Milo Beckman’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
So often I feel cheated out of a themeless puzzle when the Friday or Saturday puzzle sneaks some thematic material into the mix, but I really enjoyed this. And that’s even with the .puz file insisting that the numerals in my grid were wrong! Screw the file format wanting me to, I dunno, spell out the words so that two-zero-two-one can look dumb. So the middle four squares contain the numbers 2 0 2 1, and the Down crossings work with the numbers:
- 37a. [A fifth], 20 PERCENT.
- 39a. [Fast-fashion retailer], FOREVER 21.
- 19d. [Inescapable bind], CATCH-22.
- 38d. [First graduates of the new millennium, informally], ’01 ALUMS.
It’s executed well, and the rest of the puzzle has a proper themeless vibe (even though the word count is 80 rather than ≤72. Fave fill: PSYCHOACTIVE mushrooms served with HOT SAUCE, DR. EVIL, “UP TO YOU,” APP STORE, “SO LAST YEAR” about to sound like a huge insult, A PLUS AVERAGE, FERGUSON Missouri, SPICED UP, QUEER EYE, and UNPERSON.
- 28a. [Did a hook spin or knee swing], POLE-DANCED. I appreciate the technique angle for the clue.
- 33a. [Backdrop for the Compromise of 1850], GOLD RUSH. I confess to complete unfamiliarity with the Compromise of 1850. Too busy working on the Compromise of Late 2020, trying to choose a movie to watch with the family.
- 29d. [Without borders], EDGELESS. Hmm. Use this in a sentence, please. Extra credit if you make me laugh.
Four stars from me. Happy New Year, everyone! Wishing us all a smooth, healthy, happy 2021.
Sophia Maymudes and Kyra Wilson’s Inkubator crossword, “Interspecies Bonding”—Jenni’s review
Shoutout to the awesome Team Fiend members who gave me a break from blogging while I dug out of some work stuff. I’m back, it’s a new year, I have ten days of vacation, and this is a terrific puzzle! Let’s start with 69a: [With 47-Down, popular Nintendo game, or a hint to three locations in this puzzle]. The answer is ANIMAL/CROSSING. Before I got to the revealer, I inferred from the title that the theme was “animal names that bond two words together.” I’d found three Across themers and thought I had it. CROSSING and [location] made me go back and look again. Aha!
- 21a [Attempt to accomplish something] is HAVE A GO AT IT, crossing 9d [“Get a move on!”], VAMOOSE. I missed the moose on my first pass. See video below.
- 28a [“In some measure…”] is TO A DEGREE. 3d [Rental alternatives] is CAR SHARES.
- 61a [“Let’s take to the skies!”] is UP UP AND AWAY. 49d [She won the 2019 Grammy for Best R&B Song with “Boo’d Up”] is ELLA MAI. A two-L llama….
This is brilliant. All the theme answers are solid, the concept is original, and it’s well-executed. Brava! From now on, I’ll be excited when I see these young constructors pop up in the bylines of my puzzles. Can’t wait for more!
A few other things:
- 6a [“You’re grounded, give me the remote!”] is NO TV. Forcing your kid to stay home and taking away the TV at the same time is really a way of punishing yourself. The idea made me shudder.
- I thought VAMOOSE was a great entry even before I realized it was a themer.
- Love seeing Warren BEATTY clued as [Husband of Bening]. It’s about time we started identifying men by their wives. It’s happened to women forever.
- I also enjoyed DOROTHY PARKER crossing Helen MIRREN. For some reason I think they would have gotten along well.
- If you haven’t tried Google Ngrams, take a look. It’s a lot of fun. For one thing, it tells me that [Gran Gran] is vanishingly rare while mentions of NANA took off in the early 1980s.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that ELLA MAI won a Grammy in 2019, and the J. Lo recorded a song called I‘M REAL. And now for more moose content.
Pam Klawitter’s Universal crossword, “Good Start”—Jim P’s review
Happy New Year! Things can’t get much worse than 2020, so let’s get this year off to a Good Start!
