Laura Dershewitz and Martina Waluk’s Inkubator crossword, “Top Billing”—Jenni’s write-up
The Inkbuator Email says that this collaboration is Laura’s debut, but our archives show one LAT and one Universal to her credit and I reviewed an Inkubator puzzle by Martina in 2021. In any case, it’s a good ‘un. I don’t often agree with the Inkubator difficulty ratings and indeed did not find this one moderately challenging. I enjoyed it anyway.
Each theme answer has letters in circles that unscramble to spell the same word.
- 20a [Keep from burning, as risotto] is STIR FREQUENTLY. Why do contestants on “Chopped” continue to try to make risotto? They never have enough time and if Scott Conant is judging it will not go well. Yes, Discover+ is my drug of choice when I’m trying to avoid, well, all the news. And I live in PA, so that’s pretty much all the time.
- 25a [Person appearing in deleted Instagram photos, perhaps] is an EX–BEST FRIEND.
- 42a [Fast way to make money] is HAND OVER FIST.
See the anagram? If not, we have a revealer to help you out: 48a [Protector of the right to free expression and a literal hint to each group of circled letters] is the FIRST AMENDMENT. Each set of circled letters will spell FIRST when re-arranged and they’ve been “amended.” Fun!
A few other things:
- 1a [Author who wrote of freckles, fudge, and fourth grade] is Judy BLUME. This was a gimme and the past tense sent me into a panic – did she die? She did not. She’s still alive at 84 and continues to fight book banning – her books are frequent targets for all the reasons that made me love them as a kid.
- 15a [Ellie’s love in “Up”] is CARL. I really really didn’t like that movie. Ellie – who never speaks and only appears in a short prolog to the actual movie – gives up her own adventuring to marry Carl, who appears to have fallen for her because she was an explorer. It’s mawkish patriarchal sentimentality at its misogynist best. I am glad I saw it so I could discuss it with my then 9 year old daughter. She was maybe a little older when we settled in with our popcorn at a different movie and she said “Mom, are you gong to make that noise? You know. The kind of huffing noise you make when you think something in the movie isn’t fair to women.” The answer, of course, was “Almost certainly.”
- 42a [Threw a fete] is a very good clue for HOSTED.
- 44a [“Sure, OK”] is I S‘POSE. I expect a bit more of a signal that it’s a non-standard answer.
- Speaking of non-standard we also have YA FEEL ME?
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of the drag queen MONET X Change. I have heard of ION TV and did not now they syndicate “NCIS.” And I am not familiar with Missouri rep CORI Bush. And no, not that kind of Bush. She’s from the other side of the aisle and a different gene pool.
Juliet Corless’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
An easy Friday NYT (though it took me 50% longer than Weintraub’s Thursday New Yorker puzzle—the epitome of “easy themeless” these days is Thursday’s TNY) with the unusual choice of vertical triple stacks.
Fave fill: JACK OF ALL TRADES, FREAKING AWESOME, DRAMATIC LICENSE, PAROLE VIOLATION, TEMPORARY TATTOO, GODIVA chocolates, REDEPLOY (better than some other RE- words for sure), Angela BASSETT.
Can’t say I see AMOEBIC as [Amorphous, in a way], vs. modifying dysentery caused by amoebae. Didn’t know FERRITE ([Ceramic iron compound that’s nonconductive]). Can’t say I knew that POLARIS is a [Star that’s actually three stars]! Also had no idea that 56d. [Give: Sp.] is DAR, but I’ll bet at least a quarter of solvers know enough Spanish to get that.
Was NOT OK with NOT OK near “OK, OK.”
A few clues that popped:
- 63a. [One backward musician?], ENO. Sort of a cryptic crossword clue, ENO being “one” backward.
- 34a. [Truffle hunting option], GODIVA. When hunting for chocolate truffles, not having a pig root around for buried fungi.
- 5d. [Good faith agreements?], AMENS. As in religious faith.
3.9 stars from me.
Nathan Hale’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
Switching up the endings of selected phrases.
