Adam Simon Levine’s New York Times puzzle– malaika’s write-up
Good evening, solvers! This week’s Saturday puzzle was not for me. Sometimes when a puzzle is not for me, I just set it aside unfinished, like I do with books or movies that are not for me. *shrug* But today I am subbing in for our fearless leader, Amy, so I did my best. I probably had to Check Grid about four times, for reference, and finished in a zesty thirty-seven minutes.
What makes a puzzle Not For Malaika (TM)? Several things:
Very few of the long entries delighted me. MARIGOLD (6A: Flower that’s also the name of a “Downton Abbey” character), PAINTBALL (51A: Sport with a “capture the flag” variety), and CHALUPA (33D: Mexican dish named after a small boat) were nice, but the rest didn’t do it for me. I am certain there are people who think 1988s politics (5D: NO NEW TAXES) or 1960s television (35D: IRONSIDE) or geology (33A: CHICXULU CRATER) are fun to see; I just don’t happen to be one of them. Then there was stuff that seemed universally meh: REWATCHED (28A: Like favorite films, typically) is taking up nine whole boxes on the grid and half of that word is a prefix (RE) or a suffix (ED), plus it’s crossing REVIEW (3D: Run over)! THREATENED (30D: Like the red panda, blue whale, or black rhino) and SET ON END (58A: Turned vertically) and MEDIA MAIL (40A: Shipping option for books) also felt like some wasted real estate. (Although good job, no sarcasm, on keeping the clue for THREATENED from being something intimidating / scary. Endangered animals are sad, but much better than stalker-y or violent behavior in a clue.)
The short fill was rife with stuff I don’t know, like Latin (50A: NOLI me tangere) and spy novelists (53D: LEN Deighton) and sports agents (7D: ARN Tellem).
There were also cluing choices that I didn’t understand. THIRD (30A: Like Seth, among the offspring of Adam and Eve) is such a vague word, ripe with opportunity. You can do anything with THIRD! Elizabeth Olsen is the THIRD sister, “Eclipse” is the THIRD Twilight book, “I Am… Sasha Fierce” is the THIRD Beyonce album. I do not understand why, with the plethora of options at your fingertips, you’d go for Biblical trivia. Same thing with SEVEN… like, Russian telephone numbers? Really??
I’ll finish on a positive note, though. I found the clue for CHIASM (27D: Rhetorical inversion device seen in “Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends”) to be very cute. I always smile when SHEL Silverstein (25D) is in a grid. Also, the misdirect on HEROES (37A: Long lunches?) was one I hadn’t seen before.
If today’s puzzle was in your wheelhouse, that rocks! Let me know your favorite parts in the comments. If you were like me, and pretty flail-y, join me in waiting patiently for the next Adam Aaronson puzzle.
Adrian Johnson’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I am pretty sure I have done an Adrian Johnson puzzle or two in the past. This was a fun one! This particular grid does not have a lot of long answers, so that makes it a little easier to fill as far as some themeless grids go. But this still has plenty of lively entries to amuse the solver, while still not being too difficult to finish. Keep ’em coming, Adrian! 4.4 stars from me.
A few notes:
- 15A [So cool it hurts] UBER-HIP – Exactly what I am NOT.
- 18A [Bistro cheese?] MAÎTRE D – Great clue here. I think I spelled it right … !
- 27A [Get a tat] INK UP – I still have no desire for one of these. Yes, I am a wuss.
- 30A [ESPN analyst Rose] JALEN – This took me WAAAY to long to get, since this is a Michigan man!
- 59A [Common cleanser] SALSODA – I only see this in puzzles and I have no idea what it really is!
- 8D [Abenaki leader who first contacted Plymouth settlers] SAMOSET – I also have no idea who this is! Don’t remember learning this name in history class. It’s also been a few decades for me!
- 24D [Community-building races] FUN RUNS – I have a 5k on Saturday that I am running! It should be a fiasco, since I am terribly out of shape!
- 37D [Hardly sharing words] “ALL MINE!” – Great casual phrase, albeit a little selfish!
- 41D [State known for its tequila] JALISCO – Is this the state just south of California? I should check a map …
- 44D [Where many plots are made] X,Y PLANE – I had BY PLANE in here, but that wasn’t working. Great entry here, possibly the best in the puzzle!
Off to run that 5k!
Anna Stiga’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
I almost got this one done in under 10 minutes, but the SE corner messed me up. Great central entry that I am sure had to be the seed entry in this construction. Nothing too overly hard in this one, as is the case with Anna Stiga (“Stan again”!) puzzles. But for some reason, I had all kinds of fits with that tiny SE corner. I had to put it down for a sec and come back to it just to finish! But that is OK, as I am always game for the challenge!
- 15A [Have a Bath break] TAKE TEA – The B in Bath is capitalized, thus giving you a big hint as to what is going on!
- 29A [Best Actor Oscar winner before Anthony] JEREMY – No doubt Jeremy Irons is referenced here. Pretty hard without crossings, unless you KNOW your Oscars!
- 30A [What Robert Louis Stevenson called wine] BOTTLED POETRY – What a great quote! And I don’t even drink wine that often.
- 33A [The Notorious B.I.G. discovered her] LIL’ KIM – Rap may not be your thing, but you should at least know who these people are. This is all going back a few years!
- 52A [Brewers once worked there] A.L. WEST – Tricky! The Brewers switched to the NL quite a few years ago. I forget what teams were added when they did; perhaps Colorado and Miami? Who knows.
