Paul Coulter’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Ditty Don’ts”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Well-known song titles are clued as bad choices for commercial ditties.
- 22a [Stones song that would be a poor choice for use in an IBM ad?] GET OFF OF MY CLOUD. Cute. Conversely, Microsoft did use The Stones’ “Start Me Up” to advertise Windows 95.
- 36a [Twisted Sister song that would be a poor choice for use in a FedEx ad?] WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT. This one’s good for a smile as well.
- 52a [Beach Boys song that would be a poor choice for use in a Google ad?] GOD ONLY KNOWS. The relationship here is a little more tenuous. I don’t think Google purports to know all the information, just that it can find the information.
- 67a [Tom Jones song that would be a poor choice for use in a Christie’s auction house ad?] IT’S NOT UNUSUAL. True.
- 80a [Marvin Gaye song that would be a poor choice for use in a ReaLemon ad?] HOW SWEET IT IS. I suppose so.
- 95a [Bill Haley & His Comets song that would be a poor choice for use in a U-Haul ad?] SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL. I think a better choice would be another moving company (Mayflower, perhaps?) where the customer is not the one doing the moving.
- 116a [Elvis Presley song that would be a poor choice for use in a Sheraton ad?] HEARTBREAK HOTEL. And this would be better if there was a stronger connection between the hotel company and romance. And distractingly, it’s crossing another hotel chain: RAMADA.
I like this theme; it’s not big on wordplay, but it has good potential for humor, and humor, to me, means entertainment. Not all of these worked equally well, but enough of them did. It could’ve used at least one modern song for the youngsters though.
Fill-wise I’m liking IRON MEN, SNOW GEESE, HANDS-ON, RUBBED DOWN, FORTISSIMO, “OH NUTS!”, TEST LAB, SEA NETTLE, SAMOSAS, and AD NAUSEAM (which I always spell incorrectly as “ad nauseum”).
But there were a few more eyebrow-raisers than I’d like to see: BEMIRES [Covers with mud], SNORRI [Edda author Sturluson], SOTO [Florida representative Darren], SEDA [Jon of “Chicago P.D.”], as well as a too-heavy reliance on crosswordese: ONEO, OHO, TRS, ELIS, AGER, RHOS, ISMS, SST, ESSE, etc.
Did not know GATING [Boarding school detention] at all. Apparently it means to confine a student to school.
Clues of note:
- 13a [Baby bird?] is a fun clue for STORK.
- 49a [PX patrons]. GIS. This is true no longer. The old Post Exchange (PX) and Base Exchange (BX) are just called “The Exchange” now.
- 62a [Thai or Taiwanese, e.g.]. ASIAN. Why have “Thai” in the clue here when 26a is THAÏS [Massenet opera]? Sure, they’re different etymologically, but it’s so easy to go with a different clue.
- 77a [___-80 (old computer)]. TRS. A gimme for me since my brother would always complain about the “trash-80s” at his school.
Fun theme (unless you’re one of those Young-Americans and don’t know these old songs), some strong fill, but some detracting fill as well. Let’s put it right at 3.5 stars.
Andy Kravis & Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Aaah! The dynamic duo returns, with a Saturday puzzle that is either clued more like a Friday puzzle or just on my wavelength.
- 16a. [Acclaimed 1942 film banned in Germany until after W.W. II], CASABLANCA. Trivia! (I assume the people who continually bark about “trivia” being an unwanted thing in crosswords actually like this entry and clue, as they define “trivia” as “names of things I don’t know and don’t think I should be expected to know, because the only things really worth knowing are the sort of things I like knowing.”)
- 20a. [Stadium divertissement], KISSCAM. The kisscam stirs up a lot of trouble, but it’s fresh fill and I like the contrasting fancy vocab in the clue.
- 33a. [Measures taken to make golf courses tougher in the early 2000s], TIGER-PROOFING. I don’t think I’ve heard the term before, but Woods is newly relevant again after his Masters win last month.
- 53a. [“What a jerk!”], “SOME PEOPLE!” Every day, man. “SEE IF I CARE” is a different not-positive attitude.
- 57a. [Singer of the song “Shadowland” in “The Lion King”], NALA. The character in this summer’s “live-action” remake (not really live-action, just photorealistic animation) is voiced by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, and the new cast is singing most of the songs from the original Disney hand-drawn movie. Ya think that soundtrack will sell well? Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) plays the male lead, Simba.
- 13d. [Subject of the Supreme Court cases Loving v. Virginia and Obergefell v. Hodges], MARRIAGE. Both are important laws.
- 23d. [Conflict that saw the sieges of Ladysmith and Kimberley], BOER WAR. Never knew that the musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo had a place name in its name.
- 32d. [That’s the ticket!], CITATION. Cute clue. Less cute when you’re the one getting cited.
- 36d. [Bad choices in it might cost you an arm and a leg], HANGMAN. Oh, this clue is excellent. I feel like Sam Donaldson might include this in his annual Orcas listing of the year’s best clues.
- Other good fill: TRAIN STOP, ALL ALONG, VR (virtual reality) HEADSET.
On the (mildly) scowly side:
- 39a. [Like some barbecue], TEXAN. Except isn’t it just called Texas barbecue or Texas-style barbecue? “Carolinian BBQ.” “Kansas Citian BBQ.”
- SORE AT is one of those phrasal entries that feels less than crossword-worthy to me.
4.4 stars from me.
