Friday, February 5, 2021

LAT tk (pannnonica) 


NYT 4:25 (Amy) 


The New Yorker 4:02 (Rachel) 


Universal 5:57 (Jim P) 


Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 5 21, no. 0205

Are you like me, kids? Do your eyes light up when you see Erik’s byline, especially on a themeless puzzle? We’re in luck!

Erik strives to make his puzzles inclusive and representative, and he succeeds wildly. RAZOR gets clued as [Product from Bevel or Oui the People], which are companies serving the skin care needs of diverse populations. The Reconstruction ERA was, horrifyingly, counteracted with things like the Wilmington massacre targeting Black elected officials and a newspaper owner. Poet RITA Dove is Black. REPARATIONS are long-needed. DE LA Soul is old-school hip (cute video, below, from 1989). Mary LOU Williams was a jazz pianist; you can listen to her Greatest Hits here (I am 23 minutes into it and I’m digging it). There’s the [Online magazine co-founded by Henry Louis Gates Jr.], THE ROOT—I love The Root! They’ve got some brilliant writers. For example, here’s a new piece from Michael Harriot (who’s also a great storyteller on Twitter) about Charlie Case, the Black man who (SPOILERS alert) pioneered stand-up comedy in the vaudeville era. James EARL Jones, The Talk host EVE, and SOLO ACT Beyoncé are here. Islam gets FATIMA and Ramadan FASTS. PROF gets a Spelman College clue, referencing the HBCU (historically Black college/university). Sherpas get a shout-out for NEPAL. PLUMES are a distinctive feature of Marcus Garvey’s helmet. Kenya exports lots of TEA, and the TAO Te Ching is Asian. I liked seeing every one of these people, places, and things in the puzzle.

Five more things:

  • It wouldn’t be an Agard themeless without clever clues. 13a. [Pop up a lot, perhaps?] clues NEW DAD, a pop who is up a lot at weird hours with the baby, but the clue sure sounds like it’s got a verb phrase in “pop up a lot.”
  • 29a. [What you’re in when you’re in the zone], FLOW STATE. Pretty sure Erik is in a flow state whenever he’s competing in a crossword tournament, like last weekend’s Boswords Winter Wondersolve (where Erik did amazingly, again).
  • 3d. [A fine way to discourage foul language?], SWEAR JAR. Great answer, great clue. The swear jar enacts a small monetary fine. I personally do not believe in the swear jar because I find swearing useful.
  • 9d. [Underground rap?], SECRET KNOCK. Another great clue that tempts your mind in the wrong direction.
  • 31d. [Language in which you might be greeted “Hullo, hoo are ye?”], SCOTS. Is it bad that I needed plenty of crossings here?

Fill I liked, in addition to everything mentioned above: SHELL OUT money, COVER LETTER, “I’M ALL EARS,” and ROAD TEST. Good stuff. This is a 66-worder (tougher to fill than a 72-worder) and there is no iffy fill. Like, none at all. An impressive grid.

4.5 stars from me. Keep ’em coming, Erik!

Caitlin Reid’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

The New Yorker crossword solution • Caitlin Reid • Friday, February 5, 2021

Fridays are just the best days. Themeless puzzles are the best puzzles.* Caitlin Reid is one of the best themeless puzzle-makers in the game, and this is one of the best themeless puzzles I’ve done all week (along with today’s NYT by @E_A_RLY, which was also gorgeous). HAPPY THEMELESS FRIDAY, FOLKS!

Part of what makes this puzzle feel so fun is that it’s just. so. smooth. Every bit of fill is splendid and fits perfectly into the ~mood~ of the grid. What does that even mean? I’m not sure, but it feels right! The long entries are fun, although I tried to get cute and throw in the spanner without any crosses, putting in I MUST BE DREAMING (also 15) instead of AM I SEEING THINGS  (the correct 15). [Note to other constructors, I will be using that seed immediately, plz don’t scoop me]. I also love SKIP TOWN, HEAR HEAR, ARE WE DONE, ALLIGATOR, HOLE-IN-ONE, and PINOT NOIR (which always makes me think of the Tituss Burgess song from Kimmy Schmidt).

A few more things:

  • Favorite clues:
    • [“A lively comedy about a guy who isn’t,” for “Weekend at Bernie’s”] for TAGLINE
    • [[Who cares?]] for SHRUG (not *quite* as good as  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  but I still loved it)
  • MIRO has popped up a few times in the past week. Baader-Meinhof?
  • I enjoyed the repeated clue [Dot(s) on a map] for ISLE/CITIES

Tons of stars from me, happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

*I don’t actually mean that, I think, I’m just on a themeless high right now. All puzzle-types are good and valid and beautiful in their own way.

