Brian Thomas’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Springing for Drinks” — Jim’s review
It’s nice to see a new name in the byline! (I say “new” but I think this is Brian Thomas’s second WSJ appearance.) And I love this kid-focused theme!
The revealer is at 58a with the clue [“The Simplest Seuss for Youngest Use,” or what parts of 17-, 25- and 49-Across are]: HOP ON POP. I’ve read this book tons of times for my kids, so it was pretty much a gimme, but it sure made for a fresh, fun find.
But I was confused. I saw the theme answers and the synonyms for HOP, but I didn’t see similar synonyms for POP. I was looking for DAD or PA or things like that. It took me a few moments to realize we’re talking POP as in “soda,” which is what it’s more correctly called, amirite?
- 17a [Bar tenders?] BOUNCERS with BOUNCE right atop 20a [Pixie] SPRITE.
- 25a [Activity presenting a high bar to clear] POLE VAULT with VAULT atop 29a [Dominate] CRUSH
- 49a [The Summer Olympics are held in them] LEAP YEARS with LEAP atop 52a [Carbonized fuel] COKE
Two elegant features of note: The HOP word and the POP word are the same number of letters in each case (nice) and the POP words are never clued as the drinks. Oh, and the puzzle’s title is spot on perfect.
And yet, HOLY MOLY, there’s a lot of fun fill: LOOPHOLE, “GOTTA RUN,” BLOOPERS, PALOOKAS, VERTIGO, and MUUMUU, which makes me think of my grandmother. I’m not familiar with a POUR OVER as a type of coffee maker (3d, [French press alternative]), and TIPPED IN and TEAR OPEN are less exciting, but still good. (I feel like we’ve seen TEAR OPEN a lot lately.) Also good: YAKIMA, EGYPT, GEODES, PLINTHS, and the short phrases “SO SOON?,” “I DID IT!,” and “WHO ME?” That’s a lot of really fun fill.
There are some drawbacks of course. I think TMAN ought to be retired, AME comes out of left field (9d, [“Botch-___” (1952 hit song)]), and ISE is a less common suffix, but it’s partially saved by its Britishized clue [Suffix with colour].
But those are nits in an otherwise outstanding puzzle.
And the cluing added to the enjoyment:
- 13a [Head of Parliament?]. LOO. Love this! (Granted, Britain is not the only country with a Parliament.)
- 34a [Sensation after getting high?]. VERTIGO. Nice.
- 36a [Bust supports] is not BRAS but PLINTHS.
- 4d [They’re tough to argue with] doesn’t refer to people, but FACTS (although certain governmental officials don’t seem to have this problem).
I really enjoyed this puzzle which had more than one a-ha moment for me and plenty of enjoyable fill. 4.25 stars.
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Fireball crossword “Cutting Corners” —Jenni’s write-up
I love this puzzle. This may be my favorite Fireball puzzle ever.
As promised by the title, there’s something funky going on in the corners. I fumbled around in the NW for a while. I couldn’t figure out a four-letter answer for 1a [Shout “Aha!,” e.g.]. I entered BOLO for 20a [Western neckwear], which was unsatisfying, and FUEL for 14a [Give energy to], and rejected LEARS for 3d [Many corporate planes] and then the whole corner ground to a halt. I filled in RL STINE for 23a ]Author of the “Nightmare Room” series of children’s books] and it didn’t help, so I moved on.
The top center of the puzzle fell fairly easily, and then I hit the NE corner and nothing made sense. 10d [Sasha Fierce, for Beyoncé] couldn’t just be NAME, could it? Nah. I kept moving down to 28a [Vehicle outfitted with a flux capacitor], which is DELOREAN, of course. 36a [Mount ___, New York] was a gimme for a Westchester County native like me (it’s KISCO) and that took me to the geographic center of the puzzle: 38a [Run out of bounds in four places?] and I thought “Huh?” Dropped in a few crossings and realized it was AEIOU, so then I shouted “aha!” Seriously.
Each of the corners is a vwllss crsswrd. Fireball subscribers are lucky to get a vwllss crsswrd from Frank Longo at least once a year, and I always enjoy them. This was a great bonus. In addition, Alex found eight answers that contain strings of consonants to connect the vwllss corners to the rest of the puzzle. It’s a construction tour-de-force that is also a blast to solve. Did I mention that I love this puzzle?
