This week’s AV Club puzzle is a contest puzzle from Francis Heaney – a write-up will be posted after the contest deadline closes Sunday.
Jacob Stulberg’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s write-up
Today’s striking theme is LIGHTNING – more specifically, 58a. [What the ends of 16, 26- and 42-Across mean in Hebrew, French and German, respectively]
- 16a. [Israeli P.M. before Ariel Sharon] EHUD BARAK
- 26a. [Custard-filled treat] CHOCOLATE ECLAIR
- 42a. [Luftwaffe attack on the British Midlands, 1940-43] BIRMINGHAM BLITZ
The theme was impossible for me to grasp until I got to the revealer, and it only helped me fill in BLITZ, as (thanks to my high school US history teacher) I remembered that “blitzkrieg” means “lightning war.” I really like the concept. though, and it’s great to learn new trivia. CHOCOLATE ECLAIR was easy enough to figure out (there does not seem to be a universal origin story behind the name, but most people seem to think that the pastries are meant to be eaten as fast as lightning), and while I could not remember former Prime Minister BARAK‘s first name, the crossings were fair.
The vast majority of the fill was clean and well-clued. The one thing that tripped me up was the clue for DTS, [Wino’s affliction, for short]. This possibly deadly form of alcohol withdrawal is found in crossword grids pretty often (118 times in the NYT, if anyone’s counting), and the clue often contains a derogatory term for someone with alcoholism such as “wino,” “sot,” or “drunk.” If it needs to be in the grid, it could be clued in a less disparaging way.
Having said that, the rest of the fill is lovely. I enjoyed the rarer gems like MULAN and RASTA, and BEAM UP next to INFUSE brought to mind Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Picard’s frequent request for “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” The rarely used [Woodwind descended from the shawm] clue for OBOE was a nice touch – would have been too difficult for a Wednesday if “woodwind” weren’t mentioned, but it definitely brought some life to the crossword-friendly instrument. Finally, I did not know what an ICE DAM was, but it’s now on my list of things to worry about this winter. 3.75 stars.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Brake It Up!” — Jim’s review
True story: Probably the first instance of me playing with words was when I was around 5 and in the car with my mom. I saw a STOP sign and said, “POTS!”. Mom, befuddled, looked around and said, “Where? Where?” I don’t think I was dyslexic, I was just reading the sign backwards. I noticed that one word, when spelled backwards, became another word, and found that interesting.
So today’s theme by the inimitable Liz Gorski touched a chord in me. You would think I could have come up with today’s theme myself, but then, I’m not Liz Gorski.
She, seemingly easily, found four unassailable (and symmetric) theme entries that end in various combinations of the letters S, T, O, and P. There is serendipity at work here in that she found the revealer (63A‘s FOUR-WAY STOP) as an apt description for four theme entries and the fact that those letters re-arranged spell four other common words which end common phrases. (There is one other common word, OPTS, but there is no phrase which ends in OPTS.) This is a hallmark of Liz Gorski’s work — seemingly simple, but beautifully elegant. (That two of the phrases are plurals (POTS and TOPS) is the tiniest of nits not even worth mentioning.)
Oh yeah, so here are the theme entries:
- 17A [They were once going places] CHAMBER POTS. Hah! Potty humor! I didn’t think the WSJ would go there, but it did. Nice.
- 21A [Shoulder-baring garments] HALTER TOPS. Yesterday we had the male-centric entry BOXERS OR BRIEFS, so this balances it out nicely.
- 39A [“Delicious!”] THAT HITS THE SPOT. A beautiful grid-spanner. I recently taught this phrase to our waitress in a restaurant in Germany. She knew a fair amount of English, but not this phrase.
- 53A [Shipping option] PARCEL POST. A bit bland compared to the others, but you can’t win them all. Still, a solid entry.
- 62A [Intersection type, and a clue to the other longest Across answers] FOUR-WAY STOP. Get this: the four STOP words in the other phrases can also be said to STOP those phrases (i.e. they end those phrases as opposed to starting them). Did I already say elegant?
And we haven’t looked at the rest of the grid yet which has the wonderful pairing of GO FOR A SPIN and DRAG STRIPS, all in keeping with a driving theme. How brilliant is that!
Notice how she overlapped two pairs of themers at the top and bottom of the grid. Yes, this is responsible for some compromising fill like APPL, ERTE, and SSW (6D, 8D, and 51D), but that choice opened up the middle for her and made it relatively clean (ENTR notwithstanding). I’d say that was worth it to get those two great Down entries at 10D and 28D.
The rest of the grid fills out with nice entries everywhere: DES’REE, OSMOSE, EARTH, TAVIS, GENEVA, ORSINO, RODEO, HUGO, PATROL, SANDS, SPACE, REEFER, ALASKA, TAKE UP, and POOH (thankfully not cross-referenced back to 17A). I don’t know composer Erik SATIE, but now I do.
Cluing was just right with enough mis-direction to make it interesting. Highlights include: [(Another) Dog star] for TOTO and ASTA (symmetrical entries, mind you), [Bounce off the walls] for ECHO, [Set the wheels in motion?] for GO FOR A SPIN, [Fast tracks?] for DRAG STRIPS, and [Character from a bar?] for SPACE.
All in all, a winning outing from Liz Gorski. 4.25 stars from me. Gotta wrap this up with this one:
Andrew Ries’s BuzzFeed crossword, “Fucked Up”—Amy’s write-up
Synonyms for “high or otherwise inebriated” appear at the beginning of familiar phrases, and the second word in each is also a famous person’s name:
- 17a. [Fucked up “Sideways” co-star?], HIGH CHURCH. Thomas Haden Church. Editorially, I’d have hyphenated “fucked-up” in each theme clue.
