Kevin Christian’s New York Times puzzle —Jenni’s write-up
This is the sort of puzzle that convinces me I’ll never be a constructor. First you have to notice that the four theme entries all have 15 letters. Then you have to notice that there are country names hidden in all four and that all the countries are on the same continent. That’s how constructors think and not how my brain works. It’s a solid, consistent theme that seems Monday appropriate to me.
The theme answers all have circles; I’ve highlighted those letters.
- 17a [Song lyric before “short and stout”] is I‘M A LITTLE TEAPOT. Mali.
- 26a [Attorney general under George W. Bush] is ALBERTO GONZALES. Togo. I would have put an upper-case G in “general” and I would have been wrong.
- 43a [Appeasing, idiomatically] is THROWING A BONE TO. Gabon.
- 56a [Grilled Japanese dish on skewers] is CHICKEN YAKITORI. Kenya.
And the revealer: 62a [Where this puzzle’s circled letters can be found] is AFRICA. Plus a bonus at 18d [Band with the 1983 #1 hit “62-Across”]: TOTO. I’m not usually a cross-reference fan but that one amused me. I like this theme not just for the reasons I mentioned above. I also appreciate the fact that the countries all span at least two words. Nicely done.
A few other things:
- I am considering having some NAIL ART done before I go on vacation.
- Speaking of vacation, I’m a bit RUSTY when it comes to travel. I trust it will come back to me. I am so grateful for a functioning immune system that allows me to go, and will continue to mask indoors because it’s safer for everyone.
- [“Cross my heart and ____ to die”] is a creepy expression when you think about it. The answer, of course, is HOPE. A bit of Googling suggests several possible origins of the phrase, including a reference to the Christian practice of crossing oneself to make an oath and the need for rapid burial in times of plague.
- Happy to see TONI Morrison in the grid, and hadn’t heard this quote: “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” Amen.
- NEURAL network will never not make me think of Data from TNG.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: I’ve never heard the word UBERIZE although it was obvious from the clue as soon as I had the U. [Transform using mobile technology, as a market]. Yup.
Larry Nargi’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Pep Talk”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Synonyms of VERVE (66a, [Characteristic suggested by the first words of 17-, 20-, 36-, 55- and 60-Across]).
- 17a. [Batman and Robin] DYNAMIC DUO.
- 20a. [Quality of fluorescent paint or neon lighting] VIBRANT COLOR. Ironically, this feels green paintish.
- 36a. [Exercise option] BRISK WALK. “Brisk pace” outdistances BRISK WALK on Google’s ngram viewer.
- 55a. [Inflatable rental for kids’ parties] BOUNCY CASTLE. This one I love since it reminds of my days in England where this is the generic term for any large inflatable. I didn’t think the term is used the same way in the States.
- 60a. [Sporty clothes] ACTIVEWEAR.
This is well done as far as synonym themes go. My main nit, though, is that the revealer is not some play on words, but just the word being synonymized (feel free to use that). It’s much less elegant this way.
There’s nothing especially long in the non-theme fill, but CAMELOT and MORONIC are fun. I also like BELOVED, NAPOLI, and ASTORIA, Oregon, since I’m in Ashland, Oregon, at the moment, road-tripping from the Puget Sound to the Bay Area.
Did not know EATON [Fine stationery brand], and there sure are a lot of dudes in the grid: James AGEE, ORSON Welles, ERLE Stanley Gardner, ISAAC Stern, IRA Gershwin, SAL Mineo, James ARNESS, and LEVI Strauss compared to solitary AVA Gardner. And wow, all of them are pretty old-timey crosswordese. Nothing new here. A missed opportunity is KAT which could’ve been clued as [Actress Dennings] instead of old-timey comics character Krazy KAT.
Clues of note:
- 14a. [“I need that like I need ___ in the head”]. A HOLE. The entry sure reads differently in the grid without any context.
- 39a. [Letter encl. with a manuscript]. SAE. I’m not sure why the word “Letter” is in the clue. That threw me off.
- 21d. [Arthur’s realm]. CAMELOT. Hmm. I’m of the belief that only the castle was called CAMELOT, not the entire realm.
I would’ve liked a better revealer with this theme or a title that could do the same job (“Energetic Starts”, perhaps?). Not every grid is going to have room for long non-theme fill, but some fresher cluing would have been welcome. 3.25 stars.
Brian Gubin’s Universal crossword, “Kitchen Invasion” — pannonica’s write-up
Not to pry, but do you have ants in your pantry?
