Rich Katz’s New York Times crossword, “The Final Frontier” —Nate’s write-up
Today’s puzzle is our constructor’s New York Times debut, and what an ambitious way to come on the scene!
– 18A: SEAT RIP [*Embarrassing pants mishap?] – sea trip
– 24A: LOO MOVER [*Shipper of British toilets?] – loom over
– 44A: MOANA BOUT [*Big fight for a Disney heroine from Polynesia?] – moan about
– 88A: GOO DEARTH [*Shortage of slime?] – good Earth
– 109A: CAT CHAIR [*Rest spot for a tabby?] – catch air
– 116A: DUAL IPA [*Brew that’s both bitter and fruity?] – Dua Lipa
– 7D: STARCH ART [*Painting of potatoes, e.g.?] – star chart
– 11D: ASP ENTREE [*Main course featuring Egyptian snake meat?] – aspen tree
– 38D: PARKA VENUE [*Iditarod, for one?] – Park Avenue
– 43D: DEA THEATER [*Staging of a narc sting?] – Death Eater
– 77D: SUPERB OWL [*Terrific messenger at Hogwarts?] – Super Bowl
– 79D: EVENT ALLY [*Friend in a competition?] – even tally
– 65A: SPACE TRAVEL [Voyage by rocket … or a feature of the answers to the 12 starred clues?]
Each of this puzzle’s twelve(!) theme answers results from a base phrase whose space has been shifted.
I’m torn on this puzzle and how its execution felt as a solver. On the one hand, I really admired the constructor’s ambition to build a puzzle with this many interlocking, symmetrically-placed theme entries. That’s a super difficult feat! Some of the theme answers were even quite fun – I enjoyed STARCH ART and PARKA VENUE the most.
On the other hand, the placement and constraints of the theme entries resulted in a fairly segmented grid that strained the fill at times (BOSUN crossing OAS, LILA crossing a weirdly-clued IOUS), making some sections harder for me to tackle than others. Also, while some of the the themers are quite well known transformations (SUPERB OWL, especially) others felt like a bit of a stretch (ASP ENTREE, EVENT ALLY). I also wish there had been consistency in how the space was moved in each theme entry: 8 of the 12 themers only had the space move by one letter, while the others moved by two letters.
All in all, this was a nice puzzle that I perhaps would have appreciated had there been fewer, but more substantial theme entries whose transformations were consistently exciting and novel. That said, this is a fantastic puzzle for a NYT debut (especially as a 21×21 puzzle) and I’ve never built a puzzle like this before, so my backseat driving can only be taken for so much! :)
Other random thoughts:
– The long, non-thematic fill had some high points (PROMPOSALS, RIGAMAROLE) and some boring points (HORSE SENSE, TEASED HAIR, BOLSTERED, REFASTENS, GETS A BITE). I feel like crosswords have been moving more towards a high value on sparklier long entries, so I was surprised to see as many MEH long entries in this puzzle. Again, this must have been due to the constraints of packing in so many themers + the central revealer.
– The symmetrically-placed ON TIP TOE and SORE FEET was a neat moment in the puzzle, I thought.
– I would have said that KICK ME and its clue felt a bit outdated, but I had a student do this (lovingly) to one of their classmates just last week.
What did you think? Let us know in the comments – and have a nice weekend!
Stella Zawistowski’s Universal Sunday crossword, “The Little Things”—Jim P’s review
Theme: The final words of familiar phrases are given the suffix LET.
- 23a. [Hollywood boss’s breaded chicken piece?] DIRECTOR’S CUTLET.
- 34a. [Flyer about pancake syrup?] MAPLE LEAFLET.
- 54a. [Clotting agent, as colored under a certain microscope?] SILVER PLATELET. My brother just hit a milestone of donating platelets 100 times. I asked him if they were going to let him donate full-sized plates now.
- 69a. [Curl in a prewedding hairdo?] ENGAGEMENT RINGLET.
- 88a. [Small town in the Old Dominion?] VIRGINIA HAMLET.
- 101a. [Fortunate Hollywood hopeful?] LUCKY STARLET.
- 117a. [Most sky-colored ring on a shoe?] THE BLUEST EYELET. I didn’t remember the title to Toni Morrison’s first novel, but am glad to be reminded of it.
Nice, solid yet breezy theme. The repetition meant that the solve proceeded apace and never slowed down to a slog. None of these gave me any yuks, but that’s okay; the fill was quite nice.
Speaking of which we have a FRIED EGG [Messy topping for a burger] (I’ll pass), and speaking of which…PASS/FAIL, PHONE TAP, CALL TAILS, HOOK SHOT, CATALAN, I LOVE LUCY, “BEER ME,” ATLANTIS, and EL DIABLO. Lots of fun stuff there!
