Zhouqin Burnikel’s Inkubator crossword, “Leading Ladies”—Jenni’s write-up
This is one of the most accessible Inkubator crosswords I can remember. I figured out the theme almost immediately . Since it’s Zhouqin’s work, it’s smooth and enjoyable nonetheless.
Each theme answer starts with circles, represented here by orange letters.
- 11d [Splashy bash on the water] is a YACHT PARTY. I don’t move in yacht circles. I suppose if you do, this might be a phrase you hear.
- 17a [Actress who played TV’s Dr. Meredith Grey] is ELLEN POMPEO. Yes, I knew this. No, I don’t watch the show. No, I’m not ever going to. Yes, I know it’s just entertainment and not meant to be medical education. No, I’m still not going to watch it.
- 29a [7 Up competitor replaced by “Starry” in 2023] is SIERRA MIST. This will reappear later in my write-up.
- 39a [Arms-revealing shirt] is a TANK TOP. Like the one my daughter wore in 8th grade during a dress code protest, prompting the science teacher (SCIENCE TEACHER) to use class time to tell them that when the girls bared their arms and legs, they were telling people it was OK to touch them there, and of course boys would do that because hormones (SCIENCE TEACHER) and expecting boys to resist those impulses was like putting food on a plate and expecting people not to eat it. Did I mention this was the SCIENCE TEACHER?
- 61a [Dry skin applications] are HAND LOTIONS.
And the revealer at 64d: [English pronoun that may be used in translation of the circled letters from French, Chinese, Finnish, Igbo and German] is SHE. Accessible to inexperienced solvers, fun for the more experienced among us. solid, consistent, and educational all at once! Nicely done.
A few other things:
- 20a [Pride’s digs] is DEN. As in lions.
- 6d [Employs the secret service?] is a cute clue for ELOPES. The lack of upper case tells us it’s not the folks who protect the President.
- 22a [Gives 10%, say] is TITHES. That’s a lot if you’re donating part of your income and not much if it measures your maximum effort at, say, work.
- 27d [Totally drained] is BEAT which pretty much describes me. 3 hours of sleep is not enough. (ER visit for my husband last night. He’s fine. Got home at 4:00 AM, went to bed at 4:30, got up at 7:30. Too old for this ish.)
- I filled in 70a from crossings and couldn’t figure out who NOLIE was. That’s because it’s NO LIE, as in [“Seriously!”].
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that SIERRA MIST has been replaced by “Starry.” Allrecipes thinks this is an improvement. Don’t look at me. I still drink Fresca.
Barbara Lin’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
Yay! Four weeks after the last NYT themeless written by a woman, we finally have another. Lots of lively fill to appreciate in Barbara Lin’s offering, which is pitched pretty squarely over the “Friday NYT difficulty” plate. (Look! I did a baseball metaphor! Blame my mother, who was just asking me to clarify whether batting a thousand or batting .250 was better.)
Fave fill: BELL CURVE, BIKE RIDES (did try RACES first, but when hardcore bikers like crossworder Nancy Shack bike incredible distances, they’re often not trying to win anything), NEW HIRE, BUTTS OUT (“the moon is shining brightly), BUYS INTO, HUMP DAY, GRAPE SODAS (tricky clue, [Crush cans, maybe] hiding brand-name Crush’s initial capital), MARS ROVER, CRYOSLEEP, NOTEWORTHY, GOES HOME, WENT SOLO (not bothered that GOES and WENT are inflections of the same verb), Norwegian ELKHOUNDS, CLEMATIS (grew up loving the clematis vines on the back wall of my grandma’s house), ORGAN DONOR (I haven’t made it to Queen Bee in the Thursday Spelling Bee yet, but very much appreciated that word pair being in the mix!), ridiculous UNOBTANIUM (a much dumber name than vibranium or kryptonite), and the conversational “WISH ME LUCK” and “IF I WERE YOU…”. That last one is also the title of a kd lang song I love; so torchy. (Video warning: If bathrooms and a roach freak you out, look away from the screen while the video plays.)