That’s essentially the suggestion of the title, but to be vigilant in parsing said title, there really isn’t much of a connection to kitchens aside from the stereotype of ANTs ‘invading’ there: not in the answer nor the clues.
- 20a. [Overjoyed cry from the fitting room] PANTS I LOVE YOU (P.S. I Love You).
- 27a. [One who insists on takin the wheel] ADAMANT DRIVER (Adam Driver).
- 43a. [Recollection of eating sugary paste?] FONDANT MEMORY (fond memory).
- 51a. [Fruity breakfast item you might top with cream cheese] PLANTAIN BAGEL (plain bagel). Just, ew. But at least this one has something to do with kitchens. Still, ew.
Okay enough theme, serviceable.
- 10d [“Psst!” from a tree house] UP HERE. Nice, evocative clue.
- 36d [Like the emoticon :-( ] SAD. That is, it’s meant to convey sadness.
- 41d [Pesky flyer] GNAT, which is ¾ ANT, orthographically.
- 52d [They can be opened with a tap] APPS. Good misdirection; I was thinking about water pipes.
- 26a [Songwriter Higginbotham] IRENE. New to me, but good to learn. She co-wrote the classic “Good Morning Heartache“.
Bruce Haack & Esther Nelson · “Army Ants in Your Pants”
Amanda Rafkin & Brooke Husic’s USA Today puzzle– malaika’s write-up
Title: That’s Quite A Schlep!
- 21A: DRAG BRUNCH (Event with mimosas and pop diva impersonations)
- 34A: PULL THE GOALIE (Risk an empty-netter, in hockey)
- 52A: CARRY A TUNE (Sing on-key)
Theme explanation: The first word of each phrase (drag, pull, carry) means the same thing.
- I thought the clue on FIGS (6A: Fruits with a Brown Turkey cultivar) was quite hard for a USA Today puzzle. “Cultivar” means a variety, i.e., there’s a type of fig called a “Brown Turkey fig.”
- I have been to a drag show and I have been to a brunch, but I have not yet been to a DRAG BRUNCH. They are very much a thing in NYC! I am curious how popular they are elsewhere.
- I love how the clue for RHYMED (26A: Paired “scared” with “dared”) also rhymes, and how the two words chosen suggest a story.
- The clue for MOM (51A: Person to ask when Mama says no, perhaps) is very cute, and even cuter with the matching clue for DAD (21a: Person to ask when Pop says no, perhaps).
- The other day, my sister and I were talking about songs where the singer openly describes a queer relationship. I love “Honey” and she loves “If She Ever Leaves Me.” I hadn’t heard of “SHE Keeps Me Warm” (1D) until now, beyond the parts that were sampled by Macklemore.
- PARTY HOP (2D: Go from one rager to another) is such a great entry.
- You can read more about Lesbians Who Tech (28D) over here. What a lovely way to clue a fairly standard piece of fill like ORG.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday puzzle– Matthew’s write-up
An aesthetically pleasing grid from BEQ this morning, with open corners, multiple 15s in both the top and bottom halves, and center stairstacks with a long down holding it all together. I was really on Brendan’s wavelength through the top before getting tripped up in two separate areas in the bottom.
I’m a bit of a sucker for 15s: PEOPLESCHAMPION and ACTIONCOMMITTEE set a flavorful tone at the top, and it’s no surprise to see NATUREISHEALING pulled right out of my Twitter feed and into a BEQ grid. The absolute highlight for me, though, was COFFEEGROUNDS connecting the entire dang puzzle together, and with a clue (16d – [Hot stuff in a composter]) that made me work to get there, too.
Other clues and answers of note:
- I had real trouble with the mid-south area where LOIS (40a – [“Such Good Friends” author Gould] and GARN (46a – [Senator Jake who co-wrote the thriller “Night Launch”]) cross LAREID (40d – Longtime producer/writing partner of Babyface). It looks easier in retrospect now that I’ve had time to parse 40d into L.A. REID, but I didn’t see that at all during the solve!
- 36d – [Tours conclusion, perhaps] invites us to Tours, France, with that disguised capital at the beginning of the clue. I cottoned onto the trick, but couldn’t find the appropriate farewell (BONSOIR) for a bit.
- I don’t know that either of the two universities I have connections to have buildings named after ALUMNAE [33d – Names on some college buildings], or after any women, which isn’t great! But the Latin nerd in me does love seeing the -ae plural ending. Small joys.
