Zhouqin Burnikel’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up
I stumbled around a little bit in this puzzle. That may mean it’s a smidgen harder than your average Monday puzzle, or it may mean that I’m in the home stretch of a weekend on call and my brain is mush. In either case, it’s a silky-smooth puzzle with an accessible, Monday-appropriate theme. I had no idea what was going on with the theme until I got to the revealer. That didn’t get in the way of solving.
All the theme answers have stars upon thars.
- 9d [*Bunt single, e.g.] is an INFIELD HIT.
- 16a [*Certain psychedelic experience] is an ACID TRIP.
- 29d [*Home of many a courthouse] is the COUNTY SEAT.
- 34a [*Hairstyle popularized by Lucille Ball] is the POODLE CUT.
- 44a [*Cheap neighborhood bar] is the LOCAL DIVE.
And the revealer: 63a [“So there!”…or what you can do to the ends of the answers to the starred clues?] is TAKE THAT! TAKE a HIT, TAKE a TRIP, TAKE a SEAT, TAKE a CUT, TAKE a DIVE. Nice! The longest entries in the grid are eight letters, so there are a lot of shorter words, including a bunch of three-letter answers. I didn’t bump on any of theme as egregious crosswordese. There are a few abbreviations and initialisms, and they’re mostly in common use. SST, of course, is an oldie and not-so-goody.
A few other things:
- I had a discussion with a friend today who KNITS during her Zoom meetings. I think this is perfectly fine. Then again, I think it’s fine during in-person meetings, too. It’s less distracting to me than random fidgeting.
- I liked AW MAN for [“Geez, that sucks!”].
- One partial: [At the drop of ____ (instantly)] – A HAT. Could have done without that.
- MALARKEY is a great word. I plan to use it in conversation this week.
- [“Here comes trouble…”] is a good clue for UH–OH.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Lucille Ball popularized the POODLE CUT. I also was unaware that DR DRE founded Aftermath Entertainment.
Sheryl Bartol’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Here’s a puzzle with a revealer that I think would have been stronger without one. We get it at 64A [With “on,” not strong, as an argument … and what might cause the ends of answers to starred clues?], which is SHAKY GROUND. First of all, boy, is that clue practically a paragraph! Second, clues that begin with “With…” are falling out of favor, and deservedly so. Finally, if you happen to be working your way around the puzzle and not from the top down, I bet this one might lead you to think you’re looking for something more like rearrangements of the letters in the word DIRT. In fact, it’s just that each of the three non-revealer themers has a way to land on your butt, which I suppose could happen if you are on SHAKY GROUND:
- 17A [Bank form] is a DEPOSIT SLIP. Simple enough, but I’d say you’re more likely to SLIP on “icy” ground than on SHAKY GROUND.
- 37A [Surprise inheritance] is a WINDFALL. Part of why the revealer clue had to be so dang long is that, in this case, the theme word is not a standalone word in a multi-word phrase, but rather the back half of a compound word. Sure, though, SHAKY GROUND could cause you to FALL.
- 43A [Venue for a license plate game] is ROAD TRIP. TRIP, like FALL, feels more apropos than SLIP.
If I had more time I’d try to brainstorm a themer to replace SHAKY GROUND with. Alas, I do not, and I’ll simply say that my favorite nontheme was entry TAPE DECK, which brought back some fun nostalgia!
Margaret Seikel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Aye, Aye!”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Phrases with a double-I somewhere within.
- 18a. [Enjoyment when at the end of your rope?] WATER SKIING
- 24a. [Mosquito bite balm] ANTI-ITCH CREAM. The most interesting of the entries since the I’s are in different words.
- 39a. [Game controller with a wrist strap] WIIMOTE
- 50a. [Divisive pie topped with ham and pineapple] HAWAIIAN PIZZA. No debate in our house; this was/is my kids’ favorite. But see top chefs weigh in.
- 60a. [Co-writer and co-star of “Bridesmaids”] KRISTEN WIIG
I solved this one for time and would have come in a whole 40 seconds sooner, but I put ZILCH for ZIPPO and didn’t check the crosses. Then I spent that amount of time looking for my error.
But since I was trying to speed-solve, I didn’t see the theme and filled in the theme answers mostly based on crosses. So essentially I solved it as a themeless, and that worked just fine.
Words with a double-I are fairly uncommon, but does that make them a good basis for a theme? I’m betting a lot of seasoned solvers won’t be enamored of this one, but for a Monday puzzle with a higher potential for newer solvers in the mix, I’d say it’s fine.
THIN MINTS and SLUSH PILE top the list of fill entries. REC ROOM gets honorable mention. Not much to scowl about except maybe a singular ANTIC. I could also do without the CSA in the grid.
Clues of note:
- 35d. [Thousand squared]. MILLION. Oy, that’s too much math for a Monday morning. But if you just double the number of zeroes, you’re golden.
- 32d. [Subject of the Ten Commandments?]. THOU. Nice one.
Straightforward theme, suitable for a Monday. Solid fill all around. 3.5 stars.
