Tracy Gray & Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Celebrity Doubles” — Jim P’s review
This is Tracy Gray’s WSJ debut, but she needs no introduction; she’s had puzzles in seemingly every other venue. Congratulations, Tracy!
This theme was a lot of fun if you don’t mind name-based themes. (If you do, best skip this one.) Tracy and Jeff took famous first names and found their homophones. Some of those homophones were verbs and some were nouns. Somehow they found a way to pair them all up to make wacky but coherent fake tabloid headlines.
- 23a [Tillerson and Carson in major smashup!]. REX WRECKS BEN’S BENZ. Ha! Bonus points for having the names both associated with the same thing (the current administration, despite the fact that I abhor every stupid thing that administration does).
- 37a [Rains attacked by Dennings’s pets!]. KAT’S CATS CLAWED CLAUDE. I love how much logical sense this makes (despite the fact the two actors were never living at the same time). I didn’t know Kat Dennings’ name though I recognized her face. Among other things, she was a co-star of 2 Broke Girls which I never saw, and she played the daughter in The 40-Year-Old Virgin which I did.
- 45a [Donahue devours Sutcliffe’s cooking!]. STU’S STEWS FILL PHIL. Not many other Stus to use, are there? But whatever. The sentence makes sense.
- 63a [Swift’s outfitters give Cage a scar!]. TAYLOR’S TAILORS NICK NIC. I had trouble with this one because I could only think of Jonathan Swift. But again, the sentence makes sense because you can envision a tailor nicking a person with a needle, perhaps. Well, I suppose you would get pricked with a needle, but it’s close.
- 75a [Pearce’s act didn’t fool Foxx!]. REDD READ GUY’S GUISE. I love that the clue doesn’t always follow the same order with respect to the answer. Here, the first name in the clue comes second in the answer, unlike the next clue/answer pair.
- 87a [Midler and Langella embroiled in currency gambit!]. BETTE BET FRANKS FRANCS. Ha! Another good one; you can really envision this happening since both people are approximately the same age. I imagine them at Monte Carlo and through some wacky turn of events, she absconds with an arm-load of his francs and puts them all on red at the roulette table.
- 104a [Henning declared Disney’s dance a winner!]. DOUG DUG WALTS WALTZ. This one isn’t bad, but it’s definitely not as good as the others. In those, there is an inherent relationship between the homophones — a cat might claw, a Benz might get wrecked, a stew might fill, etc. But a waltz is not a thing that people usually “dig” (though it’s not inconceivable). And Doug Henning? The ’80s magician? I doubt people in their 30s or younger know him. (Oh wow, he died in 2000 of liver cancer at the age of 52. How sad.)
Despite that last one being not quite as good as the others, this is an amazing theme. To get six coherent sentences (plus one almost as good) using homophones of famous first names and to get them all to fit symmetrically is incredibly impressive. It makes me wonder what was left on the cutting room floor. Surely they must have had others that weren’t quite up to snuff.
But this is about as perfect a weekend-sized puzzle as I can think of (discounting any gimmicky themes). The extra space is definitely needed to make full sentences, and each clue/ answer pair was fun and interesting so that the solve never got to be a slog.
There aren’t many long fill items but I did like GENE MAPS, AT WORST, ARUGULA. FAKE ID, ENIGMA, and BARRIO. There are also some fairly stale short items as well (OSSA, NANU, DC TEN, LAIC, NOW I), but those are easily forgiven with a fun and fulfilling theme.
Clues of note:
- 21a [Maker of Tundra and Hopper coolers]. YETI. First time I’ve seen the cooler brand in a clue. I hear they are quality (and expensive) products.
- 28a [Duke’s lodgings?]. DORMS. Funny. Even while I was filling in the answer I was wondering what kind of Duke would live in a dorm. A Blue Devil Duke, I presume.
- 29d [Adjust, as a pillow’s stuffing]. PLUMP. I really wanted FLUFF here.
- 49d [Arc on a musical score]. SLUR. Musicians, care to edify us on this one?
- 90d [Obliquely driven, as nails]. TOED. New to me as well.
- 94d [Place for model citizens?]. RUNWAY. Cute.
A fun Saturday outing. 4.25 stars from me.
Erik Agard & Paolo Pasco’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Another puzzle with two great names in the byline! And a third great name in the center row—MICHELLE OBAMA. She’s clued trickily with [“Becoming” someone?], since Becoming is the title of her memoir.
Other stuff I liked: CASE-SENSITIVE. PERSONAL SPACE clued ungrammatically (I think) with [Mine field?], and crossing the related ALONE TIME. YEAR OF THE MONKEY—too bad this puzzle didn’t run in February 2016. DO SHOTS. MESOPOTAMIA. ALIBABA clued as the one-word [Chinese e-commerce giant] rather than the two-word name. CIRCUS ACT and its clue, [Stilted performance, perhaps?]. PRIVY TO.