- Lastly, GARO Yepremian (46d – [Yepremian of the Dolphins’ undefeated season.]). That’s the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and their 1972 undefeated season. Yepremian was a top-flight kicker for his era, but I rarely think of him outside of this truly wonderful gaffe from that season’s Super Bowl. It would be even better-known if the Dolphins had lost the game, and their undefeated season.
George Jasper’s LA Times puzzle – Gareth’s summary
Stella is unable to be here today so I am babysitting you. The Monday puzzle today is by George Jasper, and features a very broad theme: ESPYS. Each of four entries have the initials S&P; SWEETPOTATO, SECRETPASSAGE, SILENTPARTNER and SEARCHPARTY. I was a little puzzled as to why Hogwarts was singled out for SECRETPASSAGEs, but otherwise the theme went over easily.
- [Many a stray pooch], CUR. This clue didn’t jibe well with me. Maybe it’s the stray I treated today (and dubbed Pipit) with the extensive bruising from likely being kicked around?
- [World Cup cheer], OLE. “It’s coming home…” to Italy. Well the Euros are anyway…
- [Ripken nickname based on his durability], IRONMAN. I initially had IRONCAL, but then CAL showed up above…
- [Canadian-born singer with the 2019 album “Courage”], CELINEDION. I don’t recall any songs from that getting much air?
Elizabeth Gorski’s New Yorker puzzle –– Nina’s Writeup
Great New Yorker puzzle today, jam-packed with impressive long fill.
I found that a considerable portion of the pop culture entries pulled from the previous millennium, with Steffi Graff’s GRAND SLAM at 36a, SEPARATE LIVES (the Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin song) at 46a, and Rickey Henderson’s record for STOLEN BASES at 13d. While these are fantastic entries, the references went completely over my head. At least SUGA [Stage name of BTS’s Min Yoon-gi] made an appearance at 42a!
12a. [Living monuments?] –– A fantastic clue for an equally fantastic answer, HUMAN PYRAMIDS. Anyone else remember the elementary clamor to be the one on top? Absolutely splendid, and kicked off the puzzle quite nicely.
21a. [“Tik ___” (Kesha’s debut single)] –– It’s been a minute since I’ve seen it clued this way, as opposed to the wildly popular Tik TOK app. Now I have Kesha stuck in my head.
29a. [Withdrew] –– Tripped me up with its near-identical cousin, SECEDED, which remained in my grid for about 10 minutes after I had completely filled it and stunted my final time. Changing the ’S’ to an ‘R’ to make RECEDED prompted a feeling any solver knows well––a mix of utter frustration and considerable relief. Well-played, Ms. Gorski.
31a. [Clobbering, slapstick-style] –– BONKING is a delightfully goofy word, one that has recently seeped into my vocabulary, and, much to my friends’ dismay, is frequently accompanied by an impromptu demonstration. Consider this my formal apology for any distress incurred or injury caused.
4d. [Portable writing surface] –– I can get behind LAP DESK, but are we really sure that LAB BOARD is in-the-language, or, for that matter, a term at all? Even when I google it, the only hits redirect to LAP DESK products.
14d. [Ultra-fashionable and oft-mocked aristocrats of the eighteenth century] –– You learn something new every day! While MACARONIS may nowadays appear more often in your kitchen cabinet than your neighborhood cafe, I got a laugh out of the Google image results for the fashion. (Speaking of macaroni… If anyone is on the market for a late night dorm room snack, I highly recommend Annie’s Microwavable Mac & Cheese Cups.)
33d. [One for the books?] –– I didn’t quite understand this clue; the best I could come up with was that a PRINTER (as in a person who prints) prints books? A bit iffy, unless I’m missing something.
37d. [Wines often paired with scallops or risotto] –– My first instinct here was WHITES, but the puzzle called for the more precise SOAVES. I need to take a wine tasting class.
NYT: I believe this puzzle is more appropriate for Tuesday…
I say this not to criticize anyone but to provide some feedback from at least one solver. I know that I would have rated higher on a Tuesday..
I always struggle with these types of decisions because the constructor may not have been the one making the call. But if one doesn’t give the feedback the definition of a Monday puzzle will drift.
I don’t know how the daily placement decisions are made, but if there are testers involved and if they’re very gifted solvers they may be unable to discriminate difficulty levels at the easy end.
I was slowed by Uber as a verb, but it went fast, and I have to thank Jenni’s review for showing how ingenious what to me seemed just ok ( a few letters for African countries here and there) really is.
