Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Mirror Images”—Jim P’s review
Jeff brings us a really interesting theme today. First off, notice the grid has left/right symmetry. If you were to find all the puzzles with left/right symmetry in recent years, you’d most likely see Jeff’s byline above them.
Second, notice the similarities between pairs of clues and answers in the grid. Certain pairs of clues are intended to be exact opposites of each other, and their answers differ by one letter: Ls appear in the words on the left side of the grid, and Rs appear on the right. Pretty nifty, eh?
- 3d [*People employed at the starts of battles] COLONELS and 9d [*People employed at the ends of battles] CORONERS.
- 4d [*Played an impeding role] STALLED and 8d [*Played a leading role] STARRED. Minor ding in that “leading” and “impeding” aren’t really opposites.
- 33d [*Causes of some good stick situations] MOLASSES and 37d [*Causes of some bad stick situations] MORASSES.
- 42d [*Brought down] LEVELED and 43d [*Raised up] REVERED. This is the best and cleanest pairing.
I like the theme, but trying to turn some of these words into opposites made for some tortured cluing. “Good stick situations”? COLONELS as employees only at the starts of battles? And I’ve never heard of a coroner being involved in the aftermath of a battle.
But I’m willing to suspend my disbelief a little bit because I think it’s pretty cool what Jeff found here. The more interesting entries are the ones with multiple Ls and Rs in different places (COLONELS/CORONERS, LEVELED/REVERED).
Further, I really like the fill in the middle between the L and R words, especially CLIPART and CLOSURE since they use those key letters. I would put LEGER [Cubist Fernand] in this category as well, but frankly, I just don’t know the name.
With so much theme material, the rest of the fill is there mostly in a support role. And unfortunately, there were some nits that could be picked there as well:
- 1d GOES UP is too similar to the clue for REVERED [Raised up].
- 10d [Transitional figures] clues APEMEN. At least the recent MISSING LINK puzzle had the word “hypothetical” in the clue. I would clue this with respect to the Planet of the Apes movies.
- 51a [Declarer of a no-Trump contract?]. IVANA. This clue tries way too hard to be cute. Bleh.
Fave clue goes to 30a [Something a little fishy, perhaps] for ODOR.
Overall, though, the theme is front and center here, and I like it. 3.75 stars.
Rich Proulx’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
The theme revealer is 49a. [Monuments of classical antiquity … or what literally is missing from this puzzle], SEVEN WONDERS. There are seven grid entries that are incomplete, needing the word WONDER to make sense:
- 8a. [Longtime product with a “Classic White” variety], BREAD. Wonder Bread.
- 35a. [Popular lingerie item owned by HanesBrands], BRA. Wonderbra.
- 58a. [Big superhero film of 2017], WOMAN. Wonder Woman.
- 15d. [Bad artist to re-sign to a record deal], ONE-HIT. One-hit wonder.
- 25d. [Miraculously effective medicine], DRUG. Wonder drug.
- 32d. [Domain of the Queen of Hearts], LAND. Wonderland.
- 38d. [He said “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision”], STEVIE. Stevie Wonder.
Fave fill: SLOW JAM, LEMON DROP, J.D. POWER, CRONUTS, TREVOR Noah. Least liked: TARE, AGIN, DADA ART, DEFACER, OISE, KOR, ASYLA, ALF.
Four stars for the theme, 2.75 for the fill.
Evan Mahnken’s Universal Crossword, “Er …”—Judge Vic’s write-up
Hmm. The title is “Er …” and the theme answers all end in “er.” (As do ROKER, HEXER, MER, WHITENER, FEDERER, and USER). What’s up with this? Hold that thought. I’m going to try to think and analyze as I go.
- 17a [Concept artist for Abercrombie & Fitch?] SHIRT DRAWER–Pronounced the same way as the artist, this phrase names a sliding unit in a bureau where one might keep his or her tops, right?
- 24a [New dad with a picture in his wallet?] BABY SHOWER–Pronounced differently from the dad, this phrase is a party for an expectant mom or a new mom, right?
- 34a [Fibonacci?] ENDLESS SUMMER–(And I’d been hoping never to have to look up fibonacci!) Pronounced the same as the made-up name of an Italian mathematician/eponym of the Fibonacci sequence or series (a series of numbers in which each number (the Fibonacci number) is the sum of the two preceding numbers)–now, where was I? Oh, yeah!–Pronounced the same as this mathematical thingie, this phrase, which is so cool conceptually, presumably because a zillion kids every year pray that the season we call summer will never come to a conclusion so they won’t have to go back to school, that it’s been used as a title for songs and albums and movies.