Gary Larson’s Universal crossword, “For What?” — pannonica’s write-up
The gimmick here is words starting with the prefix FOR- parsed as two separate words, and clued appropriate to that.
- 16a. [They’re FOR GOING] TRAVEL VISAS.
- 22a. [They’re FOR GIVING] DONATION BOXES.
- 38a. [They’re FOR GETTING] JOKES.
- 46a. [They’re FOR BIDDING] AUCTION HOUSES.
- 57a. [They’re FOR AGING] WINE CELLARS.
I enjoyed this theme. It’s simple yet fresh, and executed elegantly.
So just to give you a peek at my thought process, even though it isn’t a gerund like the theme clues, I thought of FOR|SAKE, which led me to the theme from High Noon (“Do Not Forsake Me”) and hoped to find a cover by Japanese musicians (sake, get it?). L+B, such a thing exists! Surf guitar virtuoso Takeshi Terauchi and His Blue Jeans covered it on their 1963 album Screen Mood on the Rock. Alas, I can’t find any version of it on the web to share.
As an alternative, I found “High Noon” from a Seattle-based band called JUNO (38d [2007 coming-of-age movie starring Elliot Page], but that turned out to be a cover of a completely different song, one by DJ Shadow (not to be confused with sometime surf-rock band the Shadows).
Let’s take a SPIN (39a) though the rest of the puzzle.
- Stacked 9s in the corners: 9d [Like some bonds] TAX EXEMPT, 10d [Skin layer] EPIDERMIS, 30d [Excessively talkative] GARRULOUS, 31d [Crispy, airy snacks] RICE CAKES. Second time recently I’ve seen that last in a crossword; my favorite rice cake is still Shanghainese nian go—in fact, I’m probably going to buy some when I hit the Asian market later this week. Yum!
- 11d [“Dune” (2021) director Villeneuve] DENIS. Are people excited about this? Have never read the books. I enjoyed Arrival and Incendies, not so much Sicario. Haven’t seen any others. Seems as if his frequent collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson would be a good choice for the score, but it appears that (yawn) Hans Zimmer is on the project.
- 59d [Sign associated with pride … and a lion] LEO. Bit of double-entendre there. Ditto for 15a [Parrot, or a certain primate] APE.
And now we’ve come to the end. What to do, what to do? I kind of like the meta aspect of a cover of Hayasaka’s theme music from Rashomon, so let’s go with that.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
She’s done it again, folks! Elizabeth Gorski has published another triple-triple-stack in the New Yorker! I’ve been raving about the last time she did this every time someone asks me about my favorite puzzles I’ve solved lately, and here we have another gorgeous, jaw-dropping triple stack (using the exact same grid). Happy Monday to us!
The spanners (all NINE of them) are pretty solid:
- TWO LITER BOTTLES
- WIRE FOX TERRIERS
- A PASSAGE TO INDIA
- AMERICAN CUISINE
- CALIFORNIA GURLS
- THE STONE DIARIES
- COUPLES RETREATS
- INSTALLATION ART
- ANTONIO BANDERAS
Whew! The thing about puzzles like this is that there isn’t terribly much to say aside from “wow” — the construction is always awe-inspiring, the short fill often less-so (which is also the case today), but I very nearly can’t be convinced to care about the short stuff holding this together. I say nearly, but there is one area where I legitimately thought there must be an error in the clues or something else unfortunate going on, and that was the center of the bottom stack. The combination of OMER (OMER? I never heard of ‘er!), OLETA, and OKLA (for which I missed that “U.S.” apparently signals an abbreviation) left me totally confused, trying to make OKRA and GRETA work for OKLA/OLETA. I had to look up [“All the Love” singer Adams] and found the song to be not to my taste, but here’s the video anyways:
A few more things:
- I am having a homemade bagel with LOX for breakfast today and I just wanted to share that with all of you
- Matzo BREI is also delicious
- Favorite clues:
- [It’s way more than a tall order?] for VENTI
- [Matzo ___ (fried, eggy dish described by Ruth Reichl as “one of life’s perfect foods”)] for BREI (co-signed, see above)
- Bummer that PMS was clued as [Evening hrs.] instead of the monthly affliction
Anyways, all of that to say, I find this kind of construction super impressive and am willing to overlook a LOT of iffy fill when someone pulls it off (and by iffy, I mean words you only see in crosswords, not words that are offensive or otherwise problematic– no amount of stacking is worth alienating your solvers, imo) (which is not what happened in this puzzle! just noting that for constructors who might be considering lowering their standards in order to pull something like this off themselves).
Overall, tons of stars from me.
And while I have you here, I want to announce that the puzzle pack I have been editing for the benefit of the Baltimore Abortion Fund (BAF), “These Puzzles Fund Abortion,” will be coming out in the next week! You can pre-register to receive the puzzles by donating to BAF here. There will be a midi-puzzle sample from the pack, constructed by Chris Piuma, available this week, and I’ll update this post with the link to that puzzle when it’s available.