New fun from Matt Gaffney for all you meta-heads! Matt has a new weekly crossword feature at Merriam-Webster’s website. It’s a meta-ish feature that he created especially for their site, and it’s called “The Missing Letter.” There’s a new 15×15 puzzle posted each Monday at noon ET. The way it works is: 25 clues in each puzzle are definitions taken directly from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (way more fun than it may sound like at first). They begin with 25 different letters of the alphabet; when you’re done solving, the one letter of the alphabet that doesn’t begin one of those words is that week’s “Missing Letter.” Submit that Missing Letter for a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to M-W’s site (the solving app keeps track onscreen of which letters you’ve already used, so there’s no cumbersome aspect to determining the missing letter when you’re done). Give it a shot here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/games/missing-letter. Deadline to enter is Sundays at noon ET. Good luck!
Lisa Senzel’s Fireball Crossword, “Crash Blossoms” – Jenni’s write-up
I learned about crash blossoms from Language Log, so I had a general idea what to expect with this puzzle and I was already smiling when I started to solve. “Crash blossoms” are headlines that can be parsed two ways. One interpretation conveys the headline writer’s intent. The other interpretation – doesn’t. LL says the term evolved “after members of a copy editor forum noted the headline, ‘Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms’.” Lisa offers us a veritable garden of crash blossoms.
- 21a [“Johnson Teacher ___” (actual headline that’s about protracted labor negotiations, not about a drawling educator)] is TALKS VERY SLOW.
- 32a [“Engineering students __ Microsoft Office” (actual headline that’s about a software monopoly, not about a hostage situation in Redmond, Washington)] is LOCKED INTO.
- 42a [“Eye ___ Shelves” (actual headline that’s about a product recall, not about a tumbling orb)] is DROPS OFF.
- 46a [“Suspect Held in Killing of Reporter ___” (actual headline that’s about a magazine journalist, not about a murderer’s twisted motive)] is FOR VARIETY.
- 59a [“Mauling by Bear Leaves Woman Grateful ___” (actual headline that’s about abject relief, not about everlasting goodwill toward an ursine animal)] is FOR LIFE.
- 71a [“Branch Avenue Bridge to Be Fixed ___” (actual headline that’s about seasonal planning, not about structural collapse)] is BEFORE FALL.
- 76a [“Police ___ Gambling” (actual headline that’s about understaffing on the force, not about officers’ bad habits)] is CAN‘T STOP.
- 85a [“Drunk Gets Nine Months in ___” (actual headline that’s about the theft of a musical instrument, not about confinement in a velvet-lined box)] is VIOLIN CASE.
- 99a [“Shark Attacks___” (actual headline that’s about perplexed ichthyologists, not about cruciverbalists getting bitten)] is PUZZLE EXPERTS. You will not be surprised to find that this is my favorite.
I love everything about this. I love that each one was fun to discover. I love that they’re all real (and kind of wish they came with footnotes or screen shots or something). I even love that it’s a bigger puzzle (19×19, if you’re wondering) and usually that makes me roll me eyes on weekday. This was not blazingly hard and I don’t care.
A few other things:
- My cultural biases showed up bigtime at 1a. I needed almost every crossing to figure out that [Ninth month] is RAMADAN.
- It also took me a while to figure out 1d. [Inflatable labor mascot, e.g.] is RAT. Like the RATs who cross the picket line.
- 23a [KitchenAid rival] is OSTER. “Rival” implies that they have the same standing in some way. No. KitchenAid mixers every time. Fight me.
- I should have known that [Jason’s shipbuilder] was ARGUS since I knew they were the Argonauts. When I looked it up I realized I had ARGUS confused with Cerberus. Oy. #notaclassicsmajor
- Answers about the keyboard always feel a bit like cheating to me since I solve on a computer. This time it was 50a [Home row keys for the left hand], ASDF.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: so many things. See above re: RAMADAN and ARGUS. Also did not know that IDRIS Elba voices Fluke the Sea Lion in “Finding Dory,” that the RAVENS play at M&T Bank Stadium, that LANA Wachowski directed “The Matrix Resurrections,” or that President BIDEN wrote “America’s ability to lead the world depends not just on the example of our power, but the power of our example.”
Ella Dershowitz’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Save Your Breath”—Jim’s review
Theme answers are familiar terms that include the letters in AIR, but they’re clued as if those letters aren’t there. The revealer is AIRDROP (58a, [Share from phone to phone, or what you must do to this grid seven times for the answers to make sense]).
