Trenton Charlson’s New York Times crossword, “Snoozefest”—Nate’s write-up
Hi, all! Nate here, taking over the Sunday NYT puzzle review. Excited to be here!
Out of full disclosure, I should note that I’m lucky enough to be one of the NYT’s official crossword test solvers. We get PDFs of the puzzles a few weeks ahead of time, solve them, and get back to Everdeen and her crew with our thoughts. Because I solve the puzzles on paper for test solving, I’ll include an auto-filled version of the grid in my reviews since I’m not patient enough to resolve the puzzle on the app. 0:) I’ll be sure to base my review on the official version of the puzzle, though.
Trenton Charlson’s puzzle “Snoozefest” is our treat for this Sunday, and the gimmick becomes apparent quite quickly as we solve:
22A: FUZZY WUZZY [Inaptly named bear of a tongue twister]
28A: FREEZING DRIZZLE [Winter weather hazard]
45A: RAZZLE DAZZLE [Ostentatious display]
63A: ZIZZER-ZAZZER-ZUZZ [Final creature encountered in “Dr. Seuss’s ABC”]
86A: PRIZE PUZZLES [Opportunities to win a vacation on “Wheel of Fortune”]
101A: BUZZFEED QUIZZES [“Which Disney Princess Are You?” and the like]
111A: FORTY WINKS [Quick nap … or a playful description of the 64-Down here]
64D: ZEES [Sleep indicators]
(and a few other random entries that also include the letter Z, like ARROZ at 25A and JAZZ DUET at 12D, etc.)
So, I’ll candidly admit that I’m of two minds on this puzzle. On one hand, it’s a lovely [Ostentatious display] to fit forty (I assume – I didn’t actually count) ZEES into the grid, and with stunning theme entries that evoke so much emotion and pizzazz. My favorite themers were easily BUZZFEED QUIZZES (I’m a Jasmine) and RAZZLE DAZZLE. On the other hand, the overall fill in the grid felt like it suffered as a result of all the ZEES… making this puzzle largely unfinishable for me. I was able to tackle the top and bottom 1/3s of the puzzle, but then got so worn out by a lot of the rougher fill that I didn’t have the PATIENCE to finish the middle 1/3. The EVZONE, YREKA, ALBENIZ, H BEAM section in the NE corner alone was one where I did a lot of head scratching. Was the juice worth the squeeze for this gimmick? I’m not fully sure.
I realize that folks’ mileage my vary on this puzzle, so I’m hopeful that this grid just caught me on an off day and that others found the grid/fill less gluey / more enjoyable than I did. Let me know in the comments below what you enjoyed most about it!
Some favorite entries / clues:
91A: [Actress Ana of “Love, Victor”] for ORTIZ – I liked the modern, LGBTQ+ inclusive reference!
15D: [“How to ___ a ___” (popular Google search)] for TIE – I loved puzzling over how the answer could fit both blanks, but it surely does.
89D: [Center of L.A., once] for SHAQ – What a lovely misdirect! I spent a minute or so trying to figure out where the most central town in LA would be, but not so!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Game Break” – Jim Q’s Write-up
THEME: Chess pieces can be found “broken” within common names/phrases.
ENRIQUE PEÑA NIETO. Queen.
- CAN’T SLEEP A WINK. Pawn.
- KARAOKE NIGHT. Knight.
- SUGAR COOKIES. Rook.
- CAKE INGREDIENT. King.
- CANNABIS SHOP. Bishop.
- Added Birnholzian Layer: [Parts, or parts of a chess set … or what’s spelled out by the letters parting this puzzle’s circled words] PIECES.
Very impressive, this idea. No surprise there. Always amazed at the added Birnholzian layer, that Evan can manage to use all the chess PIECES and get a feature of the puzzle to spell out an apt word that relates to the theme in two different ways (they are pieces in chess, and they are also “in pieces”). I sometimes wonder about the times when Evan inevitably stumbles on an idea, and no matter what, can’t get it to work. How much time is spent pursuing a dead-end path for a potentially great idea? We don’t get to see that dark side of constructing.
