Wednesday, March 15, 2023

LAT 4:13 (GRAB) 


The New Yorker 5:18 (Amy) 


NYT 4:42 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today tk (Emily) 


AVCX tk (Norah) 


Philip Koski’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Brush With Greatness”—Jim’s review

Going by the title, my first thought was that this puzzle would be about dental hygiene. That is not the case.

Instead, we have famous painters found in the circled letters which are placed in a curious pattern (more below). The revealer is ARTIST’S / RETREAT (54a, [With 57-Across, creative getaway, and a hint to the circled letters]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Brush With Greatness” · Philip Koski · Wed., 3.15.23

The painters in question are O’KEEFFE, CHAGALL, RENOIR, CASSATT, TITIAN, and EAKINS. Of these, my limited knowledge of art was enough to recognize five of the six names. I don’t know the name EAKINS, but the crossing entries were sufficient for me to fill the grid.

What I’m not quite grasping is this repeated shape the circles are in. A RETREAT can also be a withdrawal or a U-turn, as it were. So maybe that’s what’s going on here; each name starts in one direction then makes two turns to go back the other way. But why go down two rows before turning back to the left? Why not just one row? And why is the bottom leg of circled letters always longer than the top leg? Or perhaps the shapes are meant to evoke brushstrokes? If you have any better ideas, help us out in the comments.

Moving on, with triple-checked squares all over the grid, the fill isn’t especially lively, but it’s certainly solid enough. Top entries include PRESTIGE, REGATTAS, COLLAGE, DITHER, and TERRORS although it must be said that some of these contribute letters to the theme. There are a few odd entries, namely EAN and TOPE, and I’m not sure why the latter wasn’t changed to TOKE or TOTE. But on the whole, the fill is quite smooth.

Clues of note:

  • 9a. [Pledge target]. DUST. Maybe this was the intent, but I was thinking fraternities and sororities for this and stuck with RUSH for too long.
  • 16a. [Puma part]. SOLE. Puma the shoe brand, not puma the animal.
  • 7d. [Her mom “has got it goin’ on,” in a Fountains of Wayne song]. STACY. I had never heard the song until a couple years ago when it randomly came on my car radio. I found it catchy and funny. It was the band’s only mainstream hit and was even nominated for a Grammy.

Not a bad theme, but I wanted an explanation as to why the circled squares are in their particular pattern. It’s not obvious to me. 3.25 stars.

Michael Berg’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 3 15 23, no. 0315

The theme clues are more or less idioms, and the answers are video games that kinda fit the description:

  • 17a. [“Barrel of monkeys”] DONKEY KONG. Donkey Kong’s an ape (ape ≠ monkey) who throws barrels in the video game.
  • 28a. [“With 50-Across, blue streak], SONIC THE / HEDGEHOG. He’s blue and moves fast. Why is With 50-Across is inside the quotes? Guessing the non-.puz format has the theme clues italicized.
  • 32a. [“Shapes up”], TETRIS. Because the shapes are “up” top and fall down the screen. This clue feels much less like a fun idiom than the others.
  • 48a. [“Ghost in the machine”], PAC-MAN. Machine rather than maze? Sure, whatever. My go-to for that phrase is the earlyish Police album.
  • 64a. [“Knock me down with a feather”], ANGRY BIRDS. Or more like “knock me down with an entire bird,” yes?

Solvers who have entirely eschewed video games for decades and avoided learning about them via the media might be flustered by this theme.

Fave fill: the apt pair of NOT A CHANCE and OUT OF REACH, the rice intersection of PILAF and BASMATI (my rice story: Recently asked for a side of brown rice in a takeout Chinese order and the rice was … white rice with soy sauce, maybe fried? 🤔), and SMOLDER, which is just a neat word.

EBON with a [Black, in verse] clue feels pretty much like crosswordese to me. Perhaps season 2 of The Bear will make actor Ebon Moss-Bachrach fair game for newspaper crosswords. Season 2 starts in June on Hulu, so you’ve got time to catch season 1 if you haven’t seen it yet.

3.6 stars from me.

Jeffrey Martinovic and Jeff Chen’s Universal crossword, “Do the Math” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 3/15/23 • Wed • “Do the Math” • Martinovic, Chen • solution • 20230315

This one features a two-part revealer.