I finished this about half a minute quicker than my average Monday. I’m okay with this being a Monday puzzle.
Huda, that’s very true. I don’t know about “gifted” but I sure am experienced. I don’t see much difference between Mondays and Tuesdays and I don’t have a good sense of what makes a “good Monday” except for an absence of really obscure crosswordese (which makes a bad puzzle any day of the week). I’m totally open to having my comments on that score second-guessed.
Thanks for being open to my take, Jenni.
So, it’s not so much speed for me (although that does show up at times) but a threshold for familiarity. In my view, having an Attorney General from a long ago administration and a dish that is not a common staple of American cooking as 2 of the 4 theme entries takes it out of the Monday realm. I certainly don’t mind seeing such entries in the puzzle, but classic Monday constructors seem to avoid them. For example, if I google “Chicken Yakitori” I get ~175,000 entries. If I google “Chicken Teriyaki” I get ~ 5 million- a big difference in familiarity.
In my mind, a Monday puzzle is like a mid-century modern design- simple, not prone to frills, elegant in its purity, and not so easy to achieve. Some constructors are famous for it because they seem to make it look seamless. It’s an art form.
It really is an art form. I see your point and I’ll try to take that into account from now on!
The constructor typically has zero say on which day their puzzle runs though.
If one [my timer readings in (…) ] can do a Monday in 2:30 (~12-13:00) a Tuesday in 2:45 (~13-15:00) and a Friday in 4:15 (~25-35:00), one loses perspective and cannot put oneselves in a beginner’s shoes. A lot of it depends on the breath of your FOK and just that plethora rote in too many puzzles. The more puzzles you have solved the easier a puzzle will be just because you recognize “code”. There are always CW-specific answers for certain clues, no matter how they are written, they are rote.
I’m actually at a point where my interest in puzzles is wavering a lot. I can solve damn near anything, it just depends if my interest is held. Too many names and I really don’t care. As I’ve probably said, I have a retired NSA friend who will only NYT Fr and Sa, but if there’s too much pop culture stuff, he might stop for a few weeks. He does many of them in his head, not on paper or digital means. I try only M Tu We in my head. I don’t condemn what I don’t know, I just don’t care like Bible and Hebrew alphabet – that sort of thing has kept me off Jeopardy!
Speed solving is totally beyond something I ever want to do. The older I get the even less competitive I am, and was never competitive enough, (despite being a gifted athlete) in sports as well, it’s why solo stuff like golf works for me.
This was a Tuesday puzzle difficulty. Yes, Mondays have been more Tuesday-like for a while now, pity the poor beginner, WSJ puzzles are notably more challenging the last year on most all days, too. I rarely do any big format except NYer, the word play and puns are far too annoying.
Even if you don’t go for time, you just know – and the timer is still relevant.
I hadn’t heard before of people completing crossword puzzles completely in their head, without writing anything down. Have others heard of that before? I’m very impressed anyone could do that!
I’ve heard of it, and I’m incredibly impressed!
When I first started solving and was all excited about finishing a midweek puzzle, a very competitive colleague commented that I was using a pencil, not a pen. I said I’m working on it and getting better all the time. A year or so later, I sent him a blank Saturday puzzle and told him I solved it all in my head (in my dreams, of course :).
As someone who’s scientific career includes studying how different brains function differently, I find such special gifts fascinating. They show you what our brains are capable of. It also makes you wonder how that impact everyday life for these talented folks (beyond solving puzzles in this amazing way).
I know one Orthodox Jewish solver who does Saturday puzzles in their head because they don’t write on Shabbat. I was gobsmacked the first time I heard that.
Years ago, when The New Yorker published cryptics in the print edition, I brought a magazine with me to an event to pass the time. But I had forgotten a pencil, so I solved the whole puzzle in my head. The New Yorker cryptics are only 8×10, but they’re barred, so you do have to fill in every square in the grid.
On a couple of other occasions, I found copies of The Nation in my doctor’s waiting room. I didn’t want to write in a shared magazine, so I tried to solve their standard-sized cryptics in my head, too. I don’t remember whether I ever had time to finish one. I think maybe I did, but I may be embellishing in retrospect.
I was very pleased with myself for these feats, but I don’t feel any impulse to repeat them. It was slow work, because I had to keep going back to refresh my memory of words I had already (mentally) filled in. I’d probably get better with practice, but it isn’t a skill I see the need to cultivate.