- 44a [One hauling a box of white piano keys?] IVORY TOWER–Pronounced differently … metaphor for an academic’s office.
- 53a [Elsie the Cow?] MILK PITCHER–Pronounced the same … container for a common household drink.
So, … theme answers are ILSA’s with actual definitions. Theme clues are punny definitions. Three require no change of pronunciation. Two require that the familiar au̇ sound of shower and tower become ō. What to make of this? Is it inconsistent? Or does it offer a full-house (3-2) split as to the possibilities? And is there more to the connection between title and body than the themer’s er endings? And what is to be made of the ellipses in the title? Just asking.
Other stuff of note:
- 1a [19th-century light source] GAS LAMP
- 14a [Queens neighborhood that’s also an Oregon city] ASTORIA
- 58 [Out of it] IN A HAZE
- 1d [Be audibly shocked by] GASP AT
- 11d [Keep social justice in mind, slangily] STAY WOKE–This was new to me.
- 12d [Common toothpaste component] WHITENER
- 34d [Latish bedtime] ELEVEN P.M.–Latish by whose standards? I don’t consider it late until at least 11:59 p.m.
- 35d [Period when the EPA was founded] NIXON ERA
- 37d [Sushi fish] AHI TUNA
Nice puzzle. 3.7 stars.
Parikshit S. Bhat’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
LIFECHANGING is a clever, punchy revealer. That said, I feel beyond saturation point when it comes to “rearrange letters and hide them in the middle of entries” themes. The entries are solid enough: REDEY(EFLI)GHT, BODYO(FLIE)S, IFE(ELFI)NE and TIT(LEFI)GHT.
The most obvious thing that felt personally irksome for me was the choice of cluing in IFEELFINE, THEGAME, and ISPY. All are specific things: Beatles song, rapper, and TV show, but they are instead clued as a vague phrase and two partials, one seven letters. That said the decision was probably made to keep down the difficulty level of the puzzle.
The grid design is quite taxing, particularly for a simple theme: bookending 12s (the first themer and the revealer) mean you get one less square of breathing space between your themers. And then to go with four themers as well means only one line between each. That’s putting a TON of pressure on the whole grid.
Wyna Liu’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #39” — Ben’s Review
Wyna Liu has today’s AVCX puzzle, and I was SO excited when I saw that byline today. I had the absolute pleasure of sitting next to Wyna at the Indie 500 last weekend, and we had a great time talking and solving. She is a delightful human being, and if that wasn’t enough, she also writes kick-ass themeless puzzles AND makes awesome geometric jewelry.
This was a TOUGH solve, but absolutely rewarding. Let’s poke around under the hood:
- Some great cluing and fill was present in all the longer acrosses — BURY THE LEDE, OPPOSITE DAY (“Playground occasion which seems to negate its own existence”), and SUMMER HOUSE (“Second place, say”) in the upper corner, and PR NIGHTMARE, LIE DETECTOR (“Non-fiction device?”), and OTIS REDDING (clued with the perfectly misdirecting “‘Respect’ singer”) in the lower corner.
- Today I learned that a LAGOON is defined as a “Body [of water] formed by barrier islands”, and that LIDEE is a French animated film with an electronic score.
- I kept trying to make “Tart filling, in two ways” LEMON CURD, but GOAT CHEESE fits well there too.
- I really liked the way the cluing in this puzzle bent otherwise familiar fill into less-known shapes, the way you’d expect a puzzle that’s 5/5 in difficulty to do. I know Superman’s cry is “UP UP and away”, but I wouldn’t have thought of it immediately as a “directional reduplication”. I thought calling a BERG an “Off-the-shelf object” was clever as well.
- This is the second time in recent memory I’ve seen CEE-LO Green clued in relation to “Forget You” and I’m SO OVER IT. He’s also the vocalist on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”!
OTIS REDDING wrote and performed the original, but this will always be Aretha’s song to me.
This puzzle was challenging, but I really dug it, and I hope you did too.
nyt: liked the theme after the fact, but tbh did not realize what it was until the end – some how got by fine just thinking that the answers were actually just “bread” and “drug” and that there was some big movie called “woman” i didn’t hear about. i’m checking now and can’t figure out which 7 of the answers contain wonder.
i liked that the fill had some fun longer words (slow jam, never let me go, cronuts, yew trees, lemon drop), though not without its fair share of answers that were more unsatisfying (asyla, agin, nyuk, dada art, peleg)
NYT: Does the reveal imply the SEVEN WONDERS of the Ancient World are *all* missing? Might come as a big surprise to the folks in Egypt…
Also, cannot recall a 15×15 in recent memory with so huge a part (NW) not involved with the theme!
I honestly thought the theme was going to be “No Wonder”.
