Ada Nicolle’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
Sorry to be getting to the puzzle so late! Ada’s latest strikes me as easier than the Fri NYT, so I’d have switched the Fri and Sat crosswords… but I’ll bet lots of solvers found this one more challenging.
Fave fill: Online phrasing “BIG IF TRUE” (I prefer huge if true), used to comment on something scandalous you’ve not seen proof of. ON STEROIDS clued idiomatically in the nonhormonal sense, meaning [To an extreme]. HOT DOG BUN? Sure. “DO YOU QUARREL, SIR?” from Romeo and Juliet, a question following the “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” bit. CHEAP DATE, that’s me, just pick up some Popeyes. ROSA PARKS, GET RICH QUICK, the sound of it is really quite ATROCIOUS, and DREAM TEAM, too.
I also liked 21d. [Words that form other words when read backward], such as desserts/stressed: SEMORDNILAPS, or palindromes backwards. In my head, though, this would somehow be spelled SEMILORDNAPS, so I had a little unraveling to do. Pandrolimes! Sure, why not?
New to me: NOISE MUSIC, or [Experimental nonmelodic genre]. Sound unheard, I’m gonna say no thank you. Also did not know the UGLI was a [Citrus also known as “uniq” fruit]. Wiki explains it’s the Jamaican tangelo and that ugli and uniq are both trade names.
A number of the clues made me smile along the way, but it’s after midnight and I’m too tired to look for them in the puzzle. The only faintly bothersome (to me) fill was LIM. and UTNE, not bad in a 70-worder. 4.25 stars from me.
Hoang-Kim Vu’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
This puzzle feels like a throwback, and boy does it make me feel old to say that a style of something that was popular in the aughts and early 2010s is a “throwback.” But there you go. The retro feel comes from the triple stacks of 15-letter entries on top and on the bottom, a constructing feat I most commonly associate with Martin Ashwood-Smith. The danger with triple stacks (and even more so with quad stacks) is that, to get all of the crossings to work, often the actual content of the stacks is less “sparkly,” so to speak, than that of a themeless with stacks of 8- to 11-letter entries. In our current era of “fill is king,” the triple stack has mostly faded into the background.
I’d say that this particular triple-stack has pretty good if not super-exciting-on-their-own 15s with I GUESS THAT WORKS, MONTHIVERSARIES, and I KNOW THE FEELING (that last one’s not part of a stack) as my favorites, not as much with PESCATARIAN DIET (feels a little green paint to me), ONE-ON-ONE DEFENSE, and PERSONALITY TEST.
But this puzzle is more than the sum of its parts. For example, PERSONALITY TEST at 60A gets a great clue: [Quality inspection?]. And what really made this puzzle for me was the clues on the short entries crossing the triple stacks: A lot of them aren’t easy, making it tough to obtain a foothold and satisfying when you do. I particularly liked [More succinctly?] for ETC, [Medical waste collected in red containers] for SHARPS, [Steers steers] for HERDS, and [Last] for KEEP up top. Down below, [Mexican cheese?] for PESOS, [Fill a flat again] (proof that even an undesirable RE- entry like RELET can be clued in a way that makes it satisfying), [“Your ___”] as a tough clue for LOSS, [Half an iconic 1981 Rolling Stone cover] for ONO, and [___ Matronic of Scissor Sisters] instead of the more usual de Armas or Navarro for ANA, provide a nice challenge.
So: When I complain about the LATs being too easy, something like this is what I was hoping for!
Universal, “Universal Freestyle 64” by Hoang-Kim Vu and Rafael Musa — norah’s write-up
- STARTERHOME 16A [First quarters?]
- WHATSTHEDAMAGE 43A [“How much is this gonna set us back?”]
- GUITARSOLOS 61A [Sweet parts of jams?]
- DONTYOUDARE 57A [Forceful warning]
Ultra-smooth grid from a pair of 2022 Orca nominees: Universal themeless king Rafa Musa and collaborator Kim Vu (which I heard made David Steinberg say “what a hype collab!!” (agreed!)) that gave a near (?) record time for me.
⭐ITSNOTTHATEASY 25A [“This is harder than you’d think, OK?!”] to build a grid this clean and smooth while packing it full of long interesting phrases and entries ripe for cluing by modern references and the sort of fun-but-easy misdirection that is a hallmark of the Universal themeless under current management.
