Ashish Vengsarkar’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
Today’s puzzle from Ashish Vengsarkar grew on me the more I thought about it and realized what was going on, plus there’s a final aha where…well, I’ll get to that in a minute.
There are four squares in the grid that get left blank if you solve the clues as-is:
- 9A: “Not a chance!” — NO[ ]WAY
- 11D: Title character in a classic John Cleese comedy — [ ]WANDA
- 21A: It comes first in China, but second in the U.S. — SUR[ ]NAME
- 4D: Bad start? — MAL[ ]
- 68A: Media exec Robert — [ ]IGER
- 58D: Hippie happening — BE[ ]IN
- 72A: First airline to complete a round-the-world flight — PAN AM[ ]
- 57D: Grab by pinching, as an ice cube — TONG[ ]
There’s a revealer at 40A cluing “One way to run … or a hint to four geographical intersections found in this grid”. That would be CROSS COUNTRY, and indeed, you may have already noticed that each of the empty squares can make a country across and down when a letter is added. I in the upper left for SURINAME and MALI, R in the upper right making NORWAY and RWANDA, A in the lower left making PANAMA and TONGA, and N in the lower right making NIGER and BENIN. Put it all together and you get one more country from top to bottom, left to right: IRAN. That last bit is what pushed this over the edge for me as fully clever – any time I’m adding letters, I want them to resolve, and these do so, so nicely.
If you, like me, had never encountered pochoir printing, which uses STENCILs, here’s more info on what that looks like.
Kevin Patterson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “No-Names”—Jim P’s review
Theme: IDENTITY THEFT (36a, [Crime to which 17-, 25-, 51- and 58-Across have fallen victim]). The other themers were familiar phrases until ID was stolen from them.
- 17a. [Liable to slip into Cockney?] ACCENT PRONE. Accident. This is absolutely me, especially when I’m in the car alone or sometimes with my 13-year-old. Our fake British accents are just a hair’s breadth away.
- 25a. [Ailment requiring less medication?] LIGHTER FLU. Fluid. Let’s hope that’s all it is. Better get tested anyway (seriously).
- 51a. [Bus taken by Kendrick Lamar?] RAP TRANSIT. Rapid.
- 58a. [A pack of cigarettes for one’s birthday?] VICE PRESENT. President.
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this theme before, but maybe not in the WSJ. The entries here are fine though they aren’t entirely consistent. In two cases the other word changes meaning, in two they don’t.
In the fill I like OSCAR NOD, FRIED EGG, THE BFG, and GO EASY.
Clues of note:
- 6a. [Pig with a younger brother named George]. PEPPA. Yes, the entire Pig family looks weird, but we (my family and me) have a soft spot for that show. Our youngest spent some formative years in England watching Peppa Pig and its related show Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. No doubt that’s where our fake British accents come from.
- 10d. [“When We Were Young” singer]. ADELE. Hey, I like that song. See video below.
Solid puzzle, though I’ve seen the theme before. 3.5 stars.
Malaika Handa’s Universal crossword, “Splitting Hairs”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Hair styles are “split” and can be found at the beginning/end of theme answers.
- BUTTON FLY JEANS. Buns.
- FATHER’S SIDE. Fade.
- SHOPPING BAG. Shag.
- LONDON OLYMPICS. Locs.
I was thinking just before I opened the puzzle that I hadn’t blogged a circle-dependent Universal theme in quite a while, and here one is! With the very consistent 2-letters at the beginning, 2-letters at the end motif, it really doesn’t matter much. Very easy to grok with or without circles. So I’ll (mostly) forego my gripe about Universal’s inability to publish circles in its grids on its major platforms (but seriously, why not update that software like the cool kids are doing?)
Lots of fun stuff in this puzzle. Fresh and new for me were the terms “dada” and “dadi” (Hindi), Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer-winning Damn, and YERBA. I thought that was a hotel name in a Jack White song (googles)… ah, that’s Hotel Yorba. Not even close!
LOCS as a shortening for dreadlocks was also new for me.
46A [Cry from a jealous girlfriend, perhaps] HER OR ME! Sounds more pissed than jealous, and the girlfriend’s partner sounds a bit two-timey. Get out of that relationship!
Nit: BUNS is oddly plural I think, unless of course it’s referring to one person with multiple buns. Like Princess Leia perhaps?
3.6 Stars (with or without circles)
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1395 “Back-to-School Shopping List Failures”—Darby’s review
Theme: Every themed answer includes a twist on a traditional item found in a backpack on the first day of school.
- 17a [“‘Thanks for getting my school supplies, but how do I write with these stock holders?’” – CATTLE PENS
- 28a [“‘I doubt this will highlight anything, but I hear people are dying to get one!’”] – GRAVE MARKER
- 31a [“‘Pfft. Like that’s going to glue things together. It might make things taste better’”] – SOY PASTE
- 44a [“‘Seriously? You think this will hold anything? Besides, the songs probably suck!’”] – DEMO TAPE
- 47a [“‘How am I going to measure anything with the empty suit you installed?’”] – PUPPET RULER
- 60a [“‘And this will remove mistakes? I’m not even old enough to drink!’”] – MIND ERASER
As always, I’m impressed with BEQ’s ability to squeeze in so many creative theme answers. DEMO TAPE was my favorite, as it was the first themer I got. From there, it was pretty easy to fill in the appropriate school supply item.The mention of “stock holders” in 17a drove me in a much more economics/finance direction until I had C_T___ PENS. I thought the cluing on SOY PASTE could be cleaned up a bit, but overall, I thought all of these were clever. I also particularly loved the dad joke in GRAVE MARKER’s clue.