I love how the BISHOP is hiding in the CANNABIS SHOP. Everything about that is pretty great. And hey, the QUEEÑ has a little Spanish flair! That’s fun!
NEW FOR ME:
CARA Theobold, RON Rivera, NELL Kellty, SARA Paxton, Ali WONG sounds familiar, but I didn’t know it during the solve, KEN Klippenstein, and EVA Chen. All fairly crossed, of course.
Mr. Happy Pencil didn’t instantly show face at the end, so I knew I had something wrong. And while I knew BUN TOKEN was awfully strange, I couldn’t find my mistake. Inexplicably had NEEDY for SEEDY and somehow refused to look over that clue when I was looking for my error. I dunno… I just figured a BUN TOKEN was something regional that went the wayside! Yeesh. BUS TOKEN makes a bit more sense, I’d say.
Those ANAGRAM(S) clues get me 9 times out of 10! This time was no exception: [Rome and more, e.g.]. Good one.
Dylan Schiff’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Disappearing Ink”—Jim P’s review
Theme entries are all 2-word phrases with the first word being a rough synonym of “removing.” Clues are simply the alphabet with the letters of the second word of each phrase removed.
- 22a. [ABCDEFGJKLMNOQRTUVWXYZ] ABANDONING SHIP.
- 33a. [ABCDEFGHJMOPQRSTUVWXYZ] MISSING LINK.
- 41a. [ABCDFGHIJKLMNQSTUVWXYZ] SKIPPING ROPE.
- 61a. [BCDFGHIJLMNOPQUVWXYZ] LOSING STREAK.
- 67a. [BDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSUVWXYZ] VANISHING ACT.
- 90a. [CEFGHIJKLMNPQSTUVWXYZ] CUTTING BOARD.
- 96a. [ABCDFGIJKLNPQRSTUVWXYZ] LEAVING HOME.
- 113a. [BDEFGIJKLMPQSTUVWXYZ] DROPPING ANCHOR.
Hmm. Well, on the one hand, just having the letters of a word missing from an alphabet doesn’t really mean that word is missing. Any word spelled with those letters would seem to be a potential answer. For example, ABANDONING HIPS is just as valid an answer as ABANDONING SHIP.
But on the other hand, once I got the gimmick, I looked forward to trying to guess each part of each themer. I enjoyed the consistency and the entries themselves.
I will also note that the second words can’t have any duplicate letters. For example, the first phrase that came to my mind with CUTTING was CUTTING CLASS. But that would mean only four letters missing from the alphabet (A, C, L, S), which don’t spell any common word in this case. Realizing this as an added constraint I was impressed that a full set of eight in-the-language theme entries could be found and made to fit symmetrically in the grid.
Lots to like in the fill: TRIAL OFFER, REPAIR SHOP, INNER VOICE, ARMY BRAT, SODA POP, HORROR, GLAMS UP, LINE ONE, ANEMONE, “NO DEAL,” PATELLAS and BAD KNEE.
Clues of note:
- 73a. [One traveling the bases?] ARMY BRAT. Cute clue and technically true, I just wish it hinted that we were talking about the child of a service member and not the service member themselves.
- 81a. [Brick that hurts to step on] LEGO. Sounds like the voice of experience.
- 88a. [Caps on leg joints] PATELLAS. I did find it odd that “knee” wasn’t in the clue only to realize why when I got to BAD KNEE.
- 67d. [Repeated musical passage] VAMP. I don’t think I knew this definition. The other definition I didn’t know is “the upper front part of a boot or shoe.”
- 70d. [It really speaks to you] INNER VOICE. Emphasis on “you.”
Mixed feelings on the theme, but in the end I enjoyed it and the rest of the grid as well. 3.7 stars.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Simple as ABC”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: Each themed answer is a phrase in which the first letter of each word in the answer spells out A-B-C.