Clues of note:
- 127a. [Actress Mireille]. ENOS. Nice to have a new cluing angle for this. I didn’t recognize the actress’s name, but I have seen her in World War Z and Good Omens. She’s garnered numerous award nominations, so expect to see her more often in puzzle clues.
- 42d. [Show that had a grape-stomping episode in 1956]. I LOVE LUCY. To me, the chocolate-factory-conveyor-belt scene is more iconic. But apparently the fight that occurred during the grape-stomping scene became real, and Lucille Ball says she nearly drowned during the filming of it.
Smooth Sunday puzzle. 3.75 stars.
Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Freezer Packs” —Matthew’s write-up
A pair of revealers point us to six rebus squares and their clues.
The more traditional revealer [Fridges’ predecessors, and a hint to six squares in this puzzle] ICE BOXES, is straightforward for the rebus appearances of ICE:
- 22a [Helpful tip] WORD OF ADV(ICE) // 8d [Pizza serving] SL(ICE)
- 38a [Request for payment] INVO(ICE) // 14d [Muscles strengthened by squats] QUADR(ICE)PS
- 48a [Priggish person] N(ICE) NELLY // 36d [Org. that provides humanitarian aid to kids] UN(ICE)F
- 87a [How often many people brush their teeth] TW(ICE) A DAY // 87a [Fictional character mentioned in Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”] AL(ICE)
- 97a [Tempted] ENT(ICE)D // 79d [Floodgate] SLU(ICE)
- 118a [Takes one’s chances] ROLLS THE D(ICE) // 103d [Spiral shapes] HEL(ICE)S
The other revealer, 68a COLD OPEN highlights a second layer of the theme [Certain TV intro … or a description of each of 12 letters in the grid (the starts of six Across entries and then six Down entries) that spell ouf an alternate title for this puzzle].
Following those instructions, we spell out the words WINTER SQUASH, indeed an apt alternate title.
- 14a [Bit of Marxist philosophy?] QUIP. Do you ever have those words you’ve only ever seen in writing, and are uncertain about their pronunciation. Similarly, I was … older than I should have been when I realized that Karl Marx was not an estranged Marx brother.
- 32a [Portrayer of Nero in “Star Trek” (2009)] ERIC BANA. 2009 was a big year for Bana, who also starred in The Time Traveler’s Wife and Funny People, though I’ll always think of him first as Hector in Troy.
- 48a NICE NELLY. I’d never seen this before — only “Nervous Nelly” — and while I believe that the clue is apt, I must be missing a tone of voice to get to “priggish” here.
- 51a [“The Incredibles” surname] PARR. Like any Pixar film, The Incredibles is chock-full of easter eggs. The family’s name is both evocative of Jack Paar and the era it’s set in, as well as “par,” playing into themes of “normal” and “super” in the plot.
- 113a [Bills ____ (Buffalo fan base)] MAFIA. Originally a throwaway hashtag in the days of “Follow Friday” on Twitter (remember those?), the Bills Mafia moniker celebrates the City of Good Neighbors, as we Western New York natives call ourselves. Thanks to the team’s recent success, “Bills Mafia” has expanded past the fanbase itself (and its raucous tailgating) to capture and motivate a community looking out for each other after snowstorms, mass shootings, and just in everyday life.
- 15d [Phil, to Will, on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”] UNCLE. I watched a few episodes of the Bel-Air remake on a flight recently. It struck me as unnecessarily gritty and dramatic compared to the original, though I loved the casting!
- 45a [The starts with an E] EYE EXAM. Cute!
- 71a [“Salvation by imagination,” per Frank Lloyd Wright] IDEA. Already a fan of his work, I had the opportunity to visit Frank LLoyd Wright’s studio outside of Chicago a little bit back. Highly recommend a swing out to Oak Park if you ever go — the non-FLW architecture is stunning, too.
- 101a [Platy plates] SCALES. I shrugged as I filled this in, but turns out a “platy” is a fish related to the guppy.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Break Even” —Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: In each answer, EVEN is broken between two words.
- 17a [“Wood finish for some desks”] MAPLE VENEER
- 30a [“Razor brand”] GILLETTE VENUS
- 58a [“What Venezuela’s name means”] LITTLE VENICE
I needed help with each of themers, but I generally liked them. I kept wanting to put MATTE FINISH for 17a, which wouldn’t have made sense with “finish” already included in the clue. I caught the V off of 18 [“Wiener schnitzel meat”] VEAL, and it all made sense with the closing NW corner of ATMS, BRAT, HYPE, OIL PAINT, and RTE. GILLETTE VENUS was a little easier, since the brand was pretty apparent, but I don’t use Gillette, so I needed some assistance to get VENUS in place. Additionally, I’d been switching pretty regularly between Across and Down, so LITTLE VENICE was almost completely filled in by the time I got there. It was a nice little fact though.
