Sam Ezersky’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Am I having an off night or was this a good bit harder than the usual Saturday NYT? Took me a long time to find a useful foothold. Finally came together faster than a Newsday “Saturday Stumper,” but tougher than I expected.
Fave fill: “WEIRD, HUH?,” RING UP, NEWS DESK, PINE NUT (I have so many pine nuts in my kitchen! Bought an 8 oz bag of pine nuts recently, instead of the customary teeny glass jar I’ve seen before. Butternut squash ravioli with brown butter/sage/pine nuts as a sauce? I love it.), PRUSSIA (I might have both Polish and German ancestors who immigrated to the US when their home was labeled Prussia), RAGTAG, DOOBIE, IOWA CAUCUS, TURNING TEST, FREE SPIRIT, BURNING MAN, HAKUNA / MATATA.
Fill I wasn’t keen on: old T-MAN, IN A KIT, dated TNN, biblical abbrev NUM, awkward TOP HIT, NO LOSS (apparently it’s a term in insurance … but that’s not how it’s clued), ANOTHER ONE (how is this a stand-alone unit of meaning that merits inclusion in a crossword grid?). These entries kinda annoyed me.
Five more things:
- 9a. [1, 2, 3, 4 … 11, 12, 14, etc.], FLOORS. Remember: When you press the elevator button for 14, you’re going to the building’s 13th floor.
- 24a. [Composer whose name is one letter off from an international peace grp.], ENESCO. First off, there is no earthly reason to abbreviate “group” in this clue, since the answer is a Romanian musician/composer George Enescu/Georges Enesco and not the group called UNESCO. Second, I enjoyed this goofy clue approach!
- 39a. [Shipment to a mill], IRON ORE. This one confused me for a bit. I gather iron ore is delivered to steel mills? I might have thought that the ore is converted into some other form, like pig iron or something? And then that is turned into steel at a very hot steel mill?
- 43a. [Nonvital surgery target], CYST. Okay, so a cyst beneath the skin, that a Dr. Pimple Popper removes, sure, nonvital target. Can’t help thinking there are other kinds of cysts that imperil vital organs. For polycystic kidney disease, they don’t generally remove the cysts surgically, but they may remove the huge kidneys when transplanting a new kidney. Has any physician ever been pleased with medical crossword clues?
- 10d. [Machine in a particle physics lab, in brief], LINAC. LIN AC? LIN-AC? I’ve heard of linear accelerators but never this shorthand term. Woe to the solver who hasn’t heard of ENESCO or LINAC and hits that crossing.
3.25 stars from me. Lots of good stuff, but offset by the bits I wasn’t a fan of.
Peter Collins’ Universal crossword, “Disappearing Act” — Jim Q’s write-up
No peace in this puzzle! Erm… that is, no Ps.
THEME: Shell game, where a shell hides the only P (pea) in the puzzle.
- 46A [Street hustler’s ploy, as depicted in this grid] THE OLD SHELL GAME.
- 44A [Baboon or bonobo (note that the circled letter appears just once in this grid)] APE. The letter is circled if you solved in Across Lite. If you solved in any other Universal platform, you are asked to circle it yourself, and a key visual element of the grid is sadly lost.
Well this was different! It was a fun puzzle to open, instantly noting the grid art with the three “shells,” the left/right symmetry, the low word count (68!), and the lone circled square. All of that immediately piqued my curiosity, and it was a joy to solve.
It wound up being as close to a themeless as Universal is probably going to get, but the AHA came with the SHELL GAME reveal (I’ve never heard it described as THE OLD…, but whatever!), and the realization that only one P was in the puzzle.
I usually tackle acrosses for a bit out of the gate when I solve the Universal, and the first entry I was confident in typing was WAS. So the difficulty level was far north of what it normally is, which was another welcome change of pace.
- 49D [Like -12, vis-a-vis 37] LESS. These are oddly specific numbers in the clue. I wonder if there’s a reason for that. Could it be that the sum of their absolute values = the clue number?
- 59A [Van Gogh hangout hidden in “earless”] Outstanding way to clue otherwise bland crosswordese. Nice find!
- 32A [Made something scary] CREATED A MONSTER. Love the entry. Not sure about the clue. I typically think that when someone introduces another to a new hobby, and then that person gets intensely into it, the introducer “CREATED A MONSTER.” Or something like that. I thought it was more of a hyperbolic, jocular phrase.
