Friday, August 28, 2020

Inkubator 4:02 (Jenni) 


LAT untimed (pannonica) 


NYT 6:14 (Amy) 


The New Yorker 3:40 (Rachel) 


Universal 4:59 (Jim P) 


Kate Hawkins’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 8 28 20, no. 0828

Ms. Hawkins has published her work in several other venues, both indie and newspaper/syndicated, prior to her NYT debut here. With longtime themeless constructors whose work you’ve tussled numerous times, it’s easier to know their vibe when it comes to fill and clues, but dang! I had to fight my way through this puzzle as if it were a Saturday rather than a Friday. Just me, or did it seem tough to you, too? I made misstep after misstep, like ADHERED before AT A LOSS, FOOTPRINT before SHOE PRINT, GYM RAT before PET RAT (and yes, I too would like to see the fitness center with exercise wheels for humans!). When most of what you’ve filled in is wrong, it is hard to progress.

Fave fill: PYRAMID SCHEME, POLISH UP, TRUE CRIME podcasts (never listened to one but I like reading about them; is that weird?), TA-NEHISI Coates (further slowed myself down by mistyping it as TANHEISI), ICED LATTE, and MEET CUTE.

I was primed to dislike the fill because 1a is APSE and that is a lifeless way to start a crossword. T-TOPS (meh) and plural abbrev PTAS rounding out the top row weren’t any better, but the puzzle improved below.

Five more things:

  • 38d. [Component of the pill], ESTROGEN. I like the matter-of-fact clue that assumes comfort with the concept of contraception.
  • 17a. [Gaelic name for Scotland], ALBA. I must have seen this one before but I sure didn’t remember it. Definitely helped me feel mired in the NW corner.
  • 43a. [Turn], SPOIL. Breakfast test! Lemme ruin your breakfast, morning readers, by telling you about that little carton of heavy cream that was in my fridge. It came out in straight-edged chunks. That “best when used within 7 days of opening” thing is for real.
  • 4d. [Subject of a station update, for short], ETA. Took me forever to understand that this clue was about train (or bus) stations rather than TV or radio stations. D’oh!
  • 43d. [It’s on-again, off-again], SWITCH. So much drama with that little on/off toggle, I tell you.

If you’re like me and you pretty much missed out on 1990s pop when it was happening, the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” video will be new to you. If I had to see it, you have to see it. Don’t want to suffer alone.

3.5 stars from me. It’s always nice to see a woman’s name in a themeless byline after the dark years of “good lord, why so many men.”

Helen Verongos’s Inkubator crossword, “Our Bodies, Ourselves”—Jenni’s review

Good morning! Happy Friday! It’s sunny and not particularly humid out on my porch, and I really enjoyed this puzzle. That’s a good start to the day.

I figured out the theme and thought it was cute, and then I found the revealer and it made me grin. Each theme entry is a body part, as the title suggests.

Inkubator, August 28, 2020, Helen Varonos, “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” solution grid

  • 20a [Pronouncement from the Queen of Hearts, vis-à-vis Alice] is OFF WITH HER HEAD.
  • 26a [Hobnob] is RUB SHOULDERS. Wow, do I miss massages.
  • 44a [Lit, in Roaring Twenties slang] is THE BEES KNEES. I love this phrase. Let’s bring it back.
  • 52a [“Keep alert!”] is STAY ON YOUR TOES.

And the revealer that adds an extra layer of fun: 43d [Oft-repeated line in a song … such as the preschool anatomy lesson lyric hinted at in this puzzle’s theme]: REFRAIN. This brings back fond memories of my childhood and even fonder memories of my daughter when she was very small. Thanks for the nostalgia, Helen!

A few other things:

  • True to the Inkbuator ethos, ABAB is clued as [Rhyme scheme of Dorothy Parker’s “Résumé”]. I’ve seen the poem but didn’t know the title.
  • I recently read Emily Wilson’s amazing translation of the The Odyssey and now I know more about Helen and her life after TROY. If you’re looking for a distraction from politics and pandemics, try that.
  • 31a [Many a flower child’s slow brew] is SUN TEA. Is that a hippie thing? I associate it with a decidedly non-hippie attending in my residency program who kept a jar brewing on his office windowsill.
  • Am I the only one who dropped in ARK for 37d, [Biblical transport]? It’s actually ASS. Balaam, not Noah.
  • 49d [Jeans alternative, informally] took me a minute. I don’t wear CORDS.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above about the title of the Parker poem. I also did not know that INDRA Nooyi was CEO of Pepsico who appears on Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women” list. And I didn’t know (or had forgotten) that Dan Aykroyd’s character in the CONEheads skit and movie is Beldar.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 8/28/20 • Fri • Wechsler • solution • 20200828

I feel like I’m missing something here.

