Monday, July 24, 2023

BEQ 3:42 (Matthew) 


LAT 1:55 (Stella) 


NYT 2:51 (Kyle) 


The New Yorker 5:04 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today tk (tk) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


John Ewbank’s New York Times crossword — Kyle’s write-up

Kyle here, subbing in for Sophia to review this week’s Monday NYT.

Our Monday puzzle this week comes from John Ewbank, who, according to his XWordInfo bio, is a scientific writer based near Manchester, UK. He’s also a cryptic crossword setter (constructor, in British lingo) for the Times of London. This is John’s sixth NYT outing, and he brings us a puzzle with a theme that might be right at home in a cryptic:

New York Times solution grid – John Ewbank – Monday 07/24/23 (No. 26,921)

  • 16A CATTLE CARS [Livestock holders on freight trains]
  • 23A SALT CELLAR [Partner of a pepper mill]
  • 47A STEER CLEAR [Stay very far away, as from a hazard]
  • 58A ART CLASSES [Courses that might have models]
  • Revealer: 36/38A SCARLET LETTERS [Symbols of a scandal…or what 16-, 23-, 47- and 58-Across consist of (in their entirety)? In other words, the four theme examples are spelled only with the letters S-C-A-R-L-E-T

Cryptic setters and solvers know this as a “letter bank” (visit the link to read more about letter bank usage in cryptics from Fiend’s Stella Zawistowski, herself an accomplished cryptic setter). NYT Games subscribers may also recognize this as the basis for the Spelling Bee game, though there are subtle differences that I won’t go into depth about here. As someone who solves/constructs cryptics regularly myself, I enjoyed this theme a lot, and also felt like it was pitched exactly to Monday NYT standards.

Thoughts on entries:

  • I had two spots in the grid where I entered a plausible wrong entry and needed correction by checking crosses. At 23A, I put in SALT SHAKER. I’m guessing many people will commit the same mistake. Later, at 33D [Utmost, informally], I had DAMNEDEST instead of DARNEDEST.
  • Enjoyed “I’M ALL IN”, NCAA TITLE (both NYT debuts according to XWordInfo), and TIP JARS.
  • I had never heard of ELECTRO, but I guessed from the lightning reference in the clue and the E_E____ pattern and put in ELECTR_, confirming the final letter from the cross.

Fun to see 40A EARS clued [The African elephant has the largest of these among all animals]. That’s a good Monday-level trivia clue.

Thanks, John!

Brian Kulman’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Buffer Zone”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar(ish) phrases whose first (“front”) words are synonyms of “nude.” The revealer is FRONTAL NUDITY (56a, [Feature of Botticelli’s Venus, and a hint to 20-, 34- and 41-Across].

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Buffer Zone” · Brian Kulman · Mon., 7.24.23

  • 20a. [Fastener that’s hard to remove] STRIPPED SCREW.
  • 34a. [Burrowing rodent also known as a sand puppy] NAKED MOLE RAT.
  • 41a. [Ruthlessly competitive] BARE-KNUCKLED.

We’ve seen many a synonym-themed puzzle before, why not one for “nude”? The first entry isn’t as solidly in the language as the others, unfortunately. “Stripped down” (lacking any extra features) would’ve been stronger, but then it would’ve been one letter to short for symmetry’s sake. “Naked mole rats” (plural) could’ve gone in its place, and I’d be okay with that since they’re such communal little critters.

I can’t hear the phrase FRONTAL NUDITY without thinking of the Monty Python episode titled “Full Frontal Nudity” whence comes the Dead Parrot sketch and one of my favorites, the Buying a Bed sketch (see below).

In the fill, highlights include SLOW BURN, PRATFALL, WEIRD AL, and KIMONOS. ECLAT is tough for a Monday as is that SE corner with SPIREA and SAYLES, but all the crosses were straightforward enough. (Proper names RENE and SAYLES cross, but I think E is the pretty obvious choice there.)

Solid theme which got me to rewatch some Monty Python, and that’s always a good thing. 3.5 stars.

MaryEllen Uthlaut’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 7/24/23 by MaryEllen Uthlaut

Los Angeles Times 7/24/23 by MaryEllen Uthlaut

This is a nice, easy — shall I say zippy Monday? The revealer is a short one at 59A: [“Pipe down!,” and an instruction for 18-, 25-, 43-, and 57-Across], or ZIP IT. Unusually for LAT, the theme answers are all pretty literal interpretations of things that can be ZIPped (that is, things with a zipper closure):

  • 18A [Change holder] is a COIN PURSE.
  • 25A [Decorative sham, for one] is a PILLOW COVER.
  • 43A [Camper’s bedding] is a SLEEPING BAG.
  • 57A [Outerwear for hitting the slopes] is a SKI JACKET.

