Ashton Anderson and James Mulhern’s New York Times crossword—Sophia’s write-up
Hey folks! Sophia here filling in for Amy for the next two NYT Saturdays, starting with today’s lovely offering from Ashton and James. I’m a person who prefers higher word count themelesses with a focus on packing in as many great answers as possible, and today’s 68-worder (hey, for a Saturday that’s high) does that in spades. I love the central stack – the second I saw 34a’s [Horizontal group hug session] I thought “oh my goodness CUDDLE PUDDLE!” and I was hyped from then on out. CAN I GET AN AMEN and REAL ORIGINAL are also, ironically enough, incredibly original answers.
For me, solving the NE/SW and NW/SE corners of the puzzle were different experiences entirely. The NE fell easily for me, as did the SW (well, it did once I got over the idea that ELI couldn’t be right because another clue referenced “Elijah”). However, the other corners were a different story. For the longest time, I had BERLIN and nothing else in the top left corner! I think those corners felt especially challenging because of how few ways there were to enter them from the rest of the puzzle. For example, even though I had solved most of the center of the puzzle, because I didn’t know the GALAPAGOS clue, it didn’t help me in the SE. I didn’t mind it though – Saturdays are meant to be a challenge, and I liked that most of the difficulty came from cluing misdirects as opposed to esoteric words or tricky trivia.
- I have never heard the phrase 4d [Ne plus ultra], so I needed every single cross on NONPAREIL, which I thought was a type of candy??
- I liked the apt bottom stack of SAY NO MORE and SWAN SONG. Felt like a very mini theme. Speaking of mini-themes – the symmetric placement of BIOFUEL and CHEM LAB.
- Is the clue on 27a [“Duke” for Marmaduke] referring to, like, “put up your dukes!” but because Marmaduke is a dog he doesn’t have fists so it’s his… PAW? I’m honestly still confused here.
- Favorite tricky clues that certainly tricked me: 37a [What “chicken” and “egg” are examples of] for SALADS and 25a [Lacking zip?] for ENTIRE. I really thought that last one was going to be about something that was unzipped!
Carly Schuna and Will Nediger’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
I was expecting a lot out of this byline and the puzzle did not disappoint. As far as I know, this is Carly Schuna’s first published themeless (although not Will Nediger’s first), but — spoiler alert — I’ve seen another one of hers in my capacity as Inkubator themeless editor, it’s pretty great, and I can’t wait for you all to see it when we publish it.
Highlights of the grid:
- 36A [Cyborg detective of TV and film] is INSPECTOR GADGET, which…hey, I couldn’t resist building a themeless around him either.
- 63A [Ones who see what you mean] is LIP READERS. Great clue!
- 12D [Husky cousin] is a MALAMUTE. Who doesn’t love a pupper in a puzzle?
- 25D [It can be faked with air freshener] is NEW CAR SMELL, which is both a fresh entry and a fun way of cluing it.
- 37D [Left in disgust or fear, slangily] is NOPED OUT, which is fun and current enough that I don’t care about the OUT dupe with BUG OUT at 32A.
I’LL GET IT and AM I WRONG and YOU DID WHAT and IT’S NO BIGGIE make this puzzle feel like a bit of a conversation, in a good way!
Quibble: I could deal with a harder clue for EL SALVADOR than [Smallest Central American country], since if you have the first two letters, as I did, you can drop the rest of it in there without crossings even if you know very little about geography, as I do.
But, a highly enjoyable puzzle overall!
Catherine Cetta’s Universal Crossword, “Universal Freestyle 13″— Jim Q’s write-up
- STAYCATION… even though I feel like I’ve done too many of those in the past couple years.
- EGOT WINNER.
- IS THAT OKAY?
- HAPPY PLACE.
- UP TO NO GOOD.
- IDEAL MATCH.
Well crafted puzzle today. Had a few hangups here and there, particularly out of the gate as I did not know Kate WALSH and I found the clues for PAGE and AP BIO oddly specific ([Sheet in a diary] and [H.S. class where students study their cells] respectively), so I was not confident with my entries. Also, had IS THIS OKAY? instead of the correct IS THAT OKAY?
Really enjoying the Saturday themeless series overall!
Thanks for this one, Catherine.
Jesse Goldberg’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “First Strike” — pannonica’s write-up
In this belligerently-themed crossword, the first words of phrases are synonyms for hitting.
- 23a. [Newsroom standout] CRACK REPORTER.
- 33a. [They promise quick losses] CRASH DIETS.
- 35a. [Allen Ginsberg’s oeuvre] BEAT POETRY.
- 52a. [Target for a spiker] PUNCH BOWL. For a moment I thought this was about football celebrations, but it’s about nefarious partygoers. 120a [NFL scores] TDS.
- 66a. [Dr. Phil’s field] POP PSYCHOLOGY.
- 83a. [Top tunes listing] HIT PARADE.
- 96a. [A cowboy may sport a big one] BELT BUCKLE.
- 98a. [Shari Lewis’s Lamb Chop, e.g.] SOCK PUPPET. Guessing it was an editorial decision not to go with dubious online personas in the clue.
- 113a. [Activity for bored students and office drudges] CLOCK WATCHING.
The language is rife with words relating to impact, isn’t it? Grid’s integrated and flows smoothly.
Theme adjacent, and cause for complaint (again): 48a [Strikers’ foes] SCABS. NO. The striker’s foes are management and owners. Framing it as strikers vs scabs is exactly what those parties want to promote. Same thing writ larger in society and the economy—the 1% want everybody else angry and distracted with fighting each other, hence the prevalence and promotion of racism, xenophobia, and a litany of other constants. That’s the “game”. 63a [Diatribe] RANT.
- 2d [Trillion, in prefixes] TERA-, 53d [Billionth, in prefixes] NANO-.
