Lynn Lempel’s New York Times Crossword — Sophia’s recap
Theme: Each theme answer ends with the sound “OAL”, spelled in six unique ways.
- 17a [Where to get one’s Kix?] –CEREAL BOWL
- 25a [Singer/songwriter nicknamed “Piano Man”] – BILLY JOEL
- 31a [Forlorn, directionless type] – LOST SOUL
- 40a [Survey of Election Day voters] – EXIT POLL
- 47a [Greener energy source] – CLEAN COAL
- 56a [Categorize simplistically] – PIGEONHOLE
Lynn is one of a few constructors regularly heralded as “The Queen of Mondays”, and this type of puzzle is exactly why. Extremely solid theme, gridwork, and clueing all around – not much more to say here (but y’all have been reading my write ups for the past six months, you know I always have more to say).
My favorite thing about this puzzle is how satisfying it is to say all the theme answers aloud together. Try it! The different spellings of the theme sound give the puzzle the extra layer of interest that it needs, else I would have said the them was too simple for the New York Times. I’ve seen a lot of aspiring constructors ask how many letters long their theme answers need to be. I always want to say “as long as the theme requires”, and I think that concept is shown clearly in today’s puzzle. None of the theme answers here are very long (LOST SOUL and EXIT POLL are only 8 letters each), but since it’s easy to tell what words follow the pattern and are thus thematic, I don’t mind it at all. Plus, since there are six of them, the puzzle doesn’t feel lacking in theme material.
Lynn picked a really nice layout that allows there to be a lot of 7 letter down answers, but keeps most of them from crossing more than a single theme answer (well, besides those in the NW and SE). Some of these I found exciting – EYESORE, LET SLIP, and PARENTS as clued all really worked for me – while others (looking at you, STARE AT) felt pretty neutral to me. I also liked the references to Paul Rudd and Alex Trebek in the clues for ANT and HOST respectively.
The grid overall is super smooth, and my one complaint is that there a few too many COPS related references here for my personal taste. Actually, one more minor complaint: This is the second puzzle in a row that I’ve written about that clued ADA as an acronym rather that a name, and today we also get ERIN as a reference to Ireland rather than a person. I’m all for cutting down proper noun references on easier days of the week, but it really feels like women’s names bear the brunt of this choice. In fact, the only non-MYTHological woman mentioned in either the grid or the clues today is Kate Middleton, clued in reference to her SONs.
I don’t see a single cross that might mess people up unless they happened to not know either BAUM or BILLY JOEL, but both of those are incredibly well known across different swaths of folks, so I’d bet most everyone knows one of them if not both. This is the quality I expect when I solve a Lempel puzzle, and I certainly was not let down today!
Hal Moore’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Scenic Route”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Words that can precede “road” are found in the circled squares running backwards. The revealer is BACKROADS (58a, [They’re off the beaten path, and a hint to the circled letters]).
- 17a. [Culture container] PETRI DISH. Dirt road.
- 25a. [Trial-ending pronouncement] CASE DISMISSED. Side road.
- 35a. [Ireland has a famous one] NATIONAL LOTTERY. Toll road. What’s so famous about their lottery?
- 43a. [Wire support] TELEPHONE POLE. Open road.
A fine example of this theme type. By the second entry I saw the backward words. By the third entry I’d figured out they preceded “road.” And by the fourth entry, I guessed what the revealer would be. It was nice to have that confirmation once I got to it.
While the fill doesn’t boast any long, sparkly answers, it did feel smooth and clean. I liked “I HAD TO,” MEDICI, Blondie song “CALL ME,” and SPA DAY.
Clue of note: 54a. [It may be dry or sparkling]. WIT. I must have filled this in from the crosses, because I got hung up trying to think of three-letter beverages that fit the clue.
A Monday-smooth grid and a straightforward theme with just a little twist. 3.5 stars.
Daniel Bodily’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Here’s a theme that’s slightly-less-than-straightforward enough that I think it might have been more appropriate for Tuesday than Monday. A trip down to the revealer at 59A [Home plate ump’s concern … or what the answer to each starred clue can be?] gives us STRIKE ZONE, since in some sense all of the theme entries are places where strikes of some kind happen.
- 17A [*Sensei’s studio] is a KARATE DOJO, where physical strikes with the hands and feet are part of the goings-on.
- 22A [*Loud, wet weather event] is a THUNDERSTORM, in which thunder is striking the ground.
- 37A [*Source of crude] is an OIL WELL, and if one doesn’t strike oil one presumably doesn’t build a well.
- 49A [*Site of spares and splits] is a BOWLING ALLEY. Not crazy about the clue here — rather than stepping around using the word “strikes” in the clue like that I might have gone with [*Place with gutters and lanes] or something like that.
So, this certainly isn’t quite as straightforward as, say, “theme answers where the first word in each entry can be preceded by the same word to make another phrase,” and that 17A, 37A, and 49A are physical ZONES whereas I wouldn’t call a THUNDERSTORM that, makes this a bit less straightforward than I personally would choose for Monday. Couple that with needing to star the theme clues because there are four 10-letter entries in the grid that are not themers, and I would push this to Tuesday. Not the constructor’s fault, of course.