The theme is so literal that one might expect to see it on a Newsday Monday or Tuesday, but that’s not a bad thing. The grid is nice and easy, as befits the theme. I enjoyed seeing PORTER clued with reference to the actor Billy — on Monday one might be tempted to go with a non-proper-noun beer or hotel worker angle, but given the fairness of all the crossings it was a great way to go IMO.

Michele Govier’s Universal crossword, “Climbing Plants” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 7/24/23 • Mon • “Climbing Plants” • Govier • solution • 20230724

Just as the revealer indicates.

  • 14dR [Turning out great, or the words hidden backward in 4-, 11-, 21- and 26-Down?] COMING UP ROSES. Typically preceded by “everything’s”.
  • 4d. [Citrusy palate cleanser] ORANGE SORBET.
  • 11d. [Horseback rider’s woe] SADDLE SORE.
  • 21d. [“I totally agree!”] YOU’RE SO RIGHT. A phrase that always threatens to be construed as sarcastic.
  • 26d. [Document with price and delivery details] SALES ORDER.

Adequate variety in the way the R-O-S-E letters are distributed and broken up. Aside from one appearing completely within a single word, the only variant not accounted for is ESO R—and all I can find for that is the rather obscure meso-region. Okay, maybe queso ranchero?

  • 14a [They’re out standing in their field] COWS.
  • 28a [“My attic’s not the best, but it’s up there,” for one] PUN. Obligatory groan.
  • 33a [Trumpets and trombones, but not saxophones] BRASS. It’s classed with the woodwinds.
  • 46a [Santana’s “__ Como Va”] OYE. Originally performed by Tito Puente.
  • 25d [Easy throw] LOB. 10d [Treats like garbage?] THROWS AWAY.
  • 27d [Ones who talk about old times] HISTORIANS. Was this supposed to be a misdirection clue? Didn’t fool me for a moment, even though it lacks a question mark (which I’m not disputing).

“Who Wants the Evening Rose” · Quercus · 2013

Liz Gorski’s New Yorker crossword–Amy’s recap

New Yorker crossword solution, 7/24/23 – Gorski

The central 15 (some folks call it a spanner, but I feel like that term throws a monkey wrench in the works and don’t use it) was entirely gettable but not something I’d learned till today. 30a. [1957 Martin Luther King, Jr., speech that called for voting rights for African Americans], GIVE US THE BALLOT. I’m glad to know it now.

Fave fill: GAMESTOP, MEAN STREAKS, BOOGALOO, FULL-TIME JOB. The grid’s corners are dense with 6- to 8-letter entries, so not as many long entries as I prefer.

Didn’t know: 16a. [Well informed], AU FAIT. How often is this used in US parlance? I can’t say I run into it with any regularity.

Less keen on: ELIS, ARF ARF, UTNE, UNRIG, ECTO, MDCV. I love that the UTNE Reader Wikipedia page cites a Deb Amlen article as a source, though! (She explained what the entry was in a 2018 piece, after it stumped NYT solvers.)

3.25 stars from me.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday crossword — Matthew’s write-up

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday crossword solution, 7/24/23

Will be back later with a fuller review, but I found this week’s themeless from BEQ moderately resistant. Some pleasant clicks and nice flow once crossings got into place. Top probably a bit tougher than the bottom. Will flesh this out in a few hours!

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17 Responses to Monday, July 24, 2023

  1. Stephie says:

    I don’t see the New Yorker puzzle yet but three people have rated it.
    Am I missing something?

    • Eric H says:

      Another case of prescient crossword solvers?

    • JohnH says:

      I see it in its usual place.

      I have mentioned that some days the TNY pdf that appears in Crossword Scraper has overprinting that obscures either the puzzle’s title or a couple of clues. I think I’ve discovered the pattern, although not the cause or the cure. It occurs when italics appear in the puzzle, which means the Friday title and now and then a clue.

      In today’s TNY, that means 45D, where __ Reader appears in pdf as Reader (correctly in italics) with underscore beneath its first three letters, and 49D, where Easter fleur appears in pdf as one word obscuring the other (fleur correctly in italics). On such days, I belatedly return to the magazine’s Web site to read the affected clues.

      Of course, this issue does not appear if I rely on TNY’s own “print” command, although that introduces problems of its own that led me to Crossword Scraper (on advice here) in the first place.