Each theme answer has an added PRO at the start; there are no CONs to be found in this grid. The revealer at 52a is BRING IN THE PROS [What to do when more expertise is required, or a theme hint].
- 20a. [Where to store social media printouts?] PROFILE CABINET
- 25a. [What someone who joins a demonstration overcomes?] PROTEST ANXIETY
- 46a. [Certain royal investment gain?] PROFIT FOR A KING
I’m more accustomed to hearing “bring in the professionals,” but obviously that wasn’t going to fit in the grid. I’m cool with the shortened form.
The theme is wildly wide open, though. There are so many possibilities, and I’m sure I’ve seen this done before (probably more than a couple times). That said, these are fine choices and I don’t have any qualms with any of them. I like PROTEST ANXIETY most of all; that seems like something people felt in 2020 when trying to make their voices heard but still worrying about social distancing.
Beyond the theme, there’s a definite AFRICAN vibe with SPHINX and BANTU. I also liked a TEN FOOT pole, LESLIE Nielsen (surely, you can’t be serious), and WIRED UP.
Clues are straight over the plate, making for a quick solve. Clean fill and an upbeat theme make this one enjoyable. 3.6 stars.
Robin Stears’ Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
Puns employing the names of Greek gods, because why not?
- 17a. [Zeus’ nickname for his relentlessly tenacious wife?] HERA THE DOG (hair of the dog). Perhaps this was the reason for running this puzzle today, after a presumed evening of revelry?
- 26a. [:What else do you expect from the god of the Underworld?”] HADES GONNA HATE (haters gonna hate). Unclear to me why underworld is capitalized here but war isn’t in 50-across.
- 40a. [Allows Persephone’s mother to compete in a marathon?] LETS DEMETER RUN (lets the meter run). ‘Marathon’: iswydt, cute.
- 50a. [How Spanish fighter refer to the Greek god of war?] BUENOS ARES (Buenos Aires). This was the first themer I completed, and my provisional idea was that the base phrase was buenas tardes with the T and D dropped and perhaps a mistake in buenos vs buenas. It’s amazing the convoluted thinking—even encompassing gross errors attributed to others—we can employ. (40d [Macramé basic] KNOT / 42 [Bloopers] ERRORS.)
Two goddesses, two gods, all from the group of 12 Olympians. That’s solid.
Aside from the deity angle, there’s nothing linking the new or old phrases together. But that sort of second-level cohesion is rare to find in crosswords, is probably too much to be expected.
Okay, on to the rest of the fill.
- 2d [We may precede it, but I can’t] ARE.
- 4d [Ceylon gunpowder container] TEA CADDY. Gunpowder tea is a variety in which each leaf has been rolled into a small pellet. More information here.
- 9d [One who has all the luck?] BEGINNER. Was nonplussed by the clue and needed basically all the crossings, but it’s completely obvious in retrospect.
- 11d [Ring out] PEAL. Another possible allusion to the New Year’s thingie.
- 23d [Burrowing rodent] MARMOT. Oh sure that clue narrows it down.
- 29d [T-Rex on a Monopoly board] TOKEN. News to me. I was vaguely aware of the cat. The taxonomist in me insists that the bastardized name should at least be T-rex. I know it’s beyond the pale to insist on T. rex but there should be a little more compromise.
(Of course, there’s nothing stopping one from using whatever token surrogates one likes, if one must play that dreadful game (apologies for the stilted language, watched Topsy-Turvy last night).)
- 54d [Indoor rower, for short] ERG. For ‘ergonomic machine’? 19a [Rowing exercise targets] LATS.
- 10a [Trade jabs] SPAR, 35d [Fighter’s training apparatus] SPEED BAG. (And of course the “fighters” in themer 50-across – quite the belligerent shindig here).
- 36a [Penny-farthing, for one] BIKE. Unlikely that one of those would be used for exercise purposes!