So, the corners. The NW connects to the larger puzzle with the aforementioned RL STINE and 4d [Employer of Greta Garbo and Clark Gable], MGM STUDIOS. Then we have:
- 1a [Shout “Aha!,” e.g.] is XLCM (exclaim)
- 14a [Give energy to] is CHRG (charge)
- 17a [Stalemate] is LGJM (logjam)
- 20a [Western neckwear] is BLTS (bolo ties)
- 1d [Vegas Strip hotel with a moat] is XCLBR (Excalibur)
- 2d [Contemporary of Picasso and Matisse] is CHGLL (Chagall)
- 3d [Many corporate planes] are LRJTS (Learjets)
The NE connectors are 21a [What interviewees try to convey], STRENGTHS and 9d [Dunderhead], the delightful SCHNOOK.
- 9a [Balto, e.g.] is SLDDG (sled dog). More about him later.
- 16a [Not reduced] is CTLSZ (actual size)
- 19a [Supermax stint, say] is HRDTM (hard time)
- 10d [Sasha Fierce, for Beyoncé] is LTRG (alter ego)
- 11d [Distributed sparingly] is DLDT (doled out)
- 12d [Direction from Ulan Bator to Djakarta] stymied for a bit. I started with NRTH and eventually realized I don’t know geography. The answer is DSTH (due south).
- 13d [Thingamajigs] are GZMOS (gizmos), which would be a delightful answer even with its vowels.
The SW uses DR SCHOLLS and EIGHT PM to lead into the corner.
- 53d [2016 Ryan Reynolds film] is DDPL (Deadpool)
- 54d [Continues a subscription] is RNWS (renews)
- 55d [“Perfect” numbers] are SQRS (squares)
- 56d [Bumper sticker word made up of many symbols] is CXST (coexist)
- 59a [Novel that’s the source of “Hunger is the best sauce in the world”] is DNQXT (Don Quixote)
- 63a [Turns on, as a computer] is PWRSP (powers up)
- 66a [Run out of energy] is LSSTM (lose steam)
Finally, the SW corner has RIOT GRRRLS (a wonderful entry) and COURTTV, connected to:
- 58a [Field goal attempt that misses badly] RBLL (airball). Took me a minute to remember that there are field goals in basketball as well as football.
- 62a [Not made-up] is RLLF (real-life)
- 65a [Allow to go with no punishment] is LTFF (let off)
- 68a [Christmas tree, maybe] is SPRC (spruce)
- 50d [Place for a board game] is TBLTP (tabletop)
- 51d [Like 800 numbers] is TLLFR (toll-free)
- 52d [Rose Garden overlooker] is VLFFC (Oval Office)
This is long enough, so I’ll skip straight to what I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: the story of Balto, who was one of the lead sled dogs in a team that helped bring diphtheria serum from Anchorage to Nome to forestall an epidemic. It’s worth reading the story. According to Wikipedia, the journey involved 20 mushers and their teams, although Balto captured the headlines.
Thanks for a terrific puzzle, Alex and Peter.
David J. Kahn’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review
I don’t know whether David J. Kahn has a monopoly on tribute themes and hyper-timely themes or whether he’s just the only person pitching them, but he’s done a gazillion of them. Today’s puzzle falls into both categories: David has worked today’s date, MAY1718, into the center of the grid, but rather than parsing it MAY 17 ’18, it’s MAY 1718 [See 18- and 60-Across] at 37-Across. So let’s see those two entries:
- 18a, NEW ORLEANS [U.S. city founded in 37-Across].
- 60a, SAN ANTONIO [U.S. city founded in 37-Across].
Just those two entries plus the 7-letter (and -number) revealer would be an extremely light theme, so David has shoehorned in a couple of bonus themers:
- 11d, ALAMODOME [60-Across sight]. The ALAMODOME is in SAN ANTONIO.
- 33d, JAZZ BANDS [11-Across sights]. There are often JAZZ BANDS to be seen in NEW ORLEANS, but this feels like a fairly arbitrary choice made for the sole purpose of being a nine-letter symmetrical answer for ALAMODOME.
It’s a very nice bit of construction to get all the entries containing numbers to be fairly common (NOT 1 BIT, 7-UP, 1-LS, 8 BALL) and have nice crossings on those entries (BULB, RIPSAW). (I suspect some will disagree about how nice 1-LS is, but I didn’t mind it.) On the other hand, the factoid at the center of the puzzle — that SAN ANTONIO and NEW ORLEANS were founded in the same month of the same year — is mildly interesting, but I don’t think it’s meaty enough to hold up as a 15×15 crossword theme, even with the numbers in the grid and the superfluous theme entries running vertically.
Some lovely fill throughout, including DON’T ASK, BILL NYE, IN A WORD, POST-IT, and WALLOP. Lots of black squares to facilitate the trick in the center of the grid, so there’s also a lot of short, unexciting fill as well. I didn’t love the ILYA/MYNA crossing or AWNS, and the partial DAZS and the foreign abbreviation SRTAS weren’t ideal, but otherwise it’s about as smooth a grid as you could ask for.