- HANG TIME, MISSING OUT, ON THE TABLE, SKATEBOARD, GAS HOGS… lots of fun stuff here.
4 without the circle? I guess? I don’t know. It’s really a bummer that Universal can’t circle letters.
Jordan Hildebrandt & Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Working on Commission” — pannonica’s write-up
As a byproduct of the punny theme, we get a minor art history survey.
- 23a. [Patron’s request of Auguste Rodin, resulting in “The Gates of Hell“?] CREATE AN OPENING.
- 41a. [Patron’s request of Hokusai, resulting in “The Great Wave“?] MAKE A SPLASH. That Hokusai Katsushika.
- 49a. [Patron’s request of Andy Warhol, resulting in “Marilyn Diptych“?] FASHION ICONS.
- 69a. [Patron’s request of Jaques-Louis David, resulting in “The Death of Marat“?] DRAW A BATH.
- 87a. [Patron’s request of Vincent Van Gogh, resulting in “Café Terrace at Night“?] PAINT THE TOWN. I’d have gone with something by Marc Chagall.
- 96a. [Patron’s request of Robert Indiana, resulting in the “LOVE” sculpture?] FORM LETTERS.
- 117a. [Interpretive freedom, or the authorization to produce each work in this puzzle?] ARTISTIC LICENSE.
Pros: A variety of media: two paintings, two sculptures, two prints. A variety in parts of speech: in the context of the thematic puns, they’re all verb phrases, but the originals include two with adjectives (FASHION and FORM).
Cons: Male-centric (all the artists are men – 41d [Restroom sign] MEN). Western bias (all invoke full names except for the one Japanese artist). Not convinced the revealer does much to gather the other theme entries together, or otherwise provide a rationale.
- Speaking of Hokusai, that it’s crossed by 13d [Fluffy bunnies] ANGORAS, I’m put in mind of this interpretation by Kozyndan, full of 57a WHIMSY:
- Near-symmetrical pair of 114d [Away from shore] ASEA and 3d [Out of the wind] ALEE.
- Solid longdowns with 16d [Celebrations for total failures?] PITY PARTIES, 68d [Data-gathering bots] WEBSCRAPERS, 4d [Sites of some seizures in arcades] CLAW MACHINES and 65d [Person bound for the Capitol] SENATOR ELECT. We have a bunch of those at this time of year—let’s call it an interregnum. And who will they be from Georgia??
- 8d [Blue stone] LAPIS. Guilty of dropping in TOPAZ first.
- 45d [Fail to keep off the grass?] TOKE. Cute.
- 72d [They have canopies] FORESTS. I liked this one too. Factette: the highest terrestrial biodiversity occurs in the canopy habitat of tropical rain forests. I’m also reminded that Richard Powers’ The Overstory (2018)is a book I’ve been meaning to read.
- Collaborator with Blake on “Happy Anywhere”] GWEN. This meant nothing to me, but investigating it further I see it’s a current song by Blake Shelton + GWEN Stefani, who are dating. I know who these people are.
- 107d [Carry on] WAGE, but I had RAGE here, which made the crossing 106a [Economical restaurant order] TAP WATER hard to see. It was my final fill.
- 119d [Its orbit takes about 93 min.] ISS, the International Space Station. That’s 7.66 km/s (27,600 km/h; 17,100 mph). 21a [His flight took 108 minutes from launch to landing] GAGARIN; it was a single orbit of Earth in 1961.
- 1a [“Slide” at many weddings] CHA-CHA, 18d [Peppy] RAH-RAH, 60d [Doubled, a Hawaiian food dish] MAHI(-MAHI).
- Check out how 29a [Mashed potatoes, in a shepherd’s pie] TOP LAYER sits above 36a [Bit in a shepherd’s pie] PEA.
- 31a [Person-shaped board game tokens] MEEPLES.
- 74a [Sentimental song] BALLAD. I’ll use this entry—and the occasion of Coleman Hawkin’s birthday—to share one of the most extraordinary three minutes in recorded music history. Hawkins is, among other things, a critical figure in the development of the BALLAD form in jazz. His 1939 treatment of “Body and Soul” is justly famous.
- 95a [Fixed worn kicks] RESOLED. Took a few beats to parse the clue correctly, but once I did, the answer was obvious.
