Friday, February 17, 2023

Inkubator untimed (Matt) 


LAT untimed (pannonica) 


The New Yorker 2:33 (Matt) 


NYT 6:13 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today 3:03 (Darby) 


If you haven’t seen it yet, check out New Yorker crossword editor Liz Maynes-Aminzade’s interview of Will Shortz. It’s in the digital-only Interviews issue, so you won’t find it in the print version. I like the sort of discussion topics Will would only be asked by another crossword editor, and Will gets personal. It’s a good read.

Jem Burch’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 17 23, no. 0217

This puzzle played harder than I expected. I think I just need more sleep.

The center entry is the star here: 35a. [Confounding contraptions], PUZZLE BOXES. You might be asking, What the heck is a puzzle box? Watch the Netflix movie Glass Onion to see a wild example of one (and stay for the Natasha Lyonne cameo mentioning crosswords—both she and director Rian Johnson are puzzle people).

Other fave fill: ABOUT-FACES (plural feels a little weird), PIZZA STONES, potato LATKES, VAMPIRE BAT, SLEAZEBALL, AFFLUENZA (which seems like a “get over yourself” issue), SIZZLED, and BOLEYN.

New to me: 28a. [First letter of “tsar” in Russian], TSE. If you’re a language nerd with a little bit of Cyrillic alphabet knowledge (like I picked up from Encyclopedia Brown—I know I’m not the only one!), check out some Sporcle quizzes like this and that.

I am weary of entries like GASP AT, which append a 2-letter word to form a phrase that is maybe not a dictionary-grade sort of entry.

One of several fun/tricky clues: 48d. [Go-to spot for multiple dates?], PALM. As in date palm trees. If you thought this was salacious, that’s on you!

Four stars from me.

Wyna Liu’s Inkubator crossword, “Themeless 35″—Matthew’s write-up

Wyna Liu’s Inkubator crossword solution, “Themeless 40,” 2/16/23

Matt here, stepping in for Jenni. I can’t remember ever not loving the heck out of a Wyna themeless, but this may be one of my favorites. I’m hard-pressed to remember a grid with so much long stuff hitting the middle — typically below 70 words we’ve got stairstacks in the middle, wide-open corners without a lot of connectivity, or a diagonal streak of blocks through the center to help segment the grid. But here we’ve got almost a themed-grid shape around the edges and then, almost nothing in the middle.

PERIOD UNDERWEAR [They’re sometimes spotted in the laundry] is a great entry made even better by a great clue. That it’s right next to Nobelist SEAMUS Heaney highlights just how much can be fit into a grid. See also Aly RAISMAN next to KING PRIAM, or the juxtaposition of biology’s ALLELES – the real-world REAL FRIEND – fashion’s Bruno MAGLI – casual SPOSE. Idiomatic WET NOODLE!

Admittedly I wasn’t familiar with KIIARA (“Gold” apparently hit #13 on Billboard), or with the ONE-EARED nature of mantises. PHONE NO, RARO, CDRS all caught my attention as a bit awkward during the solve (I try to make a distinction between what I actually see during a solve versus in the 30-60 minute period of doing a write up after), but they’re plenty offset by the good IMO. There’s just such a deft balance of such a wide net here — GOLAN Heights and THE GRIND; KIWI crossing HAKA — it’s Robyn Weintraub, Kam Collins, Francis Heaney levels. And Wyna’s been delivering it from the jump – I can still remember solving her world debut with AVCX (get it for a buck here!)

Anyway, I liked the puzzle. Your mileage may vary, of course, but other than difficulty (I always want more) it’s everything I want in a puzzle. Two last things:

  • 30a [Parers and peelers, say] UTENSILS. Love this clue – very prosodic.
  • 50d [Undo ___ (embarrassment-saving email button)] SEND. I have this setting turned to the max on my email accounts and use it multiple times a day. It’s kind of rare I actually needed to use it, but it’s a nice security blanket.

Gary Larson and Amy Ensz’s Universal crossword, “Top Row”—Jim P’s review

Theme answers (in the Down direction) are familiar phrases whose first words (or two) can also be synonyms for “quarrel.” Each one is clued [Quarrel over x, literally?] where x is a hint at the final word in the entry. (The “quarrel” word(s) is over (i.e. above) x. Get it?) Note also the play on words in the title where “row” is yet another word for “quarrel.”

