Friday, October 1, 2021

LAT untimed (pannonica) 


NYT 4:39 (Amy) 


The New Yorker untimed (malaika) 


Universal untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today untimed (Darby) 


Jim Horne & Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 10 1 21, no. 1001

Themeless puzzles are my favorite sort of standard crosswords. I feel a little cheated when a theme or gimmick shows up! Here we have a puzzle with diagonal (SW to NE axis) symmetry, WAYNE MANOR up above, THE BATCAVE down below, and a trio of black-square zigzags meant to look like bats. (Service journalism break: If you have a close encounter with a bat, try to capture it for testing, and if you can’t, do get the vaccinations. A suburban Chicago man died recently of rabies after refusing to get the vaccinations. Horrible way to go.)

Eight more things:

  • 8d. [Past the approval stage, in construction slang], SHOVEL-READY / 37a. [Activity with a rake], CRAPS GAME. I love that these two cross because now I’m thinking of the folks who might follow people on horseback in a parade to clean up the manure.
  • 36d. [Written designs that are also readable when flipped or rotated], AMBIGRAMS. Check out ambigram master Scott Kim’s site to see many fine examples.
  • 26a. [Pacific evergreen with orange-red bark], MADRONA. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this word in my life. Not a lot of Pacific plants here in the Midwest, you know. Nor in New York.
  • 28d. [Like the loser’s locker room after a stunning upset], DEAD SILENT. Great entry. If you haven’t started watching Ted Lasso yet, get you some Apple TV+ and begin the binge! I’d say a good 15% of the show takes place in a locker room.
  • 53a. [Environmentally friendly way to travel], SOLAR CAR. LOL. Yes, if you have $170,000 and are willing to wait till next year, or if you have access to prototype vehicles 99.9% of us have never encountered.
  • 51a. [Where uniforms are worn with sweaters?], GYM CLASS. Ick!
  • 62a. [___ urbis conditae], ANNO. A Latin phrase I’ve never seen. Let’s find out what it means: “in the year of the founded city : in the year that Rome was founded (753 b.c.) —abbreviation AUC.” This seems un-useful unless you’re a classics scholar.
  • 42d. [Jaime ___ a.k.a. the Bionic Woman], SOMMERS. This probably comes off as obscure 1970s pop culture to many solvers, but not only did I watch the show as a kid, I also had the Bionic Woman board game. Solid!

3.75 stars. Bring me my themelesses!

Steve Faiella’s Universal crossword, “All Over the Map”—Jim P’s review

Today’s theme is perfectly described by the title. It consists of pairs of stacked entries. The top ones contain the trigram ALL, and beneath each ALL you’ll find MAP. For the sake of brevity I won’t list all the clues, just the first one which contains the theme hint. And the second one because Radiohead.

Universal crossword solution · “All Over the Map” · Steve Faiella · Fri., 10.1.21

  • 14a. [*Manufacturer’s nightmare (Theme hint: Notice a stack of words in each pair of starred clues’ answers)] RECALL and 17a. [*Radiohead song with the lyric “This is what you’ll get”KARMA POLICE. What a treat to be able to link to a Radiohead song. See below.
  • 28a. STALL and 33aFORM A PLAN.
  • 37a. ALLEGRO and 42aMAPLE TREE.
  • 57a. ALLIES and 61aPAJAMA PARTY.

Pretty good, eh? The title didn’t register with me while I was solving, so it took me a while to spot the hidden words, but I had a nice little aha moment when I did.

Fillwise, the puzzle’s quite smooth, though it lacks anything longer than seven letters. I liked MOO SHU, BUNGEE, and NICU (my wife’s a pediatrician). I’m surprised how little we see that last one as a crossword entry. Whoa, hang on. There’s only one entry for NICU in the Cruciverb database, and that’s in Matt Jones’s indie puzzles. That surprises me. I wonder if editors have a thing against it.

Clue of note: 45a. [“Get Here” singer Adams]. OLETA. I don’t recall seeing her name before, but I did recognize the 1990 song once I heard it. She has an interesting story of how she was “discovered” by the British band Tears for Fears and then went on to achieve her own success. Here she is performing her biggest hit.

3.8 stars.

Doug Peterson & Brooke Husic’s USA Today crossword, “Side Issues”—Darby’s write-up

Theme: Each of the three themed answers include a magazine title as the final word of their answer.