      • pannonica says:

        On the New Yorker website, the latest crossword I’m seeing is this past Friday’s. Strange, because I solved their cryptic yesterday, which is no longer present.

        edit: Seems to be an issue with their index page. I entered the url ( for today’s crossword and the page appeared just fine.

        • janie says:

          hah! was just in the process of posting the same suggestion:

          open an older puzzle. visit the url field and work your way to the end, where the date is. change the date to 7/24/2023.

          worked fer me!


        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          I just solved the cryptic. It’s there! But the New Yorker email with the puzzle links arrived at 10:03 Central, which is after your comment. Maybe they changed something in the puzzle?

        • JohnH says:

          You got me. I saw the puzzle this morning when I looked easily before 9 Eastern. I have (without index.htm) bookmarked and scroll down a bit to a row of four images below a heading for Puzzles & Games. Clicking on either of the center two, for the latest crossword or cryptic, then takes me to where I use Crossword Scraper. (And yes, wouldn’t surprise me at all if my own, different problem is unique to pdf.)

      • sanfranman59 says:

        FWIW, I use Crossword Scraper every day to get a PUZ file of TNY’s puzzles and haven’t had the problem that JohnH describes. Apparently, whatever is happening to him only affects PDFs.

    • Gary R says:

      When I first went to the site, the latest puzzle listed was Friday’s. Thought I may have done something wrong and tried again immediately. That time, it showed me today’s puzzle. That was shortly after 8:00 am, Eastern.

  2. huda says:

    NYT: It was an interesting excursion away from more typical NYT Monday themes and I enjoyed it.
    I got CATTLE CARS and STEER CLEAR first and thought it was going to be a cow- related theme :).
    Cluing SCARLET LETTERS as “symbols of a scandal” threw me because I think of their intent as going beyond indicating a scandal– as being an effort to ensure continued shame, guilt and isolation from the rest of human relationships. So, I skipped the revealer and kept on solving and suddenly tumbled to the idea that it was the same letters being used. It was a fun AHA moment at the end.
    The clue for elephant ears was wonderful.

  3. marciem says:

    TNY: I always enjoy Liz’s puzzles, and this was no exception. I was completely on her wavelength EXCEPT for the NW, which is where I usually start. That had me worried for a bit thinking the whole puzzle might be a slog, but no.

    NW got me with “au fait” (never heard of it before), scampi could have been anything, could not come up with granny for the knot and dress, I do not think of churros and beignets in the same sentence … but then I walk away for a bit and piece by piece things fell in there. Softsells was also not a gimme, so that corner almost beat me… but not quite :) .

    Had not heard of “Give us the ballot” before, but it came together easily with some crossings, and like Amy, I’m glad to learn it.

    Nice one, Liz! :)

    • JohnH says:

      This being Gorsky’s, I definitely found it easier than a typical Monday TNY, but very much enjoyed its challenges. Thankfully, I remembered AU FAIT with a few crossings, and I resisted thoughts of CHURROS for a while, but they’re all over NYC. I too was glad to put a name on that moment in MLK and civil rights history.

  4. Art Shapiro says:

    WSJ: As a Monty Python fanatic (my Email address is MyBrainHurts@….) I have to confess embarrassment at having completely forgotten the sketch Jim provided at the end of his review. Thanks for posting it!

  5. Eric H says:

    New Yorker: Mostly pretty smooth, though I must have missed the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and the MLK speech was new to me.

    It’s kind of fun to see MEAN STREAKS and ALTRUISTS in the same grid.

    But really: I have to do multiplication with Roman numerals? I’d almost rather retake the LSAT (which was hands-down the most stressful test I ever took, including the Texas and Illinois bar exams).

    I ended up with a lousy time for a puzzle with few answers that I didn’t know or couldn’t easily get from the crosses. I had InANe rather than I CAN’T (pretty dumb mistake) and didn’t check the crosses well enough. After looking for my mistake for a few minutes, I just checked the whole grid. I guess that’s a DNF, but who’s counting?

    • PJ says:

      Roman numeral math and the always fun Roman Army practice of DECIMATION were the downer entries for an otherwise very enjoyable experience. So I guess that makes it pretty good.

      A lot I didn’t know but the crossings bailed me out every place but one. I had ITSY at 6D.

  6. Brenda Rose says:

    Au fait is a cosmopolitan mix of French & Italian. My Italo-galpals pronounce it as oo facia. It simply means what you know. Makes me smile to see this because when solving hard xword clues you either know it or you don’t.

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