Attention, fans of tough crosswords who are always looking for a fresh challenge! Andrew Ries has a new puzzle pack of variety crosswords in the Twists & Turns format he devised. Each “Twists” answer is 9 letters long and it’s up to you to figure out whether it starts or ends in the center, and if it ends there, where it starts. The “Turns” answers follow a path back and forth through the grid as you travel down, so you can use those words to help you figure out how the “Twists” are to be entered. Visit Aries Puzzles for more info and to buy the packet, which includes eight mini T&T puzzles (four 3×3 chunks in each grid) along with eight big T&T puzzles (25 3×3 chunks). Enjoy!
Erik Agard & Brooke Husic’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Bit of a mini-theme in this themeless with left/right symmetry:
- 20a. [Sleep aid said to reduce anxiety], WEIGHTED BLANKET.
- 51a. [More cover than usual … or what a 20-Across might offer?], HEAVY SECURITY.
Other fave fill: SMUSH, DORIS Burke, Frozen‘s ARENDELLE, HASHTAGS (great clue: [Pounds on keyboards?]), STREET FOOD, CANDY HEART, BALAYAGE (this is the technique my colorist has used on me in recent years), and POWER YOGA.
Five more things:
- 36a. [Some leporids], HARES. I went to a book signing for The Office actor B.J. Novak’s book of short stories. When I reached the table, I told him I appreciated that the word leporid was in one of the book’s first stories (that’s the nice thing about very short stories—you can read a few while you’re in line at the book signing). And B.J. said, “Oh, I had to look that up.” I was crushed. I wanted the TV actor/writer to actually be conversant with the vocabulary he put in his book!
- 37a. [Item in a husk], OAT. I tried an EAR of corn first. Oats come in husks, eh? Live and learn.
- 63a. [Cloud often seen in the summer], GNATS. Gaaaaaah. Yuck.
- 11d. [Round holiday fare], LATKE / 26d. [Round holiday fare], PIES. Yep, those are some of the primary round holiday foods in the U.S.
- 29d. [Make a lead balloon?], RACE AHEAD. This clue confused me till right this moment. It’s the lead that’s pronounced leed, not led, as in being ahead of the competition, in the lead. And here, balloon is a verb, not a noun. Make your lead over the competition grow larger, RACE AHEAD. A finely crafted clue!
4.25 stars from me.
Frannie Comstock’s Inkubator crossword, “Puppy Pose”—Jenni’s write-up
Welcome Frannie Comstock to Constructor Land with her debut! I agreed with the Inkubator editors that this was a “lightly challenging” puzzle and I enjoyed it.
I was looking for theme answers in the Across entries and didn’t see a connection because it turns out that’s not where they are. 27d tells the tail: [Inverted yoga position, familiarly…and a description of six answers in this grid] is DOWN DOG. I am not a yoga practitioner so I’ll leave it to someone else to say whether it’s common to shorten DOWNWARD to DOWN in the name of this particular asana. There are indeed six DOGs going DOWN in the grid.
- 4d [Athlete such as Lucia Rijker] is a BOXER.
- 6d [Knit blanket] is an AFGHAN. I have an afghan my grandmother crocheted for me when I left for college. Is that the same as “knit?”
- 10d [Megabus competitor] is GREYHOUND.
- 37d [Person who’s fetching?] is a RETRIEVER. My daughter, age 9: The dog won’t leave me alone! Me: Why don’t you stop throwing the ball for him? Daughter: I’m doing that to make him go away! Me: Honey, he’s a Labrador retriever. He’ll bring it back. Daughter: Forever?
- 49d [Crossword constructor, across the pond] is a SETTER. That’s a little inside baseball for an easy-ish puzzle – or at least it would be for the NYT. For the indie crowd, I think it’s fair game.
- 54a [Like a gravelly voice] is HUSKY.
All dogs! All going down! A solid theme I don’t remember seeing before.
A few other things:
- 3d [“Who am ___ judge?”] is I TO, who was also an actual judge (without the space).
- I just don’t like the word FART. I’d prefer not to see it in my puzzles. I realize this is a personal preference and I can’t really ask indie constructors to avoid a word because I find it distasteful. I still don’t like it.
- 22a [Nanny] is the verb form. The answer is BABYSIT. And if you don’t think it’s a verb, you haven’t done it.
