Wednesday, March 30, 2022

LAT 3:48 (Gareth) 


The New Yorker 2:44 (Matthew) 


NYT untimed (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today  3:39 (Sophia) 


AVCX 6:24 (Ben) 


Christopher Youngs’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Best Play”—Jim P’s review

Theme: ESPY AWARDS (57a, [Honors for athletes, and a phonetic hint to this puzzle’s theme]). Each of the familiar phrases in the other theme answers has been awarded an SP at the beginning.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Best Play” · Christopher Youngs · Wed., 3.30.22

  • 17a. [Pastel?] SPRING TONE.
  • 25a. [Injury timeout?] SPRAIN DELAY.
  • 37a. [Soft drink served on a flight?] SPRITE OF PASSAGE. For me it’s ginger ale when I fly, almost every time. I recently learned this is an actual thing, and not just my own personal tradition. For some, it’s tomato juice.
  • 47a. [Bicycle gear supplier?] SPROCKET MAN. Had to smile at this one. We also would have accepted [George Jetson?] as a clue (since he worked for Spacely Space Sprockets, Inc.).

I enjoyed this. I caught on early, but couldn’t make sense of the title until I got to the revealer (“Best Play” is an ESPY Award). The revealer makes for a very nice play on words, and I also like the idea of “awarding” the theme phrases with the added letters. A subtle, but nice touch.

The fill is solid and smooth throughout, though there’s nothing longer than six letters to sink our teeth into. I would’ve liked to have seen at least a couple marquee long answers.

Clues of note:

  • 16a. [Firefighter, at times]. HERO. Not all the time? Even when not actually saving lives, I’d say a firefighter does heroic work. But one shouldn’t generalize, and there are always bad apples in any group of people. So I probably would’ve gone with “often” in the clue.
  • 49d. [Italic alternative]. ROMAN. Here’s me thinking ROMAN was an actual font (that would be Times New Roman). Wikipedia says the three main kinds of historical type in Latin script typography are roman (like what you’re looking at now), italic, and blackletter (also called Gothic script).

A solidly executed letter-addition theme. Some long sparkle in the fill would have been welcome. 3.5 stars.

Jack Murtagh’s New York Times Crossword- Jenni’s write-up

Amy’s off duty for a while so I’ll throw up a grid and brief explanation. Each theme answer is a PUN on a name.

New York Times, March 30, 2022, Jack Murtagh, solution grid

  • 17a [Cradlin’ a Salinger protagonist?] is HOLDIN CAULFIELD. Holden.
  • 21a [“Footloose” star cookin’ a fresh batch of brownies?] is KEVIN BAKIN‘.
  • 34a [The Great Emancipator sharin’ URLs on his blog?] is ABRAHAM LINKIN‘.
  • 51a [Bein’ in debt to a “Wedding Crashers” co-star? is OWIN‘ WILSON.
  • 57a [Massachusetts senator wagin’ conflict?] is ELIZABETH WARRIN‘.

Fun and fresh idea! All the themers work. An enjoyable way to start the day.

And I know, I know that Will Shortz does not think dupes are a big deal. I still think SAVE ME and SPARE ME crossing each other is a bit much. OK, a lot much.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that India.ARIE has won four Grammys.

Zachary David Levy’s AVCX, “Recipe for Disaster” — Ben’s Review

AVCX 3/30 – “Recipe for Disaster”

Today’s AVCX Classic is a debut from Zachary David Levy for the venue, and it’s 2/5 in difficulty

  • 17A: *Certain nightshades — EGGPLANTS
  • 27A: *Andean legumes — BUTTER BEANS
  • 38A: *Pod treats that grow in spring — SUGAR SNAP PEAS
  • 50A: *Purple-flowering plant with medicinal applications — *Purple-flowering plant with medicinal applications — MILK THISTLE
  • 60A: Cockamamie … or what the ingredients indicated by the starred clues should be to make a cake that’s actually edible — HALF BAKED

Taking the EGG, BUTTER, SUGAR, and MILK from the answers and leaving the rest, you’d certainly be most of the way to having a cake.  I’m not sure if these all being plants gives us enough of a flower/flour thing going on to finish that off, but again, you’re most of the way there.