Fave clue: 40a. [Extra-crispy, to put it nicely], BURNT. It’s extremely well done.
Nothing at all irked me while solving, which is a treat. 4.5 stars from me.
Sean Ziebarth’s Universal crossword, “Spice Things Up”—Jim P’s review
Theme revealer: HEAT RISES (38a, [Why upstairs is warmer in winter, and a hint to the placement of the pepper varieties in this puzzle]).
- 17a. [Supernatural role for Bill Murray or Kate McKinnon] GHOSTBUSTER. Ghost pepper. I don’t think I’ve ever tried one, and I don’t think I feel the need to. I’m one who prefers my eggs with Habanero Tabasco, so I like spicy things, but…within reason.
- 26a. [Cars perfect for tailgate parties] HATCHBACKS. Hatch pepper. I’ve only recently learned about Hatch peppers which come solely from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico. I enjoyed some good Hatch pepper salsa this past season.
- 53a. [Somewhat fruit-shaped bicycle saddle] BANANA SEAT. Banana pepper.
- 63a. [Retro flared jeans] BELL BOTTOMS. Bell pepper.
The revealer had me thinking that I should be looking for the pepper words to be above something else or to turn upwards somehow. But I could see nothing of the sort. It wasn’t until I started writing up this post and looking at the actual peppers that I understood what was going on.
We’re talking Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) here with the ghost pepper being the hottest of this bunch (and therefore at the top of the grid) and the bell pepper at the bottom. Here’s what I’ve gathered from the interwebs:
- Ghost pepper: 855k – 1M SHU
- Hatch pepper: 1k – 8k SHU
- Banana pepper: 0 – 500 SHU
- Bell pepper: 0 SHU
Compare these to other common peppers:
- Carolina Reaper: 1.4M – 2.2M
- Habanero: 100k – 350k
- Cayenne: 30k – 50k
- Serrano: 10k – 23k
- Jalapeño 2.5k – 8k (similar to a Hatch).
Getting back to the puzzle…That’s a huge difference from ghost to Hatch. It would have been nicer if there was a broader range on display here, but it doesn’t look like there are many other peppers with names that are also regular English words.
All in all, the theme confused me at first, but this spicy food lover enjoyed it in the end.
Elsewhere, we have some largish corners to look at. Three of them are quite nice with highlights BIG SHOT, NEOPETS, BOBA TEA, “I WAS HAD,” “ONE TO GO!,” and DRUM SET. The NE corner didn’t fare as well with DID OKAY and weird “I GOTCHA.” The “I” is almost always implied. So…three out of four ain’t bad.
Clues of note:
- 1a. [Name-o of a dog in children’s music]. BINGO. Fun clue that gave me a smile right off the bat.
- 39d. [Naan flour]. ATTA. I love naan bread and we almost always have some on hand (it freezes well). But I only know ATTA from crosswords. It doesn’t strike me as a fair way to clue this word.
Fun puzzle overall, but I’m not sure the theme is clear to the average solver. 3.5 stars.
Katie Hale’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
Selected language vocabulary today. The focus is on very literal clues. The answers are English idioms.
- 16a. [Zevk, literally] TURKISH DELIGHT.
- 24a. [Bise, literally] FRENCH KISS.
- 36a. [Cangkir, literally] CUP OF JAVA.
- 50a. [Quando, literally] WHEN IN ROME.
- 58a. [La lluvia, literally] THE RAIN IN SPAIN.
Nicely chosen and well executed. I appreciate the variation of forms.
I checked Google translate to see if any of the originals should have had diacritics—they’re all properly unadorned.
- 5d [Lithography tool] LASER. Technology progresses.
- 6d [Prehistoric paint colour] OCHRE. We commonly spell it both ways in American English, but the clue makes it explicit which version is required.
- 11d [Slangy agreement] YAH. I’ve been known to use this, but I typically lean on YA.