- 17a. [It might be blown by a blow-dryer] F
- 18a. [Owns, in olden times] HATH
AIR. Hath. I had trouble seeing HAT HAIR for some reason.
- 26a. [Lab that’s little] P
- 28a. [Asks intrusive questions] PR
- 46a. [Recognizable set] ALIST
- 48a. [Set unit] REP
- 56a. [Runs out of battery] D
Good theme. It took me about half the puzzle to catch on, and even then finishing the grid wasn’t a gimme. Just right for a Thursday. Oh, and a great title, too!
Tons of sparkly fill today! I love UNOBTANIUM and “GOT A MINUTE?” Plus there’s FRAT ROW, GAP KIDS, PIEHOLE, SEA SALT, NAILS IT, and JANE DOE. Ooh, and MAN TRAP. I honestly didn’t know that was really a thing, but the nerd in me recalls a Star Trek (TOS) episode with that title. Even better—it was the very first episode of Star Trek to appear on TV ever. How’s that for trivia?
Now, about that BLASTULA (20a, [Hollow cluster of cells]). What a great word, but I didn’t know it. I’d heard the word BLASTOMA (but didn’t remember what it meant) so I went with that since it seemed to match with 6d ODEON. Except it wasn’t ODEON it was ODEUM, and 21d is LAPS, not MAPS. Wikipedia lists Odeon as the main spelling with ODEUM as an alternative. It all makes me wonder if the entry wasn’t originally “blastoma,” except that a blastoma is a type of cancer—and one more common in children—so not exactly the type of fill one wants to see in a puzzle. An interesting section of the grid, but I wonder if it will trip a lot of people up.
Clues of note:
- 4a. [Cool story teller, in memes]. BRO. From the phrase, “Cool story, BRO!” (usually used sarcastically).
- 24a. [First name on “Gattaca” posters]. UMA. Tough clue in that difficult section I mentioned above. I get why you’d want the parallel cluing with 53a ETHAN since the film features both UMA Thurman and ETHAN Hawke, but with the ambiguities in that section, something more straightforward might be fairer to solvers.
- 32a. [Lead-in to a green check mark on a ticket]. PRE. An airline ticket.
- 40a. [Sings “Defying Gravity,” say]. BELTS. Yeah, I didn’t know the title. The song comes from Wicked. See below for Idina Menzel belting it out.
- 36d. [Place to buy itsy-bitsy overalls]. GAP KIDS. Not sure I’d go with “itsy-bitsy” here. That made me think I was buying miniature doll’s clothes.
- 37d. [Woman in brief?]. JANE DOE. Nice clue.
- 44d. [Big dumb mouth]. PIEHOLE. Love the inclusion of “dumb” here!
- 48d. [“M*A*S*H” bar]. ROSIE’S. A fixture on the show, especially in the later years. A gimme for me.
Good theme, great fill. Four stars.
Dan Caprera’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up
Difficulty: Easy (9m58s)
Today’s theme: WINTER MIGRATION (Seasonal phenomenon depicted six times in this puzzle)
- WES C(RAVEN)
- HAL(F INCH)
- I AM NOT A C(ROOK)
- DICK C(LARK)
- IN ES(CROW)
My first thought was “Okay, right turns, I’ve seen this before”, and was trying to suss out what the “seasonal phenomenon” was going to be, and when I realized the birds in this puzzle were all going south for the winter, the G-HAM* hit me and everything was copacetic. Well done. I’m also big fan of 15x spanning reveals, and kudos for stacking that with I AM NOT A C(ROOK).
I wanted MAL DE MER to be sel or sal or whichever version of “sea salt” we were getting at, but no, it’s sea-sickness, with an extra je ne sais quoi because it’s en francais. Tres chic! BLEGHHHHHHHH. Ooh la la! GLUUUUUURRRR.
*genuine a-HA moment
Cracking: GALOSH, it’s a fun word, splish splash
Slacking: NEC clued as the corporation whose headquarters is “shaped like a rocket”, and to quote Vonnegut, “I had to laugh like hell”, Google the building in question and decide for yourself what it looks like
Sidetracking: MINOR CHORDs can be shifted to major ones with surprising results, a la the major scaled version of “Losing my Religion”:
Will Nediger’s New Yorker puzzle – Kyle’s write-up
Thanks Will for today’s puzzle. Regular readers may recall in my review of Will’s last New Yorker Thursday puzzle I talked about his use of the word senpai in the grid. Seeing his byline today, I anticipated another piece of interesting vocabulary might be forthcoming, but no.