Gary Larson’s Universal crossword, “Grist for the Mill”—Jim P’s review

GRAIN ELEVATOR (19d. [Farmer’s storage facility, and a hint to the starred answers’ backward hidden words]) is the revealer, indicating that the circled words in the other theme answers are grains going in the Up direction.

Universal crossword solution · “Grist for the Mill” · Gary Larson · Fri., 2.5.21

  • 4d. [*Greek morsel with a meaty texture] KALAMATA OLIVE. Oat.
  • 14d. [*Tour for a speaker] LECTURE CIRCUIT. Rice.
  • 8d. [*Longtime cover artist for The Saturday Evening Post] NORMAN ROCKWELL. Corn.

Nice.  All of the chosen theme answers are well-known and in-the-language, and the keywords span both words in each entry. Simple but effective.

There isn’t much in the long non-theme department aside from “I PRESUME” and FOREGONE. There is some crosswordese as usual (LAO TSE, ET AL, OP CIT). On the whole, the fill is pretty much straight over the plate.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [You may feed them bread crumbs]. DUCKS. But only in moderation, please.
  • 25d. [Third baseman Longoria]. EVAN. Wait, there’s an EVAN Longoria and an Eva Longoria? There’s gotta be a theme there somewhere.

Solid theme. Everything else is fairly standard fare. 3.5 stars.

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50 Responses to Friday, February 5, 2021

  1. Evad says:

    What a treasure Erik is to the crossword community! If we could canonize anyone, he’d be at the top of my list. (There’d be no lack of miracles attributed to him.)

  2. Seahedges says:

    Where’s today’s Universal discussion bt Jim P ? I don’t find it here.

  3. Steve Manion says:

    Great puzzle.

    I am very familiar with in the zone, but I did not know it is called FLOW STATE. If I ever get hot again playing sports, I will use it.

  4. Pamela Kelly says:

    Why would ANYONE give Erik’s puzzle a 1 rating? It makes no sense! To my my mind it is a solid 5 star puzzle. I am very curious what criteria those 6 people used to come up with 1 star. Would they care to share?

    • David M says:

      Where do you find the distribution of ratings? I would be curious since I sometimes find myself with a outlier position. I am not one of the people who gave it a 1. Both my wife and I agree that Erik is a very creative author. For us, he impresses us both often for his fresh thinking on clues and his creativity in bringing together ideas so well. But he is challenging and perhaps some newbies found them too difficult.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        If you hover your cursor over the yellow stars, the rating distribution pops up. Works in a computer browser, not sure how one would hover with a mobile touchscreen.

        • Phil says:

          I never knew this! Long press on the stars works on Android.

        • Bryan says:

          Learn something new every day. I wondered the same thing. A long press on my iPhone/iPad works to see the distribution. But see my reply to Evan Birnholz below. In my humble opinion, I’m in favor of removing the star ratings.

    • David M says:

      So cool. I just must hover not as much as I thought.

    • Samuel says:

      I only ever give one or five stars. Five if I liked it, one if I didn’t. This was a five, but if I’d gotten stuck somewhere it could have been a one.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        How odd! I consider the ratings to stack up like so:

        5 stars: Wow, amazing puzzle! Ambitious and executed perfectly, one that will be remembered in the future.
        4.5 stars: Excellent puzzle, but a bit shy of the “people will talk about this one two years from now” caliber of a 5-star puzzle.
        4 stars: Very good puzzle, enjoyable, crisp fill with very little junk.
        3.5 stars: Pretty good, but there are some things I’m not wild about.
        3 stars: The puzzle is technically okay, but it didn’t wow me at all. It’s not a *bad* puzzle, but it’s not great, either.
        2.5 stars: Lackluster.
        2 stars: Not sure why this puzzle was accepted, as the whole concept is just not worth all the trade-offs. An unpleasant puzzle to solve.
        1.5 or 1 star: I have seldom ever ventured here, because crosswords that are this truly terrible are rarely published. Maybe if the content is objectionable/offensive?

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Maybe you should use 4 for “liked it” and 2 for “didn’t like it” rather than 5 and 1? Each 1 really pulls down the average rating, and constructors often take 1-star assessments as a personal criticism.