- 39d [FYI kin] BTW. 9a [Texter’s “I don’t understand”] WDYM.
- 41d [Like yeast] ONE CELL. Some basic biology.
- 44d [Horse breed that originated on an Asian peninsula] ARABIAN. ARABIAN horse, literally = حصان (hisan).
- 1a [Kid’s parent] GOAT. Entertained BUCK first.
- 14a [Hyaluronic __ ] ACID. Unusual choice.
- 21a [Egyptian cobra] ASP. You know what’s coming. Literally: كوبرا (kubra).
- 39a [Reserve] BOOK. Slightly tough clue, due to its terseness.
Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “Noncentric”—Darby’s write-up
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer has PRO in the center, with PRO being the opposite of CON, making them NON-CONcentric answers.
- 20a [“‘Sure, I can take care of that!’”] NOT A PROBLEM
- 38a [“Process that increases a house’s value”] HOME IMPROVEMENT
- 52a [“Medication in abortion pills”] MISOPROSTOL
This was a rapid solve for me, as I came in under three minutes. I flew through, but I also really enjoyed the solve itself. NOT A PROBLEM and HOME IMPROVEMENT fell right in. I needed to get MISOPROSTOL on the crosses. 53d [“Risque”] RACY was the last one to go in the puzzle.
I appreciated the symmetry in this grid. It’s aeshetically pleasing and left some fun space for answers like 6d [“Chalices for toddlers”] SIPPY CUPS and 36d [“Massage rocks”] HOT STONES. I also really liked the inclusion of 4d [“Actor Jonathan”] MAJORS, who is popping up everywhere, between Marvel’s Loki and the upcoming Ant-Man threequel and the aviation film Devotion. MAHAL, ADOBO, and ROMAN crossing MARS, ADO, ABAYA, and LONERS made for my favourite section of this puzzle.
Finally, other fun fill and cluing that I loved included 45d [“Walks like Godzilla”] STOMPS and 61a [“Move like slime”] OOZE.
Nice Friday, but a bit slower than my average. The last bit to drop in was BINGO at 1A, which unlocked the rest of the NW corner. As a long-distance rider, I really liked the “centuries” clue for BIKE RIDES, too. I’m still not entirely sure about “edges of a diamond?” answered as DEES; I guess the ends of a word would be its “edges”? Or is there some other interpretation that I missed?
Nope. You got it. That’s a common type of clue for letters. I like them about as much as like the soft/hard letter clue … which is to say not at all. You just groan and move on.
Thank you. I now groan.
Agreed. The Ds are the ‘edges’ of the diamond.
Century associated with cycling is new to me. Makes sense now that I googled it.
Could have clued it “Mid-month date for a cyclists’ ride” BIKER IDES.
I found the NYT significantly easier than typical Fridays. I wanted UNOBTAINIUM (sic) and didn’t know at first what came after CRYO, but otherwise nothing really held me up. I wasn’t familiar with centuries for BIKERIDES but I got it mostly from crossings.
I found it significantly harder than typical, at least in the SW and SE, especially the SW. Lots and lots of sci-fi and names. (I also kept trying to fit “orange” into what turned out to be GRAPE.)
Centuries as a racing term was interesting to learn, though, and while my first guesses in the NW were all wrong, it was nice working them out.
Have never seen an “Avatar” movie and will never see one, so I was annoyed when that clue popped up and even more annoyed when one of the vowels crossed SONIA, which can be spelled with a Y or an I. Eventually I calmed down and realized it had to be an I. All the other crossings were fair and after a few deep breaths I decided I liked the puzzle after all for all the reasons Amy cites.
“Unobtanium” has been an ironic term among engineers for scarce, prohibitively expensive, or solely theoretical components to a proposed solution since the ’50s. It may be dumb, but it’s not an “Avatar” coinage.
But that spelling, as opposed to ‘unobtainium,’ seems to be mostly an Avatar thing. Hence my confusion. (Your link didn’t respond when I tried it).
Both spellings were common, pre-movie.
Hopefully this link will work.