- 56aR [Wall Street site, and what happened in order to form the answers to the starred clues?] STOCK EXCHANGE.
- 20a. [*Era known for Pegasus and other winged stallions?] WHEN HORSES FLY (when pigs fly). (54a [Notable period] ERA is a strong duplication.)
- 33a. [*Tenderize steaks?] BEAT A DEAD COW (beat a dead horse).
- 41a. [*Pet restriction set by the condo board?] DON’T HAVE A PIG (don’t have a cow).
While I can admire the tidiness of the theme I ALSO (16a) am not personally excited by the description of animals as [live]stock, nor of the the phrase(s) in 33-across. Sure, there are certain realities of practice and usage but I don’t have to like seeing them promoted.
- 2d [Game that introduced the joker into modern playing cards] EUCHRE. Did not know this, but then again I know next to nothing about EUCHRE.
- 44d [Pique-nique setting] PARC. I would have thought that the French word would have been le picnic, but it is indeed pique-nique. In fact, that’s the original cognate for the German Picknick and English picnic.
- Followed by 45d [Piqued] IN A HUFF.
- 49d [“Wolf Hall” novelist Hilary] MANTEL. Recently deceased.
- 57d [Sky box?] KITE. Kind of a tough clue.
- 19a [Frog sound?] RASP. Alluding to a so-called frog in one’s throat.
- 36a [Either of the “Grey Gardens” women] EDIE. Keep meaning to see this (the original documentary). I think they went by Big Edie and Little Edie?
- 63a [Radical] ULTRA. Another tough-ish clue, but quite legitimate.
David Litman’s Universal crossword, “Have A Blast!”—Jim P’s review
Theme: TNT (37a, [Demolition letters … and a hint to 17-, 24-, 47- and 57-Across]). Those theme entries are familiar phrases of the form T___ AND T___ with the AND replacing the N in the revealer.
- 17a. [Sleep poorly] TOSS AND TURN.
- 24a. [Proven to work] TRIED AND TRUE.
- 47a. [Every possible obstacle] THICK AND THIN. Huh. I never considered the meaning of this phrase. I always considered it to be a rough equivalent to “for better or worse,” but thinking about it, there’s not really anything good about conditions that are either “thick” or “thin.”
- 57a. [Various things] THIS AND THAT.
Solid theme, nicely executed. The phrases are firmly in the language and each one fell quickly given enough crossings.
The fill is full of goodies as well with OSCAR SNUBS, GENETICIST, FRENETIC, LESS THAN, DENTIST, ETHANOL, the DAKOTAS, and WENT DRY. I also liked WAGYU and WACKO, but had no clue about HMU [“My DMs are open”]. I’m guessing it’s short for Hit Me Up. (The internets confirm that is correct.)
Clues of note:
- 6d. [Canine specialist?]. DENTIST. Given the first names of both the constructor and the editor, I’m surprised the clue isn’t [David After ___]. (Here’s an update on the young internet star as of last year.)
- 46d. [Roti flour]. ATTA. This feels like a step too far for most solvers. Not everyone partakes of Indian food, so compelling solvers to remember roti is a big enough ask, IMO. Requiring them to know the type of flour roti is made from is a stretch. I know we’re all tired of [Lead in to “girl”]-type clues, but it’s still the fairest clue out there. (I for one regularly enjoy Indian cuisine, but I see naan bread on offer far more than roti.)
Nice puzzle with fun fill. 3.75 stars.
Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “Ctrl+Alt+Del”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: The first letter in each answer spells out one of the keys in CTRL+ALT+DEL.
- 20a [“Like a movie that feels like it could be a documentary”] CLOSE TO REAL LIFE
- 34a [“Fashion icon who wrote the 2020 memoir “The Chiffon Trenches”] ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY
- 54a [“Innocent expression”] DOE-EYED LOOK
This theme was really straightforward. I caught ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY entirely on the crosses, not knowing that he was the first African American creative director and editor-at-large for Vogue. Similarly, I wasn’t sure about DOE-EYED LOOK until I had most of it filled in already. In fact, for the most part, I filled this puzzle based on its down answers, shifting over when I couldn’t remember PARA for 14a [“Prefix for ‘normal’ or ‘legal’”]. When I wasn’t sure about a Down, I’d switch back to the Across (and was delighted to fill in 16a [“State whose three largest cities all start with C”] OHIO this way.
