Patti Varol & Doug Peterson’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
It’s been a long week, hasn’t it? And it’s only Thursday night. Let’s get to it.
Fave fill: MINISTERING, FANDANGO, GRETA GERWIG, NATALIE COLE, STOREFRONTS, THE CONGO, “I GOT A NAME,” and the topical SORE LOSER. Also nice to see IBISES and HERONS, since Team Fiend’s Gareth has been out birding all week in South Africa and has cool pictures of various tall birds (including egrets, flamingos, and storks).
Unloved: ISM, VEES, ANNS, the vaguely awkward TO NOW and LATE TO, and UNWON.
Five more things:
- 15a. [Fear of public places], AGORAPHOBIA. Listen, it’s not a phobia these days. It’s self-preservation.
- 18a. [Half of a frozen foods brand], ORE. Which reminds me: I need to try some frozen fries in the new air fryer.
- 27a. [Before thou knowest], ANON. Cute. As in “before you know / SOON,” but in older English.
- 29a. [Company that owns Rotten Tomatoes], FANDANGO. That “taking a few bucks off the top when we buy movie tickets online” business can’t be doing well this year. Did you hear that Warner Bros. will be releasing its next year of movies simultaneously on HBO Max and in cinemas? Wonder Woman 1984 launches Christmas Day and I am here for it.
- 37a. [6-9 months?], SUMMER. As in June to September, the 6th to 9th months.
Did you notice all the two-fer clues? [Long-legged waders] for IBISES and HERONS. [Communicates nonverbally, in a way] for NODS and SIGNS. [Sticky stuff] for GOO and PINE TAR. I liked those and the generous smattering of question-marked clues.
Here’s 55a [Issa of comedy], RAE, four years ago on Conan. The racy words are bleeped. have no fear.
3.8 stars from me.
Andrea Carla Michaels’s Inkubator crossword, “Ladies First”—Jenni’s review
I love seeing Andrea’s name in a byline. Her puzzles are smooth and well-crafted and a joy to solve. This one was no exception. I didn’t figure out what was going on with the theme until after I’d solved the whole thing.
The theme answers:
- 17a [Christmas tree variety] is a DOUGLAS FIR.
- 25a [Ornamental marsh growth] is REED GRASS. I usually think of reeds or marsh grass, but Google tells me this is a thing, so OK.
- 40a [There “ain’t no cure” for these in a 1958 rockabilly hit]: SUMMERTIME BLUES. Eddie Cochran recorded that classic. I dare you to listen to it without smiling and tapping your toe.
- 50a [Tool for the daily grind] is a MILLSTONE.
What do these things have in common? 64a tells us: [“First lady” in Italian, and a hint to 17-, 25-, 40-, and 50-Across]. It’s PRIMA DONNA. DONNA DOUGLAS, DONNA REED, DONNA SUMMER, and DONNA MILLS. Nice!
I’m on call and pushing my luck, so I’ll skip to “what I didn’t know before I did this puzzle.” I didn’t know that ANGELA Davis was included in Time’s Most Influential People of 2020 and I didn’t know that Skippy played the part of crossword stalwart ASTA.
Caitlin Reid’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
When they say these Friday puzzles are lightly challenging at the New Yorker, man, they are not kidding! It’s obviously always a total thrill to tear through a puzzle, so of course I enjoyed this one, but I think something that often gets overlooked is how incredibly hard it is to make high-quality puzzles this easy (see also: the USA Today crossword, which does this every day). Every entry has to be gettable with minimal resistance, you cannot have obscure crosswordese fill, and the clues all have to be written at the perfect interesting/easy inflection point. Caitlin Reid has nailed all of these things, creating a masterpiece of an easy puzzle. And that she didn’t sacrifice the shininess of her long entries or the arts-and-culture inclination of the New Yorker just speaks to what a talented constructor she is.
The longer entries in the NW/SE today were: LAST STRAW / OPEN HOUSE / CENTER ICE / ALONE TIME / HELD WATER / AD-LIBBING. All excellent! And to dive a little deeper into this interesting/easy cluing blend, let’s examine the best clues of this bunch, starting with [Proverbial back-breaker] for LAST STRAW in the first across. This is so perfect! You should know exactly what the answer is without much effort at all, but the clue is elegant and satisfying anyways. Similarly, the clue on ALONE TIME, [It’s treasured by introverts], is easily gettable and perfectly defines the entry, but it’s not a boring straight definition. Just lovely, thoughtful cluing throughout.