In fact this grid, though very well made and ideally pitched fill-wise to the Thursday beginner-friendly slot, feels slightly warmed-over: there’s a huge amount of short answers (57 at 5 letters or fewer), and the long answers all seem quite commonplace with the exception of ITEM OF FURNITURE, which has a slightly green-paint feel to it (personally I’d say piece of furniture). Even the conversational entries “LET’S BE REAL”, “I’M THE WORST”, “I’M OVER IT” all feel watered down; I’ve probably seen them each in maybe a dozen themeless grids this year alone. Will Nediger is a constructor of the highest quality, but it’s safe to say this isn’t my favorite puzzle of his.
Amie Walker’s Universal crossword, “Real Talk” — Jenni’s write-up
I don’t usually do the Universal crossword because there are only so many hours in the day. Looks like I’ve been missing out. I enjoyed this one even though I don’t quite understand the theme. Time to add Amie Walker to the internal list of abylines that make me smile when I start a puzzle.
The theme answers all follow a pattern.
- 19a [Particularly sage insight] is a NUGGET OF WISDOM.
- 30a [Singular accuracy in an otherwise dubious story] is a KERNEL OF TRUTH.
- 38a [Life hack, perhaps] is a PIECE OF ADVICE.
And the revealer: 51a [Nonliteral phrase…or, in another sense, a hint to 19-, 30, or 38-Across] is FIGURE OF SPEECH. I guess NUGGET, KERNEL and PIECE are all figures? I scratched my head a bit. Still enjoyed the solve, which was smooth and quick.
A few other things:
- AMINO acids at 1d revive the idea of the Crossword Conspiracy since they also showed up in the NYT today.
- Happy to see DIAPER BAG clued as [New dad’s carryall]. It matters until it doesn’t, and it still does.
- My mother used to make PILAF from a box MIX. Can’t remember the name but I can see the box in my mind and it was heaven on a plate.
- I prefer [Broadway’s Salonga] to [Meadow] as a clue for the ubiquitous LEA.
- I filled in 45a from crossings and when I saw SOB I wondered exactly how it was clued. Turns it was a three-letter word, not an acronym: [Weep].
- Cell structure is covered in the regular HS class, not just AP BIO. Doesn’t make the clue wrong.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the AISLE seat is closer to the middle of the plane than its neighbor. I presume this is in a plane with two AISLEs and a set of seats in the middle. Wait. That set of seats has two AISLE seats and they can’t both be closer to the middle. Now I’m confused.
And Google is a wonderful thing. It’s Near East pilaf. I wonder if I’d still like it.
Adam H. Mack & Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today Crossword, “Low-Key” — Emily’s write-up
The only aspects that are low-key about this puzzle are the title and theme.
Theme: each themer ends on –KEY and being in the downs they are also “low”
- 3d. [2016 or 2028], YEAROFTHEMONKEY
- 6d. [Abruptly gives ups vice], QUITSCOLDTURKEY
- 10d. [Four Roses or Jim Beam product], STRAIGHTWHISKEY
What a themer set today! A wide variety of YEAROFTHEMONKEY, QUITSCOLDTURKEY, and STRAIGHTWHISKEY. The other impressive feat is that all three are spanners as well! Wow.
Favorite fill: GNAWED, MUSTBENICE, FRUITCUPS, and BIKERACK
Stumpers: OHYES (needed crossings), QUAN (new to me), and RUTS (also needed crossings)
A super fun grid design and tons of lengthy bonus fill make this a very enjoyable solve today. Fantastic!
Jason Reich’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
We have a more “in the pocket” theme today, courtesy of Jason Reich. It features [Blinkers, and a hint to filling in 17-, 24-, 38-, and 50-Across?], TURNSIGNALS – here these are indicators… In any case, four answers have SIGNAL scrambled somewhere in their centres:
- [“Devilishly delicious” hard cider brand], ORIGINALSIN
- [One performing a service, maybe], CHORALSINGER
- [Classic sitcom that began with the wreck of the S.S. Minnow], GILLIGANSISLAND
- [Result of appreciation], CAPITALGAINS
The rest of the puzzle is well-constructed if mostly conservative. The craziest thing was [Tropical flower used in aromatherapy products], YLANGYLANG, which is useful as a five-letter entry, if hard to clue. As far as clue angles go, I can’t be the only one who has lost track of all these Marvel characters ages ago: [Blue alien played by Karen Gillan in Marvel films], NEBULA. The clue [Tireless, unpaid assistant], SIRI perpetuates the idea AI is real and not just a well-programmed algorithm.