Bruce Haight’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
So I worked all the way through the puzzle, wondering what sort of rationale there was for an “phrases with the initials S.T.” theme. Finally I reached the revealer as the very last clue/answer I looked at! (Not a standard location for a revealer entry.) And … it doesn’t work. ESTÉE, 68a. [Girl’s name that phonetically provides the initials to the answers to the asterisked clues]? As that French-style acute accent tells you, the name is pronounced “ess-tay,” not “ess-tee.” I guess when your constructor’s a man and your editor and assistant are men, you get a bunch of people who may never have heard the name pronounced. Maybe there are people named Estee out there who pronounce it “ess-tee,” but they’re not famous and the name is very uncommon.
Putting the whole rationale/revealer aside, the S.T. phrases lack excitement. We’ve got SIDE TABLE (dull but functional), SONG TITLE (boring phrase), SEA TRIP (that’s not a thing! my husband laughed at it!), SORE THUMBS (awkward plural), SWEET TOOTH (I do like this one), SAD TALE (this also is not a thing! husband laughing again!), SOUL TRAIN (awwwwwesome!), SEASON TWO (“…Electric Boogaloo,” says husband), SNEAK THIEF (husband guffawed), STAR TREK (rock solid), SIT TIGHT (I like it), and SURE THINGS (another awkward plural).
With the 12 themers plus a revealer, what happens to Tuesdayish fill? Well, EM’LY, SIBS, ESTES Park, ENOW, TSAR (really, the czar spelling is so much more common, isn’t it?), STENO, plural abbrevs AGS and EXTS, REWED (remarried or renewed their vows both much more familiar), STYE, NOGS … as 57a says, MEH. These are things that a beginning solver would likely struggle with. I’d have preferred making 9a into SOFAS crossing 13d SEWED to get rid of REWED; the SIDE TABLE clue could have used couch instead of sofa.
2.5 stars from me. How’d the puzzle play for you?
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 269), “Details, Details”—Janie’s take
For one very intense heat wave, this is one very cool puzzle. It’s an “add-a-sound” theme in which question-marked clues are to be taken literally—and peppy, well-known base-phrases take a wacky turn for the worse. And I mean that as a high compliment. When it appears at the end (“tail”) of a word, the bigram “DY” will take on the sound “DĒ,” as in “Details, Details.” And that transformation is what happens in today’s four themers—smile-makers all. Additionally, there is a great deal of superb non-theme fill—a NICETY that doesn’t go unappreciated in this CLEVER puzzle.
- 17A. [Madame Tussaud’s sculpture of Telly Savalas?] BALDY OF WAX. Ball of wax. Omg. From the London location, 1977, when Kojak was in its fifth season…
- 29A. [Catchy theme song for a sycophant?] TOADY TAPPER. Toe-tapper. High-concept, but cute.
- 43A. [Neat offerings from a Bangkok chef?] TIDY CUISINE. Thai cuisine. I think this one’s my fave, probably because it’s the one where the before-and-after spelling change is most highly contrasted, because the resulting phrase is another “high-concept,” fun-to-envision entry—and because I love Thai food…
- 58A. [Average height of an oceanside flophouse?] SEEDY LEVEL. Sea level. A strong, image-making conclusion to a strong and fresh theme set.
And as I mentioned earlier, there’s a lotta terrific non-theme fill, in those open NW and SE corners especially. Getting the puzzle off to a strong start, a major “Yes!” to ASBURY Park, NJ, George and Ira’s “SWANEE,” that (not strictly/exclusively Swiss) TILSIT cheese and delightful light-versifier OGDEN Nash. It’s not quite as sexy, but ditto, too, to ACELA, CLEVER, DETEST and STYLES (which allow for the lovely crossing of NICETY three letters down, and ARTS at the bottom).
The two pairs of vertical eights SW and NE are darned good as well: the permission-requesting “IS IT OKAY…?” and the ring of RED ONION, then SORE SPOT and EMERGENT. Full disclosure. I don’t love the clue for SORE SPOT, [A real pain in the butt?], whose humor is lost on me… Also, I initially entered EMERGING, whose correctness appeared to be confirmed by the crossing “N” of Daniel BOONE. But ’twasn’t to be…
I do love the way, though, the [Invisible] UNSEEN pair is followed on the same line by CASPER, that [Friendly ghost] (who’s sometimes seen…). A nice piece o’ serendipity. (Which I say as well of the way pet sounds “ARF” and “MEW” find themselves abutting one another up at the top.)