On the upside, though, you never need an eraser.
One thing I’ve found on “day placement” and difficulty is that it’s pretty hard to account for what people know. On a particular day, a puzzle might have something in their wheel house that’s a gimme, bringing that puzzle down to a different day compared to someone else. Or the cluing language that’s used that day is easier understood. I could note a lot of times that NYT days are “switched”, in that some weeks I’ve had NYT Wednesday’s go a lot better/quicker than Mondays. I could also point out things at the top end, like the last Saturday Newsday being sub NYT Fri for me (I almost asked that day if anyone knew it was going to be that easy/stay that easy). It’s just hard to predict how every puzzle is going to go for everybody. In a way, it’s amazing that a lot of puzzle editors do manage to get the difficulty sequence generally right most of the time.
I saw today’s puzzle at a much earlier stage… I like where it expanded to! All 15’s! And UBERIZE, NAILART and TWERKED are quite snazzy for a Monday to boot!
Uni … Demerits from me for inconsistency in the theme. ANT is part of another word in three of the four themers, but stands alone in FOND ANT MEMORY. That contributed to my difficulty in coming up with that one. It didn’t help that I had ‘ANnA’ instead of ANYA and ‘sIA’ instead of MIA for crosses. That left me with trying to make sense of FONDANTsEMORa while assuming that ANT somehow had to be part of a longer word. Argh.
I think you misunderstood: the clue is “Recollection of eating a sugary paste”, and the “sugary paste” in question is FONDANT (a kind of cake icing), which is consistent with the other three themers.
Doh! I sure did! That’s hilarious! FONDANT is new to me, so it went completely over my head. I kind of like my interpretation better. LOL!
Thanks for the education, stmv. I officially retracts my demerits.
I had the same feeling, but didn’t bother to dig deeper. One more time, thanks for this blog!
Has the answer to the July 11 meta from avcx been discussed on here? Thanks
I haven’t seen it yet. Text of email said submit “by the end of Sunday, July 11 for a chance to win a prize, or just whisper the answer quietly into an envelope and then bury it for a more meaningful experience.”
NYT: I’ll take chicken yakitori over the many different spellings of shish-ka-bob [choose your own favorite spelling] any day. And even if the dish was unknown to you, the crosses were eminently fair — one of the reason, as an aside, that I liked today’s New Yorker despite the number of answers I had no knowledge of at all.
I thought this was a fine Monday. Intentional or not, the countries are in the grid more or less according to their geographical positions, which was nice. Well, Kenya’s northern border is evidently above Ghana’s but Kenya seems to extend farther to the south. And if north-south doesn’t work for you, they’re definitely west to east.
Yakitori is specifically on skewers (like satay), as clued. “Teriyaki” may get more hits, it is the seasoning/sauce sometimes put on Yakitori and other dishes (I use it for my chicken bbq sauce). They sell Yakitori Chicken at Costco, so it must be pretty in-the-language.
I don’t know what kind of kabobs/kebobs/kebabs Costco sells LOL!
The yakitori episode of the Japanese Netflix series Samurai Gourmet is very good and worth watching.
Shall I assume the reason Club 72 by Tim Croce was deleted from the list because no one on Fiend reviews it? Too bad. His stuff is deep end in the pool of main stream puzzles’ call & response.
BTW Nina: artists use lap boards all the time in class or en pleine aire etc.
It still appears on the Crossword Links page.
Didn’t know Tim Croce was ever included in “the list”. But I totally am a fan. I never miss a Club 72 puzzle. I wish his puzzles were reviewed here also. Also, support his site.
Would have loved the NYer if there hadn’t been so many unfair crosses. AMIN/PAMINA, SEPARATELIVES/MITE (had LOVES/MOTE), SOAVES/OISE were all crosses I had to Google.
Monday is supposed to be the most difficult day of the week for the New Yorker. But yes, it was so “unfair” – it’s not like The Last King of Scotland had an actor (Forest Whitaker) who won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Idi Amin. And it’s not as if Separate Lives went to number 1 on the Billboard charts in the US. So unfair.
I found SUGA/APEA a bit rough. Initially had PEAS rather than APEA and could SUG-P be a kpop star’s stage name? Sure why not!
Separately, I have no real clue what SKINGAMES are and googling doesn’t seem to help. Other than a movie in the singular is it a real term?
TNY: There was a song inspired by MACARONIS known as “The Doodle Dandy” and, yes, that was the inspiration for “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”