Greetings, fans of themeless crosswords! The Boswords crew has another virtual crossword tournament coming up, the Spring Themeless League. There’s a preseason puzzle on Monday, February 22, sort of a dry run for the online solving and the Twitch video stream and livechat. The competition runs the next eight weeks, on Monday evenings from March 1 to April 26. If you’re not free every Monday night, that’s fine—asynchronous solving is fine. I enjoyed the Fall Themeless League, competing in the toughest of three divisions, “Stormy”—and felt that all of the Stormy puzzles were harder than most Saturday NYTs. There are intermediate “Choppy” and easier “Smooth” divisions, too. More info and registration links here.
Amanda Rafkin’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
AWKWARD AGE! What a great crossword entry. That clue, 28d. [13, for many], is maybe a little off. My awkward age was roughly 6 to 17; and you?
Other nifty fill: ALPHA FEMALE, “I CAN’T RESIST,” CEREAL AISLE, DEMIGODDESS, editorial STYLE GUIDES, LACUNA, MANI-PEDI, and MADE BANK.
Let’s check out some clues:
- 37a. [Complete set in musical comedy?], VOWELS. As in mUsIcAl cOmEdY (the sometimes-Y is a vowel here, too).
- 42a. [___ Short, pioneer in West Coast hip-hop], TOO. Don’t know him. 1980s-1990s heyday. I can relate to that stage name, though—see above re: AWKWARD AGE.
- 4d. [Hair pieces], HANKS. Not wigs, just … fistfuls of hair. Tom Hanks is taking the day off.
- 38d. [Go out], EBB. “Hey, I really like you. Will you EBB with me?”
- 40d. [Houston or Washington vis-à-vis Manhattan], STREET. I know of Houston thanks to Soho, but don’t know where Washington St. is anywhere but Chicago.
- 46d. [Buck ___, Major League Baseball’s first Black coach], O’NEIL. Anyone who’s watched the Ken Burns documentary Baseball fondly remembers Buck O’Neil. He’s a great storyteller with a twinkle in his eye. You can hear from him in the video below. Sports history, Black history—these are parts of American history.
- 47d. [Gardner of “S.N.L.”], HEIDI. She’s funny! Here’s one of her “Weekend Update” appearances as her character, teenage film critic Bailey Gismert.
- 53d. [Burnable items], CDS (do … do you still own anything that will burn CDs? I’m pretty sure I haven’t for some years) / 54d. [Burnable item], LOG. Log burning, unlike CD burning, is not largely obsolete.
Overall vibe, straight-up a four-star puzzle. ENROBE and AREA MAP are maybe a bit flat, but I liked the puzzle.
Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
This was a delight! A very, very rapid delight, clocking in around my average Monday NYT speed. I rarely have the kind of solving experience where I tear through a puzzle so quickly that I don’t even see half the clues/entries, but today I did. Which in this case is too bad, because the clues are classic Robyn Weintraub excellence— even the short fill gets new and interesting clues today, so when I went back and reread them to prep for this writeup, I laughed out loud twice and jotted down nearly 10 I wanted to include.
Let’s start with the long stuff, though, which also *all* shines. In the central staircase we have PERFECT TIMING / CHOCOLATE CAKE / CAESAR’S PALACE. This almost tells a story of showing up just in time for a Vegas a birthday party? Which, although I don’t personally like casinos, still sounds like a good time to me! We also have long downs WINDSOR CASTLE / AMERICAN DREAM, which also felt like they were in conversation — the British dream and the AMERICAN DREAM, which, per the excellent clue, is called that […’cause you have to be asleep to believe it”: George Carlin]. Other long entries, all of which I loved, were: STONEWALL / SPEED TRAP / ACTS ALONE / TATER TOTS / LOOK ALIKE / PHEROMONE.
Favorite exciting clues for short fill that usually doesn’t get this much love:
- [It’s near the end of August and at the beginning of September] for ESS – this is probably my favorite of the bunch. It’s trickier than you might expect from a New Yorker Saturday, but once it clicks, you can’t help but *chef’s kiss*
- [Didn’t take a stand?] for SAT – clever!!!
- [Big time?] for EON – this reminds me of a Brooke Husic clue that became the name of this excellent puzzle. Both times I’ve seen it I’ve literally laughed out loud.
- [Where one might see lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)] for ZOO – this is fairly straightforward, I guess, but I love that cheeky (oh my!) at the end.
- [Root vegetable in a bag of Terra chips] for TARO – I have a bag of these in my cupboard. They are delicious, highly recommend.
Other favorite clues:
- [Shaggy?] for CARPETED – I had SHAG__ and got briefly flummoxed, but I love this.
- [Bite-size cylinder-shaped spuds] for TATER TOTS – yes that’s exactly what they are! Why *are* they cylinder-shaped, anyways??
I could keep going, because the clues are just loaded with fun trivia and wordplay, deployed the real artistry that Robyn brings to all of her puzzles, but I will leave it there for now.
Overall, I don’t have a single nit to pick with this charming, easy, beautifully constructed puzzle. All the stars from me, and happy weekend all!
Oh, ps., I want to echo the announcement at the top of the page and urge you to sign up for the Boswords Spring Themeless League! I’m contributing a puzzle, and so are a lot of other incredible constructors, including New Yorker contributor Aimee Lucido. You won’t regret it!
Dylan Schiff’s Universal crossword, “That’s a Plus!”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Places where you’d see a plus sign shape. Each theme answer is clued with the words “place for a +.”
