Aaron Ullman’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Another themeless grid with long staggered stacks intersecting in the middle, ample flow to and from the four corners. It’s harder to hit the skids when there are multiple ways to gain a toehold in every area.
Fave fill: POP-TART, ONE-WAY TRIP, “HE WENT THERE,” DADVICE (new to me, but wow, my husband has absolutely both given and received DADVICE!), WAKANDA (new movie in November!), WINE TOUR (anyone else see the 2019 movie Wine Country, with Poehler, Rudolph, Dratch, Fey, et al.? It was fun), TWITTER WARS (I abstain), and SPRING FLING.
Not entirely sure I’ve seen “WIN OR GO HOME” (34a. [Principle indicating “No second chances”]) before. Also less familiar: a SEA MAP, an AD UNIT, and a HISTORY NERD. Feel like history buff and maybe history geek are a bit more common.
Five more things:
- 29a. [Agent of immunity], T-CELL. Some of us take crucial medications that interfere with T-cell functioning. This makes it awfully difficult to weather a pandemic! Three full doses of COVID vaccines had no apparent effect on me. If only the CDC gave a rat’s ass about the immunocompromised population’s protection these days… (Mask up, friends! There are immunocompromised people everywhere, trying to stay safe.)
- 38a. [Male’s name hidden backward in this clue], ANSEL. That’s in maLE’S NAme. Odd approach when there are two famous ANSELs to choose from—actor Elgort and photographer Adams.
- 43a. [Whet bar?], GRINDSTONE. A stone bar used to sharpen (whet) a blade, for instance. Tough clue for me. I whet only my appetite.
- 36d. [Took care of a dog or cat, maybe], PETSAT. I just heard about a housesitter who was taking care of a dog, caught a mild case of COVID but didn’t quite realize it till the homeowner returned and discovered the dog … had been sprayed by a skunk. That is a potent loss of smell, to not notice skunk smell in the house!
- 49d. [Hawaiian fish also called the wahoo], ONO. I know I’ve seen this before but I forgot it. Trouble piecing together fishy ONO and that crossing AD UNIT. Anyone else flail at that spot?
3.5 stars from me. Onward to the weekend!
Christina Iverson’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
Neither first nor, I’d wager, the last time we’ll see a gramogram-themed crossword puzzle. This time it’s in the clues, which is probably the more common approach, as the essence of gramograms is their compactness.
- 16a. [NVS] GREEN-EYED (envious).
- 23a. [TDS] MIND-NUMBING (tedious).
- 39a. [IC] DISTANT (icy).
- 41a. [MT] VACUOUS (empty).
- 52a. [DVS] UNDERHANDED (devious).
- 65a. [ODS] JUST AWFUL (odious).
Thematically, these are all disparaging adjectives, possibly in describing a person or their personality. So it’s more cohesive than I initially thought.
- 1d [What some layers cover] EGGS; 24d [Sticky places?] NESTS.
- 27d [Peck, e.g.] UNIT.
- Spelling gives away the language/location, part I: 3d [Flag coleur] BLEU; part II: 15d [Love thy neighbour, say?] SNOG.
- 17d [Snarfing sound] NOM. Usually repeated multiple times.
- 55d [“Snowfall” law gp.] DEA. I figured this was the code name of some enforcement operation, but apparently it’s a television series.
- 30a [Island chain] LEI, 31a [Parts of an island chain] CAYS. 8a [Fisher of “Wedding Crashers”] ISLA.
- 14a [Hijab and niqab, e.g.] VEILS.
Scott Hogan and Christina Iverson’s Universal crossword, “Stand-in”—Jim P’s review
PERFORMER is the revealer at 59a [Entertainer, or a three-part hint to the shift behind 17-, 25-, 37- and 49-Across]. Re-parse it as PER FOR MER and you realize what’s going on. The theme phrases all originally had the trigram MER, but had it switched to PER to wacky effect. The upshot seems like a simple letter change, but the constraints are tighter since the MER trigram must be in place, and of course, the phrase must still have some surface sense after the change.
- 17a. [Narrow stage for a musical group?] BAND PERCH. “Band merch” feels a bit green-painty to me since there’s a lot of “merch” out there, but it may be that the shortening of the word originated with concert sales. Anyone know?
- 25a. [Where a thunder god keeps his dirty laundry?] THOR’S HAMPER. Cute.
- 37a. [Whine “Please, PLEASE can I play with the green ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ character?”] BEG FOR PERCY. This one made me LOL and won me over. I may very well have been at the receiving end of someone “begging for Percy” since my son was big into Thomas and friends when he was a lad. He even had a spiffy train table and everything. If I recall correctly, Percy is Thomas’s bestest buddy.
- 49a. [“Check out that car’s display of stickers!”?] “WHAT A BUMPER!”
Sometimes a revealer’s re-parsing gets a little awkward, but this grid’s entries were enjoyable enough to make it worth it. And I definitely prefer a puzzle that has some basis for the theme when letter changes are involved.
Looking at the fill, we’ve got some big corners due to the 11-letter central themer. That CABANA/URANUS/FINITO stack in the NW is pretty nice as is TANGELO, SLOPPILY, REC ROOM, BREAKS IN, and OH HENRY!