Theme Answers

Doug Peterson & Brooke Husic's USA Today crossword, "Side Issues" solution for 10/1/2021

Doug Peterson & Brooke Husic’s USA Today crossword, “Side Issues” solution for 10/1/2021

  • 16a [“Rush to meet a deadline”] RACE AGAINST TIME
  • 35a [“Stevie Nicks hit sampled in ‘Bootylicious’”] EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
  • 55a [“Titular radio show in a 2014 Tessa Thompson film”] DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

I’ll admit, I was stumped on this theme for a while, but I really enjoyed the theme answers themselves. All three span the whole grid, which is impressive, and they are so creative and fun. While difficult for me to spot, it’s still a great theme and a good use of “Side Issues” in the title to reference magazines.

Grid-wise, I love diagonal formatting with black squares. It’s so aesthetically appealing to me, so I basked in the glory of the center format here. I felt pushed the the puzzle this morning in starting off with a set of five letter answers in the top left that I felt really got my brain moving. 1a [“Sag”] DROOP and 13a [“Enthusiasm”] VERVE were great starts over in this corner. I also love that 3a’s ORCA was clued as [“Whale with the same color scheme as a crossword”]. Someone had to say it, and Brooke and Doug (edited by Amanda) did so with glee.

I also appreciated the thoughtfulness of the references to Indigenous peoples. 9d’s MÉTIS and 44a’s CREE were both clued as [“Canadian people”], and it wasn’t until later in the puzzle did I see where Brooke and Doug were going – then I was thrilled. 32d [“Pueblo people”] TEWA also certainly built on this, and this article has more information about Esther Martinez who worked to preserve the TEWA language. I do think that 34d [“Hawaii achieved it in 1959”] STATEHOOD could be controversial. I just finished a book for an Indigenous studies class that I’m taking about the history of Indigenous peoples in Hawaii (which was fascinating – it’s called The World and All the Things Upon It by David A. Chang). Hawai’i has a much more complicated relationship with the U.S. and its territory than I was aware of, so I think “achieved” in relation to America could be tricky. Overall, though, I thought that the representation here was awesome, and it was particularly timely with yesterday (September 30th) having been Orange Shirt Day, which is meant to draw attention to the injustices committed as part of the Indian Resident School system. For each of the nations mentioned in this paragraph, I included links for more information.

Some Friday faves:

  • 6a [“Education pioneer Comstock”]ADA Comstock believed that education should encourage women to be a part of the changing world. She was also the first president of Radcliffe College and very involved politically with advocating for women through organizations like the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (later the American Association of University Women).
  • 43a [“‘Otherwise Unseeable’ poet Sholl”]BETSY Sholl founded Alice James Books, a nonprofit poetry press that works to be accessible for women interested in publishing. She’s published several poetry collections, and Otherwise Unseeable is her most recent, which won the 2014 Four Lakes Poetry Prize. You can check out her poetry here.
  • 4d [“Wake up too late”]OVERSLEEP is a great long answer, and it paired nicely both with its perpendicular partner DROOP and 54d’s [“Suffix with ‘snooze’ or ‘October’”] FEST. In my house, we’re all feeling a little sleepy this morning.
  • 31d [“Emmy Winner Daly”] TYNE Daly is perhaps most known for her work as Mary Beth Lacey in Cagney & Lacey, the 1980s buddy cop show that won four Emmys. However, she has also appeared in many, many other things, including Spider-Man: Homecoming.

That’s all from me for today. If you need me, I’ll be in a RACE AGAINST TIME with reading so that I can watch Tessa Thompson movies later without feeling guilty. If you were interested in book recommendations from my Indigenous studies class, hit me up on Twitter. Thanks to Brooke and Doug for a great puzzle!

Paul Coulter’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 10/1/21 • Fri • Coulter • solution • 20211001

The theme is quite elaborate here. In fact, by not initially seeing the revealer in the final across slot, I had to tease out the first steps piecemeal.

Obviously I noticed the circled letters, but didn’t detect a strong correlation among them. Then I noticed that they each appeared over the same set of four letters, arranged differently, and also that that tetragram also anagrammed to LEAF. At this point I searched the grid for that word and (duh) it was in one of the customary locations: the final across entry.