All right, that’s all I’ve got. Good theme, the crossword overall played a little tougher than the average Los Angeles Times Friday, but that is by no means a bad thing.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Happy New Year, everyone! Technically this puzzle is from yesterday, but there isn’t a new one up today, so let’s consider this “2020 in News and Politics” puzzle to be the last hurrah of a bygone year. This will be a short write-up because it’s a holiday and I want to go enjoy it, so:
- MELANIA [“___ and Me,” book sourced in part from surreptitious recordings of conversations with the First Lady (September, 2020)]
- DEFUND THE POLICE [Slogan popularized by Black Lives Matter during the George Floyd uprisings (June, 2020)]
- IOWA [Site of a Democratic caucus dogged by delays and a buggy mobile app developed by Shadow, Inc. (February, 2020)]
- SUPER-SPREADER [___ event (Trump’s Rose Garden ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett, for one) (September, 2020)]
- CHAD [Wolf who is illegally serving as acting head of D.H.S., per a federal-court ruling in November, 2020]
- FED [Creator of dollar-swap lines to multiple central banks, with “the” (March, 2020)]
- FLATTEN THE CURVE [Epidemiological dictum for COVID-19]
- AOC [Rep. who said, “Crime is a symptom of a diseased society that neglects its most marginalized people” (July, 2020)]
- LEE [Oakland Congresswoman Barbara who argued that labor-law-flouting employers like Uber and Lyft “have now joined the ranks of Big Tobacco and Big Polluters” (October, 2020)]
- BIDENS [First Family-elect (November, 2020)]
- BEIRUT [Site of a devastating ammonium-nitrate explosion, leading the entire Lebanese Cabinet to resign (August, 2020)]
- MUTUAL AID [Kind of voluntary-care network popular during the pandemic]
- MPS [Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, in 2020: Abbr.]
- POC [Abbreviation with a variant preceded by “BI” that gained popularity in the summer of 2020]
- FIRES [Disasters that turned the midday sky dark orange in the Bay Area in September, 2020]
- …and other not-explicitly-2020 clue/entry pairs that are nonetheless relevant to the dumpster fire that was 2020
As has been the case all Year-In-Review week, that theme material is *dense*, which tends to constrain the fill of the puzzle, leaving us with some iffy entries. But because the purpose of these puzzles is to pack in as much content as possible, rather than to make a standalone perfect themeless, the fill gets a pass from me. This puzzle manages to pack some of the best and worst moments of 2020 into a 15×15 grid, and I’m deeply impressed that it manages to do so with a set of 15/13/15 marquees. Natan Last, closing out the year with a bang.
Overall, lots of firework-shaped stars from me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a mimosa to get to.
NYT: gros is not really opposite of petit in French. Grand is the first answer that comes to mind but doesn’t fit. Mince (+/- slim) is a better opposite, but probably unknown to even more people
yeah, agreed… GROS could be used as the opposite of Maigre (Fat/Skinny).
Agree with both of you 100
There are advantages to knowing French poorly. I put in GROS without any reservations.
NYT: a first for me, I refused to put POLEDANCED after seeing “dance” in the TWOSTEP clue. The occasional clue-answer dupe has not stumped me before!
NYT: One vote from me for “01 ALUMS” as the most contrived non-theme crossword puzzle entry of all time. It’s a puzzle killer for me; nothing gridworthy can be made from something starting with “01.” This should have been apparent after three minutes of preliminary gridding. Scrap the idea if it takes something so bad as 01 ALUMS is needed to pull off the cheap gimmick. I’m still baffled that this actually passed muster with multiple people.
It’s not the most elegant phrase, but (for today) the concept is cool, and 01 Alums is nowhere near bad enough to scrap it, IMO. I enjoyed the puzzle.
I hesitated between 00 and 01 until getting the theme, but it in no way bothered me. For me, unlike for Amy, a themed Friday is a welcome bonus anyway.
