Stu Ockman’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Jenni’s out of town with sketchy wi-fi, so I’m doing Wednesday duty. The diagonal words in the circled squares are ROPE, LACE, WIRE, and CORD, and these link to the 15s, MAKE CONNECTIONS (clued without explicit link to the theme as [Network]) and THE TIES THAT BIND (clued as the revealer, [Shared beliefs … like this puzzle’s circled four-letter words?]). I have no explanation for why the center of the grid is entirely cut off from the rest of the grid except for the scantly clued circled words. Why can’t these ties bind a regular grid? I welcome an explanation.
The rest of the puzzle is basically unthemed, with those wide-open corners and the matrix of 7s in the center ring. (Are rings things that are often tied with wires, ropes, laces, or cords??) With the open corners intersected by those thematic 15s and the diagonal words, the fill’s flexibility is savagely limited. I mean, 16a. [Voiceless consonant like “b” or “p”], LENE?! No. This is a word that 99.5% of solvers will never have seen before. I know my crosswordese and I’ve read some linguistics stuff, and I’d never seen it. (And unlike yesterday’s wildly unfamiliar word, ORONYMS, I’m not at all happy to’ve learned LENE.)
Maybe the middle is a bagel. Or a weight plate. Gotta strap your bagel down.
Six more things:
- 3d. [Sans clothing], NAKEDLY. Nah. NAKEDLY is used more to modify things like ambitious, isn’t it? Who uses a nudity adverb? “They ran nakedly through the street”? No.
- 31a. [“Tarzan” actor Ron], ELY. Hey! This dude used to appear in crosswords a lot more often. It’s been nice seeing the name much less.
- Besides LENE and ELY, there’s WIS DYS RATA ESSO ORI PULLA ALTAI and plural YOS. Meh, I say. There’s also the woeful PRIER and STORERS. I dare you to go to any warehouse and find some employees who tell you that they’re STORERS.
- 53a. [Very different thing (from)], FAR CRY. I don’t think this word combo can run around without an “a” at the beginning.
- 9d. [How a lot of music got sold in the 1990s and early 2000s], ON CD. Terrible entry; I await its removal from constructors’ word lists. Did you hear that Best Buy will stop selling CDs this summer? (ONITUNES, ONPANDORA, and ONTIDAL would all be terrible entries, too.)
- 4d. [Whitfield of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”], SHEREE. I don’t watch any of the Real Housewives shows, but RHOA certainly spawns a ton of entertaining GIFs. I didn’t know Sheree Whitfield’s name, but there are absolutely GIFs of her!
I don’t quite get the point of this theme, why the grid and theme are laid out the way they are. The cluing vibe eluded me as well, and this one took me longer than many a Friday puzzle. (Just me? I did have an early start to the day. Maybe I’m tired.) 2.25 stars from me.
David Alfred Bywaters’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Vegging Out” — Jim’s review
Riffing on a recent WSJ puzzle titled “Inner Peace,” this one has us looking for INNER PEAS. Each theme answer has PEA spanning two words in common-ish phrases. The central revealer is clued [State of gustatory satisfaction exhibited by the starred answers].
- 17a [*Like beagles and bloodhounds] FLOP-EARED. I would normally say “floppy-eared,” but this checks out.
- 26a [*Diner offering] CHEAP EATS. Fun, lively entry.
- 50a [*Clayton Kershaw among MLB players in 2017] TOP EARNER. This was hard for me to parse because I had CONTEST at 29d [Arena event] instead of CONCERT.
- 60a [*Have a worry-free night] SLEEP EASY. Also good.
Bonus: Two more theme answers in the Down direction crossing other themers:
- 3d [*Feel blindly toward] GROPE AT. Meh. Not so good.
- 43d [*Gloucester’s setting] CAPE ANN. Nice.
I would normally like a punny theme like this, but a couple things ate at me. First, I feel the joke needs to be signaled in the revealer clue by adding “jokey” to the beginning or “jocularly” to the end of it. I don’t think that doing so would detract from the theme in any way.
