Erik Agard’s NYT puzzle– malaika’s write-up
Hey besties, I’m subbing in for the inimitable Sophia while she’s on vacation. I was surprised to see Erik’s name when I opened this puzzle! I couldn’t remember solving a themed puzzle by him in the Times– I actually fact-checked this, and his last one was a collab with Andy Kravis in September of 2020. I had just started solving then, and would not have registered his name. (I think I didn’t read bylines back then, actually.)
All four of today’s theme answers are repeating two-word phrases, save for the first letter. This made me think of one of my fave tweets from crossword-er Parker Higgins, which discusses that type of repetition, but with the first and last letter being excluded.
- NEVER EVER = N + (EVER x2)
- BEARS EARS = B + (EARS x2)
- HOVER OVER = H + (OVER x2)
- THIGH HIGH = T + (HIGH x2)
This is a simple theme, which can be polarizing. Do you think it’s nifty and elegant, or do you think it’s boring? I am much more interested in letter-patterns than puns, so this type of theme is right up my alley, but maybe you were hoping for wordplay and felt disappointed. Sound off in the comments.
When Jeff on xwordinfo reviews a puzzle, it’s very important to him that the theme answers in a puzzle are unique. He likes when he thinks hard about the gimmick and can’t find any other phrases that fit the pattern. I don’t care about that at all. All that matters to me is that they are interesting, and I thought these four were great. I spend all day HOVERing OVER things, and recently bought a pair of deliciously elegant THIGH HIGH boots.
The low word-count (74 words on a Monday puzzle!) meant that there was a ton of 6-, 7-, 8-letter fill. I think it’s so interesting how some mid-length words can be boring (RETIRE, BREADTH) and some can be evocative and delightful (HAVANA, EGG TART, FORTNITE).
Three thoughts before I leave you:
- Something reviewers like to talk about in a puzzle is what we learned; in this puzzle I learned exactly two things: The name of the Utah monument (BEARS EARS), and that DARLA was a character in The Little Rascals. Every other term or cluing angle (media references, geography, food, religion, govt aid, etc) I already knew– the majority from life, very few from other puzzles. What about y’all?
- My least favorite piece of fill was LIVE LONG— the way it was clued made it feel like an inelegant partial phrase.
- I knew Ave MARIA as a Beyonce song before I knew it as anything else. Here it is:
Kathy Lowden’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Make the Grade”—Jim P’s review
The revealer is BEEF (56d, [Complaint, or a hint to the grades that start 20-, 32-, 40- and 53-Across]). The other theme entries are familiar phrases whose first words are USDA grades of BEEF.
- 20a. [Company co-founded by John D. Rockefeller] STANDARD OIL.
- 32a. [Paper towel option] SELECT-A-SIZE.
- 40a. [You might use a few of these when you’re angry] CHOICE WORDS.
- 53a. [13, 29 or 43, e.g.] PRIME NUMBER.
I definitely needed the revealer to make the connection. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen standard grade BEEF in supermarkets—at least nothing that was labeled “standard.” Doesn’t seem like it would be a strong selling point.
Nice choices of theme entries. I especially liked SELECT-A-SIZE (even though I miss my old normal sized paper towels; can’t seem to buy them anywhere any more) and CHOICE WORDS.
Top fill: CONDITIONS, MASOCHISTS, The LANCET, and “OH SNAP!” Not thrilled about A AND P and weird ENTRAIN. But all the crosses were fair.
Clues of note:
- 38a. [“___ we there yet?”] ARE.
- 39a. [Response to the question in 38-Across]. SOON. Nice cluing angle with these entries being next to each other.
Smooth Monday grid to start the week. 3.5 stars.
Robert E.L. Morris’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Today we have a simple initialism theme, with a revealer at 57D [Words of comprehension, and a phonetic hint for the answers to the starred clues], I SEE, that tells us that all the theme answers are two-word phrases with initials I.C.
- 17A [Chilled caffeinated drink] is ICED COFFEE. The only way to drink coffee, I say. My rule of thumb is ice in my coffee unless there’s ice on the ground.
- 28A [Cold War barrier] is the IRON CURTAIN.
- 44A [Close-knit, influential group] is INNER CIRCLE.
- 60A [English name of a West African republic] is IVORY COAST (or Cote d’Ivoire in French). Probably the only country name made up of two soap brands!
Can’t say I noticed much about the fill, either highs or lows.
Joe O’Brien’s Universal crossword, “We’re on the Map!” — pannonica’s write-up
A fitting title for an apparent début, no?
Theme is celebrities whose surnames are geographical features.
- 20a. [Oscar winner for “Norma Rae”] SALLY FIELD.
- 32a. [Author of “Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence”] ANITA HILL.
- 40a. [“Hairspray” star who became a TV host] RICKI LAKE.
- 52a. [“Thinkin’ Bout You” R&B singer] FRANK OCEAN.
That fourth one through me for a loop, as (1) it isn’t a woman, as are the other three, (2) it isn’t a landform, as are the others.
This sort of theme has certainly been done before, and this is a mostly solid rendition.
- 2d [Mathematician Zuber Falconer or singer James] ETTA. First—who? second—oh! Maybe this is a way to phase in a new-ish ETTA.
- 14d [Evaluate in the dressing room] TRY ON.
- 25d [Not quite close] AJAR, 18a [Not closed] OPEN.
- 27d [Crypto-purchasing device] BITCOIN ATM. Newsflash: cryptocurrency is a scam and is extremely abusive to the environment.
- 41d [Spicy, stir-fried dish] KUNG PAO. Peanuts seem to be a defining ingredient unless I’m mistaken. 10d [Bare necessities] ESSENTIALS.
