August Lee-Kovach’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
I didn’t recognize the constructor’s name and he hasn’t had any puzzles blogged here before—and it turns out he is 14 years old. It’s a good puzzle! August sets high standards, he told Wordplay, for what goes into his grid, and that’s borne out by this 68-worder with a stagger-stack of 9s in the middle. Keep up your craft, kid!
Fave fill: CLAUDE MONET, STRIKE ONE, ALL ABOARD, TRUE CRIME (anyone else watching the Hulu series, Only Murders in the Building? It’s fun, and a true crime podcast is a focal point), a FAIR SHAKE (might the entry be stronger with the article A included at the front?), LOLLIPOP, VACCINE, and ICE CASTLES.
Solving vibe: Everything fell pretty swiftly except the southeast chunk, where I wasn’t confident about the ends of BOWLING LANE and OVOIDAL and found myself blankly reading all the clues in this area and coming up empty. Eventually the OVOIDAL gamble paid off.
- 1d. [Big shot?], VACCINE. I got a flu shot today and the needle was so teeny, I barely felt anything. Folks, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated against the COVID virus yet, please do! There are lots of us immunocompromised people who won’t be safe till we approach some semblance of herd immunity. We’re nowhere near that now.
- 11a. [Pop group?], FAM. I’m not sure I know what this clue is doing. Is it that your pop/dad is part of the group that is your FAMily, or that in some corners, a popular way to refer to your kinship/friendship group is FAM?
- 20a. [___ Richmond, former head of the Congressional Black Caucus and senior adviser to Joe Biden], CEDRIC. I didn’t know the name, am glad to learn it. In other Cedric news, Cedric the Entertainer hosted the Emmys last month.
- 58a. [Soft or hard finish], WARE. A word finish rather than a physical thing. Yes, I was misled.
- 41d. [Units of land, with or without the first letter], PLOTS, or lots. Neat clue.
- 45d. [Okonkwo’s people in “Things Fall Apart”], IBOS. I’m not sure how legit that S plural is, and I feel like we see the Igbo spelling more these days (though Chinua Achebe used Ibo in the 1958 novel). I’m entirely content to find Nigerian references in the crossword—just hope we’re not making Naija solvers roll their eyes and sigh.
- 36d. [Easygoing], NO-DRAMA. Not sure I’ve seen this term outside the “No-Drama Obama” formulation.
Four stars from me.
Michael Paleos’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “U.N. Leaders” — pannonica’s write-up
Straightforward enough theme. The letters UN are prefixed to familiar phrases, inverting and subverting them.
- 23a. [Ctrl-Z some calculations?] UNDO THE MATH (do the math).
- 31a. [Protests guaranteed?] UNREST ASSURED (rest assured).
- 41a. [Mind-blowing inheritance?] UNREAL ESTATE (real estate).
- 54a. [Farm for dorky animals?] UNCOOL RANCH (cool ranch).
- 60a. [“You’d open that wine bottle if you really cared about me!”?] UNSTOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE (“Stop! In the Name of Love”).
- 71a. [Rhythms for a zombie DJ?] UNDEAD BEATS (deadbeats).
- 85a. [Biased, to boot?] UNJUST AS WELL (just as well).
- 95a. [Release Bert and Ernie?] UNHAND PUPPETS (hand puppets).
- 108a. [Anxious committee leader?] UNEASY CHAIR (easy chair).
It’s a theme that works.
So I wanted to pick a song involving someone named Ewan, but I’m not a big fan of Ewan MacColl. DJ Ewan Pearson’s BEATS didn’t appeal. Ewan MacGregor would’ve come down to a preachy “We are the World” type thing, something from Moulin Rouge, or the ‘Choose Life’ speech from Trainspotting in one form or another—none of which appealed.
Reaching farther afield, digging deep, I came up with this, from my collection. Pascal Comelade with Robert Wyatt performing Kurt Weill’s ‘September Song’, which mentions the months of May, September, December, and November—but not October. But as it is all about autumn coming upon us, it still seems appropriate. Oh, and the guy who recorded it is named Ewan Davies.
What’s that? Talk about the crossword and not music? Okay, sure.
- 29d [“Ascending and Descending” lithographer] ESCHER. That’s the one with the monk-type figures on a Penrose staircase.
- 39d [Where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded] OSLO. Timely!