- 27a. [Fucked up member of the Jonas Brothers?], SLOPPY JOE. Joe Jonas. Wait, what? Three last names, one first name, and one middle/nickname = imbalance. And I’m not familiar with “sloppy” meaning intoxicated. “Sloppy drunk” has that “drunk” right in it.
- 36a. [Fucked up Led Zeppelin frontman?], POTTED PLANT. Robert Plant. I thought “potted” meant drunk rather than stoned on pot, and was quaint and outdated; dictionary tells me high on pot is a core definition.
- 47a. [Fucked up star of “The Six Million Dollar Man”?], LIT MAJORS. Steve Majors. I was more a Bionic Woman fan.
- 56a. [Fucked up “No Apologies” comedian?], LOADED DICE. Andrew Dice Clay.
The theme felt a tad unbalanced to me, name-wise, but the synonym + name concept is tight.
Top fill: AIRPORT BARS, FOURSOME. Combine the two and there’s potential.
Four more things:
- 31d. [Sandwiches I like to add A too (any A)], BLTS. Don’t know if this is Andrew’s clue or Caleb’s, but what could he like besides avocado? Apples? Achiote? Asparagus? Anchovies? (Editorial note: *ahem* It’s “add to,” not “add too.”)
- 53d. [The Bee ___ (angels come down from on high to sing perfect disco harmonies)], GEES. Indeed.
- 5d. [Amount of noches locas en el festival judío de las luces], OCHO. I don’t know if the Spanish is perfect, but this is cute.
- 16a. [Collette who plays Tara in “The United States of Tara”], TONI. I never did watch that. Did you like it? (Show ended 4.5 years ago, so ideally that would be “played” rather than “plays.”)
- 35a. [The Djoker and others, ethnically], SERBS. Great clue. “Djokovic and others, ethnically” lacks any playfulness and doesn’t expect you to know tennis player nicknames.
3.75 stars from me.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Game Changer”—Ade’s write-up
Good day, crossword lovers! I hope you’re doing very well today. Our crossword for today, brought to us by Mr. Randall J. Hartman, is more fun with anagrams, as the first four letters of each of the theme answers is an anagram of the word “Game.”
- E-MAGAZINES (17A: [Slate and Salon])
- MAGELLAN FUND (29A: [Fidelity offering])
- MEGA MILLIONS (49A: [Lottery with the largest jackpot in history]) – Not gonna lie: I’ve played Mega Millions once or twice…or 20 times.
- E.G. MARSHALL (64A: [Star of “The Defenders”]) – He was also in 12 Angry Men as well, right? *Googling, looking, more googling…* Yes, he was! Juror #4!
Do me a favor: tell me right now the last time you sent a FAX (60A: [Email alternative]). If I’m right, the last time I sent a fax was in 2011, when I had to apply for a media credential to cover a football game in San Diego. If there’s a more recent instance of me sending a fax that I eventually remember, I’ll let you know ASAP. Probably my favorite fill today was AU NATUREL, a word that I had mistakenly thought was spelled “au natural” for years before realizing the error of my ways a while back (11D: [Naked]). No, rectifying that was not the reason why I was convinced to take French lessons over the Internet recently, trust me! Loved the little trivia-like cluing to IODINE (15A: [Element the body needs, but cannot make]). Did there need to be a question mark for the clue to PRISON (4A: [Place where cell phones aren’t allowed?])? I know there’s the play on words with “cell” and its alternate meaning, but the dynamic of the clue/entry wouldn’t have changed without the question mark. At least that’s in my opinion. There was some crosswordese stacked on top of each other, with AERIE (37A: [Where eagles care?]) on top of RENE (43A: [Russo of “Tin Cup”]). The clue to SIGH is somewhat questionable, though some guys, who were to swoon over women (or other guys), probably wouldn’t sigh as much as they would let out some grotesque grunts and/or say something bordering on sexist (52D: [“Isn’t he adorable?!]). But, that’s not any of the guys that I know, and I know it’s not any of the men here who read this blog. OK, I’m going off on a little tangent, so let me rein myself in and get to the next part of the blog…
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: LEAGUE (51D: [American, for one]) – In baseball vernacular, the American LEAGUE is also called The Junior Circuit. Why? Because the American League became part of Major League Baseball in 1901, which was 25 years after the founding of the National League, or the Senior Circuit, in 1876.
Thank you so much once again, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
Kurt Krauss’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
This is a similar theme to Neville’s Tuesday NYT. Here, various short company names are the bread in each theme answer sandwich. This summed up as PARTEDCOMPANY. The large number of possibilities spurred Mr. Krauss to go for a seven part theme. This is mostly well-contained, but the double stacking leads to some inevitible wincing.
The theme answers. First up, TRANE is hidden in TRIPLANE. I’ve never heard of TRANE, but if they employed 29,000 people, they should be notable! The retailer SEARS is bookending SEATCOVERS. A FOOTBOARD conceals FORD; VISA is spelt out in VICEVERSA. The bottom pair is clothier HANES in HANDSHAKES and tech company DELL outlining DEADBALL.
The area with a concentrated amount of theme squares is restricted, balancing out the more open sides in the top-left and bottom-right which are relatively theme-free. Nobody is happy to see an NLER/ESTE corner, but as noted, this could have been much, much worse given the constraints.