Gary Larson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Not A Word”—Jim P’s review
This puzzle lost me at HUNH (13a, [“Say wha?”]), especially as it crosses groan-worthy INTONER and proper name SHERE. This was the last entry to go in for me, so things were going fine up to that point.
The theme involves changing -EA- words to -EE- words.
- 16a. [Blind date?] MYSTERY MEET. Meat. This one is actually the funnest of the entries. I like it.
- 38a. [Crate for a root vegetable farmer?] BEET BOX. Beat. We used to live in farm country and would get farm-fresh produce delivered, dirt-covered and all.
- 60a. [Factory reject at the foundry?] STEEL SECOND. Steal. Blah. This one’s far less interesting than any of the others. Do people generally know that a foundry cast-off is called a “second”?
- 10d. [Bucks?] DEER SIRS. Dear. Cute. I like this one, too.
- 37d. [Fishing season?] REEL TIME. Real. I know I’ve seen this pun before, usually with respect to movies.
Hit and miss with the theme, but another point against it is the puzzle title is way too broad. There’s got to be a better way to signal going from EA to EE. And the inclusion of similar-looking-but-not-actually-thematic BEER ME strikes me as inelegant.
Okay, now I’m noticing there are no A’s in the grid at all. So there’s that. But really, how many people will notice that? Kudos to you if you did. So maybe the title isn’t that bad, but it is confusing. The long theme answers make you think the theme is one thing, when that’s only part of the picture.
Aside from my gripes at the top of the post, there’s good fill here: HOTTIES, MCENROE, REUBEN, and “I’M SORE” especially when you realize there are no A’s involved. But there’s also ESSO and ESSE and TETES.
Clues of note:
- 59a. [___Clean (household brand)]. OXI. Not to be confused with Oxy Face Wash or OXO kitchen products.
- 5d. [No-no for Yoda]. TRY. “Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.”
- 52d. [Summer specialty]. DISCO. Good clue. Donna Summer, not the season.
The puzzle definitely has some things going for it, but the theme is misleading, and, well, HUNH. 3.25 stars.
Bryce Hwang, Rahul Sridhar, & Akshay Ravikumar’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Okay, let’s take stock of this theme. I didn’t put it all together while solving the puzzle. We start with 40a. [This puzzle’s theme], NUMBERS, and then it spins out from there:
- 2d. [Like the two 40-Across in the grid for this answer], PRIME. Okay, so 2 is a prime number, and the last letter is in square 23, also a prime.
- 9d. [Like the two 40-Across in the grid for this answer], SQUARE. A 9 and for the R, a 25. Squares of 3 and 5.
- 34d. [Like the two 40-Across in the grid for this answer], FIBONACCI. 34 and 55 … let’s see, that’s 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 … add any two numbers in the series to get the number that follows. And yes, I had to refresh my knowledge for this.
- 39d. [Like the two 40-Across in the grid for this answer], ODD. 39, 43.
- 44d. [Like the two 40-Across in the grid for this answer], EVEN. 44, 48.
The theme entries aren’t laid out symmetrically—rather, they’re placed where they can work out with exactly two relevant numbers in the answer word’s squares. (And in fact, each theme entry has a different letter count: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9. Where is the 8? Someone has absconded with it.) The trio of MIT constructors used technowizardry to get the grid to work out. I don’t understand that angle myself.
Eight more things:
- 19a. [Big online site for uploading photos and memes], IMGUR. My all-time favorite photo from Imgur (which … is that pronounced “imager”?) is the “Congration, You Done it” cake.
- 42a. [Word with science or chocolate], LAB. Labrador science, chocolate laboratory.
- 58a. [Separates into groups that don’t communicate], SILOS. Business-speak.
- 65a. [They may come with bows and whistles], ENCORES. Great clue—you end up thinking of “bells and whistles,” and maybe “bows and ribbons.”