47D: “___-La-La (Make Me Happy)” (Al Green jam) — SHA

Happy Wednesday!

Jess Goldstein’s Universal crossword, “Late Meeting” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 3/30/22 • Wed • “Late Meeting” • Goldstein • solution • 20220330

Have to brief this morning, but not due to any deficiencies on the puzzle’s part.

  • 59aR [What’s after last call at a bar, and a theme hint] CLOSING TIME. In the other theme entries, the circled letters TI–ME inexorably move closer to each other. First they’re 4 letters apart, then 3, then 2, and finally are joined in the revealer.
  • 18a. [What’s boring to play?] WAITING GAME. This one also feels like commentary on the theme itself.
  • 24a. [Movie with a meet-cute] ROMANTIC COMEDY.
  • 38a. [Tendency to recall only highlights, say] SELECTIVE MEMORY.
  • 53a. [Extreme action] DRASTIC MEASURE.

That’s quite a lot of theme material–five answers all longer than 10 letters. 11×2, 14×2, 15×1. And it’s all quality material. The solve itself was quick and smooth.

  • 4d [Bottom of a price range] LOW END.
  • 12d [10-year old toon Turner] TIMMY. Needed to look this one up. It’s from The Fairly OddParents.
  • 27d [Indian breakfast cake] IDLI. I’ve had them for lunch though. No wait, I’m thinking of DOSA. Both are very good.
  • 43d [Ivy with cafes called butteries] YALE. That’s ODD (1d) to me. Ah, I see. Derives from a medieval term.
  • 48d [Positions on issues] STANDS. I feel STANCES is a better fit, except in letter length.
  • 46a [Org. with a Feed Your Mind initiative] FDA. Makes sense.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today Crossword, “Left and Right” — Sophia’s recap

Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer is two words, the first of which can be preceded with “left” and the second can be preceded with “right”. This also means that the words are literally on the left and right sides of the answers.

USA Today, 03 30 2022, “Left and Right”

  • 16a [Period to focus on yourself]  – ALONE TIME (left alone/right time)
  • 28a [“This way!”] – OVER HERE (left over/right here)
  • 45a [Public audition] – OPEN CALL (left open/right call)
  • 64a [Not giving up] – HANGING ON (left hanging/right on)

A very layered theme today from USA Today! I didn’t see the theme at all until I finished solving, but once I looked for it I was impressed. I guess there are a fair amount of words that can pair with “left” or “right” to make phrases, but I wouldn’t have guessed that so many of them made phrases themselves when combined, especially phrases interesting enough that they didn’t stand out to me as forced as I solved the first time. ALONE TIME is my favorite theme answer, and HANGING ON is my favorite when it comes to the left/right answers.

Other notes:

  • As usual in a CC puzzle, there are a ton of food related clues and answers. Today in the grid alone we have GUMDROP, PESTO, SPONGE CAKE, EGGO, and vegetable moo SHU.
  • If anyone else is interested in the A-LIST (or the, uh, slightly less a-list), I highly recommend Clare Malone’s podcast “Just Like Us: The tabloids that changed America”. It’s a great analysis of 2000’s pop culture and how the treatment of celebrities has changed over time.
  • I can never remember if GRAYER is spelled with an “a” or an “e” and have to get the vowel from the crosses every time.
  • Biggest write-over today: “clay” instead of GLUE for 14a [Art class goop].

