Adrian Johnson’s New York Times puzzle – Sophia’s write-up
Theme: The last word of each theme answer is also a type of instrument that you blow into.
- 23a [Device with Rewind and Fast Forward functions] – TAPE RECORDER
- 26a [Aid for squeezing into a tight piece of footwear] – SHOEHORN
- 43a [Glass frequently used for toasting the New Year] – CHAMPAGNE FLUTE
- 51a [Advice to a musician with a 23-, 26- or 43-Across?] – DON’T BLOW IT
This was a cute theme, and I liked how completely the meanings of the instruments were changed. Also impressive is how TAPE RECORDER and SHOEHORN are stacked on top of each other, that can be tricky to do. This puzzle is a little smaller than usual (14×15), which allows for mirror-symmetry to accommodate the different lengths of the theme set. It’s a great use of construction tricks to make a specific theme really work. The only thing I didn’t love was the wording of the revealer – why a musician specifically? I get that they’re all instruments, but no one should be blowing any of these.
Hardest part of the puzzle for me: the southeast corner, where I had “hoorah” instead of HURRAH, and I didn’t know ENOCH or ALGIERS.
Favorite answers: LOCAL DIVE, I’M FOR IT, CAMEROON, MONGOOSE (I knew the mongoose answer immediately, I’m not sure how it will play for other folks).
Best clue by far: [High-level cover-up?] for ECLIPSE.
Catherine Cetta’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Cut the Cards”—Jim P’s review
Circled letters spell out words that can precede “card,” with said words “cut” by a block.
- PUNCH card: SPUN / CHOCOHOLIC.
- CREDIT card: SACRED / “IT‘S A DEAL.”
- REPORT card: “GO FIGURE” / PORTLY.
- TAROT card: HOT MAGENTA / ROTS.
There’s no wordplay in a theme like this so it relies on lively theme entries to keep things interesting. The shorter portions are there to get the job done, but the longer portions are all enjoyable. A fine Monday theme.
Elsewhere we have “WHO SAID?,” SKELETON, PROSPERO, ILL OMEN, GRUMBLE, and SECURITY adding some sparkle to the fill.
Clues of note:
- 6d. [Reminder of an old flame?]. ASHES. I suspect this might not be a new clue, but it’s a good one.
- 12d. [Song for a coloratura]. ARIA. Your vocab word of the day: “Coloratura is an elaborate melody with runs, trills, wide leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material, or a passage of such music. Operatic roles in which such music plays a prominent part, and singers of these roles, are also called coloratura.” -Wikipedia
A nice start to the week. 3.5 stars.
John Michael Currie’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Woof! The only hard part about this puzzle, at least for me, was parsing the theme afterward. The grid fell into place almost entirely without my needing to use any Across clues, and the revealer doesn’t exactly jump out at you, since it’s only five letters long and isn’t the last Across or Down answer. All is revealed at 66A [Reward for a pup who obeys the commands at the starts of 17-, 23-, 39-, 47-, and 61-Across], sort of. The answer is TREAT, and “obeying the commands” tells you that the first word (or first part of a compound word, in the case of 23A) in each theme phrase is a command that a dog might learn at obedience school:
- 17A [Sound that might accompany a salute] is a HEEL CLICK.
- 23A [Inexpensive way to spend time off] is a STAYCATION.
- 39A [“Mention you, and there you are!”] is SPEAK OF THE DEVIL.
- 47A [Ride shotgun] is SIT UP FRONT.
- 61A [“Come again?”] is BEG PARDON.
Nothing tough in the grid (well, with the possible exception of Joe TORRE at 49D), leading to a very easy solve that hopefully leaves you time to check out this appropriate and adorbz Instagram account.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday crossword—Matthew’s review
I’m interested how people found this one — there were a number of entries that didn’t make sense until I had most of the crossings, but it was also pretty approachable to keep a steady pace. I have to say I didn’t find the grid all that appealing at the outset, but interlocking stairstacks always seem to pay off.
As someone who thinks a lot about his progression through the grid, I’m a fan of themelesses that are a touch tougher in the NW corner, and at 1A in particular. It’s a common cluing approach in tournament finals puzzles, and we get a taste of that here, with FRESNEL, a word I’ve seen but certainly not often. And yet, once COIL [Mattress part] and SUMAC [Poisonous plant] got in there, the downs aren’t too bad and the corner fills out. A deft and pleasant set up for the solver.