- 4d [Shoo-in] LOCK. Guess I imagined a question mark when I filled in SOCK (this was before encountering 98a).
- 37d [Disorderly sorts] ANARCHISTS. Maybe a question mark here?
- 97d [Org. with a Kid Power division] UNICEF.
- 19a [Columbus’s birthplace] GENOA, 67d [City southeast of 19-Across] PISA, 1a [Leaning] ATILT.
- 21a [Skeptics may raise one] EYEBROW. The misdirection was effective here, partly because of the crossing of both 16d [Make a case] ARGUE and 17d [Place to make a case] COURT.
- 61a [Ranch in “Giant”] REATA. 69d [“Oh my!”] YIPE.
- 79a [Gather with old schoolmates] REUNE. I would be happy to never see this one again. Per Onelook, Merriam-Webster is the only major dictionary to list it (in their unabridged version).
Amanda Rafkin and Brooke Husic’s USA Today crossword “Watch Out for Broken Glass”—Matthew’s write-up
Theme: Each themer is bookended by the letters of PANE – the “broken glass” of the title.
- 15a [Actress in the 2021 Broadway revival of “Company”] PATTI LUPONE
- 26a [Alternative to stockings] PANTYHOSE
- 43a [High-urgency mindset] PANIC MODE
- 56a [Carpool lot, for example] PARKING ZONE
Fun set of themers – PANIC MODE was a highlight for me. I didn’t see the connection til after the solve, and today I was in the right mood to enjoy that rather than resent it. So huzzah.
Lots of room for connective down entries here. Learned something new about MANGO TREEs [7d National symbol of Bangladesh], and I couldn’t tell you why, but I loved CARRY ON BAG at 8d. That whole area had neat things – WOODSY, the Cree flag, a Macbeth reference [10d “The ___ is done”] – and new-to-me musicians ASHA Bhosle and The Lady of RAGE. Big fan of learning new stuff.
Passing on notes today because I’m running late. Have a great weekend!
Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, Saturday Stumper — pannonica’s write-up
Typical Stumper solving experience once again—a random entry here and there, followed by stymies, which I was gradually able to chip away at via logic and leaps. So let’s highlight 6a [Hit __ ] A SNAG, 13d [Cause of a hiccup] SPASM, and 8d [Creative, as reasoning] NONLINEAR.
Elsewhere, the crossword offered rather a lot of long and longish entries. 23a [Xenomorph] ALIEN LIFE FORM (pretty much literally), 29a [It may not be all it’s cracked up to be] CAGE-FREE EGG (“Cage-free eggs indicate that hens were not kept in battery cages, allowed instead to move about the egg production barn. But cage-free does not mean hens were given access to the outdoors. They were also likely stocked at high densities, meaning there was no limit to the number of birds in a given barn. These birds are given very little space in which to live.” source), 39a [Overlong addresses] PERORATIONS, 43a [Pre-presentation rave] I LOVE THIS PART. Plus some nines and eights.
- 3d [Guitar-and-castanets performances] FANDANGOS. Like me, did you have FLAMENCOS?
- 1a [Norwegian flatbread] LEFSE. Did not know this one at all.
- 16a [Candidate for lining] LIP. Not filling, but edging. 32a [Letters on much makeup] SPF.
- 20a [Inedible rhubarb] TO-DO. This is rhubarb in the sense of altercation.
- 26a [Antagonist in two spy spoofs] MINI ME. Thought this might be DR EVIL, then perhaps DR Someone, which reinforced the idea that 27d [The Bard’s “being next to the Devil,” per Coleridge] was RAGE, not IAGO.
- 28a [Half-portion of a course] NINE. Golf. Had SIDE for some time; good misdirection.
- My biggest breakthrough/toehold was probably the crossing of 36a [Tropical nut cracker] MACAW and 25d [Insects that coevolved with tropical trees] FIG WASPS. It was a minor leap, but a very worthwhile one. Every fig tree species—there are over 750—has a corresponding coevolved fig wasp species.
- 38a [Obligations] DOS. >moue<
- 57a [Forces to fork over] FINES. Was this supposed to misdirect to TINES?
- 5d [As of, on signs] EST. >moue<
- 6d [Home of the Tyrolean Lodge] ASPEN. Is this something that most people know?
- 7d [Great deal] STEAL crossing 21a [“Done and done!”] DEAL. 49a [Sounds censorious] TSKS. You know it.
- And now for the biggest stretch in a puzzle full of tricksy clues: 21d [What some game app developers work with] DEER MEAT. We’re talking game as in wild meat and app as in appetizer, but come on.
- 30d [Mustard or cocoa] EARTH TONE. Not any sort of powder or condiment or seed-related item. I was not for a moment fooled by the clue. Helped that I had the –ON– part near the end.
- 37d [The ’40s Motorette, e.g.] MICROCAR. Wow. I’m familiar with quite a number of microcars (such as the BMW Isetta) but had never heard of this really tiny make/model. It is so completely basic and simplistic that it looks as if it should be on a platform ride at an amusement park—especially without the optional windshield. Even the steering ‘wheel’ looks like no more than a safety bar.
- 40d [What you might have a ball with] TEA. This one wins second prize in the s-t-r-e-t-c-h category.
- 52d [Half an odd-jobber nickname] ANDY. The other half is handy.
- 55d [“Asked and Answered” podcast producer] ABA. That final A was the final square I needed to find and correct to complete the crossword. I’d gone with ABC, rendering the crossing 61a [Too charming] CRTSY, and I somehow ignored that C and was wondering if some variant of CUTESY or even CURTSY was desired; nope, just ARTSY. Anyway, this last down entry harkens back to the first: 1d [Part of the path of a JD] LSAT.