  • 52a. [Algebra directive … and a hint to decoding five entries in this puzzle] SOLVE FOR X.
    63a. [Black-and-white puzzles, colloquially … and what the five sets of parenthesis contain] XWORDS.

What’s going on is not actually math, but simple substitution. The theme clues point to words or phrases, but those aren’t are entered into the grid. Instead, a letter string—which itself constitutes a legitimate word or phrase—is replaced by the letter X, forming a new word and it is this new word that goes in the grid.

  • 8a. [Woman who leads a family (X = ARCH)]. Substitute the ARCH in MATRIARCH with X and you get MATRIX.
  • 20a. [Soap opera about certain Londoners (X = AS). EAST ENDERS ⇒ E{AS}T ENDERS ⇒ E{X}TENDERS ⇒ EXTENDERS.
  • 28a. [Base for red trucks (X = REST)] FI{RE ST}ATION ⇒⇒ FIXATION.
  • 36a. [Traveler’s flight (X = RIP)]. PLANE T{RIP} ⇒⇒ PLANET X.
  • 45a. [Big burden (X = LOTTO)] A {LOT TO} HANDLE ⇒⇒ AX HANDLE.

It’s kind of a complicated mechanism, but I consider this to be solver-friendly rather than merely an impressive construction feat because even if you don’t grasp all the elements of the theme, it’s intuitive enough to follow in-solve.

  • 3d [Humorously exaggerated] CARTOONISH. Confidently put in CARICATURE.
  • 10d [Pat Sajak and Steve Harvey] TV HOSTS. 65a “Jeopardy!” host Jennings] KEN.
  • 58a [Water marker?] BUOY. Does it really need the question mark?

… I’ve gone through the ballast fill twice but am not finding much to remark upon without forcing things. It’s simply solid and capable entries. The real star of the puzzle is the intricate theme.

Brooke Husic’s New Yorker crossword–Amy’s recap

New Yorker crossword solution, 3/15/23 – Husic

A bit more challenging than I expected for a Weds TNY puzzle. I learned several things here:

  • 5a. [Artist Arooj whose work draws on jazz, reggae, Sufi music, and the poetry of Rumi], AFTAB.
  • 24a. [Single for which Beyoncé won her thirty-first Grammy Award], CUFF IT. Bey is the most-awarded artist in history at the Grammys, but often her wins are in genre categories rather than song/record/album of the year.
  • 34a. [Ariana Grande holiday hit whose title lyric precedes “. . . if you’re really there”], SANTA TELL ME. The “holiday” angle is helpful, as I’d never seen the crossing name SINA before, [“MxT” writer Queyras].
  • 48a. [Dip-it-yourself alternative to Pocky], YAN YAN. Did not recall the name, but seeing pictures of the packaging, I recognize it from Asian marts.
  • Yoga has a 21d LIZARD POSE, and astrology has a 37a VIRGO SEASON.
  • 43d. [Alternative to she/her or they/them, in a bio], ANY/ALL. Haven’t encountered this yet, I don’t think, but surely I’ll come across it in the wild soon.

Fave fill: “WELL, DAMN,” TRUST FALLS, FINAL STRAW, FONDUE PARTY. Are the fondues of the 1970s back now?

3.5 stars from me.

Prasanna Keshava’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Prasanna Keshava gives us an example of a “words which go with” theme; a type we haven’t seen that much of lately. Four long down start with words that complete “___ TEA” – PEPPERMINT, SPIECE, BUBBLE and BLACK – which is tied together at HIGHTEA:

  • [“Peanuts” girl who calls Charlie Brown “Chuck”], PEPPERMINTPATTY
  • [Add interest], SPICETHINGSUP
  • [Formal social events], BLACKTIEAFFAIRS
  • [Party device filled with liquid soap], BUBBLEMACHINE

Notable clues/entries:

  • [Corvallis sch.], OSU. This town of 60,000 people is in Oregon, apparently. I struggle with these university trigrams.
  • [__ macchiato], CAFFE. I wouldn’t have guessed that had two effs.
  • [Devices for reproducing signatures], AUTOPENS. Weird idea that, rather than just using a printed copy?
  • [Cookies for breakfast?], OREOOS looks goofy. I’m guessing these are some kind of cereal. One of the local shops offers US cereal imports, but given locally made cereals are R30 to R50 and these are R200, I haven’t been mad enough to buy any.
  • [“¿De dónde __?”], ERES. “Where are you from?” in Spanish.