Seth Bisen Hersh’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Today’s sounds-alike theme by Seth Bisen-Hersh is a little lop-sided. It features three people whose surname is pronounced “KɑːN”. The revealer is CONARTIST, which is pronounced “KɒN”. There’s also the little matter that CAAN and KAHN are both variants of the Jewish surname COHEN from what I can tell. KHAN is also semitic, but if there is a connection, it’s more distant. On the other hand, it’s great to see SHAHRUKHKHAN get a full-name shout-out in an American crossword. The other two actors are JAMESCAAN and MADELINEKAHN.

There was an interesting assortment of longer one-word downs today: PAKISTAN, SYCOPHANT, SPIDERMAN and GALAXIES.

Oh and one clue [Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue ___”], BAYOU. Every Roy Orbison fan’s jaw simultaneously dropped…


Brooke Husic’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s review

Brooke Husic’s New Yorker crossword solution, 3/30/2022

After Will and Paolo, Brooke Husic makes her TNY debut today. This was a *bit* more of a challenge than past Fridays (if I understand the difficulty correlations correct) but ultimately an enjoyable addition between Brooke’s work at USA Today and brainbusters at her own site.

The grid shape dictated my path through the puzzle — the long downs providing connectivity from the corners to the middle, and the center entry holding it all together, were all highlights:

  • 4d [“Don’t put it past me!”] MAYBE I WILL
  • 8d [Long-lasting alternative to gloss] LIP STAIN. I wasn’t familiar with this, but “gloss” nudges toward lips, and “long-lasting” is a good hint, as well. We talk about gentler crossings often, but this is a nice approach, too.
  • 32d [You might take one to relax] DEEP BREATH
  • 38d [Dresses as a character] COSPLAYS. Every now and then I see some truly jaw-dropping cosplays from one con or another. I don’t think it’s for me, but it’s very cool to see what people can put together.
  • 36a [It might never happen … but it’s fun to fantasize”] A GIRL CAN DREAM. A colorful, in the language entry that deserves a marquee spot like this, and gets an evocative clue that elevates it further.

This is not the first time I’ve seen LO-RES from this angle [12d Heavily pixelated, for short], but I couldn’t see the (implied) hyphen that I imagine the word has… fell for a trap with “CROCS” instead of CLOGS at 24d [Shoes often worn with scrubs] … a bit of serendipity with HOU YIFAN [56a Chinese chess prodigy who became a Grandmaster at fourteen], who I hoped to use in a clue for ELO in the puzzle Brooke and I had in the AVCX a few weeks ago.

Today in Things I Learned From Crosswords: Fashion designer ANNA Sui (23d, shoutout to Stella), and DARIA [35d 1997-2001 animated series with an upcoming “Jodie” spinoff], which I learned from a WSJ puzzle around New Years just a few months ago


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27 Responses to Wednesday, March 30, 2022

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: I didn’t care for the corny theme. And some of the fill is just bad.

    But an average rating of less than two stars (as of 8:15 AM CDT)? That’s harsh! I wonder how many people who give puzzles a one-star rating have ever constructed a publishable puzzle.

    • Me says:

      I didn’t rate the puzzle, but a bunch of the fill is really bad: NTILE, GOTAC, TRANK, etc. And a lot of crosswordese: ELEA, ECU, INURN, etc. And a ton of abbreviations: IED, RMS, BTW, FWIW, IMO, YSL, AFL, etc.

      Way too much of the fill is bad. It would be one thing if the theme was so wonderful that it made enduring all this bad fill worth it, but it’s a pretty average theme IMO. And it isn’t even a debut for the constructor, which might lead us to give him some slack. This is his 3rd NYT puzzle in a year and a half. Given how hard it is to get a puzzle published in the NYT, I’m surprised this made the cut.

    • Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

      Eric, I don’t need to be a published author [even at a vanity press] to have an opinion of a book. I don’t need to be an extra in a movie to rate a film. You get my point. I’ve been solving crosswords for over 50 years. [Thank you, Nana.] I have never tried to construct one. I admire the people who do so, and I appreciate the pleasure they give me. When a puzzle does not please me [my comments yesterday about a sector of the New Yorker puzzle would apply to the middle right-hand section of today’s as well], I will evaluate the puzzle accordingly.