It’s a horizontally symmetric grid, which I always think is really fun, especially with the double grid-spanning themers. 36d [“Finalized agreement”] DONE DEAL and 32d [“Something a white rapper might be criticized for using”] BLACCENT were great to fill in. I also really liked the pockets of six-, then three-, and finally four-letter Down answers going through the middle.
A few other Friday faves include:
- 66a [“Cast-___ skillet”] – As we move through fall and approach winter, I’m even more excited for cast-IRON skillet recipes. There’s nothing like a warm, hearty meal on a cold day.
- 10d [“‘Sing’ like a husky”] – This was a really cute clue for HOWL. I’m sure there are millions of videos of dogs “singing” in the world, and they make my day every time.
- 12d [“Tennis star Frances”] – I recently finished Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and so tennis is on the brain (though I know admittedly little about the sport in real life). Frances TIAFOE is the son of Sierra Leonean immigrants, and at seventeen, he was the youngest American player in the French Open.
- 32d [“Something a white rapper might be criticized for using”] – A BLACCENT or Black accent refers to the use of African American Vernacular English by non-Black individuals. It is part of a long history of cultural appropriation. You can learn more about this trend here in the “Historian’s Take’ from PBS.
That’s all from me! Have a great weekend!
Mary Lou Guizzo’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s write-up
Themers in this wide grid are idioms drawn from baseball: BATTING A THOUSAND, PLAYING SMALL BALL, STRIKE OUT LOOKING, BOTTOM OF THE NINTH, STEP UP TO THE PLATE. Some are more common than others: I’ve never encountered STRIKE OUT LOOKING [36a Fail by not even trying] or PLAYING SMALL BALL [21a Favoring overly ambitious ventures in favor of incremental progress] in the senses as clued, though neither is uninferable from their usages within baseball.
NYT: Really enjoyed it! I started off feeling disoriented with the vertical stacks and had a hard time getting a foothold. I just put in little stuff in the East, and suddenly PAROLE VIOLATION emerged and I was off to the races. Felt pretty smooth after that.
Being able to come up with 6 verticals of this quality in 2 stacks seems pretty FREAKING AWESOME.
I also identified with some things– we are drowning in RAW DATA, there’s way more data out there than minds that know how to handle it. I am giving a KEYNOTE SPEECH during an upcoming conference. And I often feel like a JACK OF ALL TRADES.
I wish that creating puzzles was one of them…
If you ever want to try your hand at it, I think you’d be great, and I’d be happy to help! I always enjoy your comments.
Jeff (you can reach me through XWordInfo if you decide you want to take the plunge)
Oh, wow, I just saw this. Thank you Jeff. I might arrange my life better and take you up on it!
I’m a 68-year-old retiree who lives alone and who does about 8 crossword puzzles per day. And while I pretty much enjoy almost every puzzle that I do, I’m dismayed that a lot of the reviewers and commentators on this site critique the constructors and editors sometimes too harshly.
For goodness sake, it’s just a crossword puzzle, and reviewers need to quit being “crossword snobs” and appreciate the effort put forth by the constructor with positive encouragement instead of deprecating comments.
And I don’t care if their grid is unbalanced or visually unappealing, or if the theme has been done before or if there’s redundancy in the clues or the answers.
Case in point: Merl Reagle is/was a legend and I just did his archived puzzle from SUN 10-30-2022 and the answers for 80A and 83D were identical. He used “ESP” as an answer twice in one puzzle! OMG, Reagle broke an unwritten crossword puzzle rule!!!
You can view or download it here: https://sundaycrosswords.com/ccpuz/MPuz.php
Those were my thoughts as well when I first encountered this blog. Now I have a better perspective. I see these comments as a discussion about the puzzles: what’s fun, what I didn’t understand, what I especially like or don’t like. It’s a critique among friends. The puzzles are valued and appreciated but we’re thinking about what variations could have been made.