Why on earth is 38a. OBS clued as [Dict. abbr.], short for obsolete, rather than for obstetricians? Blah.
Not keen on SLAPS AT, or those other entries like HIT AT and LAP AT and HAS AT. These are not good.
4.25 stars from me. A good Saturday puzzle, just enough challenge, very little junk.
Ryan McCarty’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
A super wide open grid this week. Only 62 words! That is the lowest word count of a puzzle I have blogged in quite a while. The broad corners and the stair-step middle are full of long answers and nothing is unfamiliar. 27A might be tough on some, especially if you’re not an electrician, but it’s a term you likely have heard before (see below). This was fun, albeit a tad tougher than normal. I think, gradually, these Saturday LAT puzzles have gotten a tiny bit harder. Which is a good thing, since they were a little too easy for a long time. Nice puzzle this week by Ryan McCarty, which I will rate a solid 4.7 stars.
- 27A [“Rabbit ears” antennae, e.g.] DIPOLES – Who uses these anymore??
- 33A [Washington team] HUSKIES – Oh, THAT Washington!
- 44A [Ones sniffing out trouble] CANINE UNIT – This answer got a big smile from me!
- 47A [Old cooking show with a Creole theme] EMERIL LIVE! – Ah, this brings back memories! To think this show has not been on for nearly a decade!
- 3D [Fruity refreshments] LIMEADES – I was going to say nobody drinks these, but I guess they do have these at Sonic!
- 11D [Standard deviation measures] Z-SCORES – Another great entry. Even though I never took statistics.
- 31D [Hearing-related] AUDITIVE – Meh. This is hard, since no one uses this word. At least in Indiana!
- 33D [“Why, sure!”] “HECK YES!” – Needless to say, I love this. Favorite entry in the grid!
- 37D [Digital camera insert, briefly] SD CARD – I haven’t purchased that camera yet!
- 38D [Steve of “Foxcatcher”] CARELL – I want to see Welcome to Marwen, but I don’t think it has great reviews.
- 42D [Like wetlands] MIRY – This is also bad, but in a 62-worder, if this is the worst you will see, I can live with it
That is all!
Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
I was totally Stumped this week. For sure. There were long stretches of time staring at a mostly empty grid. I still am not sure where Matthew Sewell lies on the difficulty spectrum, but I am thinking he might be working his way toward the harder end. Lots of good stuff in this 70-worder. Sometimes a puzzle can be TOO hard, but this one is hard enough that there is a nice feeling of satisfaction upon completion. A solid 4.6 stars for this one.
Some high points:
- 5A [Key combo starter] CTRL – As in Ctrl-Alt-Del when your computer crashes. Totally fooled fo a while.
- 14A [Drive-thru directive] ORDER HERE – Great clue. This is something you see all the time and probably don’t notice it. I had ENTER HERE, due to the focus on the drive-thru. There is an “Order Here” sign inside a lot of restaurants (think Subway!), and that I think is more common.
- 17A [Where to rise above it all] MT. EVEREST – There is no abbreviation indication here. Shouldn’t there be one??
- 26A [Virginia delegate in “1776”] LEE – I think this is referencing that big huge thick book by David McCullough that I will likely never read. Good clue for a common entry.
- 27A [Enthusiastic RSVP] “I AM SO THERE!” – Great casual phrase here! I need to add this to my word list if it isn’t there already!
- 33A [Expert posers] YOGA INSTRUCTORS – Best clue in the puzzle, and it happens to be the lone 15-letter entry. Very nicely done.
- 56A [Playwright admired by Voltaire] CORNEILLE – Should I be ashamed I don’t know who this is? Learn about him here. He has a lot of play names that can be used as grid entries – in a SUPER hard puzzle!
- 57A [Southeast Asian shish kebab] SATAY – I think I have eaten this recently. Perhaps. Time for some food research. And now I am hungry …
- 8D [Part of an office stack] LETTER TRAY – As in a stack of these trays? I suppose it works. Good misdirection, at least in my weird mind.
- 11D [Tennis pro who became a clothier] RENE LACOSTE – I put IZOD LACOSTE in here! Oops.
- 12D [Mystery venue on wheels] DINNER TRAIN – Sounds like fun. Let’s go!
- 23D [Code covering continental shelves] LAW OF THE SEA – This seems like a stretch, but it is gettable.
- 28D [Can’t catch a break] HAS BAD LUCK – Another great casual phrase.
It’s snowing here!! Aarrgggh!