Randolph Ross’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Doing Backflips” — Jim P’s review
Our theme entries are phrases that include the word “back.” However, that word does not appear in the entries; instead, the word immediately preceding “back” is written backwards.
- 23a [Home of the Bloomin’ Onion] TUO STEAKHOUSE. Outback Steakhouse.
- 44a [It may gain a yard] RETRAUQ SNEAK. Quarterback sneak.
- 58a [Dude ranch recreation] ESROH RIDING. Horseback riding.
- 83a [1963 Kingston Trio hit] NEERG DOLLAR. Greenback Dollar. Don’t know this one.
- 94a [It might have an updated epilogue] REPAP EDITION. Paperback edition.
- 122a [Oscar-nominated Ang Lee film] EKORB MOUNTAIN. Brokeback Mountain.
- 15d [Tale of redemption] EMOC STORY. Come-back story. New phrase to me.
- 16d [Venomous viper] DNOMAID RATTLER. Diamondback rattler.
- 52d [Salesman’s offer] YENOM GUARANTEE. Money-back guarantee.
- 82d [Undersea singer] PMUH WHALE. Humpback whale.
I enjoyed sussing out this theme, but I know this gimmick’s been done before, and I feel like it was done recently. I found a Paolo Pasco example from the LAT four years ago, but I want to say I’ve seen it more recently than that, though I can’t find it.
My big problem with the execution of this theme is the decision to place some entries in the Down direction. In my book, there’s no way that “back” means “up.” And so I want to read the D0wn entries as “diamond-up rattler” and “hump-up whale,” e.g. I felt that was a big negative factor to this puzzle.
And the surrounding fill didn’t do anything to redeem it. Entries like random-sounding TWO DOTS and ART BOOK, roll-your-ownish DOUSER and RAILERS, and alphabet soupy AAU, HHH, HI-Q, FSLIC, RNR, and ELP all served to weigh the grid down.
I did like a few things like SLUSHIE, “NICE TAN,” and GO DARK, but those were few and far between with 10 full-length themers dominating the grid.
My favorite moment in the solve was at 34d [Admission of inability]. Even though the answer was I CANNOT, the clue immediately brought to mind my then-2-year-old whenever she couldn’t do something she desperately wanted to do. With the weight of the world on her shoulders, she would shake her head, and with a sigh and all the seriousness a 2-year-old could muster, she would proclaim, “I can’t do it.” The rest of us got such a kick out of her solemnity that this quickly became a catchphrase in our house whenever any of us tried and failed to do something. (Rest assured that the 2-year-old is now a happy 10-year-old who excels in school and is engaged in many activities from robotics to musicals.)
But back to the puzzle. I think it would have been better served with fewer themers (preferably after excising entries that have been seen in other grids) and keeping them all in the Across direction. This would have allowed for a more open design and presumably fresher, funner fill. As it is, three stars from me.
Andrew Kingsley & John Lieb’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Long week, long day, short attention span.
Fave fill: HOTLANTA, MAROONED (I like the verb), MINOTAUR, GROUPONS, PIXIE CUT (roughly what I have), FLEXTIME, CARPACCIO (try the zucchini variation—it’s delicious), MANSCAPING, DOMINATRIX (alarmingly beside a POLE AXE), A LOT TO ASK, and PANSEXUAL.
Didn’t know: 43a. [“State Fair” director Walter], LANG.
Worst crosswordese: It’s a tie! 33d. [People on the case, for short], TECS. First I had ATTS, attorneys. Then I had DETS, detectives. But it’s tecs, old-timey slang of some sort for detectives. 3d. [Some prep school wear], ETONS. I suspect those collars or what-have-you aren’t worn in American prep schools, and the British don’t refer to Eton College as a “prep school.” Bleah.
3.8 stars from me. Good night!
Trent H. Evans’s Universal Crossword, “Once Is Enough”–Judge Vic’s write-up
How redundant can a theme be?!
- 17a [Evacuation, redundantly] MASS EXODUS
- 24a [Result, redundantly] FINAL OUTCOME
- 40a [Outlook, redundantly] FUTURE PROSPECTS
- 52a [Unite, redundantly] JOIN TOGETHER
- 65a [Extra, redundantly] ADDED BONUS
Two 10’s, two 12’s, and a 15!! That’s ambitious. No room for much else on the horizontal. On the vertical, though, with nice cluing, we get AMAZON ECHO and DATA MINING. Plenty enough, if you ask me. A solid, clunkerless, 3.5-star effort!
