Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword — Jim’s review
Greetings, NYT solvers! My name is Jim and I’ll be your reviewer today, filling in for Jenni. I usually sit in the back seat doing the WSJ puzzles, but I got called up to the front today for the first time. Nice view from up here! I could get used to this!
About my solve time. I don’t usually time myself because I simply have no interest in that. My focus is on how much I enjoy the puzzle. But I timed myself today, JUST FOR YOU! :) As you can see, I’m not a speed solver, but in my defense, I took a few notes during the solve, so really, I think I did okay.
What a treat for me to be here with a Jeff Chen puzzle. Jeff was my mentor way back when I started making puzzles and he helped me make my first grid which we sold to the LAT. Since then Jeff’s become a mentor to many other successful constructors, but I like to think I was the first alum of Jeff’s University for New Constructors – Fundamentals In Lexical Love (JUNC-FILL, for short). (And I have been saving that joke for a very long time.)
On to the grid! What the heck is going on there? Mirror symmetry, vertical themers, and circles. Oh my! And it’s so segmented! Looks like a butterfly.
I see the synonymous nature of the circled words, but I confess I don’t know the reason for the grid’s structure at this point. Maybe it’ll come to me as I type.
Let’s go left to right:
- 26d. [Pretentiously high-class] FANCY PANTS
- 4d. [Item in a swag bag] PARTY FAVOR
- 22d. [Push oneself to the max] DIG DEEP
- 9d. [Southern side dish made with kernels off the cob] CORN RELISH
- 28d. [Thinking similarly] LIKE-MINDED
All our circled words are synonyms of cherish (although as used in the base phrases, they are not). But they’re all lined up across the middle of the grid. And I still haven’t sussed it out.
Perhaps all it is is that Jeff found these phrases he preferred, but unfortunately some had the keyword at the beginning while others had it at the end. (Editors like consistency.) However, he could get them to fit in the grid with mirror symmetry and — voila! — all the keywords fell in the middle of the grid. The circles are needed to focus your eyes on those keywords, and thus, you get this great visual impact.
Why vertical theme entries, then? I suspect that it simply looks better vertically than it would horizontally.
I know that Jeff’s a fan of testing the limits and breaking conventions. This grid is a reminder that even if your theme entries don’t play together in the traditional way, there might be other things you can do with them.
Ok, on to the fill. Like I said, the grid is very segmented, but the corners are quite spacious. There is a lot of really good fill in there: GAL PAL, “I’M COOL,” PALE ALE, DOORMEN, “YES, DEAR,” FATIGUE, ZEPPO, HOT DATE, CICADAS, FORGERS, STIPPLE, and EGO TRIP. Not too keen on IN F and I GO, but really, that’s about it. I don’t know 36a ANNE V [Model in 10 straight Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions, familiarly], and I would bet most solvers won’t either, so that seems a bit iffy, but the crossings were fair. I know it’s hard to end words with a V, so at least this was something different. INK UP seems a little questionable to me as well.
What’s going on down in the SW with an ORANGE O.R. NURSE on a HOT DATE with a NUDE GRAN? Some strange things afoot there!
Finally, a shout out to 5d ALTHEA Gibson who deserves to be highlighted. Not only was she the first person of color to win a Grand Slam, she was the first to even compete at many international tournaments including the U.S. Nationals (precursor to the U.S. Open) and Wimbledon. She was a winner at both of those events as well as the French Open and scores of other tournaments. Truly, a bold leader and a heroic figure.
All in all, this was a different, but entertaining grid from Jeff, with tons of fun fill. I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed something, so please let us know in the comments. Until next time!
David J. Kahn’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Echo Chamber” — Jim’s review
Nice bit of wordplay from David Kahn today. Various words are followed by homophonic phrases for crossword wackiness.
- 17a [Boating magazine ad?] FORESAIL FOR SALE. Nice but a bit blah.
- 27a [One way to embellish church music?] ACQUIRE A CHOIR. Nothing wrong with this, but it just doesn’t sing to me (see what I did there?).