- I filled in 43a from crossings and couldn’t figure out what ANERA was. Turns out it’s AN ERA, as in “the end of ____.”
- I also dislike CROCs as shoes. I don’t mind the word in my puzzles.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of the BOXER Lucia Rijker. Didn’t know that Main Ingredient covered “Summer BREEZE.” Never saw “Despicable Me” and so didn’t know Margo was a TWEEN.
Turns out I like this version a lot.
Evan Mahnken’s Universal crossword, “File Storage”—Jim P’s review
The revealer is GOOGLE DRIVE (56a, [Cloud storage option whose apps are featured at the ends of the starred clues’ answers]. The other theme answers are familiar phrases whose last words are also Google products.
- 18a. [*Summer theme park attractions] WATER SLIDES. For presentations.
- 24a. [*Researchers on track to be profs] POST DOCS. For writing documents.
- 37a. [*Bed coverings that are unfit for a king?] QUEEN-SIZE SHEETS. For spreadsheets.
- 47a. [*Movies, books, paintings, etc.] ART FORMS. For creating/filling in forms, I wager. I haven’t had occasion to use this one.
Straightforward enough, though I don’t think I’m terribly keen on a puzzle touting one particular company’s products. There was a time when crosswords didn’t have any product placement at all. But it’s just a puzzle. Maybe Google can link to it on their main web site. Here’s an interesting discussion (from non-constructors) about whether or not they believe there’s product placement in the NYT.
Elsewhere, OVERSLEEPS and BEER BREWER top the fill. In my mind I enjoyed putting the two entries “BE COOL” and DORK together. DIAGON Alley might be tough for the non-Harry Potter crowd, but crossings are fair. Similarly, I’d never heard of REIKI [Japanese energy healing], but again, the crossings help out, especially the fun word JOKEY.
Clues of note:
- 22a. [File format that’s often mispronounced]. GIF. Ah, and what is the correct pronunciation, pray tell? I am Team Hard-G, and I will not be dissuaded! Despite a definitive statement from the creator himself), a soft G makes no sense. The G in Graphics is hard. Also, the word “gift” uses a hard G. What, do some people say “jift”?Next you’re going to tell me the correct way to hang toilet paper is with the loose end over the top. Sheesh!
- 28a. [“Deep Rock Galactic” resource]. ORE. Never heard of DRG. I didn’t know if it was a band, a song, a genre, or celestial body. Turns out it’s a video game.
- 29a. [Bestie]. BFF. Hmm. The B stands for “Best.” I would consider this a dupe, but sometimes there are clues such as [The B in BFF].
If you’re one who frowns on product placement in your puzzle, best to just skip this one. Otherwise, it’s a solid grid. 3.25 stars.
Jake Houston’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
- 72a/73aR [ … space-saving furniture, and what the answers to the starred clues do] HIDE-A-BED. I was unsure if this was a brand name or a generic term. Turns out it’s the latter, but not one that I’ve heard much. Seems to be regional whether one calls it that or sofa-bed, sleeper sofa, bed-couch, or pullout sofa.
The relevant clues have dropped the names of bed sizes.
- 20a. [*Aircraft with dual turboprops] (twin-) ENGINE PLANE.
- 38a. [*Gutsy wager on “Jeopardy!”] TRUE DAILY (Double).
- 44a. [*Wildflower also known as wild carrot] (Queen) ANNE’S LACE.
- 57a. [*Tennyson poetry series set in Camelot] IDYLLS OF THE (King).
There’s a lot to like here. The base phrases are all strong. The beds (don’t) appear in size order and alternate positions from front to back. Very nice stuff. Turboprops to the constructor!
I’m not sure that the L shapes in the black blocks have any import. I suspect they’re merely artifacts of being unable to find longer across answers for the top left and lower right. On the other hand, there are stacked vertical tens in top right and lower left: DIDGERIDOO, ADRENALINE and WAYNE MANOR, OPEN SESAME. More fine fill.
- 21d [CGI bird in Liberty Mutual ads] EMU. The newest EMU sensation is the very real and very disruptive Emmanuel who resides on a Florida farm.
- 45d [Unreliable stat from someone fashionably late] ETA. Someone sounds bitter, perhaps from personal experience.
- 47d [John Donne poem featuring an insect] THE FLEA. Here it is in its entirety.
