Leonard Williams’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Taking Sides” — Jim P’s review
I didn’t recognize the byline, but Mr. Williams has had grids published in the NYT and elsewhere off and on since 2001. This is his first publication (that we cover) since 2017.
And it’s an unusual theme. I don’t think I can recall seeing anything like it. The revealer is in two parts, starting at 50a: [With 64-Across, the political spectrum, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme], LEFT, RIGHT / AND CENTER.
This is subtle, but you’ll notice that each theme entry starts with L and ends with R. And you guessed it, in the exact middle of each entry is a C.
- 17a [Shot blocker] LENS COVER. Great clue there!
- 25a [Tailgating sight] LAWN CHAIR
- 33a [What a J.D. might pursue] LEGAL CAREER. Hmm. This feels a bit “green painty” to me. And unfortunately, there’s an extra L in there.
- 43a [World Series time] LATE OCTOBER
I can’t say this theme wowed me, and it didn’t help me solve the grid since I didn’t figure it out until afterward, but I did find it mildly interesting. I admire the consistency in the theme answers, and the exactness in each entry. The one stray L is unfortunate, but I had a look at other potential themers, and there aren’t a lot of choices to go with. I’m not saying that this ruins the theme, but it is slightly less elegant than if the only Ls, Cs, and Rs were the thematic ones.
I did enjoy a lot of the long fill, especially BLOWHARD, HAVE A BEER (crossing the tailgating LAWN CHAIR), CITI FIELD, and LETTERED. Along with REACH-IN [Basketball contact foul], that’s a lot of sports-related fun (and yes, I’m including HAVE A BEER in there as well). Plus there’s STEPH Curry, a New Jersey DEVIL, and sports-tickery CLE. Where’s Ade when you need a “sports will make you smarter” tidbit?
Not so keen on IRAE, plural TADAS, and OCR. Actually, I don’t mind OCR [Text-scanning abbr.] so much (it stands for Optical Character Recognition), but it is pretty technical fill that has limited appeal.
Geek alert! The only Kirk I could think of for 4d‘s clue [Kirk’s son] is of course James T. And we all know that his son is DAVID as seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Sadly, this name didn’t fit. But wait, Kirk is a last name, so we need David’s last name which is not Kirk, but MARCUS (as he is also the son of Dr. Carol Marcus). Strike two! I needed the crossings for this entry and still I didn’t see the light. It took some post-solve cogitating to realize the clue was wanting MICHAEL Douglas.
And that’s all I have. An interesting, though not especially exciting, theme today, but a lot of strong fill, especially if you like sports. 3.6 stars.
Will Nediger’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Okay! I don’t have a clue what the theme is. I need to review the theme clues and see what’s what. There were a lot of cross-references in the clues, but I didn’t actually look at the x-refs, just filled things in via crossings and judicious use of pattern recognition.
- 20a. [Pre-22-Across], FOREWORD. 22a is the verb 47a. Pre-50-Across, and a preamble is a foreword.
- 26a. [Pre-29-Across], AUGURY. Pre + DICTION.
- 42a. [Pre-44-Across], DICTATE. Pre + SCRIBE.
- 47a. [Pre-50-Across], EARLY. Pre + MATURELY.
Nice 8/5/6/7/7/6/5/8 symmetry layout occupying four rows in the grid.
Distracting x-refs unrelated to the theme: 46d. [Brunch partner of 47-Down], STEAK / 47d. [Brunch partner of 46-Down], EGGS. You can keep the steak (away from me).
Top fill: PERKED UP, HAND-PICKS, RAN SCARED, COLSON Whitehead (whose novel, The Underground Railroad, I’ve not yet read). In the debit column, UPPED (intersecting two theme answers) across the grid from PERKED UP, and not-so-familiar OCULI ([Eyelike openings]), SOU, AGAR, SERTS.
Overall, played like a standard Wednesday puzzle in terms of difficulty … and if I’d slowed down to understand the theme while solving, I might have actually finished a smidgen faster. But who cares? My competitive goals for ACPT are to acquit myself decently and come out ahead of anyone who annoys me, not to shave enough time off my solves to return to the top 10.
3.9 stars from me.
Kevin Christian’s Universal Crossword, “Pay Attention!”–Judge Vic’s write-up
I really liked this puzzle. The theme is executed with clues that are statements by which someone advises or admonishes another. Each such statement is followed by “e.g.” The answers, then, are 2-word ILSA’s normally used in contexts other than as stated in the clues. Got it? If not, you will:
- 20a [“You’re about to rear-end that sports car,” e.g.?] SPOILER ALERT–Hitting the car in front of you spoils it, in a way, whether it’s a sports car or a land yacht. It also spoils your day.