CETUS was definitely out of place compared to the difficulty of the vocab in the rest of the grid. I enjoyed SCIENCE LAB, MAGIC WORDS, PHANTOM (though I would’ve liked it better without the cross-reference in the clue), and FRACAS, which is a fun word to say out loud.
Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “There’s Good News and Bad News …” — pannonica’s write-up
Some old-style wordplay today.
- 17a. [It’s good news in a tight U.K. housing market to __/It’s bad news for a motorist to __] HAVE A FLAT.
- 23a. [It’s good news in the dating scene to __/It’s bad news in a competition to __] MEET YOUR MATCH.
- 48a. [It’s good news on a deep-sea mission to __/It’s bad news for an unethical person to __] SINK TO A NEW LOW.
- 59a. [It’s good news for an actor to hear __/It’s bad news for an athlete to __] BREAK A LEG.
Verbose by necessity. It’s fine as a theme, but a bit dry for my taste. 14a [Like a desert] ARID. However, I can see this as a great entry crossword for new solvers, as it’s engaging enough and is well-made.
- 11d [Unlike a tome, in two ways] LIGHT. Somewhat reminiscent of the theme (but not really, if you think about it for a sec).
- 31a [Opposite of difficulty] EASE. 61a [Opposite of major] MINOR. Also reminiscent, but that’s merely because the theme starts from a very basic idea.
- The question-marked clues also seem pitched for new solvers; they’re fun but not too challenging: 26d [Give the star treatment?] RATE, 1a [Angel hair topper?] HALO, 52a [Turning point] KNOB.
- 32d [They might report to CEOs] VPS, 43d [IT VIP] CTO.
- 20a [Midge Maisel’s dad] ABE. From the television show The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, which I know next to nothing about.
- 22a [Not this] THAT, 53a [Other, in Spanish] OTRA.
- 63a [Swiss painter Paul] KLEE.
- 16a [Snap, crackle or pop] NOISE.
Claire Rimkus’ USA Today puzzle: In the Lead– malaika’s write-up
Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: The word LEAD surrounds the theme answers
- Prepares for the future: LOOKS AHEAD
- Educational tool: LEARNING AID
- Fail to bring: LEAVE BEHIND
- Zombies: LIVING DEAD
Good morning, solvers! I liked this grid with the repeated L shapes. Bullets:
- I read “Things Fall APART” in my tenth grade class and really did not enjoy it. My mother (a high school English teacher who sometimes uses this book) insists that this is just because I had a bad teacher who did not make me enjoy it. Sound off below on your “Things Fall APART” experience please.
- Cathy Park Hong writes POEMs, including the collection “Minor Feelings”
- Kokeshi are wooden Japanese DOLLS with no arms. I think it’s really cool how different cultures have developed different styles of DOLLS, like matryoshka and corn husk dolls.
- Footvolley is a Brazilian sport played on a sand court with a NET
- HighlightHER, founded by ARI Chambers, is an organization for female athletes
- Tom Daley is an Olympic diver
- Sun bears are found in ASIA and are incredibly cute; do yourself a favor and Google them
- “Felix EVER After” is a novel by Kacen Callender
- PERNIL is one of my favorite dishes, slow roasted pork marinated in citrus. It is often served with rice and peas. I’ve made it a few times and it makes the whole house smell amazing.
- Free solo-ing refers to CLIMBing without ropes, by yourself. You might know the term from the movie “Free Solo” that came out a few years ago.
Others have probably mentioned this before, but I think it is really a feat how USA Today manages to make an easy puzzle that is so filled with trivia I have never heard of. When I run into trivia in other puzzles, so often it is a convenient name of a white person who died decades ago, or some detail of Latin that I will never memorize no matter how many times I see it. In these puzzles, they highlight people that I am excited to learn about– frequently artists who have become known in the past few years. (I’ve just placed two of Kacen Callender’s books on hold at the library!) And they do so using common words like POEM or EVER.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday Crossword — Matthew’s recap
I ripped through three-quarters of today’s grid from BEQ (the sports-heavy sections) before coming to a dead, dead stop in the southeast sector, which had just enough names I didn’t know.
Right to notes, since it’s already 8 PM (I have had A Day.)
- 8a [“Pistol Pete”] SAMPRAS. This is 90s tennis star Pete Sampras, who retired with 14 major titles, a record at the time before the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic “Big Three” came to prominence.
- 37a [Danny in the front offices of the Utah Jazz] AINGE. I’m sure if you’ve done enough crosswords, especially from the Boston-based BEQ, you can learn Danny AINGE as a basketball name, but even so this clue feels particularly dicey, separating AINGE from the Celtics, for whom he’s best known as a player and executive. Given how huge sports are in society, I’m all for more of them in puzzles (and yes, I’m tired of OTT and ORR, too), but this is just rough.
- 39a [Swiss potato treat] ROSTI. My solve would have been much, much different if I could have pulled this from the RO-. But I’ve only seen this word in crosswords until now.
