Ada Nicolle’s Inkubator crossword, “Themeless #30″—Jenni’s writeup
A fun offering from Ada and the Inkubator team!
- MARSHA P. Johnson was an activist who is credited with driving the resistance at Stonewall and launching the Pride movement. Most of the documentation online refers to Johnson as a transwoman; they identified as a drag queen. The P stands for “pay it no mind.”
- I’m sure I’m not the only solver who knew Alex and ANI from shopping with my kid. Nice fresh clue that doesn’t involve European songbirds or Wheel of Fortune.
- Guessing I’m also not the only person who dropped in FLAKES at 11d for [Dandruff shampoo targets]. The answer is SCALPS.
- More LGBTQ+ content: OPENLY TRANS, RPG clued as [Means of exploring one’s gender via a fantasy character for many gender-questioning people, briefly], and GLAAD AWARDS.
- More things I learned from my kid: the NAKED palette is eye makeup. Really.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that there was an international furor in 2020 over the pronunciation of EMU in an NPR story. Click the link. You won’t regret it.
Daniel Sheremeta’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
Quick one from me tonight. Fave fill: LIFE HACK, BARE NECESSITIES, OLD SOUL, CERBERUS, “OH, STOP IT!,” the LATE SHOW, an archeologist’s DIG SITES, NAILED IT (I enjoy the Netflix show by that name, wherein amateur bakers attempt complex cake constructions and generally fail, and French chocolatier/judge Jacques Torres gets the giggles), MOSEY, and YEEZUS.
Three more things:
- 50a. [What I might be in a lab?], IODINE. I am usually hip to these tricks and spot the hidden chemical symbol ruse, but I admit this one took me a bit. Didn’t help that I had DIET COLA for DIET SODA, that’s for sure. (It’s pop! Soda is from other places. I’m a Chicago pop drinker.)
- 37d. [Word with shop, shot or shape], BODY. Got this one via the crossings. I like the clue, and for those who don’t know, body shots are shots of liquor consumed off someone else’s body, if I recall my collegiate drinking knowledge correctly.
- 2d. [Eastern lodging], IMARET. I have half a mind to open an inn in Vermont and call it The Imaret. “Eastern” here means, what exactly? Wikipedia clarifies, they were “public soup kitchens built throughout the Ottoman Empire from the 14th to the 19th centuries. These public kitchens were often part of a larger complex known as a külliye, which could include hospices, mosques, caravanserais and colleges.” Huh. That doesn’t sound like the “inn” that we’ve been sold through the decades of crossword clues for IMARET. Tied to the Muslim obligation to be charitable, one of the five pillars of Islam. I’m glad I learned that this “Eastern lodging” was aimed at helping those less fortunate. I don’t expect to see the entry often, but I hope next time it has a richer clue than the old stalwart.
3.5 stars from me. Good night, and good luck!
Evan Mahnken’s Universal crossword, “Light Meals”—Jim P’s review
NO CAL is the revealer today (39a, [Diet-friendly … like 20-Across, 51-Across, 4-Down and 40-Down, as per the starred clues’ answers?]). The main theme answers are all food items that feature the letters CAL. Yet those letters are not used in the crossing entries as clued (though the resultant unclued words do make valid crossword entries).
- 20a. [Trattoria order made with cutlets] VEAL SCALLOPINI with crossers 6d DIS(C), 7d ARI(A), and 8d MEA(L).
- 51a. [Sushi bar order made with avocado] CALIFORNIA ROLL with crossers 51d (C)AGE, 52d (A)RES, and 53d (L)ENT.
- 4d. [Seafood restaurant order made with squid] CALAMARI with crossers 1a ALE(C), 14a MIL(A), and 17a CEL(L).
- 40d. [Pizzeria orders often made with ricotta] CALZONES with crossers 40a (C)ORE, 43a (A)WED, and 47a P(L)EAS.
I enjoyed sussing this out right from the get-go at 1a. It didn’t take too long to realize the starred-clues’ answers were one letter shy of the number of squares in the grid and that the letters CAL weren’t being used by the crossers. Hitting on the revealer made it all make sense.
But I still needed an aha moment to realize all the main theme entries were foods. That added an elegant touch to the theme.
