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 …