Until next time!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “In A Fog” — Ben’s Review
It’s Thursday! Let’s puzz.
This week’s BEQ theme puzzle is titled “In A Fog”, which if you scramble the words around, tells you exactly what to do to parse each theme answer:
- 17A: Court debacle in Tehran? — IRANIAN MISTRIAL
- 27A: Hysterical line dances? — COMIC CONGAS
- 44A: “That Shirley Booth character’s female? Really?!”? — HAZEL A WOMAN
- 60A: Phrase of mock hysteria, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme — I’VE GOT THE VAPORS
This is…okay. Just okay. IRANIAN MISTRIAL and COMIC CONGAS are good, but HAZEL? A WOMAN? is really pushing it, and questioning someone’s perceived gender, whether the intent of the clue or not, is Not A Good Look. Also I had no clue who Shirley Booth was because I am A Millennial.
Wow this song’s central metaphor/choice of opening guitar riff has not aged well.
Besides a just okay theme, there was some really atrocious fill going on throughout the grid. Some of it was OVERT, like IN RE, FDIC, LOW PH, and MIAOW (“Persian cry” is a great clue, but a variant spelling of MEOW is some crosswordese BS). Other parts of it just felt overused in crosswords, like OMOO, H TEST, etc. Is PEREZ Hilton’s blog still a thing? Don’t answer that.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s crossword – Gareth’s summary
Words that are two repeated trigrams are attached to another word with that trigram within it – arranged so that the three trigrams repeat, creating a striking visual effect. Outside of DRABBERBERBER, it works; not a fan of that, as I can’t find much support for referring to a BERBER Carpet as just a Berber… Not saying I’m coming up with anything much better as an alternative… OUTBACKACKACK? PELICANCANCAN?
Even outside of the theme, with BONBON and BERBER, there are a few more B-heavy entries: BBB clued as the Better Business Bureau and golfer BUBBAWATSON getting full-name treatment; his second career as a rapper is… less stellar. (note the BIB.)
BABYSTEPS and BATINRUN cross three theme answers. The former is a colourful idiomatic expression; the latter is, at least, creative.
Hidden mini-theme: [“Beat it!”], SCAT and IMBAD.
[User of black lipstick, perhaps], GOTH. Is this still an extant subculture?
Fireball was brilliant. Can’t add much to Jenni’s excellent write-up, except to say it was nice to see the feminine form used in the clue for 37A. Also, nice mix of highbrow and pop culture.
John TYLER doesn’t go back quite as far as 1718, but born in 1790 he was around in the early days of the republic. His 15 children are the most for any president (not a record likely to be broken soon), but what’s also notable is that two of his children’s children are still alive.
“what’s also notable is that two of his children’s children are still alive.”
Pretty amazing– some great longevity genes in that family.
Longevity plus having kids late in life. We spread out the generations in my family too (my grandfather was born in 1869, my son, in 2005), but we’ve got a long way to go to catch the Tylers.
As said, it is the way things were back then. TYLER FAMILY TREE.
NYT: It was entertaining to know that these two cool cities were founded in the same year. I thought the puzzle was very well done overall, on the easy side and a good change of pace. IN A WORD: Nice!
(Most people don’t use “In a word” literally– Regrettable!)
Thanks for the nice words Jim! Tried to dump AME, but would have had to block off GOTTA RUN – figured the trade-off was worth it.
brian, congrats on an outstanding puzzle! that was brilliant.
In the NYTimes “Basset” and “aww” bothered me. As far as I know, basset is not a “pet” without adding hound after it. “Aww”, which I guess is a valid spelling, is rarely spelled like that, much more common as “aw”. Also didn’t care for the Ilya/Myna crossing as was stated in the commentary.
I agree. This form of entry rankles me. It doesn’t seem to bother Shortz. It pops up too often.
BTW, the first page of an online search result lists many Basset Furniture stores, one entry for Angela Basset and NO basset hound. Bing offers basset hound as an alternative search.
Unlike Andy, I did mind 1LS. It’s a cop out in an otherwise nice puzzle.
We have a basset and rarely say “hound.” If someone says “basset,” you already know it’s a hound.
And I respectfully disagree on AWW. The word is usually drawn out when spoken, so “aw” feels truncated. But anything more than two Ws feels excessive. AWW is just right (to me),
The subreddit for cute animal photos is r/aww
I thought it was a great puzzle.
Angela Bassett turns 60!! this year. With all due respect to Tina Turner (78) and Christie Brinkley(60+), has anyone aged more gracefully?
Great public tribute, nice.
