Ross Trudeau’s New York Times crossword, “Watch Your Step!”—Nate’s write-up
Be careful as you work your way around today’s New York Times puzzle, or you might end up like this unfortunate contestant on a recent British dating show.
22A: BES(TRAP)ALBUM [Grammy for Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” or Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy”]
4D/32D: EX(TRA P)OINTS [Scores for placekickers]
46A: ORCHES(TRA P)ITS [Sources of music in musicals]
14D/62D: FLYING (TRAP)EZE [Circus apparatus]
51A: (TRAP)PISTS [Brewing brothers]
39D/65D: TE(TRAP)ODS [Four-limbed animals]
96A: S(TRAP)LESS GOWN [Marilyn Monroe wore a fuchsia one while singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”]
75D/105D: CON(TRAP)TIONS [Rube Goldberg machines, e.g.]
102A: VON (TRAP)P FAMILY [“The Sound of Music” household]
93D/113D: UL(TRA P)URE [Lacking any adulteration]
122A: TRAP DOORS [Secret exits represented five times in this puzzle’s grid]
I liked this trick because it was accessible enough for folks not used to tricky puzzles to be able to recognize, but sophisticated / well-executed enough for even the most seasoned of solvers to enjoy. TRAPPISTS was new to me (I’m allergic to alcohol!), but the other themers were fun. I especially enjoyed the clues for BEST RAP ALBUM and STRAPLESS DRESS.
– I was surprised to see DORAGS spelled in the puzzle with an O instead of a U, especially given the 2018 New York Times own article on the very subject by Sandra E. Garcia. From the article: “Merriam-Webster renders it as ‘do-rag,’ observing that it is a rag used to protect a hairdo. On the other hand, anyone who has ever worn a durag spells it durag.”
– I did enjoy seeing OSMOSING at 27A. My students often put their heads against their notes right before a test, hoping for some movement of information in their favor.
– My favorite clue of the puzzle was [Subj. for some future bilinguals] for ESL. Usually, ESL (English as a Second Language) is a class usually framed as being for an immigrant coming to the US (or other English-speaking country). What often gets left out is that, even in those cases, the folks in ESL classes already know at least one other language and, with it, the complexities, idioms, and richness therein. I really liked the framing of this puzzle’s clue in that it reminds the solver that English, for many folks learning it, would be at least their second language.
What did you enjoy about the puzzle? Let us know in the comments section!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Word for Word”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Word substitutions from phrases that follow the formula _____ IS ______
- CASH IS KING and elsewhere in the puzzle [*How some restaurant bills may be paid] is INKING instead of IN CASH.
- WHAT IS LOVE / [*”___ it be?” (bartender’s question)] LOVELL not WHAT’LL
- TIME IS MONEY / [*Preschooler’s break] PLAY MONEY not PLAYTIME.
- LIFE IS SHORT / [*Bit of assistance for a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”] SHORTLINE not LIFELINE.
- HERE IS GONE / [*Arrival announcement] I’M GONE not I’M HERE!
- LESS IS MORE / [*Not as much] MORE-SO not LESS SO
Cool theme! Took me a long time to get enough of a foothold to suss it out and figure out what was going on. My time says otherwise, but this one felt much harder than last week’s puzzle. Just felt like I couldn’t complete enough of one area to garner any sort of confidence. That’s also what made the puzzle quite excellent for me. A lot of suspense was built because I had almost half of the puzzle filled (sporadically) before the (excellent) AHA moment.
I was actually rather stunned when Mr. Happy Pencil showed up, largely because I had no idea what TERRIF was and it crossed three unfamiliar words/names for me: ERIN, AMELIA, and SPRITS. The clue for TERRIF was [Marv’s relative?], and as much as I tried, I couldn’t help but think of Marv as a person’s name (which is exactly what the clue is aiming for). “Marv” in this case is short for “marvelous” just as TERRIF is short for “terrific.” Anyone else get hung up there?
Felt fairly name heavy (MORESO than usual, anyway… but I think that’s how it felt at the time rather than how it actually is). Proper nouns are often the source of stumbling blocks for me in the WaPo.
Favorite fun fact in the puzzle is that FIDO means “faithful.” Who knew? Has anyone actually met a dog named FIDO?
Very cool, of course, that all of the substitutions don’t simply result in nonsense, but in valid crossword fill. Expected from Evan, yes. But always worthy to note.
Really enjoyed this one and the challenges it posed for me.
Ella Dershowitz’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Touring Production”—Jim P’s review
I sailed through this without appreciating the theme. But I did appreciate the smoothness of the grid which was lovely.