      • Eric H says:

        I hope you find more puzzles that please you than ones you hate.

        FWIW, I probably gave this puzzle a higher rating than it deserves. As I read more reviews and comments pointing out flaws I overlooked, my opinion of the puzzle has dropped. (And it wasn’t all that high to begin with.)

        • Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

          I’m generous with early week puzzles because of the audience they’re aimed at. I’m probably tougher later in the week, because I expect more of a challenge and/or something more entertaining. I do not like being stymied by crosses of trivia where any number of different letters are linguistically possible. And I loathe made-up names. But, yes, I’d have to say that the acceptable-good-wonderful puzzles far outnumber the bad ones. And I wouldn’t actually say that I “hate” any puzzles. I may be very disappointed. I may be vehement in my disapproval at times. But I reserve hatred for racists and scum of that sort … not crossword puzzles.

          • Eric H says:

            Your views on puzzles aren’t that far from mine.

            And I appreciate your taking the time and making the effort to articulate what it is about any particular puzzle that pleases or displeases you. It’s all to easy to say “hated it” or “loved it” without explaining why.

  2. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    With Biden, Blinken, Yellen, et al., NYT could have been an all-administration puzzle.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      LOL. Could have been! Or a nursery rhyme.

    • marciem says:

      don’t forget “the other” —in…

      I can see it now, Young Frankenstein and Monster singing…

      on a cracker… (very dark mental image here)

      Except there’s no connection between first and last name … oh well that’s why I’m not a constructor.
      I loved this puzzle and am totally bewildered at the hatin’ of it.

  3. JohnH says:

    Hah! I like that!

    Like Eric, I’m surprised at the ratings. They seem to comport with a theme that positively doesn’t work or fill that’s unsolvable. To me, the puzzle was routine, maybe even mildly entertaining. Maybe meh, but then Monday to Wednesday are never all THAT exciting for me.

  4. huda says:

    NYT: I gave it an above average rating. But one nit to pick:
    If the idea is to convert XN sounds in proper names to IN(G) forms, that WILSON stands out for being unconverted. I know the puzzle already modified the OWE/IN but a different name would have been more consistent.

    • BryanF says:

      I took it was an elision of “owin(g) Wilson” and consistent with the theme.

    • Gary R says:

      I guess the same inconsistency applies to KEVIN BAKIN. Didn’t bother me. I thought the puns were kind of fun. A little heavy on the three-letter entries – I assume that’s at least partly a result of five fairly long themers. I enjoyed it.

  5. sanfranman59 says:

    USAT … other food and culinary references in today’s grid in addition to those identified by Sophia in her review (GUMDROP, PESTO, SPONGE CAKE, EGGO, and vegetable moo SHU): SEA SALT, the AROMA of miso soup (I’ve had a lot of miso soup in my day, but never really noticed the AROMA … maybe I haven’t gone to the right restaurants), sticky buns (they’re RICH?), masala CHAI, SUSHI, pomelo RINDS and NAPA cabbage. Do you suppose all of this will be available at CC’s and Erik’s DINER? Quite a menu! That’s 11 of 78 answers in the grid (14%)!

  6. sanfranman59 says:

    WSJ/Uni: Still more evidence of the Great Crossword Constructor Conspiracy: WSJ 1-Across: ON/OFF (clued as “Switch words”). Universal 1-Across: ONS (clued as “Light switch position”). Cue “The Twilight Zone” music.

  7. sanfranman59 says:

    TNY: I need to be careful about what I wish for. On Monday, I was excited to learn that “The New Yorker” will publish a puzzle every weekday. Now that I know that the expanded constructor slate will include at least two of my constructor nemeses, Paulo Pasco and Brooke Husic, I think I’m in for some more learning experiences. I already have a good bit of experience with their puzzles from “USA Today”.

