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John Westwig’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review
A striking grid today from John Westwig! Get it? Strike-ing? [wink wink wink… wink… bowling-related wink…]
Anyway, the giant X formed by black squares in the center of the grid isn’t just aesthetic — it’s also thematic. Four entries begin or end with the central black square in that X, and the X is a stand-in for some missing word. Like so:
- 8d, NEW YORK (TIMES) [Publishing debut of 1851, with “The”]. “X” can be the times/multiplication sign, and so NEW YORK becomes NEW YORK TIMES.
- 34a, MALCOLM (X) [Who said “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary”]. MALCOLM becomes MALCOLM X.
- 37a, (KISS) GOODBYE [Accept the sudden loss of, as an opportunity]. “X” can represent a kiss, and so GOODBYE becomes KISS GOODBYE.
- 39d, (CROSS) SECTION [Representative sample of a larger group]. “X” looks like a cross, and so SECTION becomes CROSS SECTION.
I have to admit that I liked this theme more the last time I saw it, but nevertheless the execution here is really excellent. There’s something very elegant about the four theme phrases extending directly into the X. It’s very unusual to have unchecked squares (that is, squares that appear only in a single entry rather than in both an across and a down entry) in a NYT crossword, but the four unchecked letters in this grid are very inferable. I think I would have rather had the final X stand for “ten” or “strike” rather than “cross,” but other than that I think the theme was spot-on.
And hey, the grid is pretty exceptional too! This is a 72-word grid, which would be a normal Friday word count. The four corners are wide open, and there’s some cool stuff in them: HOME BREW, “I’M BATMAN,” J.J. WATT, NERD CRED, CRIME LAB, U.S. MAPS. A lot of multiword phrases like DO TIME and GO FLAT and ON A RUN and ON FIRE. The rest of the fill is clean as a whistle, which is mighty impressive.
A few bullet points:
- New to me was the [One-named 1950s TV sex symbol] DAGMAR. Here she is, West Virginia’s own!
- In college, back when my metabolism was much, much faster, I used to enjoy a delicious Starbucks™ MATCHA Green Tea Frappuccino® from time to time.
- I liked seeing the parallel clues at 9d, [Lead-in to T, A or X] for MODEL and 55a, [Lead-in to X, Y, or Z] for GEN.
A lovely Thursday puzzle. Until next time!
Alice Long’s (Mike Shenk’s) Wall Street Journal crossword, “Jail Breaks” — Jim P’s review
This is a signature Mike Shenk-type theme that I’ve only ever seen from him. In this edition, four phrases whose first few letters (or last few letters) spell out a slang word for “jail” have those letters separated from the main part of the phrase by a block. The clue [Jail, informally] accompanies the slang word, while the main portion of the phrase gets the clue for the entire phrase.
- 17a / 18a [At the crack of dawn] BRIG / HT AND EARLY
- 26a / 30a [About 1 in 60 U.S. residents] NATIVE AMERI / CAN
- 42a / 43a [Rooms at the top] PEN / THOUSE SUITE
- 51a / 54a [Five for the faithful] PILLARS OF I / SLAM. Wait, what? SLAM as slang for “jail”? It’s “slammer” in my book.
I’ve done quite a few of this type of puzzle, so I recognized this one early on. Consequently, I didn’t get a lot of joy from it. I’m sure it’s fine for most solvers, but there’s no wordplay here, and at the end of the week, I’m always hoping for something different and clever. This doesn’t do it for me, especially when there’s a suspect entry like SLAM.
I do like that central vertical run from APE SUIT and DEBRIS, through AMADEUS, and down to MAHLER and STOMATA. Cool stuff! The other long Downs, NEGATIVE and TRUSTS TO, aren’t as interesting, but they’re constrained from having to cross two theme entries.
I’m not so keen in IPSE [___ dixit]. But I do like the board game Dixit, so that softened the blow. NIP-UP [Acrobatic spring] was another tough one to suss out, and I had to triple-check all of the crossings before going with that answer. I had no idea that move had such a name (maybe if my kids stuck with gymnastics I would) but I’m glad to learn that it’s not whatever the heck this thing is.
