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?