Although I have to say conceptually, wouldn’t it make more sense if it was the food items themselves that were dropping the CALories? Not sure how that would work in a grid, but that’s what my brain wanted.
Fill-wise, with the themers in a pinwheel pattern and the star-clued answers putting additional constraints on the grid, there’s a dearth of long non-theme entries. HEINIE is about as colorful as it gets. On the other hand, there’s nothing to scowl about either, so I’m not complaining.
Clue of note: 41a. [The, in German]. DER. Only if the subsequent noun is masculine. Otherwise, use die for feminine nouns and das for neuter nouns.
Pleasant theme. Solid, though unsparkly fill. 3.5 stars.
Karen Lurie’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
This is my first interaction with a Patti Varol-edited LAT crossword, and I feel certain that I can detect a different vibe. Among other things, there seems to be a little more playfulness throughout.
- 52aR [Taylor Swift hit song about defying the haters, and an apt title for this puzzle] SHAKE IT OFF. The bigram IT has been dropped from the ends of the theme answers, for wacky results.
- 21a. [Former spouse who never lets things get awkward?] GRACEFUL EX ( …exit).
- 26a. [Outcome when a salon student makes waves?] LEARNER’S PERM ( …permit). Better than LEARNER SPERM (“Which way do I go? Which way do I go?”).
- 46a. [Luring an academic to the dark side?] TURNING A PROF ( …profit).
Nothing too special about the theme—it’s fine and mildly entertaining. Where the crossword really shines is in the liveliness of the ballast fill and cluing there.
- 2d [Dance for a lei person] HULA; 4d [Kitten caboodle] LITTER; 8d [Ear-relevant?] OTIC—that’s quite an opening salvo, all starting in the the first row.
- More low-key punning here: 33a [Cleared for takeoff?] DEICED; 56a [Cause of inflation?] PUMP.
- 6d [With 18-Across, ingredient in five-spice powder] STAR | ANISE. It was convenient that these cross each other so I was able to instantly confirm my suspicion as to the answer.
- 10d [Want more] PREFER. It took me quite a few moments to parse the answer correctly—I kept interpreting the clue as expressing how something was lacking.
- 43d [Clocked] BRAINED. Ouch!
- 6a [Percussion-based theater troupe] STOMP. I hadn’t realized it was the name of the group in addition to the show.
- 41a [Day of the Dead drink] ATOLE. This was the only entry that I wasn’t entirely sure of. “[a]lso known as atolli and atol de elote, [it] is a traditional hot corn- and masa-based beverage of Mexican origin. Chocolate atole is known as champurrado or atole. It typically accompanies tamales, and is very popular during Day of the Dead (observed November 2) and Las Posadas (Christmas holiday season).” (Wikipedia)
- 49a [“The City & the City” novelist Miéville] CHINA. 30d [Octavia Butler’s genre] SCI-FI. I think the former could be considered the same, or at least similar.
So that’s it. No fireworks. A decent theme and a smooth solving experience.
Brooke Husic’s USA Today crossword, “New Beginnings”—Darby’s writeup
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer begins with a synonym for “new.”
- 18a [“Hemsley Winfield’s performance art”] MODERN DANCE
- 33a [“Favorable forecast for a skier”] FRESH POWDER
- 49a [“Ze/hir/hirs and fae/faer/faers, for example”] NEOPRONOUNS
I super thought that FRESH POWDER was going to be my favorite theme answer, but I think that NEOPRONOUNS beat it out. I love these as a group because they are just such a fun, FRESH, MODERN set. I also think that these each worked really well with their crosses, so that folks less familiar with NEOPRONOUNS or Hemsley Winfield (like me) can complete their fill.
Grid-wise, this is such a beautiful, whirling structure. It’s always interesting to see puzzles, which usually have that tripartite set of sections, that bend that structure in different ways. The middle section here feels more like a liminal space as you move through clues, filling in STOPS IN – SPA – SET and then SLOTS – CHAOS before hitting the middle themer and proceeding to the inverse 5-5 and then 3-3-7 lettered lines. Structuring the grid like this also let to some really great longer words like OMELETS, WEREWOLF, RELATIVE, and REFEREE. 27d [“A single one on a snowy doorstep might represent a cat going ‘…nope’”] PAWPRINT is hands-down the best clue in the puzzle, though 16a [Productivity-boosting doze”] POWER NAP is a close second.
