Natan Last & the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
Oof! I mired myself in the opening corner of this puzzle by Natan and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class in NYC. (A themeless from the JASA students? Usually their crosswords are themed.) Was thinking more physical for that AD SPACE, [You can buy it by the inch]. Thought of shellfish for the [Shell stations?] that turned out to be TACO BARS. Jumped at SHOT for [Small drinking glass, as for liquor] but it turned out to be PONY, not at all in my ken. And I didn’t read 16A. [___ National Monument, landmark in New York City’s West Village] carefully enough to think of the historic STONEWALL Inn. (Side note: Just learned this week of Milwaukee’s old Black Nite gay bar, where in 1961 a Black trans woman rallied other patrons to fight off some Navy servicemen who intended to beat up everyone there–and the Black Nite crowd won the battle.)
The rest of the puzzle was more pliable for me. Fave fill (in addition to STONEWALL): PLOTZES, DOOMSCROLLING, CANCEL CULTURE, WHITE RUSSIANS, a SCHMEAR of cream cheese, EGO BOOSTS, SKIDMARK, “WHAT FOR?”, the tawdry DAILY MAIL, LIMERICK, SLUSHIE, and BOOK FAIRS. What a lively mix!
I appreciate the intended play on the term “foreign relations” in the [Some foreign relations] clue for TIA, but do we need to pretend that the tias in someone’s family tend to be “foreign”? Latin Americans (both Spanish and Portuguese), Filipinos, Spaniards … lots of people in the US or abroad have tias in the same country as them. (Side note: My husband’s aunts on his mom’s side are called tia, pronounced more like “cha,” while on his dad’s side, they’re titas.) Raise your hand if you have American aunts you call tia!
Four stars from me.
Josh Kaufmann and Katie Hale’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
- 58aR [John Milton epic, and a hint to how four long answers in this puzzle were formed] PARADISE LOST. I’d already recognized that the theme entailed the final letters were dropped from existing phrases, but hadn’t kept track of what they were. So I was pleased to see that they indeed spelled something, and that turns out to be E-D-E-N.
- 19a. [Victory that has a real shine to it?] SPARKLING WIN (sparkling wine).
- 29a. [Environmental law that targets hair ties?] ELASTIC BAN (elastic band).
- 37a. [Fish that’s only on an unofficial menu?] SECRET COD (secret code).
- 49a. [Provide spiced tea?] SUPPLY CHAI (supply chain).
Theme holds together, checks out.
- 3d [Readied, as a baking pan] GREASED. Editing question: why isn’t the clue simply [Readied a baking pan]?
- 47d [Put faith in] TRUSTED. Easy to be misled into thinking it’s a present-tense clue.
- 62d [Use a surgical beam] LASE. 41d [Functionality] USE.
- 15a [Mammal also called a scaly anteater] PANGOLIN. Also one of the most—if not the most—heavily trafficked mammal in the world. I believe all of the species are now endangered, primarily for demand in (ineffective) traditional Asian medicine. It isn’t enough that we’re polluting the planet, destroying natural habitats wholesale, and conducting a robust trade in ‘exotic’ pets, eh? </soapbox>
- 54a [Jia Tolentino piece] ESSAY. Was unfamiliar with the author, so here’s the link to her Wikipedia page.
- 63a [Painting featured in Marcel Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q.”] MONA LISA. “Elle a chaud au cul.”
- 66a [Garbage tech] E-WASTE. Amusingly ambiguous clue, and answer.
Stu Ockman’s Universal crossword, “Headstand”—Jim’s review
Theme answers are familiar(ish) words and phrases “upside-down”.
- 22a. [*Quick vacation for newlyweds (Hint: Do a headstand to understand the starred clues’ answers!)] NOOW-INIW. Mini-moon.
- 24a. [*Gilligan’s boat] MONNIW .S .S (something like that). S. S. Minnow.
- 38a. [*Burger order specification] NOINO ON. No onion.
- 41a. [*”Despicable Me” spinoff] SWNOINIW. Minions.
- 52a. [*Sound of Cookie Monster eating] WON WON WO. Om nom nom.