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29 Responses to Wednesday, March 15, 2023

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I felt clueless for a while and was bouncing around filling what I could until HEDGEHOG imposed itself and AHA! it went pretty fast after that and I enjoyed it. Good to remember all these games (I never understood why an Ape was called DONKEY…).
    I love the word SMOLDER. And I can’t think of a good equivalent in either French or Arabic. I tried google translate and what comes up isn’t quite right. Or in the English-French dictionary I get ‘burn slowly”. And the word has these other connotations- smoldering eyes, look, etc.. it’s really cool to have it.
    Amy, your brown rice story cracked me up.

  2. JohnH says:

    On the shape of the WSJ themers, I can’t say that an artist retreat is all the common or useful a phrase, but the C or U shape seems ok to me for a retreating motion. The alternative that Jim suggests, turning back on the adjacent row rather than one row off, would produce a block, after all, which would be awfully hard to read as a turnabout. (There’s a variety puzzle you see on some Saturdays that require entering answers with at least one turn, although not necessarily more than one. The instructions always take pains to say that a legit entry will never produce a block.)

    I was curious to see which artists would be deemed popular enough with a large audience. No strong feelings, but Jim, do check out Thomas Eakins. He’s the most important American realist, a great portraitist with also a great command of light, and someone with at least a couple of greatest hits. I don’t care for the doctor’s clinic, but it’s a museum’s single proudest holding.

  3. David L says:

    Fortunately I had heard of all the games in the NYT, because the clues were more or less useless for someone who doesn’t know anything about them.* Except TETRIS, but wouldn’t ‘shapes down’ be better? (yes, I know that’s not a meaningful phrase).

    *For some reason, I thought DONKEYKONG was a character from those Mario Bros games.

    • marciem says:

      *For some reason, I thought DONKEYKONG was a character from those Mario Bros games.

      It is. YOU (the player) are Mario and DonkeyKong the Ape throws stuff at you, at least in the original. I don’t know what happens in later games, or when Luigi and other characters showed up. My kids played original DonkeyKong, and now my grandson was Mario one Halloween, Dad was Luigi.

  4. pannonica says:

    NYT: 58d [Orientation inits.] LGBT. Pretty sure the T does not represent an “orientation”.

  5. Me says:

    NYT: 64a. [“Knock me down with a feather”], ANGRY BIRDS. Or more like “knock me down with an entire bird,” yes?

    Yes, yes, exactly! The clues here are weird. It’s like someone thought, “Oh, birds is in the title, and they have feathers, so the clue will mention feathers.” But feathers have nothing to do with the game. Some other clues are kind of off as well.

    This whole thing feels like it would if one were cluing WHITE HOUSE as “oval paint,” because the White House is painted white, and there’s an Oval Office in it. Um, I guess so???

    • Milo says:

      Couldn’t agree more about the clueless clueing. You gotta feel for the constructor, who shared in his notes that “Over a barrel” to describe Donkey Kong was his seed idea for the puzzle.

      • Me says:

        “Over a barrel” is a good clue for Donkey Kong, because that’s part of the game play. I’m sure the constructor wasn’t going to rock the boat and jeopardize his NYT debut, but “Barrel of monkeys” doesn’t make sense in terms of the game play. There’s only one monkey-adjacent figure on screen at any time, who uses several barrels. It should be “barrels of monkeys” if one wants to use that (inaccurate) idiom.

  6. PhilipKoski says:

    Jim- Thanks for your review. I appreciate it. (I’m the constructor). You are correct that the reference to “Artists Retreat” is a reference to an actual artists retreat (i.e., a secluded place for artists to work and collaborate) and a play on the word “retreat” by having the artists “retreating” by turning around and ending up beyond where they started. (And thank to commenter John H for pointing that out).

    On stacking an artist’s letters directly on top of each other, interestingly, I tried that at first. It was just too constraining. By making it more of a U-turn, the grid was better to work in.

