Evan Mahnken’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s review
This is a lovely Monday crossword. The theme is amusing and totally gettable and there wasn’t anything in the fill that made me grimace.
The theme answers take us along a continuum of done-ness.
- 17a [Unedited film] is RAW FOOTAGE.
- 29a [Off-the-wall concepts] are HALF–BAKED IDEAS. I had the H and thought it was going to be hare-brained (which for years I thought was hair-brained).
- 45a [Committed accounting fraud] is COOKED THE BOOKS.
- 59a [Shade of brown] is BURNT UMBER.
I like my puzzles like I like my men: medium-rare.
A few other things:
- BEQs “Marching Bands” in the Sunday NYT had TERI Garr clued with reference to “Mr. Mom.” This one has “Tootsie.” What do you want to bet that before the week is out we have a puzzle that mentions her role in “Young Frankenstein?”
- I don’t think a DWEEB and a nerd are precisely synonymous. DWEEB implies a sort of social cluelessness that isn’t inherent in “nerd.”
- I don’t think I’ve ever said or heard BE MAD used the way it’s clued. Makes perfect sense for [“Fine, stay angry!”], though.
- Having PHD and TENURE right next to each other is apt.
- I like [“No thanks”] as a clue for PASS.
Tyler Burnett’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Looks like we’ve got a debut here!
Today’s theme is rivals — three symmetrically placed pairs of them.
- 17A [Big Ten school with eight national football titles], OHIO STATE, pairs with its rival at 46A [Rival of 17-Across], MICHIGAN. College sports rivalry!
- 28A [AP’s Co-driver of the Century Mario], ANDRETTI, pairs with 52D [Rival of 28-Across], A.J. FOYT. Racetrack rivalry!
- 12D [Car-collecting comic Jay] is LENO, who pairs with 60A [Rival of 12-Down], David LETTERMAN. TV rivalry!
I want to like this theme more than I do, because hey, debut constructor! And filling a grid cleanly enough that it works on a Monday, which this totally does, is not as easy as it looks, so good on Tyler Burnett for making it happen. But I didn’t love how much hopping around the grid one has to do to find the theme entries, nor that two of the theme entries were only four letters long — this makes it tough to pick out the theme even after you’ve solved, much less use it for help during solving. (I most certainly spent more time looking the puzzle over to discover the theme after the fact than I spent solving it in the first place.) That doesn’t feel very Mondayish to me, although of course what day of the week to run the puzzle is not the constructor’s choice. One thing that was the constructor’s choice: the theme is very dude-heavy! How about some women rivals?
Zhouqin Burnikel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “VARIETY PACK”—Jim P’s review
I’m not sure why the title is presented in all caps. I guess it really wants to get its message across.
We have a synonym theme today where the main entries hide a word meaning “class” (i.e. a variety or category). The revealer at 61a is clued [Average income group, and a hint to hidden words in 18-, 24-, 40- and 52-Across] and is answered with MIDDLE CLASS.
- 18a. [Considerable amount of money, so to speak] PRETTY PENNY. Type.
- 24a. [Nike co-founder] PHIL KNIGHT. Ilk. Yeah, I wasn’t going to know this one.
- 40a. [Diner table fixture] NAPKIN DISPENSER. Kind.
- 52a. [“Which of these do you prefer?”] THIS OR THAT. Sort.
I’m surprised circles weren’t used to identify the hidden words. It is Monday after all.
Another reason this puzzle feels a little misplaced as a Monday: the fill, starting off with KUMISS [Asian drink made from fermented mare’s milk]. I find it interesting to learn about, but new puzzle solvers are going to struggle with this one, especially as it’s crossing a proper name. Add to that FENDI [Rome-based fashion house] and unsightly crosswordese like ETRE and CTS (cents) as well as ICERS and IT PRO, and you’ve got a tougher-than-Monday grid in my book.
Of course, the long fill is strong in a ZB grid, and that’s the case here with FAIR PRICE, APTITUDES, OMNI HOTEL, and SANTA ROSA [California city known for its wineries]. Sadly, this beautiful city is also known for wildfires more recently.
Everything else is solid, though standard. This wasn’t my favorite Burnikel grid, but it might have felt better a couple days later in the week. 3.25 stars.
Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
This puzzle *really* wanted you to know that you were solving a New Yorker crossword. It felt like a syllabus in 20th century intellectual history, which I think was probably the goal! There were a few great entries, and some clues that I enjoyed, and an awfully pretty grid, but I don’t really think I *enjoyed* solving this puzzle, exactly. Still, I can’t HATE ON the puzzle for being what it is– if you’re choosing to solve the challenging New Yorker crossword, you should probably expect to learn a lot in the process!
First things first, this grid is gorgeous. I love the diagonal slash and evenly spaced segmentation and the little carets flanking the middle. Super cute, and made for a grid structure that perfectly supports two (15)s. Those 15s though… if HARLAN COUNTY USA is “Renowned,” I guess I’m just an uncultured brute (I am). I don’t really like this kind of editorializing in clues, because it has the effect of making the solver feel stupid for not knowing the entry. If your clue/entry doesn’t stand on its own without “Renowned,” you may want to rethink including it! (See also below re: KALE CHIPS). Anyways, FRANKFURT SCHOOL also felt new to me, although I think I’ve seen it referenced in a Natan Last New Yorker puzzle before? Both of these 15s were new and challenging.
There were also some very difficult crosses in this puzzle that are worth noting. HENRIAD / STEUBEN / DANCIN / NEL in the NW was really challenging. That’s a lot of propers/foreign language words in one section, on top of a county that could have been anything if you didn’t know the “renowned” documentary! Same with SOIGNEE / MSGR — I knew I was trying to get “monsignor” into 4 letters, but had absolutely no idea which 4 letters would make the cut.
A few more things:
- To continue the conversation about editorial clues, see: [Ostentatiously healthy snack] for KALE CHIP. Excuse me, I happen to enjoy KALE CHIPs, and I eat them in the comfort of my own home without broadcasting that I do! (Except for right now, I guess?). There is nothing ostentatious about some crispy kale baked in olive oil and salt. This kind of editorializing absolutely has a place in crossword puzzles, but I tend to associate it more with indie crosswords than with the style of mainstream outlets like the New Yorker.
- [With “the,” band whose logo features a Presidential seal with the words “Hey Ho Let’s Go” in place of “E Pluribus Unum”] for RAMONES. This is an (excellent) *indie puzzle* clue. It was so long that I had to zoom in on my screen to read the small print of the clue!
- [Ones holding their horses?] for REINS — are REINS “ones”?
- Fill I could live without: NEL, NLER, NANU, EPIS, ONE-A, MSGR, ATE NO
- I had to google RALE after the solve
- Would have appreciated an indication that we were looking for a variant (or non-English) spelling on NAIADES
- Representation: Pretty good! ETTA James, Frantz FANON, Charley Pride, others
- We had a reference to ABBA’s SOS in Robyn Weintraub’s Friday puzz last week too!
Overall, not my favorite New Yorker crossword, but it gave me an excuse to listen to Rihanna this morning, so I can’t stay mad at it. See you Wednesday!
Alan Massengill’s Universal crossword, “Ex-change” — pannonica’s write-up
Phrases, first words ending with an x. Replace with similar-sounding trigrams (additional spelling changes as needed) to form new words and hence wacky new phrases.
- 20a. [Trivia expert’s nickname?] FACTS MACHINE (fax machine).
- 35a. [Takes out frustration on iPads?] WHACKS TABLETS (wax tablets). They seem like proto-iPads anyway.
- 51a. [Composer’s new health spa venture?] BACH’S SPRINGS (box springs).
I appreciate how the new spellings are so varied.
X sighting at 13d/19a! [Letters of gratitude in a text] THX, [Where work piles up] INBOX.
- 8d [Message on a dusty car] WASH ME. 34a [ ___ opposites] POLAR.
- 10d [Synonym and anagram of “note”] TONE, 44d [Distinguished] OF NOTE.
- 34d [Smoothing machine] PLANER. So glade this wasn’t PUREER. Unfortunately, it significantly dupes themer 20-across.
- 37d [EPA pollution stat] AQI/ Air Quality Index. Another to know is PPM, parts per million.
- 59a [A poem like this / Although perhaps not quite as / abominable] HAIKU. Always appreciated when a clue tries to do something different.
- 45d [Air mail option?] PIGEON.