NYT: I really liked these triple stacks and I gave this puzzle 5 stars. I’ve said 5 of the 6 phrases and today I will make sure to say Freaking Awesome at some point. to complete the set.
While some commenters go berserk with “this is the worst crossword puzzle ever!,” I think a lot of the comments are at least intended as “this could be better in this way.” The NY Times puzzle, in particular, is theoretically supposed to be the best in the world, with an extremely low acceptance rate. It’s not wacky to think that the puzzles should consistently be of high quality. If some of the puzzles are “good but not great,” I think it’s reasonable for someone to comment that they wish the puzzle today had been great.
I agree, though, that many commenters, including myself, can take for granted that the puzzle is supposed to be great and nitpick the tiny issues and don’t emphasize that the overall puzzle is really good.
For example, like Amy, I’m NOTOK with NOTOK and OKOK being in the same puzzle. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the puzzle overall, which had a lot of strong features and was really fun. But my personal opinion is that the editors should have nixed the NOTOK/OKOK juxtaposition and sent it back to the constructor so that this could be a truly great puzzle.
All just my opinion, of course.
People are paid (fantastic sums of money, in some cases) to construct these puzzles, and the competition is fierce. Not only is the criticism necessary, but lack of criticism is irresponsible. It’s not uncommon to see errors like the one you point out in older puzzles (Mr. Reagle died 7 years ago, so that puzzle you’re citing is quite possibly 10 years old or more), but with the combination of today’s software and the huge pool of constructors, those sort of mistakes are no longer acceptable.
please dish on what venue is paying fantastic sums of money for crosswords!
At the veteran scale, a single NYT daily puzzle pays $750, while a Sunday nets $2250.
How did $750 become a “fantastic sum of money”?
It was exchanged for a word puzzle?
“Errors?” “Mistakes?” “… no longer acceptable?”
OMG – the Crossword Police are here among us!
If the reviewers and/or commenters here want to make note of the various sins against the Crossword Commandments, carved in tablets of talc, I don’t mind – I generally just ignore it.
For me, crosswords are entertainment – a diversion. If I’m entertained, if I’m challenged in a fair way (and of course, “fair” is in the eye of the beholder), if I’m pleasantly surprised by a puzzle, then it’s a good puzzle. And like a piece of art hanging in a museum, others may have a different opinion – no problem.
Same here. Some of the nits people are picking on this grid — the two OK’s, some of the crosswordy three-letter entries — are valid, but they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the puzzle.
I’d much rather see a little duplication or crosswordese than one answer that’s just depressing.
There is literally nothing stopping anyone from just enjoying their crossword puzzles and going about their day.
Some of us enjoy engaging critically with the things we like. If this blog were just people oohing and ahhing over crosswords like they were a kindergartner’s finger paintings, I doubt it would have much of an audience.
People are going to have their own opinions and perspectives. That said, I’ll note a lot of the ones on this site and others seem to not sync up very well with a lot of the casual solvers I’ve talked with, many of whom would rather have those “corner store generic” puzzles than any of the puzzles typically reviewed on this site for a number of reasons.
In a lot of senses, I can say the same kind of thing as it seems one thing having “today’s software” (and the ease it makes) does is bring a lot of people in to turning out things. The problem is while it’s made absurdly easy to turn out product, it makes it easy for a lot of people to turn out a lot of bad non-entertaining product as well. (Music trackers being a prime example I can think of – about 98% of what I found released when that became a thing was absolute garbage.) The question I usually ask in response is if it’s good enough that I would pay for it. A lot of it really isn’t, sad to say. (And yes I do pay for crosswords sometimes.)
A lot disagree, I know, but it seems lately a lot more puzzles are more “well at least that went quickly” than anything I could honestly say I had fun with (really what should be the overriding purpose). Overall, talent never really changes, it just seems the ones with the talent were the only ones that were driven enough to put in the work in to learn crossword construction before the software came along.