Then there’s Augustus De Morgan’s “Siphonaptera” (based on writing by Jonathan Swift, as mentioned in the Wikipedia article):Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.Ogden Nash’s “Fleas” is more succinct still:Adam
- 61d [Mined find] LODE, 71a [Mined find] ORE.
- 5a [Pronouns on a coffee mug, maybe] HERS. >gasp!< pronouns!
- 14a [Musical narrated by Che] EVITA. Y’know, I misread that as Cher.
- 29a [Manual readers] USERS. I always feel these should have a qualifier such as ‘hopefully’ or ‘ideally’ or ‘perhaps’.
- 70a [French flower] SEINE. Homonym didn’t fool me for a moment.
- 40a [“See ya!”] BYE.
Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “Mixing Beats”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: Each theme answer includes an anagram of the word BEATS.
- 15a [“Public test versions of software”] OPEN BETAS
- 34a [“Lambda-winning Da’Shaun L’Harrison book”] BELLY OF THE BEAST
- 57a [“Civil rights leader known for her work with the Little Rock Nine”] DAISY BATES
I love these theme answers! OPEN BETAS was really easy to fill in, and I got BELLY OF THE BEAST mostly on the crosses, though it was pretty intuitive once I had about half of the letters. I got DAISY entirely on the crosses and somehow managed to pull BATES from the deepest recesses of my mind (more on her below).
In general, this puzzle was awesome. I loved the wide open corners. It was so much fun to fill in MYSTERIES, EMPANADA, SCUTTLES, BASS CLEF, and EVALUATE. In the middle, A TOAST threw me off because of the A.
Some Friday faves:
- 21a [“Like cvtvhakv”] – In CREEK, cvtvhakv refers to “blue bread,” or a dumpling made out of corn meal. You can find a recipe for it here.
- 57a [“Civil rights leader known for her work with the Little Rock Nine”] – Originally from Huttig, Arkansas, DAISY BATES started The Arkansas Weekly in Little Rock, and it was one of the only African American newspapers focused on the Civil Rights Movement. She would use the paper to advertise schools who had obeyed the federal mandate to desegregate after Brown v. Board of Education. She chose nine students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957–”the Little Rock Nine.” You can learn more about her here.
Overall, this was such a fun puzzle and a great end to the week!
Tom McCoy’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s write-up
Tom McCoy! There’s a name I haven’t seen on a puzzle in some time. Tom is the constructor for one of my favorite puzzles ever, which I won’t spoil, but will link here (.pdf only, for reasons that will become clear).
Today’s puzzle is a step up (edit: in difficulty — whoops) from most New Yorker Friday’s to date, both in theme and fill, in my opinion. Let’s dig into the theme and its answers moving in an unexpected direction:
- 3d [Approximately] PLUS OR MINUS, running bottom-to-top
- 31d [Shakespeare title character who is exiled from Rome] CORIOLANUS
- 7d [Masterwork completed circa 1485] THE BIRTH OF VENUS
- 9d [Redundant term for icing on the cake] ADDED BONUS
- 27d [Like some eggs … and how four answers are presented in this puzzle] SUNNY SIDE UP, running in the usual direction, but still keeping to the theme in doing so.
I … did not pick up on this theme quickly. I recognized quickly that PLUS OR MINUS was the answer and deliberately running reverse, but I was slow to see CORIOLANUS, which I haven’t read or seen performed, and then I was trying to see how the long central themer would function as a revealer. All this is to say, I had a few nice aha moments, and then a bit of a head slap when I finally realized quite why everything was upside-down. In retrospect, it’s obvious, but the grid design helped disguise it for a while, which made the experience more enjoyable for me.
YOU DO YOU [14a Tautological encouragement of self-expression] is a lovely highlight in the fill — it’s possible this is the first time I’ve seen this in a published puzzle? Perhaps not, but nothing is ringing a bell right now. Cluing GUITAR to Maybelle Carter and OER to The Who’s “Quadrophenia” instead of The Star Spangled Banner were also highlights for me. Not a whole lot else in the fill jumped out during the solve, but the journey through the grid and theme was so satisfying, I didn’t mind much. The middle three themers do a great job of keeping the grid connected while managing the potential for gluey fill in the middle.
Cheers! Have a great weekend!