- 101a [Flying a blue, pink and white flag, perhaps] TRANS. Transgender Awareness Week (13–19 November each year) just ended.
- 7d [In the past] AGO, 116a [In the future] AHEAD.
Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Slightly harder than normal, in my opinion. There are a couple of slightly difficult entries in here that wouldn’t be easy to clue even in an easier puzzle. I am still happy with a 7 minute solve time, and I wasn’t necessarily rushing through this one, but I found my self somewhat stuck in an area or two of this grid. But a fun puzzle, nonetheless! I always enjoy Ed Sessa’s creations. 4.4 stars from me.
Some stuff I found interesting:
- 1A [2015-’20 TV hip-hop musical drama] EMPIRE – I don’t watch this show. I watched the first few episodes, but it got too complicated. I have said before I am going to have to turn in my “black card” because I don’t watch Empire!
- 15A [Email staple] EMOTICON – I am getting better at these. My GIF game is improving as well!
- 35A [Comics characters in “Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat”] CALVIN AND HOBBES – I miss this comic strip. It’s still around, but this was an extremely clever cartoon.
- 40A [Duck soup] A CINCH – This seems slightly awkward, but it’s gettable.
- 52A [Cut with light] LASE – I don’t care for this word either, but I used it in the first NYT puzzle I ever had published, so we will go along with it!
- 57A [Apple Pencil go-with] IPAD MINI – These are only $399 to start. If you are going to have a tablet, don’t waste your time on a cheapo. These are worth the coin.
- 63A [ “The Mets have shown me more ways to lose than I even knew existed” speaker] STENGEL – This quote can also apply to the pre-2016 Cubs and the Detroit Lions!
- 5D [Exiled Shah Mohammad __ Pahlavi] REZA – I see this clue all the time, and I can never remember what his middle name is! I will surely stare at this stupidly the next time I see this clue.
- 8D [Electric Chevy] VOLT – This car has been around a while, but electric cars are not catching on so much. One issue: you basically need a garage, or at least some convenient way to plug it in. That issue has not been solved.
- 20D [Start of a request for advice] DEAR ANN – As in Ann Landers, I assume. I have never understood why someone would write them for advice, but people are lost in this world, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
- 36D [Vardalos of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”] NIA – I haven’t seen this movie in a while. Something escapist to watch during this prolonged lockdown!
That is all! Off to do more puzzles!
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
This was another teaser of a puzzle: I had the bottom half done in record time, then the top half was, well, different. Look at all of those error marks in the upper left corner! I misread a couple of clues; I just got new glasses! (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) Brad is a master at clues. This has been borne out in the Boswords Themeless league as well. If you haven’t checked out those puzzles, what are you waiting for! 4.6 stars today for another stellar Stumper.
Some random points:
- 1A [Fiesta participant] MARIACHI – I misread this as siesta, and so I put in NAP TAKER. I am really tired.
- 20A [Supporting Actor Oscar role for ’77] OBI-WAN – Alec Guinness won an Oscar for this role? I don’t think I knew this.
- 29A [Very far from cloistered] ABROAD – Cloister means confined to an area, so in a broad sense this clue is true.
- 40A [Name on two histories] HENRY IV – I assume the two histories are English and Spanish?
- 1D [Spanish bishop in ”The Da Vinci Code”] MOLINA – I devoured this book when it came out. But is has been a while, and this is not talking about a character name, but rather the actor Alfred Molina. Tricky!
- 6D [The Whopper Detour got one for 2019] CLIO – I don’t know this commercial. I will post it below.
- 7D [”Why, oh why, can’t I?” lyricist] HARBURG – This is the lyricist for “Over the Rainbow”. Do people know this off the bat? I sure didn’t.
- 12D [Destroyer on the Hollywood Walk of Fame] GODZILLA – Godzilla has a star? Or is this referring to a movie scene? I have no idea.
- 24D [High-calorie, as some crusts] LARDY – We have a lot of Amish restaurants within an hour drive, and one of the secrets of their delicious pies is using lard. Now I am hungry …
- 33D [Charlie’s ”Wall Street” girlfriend] DARYL – As in Daryl Hannah. I haven’t seen this movie in ages. Something else to watch! (Also, a nice anagram of LARDY!)
Everyone have a safe and healthy weekend!