        • I mostly laugh off 1-star ratings, but what bothers me the most about the ratings system is that there are solvers who use it to determine which puzzles they should solve. I keep coming back to this comment from February 2019 where a solver admitted that he wouldn’t solve a puzzle unless it got an average rating of 4 stars, even while he believed they’re not the most useful metric. He’s surely not the only person who does this. It’s sad that a handful of cranks who dole out 1-star ratings (and almost never say how they think the puzzle might have been improved) might dissuade him and others from becoming regular solvers of a puzzle they might enjoy.

          And though I appreciate Samuel’s honesty about how he rates puzzles …. getting stuck merits a 1-star rating? That just baffles me. I understand being frustrated when you’re stuck, but tougher puzzles are supposed to trip solvers up! And that by itself shouldn’t say anything about the puzzle’s quality.

          So, I ask this question honestly: What would be the downside of removing the ratings system altogether?

          (This isn’t a statement against any of the Fiend bloggers, who I think do a great job of giving a fair review of the puzzles they solve. But I think it’s worth asking what is the benefit of the ratings system.)

          • Bryan says:

            I second the motion to do away with the stars for the same reasons you put forth.

          • Bruce Haight says:

            Hey Evan,
            How about if the ratings system ignored the top 10% and bottom 10% of the ratings. That would throw out most of the biased ratings.

            • Hi Bruce,

              However much that would do, there would still be other forms of bias that wouldn’t be addressed. As one example, I recall one solver admitting on here that he never rates any Monday puzzle higher than 3 stars because he’s seen them all before, they’re just not tricky enough, etc., as though a crossword with a simple theme is somehow inherently less worthy of respect than a puzzle with a difficult, mind-bending trick.

              Most importantly, the fundamental problems with the ratings would still be problems. It’s feedback without any useful information — a way for people to register displeasure about a puzzle but without offering any constructive criticisms. If you were a newer solver looking to solve some other puzzles (or if you weren’t a speed-solver and didn’t have a ton of time during the day to solve multiple ones), and you visit Fiend, you could be very easily tempted to look at the star ratings and think, huh, that puzzle looks like it could be good, that other one isn’t, etc., and make your choices based solely on that. That’s a person who might otherwise enjoy puzzles they haven’t done before, but won’t, because they’ve put their trust in an unreliable, flawed metric. The ratings system that encourages that.

              I can understand from a statistical standpoint why one would want to find ways to control for bias, but I’m not particularly interested in trying to improve the ratings system. I’d rather that it stopped existing.

    • R says:

      This certainly isn’t me, but there are those who have the exact opposite reaction to Amy’s and others to this kind of representation. I’m a little surprised that we haven’t heard from them yet (they’re not usually shy), but the Fiend team also may be doing some welcome moderating.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        I haven’t removed any comments on the puzzle, but yes, I’m fully prepared to remove material that derides “wokeness” and doesn’t discuss crossword issues.

    • Billy Boy says:

      Personally being cut down by one solver (Jenni) on this board for saying “Not all cops are bad” (Are we in agreement that some “not ACAB coppers” showed up at the Capitol in early January?) and being told that what I’ve experienced is meaningless and that she didn’t want to hear it, telling me I could basically go elsewhere, I have persevered and still given donations to this board.

      Personally – I find honouring REPARATIONS at the centre of this puzzle, something for discussion. I think most who hold far left views on some topics, just as those on the far right knee jerk to a mantra, are not thinking past step one.

      Armchair opinions are not what I hold.

      I am former surgeon who is an old white guy to most of you, I never sent poor people of any colour to collections, I made a deal with one of my hospitals to give free care if they helped me I worked in residency for the Original Democratic Chicago Daley machine to certify for absentee ballot legitimacy (by going into south side Chicago destitute black homes) to certify medical conditions to allow these people TO VOTE confidently.

      I gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars of care for free once I was a big boy doctor. I moved from the NE to the south in the late 50’s and saw Jim Crow in person. I went to all black High Schools to play basketball, seeing my “redneck” teammates shivering down in their seats on the bus as we went to play in all black gymnasiums.

      I practiced in SF during the timeframe of HBO’s “And the Band Played On” I am a male with some sensitivity. Probably how as I was as a child would be considered “On the Spectrum” today, but in another city I was someone my Gay OR nurses could come to when they had to talk to someone.

      Let’s all turn down the sanctimony and Amy – Kick me to the kerb if you want.

      If some folks didn’t want to get thrashed for complaining about broad-brushing and virtue signalling, I cannot criticise them.

      Cheers, all.

  5. pannonica says:

    Universal: More on not feeding bread to ducks, via National Geographic‘s education blog.

    • David L says:

      I note that they recommend feeding kale to ducks. I’m glad to learn there’s some use for that appalling stuff.

