Jessie Trudeau and Ross Trudeau’s New York Times crossword, “Rise to the Challenge” —Nate’s write-up
Our newlywed constructors are up to something… quite literally in this puzzle! Let’s see what’s up:
– 25A / 8A: CHIMNEY SWEEP [*Worker with a brush [three rungs]]
– 56A / 33A: SUBMARINE COMMANDER [*Captain with a periscope [four rungs]]
– 90A / 45A: CHERRY PICKER [*Seasonal orchard worker [eight rungs]]
– 101A / 81A: TELEPHONE REPAIRMAN [*Worker for AT&T or Verizon [four rungs]]
– 123A / 106A: HOUSE PAINTER [*One putting a coat on outside [three rungs]]
– 65A: CLIMBS THE LADDER [Advances through corporate ranks … and what the answer to each starred clue in this puzzle does]
– 8D: HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH [Visual depiction of the apparatus used by the starred professionals]
All five of themed professions climb ladders as part of their jobs and, in this grid, they’re each climbing ladders from the left side of the grid to the right side of the grid (based on the number of specified rungs) in an overall symmetric manner. So pleasing! It takes skill, experience, and finesse to get this all to work (especially with that long string of Hs at 8D!), which made this a fun one to solve for me. I especially appreciate that they had each themer climbing up the ladder and none of them climbing down.
Sure, to get the grid to work and be largely clean, there were a few partials (SO A, ON I), a numbered Pope (PAUL VI), and even a Roman numeral (MDC). On balance, though, I appreciated that the grid otherwise felt modern in its entries / cluing, especially with bits like ESCAPE ROOM and ENBY (a verbal shortening of non-binary (NB)).
Can’t stick around for much longer today – it’s quite the busy weekend, so I hope you’ll permit the shortened review. Let us know what you thought about the puzzle in the comments section below. Be well!
Adrian Johnson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Jumbo Freestyle 4”—Jim P’s review
I do like these Universal jumbo freestyles. They tend to be a feast of fun fill.
This one starts off with DOOZIES and ends with STONERS and there’s a lot to like in between. The longest stuff really shines: ADVENT CALENDAR, COUNTER-CULTURE, “I OWE YOU BIG TIME!,” TASMANIAN DEVIL, and “COME AT ME, BRO!” Plus, there’s TRACK RECORD, FREEZE TAG, RARE BREED, BAD APPLES, “GREAT NEWS!,” “BLAME ME,” ELECTRIC EYE, MAKING DO, PRESS PASS, HOBGOBLIN, TOP TO BOTTOM, SLUSH PILE, SCANTRONS, and “WE GET IT!” A remarkable set!
About the only eyebrow-raiser for me was O’REE [Hockey Hall of Famer Willie]. But now that I now he was the first Black player in the NHL, I’ll probably remember his name. He’s also the namesake for the NHL’s Willie O’REE Community Hero Award to “recognise the individual who has worked to make a positive impact on his community, culture or society to make people better through hockey.”
Clues of note:
- 17a. [Seasonal purchase that counts down the days until Christmas]. ADVENT CALENDAR. If you’ve ever played Exit: The Game (escape room-type games you play at home), you might be interested to know that they make an ADVENT CALENDAR. Each day brings you a new riddle to solve to get you closer to “escaping” your fate. We haven’t tried one yet, but reviews are good and we’ll probably pick one up soon.
- 54a. [Stop motion game?]. FREEZE TAG. Good clue.
- 91d. [Bat Appreciation month (Abbr.)]. OCT. One of these days I’m going to get around to building a bat house. I guess this is the right month to do it.
Outstanding themeless puzzle. 4.5 stars.
Drew Schmenner’s Universal Crossword, “Gap Year” — norah’s write-up
THEME: OPEN SEASON 55A: [Period when criticism might pour in, and a hint to the words that bookend the starred clues’ answers], giving us FALL, WINTER, SPRING, SUMMER bookending 15A, 21A, 33A, 44A.