The theme turned out to be quite lovely as well. The revealer is GET THE SHOW ON THE ROAD at 65a and clued [Begin something, or a hint to an arrangement formed by each pair of starred clues’ answers]. In each pair of starred answers (all of them familiar phrases), the top one starts with a word that is the name of a Broadway show, and the one underneath it ends with a word that is a rough synonym of road. In each case, the show and road name line up exactly which is an elegant touch. I won’t list the clues here for brevity’s sake, but they’re mostly straightforward.
- FROZEN DAIQUIRIS atop SESAME STREET. Frozen Street. 0/10. Would not live there. Too cold.
- HAIR SALONS atop LOIS LANE. Hair Lane. Also an unpleasant address. No thank you.
- RENT FREE atop DOUBLE PIKE. Rent Pike. I imagine people who often drive on turnpikes call them pikes, but there are none out west where I’ve lived most of my life, so this was out of my wheelhouse.
- GREASE STAINS atop SAKS FIFTH AVENUE. Grease Avenue. It’s amazing what terrible street names these make. But I love the pairing.
What an elegant execution of a wonderful theme. Fun choices in themers and everything flowed so smoothly. Very impressed with this grid.
And the fill has plenty of highlights as well: HOISIN sauce, EYE MAKE-UP, CRUELLA, an internet SPEED TEST (and an OUTAGE), OFF SITE, LATE FEE, SHE-WOLF, NO DRAMA Obama, and MOCAP (motion capture), which I’ve heard used before but have never seen in a grid. All this and nary an ounce of dreck. Very nice.
Clues of note:
- 20a. [Animal in a crash, informally]. RHINO. A crash is a group of rhinos.
- 28a. [Text to a late guest]. ETA. I like the angle of this clue, but I’m not quite following. A guest coming to your party is late, so you text them an ETA? Maybe you’re asking them their ETA. But if it’s a question, the clue needs to indicate that somehow. Or maybe the clue should just read [Text from a late guest, maybe].
- 51a. [**DC journalist]. LOIS LANE. Love this clue. Of course, DC stands for Detective Comics, not District of Columbia.
- 88a. [***How someone may “live” in your head]. RENT FREE. Another good clue. But evict them!
- 98a. [Its bone goes on a Seder plate]. SHANK. I considered SHARK for the merest of seconds. Sorry!
- 19d. [Isolate, in business-speak]. SILO. Didn’t know this one and that helped make that whole section from CAB and BLAB down to the two mackerel and salmon entries at 31a and 39a tough to suss out. But that was my only trouble spot in the grid.
- 76d. [“Butter” K-pop band]. BTS. Why do I suddenly want some popcorn?
Fun theme and a beautifully constructed grid. 4.5 stars.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “TBS”—Darby’s write-up
Editors: Mollie Cowger & Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer is a phrase in which the first letters of each word spell out TBS.
- 15a [“Caught unawares”] TAKEN BY SURPRISE
- 30a [“‘Even so…’”] THAT BEING SAID
- 52a [“Pricey beef cuts”] T-BONE STEAKS
To me, the most satisfying element of this theme is the way that moving down the grid, each theme answer tapers off, with TAKEN BY SURPRISE spanning the whole of the grid and T-BONE STEAKS indented in by two squares at each side. I imagine T-BONE STEAK’s hyphen here played a large role in getting a phrase that could spell out TBS.
The grid is also asymmetric, which was fun and definitely allowed for some additional flexibility. I felt like this was a very clean solve as I went through. In particularly, I enjoyed the fact that 44a [“Bite-sized sample”] TASTE was APTly placed above ASIAGO. Plus, the clue for ASIAGO (49a [“Cheese whose name starts with a continent”]) was very fun as well. Additionally, the two WH- words at the start of the Acrosses were fun as well, with WHO sitting just above WHIR.
I was ashamed to not recognize the state flag for OHIO for what it was in 62a [“Its state flag features a white circular O”]. I think I was perhaps too focused on its pennant shape.
A nice clean Sunday fill to kick off the week.
Rebecca Goldstein’s Universal Crossword, “Barriers to Entry”— Jim Q’s write-up
- 17A [60-Across in heaven?] SAINT PETER.
- 60A [60-Across at the airport?] TSA AGENT.
- 37A [60-Across at a royal residence?] PALACE GUARD.
- 50A [60-Across on the ranch?] FARMHAND.
- 60A [Individual controlling access] GATEKEEPER.
So very straightforward of a theme that I’m wondering why the theme clues are clued with a ? They don’t seem punny at all to me. I mean, SAINT PETER is literally the GATEKEEPER, right? Or am I wrong about my definition of GATEKEEPER?