Brian Thomas’s Universal Crossword, “T Square”—Jim Q’s write-up
TOtally TOre this one up!
THEME: Two word phrases where both words start with T + Same Vowel.
- 18A [Bridge no-no] TABLE TALK. I know nothing about bridge, but now that I know
you can’t make idle chit-chat during play, I don’t want to know anything about it.
- 24A [Red Raiders’ school] TEXAS TECH.
- 39A [Boy saved by Scrooge] TINY TIM.
- 52A [Phone option] TOUCH TONE.
- 62A [Liposuction cousin] TUMMY TUCK.
This puzzle feels dated in both its theme concept and some of its actual entries. TOUCH TONE phones? Is that an “option” any more? Even ZOOT SUIT with its fun letters has some dust on it. Conde NAST, NOLAN Ryan (That’s NOLA with an N), Al HIRT, and Alison LURIE add to the age of the grid.
And is TATA a bonus theme answer? In a puzzle with this basic a concept, I’d be careful to avoid fill that follows a T (VOWEL) T (SAME VOWEL) pattern.
I do appreciate the vowel progression of the five theme answers, but I found this one rather bland overall. UBER X and I’M AN IDIOT gave it some life.
Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I tried at first to do the Downs Only, but this one was a bit too tough. The solve time is a tad quick since I DID start a Downs Only, but in the interests of time, I had to go with a standard solve. Some of the across answers I don’t think I ever would have gotten. Andy Kravis has been solving the LAT puzzles Downs Only on Twitch, and I do the same 7 puzzles weekly in a Downs Only fashion, so I am curious to see how he handles some of the across answers that I struggled with, some of which I will mention below. Great puzzle, though! I did thoroughly enjoy this one. 4.6 stars.
- 25A [Hilarious] & 44D [Barely] A HOOT & A SHADE – This is less than optimal, in my opinion. I believe partials longer than five letters are a strict NYT no-no, but starting any entry with “a”, even if it is common and gettable, seems not the greatest. And having two in this puzzle seems not fair. My only major gripe with this puzzle.
- 30A [Olympic figure skating gold medalist after Kristi] OKSANA – I remember OKSANA Baiul quite well. I think this name can also be spelled AKSANA, so she might be the only famous person with this spelling.
- 53A [It includes AAPL and MSFT] THE DOW – This is one of those across answers I had a tough time getting. It would have taken me quite a while to souse this out.
- 57A [Start] ACTIVATION – I actually thought, because of some Down errors, that this was ACTIVISION, the old game console! Classic overthinking!
- 62A [Giovanni Ribisi title con man] SNEAKY PETE – This one I SHOULD have gotten.
- 2D [Limp Bizkit genre] RAP ROCK – This is a thing?? I must be old, because this term is new to me.
- 7D [Pastry portmanteau] CRONUT – Now I am getting hungry …
- 11D [“Macbeth” brew ingredient before “Witches’ mummy”] TOOTH OF WOLF – Full disclosure: I had to look this up. I don’t know Shakespeare well enough to be proficient at it, and if I ever get on Jeopardy! this may be my downfall.
- 23D [Trattoria entrée] VEAL MARSALA – I have had chicken marsala, but not this. I will keep my eyes peeled the next time I am in an Italian restaurant.
- 27D [Wading birds with camouflage plumage] SNIPES – We used to joke all the time when I was younger about going “snipe hunting.” I was much older when I learned they actually exist!
Have a great Saturday!
Greg Johnson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Totally Stumped this week. Battered and bruised! I don’t know how these kids solve these extremely tough puzzles with just the Downs. Tons of good stuff in this one, and I am a big fan of Greg Johnson puzzles. I may start on next week’s Stumper super early. When is that day off that is coming?? 4.7 stars for this gem.
- 15A [Counterbalance] EQUIPOISE – I am ashamed to say I don’t know this word. How have I never heard this before?
- 34A [Iceland, originally] MOLTEN LAVA – This is really good, no doubt an allusion to this country being volcanic, with a still active volcano, I think.
- 41A [Cooler in the summer] ITALIAN ICE – I think of Fazoli’s when I see this entry, which is more than seldom. I am sure that REAL ones in Italy are much better!
- 48A [”I don’t believe it!”] “SON OF A GUN!” – This might be the best entry of the bunch! My mind kept thinking this phrase ended in LIE or LIES. Very nicely done.
- 62A [Reagan, for seven youthful summers] LIFEGUARD – Why did I think this was NOSE GUARD? Perhaps because Ronald Reagan, in Notre Dame country where I live, is arguably best know for playing the Gipper instead of being president!
- 10D [Ken Burns’ follow-up to ”Jazz”] THE WAR – In looking on his Wikipedia page at his filmography, he has made tons of documentaries that I don’t have time to watch!
- 11D [Buoy advisory] NO WAKE ZONE – This is definitely a thing, but I am not a big fan of being on the water. There are tons of lakes and rivers near me, but Lake Michigan is an hour away, and the oceans are at least a 10 hour drive from here.
- 23D [Name in the subtitle of ”Bond Bound”] IAN – This might not fool anyone. This is obviously referencing Ian Fleming, the original author of the Bond novels
- 28D [Steelmaking need] STEAM POWER – Is this still how it’s done today? It might be, since I see the pollution from Gary, IN each time we drive westward.
- 39D [What the Pony Express transported] MAILBAGS – This would be a NYT debut entry. Excellent.
It is supposed to be a beautiful day here in northern Indiana. Have a great weekend!