Christopher Adams’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
We have a theme! I didn’t notice it at first, but after scanning for things to discuss, I noticed something that tied the three long entries together, other than them all being proper names:
- 16A [Leader of New Netherland before it was renamed New York] – PETER STUYVESANT
- 31A [“The Card Players” artist] – PAUL CEZANNE
- 48A [Historical role played by Sally Field in 2012] – MARY TODD LINCOLN
Get it? Peter, Paul and Mary were a singing group, and I am a little surprised younger ones know who they are. Are they even still alive? Anyway, a great puzzle even without having a thematic element; this was a wide-open 68-worder that was fun to solve. I was not rushing on this one, I think, which was why my time was over 7 minutes. Or maybe it was a little harder than I remember. A solid 4.7 stars for this one.
More fun things from this puzzle:
- 14A [Runs off, in a way] – XEROXES – This might actually be the best clue in the grid, since your first mental picture doesn’t have anything to do with a copier!
- 19A [The __ Man: Major Arcana card] – HANGED – I don’t know tarot cards that well, nor do I want to.
- 20A [“Nixon in China” tenor role] – MAO – Is this an opera??
- 46A [Homer, in baseball lingo] – GO DEEP – There has been some flack about baseball slang recently, but this is certainly an acceptable phrase.
- 5D [“Whose Line Is It Anyway?” host Tyler] – AISHA – I haven’t seen this show in a while, although I am sure it is still on somewhere in syndication. She is really funny and talented.
- 9D [Couples of golf] – FRED – This clue, I think, was designed to be tricky, but I watch more golf than most, so it wasn’t too hard, in my humble opinion.
- 17D [Like film in a camera] – UNDEVELOPED – Who uses film anymore????
- 31D [Coconut source] – PALM TREE – I get this, but is there such a thing as a coconut tree, or are coconuts purely the fruit of the palm tree? Hmm. I will research this WHEN I AM IN THE CARIBBEAN at the end of the month!!
- 33D [Nuclear reactor need] – COOLANT – When I hear this word, I think of radiators.
- 42D [2007 #1 hit for Alicia Keys] – NO ONE – If you didn’t see Alicia Keys on the Grammys last week, you missed a treat. Go to CBS.com, find the Grammy show, and fast-forward to the 1:12 mark and watch “Club Keys”. I am so jealous of her musical talent! If there was a good YouTube video, I would have posted it.
Have a splendid weekend!
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
This one stumped me. I haven’t had this much difficulty on a Stumper in quite a while. I was literally going to redo this puzzle in another solving app so you wouldn’t see all of the error marks. But I will be honest and display that I had all kinds of problems, especially in the lower left corner. This one was brutal, made me feel stupid, and I was highly frustrated. Part of that is solving joy isn’t as great when you have a blogging deadline, especially on these harder puzzles, but I get the grids in plenty of time, so that usually is not an issue anymore. There were some highly stressful Saturday mornings a few years ago when I am staring at a blank grid at 9:00 am wondering how I am going to finish!
So if you found this puzzle hard, I can relate. I would classify this as nothing less than a struggle. I really hope I see someone doing this downs-only on Twitch and see how they do. Although when I say that, they only make me feel even more inadequate in my solving skills! A solid 4.6 stars for this headbanger!
Stuff I simply didn’t know:
- 1A [Tool for updating bulletin boards] – TACK CLAW – What is this??
- 17A [”Taste the Explosion” snack] – POP ROCKS – OK, I DO know this, but I didn’t know the slogan.
- 28A [The bright orange tangor, for one] – CITRUS HYBRID – A tangor??
- 40A [Verb from the Latin for ”quibble”] – CAVIL – I am digging out the dictionary …
- 57A [”Conquering” Nike shoe brand] – CORTEZ – Conquering? I think I am missing something here. Now that I Googled it, I do remember this Nike style now.
- 63A [Get real] – SEE SENSE – I do not know this phrase.
- 64A [Spicy Dutch cheese] – LEYDEN – I do not know this cheese!
- 1D [Score __ (golf stat)] – TO PAR – I mentioned in my LAT writeup today that I watch more golf than most. Technically, this is correct, but it is rarely used, and caused me fits.
- 37D [Newest AL team] – HOU. – The Houston Astros recently moved to the AL to even out the divisions, and they now have interleague play throughout the year.
- 40D [[Turn over, pls]] – CONT. – I have seen “Cont’d” as an abbreviation for “Continued” at the end of a page. I think I tried COT’D or something at first, trying to shoehorn my idea into four squares!
- 41D [State Department expert] – ARABIST – If I did know this word, I surely forgot it.
Time for a nap …
WSJ…my SE corner was different from the one you posted. Probably due to the ill-advised clue at 112 A = Skin for a cap
Ugh, did they seriously do that in print? I solved it on Across Lite and the clue was [Eccentric fellow] for COOT. Someone must have gotten in their ear and alerted them at least to change that corner online.