Universal crossword solution · “Top Row” · Gary Larson and Amy Ensz · Fri., 2.17.23

  • 3d. [Quarrel over a song, literally?] SET-TO MUSIC.
  • 8d. [Quarrel over a golf club, literally?] SCRAP IRON.
  • 29d. [Quarrel over a venue, literally?] RUN-IN PLACE.
  • 34d. [Quarrel over merchandise, literally?] BEEF STOCK.

The theme works, though I can’t say it does a lot for me. I think there’s a better chance at humor if you go the classic “wacky clue” route (e.g. [Tunes for a tussle] and [Golf club for combat]). I do like the title.

In the fill, I thought it was nice to see my Fighting IRISH represented in a theme-adjacent manner. Also good in the fill: TAR PAPER, “¿COMO ESTA?,” GOBLET, and “BEATS ME.”

Clues of note:

  • 9d. [Sounds from a dying smoke alarm]. BEEPS. Also from a non-dying smoke alarm…when it’s triggered.
  • 32d. [British “dude”]. CHAP. Not quite the same. “Chaaaap” doesn’t sound nearly as good as “duuuude.”
  • 54d. [“Let’s start the music!”]. “HIT IT!” Surprised to see “music” here since it dupes a theme entry.

3.25 stars.

Jeff Stillman’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 2/17/23 • Fri • Stillman • solution • 20230217

A 16×15 grid today.

  • 36aR [Ones fated to fail, or what the answers to the starred clues are, initially?] BORN TO LOSE. Each of those four answers has an isolated letter that’s dropped. In order, they are B-O-R-N.
  • 18a. [*Children’s apparel company] OSHKOSH GOSH (OshKosh B’Gosh).
  • 27a. [*Candy with a bee on its wrapper] BIT HONEY (Bit-O-Honey).
  • 51a. [*Superstore for new parents] BABIES US (Babies ‘Я‘ Us). This one is iffy, to my mind. Expanding from the tse in today’s NYT, the key letter in the Cyrillic alphabet is called ya.
  • 61a. [*Snack brand with Buttery Toffee and Almond Supreme flavors] CRUNCH MUNCH (Crunch ’n Munch).

I’m kind of indifferent on this theme. The general vibe that I get is that it’s ever-so-slightly short of being clean. Maybe it’s the syntax of the revealer. Maybe it’s that reflected R (even though it’s meant to be merely a simulacrum of children’s handwriting) which admittedly for all practical purposes is treated as a regular one. Whatever the reason, it just didn’t thrill.

  • Some unusual fill livens up the grid: ROSINED, ASHCANS, KOLA NUT, DOE EYES, SAGE TEA, and some others.
  • 39d [Punctuation marks that set off a series within a phrase] EM DASHES. All of our thematic letters are set off by different means than this. EM DASHES would certainly overpower a single letter.
  • 32a [Campus security?] TENURE. Nowadays TENURE seems increasingly tenuous for academics.
  • 67d [Jumps up and down to music] POGOS. I was curious to see if this verb predated the pogo stick, but it seems that it’s the other way around. m-w gives an example of punk rockers and dates the usage to 1977, so you can gather the context. But certainly the Masai people have been doing this for much, much longer.
  • 68a [Origin] SEED. 26d [Scattered, as seeds] SOWN.

Christopher Adams’ New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s write-up

Christopher Adams’ New Yorker crossword solution, 2/17/23

Themers each contain two instances of the letter string –OUT– and are connected by the apt, baseball-y, revealer DOUBLE PLAYS [Defensive baseball feats represented in 10-, 14-, 26-/30-, and 38-Across]

  • 10a [Type of social program that might focus on at-risk children] YOUTH OUTREACH
  • 14a [Nickname for Ted Turner] MOUTH OF THE SOUTH
  • 26a [With 30-Across, regular exercise practice] WORKOUT ROUTINE
  • 38a [Janelle Monáe protest song covered in David Byrne’s “American Utopia”] HELL YOU TALM BOUT

This is a satisfying puzzle with a tight theme, a spot-on revealer, and polish and depth I expect from a veteran like Chris. With apologies to that depth and polish, I have only one comment:

I am deeply grateful to Chris and the New Yorker staff for including HELL YOU TALM BOUT, which Byrne used as his closer on the American Utopia tour and called “one of the most moving political songs that I'[ve] ever heard.”