    I’ve been doing pre-Shortz-era NYT puzzles lately. This puzzle had me feeling like I was doing a Maleska-edited puzzle. As often happens to me with those puzzles, the CERAVE {15A: Skin-care line popular on the TikTok}/REP {2D: Wear the merch of} cross could have been any vowel, as far as I know.

    • Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

      sanfranman59 is not, repeat not, my alter ego [but we should touch base if you’re in SF since I am a Berkeley-ite], but I have added Brooke [Paolo was already there] to my roster [Kameron & Natan were the charter members] of constructors to be wary of. I mean this in the most blitheful way possible.

    • faBioethics says:

      Do you (and Grumpy) not recognize that there are actual humans on the other end of these bylines? Humans who are vast and contain multitudes and make beautiful puzzles that are all different and appeal to all sorts of people? It’s ok (in fact, it’s good!) that not every puzzle was made with you in mind.

      I encourage you to keep solving them and learning from them (and I’m glad to see you expect to learn!). I’d also encourage you to reconsider declaring any constructor your “nemesis” — it reads as mean-spirited and close-minded, and also not in keeping with your stated goal of learning.

      I don’t expect to change your mind here, but I hope you’ll reflect a bit more about how your words might affect the constructors who put time, talent, and energy into producing the puzzles we are all lucky enough to solve every day.

      • dhj says:

        Why is it a problem that others don’t find puzzles by your besties just as wonderful and beautiful as you do? If crosswords are an art, there will never be 100% lockstep agreement on whether any one puzzle or puzzlemaker is praiseworthy. It just so happens that the hyper-progressive squad is incredibly defensive about their own team – and also must wear blinders when committing the same kinds of grave offenses (“recognize the humanity!”) that you’re clutching pearls about right now. Plenty of times I’ve rolled my eyes when you and other reviewers here tallied up the names of white men mentioned in a grid and very clearly used that as a demerit of the constructor themselves, because they’re not as angelicly progressive and morally perfect as you so obviously and impressively are. After all, humans are vast and contain multitudes and make beautiful puzzles that are all different and appeal to all sorts of people.

        • Blanq says:

          💯💯 dhj. Welcome to the wonderful world of shameless double standards, where only the work of cis white males without hyper-progressive values can be criticized though they, too, are humans who are vast and contain multitudes and make beautiful puzzles that are all different and appeal to all sorts of people and, lest we forget, also experience human feelings. But we aren’t “lucky” enough to solve the puzzles that those people have dedicated untold time, talent, and energy into producing, are we? Unfortunately you’re talking to a cult.

    • JohnH says:

      I found it awfully easy till about halfway through, when I ground to a halt. I left a blank for ages with CERAVE / REP, before guessing the E correctly.

      I’d obsctacles all over, such as NITA Strauss and “Jodi spinoff” especially as I kept wanting LATINX to work for gender neutral.. But I’d call finishing seriously harder than Tuesday’s (hiss), with my greatest difficulty in the SW. There I was unfamiliar with the chess player, COSPLAYS, and brows chakra, where it didn’t help that I started with HE/SHE rather than HE/HIM. Not sure, too, I ever made sense of “Without a plus one,” which sounds like clothing for the overweight.

      Once again, their idea of a progression through the week isn’t everyone’s. Since today’s was labeled lightly challenging, like Fridays formerly, and Friday will be themed, it’ll be interesting to see what they do for a Thursday.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Got dry skin? Pick up some CERAVE moisturizing cream at the drugstore. It’s good stuff!

      Back in the day, a number of people called Byron Walden and others in the category of “tough themeless constructors who occasionally make the gnarly ACPT puzzle 5” their nemeses. It didn’t mean “I hate their work, they keep including crap and slang I don’t know,” it just meant “wow, their clues are tough and the grid’s vocab is tough, their puzzles really push me to the limit of my abilities and sometimes I can’t finish.” Let’s retain that sense of “nemesis,” rather than this “ugh, no thank you” vibe.