I wonder what the rest of that corner looked like, because that’s not a simple change to make.
Actually, only 3 words were changed. Obviously 112A to “coot”, 127A from “snarly” to “starve” and 131A from “tandem” to “honked”.
Well that’s interesting. I just solved the paper puzzle that was delivered to my driveway this morning, and I got the COOT/STARVE/HONKED version. Maybe regional variation?
The original clued puzzle is still available on the WSJ.com website.
I’m confused. What was the answer to the controversial or ill-advised clue you cite that was removed?
NYT: I agree there’s lots to like in this puzzle. It went well except for the Northern Cal spot with the New Age musicians and Downton Abbey character, which did not readily bubble up.
My nit is with the cluing of ERASED. Memories are not necessarily erased in certain types of amnesia, they are not accessible for a while. A suggested modification for the clue: “Like *some* amnesiacs’ memory”.
During my first year in the US, I had a ski accident and had amnesia for a few days. It was especially disorienting as I was in a new country on my own (as a grad student) without a network of family and friends to help trigger any memories. They floated back in bits and pieces, but I never recovered the last few hours before the accident…
I don’t know if Brian Eno ever looks at crosswords (he’s probably very tired of seeing himself in them so often) but if he looked at this one he would be highly unhappy to see himself described as a New Age musician.
Huda — I had the same thought about ERASED but wasn’t sure. Glad to see my suspicion confirmed.
Yes characterizing the producer of two seminal albums for both Talking Heads & U2 this way is ridiculous.
Doesn’t matter what the clue is. If it’s music, it’s ENO or ELO. Yawn.
Seriously, there was a lot in this puzzle I didn’t know, including as usual things that Amy labels familiar favorites. But all was gettable, and I enjoyed it. Besides, I now know another meaning of SCALAR, which to me just means not a vector (or also not a tensor, but never mind).
ETON could also refer to a jacket, and I don’t mind thinking of that or the collar as kind of preppy, even if it’s not a mandatory uniform. Not so sure about it as a stand-alone noun, though, apart from jacket or color.
I finished the Stumper except for the SE corner, which I couldn’t get into at all. I guessed BEAT rather than BEST at 56D, EPA instead of DEA at 61D, and that was it. I have no idea about SORTER = “indoor transportation system” — referring to a post office sorting system, maybe?
LAT: Derek, coconut trees are indeed a thing; they are one species of the palm family. There are many other types of palm, including the date palm. I hope you enjoy your research into this matter later this month!
And while conducting your research, remember not to to park your car or otherwise hang out underneath a coconut tree. Falling coconuts do real damage.
I will find a helmet! And I will try to give a full report on my coconut tree research!
WSJ: I really enjoyed this clever puzzle with its wealth of interesting theme entries, and do not share any of the reviewer’s criticisms. My take on the “back” issue is this: since crossword words can be entered either horizontally or vertically, you will obviously spell a “down” entry backwards by entering the letters in the upward direction. I thought it was quite clear and worked just fine.
The bias may be inherent in those who’ve solved cryptic crosswords, where reversals in across clues tend to be indicated by ‘back’, ‘left’, ‘west’, et al, while down clues feature signals such as ‘up’, ‘rising’, ‘north’, and the like.
My driveway has a pronounced slope: When I back in, I am literally backing UP; when I back out, I am literally backing DOWN, but I still say that I’m backing up. It’s probably best to keep one’s contexts distinct. 8)
Agreed. This reviewer could be less subjective in his reviews. Opinion does not necessarily reflect quality.
LAT: Derek, Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary are both alive and well. Mary Travers died in 2009. While they were at their peak in the 60’s they were still performing until shortly before Mary’s death. I’d like to think there are still young people who have heard of them even if only through their parents.
Can someone shed light on the answer to 10D (RES) in today’s Saturday Stumper? It emerged from the Across fill, but I can’t make sense of it. Thanks!
10a [B’s, in A] RES.
Others would know for certain, but I suspect it’s from the solfège, presumably in the key of A? Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti. Then, pluralized.
I had no idea as well but googled around on this and it seems like it’s a musical thing. In the key of A, the B is the second note, so RES as in the plurals of the notes do, re, mi.
Why is it “B’s” in the Stumper clue? Shouldn’t it be “Bs” as in “the Bs in the A scale”? Tough, nice puzzle.
Nice NYT puzzle and worthy of five stars just for using Brian Eno’s full name! That was great to see.
WSJ – How do you know RiRi and Macca but not Yeezy?
Good point, Greg!