- 16a [“Sales motto”] ALWAYS BE CLOSING
- 38a [“Practically guaranteed”] ALL BUT CERTAIN
- 61a [“Children’s singing group based in Georgia”] ATLANTA BOY CHOIR
We’ve seen different variations on an ABC-theme, as recently in USA Today as September 6, 2021 with Aaron Paulsen & Olivia Mitra Framke’s puzzle, but I appreciated the twist on it today in Zhouqin’s puzzle. Once I filled in ALWAYS BE CLOSING, I knew what to look for, so it helped me as I went along both with other themers and in catching their crosses.
It’s a nice grid design; not too many long answers, but I enjoyed the four eight-letter Down answers: EPISODE I, PENTAGON, ADULATED, and LIVE A LIE. Rough stuff on having to clue the former of the these as 10d [“‘Star Wars: ___ — The Phantom Menace’”]. Arguably one of – if not the – worst of the films, but it’s EPISODE I, so it fit the call perfectly. I’ll still take a Star Wars reference to the prequels over no Star Wars reference at all.
Other interesting clues from today
- 22a [“Black Girl Gamers broadcast”] – Black Girl Gamers was founded by Jay-Ann Lopez in 2016, and their STREAM has brought in over 1,500 members. The group works to be a space where Black women could play safely away from racism and sexism. Lopez has started a Patreon to fund a website that would serve as a clearinghouse for all things Black Girl Gamers.
- 18d [“Banana ___ (banh tet wrapper)”] – Banh tet is a Vietnamese dish that comes from South Vietnam, and it usually uses rice, mung bean, and cooked pork. The Banana LEAF goes around the rest of the ingredients to form a cylinder. It looks delicious, and you can find more info about banh tet here.
- 56d [“Instrument for Joanna Newsom”] & 58d [“Instrument descended from the shawm”] – I love a good clue pairing one right after the other, so it was fun to fill in HARP and then OBOE. Plus, I appreciated the spotlight on Joanna Newsom, which also led me to this NPR article from their series on women and nonbinary musicians that was a really cool read if you’re interested.
That’s all from me for today, folks! Have a good week!
NYT: I’m thinking the majority of regular solvers could not finish this puZZle without (a lot of) cheating. The number of unusual names is pretty overwhelming.
On the other hand, I loved the hubris of it all. And the theme answers. Anyone who makes Dr. Zeus a centerpiece is great in my book. So, I decided to get over my DNF and give it a high rating…
NYT: I set personal record times on Fri and Sat, and found both zippy. But I think the right word to describe today’s end-of-week cleaner was buzzkill.
Sundays have become Shortz’s least well-rated puzzles here for a long time now, by far, and this one is among the worst, I see. I don’t know why he can’t get better submissions. I’m myself torn as to what to say about it.
It started with one gimme after another before turning to one proper name after another. I thought maybe it’s a good puzzle for those with young kids, just not me, but then the names went way beyond that. This dual identity is another common Sunday NYT flaw I wish he’d get over. Some other truly forced fill as well. (Why the review has to praise ORTIZ just because he recognizes her is beyond me. I don’t impose my tastes on you.)
I can see it as inevitable to have some clunkers when the grid is so theme heavy, and maybe we should praise the ambition. Still, I had huge empty spaces for a long time and never did enjoy defeating them, although eventually I did.
I came slowly to the theme. I first got FUZZY WUZZY and RAZZLE DAZZLE, but when that doubling turned out not to be the key, I had to rethink with maybe a little disappointment. Eventually, of course, it extended beyond the long entries. I liked discovering that, although Z doesn’t spring to mine in emoticon world for “wink,” and have to say three Google searches now have failed to verify it. Doesn’t help that I couldn’t bring myself to count them and bet almost no one could either.
The upside, of course, is that there’s still something smile worthy about all the Z sounds. Also, in time it helped, in that, whenever a clue was ambiguous, I figured I could go with a word with a Z. Thus, levels could have been tiers, but RAZES gave me a Z. Well, take what pleasures we can.
not only is “I don’t impose my tastes on you” a wild take (if the reviewer saying “I liked this” counts as imposing tastes, then what do you call your recurring complaints about pop culture references?), but to say it about an LGBTQ+ reference feels very loaded considering the popular “don’t force your lifestyle on me!” flavor of homophobia
I’ll just assume that JohnH is prepping to launch Crossword Fiend Fiend, a blog where he reviews the reviews of the puzzles. I’m guessing my review won’t be earning 5 stars!
