Michael Paleos’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Dry Spell”—Jim P’s review
Another WSJ debut, and it’s another goodie. 53a is clued [“Instant” instructions, and how to complete this puzzle’s starred clues] and is answered with JUST ADD WATER. Said starred clues need the word “water” in order to make sense with the answer in the grid.
- 8a [*Ways] CANALS. Waterways.
- 20a [*Shed] TURNING POINT. Watershed.
- 29a [*Wings] FLOATIES. Water Wings. Love this clue/answer pair.
- 35a [*Logged] SATURATED. Waterlogged.
- 45a [*Loo] DOWNFALL. Waterloo. Tricky when comparing with the next answer since the clue as given makes you think of bathrooms in Britain.
- 64a [*Closet] TOILET. Water Closet. This is correct as both the phrase “water closet” and “TOILET” can refer to the room in which a commode is kept or the commode itself.
A most enjoyable theme since nothing made sense until the revealer provided the aha moment! And all the clues and answers are solidly in the language.
I enjoyed this for a personal reason as well. Back in 2011, I made an anagram-based puzzle geocache entitled JUST ADD WATER. You have to add the letters H, H, and O to a phrase to get a new phrase that answers the given clue. I’ve toyed with the idea of making a crossword puzzle using this idea, but never got around to it. Want to try out my puzzle? It’s still alive right here. And if you’re ever in San Antonio, you can still go out and find the cache.
Back to the grid. Aside from the nifty theme, the fill is equally lively with interesting 6s, 7s and 8s throughout: MARTINI, BASILICA, OPEN SEAT, CALICO, AMELIA, MULLET, TEARDROP, NESSIE, AGATHA, RED SOX, AT STAKE, PHOENIX, and TAX RATE. That’s quite the collection of fun fill.
Clues felt fresh, but these stood out from the rest:
- 32a [Brief glimpse of a star?]. CAMEO.
- 43d [Suns setting]. PHOENIX.
- 33d [So-called “party in the back” hairstyle]. MULLET. Ha! Had to smile at that one.
A very nice puzzle all around. Looking forward to seeing more from this constructor. Four stars.
Stu Ockman’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
The theme is Ping Pong, and I didn’t care for the puzzle. 37a. [Olympic sport since 1988] clues TABLE TENNIS, but then that answer serves visually as the table itself, but the answer isn’t TABLE TENNIS TABLE, the answer is the sport. It’s gotta be the table, though, because 30d. [Item depicted here] clues NET and it’s sticking up from the middle of TABLETENNIS. Rather uselessly, ATARI is added, 15a. [Its version of 37-Across was popular in the 1970s-’80s]. Then the other name for the game is split at the bottom: 63a. [With 65-Across, another name for 37-Across], PING / PONG. And to make constructing the puzzle more difficult without enhancing the fill, we’ve got BACKSPIN and SERVE bouncing across the table. Except! Reading from left to right, it looks like the SERVE comes after the BACKSPIN, and that just seems backwards. The BACKSPIN doesn’t seem at all backspinny to me, but what do I know?
Likes: NEWSCAST, PLUS ONE, PECANS. Dislikes: NO EAR and it’s near NO NO NO, GOA crossing NO EAR, DO I and NOT I, IN ON and ON A, ULAN, OLD ELI, MARMS, the dated vibe of TIEGS MEMOREX NAPSTER. Never heard of 48d. [___ Howard, first African-American player on the Yankees (1955)], ELSTON, but he was an All-Star 12 times in 20 years.
2.5 stars from me.
Gary Larson’s Universal Crossword, “Alternate Route”—Judge Vic’s write-up.
Starred clues have become a regular feature of Universal Crosswords. Here, it seems, they may be necessary because of 8-letter non-theme answers that might cause confusion otherwise. Here, we have a synonym theme with some creative elaboration.
- 17a [*Old computer storage device] ZIP DRIVE–The second word of the theme answer is key, as there will be four synonyms for it appearing hereafter.
- 23a [*Hog heaven] EASY STREET
- 47a [*”The Birdcage” co-star] NATHAN LANE
- 61a [*Caramel-filled candy bar] MILKY WAY–Okay, so we have drive, street, lane, and way–synonyms of road. Agreed? Now, here is the reveal:
- 37a[Robert Frost poem that hints at the starred answers] THE ROAD NOT TAKEN–Hmm. So, Frost’s title’s key concept is that a certain road was not taken. But didn’t Gary take his four roads and put them right into the puzzle? Maybe not, you say? Since each of the four road synonyms is used in a non-road manner …?
The other two horizontal 8’s are the rather bland ASSIGNED and the kick-butt ILSA DEAD LAST. Nothing longer than 7 in the verticals, those being FALSELY and DISCERN, and they accompany the shorter ILSA’s LA NIÑA, SAVE AS, and AD MEN.
8-10-15-10-8 is a lot of theme,
but … par for the course under the new regime.