A few more things:
- Favorite clues:
- [Use a hula hoop] for GYRATE (not sure why, exactly, but I loved this)
- [Croon like a cowgirl, say] for YODEL – such a great visual! ..er… audial?
- The grid shape is cool. I love the giant slash of squares through the middle
- Representation: not a ton of people in this puzzle, but the ones we have are mostly women (Zora NEALE Hurston, AOC, CLARA Barton, HAYLEY Williams, INA Garten). And I didn’t know Jackie CHAN was a Goodwill Ambassador— fun fact!
Overall, all the stars for this lightning-fast-but-still-satisfying Friday puzzle. See you next week!
Pam Klawitter’s Universal crossword, “Impersonatin’”—Jim P’s review
The theme answers today are based on well-known two-word phrases but with a famous person’s last name (that ends in an “un” or “en” sound) replacing the original gerund.
- 20a. [Birthday buys for singer Dolly?] PARTON GIFTS. Parting gifts.
- 56a. [“Orate” or “emancipate”?] LINCOLN VERB. Linking verb.
- 10d. [Actor Kevin’s loaf?] BACON BREAD. Baking bread.
- 28d. [Actor Christopher and his fellow performers?] WALKEN CAST. Walking cast. The second word changes meaning here as well, unlike in the other entries.
Overall, pretty fun, yeah? I enjoy a good pun, and these weren’t terrible, so that’s a win in my book.
I am curious as to the layout of the grid though. With only four themers and none of them longer than 11 letters, it seems like they could have easily been placed in the more standard all-Across arrangement (rather than the pinwheel we have here). That typically allows the solver to identify the themers more easily and leaves the Down direction open for some juicier fill entries.
But be that as it may, we don’t seem to have been deprived of some fun fill. OPEN HOUSE, IRON CHEF, FLEABAG, and EGGPLANT are all nice. Also good: URBAN AREA, MANTRA, and the crossing of double-lettered names GREGG and GLENN.
- 29a. [Seedy stopover]. FLEABAG. I’m surprised this wasn’t clued with respect to the widely acclaimed BBC/Amazon show.
- 5d. [Cooking show with Japanese roots]. IRON CHEF. I just realized this could be interpreted as “show in which people cook the roots of Japanese plants.” You never know; they watch some crazy stuff over there.
- 12d. [What connects the words in “Adopt a Pet”]. TAPE. It seems like editor David Steinberg often has a cryptic-style clue somewhere in a grid. I wonder if this was his.
Breezy, punny puzzle. 3.75 stars.
Yoni Glatt’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
- 36aR [2001 Wayans Brothers sequel, and a hint to the four other longest puzzle answers] SCARY MOVIE TWO. That is, the titles of two horror films are put together to form a wacky or wacky-ish phrase.
- 17a. [Checked out ’70s AMC cars?(2004, 1984)] SAW GREMLINS.
- 23a. [Genetic indicators? (2018, 2002)] HEREDITARY SIGNS.
- 51a. [Getting no goodies from trick-or-treating? 1978, 1990)] HALLOWEEN MISERY.
- 58a. [Possible sequel to “Despicable Me”? (2010, 2019)] INSIDIOUS US.
Horror is not a genre I’m particularly into, but I can at least appreciate these theme answers. However, there’s some other stuff going on in the grid that gives me pause:
12d [Sci-fi film staples] for ALIENS is all well and good, but that’s also the name of an action-horror movie sequel (1986). And then, symmetrically opposite is 46d [“Jurassic Park” enemy] RAPTOR; Jurassic Park (1993) might be considered to an adventure-horror film as well, but more critically RAPTOR is the name of a 2001 (direct-to-video) horror film. These might be considered bonuses or Easter eggs, but to me they seem like half-theme answers and as such are a major distraction. And speaking of Jurassic Park, there’s another gratuitous half-invocation via the clue for 35d HERBIVORE, [Stegosaurus, for one].
- 23d [Montreal NHLer, to fans] HAB (from Les Habitantes), 56a [Colorado NHL club, to fans] AVS (for Avalanche).
- 28a [“We need to chat”] A WORD. Great way to clue this.
- 42a [King played by Glenda Jackson] LEAR. Nice inclusive clue.
- 49a [Long-time Delaware senator] BIDEN. I guess he wasn’t president-elect at the time of this puzzle’s approval or editing. Maybe not even the party nominee? What about former vice president? Dunno, I guess I can see how at a certain juncture the safest way to have clued this is as his longest, most stable position.
- 65a [Movie segment] SCENE. Again, I would have preferred a non-cinematic framing of this, to avoid theme intrusion.