Clues of note:
- 5a [Bee’s nephew]. Got me. Once I remembered that it’s “Aunt Bee” and not “Aunt Bea,” I plunked down OPIE without a second thought. It took a while to realize she was also ANDY Taylor’s aunt.
- 9a [Penn or Pitt]. Not Pennsylvania colleges, but each of those is an ACTOR. Nice misdirection.
I’m not thrilled with the theme, but it’s a solid puzzle. 3.4 stars.
David Alfred Bywaters’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
I managed to grok this theme on the first entry, which is unusual for me. Phrases (and one word) with an OR in are reparsed to be A OR B and clued wackily. The results tended to the inane side of the wacky spectrum for me, though it was always going to be a tough land. I did enjoy the craziness of how WHEEL/OF/FORTUNE became WHEELOFF/OR/TUNE. I feel like that has to be the seed entry.
An oddly uneventful grid. Not too much in the highlights or lowlights column. A few chestnuts like EIS, ALB, and UAR but not too many. [It may run during a sad movie] for MASCARA is about as adventuresome as the clues got today…
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Double Team” — Ben’s Review
Fairly straightforward BEQ themer today:
- 17A:Comically large number, to some kids — A MILLION BILLION
- 34A: Propulsion devices designed for supersonic travel — RAMJET ENGINES
- 53A: “That’s not as cool as you think, pal” in some memes — THIS AIN’T IT, CHIEF
So, two singular forms of NFL team names (LIONS, BILLS, RAMS, etc.) in each theme entry. Straightforward stuff.
NYT: At first I thought that the unchecked squares would spell something, but I soon had to KISS that idea GOODBYE. I love that the letter X represents so many different things, both in the puzzle and in the wild. Kudos to the constructor for his execution of this theme, and I look forward to more from him.
My thoughts, exactly. Five stars for this STRIKE-ing and finely executed grid. I’d give TEN stars if it were possible.
My reaction to IPSE in the WSJ was just the opposite. It was a gimme for me (and because of general vocabulary, not crosswords), while I’d have hated having to know the game Dixit, whatever the heck that is.
The theme worked for me. At first I looked for a puzzle with more than one letter in a square (maybe because I like such things), with the words for jail as a nice feature of the fill, before making the connection. If you think of those alternatives as broad types of puzzles, there really aren’t that many, so hard to complain. My only objection would be to another pseudonym, female at that, for Shenk. I still think he should write full time and give up editing, since he brings so little to other setters.
NE quadrant of the NYT took forever– not sure exactly why. But I did get it eventually.
For the NYT, I’d my share of trouble with MATCHA, JJ WATT, MCGREGOR, and CLEARY, although I think I’d heard of the last of those. I don’t believe I’d heard of REPS as a verb of NERD CRED, but they were easy enough.
NYT: I put down FABIAN instead of DAGMAR with no crosses and was super-proud when the A’s “confirmed” it. I really liked the execution, which was clean and minimalist. I feel like too many themes are choking the rest of the puzzle of late… Did find the BOWDOIN/JJWATT cross quite vicious, though I guessed correctly and maybe it’s easy for Americains.
BOWDOIN is easy for one half of Americans and JJWATT is easy for the other half.
Hey! I knew them both. But then I’m only half American, you might say.
Sounds to me like you’re doubly American.
What an economically terrifying phrase.
Am I having a bad day or is today’s Spelling Bee extraordinarily tough???
I’m stuck too.
ditto. eventually reached “genius” level, but w/ exactly 97 points (and 25 words). not a point to spare and absolutely nuthin’ after that. not feelin’ much like a “genius” at all!
Wow – I’m impressed. Good show. After more than an hour and a half, I’m stuck at 84 (23 words). I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t hit the highest level. Oh, the ignominy!
Very tough one. Never heard of the words I missed. I thought PACA was a pretty common rodent.