This is an off-size grid, 16×15 and it presents what seems like an unexplained theme. The bigram AX is added to established phrases, thus wackifying them. No revealer, no helpful title.

  • 19a. [False claim about one’s pioneer ancestors?] WESTWARD HOAX (Westward ho!).
  • 25a. [Medieval German spendthrift?] PRODIGAL SAXON (prodigal son).
  • 41a. [Transmitted documents with Red Riding Hood’s location?] FAXED TO THE WOLVES (fed to the wolves). Cute, but as the raison for the grid’s 16-column girth, is it good enough?
  • 52a. [Beauty treatment for poultry?] CHICKEN WAXING (chicken wing). How … would that work, actually? Also, chicken wing is a rather dull phrase.
  • 63a. [Big-screen entertainment for angels] IMAX IN HEAVEN (I’m in heaven). My favorite of the bunch, because it’s the most unexpected and entertaining alteration.

Let’s have a look at the rest of the fill.

  • Longdowns are solid. 3d [Japanese takeout orders] BENTO BOXES, 33d [Tending to, as the loot] DIVVYING UP. I’d have preferred a more literal clue for the latter, however.
  • 10d [Amer. capital] USD, United States dollar. Aham the old ‘capital’ switcheroo.
  • 50a [Oliver Twist or Tiny Tim] BOY. Dickensian, both.
  • 17a [Leopard spot] ROSETTE. One way to differentiate between leopards and jaguars is that jaguars have larger ROSETTEs, which often have a central spot inside them. There are a number of other phenotypic differences between the two species, of course, but that’s a rather easy one for layfolk to work with.

    (Not the best angle to see the rosette difference, but you can follow the link for more diagnostic detail)

  • 20d [With 35-Down, papery construction best left alone] WASP | NEST. Some people make art with them, though. Others have experimented with manipulating the materials with which the wasps create their nests.
  • Not thrilled with the similarity of 36a [Wall st. event] IPO crossing 37d [Part of IPA] PALE.
  • 58a [Half-hearted] WAN. This is why there’s no such thing as India Wan Ale, by the way.
  • 38d [Midori in a rink] ITO. 39d [Gourd fruit] MELON. Green Midori liqueur is muskmelon-flavored.
  • 50d [Dancing dinosaur] BARNEY>shudder<

Anyway, sorry if it seems as if I bear some sort of grudge against the theme. If someone can provide an adequate explanation or rationale I promise to bury the hatchet.

Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

As I texted a friend about this puzzle right after solving, “this puzzle reminded me that I do still like crosswords.” Not that I ever really doubted it, but sometimes I do get down on solving (in a “have you lost interest in activities you used to enjoy because the world is terrible?” kind of way), and when I feel like that, it can be extra exhilarating to be lifted back up by a clean, crunchy, seamlessly executed beauty of a puzzle like this one. I loved every single long entry, and all of the medium-length ones, and the clues were sparkly, and it was so EASY that the feeling of absolutely crushing it released all the endorphins. So, thanks, Robyn Weintraub, for curing my most recent bout of Covid depression!

The New Yorker crossword solution • Robyn Weintraub • Friday, August 28, 2020

The delightful long entries included: KINDA SORTA / ESCAPE PLAN / THIS SIDE UP / HAPPY DANCE / SEEYA LATER / PLEASE HOLD / SWEET DREAMS / BLAZE A TRAIL. So good! All of it! My favorites are probably KINDA SORT and HAPPY DANCE, although the clue on SEEYA LATER [Phrase that can precede “alligator”] is so funny. The equally excellent medium-length entries were the colloquial SO SOON? (perfectly clued with [“Already?”]  / DAZZLE / DOODLE / PLUNDERS [Steals, pirate-style] (!!) / SUNBATHE. Just solid, fun entries and cluing across the board.

A few more things:

  • Fill I could live without: ERLE. I always get this dude’s name wrong and I’m over it!
  • Representation: This puzzle is light on propers, as it sort of the norm with these easy Fridays, but we did have Savion Glover and Marie Kondo, among a smattering of others.
  • Did anyone else think PUCE was a green color because it kind of looks like PUKE? Just me?
  • Not so sure about multiple EDENS, but that’s a very minor nit
  • Oh I forgot to list THAT’S THAT above! Also wonderful!

Ok, well, this puzzle kicks ass, I’m happy to have solved it, and it gets all of my stars. Have a good weekend, team!

Leonard Malkin & Brad Wilber’s Universal crossword, “Football Starters”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Phrases whose first words are an action in American football.