  6. Leah says:

    NYT: Loved the puzzle in general. Erik’s puzzles always strike me as current and relevant, plus I learn things (Marcus Garvey’s helmet! so snazzy!).

    My only stuck point: can anyone explain TAG TEAM as an answer to “Pair of rings?”? I can’t seem to parse it.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      In professional wrestling, a tag team is a pair that competes together in the wrestling ring. I am no expert, but I think generally just one member of the pair is fighting an opponent, but they can tag out and have their partner replace them (as can the opposing wrestler). And I think I’ve seen clips where all four members of the two tag teams are in the ring at the same time, hitting one another with chairs and such.

    • pannonica says:

      A pair of (=associated with) rings (where wrestling may be done).

    • Phil says:

      I assume this is re professional wrestling. A tag team is two wrestlers on a team in the ring. So they are a pair in the milieu of rings.

  7. Robert Alden says:

    Grading crosswords based on their level of wokeness…smh.

  8. fiend lover says:

    I prefer puzzles to be fun, not dry activist treatises that promote a political ideology. The latter is closer to propaganda than anything approaching “art.” And that this particular ideology is treated as beyond reproach or criticism makes it even worse. Like the commenter above who literally makes a case for sainthood of the constructor, this particular ideology is best understood as a cult religion. One star, only because zero stars isn’t an option.

    • Kameron says:

      Do you have anything to say about the actual puzzle, which is by and large composed of tricky wordplay and fun, familiar phrases (NEW DAD, IT’S ON, SWEAR JAR) — in sum, the qualities that otherwise apolitical solvers claim to love about puzzles? Or was your sole mission here to take an ideological stand about how much you dislike ideology? If the entries here that are drawn from everyday life, like RAZOR (which, in a themeless puzzle, is fair game for harder cluing precisely because the word is so familiar) had been given a fresh but not specifically Black clue, would you be whining so about ideology, or praising the puzzle for finding a fresh approach to the clue?

      Further: Does complaining about an abundance of Black culture in a week themed to Black History Month seem like a worthwhile use of your energy? Do themed weeks, broadly speaking, bother you? Is it the Black History Month element, specifically, that bothers you? Is the latter what makes an otherwise fair-game and not-new concept (a week of puzzles threaded together by a theme) what offends you? Be honest with yourself, at least, if not with us.

      Next: No one is unimpeachable or beyond reproach. But I do believe that your remarks about Erik’s sainthood are grounded in a willful misreading of the above comment. It’s a statement, not about this puzzle alone, but about his efforts behind the scenes to encourage diverse constructors of all backgrounds to give this wild activity of ours a try. These efforts are well-documented — they have been celebrated, repeatedly, on this very blog. A self-described Fiend Lover has surely noticed this.

      Finally: It is worth pointing out that, though I find the relationship between crosswords and “art” you’re making here a little specious, there is such a thing as political art — much of Bob Dylan’s catalog, for example, and also Springsteen’s, or for that matter most every famous movie about Vietnam (read: it’s not just a Black thing; it’s not just esoterica; I am specifically using examples that you cannot argue your way out of) — and your effort to pretend otherwise is a violation of common sense.

      • fiend lover says:

        Good lord, stop taking yourself too seriously. It’s a damn crossword puzzle. This insistence that every little thing needs to be a platform for progressive activism is so self-righteous and sanctimonious. I just want to kill a few minutes on the subway, not become indoctrinated to an ideology. And the comparison to music, a legitimate art, to a crossword puzzle, which is printed on the same page as personal ads and wedding notices in my paper, is simply laughable.

        • Back in 2018, Will Shortz was interviewed on “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” about crosswords and he referred to himself as “an arbiter of what is significant.” The implication of that self-description, whether he intended it or not, is that people and cultural interests that get rejected or edited out of the puzzle should not be considered significant for its readers. And historically, many of the words and phrases that you do find in the NYT crossword have heavily centered the interests of older, white men. That doesn’t happen by accident. It’s an editorial choice.

          You want to solve a puzzle on the subway without thinking further about it. Okay, fine. But there are tons of solvers out there who feel joy when they see a musician or a writer or a song or a book that they really like referenced in the puzzle; that joy is real. It may be especially meaningful for non-white solvers who don’t always see their own interests reflected in puzzles. And if the thought of a crossword highlighting cultures that are different from your own makes you feel threatened — to the point of complaining about it on a blog that defends and advocates for inclusivity as part of its mission — you might really want to spend some time and reflect on why you think it’s a problem.