Monáe released a subsequent version in 2021, thirteen minutes longer than the original, with 61 names.

Stella Zawistowski’s USA Today crossword, “Exterior Doors”—Darby’s write-up

Editor: Anna Gundlach

Theme: Each theme answer is bracketed by letters spelling out DOOR.

Theme Answers

Stella Zawistowski's USA Today crossword, "Exterior Doors" solution for 2/17/2023

Stella Zawistowski’s USA Today crossword, “Exterior Doors” solution for 2/17/2023

  • 15a [“Pursuit of two sets of degree requirements”] DOUBLE MAJOR
  • 33a [“Work of managing a household”] DOMESTIC LABOR
  • 54a [“Helping out”] DOING A FAVOR

This was a cute theme. It was pretty obvious and so therefore helpful as I went to fill in DOMESTIC LABOR and DOING A FAVOR in particular. It was also a really smooth ride, placing me at just over three minutes (if only I’d been able to type 55d [“In the style of”] ALA faster). It was a nice theme set, though I don’t feel like I see DOING A FAVOR more than I see DOING SOMEONE/YOU A FAVOR in a sentence out in the wild.

Like most folks, OBOE is my go-to guess for instruments in puzzles, so it was delightful to see 9d [“Wind player’s time to shine”] OBOE SOLO. I also appreciated that MAJESTIC crossed DOUBLE MAJOR in a J team-up. 34a [“How someone might listen to their favorite song”] ON REPEAT was very fresh, and it was great to get 13a and 15d [“Baby’s first word, often”] MAMA and DADA respectively.

I struggled with the cross between 40a [“Sara Gilbert’s role on ‘The Connors’”] DARLENE and 33d [“Long tirade”] DIATRIBE. DIATRIBE was just not coming to mind, and I’m not familiar with Sara Gilbert.

Overall, however, this was super fun and a great Friday grid.

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39 Responses to Friday, February 17, 2023

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: What Jem Burch said in his NYT constructor’s note about his puzzle fits my experience solving this: “The bottom half proved fairly easy to complete, but I struggled with the northwest.” It took me way too long to see GAS HEATER and SHIRT FRONT. (I don’t know why the clue for GAS HEATER has “of sorts” except to confuse solvers.) The clue for ABOUT FACES is wonderful misdirection.

    It probably didn’t help that while my brain was thinking AFFLUENZA, my fingers were typing inFLUENZA. I wish I could blame that on autocorrect.

    Nicely filled. Toughest Friday in a while.

    • huda says:

      Perfect description of how I felt and what I did. Including inFLUENZA
      Except I also thought ApronFRONT at one point.
      It’s interesting that the scrabbly area was easier to deal with than the plainer NW.
      In the end, it was a fun Friday.

      • Eric H says:

        Maybe the Scrabbly letters make it easier because once you have, say, the Z’s in PIZZA STONES, what else works for 31D except MUZAK?

    • JohnH says:

      I thought it was challenging in the best way. Just wonderful as themeless puzzles go. For me it wasn’t quite so much bottom to top as right to left. Or rather first I didn’t think I’d get a foothold, then didn’t think I’d get out of the SE, then didn’t think I’d get out of the right half, and so on, but each new foothold set off a fairly fast quadrant.

  2. Dave says:

    Inkubator: 10d. With the R in place I confidently plunked down RIDEORDIE. Oh, well. 5d. Needed every cross for KIIARA. 6d. PERIODUNDERWEAR I am so not looking forward to 2024 without Inkubator & its brand. 😞

  3. billy boy says:

    AFFLUENZA was the cooked-up defense a lawyer tried to use to get a (Orange County?) CA kid off for murder a few years ago. First thought was anagram, too many letters. Loved PUZZLE BOXES, but lotZa ZEES in there all over

    Very good puzzle that the stack of 11’s broke for me filling the entire NE across to SW. I think it was a harder Friday with getting on a clue wavelength most important. BRONCO having lived a while in Denver was always called a sport truck, so coming to SUV took a bit. Pop culture names always a sticking point for me, but this is a great example of why Friday NYT is best.

    • Eric H says:

      Not quite on AFFLUENZA. The term may go back to the 1950s.

      The court case you’re thinking of is Ethan Crouch, a kid from the Fort Worth’s suburbs who used it as a defense to a DWI that killed four people.