- FREE FOR ALL 15A [*Super chaotic situation]
- WINE DECANTER 21A [*Sommelier’s vessel]
- SPECIAL ORDERING 33A [*Requesting a customized cake, perhaps]
- SNARE DRUMMER 44A [*Percussive marching band member]
The revealer is on point, “opening” each season. Clean fill throughout gave me a solve time a bit faster than usual. It’s nice that the entries follow the order in which the seasons occur. When solving these sorts of themes, I’m always interested in what the constructor chose not to use. A trip to wordlisted tells me the possibilities for 33A are actually way more limited than I expected. For example, while SPRINGAWAKENING (15) is certainly an interesting entry, it’s obviously not a contender for also containing SPRING at the beginning. I’d like to see more puzzles that use WINTER, SPRING, SUMMER, and AUTUMN that take advantage of them all being six letters long.
- RAYA 39A [Titular Disney character seeking a dragon] I kind of feel like “Raya and The Last Dragon” doesn’t get the love it deserves? It’s a gorgeous movie with fantasy-like world building and excellent representation.
- IOWA 12A [The Hawkeye State] Iowa is the largest corn producing state in the U.S., with 90% of its land devoted to agricultural use. I’ll be driving through in a few weeks; Iowans, say hi!
- SITTER 10D [Parents’ date night hire] Cute!
- PEA 56D [Pod veggie] The pod is the fruit, the pea is the seed; there is no vegetable involved. (I know, losing battle.)
- STL 8D [Gateway Arch city: Abbr.] 💖
Thank you Drew!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Body of Word” —Matthew’s write-up
We’ve got circles and left-right symmetry from Evan. Six themers contain parts of the face, helpfully circled. Most impressively to me, not only the themers but the body parts in each are arranged relatively accurately to the whole.
But that’s not all – the revealer [121a Website whose name serves as a hint to this puzzle’s theme] FACEBOOK highlights that each of our themers are books. The books, the arrangement of themers containing face parts, and the face parts themselves being pretty much in the right spot — any two and it might have felt a bit thin to me. But all three and it’s a lovely effect.
- 29a [Tile in the game Chickenfoot] DOMINO. I’m unfamiliar with this game. I presume it’s clearer when played than the Wikipedia rundown.
- 48a [“The Game” star Mowry-Hardrict] TIA. I filled this in off “Mowry,” but “The Game” had nine seasons across the CW and BET.
- 85a [D.C. fundraising orgs] PACS. Presumably “D.C.” is in the clue to avoid “political,” which supplies the ‘P’ in PACS, but PACS exist outside of DC, no? And for races/seats that aren’t based in DC? Perhaps I should remind myself that this puzzle is in the Post, and leave it at that.
- 126a [1932 Australian “war” bird] EMU. A war ending in “failure” for the Australians, per the Wikipedia rundown.
- 36d [Creatures from down under?] SEA ANIMALS. “Anemones” was too long both the first and fourth time I tried it.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Quick West Coast Trip” —Darby’s write-up
Editors: Anna Gundlach and Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer begins with an abbreviation (the “quick” of the title) for a west coast state, and we move north to south on a trip.
- 16a [“Like clothes that don’t need much ironing”] WASH AND WEAR
- 26a [“Czech-German range known for its mines”] ORE MOUNTAINS
- 59a [“Oriole who played in 2,632 consecutive games”] CAL RIPKEN JR.
I was really excited when I saw this puzzle’s title, even though I had no idea how it would manifest in its theme. It’s always fun to see really creative themes, and I think the fact that we move in a specific direction to make it a “trip” is really cool. ORE MOUNTAINS’ fillability (that’s a word, right?) feels tied to crosswords’ love for the word ORE in general, so it made me laugh when I put in this answer.
A few other things I noticed:
- 7d [“Cubes in Mul-naengmyeon broth”] – I really love noodles, and I will eat basically any noodle-based soups, so this recipe that produces a cold soup with ICE in it seems right up my alley.
- 11d [“Material for joots (jean boots)”] – I definitely did not know that joots–boots made out of DENIM–existed, and once again, my conception of the LIMITs of this material has shifted. When I filled that in, I was immediately like “is THAT SO?”
- 34d [“‘Last one in’s a ___!’”] – I didn’t get this immediately, having always heard the phrase “Last one there’s a ROTTEN EGG!” However, I love that this nine-letter answer made it into the grid.
That’s all from me! This puzzle was anything but SO SO.