Jeremy R. Capp’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “’Are Too!’”—Jim P’s review
The revealer at 58a is A LITTLE R ‘N R [Quaint vacay, and a hint to five long answers in this puzzle]. Each of those answers is a two-word phrase where each word starts with R.
- 16a. [Luxury SUV from England] RANGE ROVER
- 28a. [“The Princess Bride” director] ROB REINER
- 44a. [Wear out] RUN RAGGED
- 10d. [Tournament style] ROUND ROBIN
- 27d. [Pan’s opposite] RAVE REVIEW
I’m not sure how in-the-language that revealer is, but it’s certainly something I’ve heard before. However, I think I’m partial to “R and R” with the spelled out “and.”
As for the entries, they’re solid enough. But there are some extraneous Rs, and with the title being what it is (a homophone of “R Two”), there really should only be two Rs per entry. With R being such a common letter, I bet other choices could’ve been found.
This is a rather unusual construction—a sort of modified pinwheel—with six total long theme entries and two pairs crossing. That probably resulted in some difficulties during construction, but on the whole the grid is fairly clean. The long non-theme entries aren’t exactly super sparkly, but they’re solid and they work. I do like SERGEI Rachmaninoff, BIG MAN, and ROSARY.
I got stuck with GST [Prime meridian standard: Abbr.], which I wanted to be GMT. If you want to balk that the S in GST is “standard” and is a dupe of the clue, I’m right there with you, but the initialism could also be Greenwich Sidereal Time which…is something similar but different. (I leave that as an exercise for the reader to discern.)
Clues of note:
- 41a. [Address for the queen]. MA’AM. But I like the British pronunciation of this word which makes it sound closer to our “Mom.”
- 29d. [Corrupt leader, informally]. BIG MAN. I like the entry but I’m not sure about the clue. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase in that context.
I picked some nits above, but this is solid work in what must have been a challenging grid to fill. And since it looks like this is a debut (congrats!), I’d rather focus on the positives. 3.6 stars.
Alan Massengill & Andrea Carla Michaels’s New York Times crossword—Jim P’s review
Jim P here sitting in for Jenni while she’s enjoying her holiday.
Our theme is synonyms of “summit,” and appropriately, each of those synonyms is at the top of the grid with the phrases running Down. Further, each theme phrase is a 15-letter grid-spanner.
- 3d [Wile E. Coyote’s supplier] ACME CORPORATION. I probably would’ve solved in under four minutes if I hadn’t put HARPS instead of CARPS at 24a [Quibbles]. As it was, I had trouble seeing what ACMEHORP_ was going to be. Oh, and don’t think I didn’t notice that Andrea Carla Michaels snuck in her sometimes nom de plume of ACME here. Cheeky!
- 5d [Athlete’s goal in competition] PEAK PERFORMANCE.
- 9d [Absolute chicness] HEIGHT OF FASHION. This was the first themer I got and with just a few crossings. I loved it!
- 11d [Quaint greeting] TOP OF THE MORNING. As fun as the previous one, though I have to say I’m accustomed to seeing this phrase sans F.
This was a lot of fun and I’m super impressed at the amount of theme material here but with nary a cruddy answer in the fill.
Likes: BIG SHOTS, everyone’s favorite game show host Alex TREBEK, an enthusiastic “I DO! I DO!,” and a defiant “OR WHAT?!” In the harder-for-Monday camp, there’s O-NEG, the needing-to-be-retired ARTOO, and MBE.
- 51a [___ Castellaneta, voice of Homer Simpson]. DAN. I love to see voice actors get some recognition.
- 63d [Onetime Venetian V.I.P.]. DOGE. We also would have accepted [Popular meme critter].
- 66d [U.K. medal accepted and then returned by John Lennon, in brief]. MBE. I didn’t know this story. Lennon accepted the award with the rest of the boys in 1965. Four years later he returned his to the Queen as a protest to Britain’s involvement in Vietnam and the Nigerian Civil War.
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Not gonna lie, when I see this byline on Saturday in the NYT, my first thought is, “I’m in for some grid theatrics but the solve isn’t going to be terribly fun.” And indeed there’s a bit of check-out-how-much-theme-there-is in this grid — five theme entries totaling 58 letters — but the fill isn’t bad! (We’re gonna have a talk about one of those theme entries, though…)
If this puzzle took you a smidge longer than usual, fret not: It’s a column wider than usual, at 16×15.
There’s no revealer, and one isn’t needed because this theme explains itself, with each entry ending with a day of the work week:
- 17A [It follows Thanksgiving weekend] is CYBER MONDAY. Do people actually shop online more that day than on the other days just after Thanksgiving? I’m asking. I wouldn’t know because I’m usually one of the people who has all of her holiday shopping done before Black Friday, so that I can spend all of December gloating over NOT having to shop in December.
- 24A [Time of the week for Mexican food] is TACO TUESDAY. Hard disagree. Any time of the week is good for Mexican food. Reminds me how long it’s been since I’ve made it to the delightful Tacos Matamoros for some tacos de cabeza.
- 34A [Seuss book about a weekly period with strange events, like an earthworm chasing a bird] Boy, is that a long-winded clue for WACKY WEDNESDAY. I have a feeling if this puzzle had run on a Wednesday instead of a Monday, the clue could have had a bit less to it.