- 44a [Church of Satan founder LaVey] ANTON. One of several names that tripped me up. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of either ANTON of LAVEY in puzzles, to be honest.
- 58a [Thong bathing suit designer Gernreich] RUDI. New to me!
- 59a [Guitarists play it with their mouths] TALKBOX. Now I’ve got Frampton stuck in my head.
- 64a [Angel on a horse] CORDERO. The last of the names in this section that undid me. Angel CORDERO is a Hall of Fame jockey, from horseracing.
- 2d [Easy place to get an “and one” bucket] IN THE PAINT. “And one” refers to the free throw a shooter earns when she makes a basket despite being fouled. It can happen on shots from further distance, but they’re most common nearest to the hoop, in an area called “the paint”
- 3d [Mail component] CHAIN LINKS. Seems like there’s disagreement in number between the clue and answer, no?
- 6d [Montana, famously] NINER. I’m not trying to explain *all* the sports here, but there really is an imbalance today. Quarterback Joe Montana most notably played for the San Francisco 49ers.
- 12d [___ fart] RIP A. I suppose that’s a choice you can make when cluing.
- 27d [Pres. who rallied for the 15th Amendment] USG. I have never seen Grant’s name abbreviated in this way until now.
- 38d [Carpenter’s challenge] ANOREXIA. I just really don’t know with this puzzle. The only women in the whole thing are MISS HAWAII (with the male gaze-y [Beauty from an island] at 1d), the fictional SHE-RA and CLARICE, RIPA clued as a potty humor partial instead of one of the biggest names in television, and Karen Carpenter, one of the greatest singers ever, used to clue one hell of a downer entry.
- 60d [Streaming service letters] OTT. I honestly forgot about this entry when I started the recap. All I can do is laugh.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword—Amy’s recap
Fave fill: VULGARIAN, BANSHEE, PARKOUR, OLIVIA RODRIGO, ROOMBAS, ZOMBIES, the New Yorker writer Hilton ALS.
Less keen on: one DRIB, CANNONEER, ERSE, SERA, HOAR.
Usually there are a few Natan clues that really sing to me, but I didn’t cotton to anything this time.
3.5 stars from me.
Am I the only who has always pronounced Joel as two syllables?
No, I do, too. That struck me right away as out of place.
This is my pet peeve about “sound-alike” puzzles. There are often individual and regional variations in pronunciation. For instance, I’d be happy if I never again see “Otto” clued as a good name for a mechanic, a chauffeur, or a racer. It just doesn’t sound like “auto” to me.
BOWL is also amenable to the BOH-UHL/BOW-WUHL pronunciation as is JOE-UHL for JOLE (JOEL), although it’s usually more of a (whatever the opposite of elide is)
Interestingly as a last name for the piano man, I think of JOLE, where as a first name is more likely to be JOE-UHL
There IS a two-syllable Billy Joel, but he’s from the planet Krypton.
Most people call me Jo-el, others pronounce it “Jole” I don’t care…just call me!
NYT: 47a [Greener energy source] CLEAN COAL is a MYTH (16a)!
Fudging it with a comparative suffix does not absolve this terrible framing.
Might should have said “allegedly” or “assertedly” or “falsely claimed to be” …
Found this on the Wordplay blog at the NYT:
This is still incredibly flawed. “Slight pause”?! It is not “debatable whether there really is such a thing” unless your debating partner is arguing in bad faith.
Poor decision by the constructor to include it in the crossword; worse decision by the editors to keep it; horrific decision for them to mollify the clue.
“Clean coal” would not become ok with a more cynical clue. Even if the term weren’t irretrievably corrupted by politics, the notion is bogus in other ways. The term itself is misleading; it’s not the fuel that’s “clean,” it’s the method of burning it. The CO2 is captured from the fumes, condensed to a powder, then transported way underground. Clearly not something likely to be retrofitted onto aging, inefficient coal-burning power plants.
We regularly see in “Constructor’s notes” the comment that the editors required a complete reworking of a section of a puzzle because they didn’t like a word, and sometimes it takes years before the editors are satisfied. Why let this one slide?
The New Yorker puzzle was ridiculously difficult or should I say impossible? They definitely need an editor. I also agree with all the comments on CLEAN COAL:
I almost finished it but was Naticked at 40A/41D. Erik Agard does a nice job of including a lot of unfamiliar (to me) words with fair crosses. NYT not so much, especially Natan Last.
i endorse 40a/41d as a crossing and Natan’s work in general, one of my favorite constructors, loved the puzzle
You endorse it why? Because it has two names that you happen to know but many people, I would guess, don’t?
they’re both cultural touchstones, which is not to say that there wouldn’t be many people who don’t know either one, but i don’t think that makes it inherently unfair to put in a puzzle. there are many examples of crossings like this that go unremarked upon because the people who don’t know them don’t overlap with people who comment on crossword blogs
also a natick is where the letter is uninferrable (like the n in n.c. wyeth, in the original example) and that’s not the case here
I disagree, obviously, that the crossing was inferable. Could have been T, for example.