Heads up, puzzle people! The December 27th issue of the New Yorker will be an enhanced version of the annual cartoon issue. It’s Cartoons & Puzzles! The puzzles will include crosswords, a cryptic, an acrostic, a trivia quiz, and a meta-puzzle hidden throughout the magazine. The 12/27 issue should hit newsstands and subscriber mailboxes around Monday the 20th, and online readers can print out the puzzles. I’m looking forward to it!—Amy
Laura Taylor Kinnel’s New York Times crossword, “Season to Taste”—Nate’s write-up
Hi, all! I hope this post finds you doing well as we head into the second half of December and the holiday season for many. Stay safe out there! (Also, apologies for the slightly later review post – it’s been quite the busy weekend getting things ready to mail out for the holidays.)
Today’s NYT puzzle sounds sweet enough to eat, just from the title alone. Let’s dig in:
23A: [Little tyke / Flatter, with “up”] PEANUT / BUTTER
6D: [It was eliminated from the U.S. in 2004] – RU(BELL)A
– The PEANUT BUTTER cookie was cut with a BELL shape.
33A: [Relative of a te-hee / Bit of marginalia] SNICKER / DOODLE
36D: [Genuine] (HEART)FELT
– The SNICKER DOODLE cookie was cut with a HEART shape.
43A: [Pep / Onesie feature] GINGER / SNAP
40D: [Some graffiti] S(TREE)T ART
– The GINGER SNAP cookie was cut with a TREE shape.
52A: [Ring / Hold, as inhabitants] TOLL / HOUSE
48D: [Citrus hybrid] T(ANGEL)O
– The TOLL HOUSE cookie was cut with an ANGEL shape.
69A: [Reduce in volume / As new] THIN / MINT
58D: [Where to go on a trip?] RE(ST AR)EA
– The THIN MINT cookie was cut with a STAR shape.
85A: [Kind of leaf / Scientist born on Christmas Day in 1642] FIG / NEWTON
56D: [Personal essence] TRUE S(ELF)
– The FIG NEWTON cookie was cut with an ELF shape.
93A: [Possible result of getting one’s wires crossed / Moolah] SHORT / BREAD
77D: [Pirate] BUC(CANE)ER
– The SHORT BREAD cookie was cut with a CANE shape.
102A: [Breakfast dish / Fruitcake tidbit] OATMEAL RAISIN
88D: [More than enough] TOO (MAN)Y
– The OATMEAL RAISIN cookie was cut with a MAN shape.
116A: [This puzzle’s images, in two different ways] COOKIE CUTTERS
Each of the theme entries is made up of two halves, literally “cut” by holiday-shaped COOKIE CUTTERS, shapes that act as rebuses in the puzzle. I love that the puzzle has the little cut-out shapes in the rebus squares, which adds a nice touch and hopefully aided in solving the puzzle. Fun fact: The version of this puzzle that I test solved did not have the shape images in the rebus squares, which made the rebuses essentially unchecked by the crossings. That made the puzzle much more difficult to solve (for me at least!), so I’m excited to hear how the officially published version plays for folks. Let me know in the comments what you thought!
Gary Larson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Think Differently”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Familiar adverbial phrases are clued punnily, somewhat akin to the style of a Tom Swifty.
- 21a. [Like a gravelly-voiced orator?] ROUGHLY SPEAKING.
- 43a. [Like close-up magic?] NEARLY DONE.
- 66a. [Like a comedian on Zoom?] REMOTELY FUNNY. I like the answer, but no one ever says this. The more common phrase is that something is “not remotely funny.”
- 90a. [Like furniture at a nudist camp?] BARELY USED.
- 116a. [Like shoes that come in triple-E sizes?] WIDELY AVAILABLE.
- 14d. [Like a stoner’s lava lamp?] HIGHLY REGARDED.
- 51d. [Like a staticky radio station?] POORLY RECEIVED.
These work, and even though I have a nit with REMOTELY FUNNY, I think I liked that one best for the clue’s timeliness.
Not much long fill due to the fact that theme answers are in both directions. But the grid is clean and has numerous highlights: ALLEYWAY, POPPED BY, PEN PAL, RAISINS, ERSATZ.