Second, in my view, the theme is really weakened by the inclusion of a roll-your-own entry like GROPE AT — especially if it’s in the Down direction and you already have four solid-ish Across entries. (Even “GROPE AROUND” sounds more in-the-language.) I’d rather see that entry dropped and have the other entries shuffled around. With CAPE ANN being 7-letters long, it might work better in the central location. Since all the other entries are 9 letters long, my suggestion would be to drop GROPE AT and TOP EARNER and go with FLOP-EARED, CHEAP EATS, CAPE ANN (center), SLEEP EASY, and the revealer INNER PEAS at 60a. Not only do you get rid of two of the weaker entries, but you change the central entry from nine letters to seven (much easier to build around), and you don’t have the constraints in the corners where theme entries are crossing.
To be fair, those constraints are handled well in this grid, but they do result in things like DEY, IN RE, and SRI. I also had to dig around in the memory banks for SEPALS [Bud protectors], but it was in there thankfully. The most inscrutable entry however goes to 41d‘s REPINED [Complained, quaintly]. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word before nor do I care to again.
Another quaint entry: COOING with its clue [Billing accompaniment]. Apparently “bill and coo” means to kiss and cuddle and talk lovingly. That phrase is new to me, but based on some dictionaries, it looks as though it’s pretty old-fashioned.
The rest of the fill is okay, but there’s nothing flashier than ATM CARD and IRON ORE.
This wasn’t a bad puzzle, and I would have enjoyed it more, but too many theme entries, including at least one sub-par one, meant there was not enough room for fun fill. And the fact that the revealer didn’t identify we were looking for a pun, confused me to the point that once I realized the joke, it just wasn’t as humorous.
Erin Rhode’ AVCX, “Turn-Based Game” — Ben’s Review
This week’s AVCX puzzle is a grid by Erin Rhode that seems perfectly timed for this weekend’s upcoming start of the Winter Olympics. There’s not the usual strict theme structure in this one, but some (relatively) symmetrical sections of circled letters in the grid:
- Along the top, there’s JOSS in the left, SHARON in the middle, and EMMA curving around the right corner
- In the bottom half of the grid, SLY fills the left corner, with OLIVER nearby and MATT on the right.
- All of these are, of course, CURLING STONES, which also satisfies 38A’s clue, “Equipment used in my favorite Winter Olympic sport”.
I’ve met Erin tangentially through various National Puzzlers’ League and Mystery Hunt things, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that she likes curling. That made 38A pretty easy, but your mileage definitely might have varied there. Knowing that middle thing helped fit some of the circled letters more quickly. Not sure if it was on purpose, but it’s nice that all the top STONEs are women, and the bottom STONEs are men.
Here’s what else is going on, fill-wise:
- CASBAH was a fun bit of fill right at 4A
- OPOSSUMs! Sometimes they’re dead, sometimes they’re not, sometimes they scream at own ass.
- As it turns out, both GRAPEs and OLIVEs are “Vineyard fruit”.
- Lutz and Salchow are both EPONYMs. Lots of olympic-themed fill in the puzzle, which was nice.
- Reminder: HE/SHE is a “relatively gender-inclusive pronoun”, but there are still better, more inclusive ones out there that you should probably use first.
- Meredith VIEIRA‘s last name has one more vowel in it than I would have expected!
Roland Huget’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
Today we have a B?NG vowel progression theme. BENGALCUB is pretty contrived as answers go, and is the obvious weak spot. I would have preferred BENGALCAT (which is a domestic cat hybridised with an Asian Leopard Cat – they don’t make easy pets, FWIW) or BENGALTIGER itself, though that requires a longer BONG… entry – BONGOPLAYER?? Though that’s similarly a little arbitrary. The rest of the set are lively, particularly the central BINGEWATCHING with its [Cramming three seasons…] misdirection.
- OLDDEAR – “a patronizing term”… ageism. Yay!
- PRECOOL, [Remove field heat from…] that is super technical; I mean, I’ve studied pasture science, but yeesh. And it crosses TOC; a weird abbr. for table of contents. That was my last square.
- BROWN, [“Iron Chef Showdown”…]. That would be way down on my list of clues for BROWN…