- 56a. [*Buckeye State pageant winner] OIHO SSIW. Miss Ohio.
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this theme in a different venue in the not too distant past, but I can’t find it with just a cursory look. I came across the Gilligan’s Island clue first and was able to resolve it without grokking the theme. I could see all the letters there for “Minnow” but couldn’t make sense of it. Thankfully, the helpful hint in the first starred entry put things to right. I enjoyed the theme even though I felt I’d seen it recently.
MAHI MAHI and NOT SO HOT make for fun fill. I also liked seeing POW-WOWS and PAGODA. WACKO immediately followed by WACO is a humorous coincidence.
Clues of note:
- 16a. [“I get that ___”]. A LOT. I don’t think I’ve seen this cluing angle before. Feels fresh.
- 20a. [Enjoyed fettuccine from the fridge, say]. ATE IN. I’m picturing standing in front of the fridge eating cold pasta straight from the storage container.
- 3d. [Kryptonian or Tralfamadorian]. ALIEN. I needed to look up Tralfamadorians to learn they are inventions of Vonnegut in several of his books.
- 7d. [“That’s apparent to me”]. “I CAN SEE.” I think people would normally say, “I can see that.” I wonder if this was originally clued with respect to having a blindfold or eye bandage removed.
- 26d. [Apt letters missing from “leave a_ _o_ _ded”]. STUN. Meh. I don’t think this works so well when the quoted phrase isn’t something people commonly say.
Nice puzzle. 3.75 stars.
Carly They Themsen and Kate Chin Park’s Inkubator puzzle “Themeless #44” – Erin’s write-up
Hello lovelies! Erin Milligan-Milburn subbing for Jenni on this week’s Inkubator, which is a wonderful themeless by Carly They Themsen and Kate Chin Park. We’ve got math jokes. We’ve got Big LGBTQ+ Energy. We’ve got fresh cluing voices. I could go on, but instead I’ll go through some of my favorite entries:
- 18a. [Exclamation upon realizing that one of your humble constructors is a physics geek] NERD ALERT.
- 20a. [Infinitely many calc teachers walk into a bar and order 1 beer, 1/2 neer, 1/4 beer, and so on. The bartender pours 2 beers and says, “You all really ___!”] KNOW YOUR LIMITS. Reader, I snorted out loud at this corny as heck joke.
- 50a. [“why all the hot girls from the same country? like where even is ___?” -@eevee tweet] TRANS FLAG EMOJI. Seeing the tweet really helps here.
- 45d. [*accordion music plays while a couple strolls along the bank of the Seine*] L’AMOUR
And some things I learned today:
- 26a. [French word for a sibling’s daughter] NIECE. Techically nièce but since we usually ignore diacritics in crosswords it’s the same answer as in English.
- 26d. [One of more than half a million, for the Green Bay Packers] OWNERS. The Packers are the only United States professional sports team owned by public shareholders.
Until next week!
Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “Duty Calls (Freestyle)”—Darby’s recap
This was a really fun themeless that was also bananas tight in terms of having a low word count and also great fill. It took me a wee bit longer than usual, which tells me that, at times, I might depend on the shorter, three- and four-letter fill to help bolster my solve. I usually move between Across and Down, and I certainly did today, but there were a few places I got stuck. Still, though, the fill itself is incredibly wide-ranging and fun, and I love LET THERE BE LIGHT coming in right down from the middle, crossing both 14a [“Advice for someone who’s in the middle of deeply embarrassing themselves on social media”] PUT DOWN THE PHONE and 33a [“Not permanently”] FOR THE TIME BEING. Both were excellently clued and just great as marquee answers.
Other elements I noticed:
- 1a [“Celebrate”] – I feel like REVEL wasn’t the only celebratory/competitive fill here. There’s also 18a [“Boasts”] BRAGS, 11d [“Peak condition”] TOP FORM, 13d [“Up your game”] GET GOOD, and RAT RACE.
- 13a [“I love us!”] – I frequently say “GO TEAM” to end a meeting, so this really spoke to me personally.
