Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Erik’s write-up
Erik here, stepping in last-minute for Jenni – I didn’t know it would be a Jeff Chen puzzle, or I would have tried to steal this slot from her much earlier. (He’s very good.)
This theme is what Jeff himself would call a WITT – a Wish I’d Thought of That. (I mean, he wouldn’t call it that in this case, because he did, in fact, thought of that. But it’s his term.) Four answers in the puzzle are words or phrases that have had a letter cloned in order to form a new, equally valid phrase, which is then clued as the old phrase. Why? Because we’re 59-Across: [Experiencing a vision problem], or SEEING DOUBLE.
The theme answers are:
- 22a: [Reality TV show, when 59-Across?] = AMAZING GRACE
- 28a: [Chilled, when 59-Across?] = OVER RICE
- 38a: [Aerate, when 59-Across?] = VENTI LATTE
- 53a: [“Possibly,” when 59-Across?] = DEEP ENDS
It’s super cool that the meanings of DEPENDS and especially VENTILATE change radically when you double one letter. I once read about how adding one single tessera can change the color of an entire region of a mosaic; this reminded me of that.
The puzzle was, clearly, crafted with great care. It was fun to uncover TRI-TIP, FLIP-TOP, PHENOM, BILGE RAT, CUE CARD (with the Clue of the Year contender [Line holdup?] – wow), HERESY, EXPONENT, THE FLASH, POWER UP, ANGELOU, and the funky-looking LSD TABS all without running into a single bit of objectionable fill (well, maybe NAS, given recent allegations).
I also appreciated some of the fresh cluing angles: [“When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool, that’s ___”] for AMORE and [Organ that Prometheus regenerated nightly] for LIVER were educational, [One with millions of Instagram followers, say] for IDOL is a pleasing mix of new and old terminology, and the word [Smithereens] (for BITS) always makes me laugh.
Head-scratchers for me: Why the ellipsis in [[That’s so … sad]] for SIGH? Also, re: the PUNS clue [The salon names To Dye For and Best Little Hairhouse (both real!), e.g.]: you mean to tell me Best Little Hairhouse was one of the two best punny salon names they could find in the whole world? I’m getting the proprietors of Combing Attractions, Hannah and Her Scissors, Scissors Palace, and Shear Lock Combs all together and we’re going to march on the Times building for this.
Anyway, great puzzle.
John Guzzetta’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “First Things” — Jim’s review
I’m not quite sure how to explain this theme, but I’ll give it a shot. Each of the four long theme answers in a pinwheel pattern features a starting ordinal number followed by a noun. That noun also follows other word(s) in the grid (as identified by the theme entry’s clue). The number of other preceding words is determined by the ordinal number. You got all that? It’s best seen through example.
- 17a [New burst of energy (after 7-Down)] SECOND WIND. 7d is TAIL clued as [It helps a plane arrive early*]. Clearly, this should be viewed as “Tailwind“. So I take it that Tailwind is the “first wind” and what? “SECOND WIND” is the SECOND WIND? That’s a little bit meta. It would make more sense to me if this theme clue referred to a second “wind” word in the grid (say, SOLAR) and called that one the SECOND WIND. But that’s a bit of a quibble and this approach would have added a bunch of extra constraints as we look at the other theme entries.
- 11d [Neither Republican nor Democrat (after 23-Across and 54-Down)] THIRD PARTY. 23a is PITY [Self-indulgent sulk*] (Pity party), and 54d is WAR [Group of raiders*] (War party). This makes “THIRD PARTY” the THIRD PARTY.
- 29d [Thing broken by Deadpool (after 13-Down, 22-Down and 51-Down)] FOURTH WALL. 13d is SEA [Wave blocker*] (Sea wall), 22d is FIRE [Network protector*] (Firewall), and 51d is CELL [It keeps the cytoplasm in*] (Cell wall).
- 56a [Unnecessary tagalong (after 1-Across, 44-Across, 46-Across and 37-Down)] FIFTH WHEEL. 1a is WATER [Gristmill turner*] (Water wheel), 44a is PRAYER [It’s spun in a Tibetan monastery*] (Prayer wheel), 46a is CHEESE [Hefty dairy buy*] (Cheese wheel), and 37d is STEERING [Both hands should be on it*] (Steering wheel).
Whew! As you can see, this conceit gets quite ungainly towards the end. If you’re one to follow and check on each cross-reference, then that takes a good chunk of solving time. I’m sure speed solvers were either annoyed by this or else they simply chose to ignore the cross references.
But despite the unwieldiness of the theme, I liked it. The long theme entries are strong (though I feel “third wheel” is more common than FIFTH WHEEL). It’s certainly something different, and it’s ambitious to try to squeeze in four long theme answers and 10(!) additional (albeit shorter) theme entries. Certainly this causes constraints on the fill, but I consider this to be a pretty bold construction. And the presentation of the theme answers in numerical order, from left to right and top to bottom, is an elegant touch.