- 65d [Start of a classic Christmas poem] TWAS. Ah yes:
’Twas brillig, when all through the home
Not a creature gyred, not even rath mome
The stockings outgrabe by the Tumtum tree bare
In hopes that St. Jabberwock soon would be there
- 77d [Help feloniously] ABET. Annual PSA: the Thelonious Monk birthday celebration marathon on WKCR tomorrow. Good music to be heard!
- 18a [They have keys but no locks] PIANOS. Cute clue in spirit, but haven’t I seen plenty of pianos that have a lock for the lid that covers and protects the keyboard?
- 34a [Nymph pursuer[ SATYR.
- 57a [Contents of un lac] EAU. Not exactly an infringement of the theme, but it seems a bit weird.
As I said, the theme is solid but overall the crossword felt unexciting and grew a bit sloggy toward the end of the solve. Some more liveliness and humor might have helped, but this sort of thing is often a concern with large-format grids.
Brooke Husic’s USA Today crossword—Matthew’s write-up
Today’s USA Today is from Brooke Husic, who’s recently joined the Inkubator as Managing Editor, if you missed that news. Getting into it:
- 15a- SHADOWBOX (Spar with an imaginary opponent)
- 24a- FOUNDATION STONE (Building part often laid with public ceremony)
- 40a- TONER CARTRIDGES (Printer refills)
- 54a- BLUSH WINE (Rose by another name)
So we’ve got SHADOW, FOUNDATION, TONER, and BLUSH, and yep, the title is “Do Makeup“. Can “do” apply to one’s face, as well as hair? Merriam-Webster doesn’t support it, but if it can, there’s a nice double-meaning in “makeup” there.
SHADOWBOX is a great entry for my money, and dredges up a great song from my memory, below. I had a small slip-up on BLUSH WINE; without the accent on “Rosé”, I went in the color direction, trying BLUSHpink, thinking of any way to describe the dozen or so hues that cover the so-called “millennial pink”. I’m not actually seeing any instance of “Rosé” without the accent referring to wine, in about 10 minutes of Googling, so take that for what you will.
(Edit: Brooke has chimed in in the comments that the USA Today doesn’t render diacritics, which I should have thought of. Thanks, Brooke!)
Stuff I particularly liked: USA (13a- St. Louis’ country), not for the answer, but the clue. Brooke is always good for a St. Louis reference (I do the same with Buffalo), to the point that I get faked out just about every month on her difficult blog puzzles at x words by a ladee. All I know about Metroid is the name SAMUS (59a- Metroid protagonist Aran), but that was enough here. The clue for PENNE (32a- Diagonally cut pasta) is simple, but a fun way to lead my brain to the answer.
- 3d- (Subject of Timnit Gebru’s research) BIAS. Gebru is very worth a read-up if you’re unfamiliar, an expert in bias in artificial intelligence who you may know from either her work decrying Amazon’s facial recognition software or her controversial ouster from Google late last year surrounding a paper questioning the inability of language models to avoid bias.
- 12d- (Fruits in a balafon) GOURDS. A balafon is a percussion instrument from West Africa, with the gourds serving as resonators below a row of keys.
- 16d- (Brittney Griner’s org.) WNBA. It’s playoff time in the WNBA, and the just-completed semifinals were great. Griner scored 28 points in a thriller last night to lead the Phoenix Mercury to the Finals, though I admit I had been paying more attention to the Eastern conference, where Chicago topped Connecticut to reach the final.
- 41d- (Mexican state known for its seven moles) OAXACA. For a time I lived around the corner from an Oaxacan restaurant. I miss it terribly.
Kyle Dolan’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I found this one a little tougher than a normal LAT Saturday puzzle for some reason. Not sure why. I actually plowed all the way through this one before I realized my good buddy Kyle Dolan had today’s puzzle! Maybe if I would have checked the byline first, that would have made the solve a little easier! I usually have no issues with Kyle’s grids. But this one was fun, and a fine challenge to overcome. 4.7 stars from me!
A few notes:
- 1A [Feat rarely but only accomplished from home] GRAND SLAM – Baseball is winding down, as the playoffs have just started. I work with a bunch of White Sox fans, and they are not too happy today … !
- 15A [Passing comment?] “HERE YOU GO!” – Great casual phrase!
- 26A [“I __ a traveller … “: Shelley’s “Ozymandias”] MET – I don’t know my poetry! AT ALL!