The intersecting stairstacks are a delight: PRESCIENT, RAINHAT, ENTERTAIN, TECHWRITER, SERENADES, RISHI SUNAK, and hell, let’s add CHIA SEEDS and WRIST PAIN in there, too. General enough that BEQ could get a bit cuter with the clues for TECH WRITER [One working on manual transmissions?] and RISHI SUNAK [He gained confidence after a Truss fall].
Plenty to say about entries all over this grid, but I’ll limit myself to TUNG OIL: totally new to me, Googles super well, definitely A Thing. Today I Learned!
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword—Amy’s write-up
I always enjoy a Natan New Yorker themeless, but this one took a weird path to completion. I wasn’t seeing any gimmes in the top half of the puzzle and finally made way in the lower left quadrant. It still came together in about as long as a Mon TNY usually takes me, somehow. It felt a lot slower!
Fave fill: TRIPLE SEC, GENDERQUEER (tried to get GENDER-FLUID to work), GO-ROUNDS, Smokey Robinson and the MIRACLES (video below), R.L. STINE (a gimme nowhere near the top of the grid), MCCARTNEY, -PILLED (as in red-pilled), THE UNCOLA, LAILA ALI, and SLEPT IN.
Four more things:
- 18a. [Poetic form that W. E. Henley called “A double-clappered silver bell / That must be made to clink in chime”], VILLANELLE. Here’s info about villanelles, not to be confused with Jodie Comer’s Killing Eve character.
- Speaking of poetry: 45a. [“Ay ___, I say / to the scar on my belly. i only knew my name / when it came out of her mouth”: José Olivarez, “Guapo”], PAPI. Inferrable, I thought, as “ay Papi” flows naturally enough.
- Did not know at all: 9d. [Python variables that contain a collection of items in a fixed order], TUPLES.
- 26d. [Some niblings], NIECES. Niblings is an inclusive term for nieces and nephews, along with your sibling’s kids who might be nonbinary or GENDERQUEER.
Four stars from me. Perhaps a bit less punchy than most of Natan’s puzzles, with the dryness of TSARISM leading the way at 1a.
NYT: I was heading towards a personal record but there was an error… HURRAY, instead of HURRAH (should have looked at the down clue…).
Hurray for the PITUITARY in the puzzle! What a masterful gland When my son was a toddler I remember him running around the house chanting : “Pituitary, pituitary, pituitary.” (I study it in the context of our stress research). It must be weird to be the child of scientists.
I had the same experience…. filled in quickly on just the acrosses and didn’t see the clue for “shh”, so had Hurray and no happy pencil :( . But otherwise a smooth, clean fill.
One thought…it seems to me that a musician ( or other) SHOULD blow the horns, no? Otherwise it sits there looking pretty but not much else…???
You would blow [into] a RECORDER but not a TAPE RECORDER, so I guess we’re talking about a very stupid musician who might get confused. That is, the clue for DON’T BLOW IT is not limited to the second word of the cross-referenced entries. I hope that’s it. Otherwise, I have no idea.
ok, different slant that works .. thanks :)
I needed an explanation as well. Now I get it!
What would people say is the average difficulty of Monday The New Yorker puzzles compared to the hardest NYT? I personally find Monday’s TNY incredibly challenging (almost never finish) and much harder than NYT Saturday puzzles (which I regularly complete).
The Monday TNY and the Saturday Stumper (Newsday) are probably the toughest puzzles I regularly solve that are reviewed on the site. But I don’t do all of them.
Fireball is (usually) a half step easier but still a good workout. Then the Saturday NYT.
I’ll take a look at the Fireball puzzle, never tried it before but appears to have some samples to tackle on the website. Thanks for the suggestions.
If it makes you feel better, for me the Monday TNY puzzles are on average much, much harder than any NYT puzzle will ever be, especially TNY puzzles by Natan Last. Still, the question is a bit hard to answer. Allow me three caveats.