- 17d. [Tonkatsu, in Japanese cuisine], CUTLET. Generally seen with pork and chicken varieties, yes? I’m a big fan of chicken katsu with Japanese curry.
- 26d. [“Black Panther” princess/superhero], SHURI. I think of Shuri more as a brilliant scientist and engineer, but I guess that’s a type of superhero.
- 32d. [Language in which “Thank you very much” is “Diolch yn fawr iawn”], WELSH. There’s a Welsh contestant on season 4 of The Great Pottery Throw Down, Jodie, and I adore her accent. Throw Down is very much like The Great British Bake Off, but the ovens are much hotter and you can’t eat the results. (It’s available on HBO Max.)
- 54d. [Classic name for a parrot], POLLY. Nirvana was all about Polly.
Four stars from me.
Roland Huget’s Universal crossword, “Gotta Split!” — pannonica’s write-up
- 60aR [Ending a relationship, or a theme hint] PARTING WAYS. The circled squares represent synonyms for ‘way’ separated by a black square.
- 17a/19a. [Throw to the side, say] LATERAL PASS / [Time in history] AGE. passage
- 23a/25a. [Ran into] MET / [Mishmash] HODGEPODGE, method
- 36a/39a. [Certain football player] LINEMAN / [Clash with foam ammo] NERF WAR. manner
- 53a/55a. [Overnight sensation’s trajectory] ZERO TO HERO / [Salt Lake City student] UTE. route
Before encountering the revealer (and not really having paid attention to the circles) I wondered if the rhyming qualities of 25- and 53-across were significant.
- 1d [Hogwarts messenger] OWL. I am officially bored of this clue.
- 44d [Sushi eggs] ROE. Specifically the most common types are tobiko (flying fish), masago (smelt), and ikura (salmon). We are obviously and specifically not talking about Coturnix japonica here.
- 46d [Flowering shrub] AZALEA. When I can fill this in with zero crossings, it tells me that this is another tired clue.
- 51d [Brought into being] BORN, but I slightly misinterpreted the clue, answering BORE until the crossing revealer set me aright.
- 30a [Highest peak in Alaska] DENALI.
“The Koyukon Athabaskans who inhabit the area around the mountain have for centuries referred to the peak as Dinale or Denali. The name is based on a Koyukon word for ‘high’ or ‘tall’. During the Russian ownership of Alaska, the common name for the mountain was Bolshaya Gora (Russian: Большая Гора, bolshaya = Russian for big; gora = Russian for mountain), which is the Russian translation of Denali. It was briefly called Densmore’s Mountain in the late 1880s and early 1890s after Frank Densmore, a gold prospector who was the first non-native Alaskan to reach the base of the mountain.
“In 1896, a gold prospector named it McKinley as political support for then-presidential candidate William McKinley, who became president the following year.” (Wikipedia)
- 49a [Drop in] STOP BY, 10d [Invites to the penthouse] HAS UP.
- 71a [Honey Smacks frog] DIG ’EM, which of course resembles ‘ribbit’. I feel as if the cereal companies just weren’t trying to hide the drug-like addiction they were marketing to kids starting in the 1950s. Products like Golden Crisps (previously Super Sugar Crisps, previously Happy Jax) directly led to Calvin’s Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, which seem totally plausible. But ‘smacks’? That’s a whole different level of audacity.
Francis Heaney’s AVCX, “X Out” — Ben’s Review
This week’s AVCX is from Francis Heaney, and the title “X Out” does a pretty good job of explaining what’s going on with the theme:
- 17A: Attitude of horses that can’t be tamed, and love it that way? — BRONCS CHEER
- 26A: Business name, after a huge fight with Goldman — SACHS SOLO
- 39A: Reference with entries “Which side is the gas tank on?” and “How do I disable the child lock?”? — CAR FAQS
- 52A: Feedback from some diving seabirds in the focus group? — AUKS INPUT
- 61A: Inexplicable bits of glitter all over, e.g.? — WEIRD FLECKS
It’s all phrases that typically have an X (BRONX CHEER, SAX SOLO, CARFAX, AUX INPUT, WEIRD FLEX), with different letters making that “X” sound – X is out.