Clues of note:
- 1a. [World of Warcraft, e.g.]. PC GAME. Hmm. Not a great start to the grid since the game is also available on Mac, which, while a personal computer, is not generally referred to as a PC.
- 47d. [Enjoyed some chipsi mayai]. ATE. I think this type of clue is becoming a thing at Universal which introduces American solvers to a lesser-known world dish. In this case, chipsi mayai comes from Tanzania, and—per Wikipedia—is the most popular street food and unofficial national dish of the country. “The dish was invented in the streets of Dar es Salaam. In its most basic form, chipsi mayai is a simple potato-egg omelette… It is generally prepared with chips, oil and beaten eggs fried together in a pan.” “Chips” refers to what we call “French fries.”
- 89d. [Part of a batting lineup?]. LASH. Nice clue.
3.5 stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Themeless No. 18″— Jim Q’s write-up
Hard to believe there’s been 18 themeless WaPos.
- IT’LL BE OUR LITTLE SECRET. That’s great. Can’t believe it’s only 21 letters. Sounds longer.
- ALTERNATE UNIVERSES. I entered ALTERNATE REALITIES. Same number of letters!
- UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. No crosses needed :)
Very low word count for this impressive themeless. I’M STUNNED.
- GOOSE EGGS looks delightfully funky in a grid.
- ARE YOU THERE? was a fun entry.
- Really had trouble spelling SEYMOUR.
- Never heard muscles described as BIS. Heard of LATS…
- Does anyone say NETHER without it being attached to “region”?
- TRAIN SICK? Never heard of that, though of course it makes sense. I think I just know it as “motion sickness.”
- Is THE MASTER any good?
- NOT INTERESTED and SPIDER MONKEYS were fun to uncover.
New to me:
HATHA yoga, SMETANA, TYRONE Davis, GRINT Rupert, IRENE Papas, SCOTT MOIR, Jana NOVOTNA, NADINE Labiki.
Felt like all those new-to-me names were on the same side of the puzzle, which grated on me a bit. Of course, they’re all fairly crossed, but they were difficult for me to infer and tackling each of those areas with the same elbow grease felt a bit redundant to me. Happy to see new names of course, just rough for me as they were all in the same area.
That upper right corner sounds old-timey. AUTOMAT! SPY HOLE! SCRIBES! and TESS Trueheart! Something very film noir about it.
TIES felt oddly clued [Some wedding reception accessories] as I don’t really think of them as “accessories” specific to wedding receptions. I mean, the clue works, but it felt weirdly specific and vague at the same time. Crossing the difficultly clued TIRES [Black rings, often] and a name I didn’t know SCOTT MOIR made me all but guess on the I and the E in TIRES. Happy Pencil appeared, but I wasn’t confident there.
Always fun to solve a WaPo themeless in the long run.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Hidden Image”—Darby’s write-up
Edited by Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer included ICON in the middle, hiding the “image” within the phrase.
- 20a [“Spicy stew at a cookoff”] CHILI CON CARNE
- 39a [“Hotspot offering”] WIFI CONNECTION
- 61a [“Some 20-Across ingredients”] ORGANIC ONIONS
This was a fun theme, especially since hidden images on their own tend to be games, so it felt apt for crosswords as a medium. I also appreciated that ICON spanned across two words in each answer, as well as the connection in cluing between 20a and 61a. I wasn’t crazy about ORGANIC ONIONS as an answer because I felt like the clue could have been a little more specific, but the crosses helped there.
Some other things I noticed included:
- 46a [“Like a heavy favorite”] – I expected this to fill as ODDS ARE or BETS ON, so ODDS ON felt a bit odd to me.
- 68a [“Dance that originated in Bohemia”] – POLKA traces its roots back to Anna Slezak in 1834, who supposedly came up with the dance. By the mid-1800s, “POLKAmania” ran rampant in dance circles. You can read more about the history here.
- 69a [“Actress __ Moten Barnett”] – This ETTA is different from the usual reference to ETTA JAMES. ETTA Moten Barnett is best known for originating the role of Bess in the musical Porgy and Bess.
That’s all from me! Have a great week!