Clues of note:
- 16a. [Second-largest religion]. ISLAM. Christianity being the largest and Hinduism comes in third, according to this site.
- 42a. [“I’ll have what ___ having”]. SHE’S. From that scene in When Harry Met Sally.
- 67a. [Doll or teddy]. TOY. Was I influenced by the clue above? Because I was thinking this one was about lingerie.
- 68a. [Insects that bury their dead]. ANTS. Not sure that “bury” is the right word. According to what I’ve read, including this, they dump all the dead ants in a midden (along with other refuse) to keep the colony tidy.
Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “*”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer includes a word suggesting multiplication, which is hinted at in the * of the puzzle’s title.
- 22a [“Minister with a famous quote about progress”] MALCOLM X
- 39a [“Cafe owner who started a bus boycott in Montgomery in June of 1955”] LUCILLE TIMES
- 56a [“If things had been just”] BY RIGHTS
Many thanks to Sally Hoelscher for talking this theme through with me. Check out her write-up of today’s (and everyday’s) USA Today puzzle here.
My first thought seeing the asterisk is brought to you by my love of footnotes. I wondered if the asterisk was indicative of history often ignored or unknown, but with Sally’s help, I saw the mathematical angle. It’s a bit odd that the multiplication indicator appears at the end of both MALCOLM X and LUCILLE TIMES but at the beginning of BY RIGHTS, which I also found to be the trickiest themer just because I think it’s a difficult one to clue. Also – there’s a nice math-y bonus in seeing how INTEGRAL–which is not clued as in reference to its mathematical meaning but rather as 41a [“Vitally important”]–crosses two of the themers.
This is such a cool looking grid that felt so smooth in its fill. It’s asymmetric, which is not super obvious, save for the three blocks in near LUCILLE TIMES. It was really interesting to see the longer answers specifically on the left side of the puzzle. I was proud of myself for knowing that the Sixers are an NBA TEAM since I am not a big basketball fan (pairing them with the Knicks in 44d helped immensely).
Some other Friday faves from me:
- 52a [“Like gifts and burritos”] – This undeniably my favourite clue for WRAPPED. I laughed out loud.
- 11d [“Writer E. ___ Jung”] – E. ALEX Jung is a writer for New York Magazine, and his most recent work includes discussing Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Kotaro Lives Alone, artist Sadie Barnette, Mitski, Issa Rae, and so many other cool pop culture folks that I could go on and on.
- 29d [“‘Masha ___’”] – Masha ALLAH is a phrase typically used to express appreciation for an event or person. It literally means “what Allah has willed has happened” or “that which God wanted,” and it suggests amazement.
If you’re interested in the history angle I mentioned above, Erik also left 42a [“Because of Them We ___ (Black history website)”] CAN almost as his own footnote, which I love. You can check it out here. Have a good weekend!
Christina Iverson’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s write-up
A fresh New Yorker with a classic theme style from Christina Iverson, whose cluing voice and grids make her one of my favorite constructors in the game right now — it’s not surprise she’s a regular at The Crosswords Club and is now assisting Patti Varol at the LA Times.
As mentioned, the classic theme: we’ve got the phrase “Wood siding” accompanying the puzzle (though not in the title, which I appreciate — titles are good but I find they have a tendency to spoil the theme for me), and each themer has a type of tree split across its first and last few letters:
- 17a [Admire some boobies, say] BIRDWATCH
- 23a [“My body simply won’t cooperate,” in an aphorism] THE FLESH IS WEAK
- 38a [Vegan coffee-shop option] OAT MILK
- 49a [Guy who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth] MAN OF THE PEOPLE
- 60a [It might be toed by a politician] PARTY LINE
Fun theme set and clues, though I have to admit the first two are my favorites, so the a-ha of the theme and the chuckle-worthy themers both came early.
- 14a [____ gobi (potato-and-cauliflower dish] ALOO. I haven’t made ALOO gobi in some time, but I do love eating it and also quoting one of my favorite guilty-pleasure movies by asking “Who wants to make aloo gobi when you can bend it like Beckham?”
- 38a OAT MILK. Has anyone else noticed how frequently OAT on its own has been clued to the milk substitute in the last few years? It’s a lot. Back on topic, my local coffee shop has been having trouble sourcing OAT MILK for a few months now. I rarely ask for it, but I gather it’s a widespread problem.
- 41a [____ color (details that make a story feel regionally specific)] LOCAL. Can also apply to crosswords, sometimes in a frustrating way if you’re NOT from New York City. College and independent media are usually a good place to look for more locally-focused puzzles — a favorite of mine is the Charlotte- and Carolinas-focused puzzles by Chris King in the Charlotte Ledger.
- 22d [Anais who wrote the erotica collection “Delta of Venus”] NIN. Anais NIN is someone who I learned entirely from crosswords. It’s only in the last few years that the erotic aspects of her writings have made it into puzzles – before that she was often simply a “memoirist”.
- 38d [Ex] OLD FLAME. I’m interested in this one – in my head OLD FLAME has a generally positive, nostalgic connotation, while EX can be neutral but more likely to have a negative connotation. I don’t think it’s a problem that they’re tied together, just enjoying thinking about it.