Finally, MIRACLE and ROSETTE [Prize ribbon feature] make for a beautiful pair going right across the puzzle’s middle.
Anything ELSE? Not today. Just the usual: keep solving and come back again next week. Oh. And stay hydrated!! No kiddin’.
Gabriel Stone’s (Mike Shenk’s) Wall Street Journal crossword, “Matter of Course” — Jim’s review
The “Course” in question is a golf course, of course. The first word of each theme entry is golf-related. Each theme clue gets an “of course” added to emphasize the wordplay.
- 17a. [Gardener’s asset, of course] GREEN THUMB
- 28a. [Unrevealed asset, of course] HOLE CARD
- 34a. [Oil rig worker, of course] ROUGHNECK
- 45a. [Casual top, of course] TEE SHIRT
- 56a. [Boston battle site, of course] BUNKER HILL
I can’t say this theme did a whole lot for me. In the end, it’s just a list of golfing words in the first half of the theme answers. Yesterday’s list, the double-D cartoon characters, at least conjured up fun memories of childhood glued to the TV. Today, you get the “course” wordplay, in the title (then again and again in each theme clue), but once you’ve figured that out, there’s not much else.
There also seems to be more below-par filler for a WSJ puzzle. LED IN and ACCT isn’t exactly a thrilling start. Soon thereafter we get the partial ON IN. And then there’s PTS crossing TDS, plural TEDS, ENS, TSE, CTR, and SRS.
The stress on the grid starts with the central themer. At nine letters, ROUGHNECK forces blocking squares to the right and left. This in turn causes pressure on each of the four corners. The result is a bit of a compromise: we get quite a bit of longer fill (6-7 letters) and a slew of 3-letters in the Down direction. These mostly just act as glue to hold the much better longer stuff together.
And don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of good fill here: TWOSOME, HOME EC, IN A SNAP, DARE NOT, ICE WATER, COME DOWN, GERTRUDE, KILL SHOT, REALIST. In fact there are six 7-letter non-theme Acrosses.
In the end, given the constraints and if you can look past the small stuff, the result is a net positive—good theme answers (despite a mediocre theme) and loads of good long fill.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Freeky” – Derek’s write-up
A themeless by Matt this week. A 74-worder filled with some awesome entries and a few, well, not so awesome ones! But when you get to include some fun answers, the dreck is a little easier to take. Tough crossing of 10A and 11D, and in the grid you see I had an error there! After guessing several letters, I finally picked the correct one! Still was able to finish in under 6 minutes, so it’s all good! 3.9 stars for this one.
Now for those highs (and lows):
- 10A [Beach resorts, Italian-style] LIDOS – There are lido decks on a cruise ship, I believe, but I am not fluent in Italian. Not my favorite.
- 17A [Words that follow “Damn it, Jim”] I’M A DOCTOR – Awesome quote! Timely with the release of the latest Star Trek movie!
- 44A [Filler phrase from Dangerfield, perhaps] I TELL YA! – Another great entry. Younger ones may not even know who this is, but he was hilarious. Watch Caddyshack!
- 50A [Internet routing digits (hidden in WASN’T)] ASN – This gimmick is popular in the Games magazine Ornery crosswords. I consider them gracious nudges! For a clue you would otherwise never get!!
- 55A [Enclosure for a major wrestling match] STEEL CAGE – MMA gaining popularity in this country as well, and they fight in an enclosed octagon
- 62A [Game where players catch … ah, whatever, I’m not interested] POKEMON GO – An ultra timely entry! I am with Matt: I REFUSE to participate in this crazy fad! I am still Candy Crushing …
- 1D [Cheech and Chong’s first movie] UP IN SMOKE – I feel ashamed that this was the first thing I filled in!
- 3D [Captain ___ (Groucho Marx’s “Animal Crackers” role)] SPAULDING – Too bad the basketball-making company spells theirs differently! A fairly common name; and this is probably one of the better ways to clue this.
- 11D [Crocus or freesia, botanically] IRID – Ugh! I had no clue. Another non-fave.
- 33D [CNN anchor of the 2000s] PAULA ZAHN – A name I haven’t heard in a while!
- 35D [Seat of Tom Green county] SAN ANGELO – Great clue! I thought/hoped it was named after the actor/comedian! Turns out he was a Confederate general!
- 44D [Place for “Holidays” according to a 2011 P.J. O’Rourke title] IN HECK – Looks like a must read!
All in all, a fun puzzle! Until next week’s Jonesin’!