Universal crossword solution · “Football Starters” · Leonard Malkin & Brad Wilber · Fri., 8.28.20

  • 17a. [Use the kitchen plumbing, say] RUN A FAUCET
  • 25a. [Host festivities] THROW A PARTY
  • 37a. [Start completing chores] TACKLE A TO DO LIST. I’m not so sure this is a very in-the-language phrase. “Tackle a chore” or “tackle a problem” sounds more natural to my ear. But then again, when I google “tackle a”, the first suggested answer is “tackle a tabernacle” which is—well, I don’t know what that is.
  • 47a. [What many commuters do daily] CATCH A TRAIN
  • 57a. [Give up smoking, e.g.] KICK A HABIT

It’s certainly not football season, but it’s getting close. Maybe. We’ll see.

I guess what’s bugging me about this theme is that I want it to be a sequence of events, but it’s not. It’s just a listing of different actions in football. There’s nothing wrong with that; it just would flow better if it was an established sequence like THROW, CATCH, RUN, SCORE, or something similar.

Also, I’m a little surprised at the lack of sparkly fill in the grid. There are no non-theme entries longer than six letters and nothing more lively than POTTER and ONE-HIT. It certainly doesn’t feel fusty or overly laden with crosswordese (SST notwithstanding), but there’s nothing here to really sink one’s teeth into.

Clues of note:

  • 56a. [Beginning of an unwanted call?]. ROBO. I just signed my mom up for Nomorobo which comes with her Comcast voice service, but she’s still getting calls, including one yesterday that said her 27 year-old car was nearly out of warranty.
  • 1d. [Token in Life]. CAR. Re: the board game.

A pleasant theme for anyone missing football. Fill could’ve used some jazzing up. 3.3 stars.

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18 Responses to Friday, August 28, 2020

  1. RSP64 says:

    I think something is wrong with the NYT star rating with 49 ratings at 8:50 pm PDT.

  2. maxine nerdström says:

    I really enjoyed the NYT— fun and fresh. It put up a fight but I think I was just on its wavelength or something. Always a nice feeling.

  3. P Merrell says:

    That Spice Girls video is pretty remarkable in that it’s one continuous shot.

    • pannonica says:

      Mental Floss says there are two subtle edits.

      From their list of 15, I only know the video for “Sugar Water”, which—being made by M Gondry—is of course amazing.

      edit: Oh, I of course know the Dylan one too.

    • Billy Boy says:

      Good link.

      Single Steadicam Shot – one thread – somehow so appropriate for Weezer’s Sweater Song.

      Stanley Kubrick*, P.T. Anderson – some really good ones in movies, you seemingly notice them after they’ve actually been going for a while

      (*Re-watched the Shining the other night, that genre totally lost on me)


  4. Huda says:

    NYT: If you look at it after the fact, the puzzle is striking in including many excellent, often intersecting entries, without being overly pretentious, either in content or form. That non-showy high quality reminds some of my favorite themeless constructors. I believe it will wear well.
    I agree that the cluing was sometimes unexpected and threw me, making it harder than it should have been. But I hope we will have occasion to get used to Kate Hawkin’s style. Good stuff.

  5. Steve Manion says:

    For may years, in the old forum I did the NYT every day. I got pretty fast, but no where near the speeds of the top solvers. My new obsession is the Spelling Bee, so I only do the Friday and Saturday NYT puzzles and occasionally other days or other puzzles based on recommendations here.

    As a result, every Friday and Saturday is at least tough if not extremely tough. I still get it, but it often takes me a REEEAAALLLY long time.

    I thought today’s was terrific, but let’s not forget the little people with the easy opening across entries. I, for one, appreciate them.


  6. Lemonade says:

    pannonica, the question you need to ask yourself is what is the goal of any crossword puzzle, especially a themed one? As one who has been solving puzzles of all kinds, I would suggest that entertaining the audience is the goal. On Friday in the LAT, it should be challenging with some sparkly fill. The theme of this one is very obvious “add two letters (AX) to various phrases to create amusing images and make some people laugh.” Did this require a reveal? And what puzzle except Sunday put out by the LAT or NYT has a title? You mention some nice long fill and fun words like rosette and wasp nest. It is apparent the LA Times is the poor relation at this site, often not even reviewed, but they are entertaining. Jeffrey Wechsler has a sense of humor. What more do you want?

    • pannonica says:

      It’s customary for a themed crossword to have some sort of reveal, either in the puzzle itself or as the title. When such a conventional explanation is absent, it detracts from the entertainment value, for the very reasons I mentioned—it seems random.

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