Monday, March 4, 2024

BEQ tk (Matthew) 


LAT 1:49 (Stella) 


NYT 2:55 (Sophia) 


The New Yorker 5:24 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today tk (tk) 


WSJ 4:14 (Jim) 


Samantha Podos Nowak’s New York Times crossword —Sophia’s write-up

Theme: BANANA/SPLITS – the word “banana” is split by a black square four times in the puzzle.

New York Times, 03 04 2024, By Samantha Podos Nowak

  • 14a [Diving gear] and 15a [Grannies] – SCUBA/NANAS
  • 23a [Beachside hut] and 26a [Skeptical sort] – CABANA/NAYSAYER
  • 49a [Just outside a city] and 51a [Not digital, as a clock] – SUBURBAN/ANALOG
  • 63a [Like residents of Havana] and 64a [Diarist Nin] – CUBAN/ANAIS
  • 35a/37a [With 37-Across, some ice cream confections … or a hint to the second, fifth, eleventh and fourteenth rows of this puzzle] – BANANA/SPLITS

I actively dislike bananas, but that had no effect on my enjoyment of this puzzle! The central conceit is cute, and there is an impressive amount of thematic material. I like how many different ways the banana is “split” – into BA/NANA, BANA/NA, and BAN/ANA. Even though there are so many repeated strings in the puzzle, it didn’t feel repetitive or same-y.

I got a bit thrown off that the two longest answers in the puzzle – AISLE SEAT and IT’S A MATCH – were both not related to the theme (I liked them both as answers a lot, though). I wonder if the puzzle was always meant to have those slots as non-themed or if the theme answers just worked better spaced out more. I also wonder why the NYT chose not to circle/shade the bananas and instead went with a very wordy revealer. Not a complaint, just a wonder.

Other fill highlights: HAIRNET, HANDCAR, SCAMPI, NEBULA. Very clean fill all around, Monday appropriate for sure.

Clue highlights: [Gimlet or screwdriver] for TOOL – I was thinking about drinks. I do have an issue with [Part of a superhero’s costume] for CAPE – what would Edna Mode say???

New to me: AQABA (I had “Amman” for the longest time).

Congrats to Samantha on a fabulous NYT debut!

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Outsourcing”—Jim’s review

The letters S, U, and B are found in familiar phrases, and as the solver progresses down the grid, these letters get closer together (i.e. “contract”) until arriving at the final theme answer and revealer SUBCONTRACTED (51a, [Outsourced, and what happened to the circled letters in this puzzle]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Outsourcing” · Mike Shenk · Mon., 3.4.24

  • 16a. [Retro hip beer] PABST BLUE RIBBON.
  • 21a. [Person living off of family wealth, disparagingly] TRUST FUND BABY.
  • 42a. [Headmaster at Hogwarts] ALBUS DUMBLEDORE.

I wanted so much for the left-right symmetry of the upper half of the grid to carry through to the bottom half. The third entry could have been DISTURBED, PUSH-UP BRA, or DINOSAUR BONES, but of course there’s nothing that could be done about keeping the SUB in SUBCONTRACTED in the center of the grid.

An alternative might have been to have YELLOW SUBMARINE as the fourth entry and then have SUBCONTRACTED as a separate revealer without circled letters. But that is a lot more theme material and you’d still have a revealer that’s an awkward 13-letters long at the bottom of the grid. Probably too tall of an order.

The theme is fine as it is, but somehow achieving full symmetry would have elevated it beautifully.

Fill highlights include DUMBBELL, IDIOTIC, TOSS-UP, and UPBEAT. Didn’t know the word PICADOR [Bullfighter on horseback], and that—along with some opaque cluing nearby—made the center a little bit more difficult than the rest of the grid.

Solid theme and grid, but the promise of symmetry above failed to materialize below. 3.25 stars.

Susan Gelfand’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 3/4/24 by Susan Gelfand

Los Angeles Times 3/4/24 by Susan Gelfand

Footwear everywhere in this puzzle! The revealer is in the middle this time, at 36A [Step in for another, and what the answers to the starred clues literally do] is FILL ONE’S SHOES. The theme answers have circled letters to make it clearer what’s going on: The circled letters, which always come at the beginning and end of each theme entry, spell out a type of shoe.