      • sanfranman59 says:

        If my use of the word “nemeses” came off as “I hate their work, they keep including crap and slang I don’t know”, then I need to work on my ability to communicate in writing even more than I thought I did. I didn’t mean that at all. Heck, I didn’t even mean it as a criticism in any way. As best as I know, there isn’t anything about that word that implies hatred. I thought a nemesis was a formidable and respected opponent (e.g. Moriarty to Holmes). I feel much the same way about Byron Waldon, Bob Klahn and Bryant White as I do Brooke Husic, Erik Agard and Natan Last. They all tend to make puzzles that I find difficult. When I see their names in the byline, I know there’s a decent chance that I’ll struggle with the puzzle and may very well end up pretty frustrated in the end (but that’s just the Type A personality in me coming through, for better or for worse). That’s all. Is saying that really hateful?

        As for me not recognizing the humanity of the constructors behind the puzzles, I’m completely dumbfounded and truly taken aback. I’ve reread my original message over several times and tried to be as open-minded about it as possible, but I simply don’t see anything that could be remotely interpreted in that way. I was sharing my experience in solving today’s puzzle. That’s it. I thought that was kind of the purpose of the blog and this message board. If I’m mistaken about this or if you (Amy, that is) simply prefer that I stop posting my thoughts, just say the word and I will stop. After all … it’s your corner of the web.

  8. Brenda Rose says:

    I mentioned on this site when the New Yorker started publishing xcrosswords that I was a bit disappointed. It started nicely with Natan Last cluing Ta-Nehisi Coates & Donna Tartt but then it succumbed to the sophomoric level with 3 lettered rap entertainers. For a magazine that uses umlauts & dieresis in words like reelection & reviews many rap stars I threw my hands up in the air & said *you too*? I thought it would had been as asset to have read the magazine to *get* the clues.

    After over 4 decades doing puzzles & subscribing to the NYorker I’ve come to the conclusion that editors are catering to younger readers. While I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing I do believe the young should be edified. Knowing rap names is just as important as knowing who wrote Bleak House.

    • Matt Gritzmacher says:

      I’m confused. What’s sophomoric about rap?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I’ve read a number of New Yorker pieces about hip-hop music and artists. It’s part of the culture. Has been for, oh, over 40 years. It’s not new! It’s like complaining about being expected to know rock and roll artists in the 1990s.

      Brenda, you know how many noted singers just sing other people’s words? How many songs did Frank Sinatra write? Generally, rappers write basically *all* of their material. When they have a “featured” verse on another singer or rapper’s record, I think the featured artist generally writes their own contribution. (The wealth of collaboration and community building inherent in it is cool, too. Oftentimes a more established artist will add a verse to a promising newcomer’s track to get it a bigger audience. In a world that doesn’t much look out for the futures of young Black men and women, this generosity of spirit is terrific.) And there’s rhyme schemes and wordplay as well as social commentary in plenty of it. Recall that the Pulitzer music panel awarded Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn.” album, the first non-classical, non-jazz album to win a Pulitzer. So … none of this is “sophomoric.” There are individual songs that are sophomoric, sure, but the same is true in pop, rock, country, jazz, and classical.

      Signed, a middle-aged white woman who kinda likes rap but missed out on the foundational stuff in the 1990s so I’m no scholar

  9. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Caught myself smiling a few times while solving Brooke’s New Yorker debut. Fresh and fun! Learned REGRAM–I’m not on Insta (and didn’t learn CERAVE from TikTok; my dermatologist recommended it and then it turned out to be the exact same moisturizer my son’s girlfriend had added to his skincare regimen)–and may or may not have seen chess star HOUYI FAN’s name before. I appreciate learning our language as it adapts, and hearing about impressive people (like a woman succeeding in a male-dominated chess culture).

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