Ben Tausig’s AVCX, “More is More” — Ben’s Review
After a few tricky weeks, the AVCX is back to 2.5/5 on the difficulty scale with a puzzle from editor Ben Tausig. This one’s titled “More is More” and applies recent slang with great effect:
- 17A: American march composer shreddin’ a gnarly swell? — SURFIN’ SOUSA
- 23A: Hysteria after outsiders learn the lodge’s secret handshake? — MASONIC PANIC
- 47A: Large ruminant who never buys anything at the sticker price? — BARGAIN BISON
- 56A: Prank a noted Greek philosopher with projectiles on Halloween? — EGG SOCRATES
- 36A: Over-the-top, in slang, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme — SO EXTRA
The extra SOs in the theme entries transform SURFIN’ USA, MANIC PANIC, BARGAIN BIN, and EGG CRATES into delightfully extra versions of their former selves. This was nicely timed for the week of this year’s Met Gala — the “Camp” theme of this year’s Met Gala and the ways the various attendees (and the design houses associated with their outfits) interpreted things are a great way of thinking what “extra” can mean.
Elsewhere in the fill, DAEGU took me forever to crack, probably because I was convinced “Waste space?” was somehow ONUS instead of ANUS. Similarly, I knew exactly what Ben meant with the clue “Place to stare resolutely at the wall for a minute, typically” and couldn’t get my brain to leap from “the bathroom?” to URINAL. I was very glad to remember that Georges PEREC wrote Oulipo lit (like that novel without any Es) without any crossings.
The appearance of Abba EBAN in the puzzle seems as good enough of an excuse as any to remind you that next week is the Eurovision Song Contest, taking place next week in Tel Aviv, Israel, following their win last year. Here’s my favorite entry from this year’s field of 41 entries, Hatari, who I hope I’ll be able to include in a themeless grid if they win. I assume the clue will be modified to “1962 Howard Hawks film”.
Happy Wednesday, all!
Sam Acker’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today features a basic puzzle theme – “words with”, in this case DRAW, made very busy by having six across answers, including stacked two pairs, cross the revealing DRAWCONCLUSIONS. The theme entries play out as follows: BADBREATH (DRAW BREATH), POWERLINES (DRAW LINES), EVENTCARDS (DRAWCARDS or DRAW CARDS from a deck?), VACANTLOTS (DRAW LOTS), CANNONFIRE (DRAW FIRE), and TRUEBLOOD (DRAW BLOOD).
Amy: I’m confused about why you think “serve” should come before “backspin.” Backspin is the adjective describing the kind of serve it is, so “backspin serve” makes perfect sense. Also, I know from reading your recaps for a while that word repetition bothers you. And I know that traditionally, such repetition is supposed to be verboten. I, for one, am glad to see this restriction starting to loosen. Why does it matter if there’s some repetition of words? It seems like such an artificial and needless restriction. Just like language itself evolves, so do crossword standards, and that’s good! That’s OK. Embrace the evolution.
regarding duplications: I feel the restriction is a useful constraint which ideally should help guide the solver. However, if a puzzle’s theme calls for it, some kinds of duplications are certainly acceptable.
Another “artificial and needless restriction” would be symmetry, whether it be rotational and/or bilateral. There are occasional exceptions to this as well.
Unlike the avoidance of word repetition, grid symmetry is no help for solvers. It does preclude or compromise many themes that could have been enjoyable. I hope that before long some prominent editor dumps the symmetry constraint outright. The NYTimes’ daily mini-puzzle often has an asymmetric grid (like a 5×5 square minus a 1×2 corner domino) and I doubt that anybody minds much if at all.
Expectation of symmetry is usefully exploited by some metapuzzles. This is obviously a rarefied circumstance.
I like the NYT! Light-hearted, fun, maybe a tad easy for a Wednesday but I enjoyed the solve.
NYT: It took a bit to compute, but I ended up liking the PING PONG Table with the NET sticking up and the ball bouncing on it, thanks to that BACKSPIN SERVE. Given all the constraints of the imagery, there was some so-so fill, but props for originality.
Loved the WSJ puzzle! Fun! Well Done!
Haters gonna hate…and I just didn’t care for the NYT puzzle. Too many compromises in the fill for a mirthless solve. BUSMAN! Crossing the horrible SOBERER. The clue for 34a is also not in my wheelhouse. Not to mention neighboring 36a which I mistakenly entered as REY. Either one or both of these could have been updated to a more current reference.
Jim P – My first thought was to add the letters H, H, and O to the entries. But that seemed a little extreme and clearly went nowhere.
I solved your geocache puzzle. It was fun! Thanks for sharing.
I don’t know, I really enjoyed the NYT. A “backspin serve” is a single entity, bouncing over the net. NAPSTER gave me fond memories, maybe MEMOREX does for some older solvers.
I mean this puzzle was clearly crafted to appeal to the Times’ table-tennis-fanatic editor but I thought it was a fun solve.
Agree with Gareth that the LAT has a cuckoo arrangement of themers, what with all of them going through the revealer.
Cuckoo arrangement, sure, but is that a bad thing? It doesn’t seem to sacrifice anything (the only bad fill by my standards are RDAS, ENL, and HAHS) and somehow manages to leave the NW and SE corners wide open for good, long fill