  • 18A [*Online journals for DIYers] is CRAFT BLOGS, with the circled letters spelling CLOGS.
  • 23A [*Warm alcoholic beverages with sugar and spices] is MULLED WINES, with the circled letters spelling MULES. (The worst kind of shoe IMO is a high-heeled mule. They seem like broken ankles waiting to happen.)
  • 52A [*Horse-drawn excursions] is SLEIGH RIDES, with the circled letters spelling SLIDES.
  • 58A [*Low-effort posts of vacation pics] is PHOTO DUMPS, with the circled letters spelling PUMPS.

I have mixed feelings about this theme. What I like: It’s shoes! I love shoes! And it’s not the more typical shoe theme you see with a type of shoe at the beginning or end of a word or phrase, like WATER SLIDE or GAS PUMP. I don’t like that it hits two of my personal pet peeves. First: I wish the revealer weren’t a ONE’S phrase, because phrases with ONE and especially with ONE’S in them feel forced to me. Second: I think this theme would have been just as effective without having all of the answers be plurals. Yes, shoes come in pairs, but as a group even with singular theme answers the themers as a group would have added up to FILLING ONE’S SHOES, plural.

I was surprised to find that my final time was under two minutes, given that the grid had a number of entries like ARTE (clued as the owner of the Angels, no less; I would have found a foreign-language “art” clue easier), NEWELGILA (clued as the river, not with reference to the IMO better-known GILA monster), THEO (clued with reference to The White Lotus), cluing ESCORT as the old Ford model rather than its non-proper-noun sense, etc.

Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Elevated Dining” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 3/4/24 • Mon • “Elevated Dining” • Coulter • solution • 20240304

Seeing the title after the solve answered a question  about and added depth to the theme. The former was ‘why are the theme answers among the downs?’ and the latter is that the subjects are all edible.

Each theme entry is a two-word phrase in which the last letter of the first word is brought to the beginning (‘elevated’) to form the second word.

  • 4d. [Evaluating a cheesy crust?] RATING GRATIN.
  • 14d. [Fish prepared by a dozing chef?] NAPPER’S SNAPPER.
  • 7d. [Jiggly food that makes you very happy?] ELATING GELATIN.
  • 22d. [Cream-filled pastry made by actress Danes?] CLAIRE ÉCLAIR.

Bon appétit!

Sylvilagus brasiliensis, aka tapeti
©Morten Ross

Overall, the puzzle was an easy solve, with nearly all of the answers immediately apparent.

  • 6a [Camper’s gooey treat] S’MORE. Usually in the plural, at least outside of crosswords. In the singular it could maybe play the theme’s game, changing from MORES (or More’s?).
  • 15a [Grassy surface] SOD, though I tried LEA first.
  • 18a [Number of five-letter months] TWO, and they’re back-to-back.
  • 38a [Stick shift selection] GEAR. As a manual transmission aficionado, I will miss that as we transition to electric vehicles. The environmental gains of course outweigh such concerns.
  • 40a [Romance novelist’s award] RITA. Named after the awarding association’s first president. Strangely, though, it always appears in all capitals despite not being an acronym or even a backronym.
  • 48a [1988 children’s novel about a precocious girl] MATILDA. I had no idea it was so late. Assumed it was something I had missed during my childhood, perhaps because I was never much of a Roald Dahl fan.
  • 1d [Side dish made with mayonnaise] SLAW. Only the nasty versions!
  • 12d [Acrobat’s company] ADOBE. Aha, a veiled proper noun.

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

New Yorker crossword solution, 3/4/24 – Gorski

This one was about 20% faster than my usual MonTNY speed. There weren’t many tricky clues that waylaid me, and I’ve been doing crosswords long enough that crosswordese like ORT, SCREE (a useful geology word, though!), and DEBAR don’t slow me down.

Fave fill: RAN ON EMPTY and TRIAL RUN (but not wild about that RAN/RUN repeat), STAND TALL, IN DIAPERS (fun clue, [Still getting a bum wrap?], and I appreciated the mindf*ck of the answer appearing to start with INDIA), KEELHAULS (though the literal term is incredibly gruesome), DISCOMBOBULATES.