We saw a lot of people in this puzzle, including Dolly Parton (23a, more on that below), Will ENO (52a), Mike Trout of the LAA (2d), Lea SALONGA (5d), Bobby WOMACK (11d), Christine BARANSKI (38d), and Paul RAND (57d). I thought there was generally a nice mix of areas for these, and it was relatively easy to fill them on crosses even if you aren’t super familiar.
Other Eye-Catching Clues:
- 23a [“Song that Dolly Parton wrote on the same day as ‘I Will Always Love You”] – I learned this fact about JOLENE only recently, so I was kicking myself when it took me until I filled in JESU (23d [“‘___, Joy of Man’s Desiring’”]) to get it. I felt similarly about 34a and was trying to remember from my binge what the [“Setting for the final chess matches in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’”] was. I got USSR on the crosses, which was more personally disappointing than anything else.
- 22d [“Saturation Point in a business cycle”] & 40d [“Take an unwanted look”] – I liked the combo of PEAK and PEEK here. It reminded me of Peek’n Peak, a ski resort in Western New York that I remember driving up to as a kid. 37a [“Baking meas.”] and 41a [“Baking measurements: Abbr.”] was a similarly fun clue combo with TBSP and OZS.
- 56d [“Droids and the like: Abbr.”] – I liked the wordplay in choosing Droid as an example, but I felt like PDAS was a stretch for Droid as a device.
Sum total, I appreciated the twist on back to school season. At times, I felt myself in muddle through mode, but there were some really bright spots in both theme and non-theme clues that made for a good puzzle. If you need me, I’ll be listening to JOLENE. Feel free to join in.
Rafael Musa’s USA Today Crossword “Bank Openings”—Sophia’s Recap
Theme: Each theme answer begins with a type of bank.
- 17a [9.58 seconds, for the men’s 100 meter dash] – WORLD RECORD (world bank)
- 38a [Person who might be found through DNA testing] – BLOOD RELATIVE (blood bank)
- 61a [Areas with limited access to affordable nutrition] – FOOD DESERTS (food bank)
Fun one from Rafael and editor Amanda Rafkin! I liked the choice to go for types of banks rather than, like, brand names such as “Chase”. All of the theme answers were solid stand-alone phrases and all fit the theme well.
Lots of good fill in the 6/7 length slots today – I particularly enjoyed CATSIT, KITKAT, SCATHE, TYLENOL, YOU PICK, and EEYORE. From a cluing standpoint, I liked the reference to the Amanda Gorman poem “ODE to our ocean” at 53d and 42a’s little SPOON (person getting snuggled).
- I can never remember if SONIA Sotomayor’s name is spelled with an I or a Y. Gets me every time.
- I studied abroad in Hungary on a computer science program, so Paul ERDOS is a gimme answer for me now after the number of times he was mentioned.
- I enjoy topical clues like 32d [“You’re on ___” (Zoom reminder)] for MUTE, but also they just make me kinda tired.
Chris Sablich’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
Today’s puzzle by Chris Sablich features a somewhat oblique revealer: STALEMATERIAL. There are another four entries with anagrams of STALE: oldwivesTALES, cleanSLATE, atLEAST, and whataSTEAL. ATLEAST was a cute touch.
- [Wanted things] are difficult noun DESIDERATA, , but the clue sounds like it is asking for a verb!
- [Indian nurse], AMAH is rather quaint.
- [Staple, e.g.] for ATTACH here sounds like it’s asking for a noun, but it’s staple (v.)…
Loved the NYT theme – but RULY? TONG clued as a verb involving ice cubes? Come on.
Just occurred to me that RULY might be the jocular opposite of ‘unruly’. But you’d need a question mark in the clue.
I didn’t mind RULY – I’ve seen/heard a well-behave crowd described that way in the press. But TONG?? I know the dictionary says it’s legit, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a stinker of an entry.
My dictionary has both words (not that I think they’re great fill).
Right there with you.
This is a good reminder that, no matter how good your puzzle is, one or two nitpicky pieces of fill are all people will want to comment on.
FWIW, both MW11C and RHUD, my usual go-to references, have TONG as a verb, although I can’t say I’d heard it before. Only MW11C has ruly, and it speaks of it not as neat, something you’d associate with housecleaning or dress, but as orderly in the sense of obedient, as a crowd. (FWIW, in my comment I did not at all harp on the nitpicking, but on the difficulty of the whole SE, and people to my mind are totally allowed to say when their ear is betrayed. It’d be petty to blame THEM.)
NYT: Took me a while to figure out what was going on, then I really enjoyed it.
Did not notice the bonus ‘IRAN’ — nice catch Ben!
I found the NYT hard for a Thursday. I first entered MALE rather than MAL as the prefix and clung to it to the bitter end. TONG was obviously a hard one to accept. But the killer for me was the SE, what with RULY and NETTY to mention just two oddities. I also couldn’t for the life of me remember IGER so was willing to give him a preceding letter, and I kept thinking that maybe Shortz has decided that a BED-IN was a hiippie thing rather than just John and Yoko carrying on. (I did think of BE-IN, fortunately.) Then, too, as elements go, not all those element symbols spring all that quickly to mind.
Only after straightening all that out did I get the theme, and even then, yeah, I missed IRAN.
Don’t get any of the theme answers for BEQ. For example what school backpack item is represented by cattle pens? I get the pens…but cattle? How about grave marker? I get the marker but what does grave supposed to represent. I can’t believe I can’t relate to ANY of the themed answers.
They’re just puns. “You can’t write with a cattle pen.” “You can’t highlight with a grave marker.” Etc.
Personally, I would have pegged this as hard for a Thursday. I got a bit stuck in the upper right after having already gotten the upper left and guessing both NO WAY and WANDA for those two entries. TONG also slowed me down. But, the Puzzazz Difficulty Index reports that it was Easy for a Thursday. Go figure.