Today I want to give special attention to this set of back-to-back clues found right in the middle of the puzzle:
35-Across Native people in Utqiagvik, Alaska ; INUIT
37-Across Works such as Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin” sculpture ; ART
38-Across Diacritic that indicates nasalization in Portuguese ; TILDE
Each of these clues grounds the entry in a culturally relevant context. The focus in doing so shifts the priority from making things easy for an “average solver” to including references that highlight things important to the constructor(s), or that can serve as learning opportunities for any solver, or that can make someone feel seen. It’s so easy to just throw these sorts of shortish crossword-friendly words into a grid and clue them in any of the ways they always have been. Here, all three clues are unique to today’s puzzle. As a solver, I want to see more and more of this in puzzles of all kinds.
I did learn about Yayoi Kusama’s ART, including the cited “Pumpkin” sculpture, a six-foot tall, eight-foot wide black and yellow pumpkin. Please take a few minutes if you have them to read this and this.
Kim and Rafa are each contributors to These Puzzl3s Fund Abortion, which is available for pre-sale now and launches March 28. I am so looking forward to everyone’s great contributions to this project.
Thanks Kim, Rafa, and the Universal team!
Stella Zawistowski’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Hello, all! It has been a minute! Guest blogging the Stumper this week, and man, am I rusty! I could barely FIND the Stumper; I solved on the Puzzle Society website, which I have anyway. Nearly a half hour to finish this beast. That being said, I miss the agony! I absolutely LOVE Stella’s puzzles, and I am usually on her wavelength. Not so today! Tons of hard stuff in this one. I don’t always do the Stumper each week, but I miss that feeling of staring at a sea of white squares blankly for what seems like hours! In the end, all is fair, and I may have learned a thing or two! 4.6 stars from me for this toughie!
I have made plans to go to the ACPT. I waited too long, so I am in the hotel around the corner, but I hope to see many of you there! It has been 4 years since I have been there in person. Only a couple of weeks to go!
- 9A [Cubo pequeo] OCHO – I think this means “small cube” in Español. Correct me if I am wrong. I probably am!
- 17A [What Sweden and Greece share] LONG E – Brutal and beautiful all at the same time!
- 27A & 45A [Milk __] CAN & BAR – Neither was DUD or SOP, which I tried in both places!
- 31A [Scorekeeper?] MUSIC STAND – I had the STAND part fairly early on, but nice “a-ha!” moment once this finally made sense!
- 50A & 33A [Iota] ATOM & DROP – Neither was MITE or MOTE, which I tried in both places!
- 52A [Fully firm] ADAMANTINE – Wow. Hard!
- 58A [The buck stops here] SALT LICK – Best clue of the puzzle? Perhaps!
- 1D [Spelling sessions] TRANCES – Slight chance this could be SEANCES, especially when you have all but the first two letters! Nice clue.
- 8D [Where a tiny cart is kept] ONLINE STORE – Clue sounds extremely weird, but makes perfect sense once you think about it!
- 11D [Medieval battleaxe cousin] HALBERD – I know this from a lot of hidden object games! They’re always hiding weird objects in those games.
- 22D [Middle management successes] SCULPTED ABS – Another BRILLIANT clue!
- 28D [What I will always be?] NINTH – Changed my mind: THIS may be the best clue!
- 34D [Mermaid in the pool] FLOATIE – Another clue that had me scratching my head!
Until the next guest appearance! See some of you in a couple of weeks!
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “In Conclusion…”—Jim’s review
Here is the Saturday WSJ write-up! Another guest blogging appearance! Mike Shenk’s puzzles are always quite clean, and this one is no exception. You get to see my non-award-winning handwriting in this solution image; couldn’t get the WSJ page to shrink it down! Technology is too much for me, sometimes!
Our theme is just as the title suggests: add IN to the end of common phrases:
- 21A [Figuring out what “The Thinker” is thinking about?] DIVINING RODIN
- 31A [West African nation with a policy of benevolence?] GENTLE BENIN
- 43A [Woodland home of a supermarket worker?] CHECKER CABIN
- 59A [Genius at baseball and football trivia?] SPORTS BRAIN
- 71A [Northern seabird nesting in newly fallen snow?] POWDER PUFFIN
- 84A [Hoffman putting money into a Broadway show?] ANGEL DUSTIN
- 97A [Launch into a core-strengthening routine?] SIT UP AND BEGIN
ATTAINT isn’t great, but this puzzle wasn’t too difficult, and the crossings were fairly straightforward. OVETT is also a little dated, but I am an oldhead and I knew this immediately! Solve time of just over 15 minutes for me, but that is on the clunky WSJ solving interface. I am sure the regular blogger gets a clean .puz file to mess with, but I had to improvise today! If I take my time, perhaps I can win the handwriting award at the ACPT? Nah! I will go for a top 50 and hope and pray they can read my writing! 4 stars from me for this one.
Hope to see you in Stamford!