Here’s DMITRI Shostakovich’s “Waltz No. 2”
Other fill notes:
- Juno Birch is a drag queen from Manchester who likes to play The SIMS on Youtube.
- The Rock is technically OBESE per the BMI scale.
- “Like ducks playing the marimba in a hovering sandbox”,
these are the days of our livesthat’s ABSURD
- All of the longer down fill (SUCKER MC, CELLO SONATA clued as “Piece for Ma and Ax, perhaps”, ETCH-A-SKETCH, and SAMS CLUB) was delightful
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
This was a fun solve, although some of the fun-ness was definitely countered by a good amount of fill I could live without. But the long stuff and wide open corners are pretty shiny today, and overall I think this puzzle was a success!
The long entries today are stacks of 10s and 11s in each corner. We have, clockwise: THIS CAN’T BE / WATER TOWER / OYSTER BARS / MOUNT ARARAT / INTERROGATE / LETS ASSUME / CRUISE LINE / HARMONICAS / ONION SOUPS / PROMOTABLE / BRANCHES OUT / ROY ELDRIDGE. All really solid! I didn’t know ROY ELDRIDGE or ONE L, which crosses it, so I struggled in the SW, having parsed ROY’s name as ROYaL (something). I also didn’t know I AM I Said, so that whole corner presented some challenges. I looooved the colloquial translation of [Impossible!] as the clue for THIS CAN’T BE, and LET’S ASSUME and BRANCHES OUT are also very fun.
A few more things:
- Fill I could live without: I AM I, TRA, MCLIII, TER, LIDO, TWA, IS ON. The Roman numeral in particular is pretty unfortunate, but this is a bit more glue than I personally like to see, although the impressive corner stacks nearly make up for it.
- Favorite clues:
- [Oft-quoted athlete who said, “I really didn’t say everything I said”] for BERRA
- [Margaret who competed as the Poodle on the first season of “The Masked Singer”] for CHO
- Lots of music in this puzzle! Neil Diamond, the RAMONES, Berlioz, ROY ELDRIDGE, Eartha Kitt, COOLIO, Irma Thomas/the Rolling Stones
Overall, this was a fun puzzle with a lot of iffy fill but a very impressive grid structure. Many stars from me!
August Miller’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
The puzzle theme was a little basic today. AHEADOFSCHEDULE is the revealer and the four ending words TV, PAYMENT, FLIGHT and BUS can be completed by SCHEDULE. There isn’t a lot of room for playfulness in meaning between theme answer and literal answer here.
That said the rest of the puzzle was cleverly designed to allow for several other interesting answers. Of note are both top-right and bottom-left pairs. The top features CATRESCUE which feels fresh (even though I hate the marketing aspect of shelters vs. rescues…) and TARANTULA; the bottom pair are CHAPPELLE in a RENTALTUX. Also bonus points for including both SHISH and KABOB. If you’re going to have SHISH…
Shout-out: [Penguin-hunting swimmer], ORCA – here’s a local charity involved in saving the endangered African Penguin, Bank Cormorant and many others… https://sanccob.co.za/donate.php
I don’t know if the NYT puzzle was as tricky to construct as it looks, but this math geek was impressed. I got a real kick when I finally figured out the theme, which hasn’t happened with a NYT for a while.
NYT: I gave this a 5* .. primarily because these youngsters spent all that time programming this grid! That’s dedication!
Totally missed the “two in the grid” part of the theme. Now I’m REALLY impressed. Wow. And I had fun solving it!
NYT: I was impressed with this puzzle even before I fully understood the theme. Now that I understand it, I’m doubly impressed that the constructors were able to get the theme answers to fall into place the way that they did. They wrote a blog post about the construction process, which is linked on the NYT’s “Wordplay” post. Some of their post went over my head, but I admire the technical wizardry.