  • 67aR [Preceded by 1-, 9- and 65-Across, what each circled word literally suggests] LEAF. So that’s TURN | OVER | A NEW | LEAF. To wit, each of the circled words is a synonym for ‘turn’ and appears over an anagrammed (‘new’) LEAF. So it’s a multi-step theme in the spirit of cryptic clues and Wacky Wordies.
  • 17a [Public relations staple] SPIN.
    34a [Relent] BEND.
    48a [Christian Science founder Mary Baker __ ] EDDY. Personally, Duane EDDY would have been an easier get for me.
  • 1a [Go bad] TURN.
    9a [Finished] OVER.
    65a [From the top] ANEW. Note that this one is parsed differently for its theme role.

The long entries containing the ‘new leaves’ are: 19a [Certain ranch] CATTLE FARM, 38a [Father’s love, say] PATERNAL FEELING, and 50a [Morning drink choice] CAFFE LATTE. Each is a unique rearrangement of the letters.

Whew! That’s a heckuva theme there.

  • Édouard Cortes, Rue de la Paix, Rain

    21d [Paris’s __ la Paix] RUE DE.

  • 26d [Groups of three] TRINES. Major whoa. Unless you filled this in exclusively via crossings, TRIADS was the natural answer here.
  • Right alongside that weird entry is 32d [Repeat symbol, in music] SEGNO, which strikes me as moderately esoteric.
  • 28d [Functional] USABLE; 57d [Apply] USE. Really?
  • 14a [Cooked] DONE.

Caitlin Reid’s New Yorker puzzle– malaika’s write-up

Good morning folks! Solid puzzle this morning, bullets below:

Caitlin Reid’s October 1, 2021 New Yorker puzzle

  • I have seen the word QUIXOTIC (32A: Starry-eyed and impractical) before, but I never really knew what it meant. Now I do! I appreciate when Scrabble-y words like this are embedded seamlessly into the grid. The crossings for the Q and the X are both real, normal words.
  • The spanner was TWENTY QUESTIONS: Road trip pastime. This feels like it could be the revealer for a theme, but I’m not sure what the theme would be. Maybe a puzzle where twenty of the clues have question marks?
  • CASSEROLE (10D: Oven-baked potluck dish) is a term that, to me, evokes a very specific part of US culture. I don’t think I’ve ever had a casserole before! My parents didn’t cook a ton of classic American dishes like that.
  • NO REGRETS (31D: Motto akin to YOLO) was a fun entry. I usually see it spelled (incorrectly) with an A as a reference to the movie “We’re the Millers”
  • The clue for AREA (53D: A in math class?) tripped me up because I wanted ALPHA but there weren’t enough boxes
  • If you haven’t read it, “Monster” by Walter Dean MYERS (4D) is an excellent book
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22 Responses to Friday, October 1, 2021

  1. Billy Boy says:

    I was in France for a couple of weeks without time to puzzle. Is this the new NYT Friday?

    Not themeless and way sub par “clever clues”. No, I didn’t give it a 1*

  2. Mister G. says:

    One of the coauthors of today’s NYT puzzle points out on his xwordinfo site that the puzzle employs the relatively rarely used diagonal symmetry, as opposed to the usual rotational symmetry (or less common mirror symmetry)

    With the diagonal symmetry, the three black bats end up being symmetric along the diagonal, which for me was the only cool find in a solving experience that otherwise also left me with acute “themeless withdrawal syndrome”.

  3. pannonica says:

    I too found the NYT vaguely underwhelming, and disconcerting enough to mention so here.

  4. Kameron says:

    Amy’s post led me to google (bat vaccine??? never knew of that) and I learned that the man woke up with a bat *on his neck*. What the??

    I think peoples’ feelings on the “theme” aspect are interesting. Does this really amount to a theme? I think if it’d run as a themed puzzle people would have been dissatisfied. I feel like there’s gotta be this liminal themeless space where you can just do something cute-ish and vaaaaguely thematic, for the fun of it, without meeting the tighter demands(/constraints) of a proper theme per sé. But I say this as someone who lacks the infinite, truly heroic patience it takes to come up with proper themes, so I may just be sympathetic to the “dip a toe in” vibe of kinda-sorta-themes like this one.

    • Eric S says:

      The mini-theme didn’t bother me.

      But I have to wonder if the constructors started out trying to make a Batman themed puzzle and couldn’t come up with a theme set they liked.

    • I’ll go even further and say that not only are theme-lite Fridays and Saturdays fine by me … I wouldn’t mind the occasional fully themed NYT puzzle on a Friday or Saturday either. Something that’s even harder than a typical Thursday (like Fireball or ACPT Puzzle 5 or Lollapuzzoola Puzzle 4 territory) and without the usual constraint of 72 words for a themeless puzzle.

