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!
lack of women in the wsj theme set is consistent with their 7 week streak of not publishing women constructors
There’s a lot of BEMIRING going on with that.
Good to hear someone else speaking up about this — thanks.
I think that Shenk makes fewer WFT??? cluing choices than Shortz — can’t be sure, because I only recently started doing the WSJ daily, but I think so — but the near-absence of women constructors is disturbing.
Amazing that these male editors who preside over appalling rates for female constructors aren’t asking themselves, “Why, when women used to contribute about 50% of the puzzles, am I publishing so few by women? Could there be something problematic about my outlook? Could I find the courage to acknowledge that I, like every other human on Earth, have long-established biases, and then after acknowledging that I have them, could I consult with women to learn how to do better?”
Never occurs to ’em.
Thanks for the mention of the 2 landmark Supreme Court cases on MARRIAGE, guys!
NYT: I appreciate the clue about SYRIA. Palmyra is amazing. I hope it’s still standing. I’m afraid to look.
And UCLA in the same puzzle! The combination with Syria takes care of a good chunk of my young life.
Struggled with the TIGER part of the TIGER PROOFING. Took a while of the penny to drop. That HANGMAN clue was awesome. Great puzzle!
LAT – The clue for 46d (Uppity) carries a lot of baggage. And not the la-di-da kind.
One of the silliest and stupidest decisions by the USGA and others was to TIGERPROOF courses. It was born of the conceit (particularly that of the USGA) that the U.S. Open course should never yield a score that is too many strokes under par. It had two principal impacts:
first, by making the courses longer and harder, it limited the number of golfers who were capable of winning on such courses (with Tiger at the top of any such list of those who could) and second, in a few notable tournaments, it caused the USGA to trick up the course to such a degree that it literally ruined the golf course and made it unplayable.
Another silly decision made every year is to take one or two 530-yard par fives for the members and call them par fours so there will be fewer birdies.
Age and a bad back are the keys to TIGERPROOFING for Tiger himself. The players today are incredibly long off the tee, have the benefit of great equipment and unbelievably great instruction that have combined to make many older courses obsolete. I doubt that anyone will ever move the needle as Tiger did in his prime and again when he won the Masters, but it will be difficult for him to keep up because his physical limitations make it hard for him to practice as much as he will need to to keep with Koepka, DJ and other modern power players.
This was one of the best puzzles of the year.
That was very informative for someone like me who knows so little about golf. It’s sad that age catches up with all creatures. I’m hoping whatever we (including Tiger) lose in stamina, we gain in wisdom.
Universal re: Bridge comment.
Jim Q, I realize how it might seem, but “no table talk” does not mean social chatter. It only refers to fairness and sportsmanship by not making comments about one’s bid or the contents of one’s hand that would give one’s partner info about the cards one is holding. That would be cheating. Sanctioned Bridge games may be more strict, but I prefer social duplicate Bridge.
The Stumper was very tough, and I made it harder for myself by having POLICECAR at 1A and EASTBOUND at 20A. It slowly became apparent that those couldn’t be right. I guessed that 15A must be EQU-something, and then the rest fell fairly quickly. Same with changing to EASTWARDS and guessing NOWAKEZONE, which I’ve never seen or heard of but it makes sense.
STEAMPOWER as a “Steelmaking need” is historically accurate but not today, I think. Most steel is made in electric arc furnaces, which are very energy-hungry but don’t involve boiling water.
I never heard of steam power in steelmaking. Originally coke was burned in furnaces to get high enough heat to get molten pig iron. There are new types of furnaces, but I don’t think steam could be hot enough to do the job. Please enlighten me if I’m wrong.
Yes, you’re right. I was thinking that early steel making involved steam-powered machinery but evidently not — unless you include machines for rolling it into plates and so on.
I wondered the same thing. Apparently in the 19th century steam engines were used to power blowers that forced air into blast furnaces used in the smelting process.
Derek, to souse something is to drench it; the noun souse is old slang for drunkard. To suss or suss out something is to grasp it (abbreviation of suspect, suspicion). I’m sharing this as one word person to another, not as a gotcha.
And please think about never ordering veal — the calves are raised even more inhumanely than other farm animals.
WSJ: I wish that the constructor had chosen four great song titles and made this a 15×15 instead. As soon as you figure out the theme — immediately — it becomes a dull solve.
If he had altered song titles in punny ways, he might’ve been able to sustain that for a 21×21, because each long answer would’ve given a new little bit of sizzle.
Speaking of chasing kids off your lawn, thank you for your gratuitous insult. But it should be obvious why that clue doesn’t feel unfair. It has an aha moment even before you have all the crossings. But even if you needed all the crossings, it would still be good. It’s the difference between “WOW, I never knew that!” And “The way this clue is written, I’ve no real chance of getting it if I don’t know it already.” It’s not about smugness about one’s knowledge base. Suppose it were a movie you’d never heard of. You would still feel “Hmm, I wonder what that movie is about that made the Nazis ban it.”
Actually found this to be one of the easier Stumpers.
This one doesn’t make sense to me however:
40A. She’s seen in middle names LENA
Kind of a cryptic style clue: middLE NAmes.