That said, in a way people need to find a way to become more talented at any discipline (crossword construction included), and blogs like this one can definitely assist if things are put out honestly and positively. That’s primarily why I read them: While I need to learn a lot about solving these better, I definitely have an interest in learning not only how to make a crossword, but to make them well. Answering “what is good” is always a useful end to that or any discipline.
NYT: Very smooth. The 3×3 blocks in the NW and NE went in right away as I went through the Across clues, so I took a look at the Downs. JACK OF ALL TRADES went in. Had to wait a bit to decide between FREAKING AWESOME and FREAKING Amazing. Had a little brain cramp and thought it wasn’t obvious whether 3-D was KEYNOTE SPEECHES or KEYNOTE addresses (oy!). DRAMATIC LICENSE and TEMPORARY TATTOO also went straight in – but it took me several crosses to see PAROLE VIOLATION.
North-Central was the holdout for me. Nothing wrong with the clues/answers, but it took several crosses for me to see those three 7-letter acrosses.
Unlikely that [Amazeballs] would be cluing AMAZING.
A fair point, but when I’m solving, I don’t think that much about the “rules” – see above :-)
Of all the “rules” of puzzle construction, one of the ones that makes sense is “the answer shouldn’t be in the clue.”
NYT: I feel like OKOK NOTOK the way it’s laid out on the grid is a bit of a joke; sort of a “rule of three” but about repeated fill ;-)
And ferrites are interesting materials: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrite_(magnet)?wprov=sfti1
What’s this: “wprov=sfti1”. When I pasted that in this reply, this is what came up: “And you give the best blow jobs.” Since I don’t engage in nasty emails, messages, etc., I’m curious how that happened. Any ideas?
Well. I guess this qualifies for a nasty post, I stand corrected.
I shared the link from the Wikipedia app on my ipad… it added the extra bit at the end. I should’ve pruned it off: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrite_(magnet)
I’m with Amy and others in wishing that Shortz precluded repetition, and I also agree with those who don’t mind criticism of puzzles at all. As they write, it promotes discussion and useful feedback. But I’m with you that I found this one a fun feature and not a bug.
I saw an intriguing puzzle even before I started, with the novel grid, and it didn’t disappoint. Quite something how smooth the fill was on top of that and the stacked fill. My foothold was the center, with relatively easy clues for a Friday, in an overall tough puzzle. Then I just had to find a way to spread out to either side, which wasn’t immediate. All told, terrific.
NYT: CEY, LGS, EME, SES, DPT, CIR, and SOO seems like a hefty price to pay for the 2 triple stacks. Add to that FERRITE, REDEPLOY, RAFA (because is that really a thing? Or is it something your software throws at you and you really need it to be a thing?), DER, DAR, HOREB, the diseasiness of BERIBERI, and especially the duplication of an entry that is a duplicate (OK OK and NOT OK)–I mean, isn’t that, like, criminal or something? Isn’t that really, really bad editing?–and it’s just hard for me to fathom why Will would accept this. And it’s really easy for me to imagine a rejection email from Will with the abovementioned items.
None that stuff seems so bad to me. RAFA really is a thing, to anyone with a moderate interest in tennis. REDEPLOY is better than a lot of RE- words, IMO, and FERRITE may be somewhat obscure but it’s fairly crossed, and this is a Friday after all.
Not sure what you find objectionable about HOREB and BERIBERI. There are a lots of three-letter entries, to be sure, but the only one I find seriously objectionable is EME, a random and not common suffix.
NYT: Kudos to the constructor on an impressive debut! It wasn’t really my cup of tea though — perhaps because it seemed like the party was pretty much over when not a single one of the six grid spanners offered the least bit of resistance.
However, I was glad to learn about beriberi, which surprisingly is not the latest product from the POM Wonderful folks but rather a thiamine deficiency. (The dictionary reveals the name comes from Sinhalese, a Sri Lankan language.)
Speaking of words, did anyone else notice that yesterday we had DELL, clued as “Small valley,” and today we get DALE, clued here as “Hollow” but more often as “Broad valley.” Classic kealoa, at least for me.
What’s this: “wprov=sfti1”.