- 42A [Eisenhower Era bombs?] EDSELS – This is getting a little old as a reference. It was before my time when I was young, and I am not young anymore!
- 65A [Shade on a field] TRASH TALK – Great clue. Possibly the best in the puzzle. Unless I missed one!
- 8D [Best effort] A-GAME – I think I have seen this clued as [“Shall we play __?”: quote from War Games]. If not, it should be!
- 12D [Lab lovers, e.g.] DOG PEOPLE – I am not dog people. I don’t think it’s going to happen at this point.
- 28D [Do not disturb] LEAVE BE – I wanted this to be LET IT BE, but the tense isn’t quite right for that.
- 32D [Logitech products] LASER MICE – I have a few of these by this exact brand. They are awesome!
- 33D [Material for Quechua weavers] LLAMA WOOL – Sounds warm!
Burn After Solving, the NPL Extravaganza puzzle hunt, starts today, so there goes my Saturday! If you aren’t in the NPL, why on earth not? Click on puzzlers.org for more info.
Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
I still struggle mightily with Matthew Sewell’s Stumper puzzles! This one took me forever to solve. Lots of error marks, as you can see! One or two may have been a typo; that’s my story and I am sticking to it! I found this quite the challenge, but still not the head-banging toughies from a few years ago. So either they are easier or I am actually getting better. The Boswords League puzzles are actually quite difficult, too. I count these both about the same level, and both harder than the NYT. But I realize this is all subjective, and a lot of people even find Monday NYT puzzles undoable! Anyway, I digress. Looking forward to Matthew’s next Stumper so I can see if my solving time improves. 4.6 stars for this one.
- 1A [Excessively angled] OVERFISHED – This is a 1-Across answer I actually filled in immediately! I did well in the NW corner, but then the rest of the puzzle happened.
- 27A [Not fully cooked] PARBOILED – I wanted this to be PAN-SEARED, but this makes more sense!
- 43A [Cocktail garnished with a pome slice] APPLETINI – Is a pome an apple? Is that the hint?
- 61A [Alpine attire] LEDERHOSEN – I don’t know why I wanted this to start with SKI! Once I got this I think I literally slapped my forehead!
- 11D [Numbers put together] ALBUM – This also came slowly. I had the —UM, so I was thinking SERUM for a bit. I think I need a vacation!
- 12D [Phobias, for instance] NEUROSES – A word a little on the tougher scale, but one you should still know.
- 29D [Magnetically preserved, in a way] ON TAPE – People still use these things???
- 33D [4 Yards More sporting goods] GOLF TEES – I had the golf part, but I don’t know this particular brand of tees. I looked it up, and these are the tees that have your golf ball sitting on some filaments instead of directly on the tee. I think I have seen these before.
- 35D [Poppy?] PATERNAL – I had PARENTAL in here; this is a common anagram that my brain convoluted. This is why I had all the errors in that corner!
- 45D [Formal disclosure] “IT WAS I!” – Great casual phrase! Actually, this one is NOT so casual, but a great phrase nontheless!
Everyone have a safe and healthy weekend!
Leo Dudley’s Universal crossword, “2022 Themeless Teaser”— Jim Q’s write-up
Nifty title, eh? Looking forward to 2022! I love a good themeless, and I think the way Universal has presented the few that they’ve published has made them fun and accessible to solvers at any skill level.
Congrats on a debut to a very young constructor! Leo Dudley is only 13 years old. I’m glad I know that despite my absolute least favorite types of clues (frequently featured in Universal) being the navel-gazing type. Like when the clue for ART was [Crossword puzzle construction, e.g.]. It’s very eye-roll inducing. Here it’s [13 and 24, for this puzzle’s constructor and editor] AGES. Seems very pat-on-the-back-y to me, especially for the editor to include himself. But again, I wouldn’t have known that our constructor was so young otherwise, and I’m glad I do… so there’s that. I’m conflicted.
Lots of impressive, fun stuff here. Faves include: NOT A WORD! I KNOW A GUY…, PASTA BAR, and ARE WE DONE? That upper left corner was a great way to start the puzzle.
Creepiest clue award (is there an Orca for that?) goes to 61D [Where “Who are you wearing?” is asked]. I always say, when SILENCE OF THE LAMBS REENACTMENT FESTIVAL doesn’t fit, go with RED CARPET.
Welcome, Leo! Thanks for the puzzle! Looking forward to seeing more from you. Perhaps in 2022?