    One note: there is actually a 7th artist in the grid, but not in circles: in the top/middle section, SEURAT starts at the end of POSE in 5-Across. That one doesn’t have circles, so it’s a very hidden extra. Wouldn’t expect anyone to find that, but thought I’d note it, just in case.

    • Milo says:

      I know I’m not the only one here who appreciates what you managed to convey with this rather elegant construction. Nice job!

      And thanks for pointing out the bonus Seurat. You do have me wondering why on earth it didn’t get the circles like the other artists.

  7. PhilipKoski says:

    By the way, Mike Shenk and Joanne Sullivan were fantastic to work with. My original submission to them was rejected, but they were encouraging and said if I could fix a few things, they’d be open to it. For example, the original had DAVINCI, but that entry wasn’t quite working. So, I adjusted the puzzle based on their advice and was fortunate to get the acceptance.

    • Seattle Derek says:

      Great puzzle and concept! And thank you for commenting on the intricacies you faced on redesigning your original puzzle!

  8. Papa John says:

    I may have asked this before in this forum. Even so, it bears repeating.

    Why is Martin the only one who provides our pleasure on a daily basis? Surely there are others with the time and acumen to partner with Martin and fill in when he simply must go to Egypt or when the increasingly more frequent storms tear through California and knock out power. Perhaps there’s someone on the East Coast or Mid-West with as big a heart as Martin’s who’s willing to lend a hand.

    If so, please step forward.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      That would be a person who has a server at home (which is barely anyone), and who would be granted permission by the assorted publishers to host puzzle files. Martin’s reputation in crosswordland is solid, but there’s no guarantee those puzzle venues would trust some other volunteer. Perhaps there actually is a familiar person out there who would love to replicate Martin’s work to provide some redundancy/backup.

      • Martin says:

        Power’s back.

      • Papa John says:

        I’m a dreamer and have always been in awe of Martin. My post gave me a chance to express both.

        By the by, Amy, you’re pretty awesome, yourself, with all you do for the crossword community. Running this blog must be demanding and time-consuming. I would like to think that you’re getting kickbacks from all the venues you review but we all know that’s not the case.


  9. Hans says:

    Pannonica yesterday for the NY: “Last one to fall was 54a [Second, but not first] UNIT, which I didn’t understand until a few beats after finally realizing that UNIT was the only thing that fit. Second is the chronological UNIT, not an ordinal, as first is here.” Anyone care to explain this for Dummies? Thanks.

    • Hans says:

      Just hit me. Second is a unit of time. First is not a unit of any kind.

    • pannonica says:

      “second” is a unit of time. There isn’t a similar unit called a “first”. I confused myself by thinking of something entirely different called a “second unit“.

      • Hans says:

        Perhaps your answer helped me in a subconscious way because it struck me shortly after my post that second is being used as a unit of time. I didn’t see your use of “chronological” as indicating measurements of time so your explanation went past me. Thanks.

  10. Mr. [not at all] Grumpy says:

    I really [REALLY] liked the Universal, but I kind of wish the clues had just been “X = ?” rather than giving away so much. It could have been a VERY tricky puzzle; it was still a very very nice one … and fun to solve.

    It reminded me of a Merl Reagle puzzle from many years ago, but I can’t find it in my records. Any help?

  11. Brenda Rose says:

    Speaking of kickbacks, I often wonder why the corps that own things like Oreos (Nabisco) Oral B, car manufacturers like BMW etal don’t kickback. It reminds me of product placement in movies. My point is constructors are giving a whole lot of shout outs with no compensation. Could it be the likes of NYT or LAT or WSJ are getting a kickback for every Oreo they publish? (Cue the Twilight Zone theme)

  12. Chris+Wooding says:

    Rant about the LAT: “High tea” is not a fancy meal. It is served at midday and often consists of cold food. The occasion that happens in late afternoon is “afternoon tea”, also called “cream tea” in parts of the Commonwealth. End rant.

  13. Eric H says:

    WSJ: Yes, “Stacy’s Mom” is “catchy and funny.” That’s true of a lot of Fountains of Wayne songs.

    Nice puzzle. I definitely needed the revealer to make sense of the circled letters.

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