The toughest of the fill, IMO, is 16a OH ME [“Heavens!”]. I resisted changing this from OH MY for most of the solve, but it caused 13d (a theme entry) to be SYA. I thought that maybe since it was a theme entry, SYA would be proved right somehow (via rebus or some other mechanism). It wasn’t until I fully grokked the theme that I reluctantly switched it to OH ME. Other lowlights include FER, FIE, HIE, UMS (I smell the blood of an Englishman!).
There are few sparkly highlights besides BOLERO, but most of the mid-range fill is solid: TEAR OPEN, DITHERED, ORNATELY, “I’M FINE,” T-BIRDS, etc. With all the theme fill spread through every part of the grid, I’d say John did a great job of keeping the dreck to a minimum.
Okay, time for the final test. The real check of this theme is ensuring there are no stray fill answers that could inadvertently precede one of the theme words. That means checking each non-theme entry against the four theme words. First up, ATOM. Atom wind? Atom party? Atom wall? Atom wheel? Nope. All good. Moving on…(62 words later) Hie wheel? Nope. All clear. The grid checks out.
I’m all for something different and I like the way John came up with and executed this unusual theme. The extra cross-referencing will be a barrier to some, but once I caught on to what was happening, I thought it was very clever. 4 stars from me.
Mark McClain’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
Today, we have a simple, yet stealthy them; with four synonyms for “absent”, and used in that sense, found at the beginnings of theme entries. I feel like I’ve seen something like this before, but with the down answers ignoring the absent words’ letters, on a later-in-the-week offering? It’s solid enough, with GONEFISHING my favourite entry. I wanted to link to “Gone Poachin'” bit from the Friday the 14th Episode of Only Fools and Horses, but I have been struggling to find it…
Bits ‘n’ bobs:
Crossing Asian take-away crossword-ese: [Asian menu general], TSO (his chicken is delicious!) and [Chinese menu promise], NOMSG. Worth noting: a) Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (supposedly caused by the G of MSG) has never been proven to exist, b) The G, glutamate, is naturally in many traditional components of Asian dishes, such as soya anyway, so MSG or no you’re still getting the supposed problem ingredient.
[Strauss’ “__ Heldenleben”], EIN. Always appreciate having the many gaps in my woeful classical music knowledge filled. Lessee… Here
[Vague lunch date time], ONEISH. A more fun answer than those trite ___AM/PM entries!
[“Fantastic” Dahl character], MRFOX. One of our stray cats has been dubbed, after a protracted standoff, after another Dahl character. A big orange feller, the initial suggestion of Kahuna did not meet universal approval. Neither did Lockheed (his admission code was C130). Finally, after nearly a week of wrangling, the cattery manager came up with BFG – Big Friendly Ginger.
[Day-__], GLO. Well, I did find a link to this Only Fools and Horses clip, which combines Day-Glo paint and a Chinese Restaurant…
Aimee Lucido’s AVCX, “Cardinal Humor” — Ben’s Review
We had a tricky 5/5 from Byron Walden last week, and we’re a few steps down the difficulty ladder this week with a 3.5/5 with Aimee Lucido. Groking the theme took me a minute, but it all made sense once I properly parsed how things were ALL OVER THE MAP, according to the revealer at 1A/43A/59A/91A:
- 20A:Dentist’s x-ray machine, colloquially? — PIEHOLE CAMERA
- 80A: Item found in a former horse-and-buggy shop? — ABANDONED WHIP
- 3D: Not sure whether to buy printer ink or the other thing you need for printers, but inclined toward the latter? — LEANING TONER
- 37D: Result of buying Christmas trees that don’t like each other? — FIRS FIGHTING
We’ve got a letter change in each of these – PINHOLE CAMERA, which appears in the northern part of the grid, becomes PIEHOLE CAMERA; FIRS FIGHTING appears in the east, and if its S were an E, it’d be the more sensible FIRE FIGHTING. Similarly, the S in ABANDONED SHIP becomes a W in ABANDONED WHIP, and the W in LEANING TOWER becomes an N for LEANING TONER. We’re ALL OVER THE MAP in a directional sense.
I didn’t love what felt like an overabundance of short fill in this one, but things like MAINLINE, LORAX, CHIMERA, CHEERIO, and NOODGE were nice bits of longer fill.
If you’re a fan of SERBIA (or any country that’s part of the European Broadcasting Union), definitely check out the Eurovision Song Contest this week – it’s a great chance to see what other parts of the world are doing with pop music, and it airs starting at 3pm in the afternoon EDT, so you can enjoy it AND have evening plans! More info on how to stream that at the link I provided.