- 34a [“Cigarettes are dangerous,” e.g.?] SMOKE ALARM–Yes, they are; yet youth continue to take up the practice at an alarming rate.
- 41a [“We need to tone down the decorating,” e.g.?] BUSY SIGNAL–Does too much decoration lead to criticism that the decorated thing or area looks busy? Does tone, as here used, tie in to busy–as in dial tone, kissing cousin to busy signal? Why not simply [“You’re doing way too much work!,” e.g.?]
- 56a [“Don’t mess with Berry’s ‘X-Men’ character,” e.g.?] STORM WARNING–This one’s perfect. I wonder if it was the germ?
Each of these made me laugh (well, for one, it was more of an audible smile). I appreciate that in a theme! Down answers of note, positive and negative, include:
- 4d [The North Star can be seen with it] UNAIDED EYE–My first thought was “Green paint!” Then I looked in Ginsberg. This answer has been used twice before–in a 2000 LAT and a 2007 NYT, both themeless. That’s how stuff gets into word lists used by cruciverbalists. I’m not fond of the answer. Unaided has a prefix and a suffix, and, in the normal course of human events, no one says, hears, writes, or reads unaided eye. People think, say, and write naked eye. Which, of course, doesn’t fit.
- 30d [Germany, for Einstein] OLD COUNTRY–… Now, this is a great ILSA! If you stay in the nation in which you were born, you might go through life and never use it. But if you associate with people who’ve immigrated, you might hear it a lot. I have neighbors who are from Dagestan, Spain, France, and Croatia. They speak of the old country.
- 33d [“Nice to meet you” preceder?] IT’S SO–The ? signals trickery or wordplay. I get where that’s coming from, but it’s weak. And not really funny. I think I’d prefer [“___ nice to meet you!”].
I mentioned humor in Monday’s review. I’ll mention it again today. And Friday, too, probably. IMO, 5-10 non-theme answers should be written so as to let the solver laugh. Or at least smile. The only one I see, other than 33d, is 29d [Was flaky?] SNOWED. It’s mildly funny, but …. How about [Produced chilly powder?]? Or [Came down with a white coat?]? There can, and should, be both brevity and humor in a good crossword.
Good work! An enjoyable solve. 4 stars.
Anna Gundlach’s AVCX, “Ancient Capitals” — Ben’s Review
First off: look at how gorgeous the grid for this week’s AVCX is, just in terms of shape. And it’s a themed puzzle! The fact that it also sort of evokes a large capital Z makes me like this puzzle even more, and I liked what was going on under the hood:
- 17A: Number of people walking down the runway at Fashion Week? — MODEL TALLY
- 24A: Intramural softball clubs for bull-human hybrids?? — MINOTAUR LEAGUES
- 35A: What Creed uses to hydrate between rounds? — BOXING WATER
- 44A: Where to park yourself for a sampler at the local craft distillery? — BOOZE TASTER SEAT
- 53A: One-stop shop for discount pictures of soup cans, Elvis, etc.? — WARHOL MART
This is a pretty simple theme to explain (each answer has a letter of the Greek alphabet added to turn it from a standard word/phrase into something less common), but it’s executed beautifully. MOLLY, MINOR LEAGUES, BONG WATER, BOOSTER SEAT, and WALMART all get an upgrade into the answers above.
RIP Peter Tork of The MONKEES
Things I liked in this grid: pointing out many college grads (self included) are IN DEBT, MOOG synthesizers, SEDER, the confirmation that including a Q in this grid would mean you had ERRED, and noting that BANANA candies are uniformly gross in taste.
Bryant Shain’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
The “anagrammed words across two words in the theme answers” has become pretty common, although it always feels like the last resort when something more direct won’t work. The revealer, SHUFFLEBOARD, is on the nose however. Rather than the letters of BOARD, different ___BOARD answers are hidden in the circled squares. This gives the theme a bit more variety: ARDT is DART; FSUR is SURF; ESSCH is CHESS.
- [“Ducky” Mallard’s alma mater, on “NCIS”], ETON. For a show with 20-odd seasons that was frequently #1 in the ratings, we sure aren’t required to know as much about it (generally) as say, the Simpsons…
- [Technically flawed comic poetry], DOGGEREL. The longer downs are mostly one-word. However, colourful vocab like this is never not welcome.
- [Skewered meat], KABOB. I favour the KEBAB spelling, but it’s usually this one? SOSATIE is the more common term here, a cognate of SATAY (I only recently connected those dots!)