I strongly support the LGBTQ cause, but I can’t say the clue referred to it. I guess you just got to know.
I’m trying NOT to pontificate, not start my own reviews. Honestly, if I ever dare mention I find something obscure or pleasing to me just by familiarity, I’m pounded on as implying I am not willing to learn, and not for that reason alone I just never, ever do, other than to complain that a crossing isn’t fair, which doesn’t seem too demanding to me. In turn, why should a reviewer be able to say “I love this entry” because, well, the reviewer loves that actress?
Seems to me that the burden of who’s intolerant here is just not fair. Besides is my take on the puzzle really that out of it. The ratings are quite often far, far harsher than mine, and I haven’t seen other points of disagreement with me in the comments. So go ahead, have your ORTIZ, but cut me a break.
John. Really? I include a list of “fave fill” in most of my reviews, and clues that I liked. Why don’t you complain about that? Why *shouldn’t* a reviewer be able to mention what they liked about a puzzle—particularly when the overall vibe of the review is negative, isn’t it nice to single out some positives?
The Ana ORTIZ clue angle is the show “Love, Victor,” whose title character is both gay and Latino. Can you name other TV shows that center a gay, Latino youth experience? Representation *does* matter. Nate appreciates puzzle content that reflects more than a straight white male focus. So do I. So does pretty much all of Team Fiend. And when we mention those inclusive bits that we appreciate in our blog posts, we hope to both thank and encourage constructors/editors to keep it up, and to spur readers’ curiosity to learn more about these references that weren’t in their ken.
You know all this by now, so I’m not sure why you felt called to rag on Nate for that one short item.
Also, “why should a reviewer be able to say” anything at all? If it’s not libel or hate speech or disinformation, why the hell shouldn’t we?
John said: “I liked discovering that, although Z doesn’t spring to mine in emoticon world for “wink,” and have to say three Google searches now have failed to verify it.”
I don’t think the Z’s are meant to represent winking emoticons. Z’s are usually used in comics to indicate that a character is sleeping. I think the constructor just engaged artistic license to conflate the Z’s with the winks from the expression “forty winks” (which used to be a common idiom for a nap).
Rather routine NYT for me. I got the theme early, plowed through it, then spent an unreasonable amount of time at the very end looking for a single wrong letter– turned out to be in 60D. I guess I could complain about an entry with a misleading clue intersecting a nonsense word…
NYT: I picked up on the “feature” of the puzzle (“theme” is too strong and “gimmick” seems too pejorative) after filling in FREEZING DRIZZLE and checking the puzzle title. After that, I just started looking for answers with Zs – especially in the long fill. The revealer did a good job of tying things together.
I didn’t think the puzzle was especially difficult, though I did finish with an error at the ONZE/ELZIE crossing. I don’t know much French, and although Popeye was a popular animated cartoon when I was a kid, it wasn’t a favorite of mine.
DEANERY threw me. I was a practicing Catholic for the first 20-or-so years of my life, and I don’t ever remember hearing the title of “Dean” in connection with the church. It didn’t help that Diocese fit.
Never heard of an H-BEAM. Seems like it would just be an I-beam turned on its side. Google led to me the web site of a steel fabricating company, and a page where they said “Do you know how H-beams and I-beams are used differently? Keep reading and we will help you answer this important question. In the construction industry, many people still cannot explain this information properly.” The “many people” they refer to seems to include the steel fabricator, because after reading their explanation, I still think an H-beam is just an I-beam turned on its side.
I’d venture that an H-beam has longer flanges than an I-beam. As for the creator of Popeye, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the name written as anything other than the initialed E.C. Segar.
It sez here that H-beams and I-beams have slightly different cross-sections, which lead to, um, strength and use differences that I decided not to examine further. Very important to structural engineers, tho, I’m sure.
