU!” How many of you hear this with sarcasm vs. sincerity?
- 31d. [Bird whose head doesn’t make a sound?], WREN. That silent W at the “head” of the bird’s name.
- 35d. [When tripled, a liar’s mantra], DENY. As in “Deny, deny, deny.” This … doesn’t come up in my life.
- 42d. [A.P. ___ (high school English course, for short)], LANG, short for language and composition. I think my son took that?
Paul Coulter’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Stella’s write-up
I vaguely remember a clue from I wish I knew what crossword, in which the word SET was clued as something like “word that has a page and a half of definitions in the OED.” Although my memory is imperfect, you get the idea: There are as many kinds of SETs as you can imagine, and Paul Coulter took advantage of that to generate a SET LIST (35A), clued as “Itemized concert songs in playing order…and what all the words in answers to starred clues comprise”. That is, in the six starred clues, the answers consist of two words that can each be placed before SET to make a new compound word or phrase, like HEADSET or HEAVYSET.
- 17A [Rock group since the ’80s with the worldwide hit “Creep”] RADIOHEAD
- 25A [*0-0, in tennis] LOVE ALL
- 28A [*Improving trend] UPSWING
- 42A [*The two-engine F-15 Eagle, e.g.] TWIN JET
- 44A [*Greeting card for an ailing friend] GET WELL
- 56A [*Lack of subtlety] HEAVY HAND
Some of these SET pairings work better than others. WELL SET feels a little contrived, and LOVE SET, just as LOVE ALL, uses LOVE in a very specific tennis sense. (Today I learned that a LOVE SET is one in which the winning player doesn’t lose any games.) On the other hand, going from UPSWING to UPSET and SWING SET feels like a fun twist.
I also didn’t love that 11D and 27D are both longer than any theme entries, which is why the theme entries are starred (to help you pick them out in a crowd). 27D, VENTILATOR, feels particularly ill-timed, although that’s not the constructor’s fault. 2.5 stars from me.
Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Somehow it is the middle week of July! Here’s a puzzle from Patrick Berry to kick it off. It’s packed with medium-length entries of variable interesting-ness, a few clues I loved, and a corner that took me about as long as the rest of the puzzle combined. Let’s dig in, in all bullet points!
- My own (somewhat arbitrary) views of the varying levels of excitement in the medium-length entries:
- Exciting entries: SHOEGAZE, POSEIDON, HOT FUDGE, IN MY BOOK, ROCKETMAN, BARISTAS
- Not-so-exciting entries: THESAURI, MOTOROLA, FORD EDGE, RAINED OUT, ATONES FOR, ED O’NEILL, COMMANDO, IT’S A DEAL, TENDERED
- Favorite clues:
- [Grounds crew?] for BARISTAS
- [They may pounce upon your return?] for AUDITORS
- [Roll of grass] for DOOBIE
- Corner that destroyed me: the Northeast. Just could not get into this, mostly because I kept trying to figure out how to squeeze “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” into 8 letters…
- White men: ED O’NEILL, Thomas Hardy, Schwarzenegger, George Miller, Gilbert & Sullivan, LOUDON Wainwright, POSEIDON?, Frankie Yankovic, NED Kelly
- Everyone else: Emma Donoghue, OMAR Vizquel
And on that last point, this is the sort of “no-culture” puzzle that Kam mentioned and that I’ve promised to point out when it appears. Patrick Berry is a master puzzlemaker, and this puzzle, like so many others he has made, seems on its surface to be this sort of “platonic ideal” of a crossword: all solid entries, no cringeworthy fill, some interesting trivia/exciting wordplay in the clues. BUT if you scrutinize it a little more deeply, you notice that it does, in fact, have a cultural viewpoint, and that viewpoint is a masculine white middle class culture (Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, golf, baseball). Not going to belabor the point, but it does bear noting.
A good amount of stars from me for the solid construction, but I wish there were more new and interesting things in this puzzle. See you on Wednesday folks!
Mark Wilson’s Universal crossword, “Violating Norms” — pannonica’s write-up
Fairly self-explanatory theme.:
- 56aR [One whose behavior differs from the usual, or any of the fantasy creatures in the starred clues?] NONCONFORMIST.
- 20a. [*What an unusual shape-shifter does?] STAYS COMPOSED.
- 27a. [*What an unusual dragon does?] PUTS OUT FIRES.
- 48a. [*What an unusual vampire does?] DONATES BLOOD.
Gentle, Monday-appropriate theme.
- 39a [Standard paper size: Abbr.] LTR. Speaking of norms.
- 5a [Long, angry blog posts] RANTS. Never heard of ’em.
- 22d [“Fix” starter, aptly] PRE-. Can’t decide whether I like this clue or dislike it, but I’m not neutral on it.
- 29d [Baby __ (candy bars with peanuts] RUTHS. Is this better or worse than [ __ Chris Steakhouse]. Of which, here’s the origin of that weird name: “Over four decades ago, Ruth Fertel, a divorced mother of two, mortgaged her home for $22,000 to buy a small 60-seat restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana named Chris Steak House. Shortly thereafter, a fire forced her to change the original location and she renamed the restaurant, ‘Ruth’s Chris Steak House.'” That’s from the company’s website.
- 47d [Ceiling coating] PLASTER. I, uh, tried POPCORN first, and was prepared to complain. That sort of thing happens more often than I care to admit. Anyway, we can segue from there to 25a [Kernel holder] EAR, and thence to 38d [General’s vehicle] STAFF CAR.
- 50d [Off course] ERRANT. (see above)
- 18a [Italian’s “Enough!”] BASTA. And now, readers, I’m going to share one of my favorite hidden/private songs. It definitely describes some non-conformist behavior, and is delightfully weird. Reissued on Netherlands’ Basta Records:
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Back Breaking”—Jim P’s re-cap
The puzzle was very late in posting today, so this’ll be a quick re-cap.
53a is clued [Make a start, and what you might do to the ends of the starred answers] and is answered with GET CRACKING. The other theme answers end with things that might get cracked.
- 16a. [*Like some tuna] DOLPHIN SAFE. Crack a safe.
- 23a. [*Vote wrangler in Congress] PARTY WHIP. Crack a whip.
- 32a. [*Weapon in a fist] BRASS KNUCKLES. Crack your knuckles.
- 45a. [*Flipping] GOING NUTS. Crack your…No comment.
In each case, the meaning of the word changes from the given phrase (although “knuckles” is pretty close to its original meaning). The last one, however, doesn’t feel as “in the language” as the others. Is it supposed to be “crack some nuts” or “crack a nut” or just “crack nuts”? Obviously a nutcracker is a thing, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “I’m going to go crack some nuts.”
Fill highlights: “OH, BEHAVE!” cross-referenced to AUSTIN Powers, BEDOUINS, and FIG TREE.