Some other Friday faves include
- 1a [“Animals protect by Krishna”] – Krishna is said to have appeared as a cowherd 5,000 years ago, and Govinda, one of his holy names, means “one who brings satisfaction to the COWs.” As a result, COWs are viewed as sacred in Hinduism. You can read more about this here.
- 26d [“Sumo great Hakuhō”] – Hakuhō SHŌ is a retired professional wrestler who holds the record for most undefeated tournament championships. Since retiring in 2021, he has begun a new role as a coach. If you’d like to learn more about his journey and training, you can check out this article by Masakazu Senda.
- 28d [“Vo Viet Chung dress”] – An ÁO DÀI is Vietnam’s national dress, and Vo Viet Chung is a designer known for putting a twist on this style of dress. This article details more about his approach to his work and this tradition.
The big TAKEAWAY from this puzzle, I think, is that using black squares creatively like this opens up a lot of possibilities for the fill in the puzzle. Have a great rest of your day!
Janie Smulyan’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s writeup
Theme entries are clued with a single letter, which should be read as the Greek letter that uses that symbol.
- 17a [a] LEADER OF THE PACK. (“alpha”)
- 28a [b] EARLY VERSION. (“beta”)
- 46a [d] STYLE OF BLUES. (“delta”)
- 60a [o] ROLEX COMPETITOR. (“omicron”)
This was a delightful solving journey for an easier themed solve, in that I wasn’t quite sure what was up with the first themer, then it sank in with EARLY VERSION with [b] / “beta.”
I like the theme set and the approach — I’m having trouble finding words to describe this type of clue-driven theme conceit, but I feel I haven’t seen it in a bit. I do always grimace when I see “alpha” or any other Greek letter used in this way — alpha (or beta or omega) wolves don’t actually exist in wild packs, and the use of such hierarchies to describe human people and their social status is cringeworthy and reductive, and I’ll hold my tongue beyond that. But certainly it’s in the language and good fodder for a theme like this.
Oher highlights for me were mainly in the clues, which nicely spice up a gentle enough grid – see the added bits of info in clues for ALBA, LENTO, and BELA Fleck, who often is clued just to the banjo or his eponymous group, but today gets his other band in [1d New Grass Revival banjo player Fleck].
Have a great weekend!
NYT: Pretty impressive for a debut puzzle — only 25 blocks, lots of lively entries, and almost no junky fill.
[NESTEGGS] are aggregate financial resources used for one’s retirement. This is about the furthest use from ‘rainy day’ savings, which are just relatively small amounts set aside for real-time emergencies, whether in retirement or not.
That one seemed a bit off to me, too.
Apparently “nest egg” can be either:
The retirement savings use may be more common. It always makes me think of Albert Brooks in “Lost in America.”
Random House unabridged agrees in giving it the sense in the puzzle and not the sense of retirement savings. It’s what comes to mind to me first anyway.
It may have helped me that, now that Amy mentions this one, I saw right off that a fill could be COLA or SODA, even though I’m not used to seeing that particular variety, new to me, other than just Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. (Is it a regional variety?) So I held off on the fill till I had a crossing. OTOH, OSS meant nothing to me. Nice Friday puzzle, though.
NYT: Nice puzzle that played more like a Saturday for me. Lots of good entries and some clever cluing.
Finished with an error at the crossing of IMARET and OTS – couldn’t dredge the former up from my crossword memory and couldn’t grok the clue for the latter. I went with a “C,” thinking maybe regulation followers were obsessive-compulsives :-(
I thought the theme for TNY wasn’t nearly strong enough. The theme clues are united by being Greek letters, but they’re still just definitions, so nothing special to smile at on finding the answers. Rather than decipher, say, a pun one need only spell them out and apply normal usage.
That isn’t to reflect one way or other about excessive ease or difficulty. Just lack of interest.
LAT: 34A is “ERAS” for clue “Low nos. for aces”. ?????
It’s a baseball reference. ERA = Earned Run Average. “Ace” pitchers usually have low ERAs.
TNY 60A, the Greek letter is a lower case omega, not omicron. And Omega is a brand of wristwatch, so a Rolex competitor.
Yes I’ve seen enough of omicron of late!
Well done, my dear friend *janie* !