This week’s AVCX has a meta! We’ll write it up once the associated contest deadline has closed.
Jonathan Schmalzbach and Bill Albright’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up
I didn’t recognize either constructor’s name. Deb over at Wordplay informs me that Jonathan Schmalzbach last published a puzzle in 1998, and Bill Albright is making his debut. Welcome (back), gentlemen!
We have an amusing, unpretentious theme, with a bit of piquancy and a crisp finish. It would go well with seafood.
Four of the theme entries have pun-ified someone’s first name. Wackiness ensues:
- 17a [Nickname for a glitzy author?] is JEWELS VERNE (Jules Verne).
- 25a [Nickname for a clumsy composer?] is CLOD DEBUSSY (Claude Debussy).
- 39a [Nickname for a sloppy painter?] is TOOLOOSE LAUTREC (Toulouse Lautrec). I would bet this was the seed entry.
- 51a [Nickname for a fiery philosopher?] is BLAZE PASCAL (Blaise Pascal).
If they had only given us those four, dayenu! But we get a revealer, too. 62a [Classic hairstyle … or a hint to the puns in 17-, 25-, 39-, and 51-Across] is FRENCH TWIST. All the theme names are Frenchmen. An elegant, satisfying theme.
A few other things:
- 3d [Jigsaw, e.g.] is not a puzzle. It’s a POWER TOOL.
- 9d [Kind of bike or kayak] is TANDEM. I married into a family of white-water racers, and it took me a while to realize that when they said “K-2,” they weren’t talking about a mountain.
- 19a [It contains M.S.G.] is NYC. The M.S.G. in question is Madison Square Garden.
- 23a [ [Don’t touch my bone!] ] is GRR. I love this.
- 36d [Rush-hour] is DRIVE TIME, a term I learned from WKRP in Cincinnati.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Prime Minister NEHRU was called “Pandit.”
Julian Thorne’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Startups” — Jim’s review
Another day, another pseudonym, another Mike Shenk grid. This makes five of the last six WSJ puzzles going back to last week. The only non-Shenk grid was the Friday contest puzzle which happened to be a Gaffney (it typically alternates between Gaffney and Shenk, er, excuse me, “Marie Kelly”).
This feels excessive to me. One of the ideals we hope to see in crosswords is a variety of voices that represents the solving public. We’re not getting that at the WSJ where there is a very high editor-to-everyone-else constructor ratio. I don’t think it’s usually quite as high as it has been in the last seven days, but it’s still up there.
For the month of May, not counting the Friday contest puzzles, I tallied 8 out of 12 that were under a Shenk pseudonym. That’s 67%, slightly better than the current week’s example, but still.
I’ve commented on this before, where I counted 68%, but most people seemed to shrug it off or defend this practice. More recently though, much of the crossword community (at least on the constructor side) has been focused on getting more involvement from under-represented groups. Well, at the Journal, when 66% of the puzzles come from one individual, everyone else is an under-represented group.
It would be one thing if pseudonyms were not involved, then everyone would know who the constructor really is. But with all the pseudonyms, it feels like deception — a ruse that the Journal maintains a healthy relationship with a vibrant community of constructors.
I admit I don’t know the facts behind this. I don’t know the working situation at the Journal. I don’t know how many submissions they receive or what quality they are. But I know what it looks like from the outside. What it looks like is that the editor is choosing to publish his own work (at $200 a grid) over other constructors 66% of the time. Now, I’ve met Mike Shenk and he is absolutely very nice, and his stature in the community is legendary as is his constructing ability, so I have difficulty squaring how this looks with my impression of him and what others have told me of him. If there’s a practical explanation for this, it sure would be great to hear it.
As editor, it’s Mike Shenk’s prerogative to put forth any grid he feels is up to the Journal’s standards. But as one of only three daily newspapers accepting freelance puzzles, it sure seems odd if the Journal isn’t getting enough quality submissions, given the number of constructors and wannabe-constructors that we know to be out there. I’m just hopeful that in the future he can find more of a balance and allow other voices with fresh ideas to be heard.
Here’s your puzzle. UPS has made a delivery to your front porch.
- 17a [People who go crazy for improving business trends?] UPSWING NUTS
- 27a [Parade’s favorable aspects?] UPSIDES OF MARCH
- 42a [People who hope for a surge?] UPSWELL WISHERS
- 56a [Titles on newspaper stories about end results?] UPSHOT HEADS
Jared Tamarkin’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
The revealer is rock solid – SILVER (chemical symbol Ag – Argentum) LINING means the first and last letters of three themers are A and G respectively. That’s a pretty broad brushstroke, so we expect choice morsels: ALLNIGHTLONG (his sheer volume of hits meant I flailed a bit with that one; he had a US number one each year from 1981 to 1985, as it happens.); ADMITNOTHING both fit the bill. AMERICANFLAG is unimpeachable.
Four twelves is not an arrangement most constructors would prefer. It puts two theme entries only one line from each other (as 12 letter answers can’t go in the third and thirteenth rows). On top of this has EVERY/CLOUD thrown in as a bonus.
The most unfamiliar thing to me was EBLAST. It Googles a heck of a lot better than things like EMAG, but I’d like to hear from you guys if it’s widely familiar or not before passing judgement. It crosses 3 themers – see above. Also didn’t know CORA-as-a-surname, but contemporary TV is not a strong point, and again she seems to have a decent resume to be a crossword answer.
There’s a vintage music mini-theme with COLE, LES Paul and ELLA and Louis…
SOTU was a first for me as a crossword answer, which is surprising given the useful letters.
2.75-3 Stars depending on which way the EBLAST cookie crumbles…