- 50A [Pre-Lent feast] is FAT THURSDAY. This is the one I want to talk about. Dr. Google says FAT THURSDAY is a thing in some European countries, but we Yanks are far more accustomed to FAT TUESDAY, aka Mardi Gras. It was obviously chosen because the constructor couldn’t get to an 11-letter pattern any other way, but I think it’s a pretty mean trick for a Monday to have a lesser-known entry like this. Especially with such a brief clue.
- 57A [Time for Hawaiians to be laid-back at work] is ALOHA FRIDAY. Dr. Google says this is the origins of casual Friday on the mainland.
Caitlin Reid & Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
The New Yorker’s holiday year-in-review crossword bonanza is ongoing, and today we got *two* puzzles, including a 21x that will actually run in print. I’m only one human, so I’m going to write up the puzzle that will be in the magazine, since presumably more people will be solving that one, but I am willing to bet that Kameron Austin Collins’ “2020 in Movies” puzzle will also be excellent.
Ok, so this behemoth of a 21x has left-right (aka “mirror”) symmetry, which is unusual and exciting. The title of the puzzle is the revealer of the theme, although it’s not exactly hiding: the title is Century 21, and each of the theme entries is an event that happened in the year 21 of the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries:
- DIET OF WORMS [1521: Martin Luther responds to charges of heresy before the ___, accelerating the Protestant Reformation]
- FIRST THANKSGIVING [1621: Plymouth colonists celebrate the ___ with the Wampanoag (though it wouldn’t be called that until the eighteen-forties)]
- JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH [1721: ___ presents his Brandenburg Concertos, a partial recording of which would one day be launched into space on the Voyager Golden Record]
- SATURDAY EVENING POST [1821: The ___ publishes its first issue (covers by Norman Rockwell would come about a century later)]
- HARLEM RENAISSANCE [1921: The Broadway première of the musical “Shuffle Along,” which Langston Hughes called “a honey of a show,” helps catalyze the ___]
- THE NEW YORKER CROSSWORD [2021: Congratulations! Today, you are making history by conquering ___ (or so we hope!)]
This is an ambitious concept, with six fairly long theme entries including one that is a grid-spanning 21 letters, but the theme doesn’t totally work for me. For one thing, only two of these entries are actual *events*. One is a person, one is an era, and two are magazine publications (??). The clues turn them into events, and provide some interesting trivia (I had no idea about the Brandenburg Concertos going to space!), but I found myself wishing the entries themselves had more in common with one another. Regardless, I am certain it was a challenge to find themers of lengths that could work with this grid design, so I’m still fully impressed. I also lol’d at the self-referential THE NEW YORKER CROSSWORD at the end, and I hope this is a hint that THE NEW YORKER CROSSWORD is planning on making history in 2021 by (a) going daily. (b) running in print in the weekly magazine, or (c) both.
The most remarkable thing about the puzzle, in my view, is the crisp and clean fill. It’s *extremely* difficult to cleanly fill a 21×21 puzzle, but nothing in this puzzle jumped out at me as Fill I Could Live Without. There are a few things that I bet Caitlin and Robyn would have preferred to avoid (YOO, REN, ALPO), but I think this may be the smoothest 21×21 I have ever solved. It was also clued to a New Yorker Friday level (lightly challenging, aka very easy), likely so New Yorker subscribers who aren’t regular solvers will find it accessible. I beat my NYT Sunday personal best by over 90 seconds, if that’s any indication of just how accessible this puzzle was! It was smooth and enjoyable and an excellent way to wrap up 2020/kick off 2021.
A few more things:
- The romanticization of THE FIRST THANKSGIVING tends to overlook its genocidal context!
- Did not know that KFC is a Christmas tradition in Japan. That is a fun piece of trivia! I wonder how that started
- Favorite clues:
- [Went “nom nom nom”] for ATE (I lol’d)
- [Beat the buzzer?] for SWAT
- [Gray kid-lit character who’s typically blue?] for EEYORE
Overall, tons of stars from me. This puzzle is exactly what I needed for this weird in-between time of the week between Christmas and New Years. Cheers to THE NEW YORKER CROSSWORD!
Alan Massengill’s Universal crossword, “Closed-Minded” — pannonica’s write-up
Today’s theme is rather self-evident. They all have the same clue, [Thing to open with caution]
- 20a. PHISHING EMAIL
- 28a. PANDORA’S BOX
- 47a. A CAN OF WORMS
- 54a. EMERGENCY EXIT
These are all good answers, and don’t feel forced. A nice set of symmetrical themers. The only quibble I have—and it’s minor—is that the last one feels as if it would better be EMERGENCY EXIT DOOR.
The solve was super-smooth and easy. Was on autopilot the whole time. Mondays, eh? Example: instead of the vaguer [Farm sound] the clue for 62d MOO is [Dairy farm sound]. This puzzle really holds your hand.
- 17a [Five-star reviews] RAVES, 8d [Give five stars, say] RATE. Are we fishing for compliments?
- 19d [Tools for cleaning floors] MOPS.
And as long as I’m going down this path …
- 68a [“Bouncing” babies] BOYS. I hadn’t realized this was gender specific, but Ngrams indeed supports the assertion. So does that mean this is an alternative method for obstetricians to assess newborns? The bounce test?
And finally, in the interest of not being close-minded myself, I’ll make this a shut-and-open case: 55d [Stare openmouthed] GAPE.