First, although Amy strongly disagrees with me on this, TNY puzzles aren’t at all as strongly edited, if at all. Thus, difficulty is more up to the constructor, and indeed it can be safer to make predictions based on the constructor’s name than the day of the week. Those by Last will be harder, say, than those by Elizabeth Gurski and Patrick Berry, although both are professionals doing their job to deliver a tough puzzle.
Second, it’s perhaps not fair to compare difficulty since the publications earn their difficulty in different ways. A Saturday NYT puzzle, really the gold standard for hard puzzles (along with the Stumper), tend to get their difficulty from the clues, whereas a TNY puzzle any day will get its from the answers, meaning pop culture, proper names, and idiomatic phrases more popular within a certain community. Thus the difficulty depends in no small part on whether your tastes agree with the constructor’s. For the same reason, your sense of difficulty may vary with the same constructor from week to week, depending on the knowledge it calls for.
I’d say this is among the hardest ever. I still have a huge blank in pretty much an entire extended NW. It also shows Last at his way of adding to difficulty. Say, not everyone has read psychologist Jacques, but has Last read his “Television.” I frankly doubt it. I had my phase of reading him back when deconstruction and “theory” were an intellectual trend, and I’ve never heard of it. It’s also not among the two dozen works by this writer in the index of his best-known book (back cover copy of which speaks of his “poetry, penetration, and willful obscurity”). My guess is that Last just scoured the Web for a title that would up the difficulty, fairly or not.
You bring up some good points. By judging it with the same metrics I do the NYT puzzles, I may not be approaching TNY puzzles from an appropriate angle! I’ll bear this in mind for the future.
(I found today’s TNY impossibly cryptic, not at all on the same wavelength as Last for most areas of this puzzle.)
In my corner of the crossword-solving world, the answer to this question now seems to be completely dependent upon the constructor and that’s become particularly true over the past three months. I also think they’ve become quite a bit more difficult recently. Including today’s failed solve, I’ve had 6 DNFs out of the 13 Monday puzzles since 10/31/2022. Before that, I’d had 6 DNFs in the previous 121 Monday puzzles dating back to 7/6/2020. Today’s puzzle may be the hardest time I’ve ever had with a TNY puzzle. I barely made it through half the grid before I had to start Googling.
When it’s an Elizabeth Gorski or Patrick Berry puzzle, I’m guaranteed to finish it and I usually do so in around the same time it takes me to do a NYT Saturday puzzle (PB hasn’t published a TNY Monday since last March). When it’s Natan Last or Anna Shechtman, I’m much less likely to complete it without cheating and when I do manage to finish their Monday puzzles, I average about 50% above my average NYT Saturday solve time. My other DNFs in the last three months have been with Kameron Austin Collins, Paolo Pasco, Brooke Husic and Will Nediger puzzles. NL, AS, KAC, PP and BH are routinely among my toughest constructors, regardless of where the puzzle is published. I usually don’t have much trouble with WN’s puzzles, but he occasionally throws me a curve.
Great rundown of difficulty for different constructors. It’d match my experience perfectly.
Thanks for weighing in. I’ve also struggled with many of the constructors you’ve mentioned, namely KAC and PP. No matter the day you know it’s going to be a challenge with them.
As to your point about a perceived recent increase in difficulty: the previous Monday TNY that I completed “comfortably” without any help was at the end of September. It’s been impossible ever since, DNF or cheating almost every week. I don’t keep track of my solves but maybe without realizing it, that’s what led me to post this question!…
I feel that the TNY on Monday is usually quite a bit harder than the average NYT and WSJ on their hardest day of the week. Despite the obscure (at least to me) references, I do enjoy the unique challenge these puzzles bring. I know going into a TNY puzzle that I’m going to be frustrated and confused. If I can get through it, as I occasionally do, it’s rewarding.
The references are definitely on the obscure side for myself as well, frustratingly so! Yet similarly, I do find myself drawn back to TNY puzzles, perhaps even more so on Mondays, because of the challenge I know awaits.
BEQ: It was the NE corner that did me in. I knew FRESNEL instantly (physics!) and I knew TUNGOIL (because I dabble in woodwork and furniture refinishing). But although I had ENTERTAIN and [something]SEEDS and NIELSEN and UTE, I gave up on the rest of that corner. CUTMAN, EHSORTA and TAILPIN were beyond me. Also ANI, as I know little and care less about Star Wars characters.