    • Billy Boy says:

      The theme answers were outright gimmes, that’s a problem for me

  5. Mutman says:

    NYT: Enjoyable for me, as I like a seldom-seen themed Friday.

    FYI: You shoot CRAPS or play in a CRAP GAME, not a CRAPS GAME.

  6. Theo Stewart says:

    Not the hardest Friday but some fun clues and a cool grid design/symmetry to reflect mini-theme in there. All in, very enjoyable – would be fun to see some grid design like that as Halloween comes up.

  7. brooke and doug says:

    Thanks, Darby, for your extremely thoughtful review (as always!). Your point on the STATEHOOD clue is very well taken and as it happens there was a behind-the-scenes mixup and this wasn’t our intended clue! The clue we settled on as a team was [Goal of the Washington, D.C. Admission Act], and we’re working on getting it changed!

  8. Gary R says:

    NYT: Mostly liked the puzzle. Some good long fill that Amy mentioned. AMBIGRAMS was new to me, but fair crosses, and somewhat inferable. I did not know MADRONA, and was tricked by the hidden capital in 29-D (I’m not familiar with ADAM Driver, anyway – but at least I would have been looking for a first name).

    I thought it was a little odd to clue AVENGERS with a reference to super heroes in a puzzle with a mini-Batman theme (unless Batman has become an Avenger since the comic book characters have been turned into movie characters – I haven’t seen any of the movies). Think I would have gone with a clue referencing the TV series.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      The Avengers series of superhero movies has grossed over $20 billion and has been a huge part of pop culture over the past decade or so. (And yes, Batman is from DC Comics, not Marvel.) The British TV series ended over 50 years ago. For a general audience spanning the generations, the TV show would be a much harder entry! Plus, the clue would require the dreaded _With “The,” contrivance.

      Adam Driver’s been in both Oscar-bait fare and some Star Wars movies. I didn’t like him one bit, but then I saw Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and he was so good in that.

      • P Merrell says:

        Adam Driver was very good in “Paterson” from Amazon Studios, playing a bus driver/poet in Paterson, NJ.

        • Eric S says:

          I haven’t seen that one, but Adam Driver has been good in everything I have seen him in (“Star Wars,” “A Marriage Story,” “BlacKKKlansman,” et al.)

      • Gary R says:


        My comment was not meant to suggest that the Avengers movie franchise (or their comic book counterpart) is not worthy of cluing here – just that when the mini-theme is focused on a superhero from a different franchise, that might not have been the best way to clue it.

        And yes, “The Avengers” TV series is seriously old – but so is “The Bionic Woman” (I had no problem with that clue/answer, except that I thought it was “Summers”).

        Regarding the dreaded “,with the” it sorta seems to me that this is how today’s clue should have been worded. As I understand it, the superheroes are “The Avengers” (and the “X-men”). But again, my comic book days ended 50 years ago, and memory fades.

        And on Adam Driver, I was not trying to suggest that he’s not cross-worthy – simply that that was a difficult crossing *for me* because I’m not well-versed in current celebrity names (and, I didn’t catch the hidden capital).

  9. Eric S says:

    Universal: I wouldn’t be surprised if some editors frown on using NICU. I imagine having a newborn in the NICU is extremely stressful and not something anyone who’s been through it would want to relive, even if they appreciate what the doctors and nurses did and even if everything worked out in the long run.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      We had two go through the NICU, and yes, those were stressful days, but everything turned out well, and seeing the entry in a crossword doesn’t bother me in the least.

      • Eric S says:

        I’m glad to hear that.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        My one was also a NICU baby, and that was a huge part of my early parenting experience. I don’t mind at all seeing it in a crossword. Bereaved parents might feel differently, of course.

  10. Zulema says:

    Re MADRONA in the NYT, a Pacific flowering tree, I lived for many years on the West Coast, and have never seen this “Spanish” version of its name used. It is always MADRONE. I agree that some of the clues in this crossword were just too cute.

    • Doug C says:

      ‘According to the Sunset Western Garden Book, in the United States, the name “madrone” is more common south of the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon and Northern California and the name “madrona” is more common north of the Siskiyous’. [See Wikipedia: “Arbutus menziesii”]
      The spelling “madrona” is ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle has a Madrona neighborhood, Madrona Park, and Madrona Beach. BC has Madrona Island, Madrona Bay, Madrona Point and Madrona School.

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