- 23a [“John Lewis said it’s ‘not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest’”] – I love that this quoted clue for FREEDOM was right in the center of the grid.
- 1d [“Colorful name for bison calves”] – Learning that bison calves are nicknamed RED DOGS was super interesting, especially since I love bison! (What did the buffalo say to his son when he left? Bi-son). It was also nice to have three animal clue/answers right nearby, with 12d [“Animal’s tunnel”] BURROW and 10d [“Competitive, repetitive lifestyle”] RAT RACE, without having them feel like repeats.
Michael Lieberman & Kate Chin Park’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s recap
Quite a challenge this week! This puzzle is a really great example of something I tell solvers a lot: You know the things in the puzzle. If something really, really doesn’t make sense, poke around for a theme.
For the sake of brevity, let’s jump right to the revealer:
52a [“I had nothing to do with it!” … or how to make sense of twelve of this puzzle’s clues] DON’T LOOK AT ME
Hopefully that direction helped solvers revisit tricky areas and find the a-ha moment. Clue-answer combos that didn’t make sense at first blush need to have the letter string -ME- removed to fit together:
- 14a [Aimed for the stars] AGENT. “Aimed” > “Aid”
- 15a [Homely accessory, perhaps] HALO. “Homely” > “Holy”
- 20a [Place to get charmed] PRODUCE AISLE. “Charmed” > “Chard”
- 32a [Dreamed about reaching great heights] ACROPHOBIA. “Dreamed” > “Dread”
- 42a [Amex user] LUMBERJACK. “Amex” > “Ax”
- 56a [Like a boomer] RUDE. “Boomer” > “Booer”
- 66a [Big seller of games] ESSO. “Games” > “Gas”
- 11d [Remedial subject, perhaps] CRUSH. “Remedial” > “Redial”, as in you might call your CRUSH often on the phone.
- 29d [Friend of Romeo] POOH. “Romeo” > “Roo”
- 37d [Ate meat] IRKED. “Meat” > “At”
- 42d [Company known for its pomelos] LACOSTE. “Pomelos” > “Polos”
- 59d [Where comets can be found] INN. “Comets” > “Cots”
I love themes like this, because working in the clues allows for a more theme-dense puzzle without necessarily sacrificing fill. I also think the constructors and the New Yorker team did a great job in honoring the general Tuesday-Wednesdayish difficulty of these Friday themed puzzles while accommodating a trick and producing an a-ha moment. Some of the -ME-s are elegantly hidden, while others stick out and are clearer indications that something strange is up: [Place to get charmed] is a bit unnatural, as is a hypothetical [Company known for its pomelos]
Lots of noteworthy stuff outside the theme, too:
- 10a [Does extra work?] ACTS. A simple, but deft, misdirect.
- 28a [OEuvre] OUTPUT. Gotta love the New Yorker typographical style bleeding through there. We must have the ligature!
- 41a [“What ___ God wrought?” (first telegram sent in the U.S.)] HATH. A new piece of trivia for me. Would that there was such public concern about so-called AI nowadays.
- 58a [Circular gasket] O RING. I (read: my mechanic) recently solved a two-year issue with my car’s air conditioning by identifying a leaky O RING as the issue. Only after replacing every other part of the system, unfortunately.
- 64a [Montana or Rice, familiarly] NINER. In reference to Pro Football Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, each best known for their time with the San Francisco 49ers, where they won two Super Bowls together.
- 34d [Vodka alternative] SOJU. I was going to write that I would never order vodka if I wanted SOJU and the latter were unavailable, but I see that SOJU is exempted from certain laws in New York and California and thus has spun up as an alternative for mixed drinks. So this is (tongue somewhat, but not fully in-cheek) a New York City-bias-in-crosswords clue in disguise.
- 48d [MacDowell of “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”] ANDIE. I, *very unfortunately*, really only know Andie MacDowell and Audre McDonald from puzzles. So naturally I put a third name, “Angie” here, and had to work around THAT issue.
- 50d [Tropical evergreen cultivated for its seeds] CACAO. First thought: I didn’t know this was an evergreen! Second thought: maybe most tropical plants are evergreens, given, you know, the tropics.