- 17a. NURSE’S CAP. Well, probably not so much anymore. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one in real life except on a Halloween costume.
- 29a. SWISS FLAG
- 36a. ADDITION PROBLEM
- 45a / 60a. CROSSROAD / AHEAD SIGN. There are no words on these yellow signs with the black plus shape, so calling one a “crossroad ahead” sign felt odd. Most websites I looked at simply call them “crossroad signs.”
I picked some nits above, but I like the basic premise here. Each plus sign shape has a different meaning (medical aid, Christianity, mathematical addition, and road intersection). Plus (see what I did there?), there are a couple of pluses in the grid itself composed of black squares. That’s a nice touch.
Moving to the fill, I liked SCRAMMED, SOPRANO, NULL SET, and tiny NAURU (third-smallest country in the world after Vatican City and Monaco). I’ve seen it before in crosswords with its friendly letters, so it’s worth storing in the memory banks. Not sure how I feel about LIMBOING. You don’t usually see it in that form, but it’s still fun.
POPSCI [Genre for a physics article aimed at a general audience, informally] is not a term I’ve heard before, at least not in that abbreviated form. It’s never appeared in any puzzle listed in the Cruciverb database. But it’s also the popular name for the magazine, and I’ve decided I like it; I just wish there was a more succinct clue for it.
Nice puzzle. 3.6 stars.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
Wow. This theme was executed so smoothly that even after filling most of the grid and seeing the revealer it still took me several moments to perceive it. Then, “AHA” (42d [“Eureka!”]) (Things are drastically easier to spot when the relevant squares have been circled, as I’ve done for the write-up.
- 56aR [With 58-Across, savory base for a canapé … and the function of a black square in four puzzle rows?] CHEESE | CRACKER. The names of cheeses span two across entries in the same row.
- AMERICAN pasteurized processed cheese food product melts across 16a [African Queen, for one] STEAMER and 17a [“Don’t doubt my abilities!”] I CAN SO. The latter, to my mind, echoes 3d [Childish denial] ARE NOT.
- ROMANO lives betwixt the starts and ends of 22a [Longtime senator Thurmond] STROM and 23a [Battery parts] ANODES.
- ROQUEFORT crumbles over the space connecting 34a [Extravagant] BAROQUE and 38a [Lot] FORTUNE.
- Finally, dear old CHEDDAR lurks among 47a [Like some ornate doorways] ARCHED and 50a [Fixes tears] DARNS. See also 20d [Sock part] TOE.
Really smooth, but I’ve already mentioned that. And these aren’t your common short-length crossword cheeses like EDAM or FETA, either. Very impressive.
- 7a [Sandpiper family birds] SNIPES. For all you Spelling Bee fans, pictured is the common snipe, Gallinago gallinago.
- 13a [One of two sound recommendations for a light sleeper?] EAR PLUG. Cute.
- 18a [January temps, often] TEENS. Have you met February?
- 7d [Used bugs, perhaps] SPIED. You can also use ‘bugs’ (read: bacteria) to make cheese. But—and perhaps not for the faint of heart—actual insects and other arthropods are also used in some instances.
- 32d [Deere rival] TORO. Do the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls have these companies as sponsors? If not, they should get on that
- 38d [Utter nonsense] FOLDEROL. Not one you see every day. “‘Folderol’ comes from ‘fol-de-rol’ (or ‘fal-de-ral’), which used to be a nonsense refrain in songs, much like ‘tra-la-la.’ The oldest recorded instance of someone ‘singing folderol’ occurs in Irish dramatist George Farquhar’s 1701 play Sir Harry Wildair, in which a character sings, ‘Fal, al, deral!'” (m-w.com)
- 44d [Lanvin scent since 1927] ARPEGE. Don’t know that it’s a top-tier perfume, but it seems to have staying power.
- 51d [When Lear disowns Cordelia] ACT I. Pretty much the only
stiltonstilted entry, and it’s barely assailable. When I said the puzzle was smooth, I meant it.
- 59d [Enzyme suffix] -ASE. Crucial in cheese production, and an apt way to end both the clues and this write-up.
Sophie Buchmueller’s Inkubator crossword, “Themeless #16″—Jenni’s review
I’m really sorry I’m posting this so late. Sophie Buchmueller’s debut crossword deserves better. It’s a gem. I was surprised when I saw my time – it felt like it took longer because I ran into several roadblocks and had to work my way back to where I got stuck.
- Pretty much all the 10-letter answers are great fun. I particularly liked HIP–HUGGING. I’m a child of the 70s and we didn’t have low-rise jeans; we had hip-huggers. Also loved VIRGIN EARS.
- We get [Pestered] for HASSLED and [Pesters] for NAGS AT. I enjoy those echo-ey clues.
- Is OAKTAG a regional name? That’s what we called it where I grew up (NYC ‘burbs). Around here (eastern PA) it’s posterboard. I asked for OAKTAG at a store when my kid was the age of school projects and they had no idea what I was talking about.
- 38d [It’s not only sexy, it’s required] is CONSENT. Yes and yes.
- I have no idea what Williams is reference in 44a [2011 role for Williams]. The answer is MONROE and clearly I’m not hip enough to get it.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: Williams role. I also had never heard of Betye Saar, creator of the MIXED–MEDIA piece “Black Girl’s Window.” Next time I get to MOMA, I’ll check it out.