I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what a SLIPCASE was ([Book holder]), and indeed I did not. It’s just a box that a book (etc.) is stored in, open in front to show the spine.

3.3 stars from me.

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26 Responses to Monday, March 4, 2024

  1. Mhoonchild says:

    NYT I finished it with LIPS/LANDCAR rather than words starting with H. I’ve never heard of a LANDCAR, but it seemed reasonable, and I guess I’ve seen references to the Shakira song, but it didn’t come to the top of my consciousness when working the puzzle. Otherwise, a nice Monday puzzle.

    • huda says:

      Trying to find the error added 50% to my solve time, which was average for a Monday.
      I never heard of either HANDCAR or LANDCAR… In retrospect, I remembered the HIPS song. Just didn’t bubble up initially.

      • Eric H says:

        You’ve probably seen a HANDCAR being used in an old movie. It’s best operated by two people, as the mechanism that propels it looks sort of like a seesaw.

        I almost put an L there, too. I’m not sure if I would recognize the Shakira song if I heard it, but the title is familiar.

      • Lois says:

        +1 to Mhoonchild and Huda, except that I didn’t know the song. I know that car from old movies, but I never knew the name of it.

    • JohnH says:

      I got that wrong, too. In retrospect, the word HANDCAR does look familiar, although I’d no idea of the song and “lips” looked reasonable.

    • DougC says:

      So, a smooth and clever debut puzzle for sure, but I honestly expected to come here and find everyone talking about how easy this was.

      The predicaments a person can get into using a HANDCAR on a RR track were a common plot trope in black-and-white movies, and I guess I’m old enough to have seen ’em all, because this was a gimme, as were the HIPS that don’t lie, which I assume is a famous line for some demographic, given that I’ve come across it in various crosswords, and remembered it, even though I wouldn’t know Shakira if I saw her on the street or heard her on the radio. Does anybody but me still listen to music on the radio?

      Anyway, I filled in the grid in one pass, alternating across and down clues, and had just one error at the COLA/soda kealoa, which I had to go back and change, because by the time I got that far I had stopped checking crosses. Only saw half the clues, and didn’t notice there was a theme until coming here.

      But with my newfound awareness that there was a theme, I have to say it was cute and well done! A worthy Monday debut. But speaking just for myself, I would have liked a teensy bit more resistance.

  2. John L. says:

    NYT commentary: How does one “actively” dislike a banana???

    • Mutman says:

      Why does a banana coming from Central/South America cost 59 cents a pound but an apple from a local orchard cost a $2.99 a pound?!!?

      • Gary R says:

        Scale of operations, relative wage rates, and the fact that close to half the weight of a banana is waste come to mind. Then there’s the fact that a lot of people will pay a premium for a locally-grown product.

      • Martin says:

        A bunch of bananas (“six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!”) has about 200 bananas and is harvested with one stroke. There’s quite a lot of labor involved in harvesting 200 apples.

    • Dena W. says:

      The smell alone puts some people (not me) off.

    • anna g says:

      tastes bad

    • marciem says:

      John L. :”NYT commentary: How does one “actively” dislike a banana???”

      If they are anything like me, the smell alone makes me actively gagamaggot. No likee other than six foot seven foot eight foot BUNCH in song.

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

    I thought today’s New Yorker was a classic. A beautiful example of a puzzle that tests your your mind without needing to toss in some obscure book title or other reference that most people have never heard of. Yes, I’m talking to you — Paolo, Erik, Natan & Brooke. Not that I expect you’ll read this or pay any attention. This was a wonderful challenging puzzle, and now I’m ready for the day.

    • e.a. says:

      when i solved it i literally thought to myself “this is one of those puzzles that one of the crossword fiend regulars would claim is trivialess even though there are several things in it i’ve never heard of” (to be clear, i don’t mean that as a knock on the puzzle at all! i’ve had to accept that not every clue or every puzzle is going to be written with my frame of reference in mind; most crosswords i’ve solved in my lifetime have not been, and many of those were good puzzles (including one of the best ever, Patrick Berry’s variety cryptic “Middle of the Road”)). anyway, glad you loved it and hope your day is equally wonderful!