As soon as I saw 60A twice referenced in the themers I jumped down there to find the word I was missing. Probably coulda named the puzzle “Gatekeepers” and had another themer in there.
Nothing much popped out in the grid for m. Liked the phrase “Digital DETOX” which is a new one for me, but a break from which I’m sure I could benefit. And our name-hidden-within-the-clue today is ALEC in kALE Chips!
2.9 stars today from me.
NYT: yeah, the DORAGS spelling threw me too, for the very same reason. Also, the Hyundai Equus was a far more opulent vehicle than the AZERA, which I learned just now was only discontinued in the US in 2017. I thought it’d been gone for a decade.
4.5 for theme, 0.5 for solve experience and 2.0 for fill yields 3* today, rounding up
A whole messa meh clues today
So are we truly upset or just signaling with DORAG?
Anyone offended by DURAG down combo?
PRO TIP: it’s an endearing term for a good male working,-class Scottish friend, but never call him A FANNY if you want to keep all your teeth
This was as tough a Sunday NYT as I can remember. I took a long time to figure out the trick, in large part because the NW corner wasn’t helpful. SCREAMO was new to me, PAT (point(s) after touchdown) seemed fine for 4D, and BESTALBUM (without the RAP) seemed fine at 23A. So that made 32D mystifying.
And then there was a lot of obscure (to me) stuff. PACKTENT, ONTILT, someone named NOEL, a singer named Trina, SPICER (garlic isn’t a spice, surely), AZERA, WIIMINI (I had WIIMOTE…). And I guessed that the Pelicans were somewhere in Florida.
Just not on my wavelength at all.
I agree, it seems to me you’d have to be on the same wave length as the constructor for some of the solves. Top left for me too,4D- I had fgs (field goals). I usually stay at the top before moving on so I’m at a disadvantage when the puzzle help is at the bottom , 122A in this case.
WaPo: A fun solve.
Same experience as Jim Q of difficulty sussing what was going on, then nice “aha”. A lot came from “knowing” the constructor… when I was struggling, I kept thinking “this is Evan, you know there’s gonna be a good payoff” . With Evan’s normal elegance of the substitutions being good crossword fill.
Easy enough to be gettable, hard enough to be enjoyable!
I’ve been noticing recently that the USA Today crosswords seem to be on average the lowest rated puzzle by “Fiend” visitors. I’m just curious to know if anybody has an opinion as to why that is so.
It probably has the fewest votes on average, as it is not accessible in Across Lite format, even with the Scraper plugin. As such, it’s more susceptible to be dragged down by a low rating. That could be part of the reason.
It’s also possibly because they’re the worst puzzles that this site reviews. The themes are non-starters, and usually cycle through three specific overworn types of themes (split words, initialisms, and “words that can follow” – you can expect each of these at least once a week), and these themes have no revealers either, all given away by the title. Zero wordplay involved. Furthermore grids are larded by way too many proper nouns and the black square count is off the charts (over 50 in a puzzle this week). And lately the puzzle has been very proud of asymmetry, usually as a banal “I don’t follow rules/tradition” youth rebellion, which just comes off as laziness most of the time. “Lazy” is a good word to describe the USA Today crossword. “Bad” is another. Very much deserving of the lowest ratings here, because the editorial standards it employs are similarly on-the-floor low.
USATODAY: I couldn’t disagree more. USA TODAY is the only puzzle I do every day. Excellently edited by Erik and his team and filled with unusual items which are almost always fairly crossed. I just wish my aging memory cells could retain more of the new and “indie” references. The reviewers here do a good job of discussing each USA TODAY grid as does Sally Hoelscher over at her blog. USA TODAY, The Times on Friday and Saturday, Evan every Sunday, the Inkubator, the AVCX, many of the Universals, and most of the New Yorker grids. An embarrassment of riches. D.
I find that people who visit crossword recap blogs are also the type of folks that like their crosswords harder, which the USA Today is decidedly not. Add that to the “consciously adds clues and fill that appeal to cultures outside the crossword norm” (read: millennial or Gen-Z, non-White, non-Western, LGBTQ+, etc.), and people are just more ornery and willing to dole out the 1-stars.
Jim P: Yes, we had a dog named Fido. He lived a long twenty years. The Internet informs me that it began with Abe Lincoln naming his dog Fido and remains a popular name,
Hated clue for PMS in NYT puzzle.
Just curious, and I’ve probably missed a previous explanation, but why hasn’t there been any write-ups for the Sunday LAT puzzles? I went back several weeks and they’re all TK…
WaPo: This is the week for obscure proper nouns. I marked 10 of them. Sigh.
Which of those proper nouns are unworthy of being in a crossword? Name them.