Maybe I could have finished the puzzled if I’d been willing to keep bashing away, but I find I often give up on BEQ puzzles because they depend so much on indie band names and voguish internet phrases and suchlike that I have no knowledge of. I’m just not interested enough to keep going.
WSJ … Boy, seeing ‘PUNCH cards’ as part of today’s theme sure brought back some bad memories of hours spent in the computer lab in college and grad school! Anyone else out here remember those days?
Yes. Punching the cards. Submitting them to a card reader. Waiting for my shot at the processor hoping I hadn’t made a silly typo.
It’s only recently I threw away the two boxes of cards needed for the simulation I ran for my dissertation.
That must have been tough to do with all the blood, sweat and tears you surely put into those key-punch cards! I still remember dropping my stack of cards at least a couple of times on my way to the window where we submitted them for processing and then spending an hour putting them all back in the proper order. Then there was the fun of learning an hour or two after submitted the cards that the program had failed because of some stupid syntax or typing error. Ah yes … the good ol’ days!
I took a computer class my last term in high school. My school didn’t offer one, but it was a Saturday class at Columbia University for, I imagine, other school-age kids. (Bear in mind this is 1972.) Yeah, the punch cards did me in. We were learning Fortran with very simple, even dull tasks to do. We weren’t going to imagine all that easily using the computer for problems we couldn’t solve ourselves! And then, alas, I’d hand over the cards, wait and wait, find I’d made a typo, try again, and so on, caught in, ironically, a loop. I didn’t have an interest in computers again for years.
It’s a shame, but in retrospect it was my fault. I had a publishing job in production, meaning proofreading and copyediting, for a couple of years out of college, and those are skills I should have learned to take care with back in the day rather than dismiss computers. My college roommate was a chem major who made his specialty, in fact, being one of the few who used computers. My physics career bombed out, so maybe I’d have done well trying something like that, a little less theoretical than what I’d aspired to. Who knows? And then, too, I was an early adopter of personal computers once I had the chance, built a Web site with scripting for my personal writing in art, had a job at (more irony) Columbia University Press managing a Web site including acquiring content but also supervising its transition to xml, and and also as a content and marketing-oriented editor worked with an author on a programming textbook, so it wasn’t out of my reach if I’d only cared. Oh, well, second-guessing myself is easy!
Weighing in on the Monday New Yorker vs. Saturday NY Times.
JohnH’s analysis sounds right to me. I was able to complete today’s NYer, but it felt like more of a challenge than all but a handful if Saturday NYTs. Overall, though, an enjoyable and satisfying journey.
Thanks. I can’t say I enjoyed facing all those things one clue at a time. But I cheated just once, and that was enough to give me a foothold that carried me to finishing, so could be worse.
And who knows? Maybe Last did read that book. It’s an outlier with Lacan, who was averse to compromise or outreach as a priority, but this slim book began, Wiki informs us, as a TV interview (where the journalist sought him out). Just the kind of thing a guy who always wanted to say he’d read Lacan might have picked up.
Wow. Maybe you could confine your nastiness to the content of the puzzle and not extend it to the character of the constructor. You seem awfully sure that you are intellectually superior to Natan Last. I see no evidence to support that conviction. You’re older and have different taste in media. That’s not exactly the same thing. I’m pretty sure I’ve asked you this before: why do you persist in solving (or attempting to solve) puzzles you know you won’t like?
Think what you want, solve what you want, but please limit your comments on this site to the content of the puzzles and stop insulting the constructors. It’s not a good look.
TNY – Jeez. Such a disproportionate response. IMHO, the “nastiness” toward JohnH in your comment far exceeds any found in JohnH’s assessment of the constructor.
Perhaps you’ve missed JohnH’s prior litanies of complaints about Natan’s puzzles. Like Jenni, I don’t understand persisting in solving puzzles I am predisposed to dislike. Where’s the fun in that? Life’s too short to consume entertainments that one loathes.
Sheesh, John, I didn’t know the book in the LACAN clue, but the rest of the clue did the heavy lifting. If you know the name, why get hung up on the flavor detail in the clue?