      • David L says:

        A nice puzzle, to be sure, but not Monday-challenging, I would say. It certainly includes some answers that might be classed as trivia, but they are trivia that I (and Mr. Not Grumpy Today) both knew. I have a feeling we are both old white dudes.

        I take issue with the clue for 36D. It’s defensible, I guess, but not really accurate.

        • Mr. [not at all] Grumpy says:

          Guilty as charged. Old White Dude. And did I ever love seeing Monsieur Maupassant in the grid! Did not mind the 36D clue. Thought the clue for 41A was dicier. As a former high school wrestler [many, many, many years ago], my feeling was that’s the result you seek. I would not call it a “skill” in itself. The skill is the holds you use. But I’m picking nits. Not uncommon for me, I will admit.

    • Gary R says:

      I don’t record my times, but at 15:00, this has to be close to a personal best for a Monday TNY. I enjoyed the puzzle – very smooth, and some fun clues/answers – just wish it would have lasted longer.

      I count at least 16 clues that I would put in the names/titles/trivia category. But as David L suggests, many of these just happened to be in my wheelhouse (another old white guy here).

      • DougC says:

        I agree with the the relatively high PPP count in this puzzle, and also that the puzzle seemed “easy for a Monday” because I’m a member of the demographic group likely to know this stuff.

    • steve says:

      good puzzle, but seemed a bit easier than most mondays

      have to agree, esp with brooke and paolo, they love to put the ridiculously obscure in their puzzles which takes away from the fun, IMHO

      • steve says:

        doing beq’s monday once again showed his superiority in terms of great puzzles without resorting to ridiculous trickery

        it did not fall easily, but i am always confident i can get there if i stay with it, unlike with brooke and paolo

        when i got home after my afternoon trip to the beach, it fell, because he wants us to be able to solve it without tearing our hair out

    • JohnH says:

      Like Grumpy, I thought it was terrific. True, it was easier than most TNY Mondays, but then I don’t find that their crew (which Grump cites) earned their difficulty. It was not free of what one might call trivia, by any means, but fair.

      Also enough challenge for me in the center although I am sure that’s just my personally not being on the right wavelength today: CATALPA, KEELHAULS, the clues for PERSONA and IN DIAPERS, the musician behind CONCERTI, and so on. But I appreciate the difficulty. Since I’d no idea what KEELHAULS literally means, it didn’t bother me, but now I know.

    • JohnH says:

      BTW, I thought I knew French lit, but I’ve never read a word of Maupassant. I guess I should.

  4. Greg says:

    I agree that the Monday New Yorker was first-rate. Tough, but solvable, with no Naticks or alphabet runs needed. Usually, I struggle with Ms. Gorski’s fine creations, but this one was, strangely enough, in my wheelhouse.

  5. Eric H says:

    New Yorker: It felt challenging enough as I was solving it, as I had to jump all around the grid to keep from getting stuck. But that’s fine with me.

    But in the end, my time was less than it often is on the New Yorker’s “moderately challenging” puzzles.

    There are plenty of trivia clues and answers in it. Most of it I knew (older white guy); that which I didn’t was easy enough to figure out. I think I got MAUPASSANT just from the N.

    I enjoyed seeing DISCOMBULATES in the grid, though I’ve always thought of discombobulation as more of a physical state of disarray than a state of puzzlement.

    I’m not crazy about KEELHAULS, even in the figurative sense. I prefer my puzzles without any torture. But the clue for IN DIAPERS almost makes up for that.

  6. It sounds like you had an interesting experience with the New Yorker puzzle! Solving it with its jumping around the grid definitely adds to the challenge, but it’s rewarding when you see your time improving. Trivia clues can be fun, especially when you can piece them together easily. “Discombulates” does add a unique flair to the grid, even if the concept feels more physical than mental. As for “keelhauls,” figurative torture might not be everyone’s cup of tea in puzzles, but it’s great to hear you enjoyed the clever clue for “in diapers.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the puzzle!

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