- 20D [It features Beetle Bailey’s sister] HI AND LOIS – How did I not know this? Perhaps because this comic is NOT in our local paper!
- 29D [Half of a father-daughter Oscar duo] JOLIE – Tricky again, since her father doesn’t share the same last name! (Jon Voight is her dad, I believe!)
- 32D [”Jeopardy!” host, 4/1/1997] SAJAK – Great clue, if you stop and think about it for a second. For a minute I thought it was referencing 2021, when there have been a slew of different hosts!
- 35D [Half a ”Cocoon” real-life couple] CRONYN – Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy were both in the movie and married in real life. I think they have both passed away by now.
- 38D [Obsession, so to speak] JONES – As in “Jonesin'” for a new iPhone, which I just got on Friday! Upgrading from an iPhone XS, so it has been a while for me!
Everyone have a safe and healthy weekend!
David Alfred Bywaters’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Minding the Shop” — pannonica’s write-up
That’s the ess-hop, mind you. There’s an S in each theme answer, and it has a peripatetic streak.
- 21a. [Cause of a mail carrier’s cardiac concern?] POST TICKER (potsticker).
- 23a. [Stenographer’s metric?] SCRAWL PACE (crawlspace).
- 39a. [Playground problem?] WET SWING (West Wing).
- 51a. [Insist on immediate action without discussion?] SCORN TALK (cornstalk).
- 65a. [Reaction to a stunningly fabulous shirt?] TOP GASP (stopgap). Mind the gap!
- 85a. [Rascal’s wrench?] SCAMP TOOL (camp stool).
- 92a. [Cute guy’s nickname?] MISTER AW (miter saw).
- 111a. [Procrastinator’s Christmas Eve chore?] MALL SPRINT (small print).
- 113a. [Astronaut’s journey?] COSMIC TRIP (comic strip).
That’s it, I think. Not detecting a deeper layer to the theme, which is certainly up to snuff, if a bit anodyne. I’d have been more impressed if all the answers resolved from two-word phrases to single words, as with potsticker, crawlspace, cornstalk, and stopgap—it’d make for a tighter theme and would also evoke (via the title) ‘mind the gap‘. Again, as with most of my theme improvement ideas, that’s a tall order.
- 7d [Bigotry of which we all may someday become victims] AGEISM. Ouch.
- 14d [With all one’s might] AMAIN, 19a [From the beginning] ANEW, 47a [Openly confess] AVOW, 79a [Frothy] AFOAM – afoam?! Okay, fine.
- 24d [Sad movie, informally] WEEPER. I thought they were called weepies?
- 98d [“Black-ish” co-star Tracee __ Ross] ELLIS. I noted elsewhere last night that horn player Pee Wee ELLIS died yesterday, so I’ll share the clip I posted of him and Van Morrison (who’s being a total brat lately, I admit) performing live in 1982:
- 102d [Fish-eating mammal] OTTER. Nice to see a deviation from the tired ‘playful’ characterization. (107d [Make weary] TIRE.)
- 110d [ __ aller (last resort)] PIS. From French pis-aller, literally ‘worst’ + ‘to go’.
- 112d [Pass on passing] RUN. At first I thought this was a political clue, but on second examination I believe it’s a football thing.
- 109a [Perfect example] EPITOME.
- 115a [With understated wit] DRILY. Here I had DROLL, not realizing two of the crossings were quite wrong, and after the grid was completely filled in I had to methodically hunt up this error before I received confirmation that all was correct. ELLOS for a name at 98d is almost believable, but no way EENSL is going to fly for 95d [Diminutive].
Over and out!
Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Easy Come, Easy Go” — Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: The letters EZ are either added or to a common name/phrase.
- 16A [Setting for a tiny gem?] BABY BEZEL. From… BABYBEL? Is that the little
round cheese brand in the red wrapper?
- 27A [What a musicologist who studies folk singer Joan “earns”?] BAEZ DEGREE. From BA DEGREE.
- 9D [Optician’s bonus offer?] FREE FRAMES. From FREEZE FRAMES.
- 60A [History of a dog variety?] BREED PAST. From BREEZED PAST.
I like the concept here. That was fun to figure out. I’m not totally in love with some of the base phrases / resulting answers. They feel a little forced without a strong payoff. Like BABYBEL and BREEZED PAST don’t strike me as very strong in-language bases. BAEZ DEGREE didn’t strike me as all that humorous, and I’m unsure as to why “earns” is in quotes.
Enjoyed the fill overall! New for me: Suni LEE, ABBI Jacobson. and SCHLOCK. That’s very fun to say in my head… SCHLOCK.
SLY GRIN, CAPE FEAR, and RING POP were all solid pillars.
Thanks for this one, Paul!
Enrique Henestroza Anguiano’s USA Today crossword, “Stars In The Sky” — Matthew’s write-up
THEME: Three celebrities’ (“stars”) first names are species of birds (which can be found “in the sky”).
- 25A [NBA player with the nicknames “Captain Hook” and “RoLo”] ROBIN LOPEZ. I’ve heard neither of these nicknames, but I’m not much of an NBA fan. Robin’s twin brother, Brook, also plays in the NBA
- 37A [Actress in “The Cheetah Girls” and “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century”] RAVEN SYMONE. I never had cable, but am certainly of the right age to know her Disney Channel fame.
- 52A [Comedian whose impressions include Denzel Washington and Smeagol] JAY PHAROAH. I can vaguely remember the first, but not the second.