I wanna see someone pull off the consonantless crossword.
Aye yai yai!
this has been done! will nediger did it for his bewilderingly blog last year. it was borderline unsolvable, but a work of art nevertheless.
In the WSJ print edition, the puzzle was a repeat of two days ago, and not “Springing for Drinks.” Major screw-up.
That really stinks, especially because it’s such a good puzzle from a relative newcomer. I hope Shenk and the Journal can make it up to him somehow.
Loved the Fireball, especially those long entries with the consonant strings. Such an elegant touch!
The only thing that I felt was off was that both the title and the revealer clue (the “out of bounds” part) seemed to indicate that there would be letters needed that would be beyond the grid’s boundaries. “Out of bounds” doesn’t just imply “missing,” but extending outside the grid.
But once I got passed that minor inelegance, like I said, I loved it.
took me a while to wrap my brain around that clue, too, and kinda came to like it quite a bit. like the puzzle itself. always welcome alex e-s’s byline.
but when did “sonnet” become a verb? 43A. [Composed certain rhymed poems] SONNETED. ouch. now see that there is a verb use. and it’s archaic. can’t imagine that either the constructor or editor was thrilled by this entry, but still… yeesh.
I thought the Fireball puzzle was just awful. Am I missing some sort of wordplay in the revealer in the middle? Why does “[Run out of bounds in four places?]” imply AEIOU? Is there some sort of wordplay here that I’m missing that makes this mean that the corners are vowelless? The only thing I could think of was FOULS -> VOWELS implies some sort of F to V wordplay, but there was nothing. There seems to be no reason to make those corners vowelless other than “because I can.” Nothing that hints at it or reveals that it is that way for a reason.
“Run” here is used as a noun to indicate a string of letters. “Out of bounds” means more “off limits” than it does “outside the boundaries.” So if you put those together and come up with AEIOU as the revealer, that should be enough to tell you that each corner is vowelless.
Ask I said elsewhere, I felt that the “out of bounds” part was slightly inelegant, but I can’t think of anything better.
Agreed. There wasn’t anything about the language here that even indicated that. It was just another confusing clue/answer pair in my solve of this one.
NYT 16A [1958 Physics co-Nobelist ____ Frank] answer ILYA
The English-language (“EN”) Wikipedia page for Frank spells this as ILYA. The French (FR) page spells it ILIA. Wikipedia pages with these country codes spell it “ILJA:” [NL, DE, NO, SV, PL, NN, FI, CS, ET, and others]. The official Nobel 1958 prizes page spells it as “IL’JA”.
Translating using Google from English to Russian, ILYA becomes ИЛЬЯ, but ILJA and IL’JA stay the same.
Tower of Babel indeed.
Loved the WSJ!
ALAMODOME is just another blah sports stadium, and I agree with Andy re its partner. The only flat notes in an otherwise interesting, if sparse, theme. THEALAMO is 8; there are a lot more tourist attractions in Crescent City (thanks NCIS), but most of the truly iconic seem to be more than 8 letters: BOURBONST is a 9, but abbreviating the ST is a bit of a cheat.
(And the excellent Gabriel Knight: Sins of Our Fathers)
I’m not against the idea of incorporating numbers into a crossword puzzle, and this one was done with an acceptable level of smoothness. But my issue with the NYT was the unbelievably boring short fill and subpar cluing.
Who the frak says “sore sport”? I’m an ESL person, so whenever I see a phrase I Google it before I get angry, because it’s very likely that it’s my ignorance. Guess what happens when you Google “Sore sport?” It says “Did you mean: sore spot” and shows you many pages with the phrase “sore loser”. Ngram results are even worse. [Expert spelling?] is another one that got a loud groan out of me. There were a few more but I’m not gonna go through all of them.
Anyway, I liked the foundation of the puzzle, but oh boy did it feel like it was rushed and carelessly done. 2.45 stars.
“…it was rushed and carelessly done.”
That’s exactly the feeling I’ve been having for some time, now. Many clues seem to me slightly “off” or controversial. Often, I believe, it’s an attempt by the constructor or editor to provide a new clue for well-worn entry.
Maybe it’s because of my skill level, but I found the NYT difficult but rewarding, although I found “One often saying hello, maybe” for MYNA to be maddening. Not smart enough to recognize bad short fill; to me it’s all tough.
I only recently discovered that MYNA is the common spelling. We have them all over, and everyone in Hawaii spells it MYNAH. Not a majah quibble, but it’s been a stumbling block in my solving.
20:09 with no bad squares for me, which has been about my average lately.
May 17 is Enya’s birthday. It’s neat that she appears in the LAT today, but it would’ve been so much cooler if she were in the NYT. :)