That’s just a general term for a ‘factory reject’. Outlet stores used to be centered on items like that.
As for me, I did understand SECOND. The themer source I didn’t know was “beat box.” More broadly, I couldn’t make sense of the puzzle title, which doesn’t seem to refer to the EA/EE change at all.
The blah theme also came with more off-key fill than I’d have liked, like North Carolina’s motto, although ESSE itself is familiar from, alas, mostly crosswordese and is an obvious candidate since a setter needs E’s and S’s. I didn’t know why Yoda hates TRY. (I must read the wrong self-help books, since I’d have thought people are always told to try again and try harder. I appreciate Jim’s explaining.) And I resisted HUNH until the very end. Not good, but maybe I’m just not a Larson fan.
the feat of construction is irrelevant, just as was any solving pleasure. I did it quickly, not that I time, I merely noticed the timer. There is so much in this puzzle that is just words which fit. I’m certain it’s that way for you speed solvers as well.
The ugliness of the fill Q.E.D.’s that they started with Fibonacci and worked bass-ackwards from there.
Ugliness of the fill? This is probably the cleanest fill I’ve seen in a themed NYT (or any puzzle) in weeks. I only count 3 abbreviations or partials, everything else is squarely in the language.
NYT: Not only did I not understand the theme at first but I couldn’t even understand Jeff’s explanation at XwordInfo. I wish the themer clues had dumbed it down a little more and said “the two little 40-A that appear in the top-left of squares in this answer.”
Agreed. Even reading the clues as written now it’s confusing. I think the word “for” is the main problem, as I associate those numbers being “in” the answer.
The only issue with your suggestion is that SQUARE is an answer in the puzzle, so the clues shouldn’t use “squares” in them.
My suggestion: Like the two 40-Across found in the grid boxes comprising this entry.
Oh right, good catch.
NYT: 42A. Science lab (e.g. chemistry) or chocolate lab (dog color). ;-).
I did the NYT as well as WSJ today, and I’m glad I did. Normally I hate the bookkeeping tedium of cross-reference clues, and this puzzle has them in abundance, but I’m mathy enough to have felt rewarded. (FWIW, I know what the Fibonacci series is; not that I could recite it by heart, and I took the puzzle’s word that it was right without the extra 10 seconds of checking.)
OTOH, I didn’t know LOUIE, the Japanese, IMGUR, or NAVI, so the NW was a disaster for me, although by now I’m used to Grande from puzzles. I never did guess the crossing in NAVI / IMGUR. Grr.
NYT: I’m surprised the “edit OUT” and “inside OUT” dupe didn’t get a shout out. :P
I kept looking in the solution for the numbers as opposed to the clue numbers. I saw “ONE” and “TOO” (two??), which fit the Square and Fibonacci, and each one could fit Odd and Even, so I got stuck going down that rabbit hole for the theme. But novel (to me) idea to hit the clue numbers and I’ll add that now to something to look at when I’m stuck on themes. Kudos on the construction! Enjoyed the puzzle!
I solved the NYT without paying any real attention to the themed clues. It was clearly something to do with NUMBERS and then it was just a matter of filling in the appropriate descriptor. It took me a while afterwards to suss out the meaning of the themed clues.
In short, very clever construction but for me it didn’t make for an interesting solve.
The NYT today is magnificent. Would have beer with constructors.
It takes three people to make a puzzle as boring as todays’s NYT? Lives needed.
Would’ve been a better solve as a meta I think. The core concept is awesome.
Yes, super cool concept and grid construction.
I think you’re right that it would have made a better meta. The theme clue is super clunky and difficult to parse (IMO), even now when I understand what’s going on. If it could have been eliminated and replaced with something hinting at a meta that probably would’ve made for a terrific a-ha moment.
Argh! Can we ban interjections?
So I guess the question of whether Wil Shortz drops acid on the job can be put to rest after this theme clue.
I can’t recall a more boring Wed.