The lower middle section of the puzzle was my favourite, with 47a [“Adamant refusal] OH GOD NO making me laugh. I also enjoyed the crossing GALLOP, OR ELSE, and DIVE IN. The cross of PHISH and DELISH is also a charming rhyme. Overall, this was a pretty speedy Sunday, at least for me, at just over four minutes.
While others have liked the NYT Sunday puzzle a lot, have to say it left me cold Too many entries, including theme entries (where here I mean the supposed normal usage on which its punning) seem less than idiomatic to me. Nate suggests much the same, but it really hit me. That and being dependent on Diane Sawyer’s unknown really name to get some of the weird entries.
NYT: I loved it! That said, “everything I know about Harry Potter (and The Simpsons), I learned from Xwords” … not one but two themers utilizing Harry knowledge. Did not know Death Eater before, but the crosses got it, and the wacky clue amused. I also don’t think Even Tally is that common… I could be wrong.
Loved DUAL IPA and PARKA VENUE! well, I got a chortle out of several of them, and there were a lot to draw chortles :) .
WaPo… nice one (I love a rebus) for a FROSTY winters morning :) .
I had to run the alphabet twice to come up with DEATHEATER, and even then could only take it on trust that that was the desired answer. One of W. Shortz’s blind spots, IMO, is that the thinks all solvers should be familiar with Harry Potter and Star Wars characters.
WaPo was good, with (as always) the Birnholz lagniappe. But NICENELLY is totally new to me, although it’s defined in various online dictionaries.
DEATH EATER nearly defeated me, though I’ve seen it in at least one other puzzle. I kept trying to make sEAT HEATER work, even though sEA THEATER made no sense.
Agreed on Shortz’s blind spots. He just can’t get enough of the Simpsons, Harry Potter, and Star Wars follow-ups. (I also didn’t know Dua Lipa.)
I put it down to age. When he was a kid, being a nerd meant being drawn to science fiction as opposed to softy stuff. For me, it meant outgrowing science fiction altogether in favor of science on the one hand and literature on the other. In fact, I never looked back after trying a couple of Tom Swift books in maybe 2nd grade and being bored out of my mind. Kid stuff, I said to myself.
How very sad for you. I’m glad I’ve never grew up.
In the LA Times puzzle, 34-A, “Ellington composition,” is wildly off. Yes, the earliest Ellington composition is “Soda Fountain Rag,” but to identify Ellington as a composer of rags is to be, no pun intended, clueless.
Curious to me how often crosswords go awry when jazz comes in. E.g., identifying Jelly Roll Morton as a SCAT singer, identifying TORME as a “cool jazz pioneer.”
(Typing with at least 200 Ellington LPs and CDs in the room.)
I don’t understand 36A in the LAT. What phrase is it the opposite of?
They really used those clues? Wow! How funny. (While Mel Torme’s crooning was too, well, old-fashioned for me and my generation, I have to give him credit for incorporating jazz influences and later performing with actual jazz musicians. He must have had wide interests. I see online that he was a composer of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” and now that I think about it, its first eight notes are taken from the opening of a slow movement in a string quartet or quintet by Beethoven or Mozart that now I can’t get out of my head. Now if only I could remember which one. Maybe by tomorrow.)
maaaan that WaPo theme is impressive
I was marveling at that, too, wondering how long it would take, if this was my theme idea, to navigate the intricacy of taking each letter of WINTER and each letter of SQUASH, pairing those letters with an entry that contains ICE, and then crossing, for example, the entries starting with S and W–ohmygod my head hurts just trying to explain the concept. But I figure I could get a first-draft grid up in about 150 man-hours. I’m curious about how much work the software does, plugging search criteria into Python or whatever, and, ultimately, how long it took Evan to go from Germ of an Idea to Skeleton Grid With Placed Themers. Five hours? Twenty-five? Two? Or is that, like, a trade secret.
I appreciate it, you guys. :)
I didn’t time myself on how many hours the whole thing took, but I think I spent maybe 1.5-2 days just making the grid. It’s not uncommon for one of my themes to start from something smaller and then I’ll just build on it.
I don’t know how much of their fanbase are craft beer lovers but I would definitely check out Dua Lipa’s ‘Levitating’ Dual IPA!
Late to the party, but I really enjoyed the NYT today. Very clever construction. Harder than a typical Sunday, but that just stretched out the enjoyment.
LAT: Ellington composition = RAG??? As in Duke Ellington? Really? He’s perhaps the greatest jazz composer and most famous big band jazz bandleader ever. RAG? Given that he was one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century, that’s a pretty egregious faux pas.
WashingtonPost (‘Freezer Packs’) 24A: could someone explain why the answer to “E as in Escalades” is “empty”? Thank you –
On the vehicle’s fuel gage. It’s a bit stretchy.
Oh! Gotcha :-). Thank you pannonica!