Harder for me was FOREVER 21, where I wavered this time between 20 and 21, not knowing the store. But I see there are three in Manhattan, and I’ve probably passed them many times, so who am I to complain.
I hesitated, too, to get near POLE DANCING (from terms in the clue I didn’t know), because of “dance” in the last clue. But we’ve noted before that Shortz doesn’t mind such overlap, so again shouldn’t be an objection. I can’t believe how long it took me to get EVELINE, but I hate to tell you how many years since I read Joyce’s Dubliners. Maybe I’m forgiving, but once “grand” didn’t fit, I leapt right for GROS without qualms.
My one complaint might be that “Game of Thrones” has become almost a must-have thing for NYT puzzles, along with Harry Potter, the Simpsons, the Star Wars franchise, and sci-fi generally as “literature.” I guess we can add it to Shortz’s leisure habits.
JohnH, thank you so much for your last paragraph, and happy New Year!
It’s not “literature,” it’s pop culture. Carefully unclutch the pearls and memorize the 3 names that occasionally pop up in crosswords from the most popular TV show of the last decade (Ned Stark, Arya Stark, Jon Snow). I didn’t watch the show either, but I’m very glad when modern pop culture is represented in puzzles as opposed to having to pretend to care who Uta Hagen and Myrna Loy were.
You don’t think that “at least it’s not Uta Hagen or Myrna Loy” isn’t setting the bar a little low?
It’s been a long time now, but I can remember when everyone praised the choice of Shortz to succeed Maleska. Now we were going to get clever wordplay and not just quizzes on geography that you could care less whether you passed. How said if it’s become another club, only a more restrictive one.
Speaking of literature, thanks to the puzzles I reread Joyce’s Eviline. Wow.
It’s kinda funny that you think wildly popular and broadly familiar pop culture is somehow “more restrictive” than Maleskan obscurities. Folks who refuse to engage with pop culture aren’t the ones in the mainstream, John. You’re choosing to set yourself outside the mainstream, and then a mainstream crossword puzzle in the mainstream media vexes you and it’s somehow the puzzle’s fault?
The Honourable Rex Parker offered that the original puzzle was submitted with far different clues for today’s NYT than Will his Holiness actually had published.
I for one would like to see them. (Milo?)
I had fun with this puzzle, however I did find a few clues clunky; even more reason to hope to see the original clues someday.
Cheers, Here’s to 2021.
After eliminating the popular SUV, Ford’s model line-up was Edgeless.
Funny how [“Hadn’t thought of it like that”] could’ve been AHA or HMM before I got the crossing G for GEE.
Happy ’21 to all! Hope you all continue to enjoy the site and all the great work Amy and Team Fiend put into it.
Jim P – “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” Ha ha! I was sure someone else would beat me to it.
I loved seeing his name in the Universal. It brought back memories of Police Squad! – one of my all-time favorite TV shows.
That was one of my faves, too! I remember looking forward to each episode even though there were only six of them. That was such a travesty! At least there were the movies, but only the first one was as good as the show. “Hey! It’s Enrico Palazzo!”
SARA LEE and LEE both in the New Yorker? Doesn’t seem legit to me.
Thanks for a great write-up! The LAT Crossword Corner blog pointed out that all my themers are also song lyrics. That wasn’t my intention, but I am flattered that someone thought I was clever enough to design a meta puzzle! :D
I enjoyed the LA Times puzzle, with a fun theme. But wouldn’t a Spanish speaker call Ares “Buen Ares,” not “Buenos Ares”? I’m not fluent in Spanish so I may be off the mark.
I’m old, so I’m not surprised when I miss some of the cultural references in an (excellent) Inkubator puzzle, but 48D confused me: can someone please explain to this dinosaur how a “good song” might SLAP? TIA!
The Friday New Yorker puzzle is at https://www.newyorker.com/puzzles-and-games-dept/crossword/2021/01/01 I’m not sure how long it’s been up but it’s not linked on the usual page.
Scroll back to where they would have posted for December 28 (it’s down the page), and you’ll see it.