          By the way, you can take it from someone who’s performed music in some way for most of his life and is part of a small handful of people who write puzzles for a living: I consider crosswords to be an art form. It’s just working with a different canvas than what a musician uses.

        • Bryan says:

          I take issue with the notion that crossword constructing isn’t an art. I take issue with other parts of your comment, too, but I’ll leave it at that.

          Kameron: I saw your comment at the start of this week that said: “This is going to be a fun week.” Yeah… “fun.”

        • Side note: I’m really hoping Amy doesn’t delete the original “fiend lover” comment, if only because I don’t want to lose Kameron’s excellent response to the ether.

        • Kameron says:

          To be clear: You guys think the mere inclusion of non-white things is “progressive activism”? Just — literally just — putting Black names in a puzzle is indoctrinating you? Into … what? What oath is being taken here? Why are you so bothered by a constructor’s choice to pull from other, equally valid, realms of culture? I get that maybe it makes the puzzle harder for you. So does wordplay. So does anything else you don’t know. But this particular gesture is a sticking point. Why? (I’m not actually asking you; I’m asking you to ask this of yourself.) (I also think it’s a bit odd to accuse someone of being sanctimonious when you’re responding to a crossword as if you’re being Baptized against your will.)

          I don’t care whether making crosswords is an art or not, Fiend Lover. I was responding to: “The latter is closer to propaganda than anything approaching “art.”” (A distinction between art and propaganda that remains baseless.) I in fact said that I don’t think of crosswords as an art (sorry Evan! <3) so we agree there — I'm just pointing out how wrong you are about art and politics being completely independent of each other.

          Bryan: It *has* been a fun week. The puzzles have been great, and the corny attitudes they've inspired have not diminished that. I look forward to your one-star an hour from now.

          • fiend lover says:

            It surprises me very little that you’re making this all about race. I never said anything about race in my comments, but of course anyone who dares see the world differently than you is automatically a racist or a white supremacist or some other overused cudgel that the race-obsessed progressives use to silence anyone not in lock-step with their totalitarian agenda. Maybe I’m just looking too much into the puzzle, but I’m also not the one who views a crossword puzzle as a valid mode of
            political activism.

            • Ch says:

              It’s refreshing to see someone kick against the goads. It won’t change anyone’s mind here, but kudos for speaking up. More than one opinion should be heard on most things in general. But it’s not usually welcome on this blog.

            • Amy Reynaldo says:

              @Ch: Here’s the thing. This blog’s stance is to be welcoming to Black, Latino/a, Asian, and Indigenous people, along with folks in the LGBTQIA family, the disability community, and feminists. When other “opinions” serve to ostracize and alienate people in the groups I mentioned, then no, those opinions are not welcome here in my online home. There are enough racists, homophobes, sexists, ableists, and transphobes in the rest of the world. Can we not have a crossword blog where they’re asked to keep their bigotries to themselves?

          • Bryan says:

            Just to be clear (because my comment wasn’t worded clearly): I was taking issue with Fiend Lover’s comments. Kameron: I 100% love and support your comments. I put “fun” in quotes ironically, meaning that I knew this week would kick up a lot of dust. That’s a good thing, in my opinion.

            • Bryan says:

              I gave today’s (Friday’s Erik Agard) puzzle 5 stars. I should have made it more clear above that I was criticizing Fiend Lover’s comments.

        • Rachel Fabi says:

          Why are you like this? You are on a website that exists solely to talk about crossword puzzles. How are you surprised when we take them seriously?? Erik’s puzzle WAS fun, this whole week has been fun, and you are boring.

    • M.Gritz says:

      hi! I won’t be nearly as eloquent as others who have written before me, but I can’t for a minute believe your problem today is that Erik’s puzzle is a “dry activist [treatise] that promote[s] a political ideology”

      Sure seems to me that you’re upset that there was a lot of stuff in the puzzle that you don’t like, and you think you’ve been personally harmed by that.

      If that’s not what you’re feeling, it’s what you’re giving off, and it’s a hot load of garbage.

      I loved today’s puzzle. I’m glad the New York Times honored black history month in the crossword this week. I’m grateful for Erik’s (and others’) leadership to work to make crosswords more accurately reflect what’s in the world.

  9. milo says:

    Loving this week of puzzles! Great stuff from Erik as always. Can anyone confirm that Soleil on Monday was the first Black woman solo constructor for the NYT daily? Can’t find info on this on XWordInfo.

  10. Joan Macon says:

    Where is the LAT? I hope pannonica isn’t sick with this awful virus!

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