- 46a [Charge for taking shots with a prison smartphone?] SELFIE CELL FEE. That’s more like it. Off the wall, but funny.
- 61a [Why the college freshmen got A’s on their entomology exam?] NEWBIES KNEW BEES. Ditto. It’s nice to end the theme on a strong note.
I especially like the last two for using more modern slangy terms.
We get good long stuff today like PORK BARREL and ON THE SCENE. I also like AQUATIC and SCARIFY, which is a word you don’t see too often (at least I don’t). Oh, and FITBIT makes an appearance at 47d [Step-counting brand].
Did you know the word LLANOS (48d, [South American grasslands])? I think it was somewhere in my brain, but I waited for all the crossings on that one.
Not a fan of the teammate clues: 19d [Onetime teammate of Bryant] and 44d [Onetime teammate of Robinson] for O’NEAL and REESE respectively, nor of the random [Early fifth-century year] clue for random CDI or indeed of crutchy ODETS. But those weren’t enough to ruin the puzzle.
Clues of note:
- 54a. [Skirt feature] for SLIT. Not all skirts have SLITs.
- 55d. [“The Periodic Table” author] is Primo LEVI. According to Wikipedia, it is a collection of short stories that “are autobiographical episodes of the author’s experiences as a Jewish-Italian doctoral-level chemist under the Fascist regime and afterwards.” In 2006, the Royal Institution of Great Britain named it the best science book ever. Wow!
- 51a. [Dean’s brother on “Supernatural”] is SAM. I’ve never seen that show. Apparently it’s on its 11th season. Crikey!
- Fave clue is 62d. [Line at a wedding]. I DO!
Amiee Lucido’s AVCX crossword, “Nightwear on Elm Street” — Ben’s Review
I’m back on the AV Club Crossword beat after two weeks away! This week’s entry from Aimee Lucido gave me what may be my fastest time ever on an AV club (matching it’s relatively low 2.5/5 difficulty), but it had a fun theme that acts as a nice kick-off to the Halloween season:
- 17A: Sexy Halloween costume idea #1: a map of the world’s most populous counry, with just enough of Shandong province showing? — FINE CHINA
- 24A: Sexy Halloween costume idea #2: Toblerone, half unwrapped? — HOT CHOCOLATE
- 52A: Sexy Halloween costume idea #3: sod, blades thrusting tall through the soil? — SMOKING GRASS
- 65A: Sexy Halloween costume idea #4: large albacore relative, with beads of water glistening on its skin? — SPICY TUNA
I’m always down for ridiculous “sexy” costumes and this puzzle did not disappoint.
Other puzzle notes:
- 14A: The “I” in I.M. Pei — IEOH (this is an interesting bit of trivia, but it definitely gave me pause in what’s supposed to be a puzzle on the easier side. That’s an awful lot of vowels in a row if you’re working from the down clues to figure this one out)
- 28A: Subject of a patronizing Plain White T’s song — DELILAH (I’m partial to the much less patronizing song by Florence + the Machine)
- 42A: Classic spot for a baseball card — SPOKE (I had this as SMOKE for too long because cigarettes somehow?)
- 59A: Hi! I wrote this puzzle! A singer named Mann stole my name even though she’s older than me! — AIMEE (I have this exact same problem, but worse, with the head editor of Buzzfeed, Ben Smith)
- 5D: Butt residue — ASH (I enjoyed this clue because I am secretly a 5 year old)
- 60D: Moscow ___ — MULE (aka my favorite cocktail, especially with good spicy ginger beer and plenty of lime)
A fun puzzle that’s a nice kickoff to the impending slew of Halloween-themed grids we’re likely to see in the next few weeks. Well done, Aimee and the AVCX!
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
I’m behind schedule, but suffice to say the theme is hockey with a NET, BOARDS, RINK, PUCK and STICKS found at the ends of the theme entries. A solid, and I think, timely theme.