Good catch about Segar. That’s why I didn’t recognize the name in spite of knowing a thing or two about old comix.
I got stuck at the same crossing, tried ONCE/ELCIE and ONSE/ELSIE first. But if I took the time to count 39 ZEES in the rest of the grid, I might have figured it out.
On the whole I loved the audacity of this puzzle, and knowing that the fill would suffer a bit, I was impressed it wasn’t worse. I enjoyed it.
I think the practice of organizing the parishes of a diocese into deaneries is found more in the Episcopal Church (and other branches of the Anglican Communion).
NYT was a horrible puzzle. Period.
Thanks for the insightful critique.
I wanted to like the NYT puZZle more than I actually did. I think it’s a cute idea to see if you can put forty Zs in one grid, but unsurprisingly that meant reaching for some odd words to make it work. I didn’t know the central Dr Seuss* character but it became sufficiently obvious after a while. Completing the puzzle turned into a slog, unfortunately.
*I have never read a Dr Seuss book from cover to cover.
I actually completed this with no mistakes and no cheating but did so without enjoyment. The “Z” theme made many answers obvious and therefore less challenging. As for the “Spanish composer Isaac”, his last name happens to be the Spanish version of my Italian surname, so I guessed correctly.
And I agree with Gary R.—“deanery” sounds more Protestant-ish to this Catholic-educated solver. We have parishes, dioceses, and archdioceses, but deaneries? Not so much…
I too was unfamiliar with this word and its association with the Catholic Church. FWIW, Wikipedia says this about it:
“A deanery (or decanate) is an ecclesiastical entity in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, the Evangelical Church in Germany, and the Church of Norway. A deanery is either the jurisdiction or residence of a dean.
“In the Catholic Church, Can.374 §2 of the Code of Canon Law grants to bishops the possibility to join together several neighbouring parishes into special groups, such as vicariates forane, or deaneries.”
LAT: Nice theme that eluded me until I was almost finished. The fill and clueing felt relatively fresh.
Universal – I completed the puzzle no problem but, even reading the theme hint at clue 17A, I am totally at a loss as to the theme. Anyone?
I have the letters you have written all over my puzzle paper, but I can’t turn it into localities. Must be my day to be really stupid maybe. Hanging my head :(
Today’s NYT has more instances of the letter Z than I had in all of my Sunday puzzles in 2020 combined (33 total, 12 of which came from two puzzles).
A lot more time than I care to admit. Today’s WaPo sat on the shelf for at least a month or two because I had five out of six theme answers but couldn’t find a phrase that I liked to split up the KING until CAKE INGREDIENT got added to the mix.
Bad [meaning good] pun.
As an alumna of a Catholic University which required 4 years of theology I concur with Gary R & have never heard of a deanery despite what Wikipedia posts.
And to David L: all Sunday puzzles are slogs. It’s sad that seasoned solvers have to slog through MTWT & sometimes even Fridays. Is it fair all we get is one day? So glad I found Daily Crossword Links to brighten my intellect. These main stream newspaper grids are repetitive & boring.
Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a clue that’s likely pulled from Wikipedia by someone who doesn’t have a keen understanding of a particular term!
I think dividing up Catholic dioceses into deaneries is more for administration purposes, and so probably only the priests and bishops are aware of this. Growing up (Catholic), I knew which deanery our parish was in, but that was only because our pastor was the Dean of the deanery. I had to look up what deanery my current parish is in, since I never hear it mentioned.
How is YREKA (36 down) a palindrome? Not the same backwards and forwards.
FYI (re: WaPo), “përshëndetje” isn’t really “hello” in Albanian. It’s more like “greetings, salutations” and is used as a closing in letters in the same way as “sincerely.” To say hello you’d generally say “mirëdita.” Say “përshëndetje” to an Albanian as a greeting and they’d probably think you’re a bit stiff (or from another century).
Late to the discussion here, probably no one still reading.
My math says 10.7% of the white squares in the 10/3 NYT puzzle are Zs. Yowza.