Janice Luttrell’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Instead of a theme revealer somewhere near the end of the puzzle, this Tuesday’s theme is a little more of what we are used to. The four unrelated terms all end in a word that can be a synonym of some sort of ambush. Here they are:
- 20A [“SportsCenter” co-anchor] HANNAH STORM – I of course got this immediately!
- 56A [Extreme onset of anxiety] PANIC ATTACK
- 11D [Overdraft fee, e.g.] BANK CHARGE
- 29D [Caffeine jitters] COFFEE RUSH
Nice and neat; straightforward even. Lots of interesting fill as well. A solid 4 stars today!
A few notes:
- 1A [Willy Loman’s favorite son] BIFF – Why do I have Back to the Future in mind when I hear this name?!
- 9A [Site with a “Find a Doctor” section] WEB MD – I have used this site, or more particularly their app, a lot in recent years with all of my health issues!
- 27A [Microfilm unit] FICHE – The dictionary says it can stand alone, but I have always called it microfiche. It has also been literally DECADES since I have read one!
- 46A [Test for M.A. seekers] GRE – Stands for Graduate Records Examinations. I am working on a Masters in Accounting, but haven’t had to take this particular test. Yet!
- 51A [Cybermoniker] USER ID – A new clue for a common entry!
- 6D [Sister of Peter Rabbit] MOPSY – Haven’t heard this name in a long time, either! Wasn’t there a Flopsy as well?
- 12D [One who digs hard rock?] MINER – Also the mascot of UTEP!
- 40D [ ___ City: Baghdad suburb] SADR – Another name that I haven’t encountered in a long time. Much more prominent in crosswords during the Persian Gulf war, at least it seems that way to me.
Enjoy your week!
ESTES (park) would have been a phonetically better reveal for the NYT
I think ESTES is pronounced with two short e’s so that would not have worked either.
i think maybe i get a “close but no cigar” award:
Estes Park: ESS-tiss (in other words, it doesn’t rhyme with “testes”!)
Town, mountain, and lake named for the first permanent resident of the area.
Well, not only does ESTEE not work as the reveal for the reason Amy explained, but it crosses ESTES, which I assume is pronounced ess-tee[s].
It’s a good thing Little Nell died, otherwise her pain at losing her [blah blah] Dickens [blah blah] Little___ monopoly might have been too much to bear.
Not very exciting puzzle, true. I had no problem with ESTEE’s pronunciation at the time (I know an EStee, but she’s not famous), but you’re right that it’s uncommon and generally thought of as esTAY, which is confusing to people who would think of Estée Lauder.
I also agree that the long plurals were disappointing (sure things), but not as bad as the SEA TRIP, which, I agree, is not a thing. Like you and your hubby, I liked SNEAK THIEF and SOUL TRAIN.
TSAR vs CZAR: my impression is that when the word refers to White House appointees (Drug Czar, Ebola Czar, Overdue Library Books Czar), the CZAR spelling is standard, but if you’re referring to the actual people that used to rule Russia, then it’s TSARS. Makes no particular sense, but there you are.
And TZAR only when you’re playing Scrabble :)
I agree, the WSJ theme was nothing special, and there was a bit of “below par” :-) fill.
On the other hand, I thought all of the themers except TEE SHIRT were pretty good entries in their own right, apart from the theme.
I also like most all of the long downs, though HOME EC seems a little dated – they don’t call it that anymore, do they?
You’re right, they don’t call it that anymore, and I can’t remember now what it’s called at my kids’ schools. But we all know what HOME EC is, so I thought it was an okay entry.
NYT: For me, the large amount of S.T. phrases were lots of fun and nice for a Tuesday. Just as I sometimes like a movie with lots of jokes even if not all of them are winners, I do enjoy lots of theme answers if some are good. That said, Amy’s first paragraph is completely on target. As David says above, I hadn’t noticed the problem when doing the puzzle. In fact, some of my childhood classmates named Esther were called Estie sometimes, but that nickname is not the revealer, nor can I think of anyone famous with that nickname. It does look as though no one at the Times thought of how ESTÉE might be pronounced and whether it was an adequate revealer and theme.
Just looked at Jeff Chen’s XWord Info column. It seems that he noticed the ESTÉE pronunciation problem but made some inquiries – to whom? – and found some people who pronounce it S.T. As Amy says, ESTÉE is a rare name, so one wonders exactly who else has that name, but at least it looks as though one man at the Times was aware of the issue.