    • Ed+B says:

      I noticed the Zs everywhere, also matching the layout of the puzzle grid and even the pronunciation of TSE.

  4. sanfranman59 says:

    Uni … re BEEPS {9D: Sounds from a dying smoke alarm} … so annoying … I’d love to get back some of the sleep I’ve lost in my lifetime thanks to this “feature” of smoke alarms!

  5. Nina Keilin says:

    I am posting about the NYT removing the digital Acrostics. There is a hive mind of puzzle folks here. I hope you don’t mind. I’m posting anywhere I can think of. I’m so peeved about this. Is there anyone on this forum who has any insight? Any idea if there is a possibility of getting them to rescind this awful decision? Can the collective puzzle world rise up?

    Digital is the only sane way to do Acrostics!

      • Nina Keilin says:

        Is there anything we can do?

        • Doug C says:

          I suspect that only subscriber pushback stands a chance of influencing the NYT decision-making process.
          Share your thoughts with the NYT staff at:

          • Nina Keilin says:

            Yes, as described below, I had already done this received the same form letter with the extremely illogical responses. I don’t know that subscriber pushback can work. And why pull the archives, which are already digitized? So upsetting. There’s definitely something about low subscriber interest because the puzzles are hidden.
            I told a friend about the Acrostic recently, and she couldn’t find it on the site till I walked her through the hidden doors.

        • Doug C says:

          The reply I received from NYT offered a slightly different take than the notice that appeared for a few days on the crossword archive page. It said “The main reason behind removing the Acrostic and Variety from our online platforms is due to the complex nature of these puzzles which are best solved in a printed format.” I thought this was a strange statement, because I find them much more enjoyable to solve in digital format.

          • sanfranman59 says:

            “I find them much more enjoyable to solve in digital format”


            • Me says:

              It’s also weird because aren’t the variety puzzles only available in printed format currently? You can’t solve them digitally as it is.

              I find the withdrawal of the acrostics and variety puzzles to be confusing, because they are still being published in print, so no savings in constructor payments, and making a printable version doesn’t seem like it should take up significant resources. Anyone can make a pdf in literally two seconds (click print then save as pdf); their process might be slightly more complicated, but not THAT much more complicated.

              It feels like there’s a piece that they aren’t telling us.

            • pannonica says:

              Somebody doesn’t want to do the formatting for the acrostics.

              NYT are claiming that not enough people solve them online, which probably has something to do with the way it was—by accident or design—difficult to find.

            • JohnH says:

              Excellent point from Pannonica about the second Sunday puzzle’s already being difficult to find online. I was sure for ages that they weren’t available, pdf and interactive alike, then stumbled on a cryptic I liked one day, and last I looked had forgotten where and didn’t find it. I’m sure I’ll find it again, but what a weird layout. (Not that it matters, but I subscribe to the weekend print newspaper, which gives print but not interactive puzzles for M – F, but don’t have the separate subscription to the puzzles.)

            • JohnH says:

              Oh, today I scrolled down on the Games page, and the extra puzzles were there. Go figure. Maybe I came a different route yesterday or my page just wasn’t loading fully. Not that this resolves what will happen at the end of the month.

          • Nina Keilin says:

            I won’t even solve them on paper. Takes hours! I remember doing that decades ago, and I had stopped even though they were great puzzles. That’s why I had an archive to go through. I’m very sad about the archive.

  6. Papa John says:

    pannonica, back me up here. NYT 54A: “Real-life sucker” = VAMPIRE_BAT
    A vampire bat does not suck the blood of its prey, but rather breaks its skin with its teeth and then laps up the blood with its tongue. N’est-ce pas? (Getting fancy with the French phrase. I hope I got it right.)

  7. JohnH says:

    Like a serious preponderance of raters here but totally unlike Matt’s review, I hated TNY start to finish. It brings the magazine’s trivia style to a Friday theme. In the end, much as I admire David Byrne, I didn’t know the long long central answer and of course couldn’t come up with it without knowing more since it’s not all real words, making the entirety that much harder. It also crosses SKIL, YUZU, and GTA. At least the clue to LEE-LEE makes it easier by giving out the repetition.

    With another publisher, editor, or constructor, TNY could be making it possible for me to catch up with a common culture and to learn something. It seems not to care.

  8. Michael says:

    I liked the new cluing angle on the old friends TSE and RENO.

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