- 42d [Some TV shows from Seoul’s country, informally] K-DRAMAS. Not a term of heard; I’m woefully out of the loop. I do recall however watching unsubtitled episodes of a classic one, probably from the ’80s. A lot of guys were wearing samo hats but of course I didn’t know the term at the time. So I just figured they were the Bee Clan and had epic struggles with everyone.
- 56d [Aptly named NBA team] NETS. Nets, Jets, Mets.
- 16a [Forested Norwegian city] OSLO. Oslomarka: the people’s forest.
- Favorite clue: 24a [Queues, or some cues] LINES.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday puzzle–Matthew’s write-up
Hello from Joshua Tree, where I’ve got a few days at my favorite place in the world :). Couldn’t get the .puz to download, so solved this one on Brendan’s site and hooboy. I am a paper solver who tolerates .jpz and .puz files in XWord (my preferred solving program) to save time printing puzzles, and this Crossword Compiler embed is not for me.
Anyway, classic staggerstack pattern here from Brendan, and a nicely medium challenge this Monday. The trend in these types of grids has been to flash your marquee entries across the actual stairstack, but I found most of my enjoyment in this puzzle in the connecting downs that bridge the middle to the rest of the puzzle. TYPO SQUATTER [5d Person registering a comical domain name similar to the original] is a classic BEQ entry for the so-called extremely online among us. Clever businesses will buy up URLs with common typos from their actual site name, but things slip through. Of course, I rarely navigate to websites by typing in the url anymore anyway, so maybe the age of TYPO SQUATTERs has passed us.
The corresponding long down is a sport entry that’s pretty trivia-y on its face, but there’s a lot of crossings to get and help a solver infer [23d Randy Moss or Anthony Muñoz, notably, in the Super Bowl] TWO TIME LOSER. Moss was on the 2007 Patriots team that lost to the New York Giants after an undefeated regular season and (in his final year) the Colin Kaepernick-led San Francisco 49ers who lost to the Baltimore Ravens, while Muñoz was a dominant offensive lineman in the 1980s with the Cincinnati Bengals who lost to the 49ers twice.
Other clue/entry combinations I quite liked: [11d It has a peekaboo hairdo] for SHEEPDOG, a bit of today-I-learned trivia at [29d Capital originally called Bytown] OTTAWA, and [13d Monastic scholar who popularized the “anno domini” system] ST BEDE.
- TWO TIME LOSER is a neat way to work sports into a grid, but ZEKE [18a Cowboy Elliott, to fans], THE HEAT [36d NBA team with a hoop in its logo], and [22a ESPN anchor Sage] STEELE are each a little more “you know it or you don’t”. Ezekiel “ZEKE” Elliott in particular may already be on the downslope of his career — running backs have a notoriously short window before they start to fade — but crossword constructors are getting their mileage out of his nickname.
- I’ve always liked the juxtaposition of the mythological ADONIS and the classical statue forms it evokes with a colloquial clue like [1d Studmuffin]
- AXEL and AXLE crossing here in the top middle. I’m sure it’s been done before. Genuine question: do we care? A common thought process around dupes is a question of shared etymology, and while that doesn’t apply here, I think it’s the wrong question to ask, anyway.
That’s all from me. Have a good Monday!
Madeline Kaplan & Brooke Husic’s USA Today puzzle, “Final Bosses”– malaika’s write-up
Cute title! The final word of each theme answer is a synonym for “boss.” I had not heard of POWER CHAIR or LOSS LEADER, though both were easy enough given the clues and the theme. EDITH HEAD has been in my, er, head, because me and my friend recently went down a rabbit hole of People And Things That Have Won Many Oscars.
This is an ambitious layout, with those chonky corners. I am in awe of how they filled it so smoothly, even with tough letters like J, Z, and X. I think the only entry that gave me pause was ALA, which I don’t really buy as an abbreviation for Alabama– it’s just AL, right? (Feel free to say “Malaika You Are Wrong” in the comments.) Fave entries for me were RUDOLPH (clued as Maya, she was so good in “The Good Place”), JACUZZI, CRINGEY, MOCHI, and MEMOIR.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword—Amy’s recap
The day got away from me before I remembered blogging. So! On with it.
Similar grid to a recent Brooke Husic one, with long answers intersecting in the middle and throwing off pinwheel corners. Great flow. This one did not feel anywhere near hard enough for a Monday New Yorker.
Fave fill: ALAKAZAM, SAMURAI JACK, PERSNICKETY, FUNKO Pop figurines, GAYDAR, quaint HOBNOB and PALOOKA, LABOR UNIONS, “WHO ASKED YOU?,” DREAM ACT, ALT-ROCK. Less keen on: a fictional HANA, TO RENT (this is America—our signs say FOR RENT), ODIST, NICENE. Nice to see a smattering of women’s names in the grid—Joan JETT, Gertrude EDERLE, OKSANA Baiul, ELENA Ferrante.
24d. [Deprive of reason, archaically], DEMENT. Is an archaic word really a better choice than singer Iris DeMent? The crossings should have gotten solvers there with an Iris clue.
3.5 stars from me. Disliked more of the fill here than in most of Natan’s grids.
NYT: I liked this theme, and that words that look as though they would rhyme, often don’t. And sometimes their rhyming potential depends on where a speaker grew up. I agree with malaika; letter patterns are interesting, and make for satisfying puzzles.
NYT decent puzzle, however …
Ave Maria is a Beyoncé song? Really? That’s insulting to my dead mother who sang in the choir thirty years and that was coincidentally her favorite song to sing. It’s the Hail Mary prayer.
I must have missed that revision, it’s also very basic Latin
It’s insulting to your mother?