I am positive I’ve seen a puzzle that used COLONELS and CORONERS before, and played off of how their Ls and Rs differed–and it might have also been a mirror-style puzzle?
Maybe you’re thinking of the NYT puzzle from April 14 by Will Nediger? That had the same L-R mirror-image concept and, like today’s WSJ, didn’t use L or R anywhere in the grid except in the theme answers. It didn’t have the COLONELS/CORONERS pair and didn’t use opposite-style clues for each mirrored pair, though.
That previous puzzle prompted a rather surprising revelation from Jeff Chen that his left-right puzzle was originally accepted by the NYT a few years ago, but then later dropped after they accepted Will’s. So, here it is in the WSJ.
Interesting. I’d have sworn I’d seen the device before and was hoping someone would explain.
LEGER was a gimme for me. He’s an important and pioneering modern artist.
Given the number of people who are constructing, it’s not surprising that two will have the same idea at some point.
I know at least two people who, years ago, made a witticism that was later read or heard elsewhere, but there’s no way that my friends’ remarks could have made it through some grapevine to the novelist and the comic in question. With millions of creative people in the US alone, the odds are good that two or more Americans will have the same idea at some point.
Oh wow. Thanks for that, Evan. I was not aware of it. It was interesting to hear Jeff’s resentment come through in his review even though he’d accepted the situation.
Using paired clues for paired theme answers was an intriguing concept, but unfortunately the result was some rather tortured clues. Not a very satisfactory result, in my opinion.
there was a cryptic crossword, i think from foggy brume’s puzzle boat circa 2017, that used “shake hands” to denote that Ls and Rs should be switched: a clue for CORONER meant you had to enter COLONEL in the grid, LEGLESS became REGRESS, COLLAR CORRAL, and so on
WSJ – All about the theme, to it’s detriment, saw it too late to have fun … and
I feel it’s really to the detriment of the fill. I’m surely happy not to rote the whole damned thing but there’s too much too cool for school, obscure proper names and too clever by thrice.
If I’m going to think this hard on a puzzle, I’ll do an FT or Times puzzle, but I’m not really complaining, I guess I went too bed too late binging Netflix.
Definite change in challenge level this week, gearing up for what must be a doozy Thursday.
some fun clues in there though!
That I will NOT deny! Much happier with Thursday am I am I.
LAT: I was surprised to see the low rating — until I did the puzzle (which I chose not to finish). This seems to be an example of how constructing software can be misused; my feeling was “Oh, the constructor is so relieved to be able to fill in the blanks that he/she isn’t really thinking about the quality of the fill.”
Parikshit, I offer the following as constructive criticism; I hope I’m not offending you, and I apologize if I am. I’m writing because if one of my puzzles got such a low rating, I’d want some feedback on how to do better.
The theme itself isn’t fresh (parse a phrase to justify scrambling some letters), but it could have worked if not for all of the following:
— The long theme entries are dull, and they aren’t a tight set (a movie title that’s a phrase; two compound nouns; a sentence).
— The longer fill has no sparkle (INTENDS, ORATING, AGENDAS, INTERPRET, HACIENDAS), and it contains a partial (THE GAME) and an awkward term that no one uses (WELL SET).
— The shorter fill is a large collection of prefixes and suffixes (AVI, ENDO, INE), words/phrases that appear more often in crosswords than in life (ASANA, ERGOT, ATS, INS); initialisms and abbreviations (MBA, STA, ETD); partials (TRA, ILL AT, FIL);
words or names that appear often in puzzles, so they compound the tiredness (ATE, AS YET, HAS AT, ARA, ORFF); crosswordese (AINU); and obscure proper nouns (CIERA, EATON). Add to that ATTLEE and ENUF — way too much unrewarding fill.
In the future, after you complete a puzzle, let it sit for a few days. If it’s full of the problems listed above, then alter the grid itself and try again. Always take another pass at the fill, then let it sit for a few days. Work on the fill at least — at least — five separate times. Work hard to give the solver the most interesting fill that you can. And if you can’t provide interesting fill, then toss the puzzle — being able to fill the grid isn’t the only criterion that matters.
Also, if you had chosen LIFE-CHANGER as the revealer instead of LIFE-CHANGING, you would have had two 11-letter answers vs two 12-letter — I think that would have give you more flexibility in shaping the grid.
Great notes on constructive criticism. Very helpful!
Universal: Clever idea with fun theme answers. Would have been stronger if the theme answers had been consistent — unlike the other four where you can trim the -ER and have a verb, SUMMER can’t be re-made as verb SUMM with an ER attached — plus the “some require a change in vowel sound, some don’t” that Vic mentioned.
Also, it seems that the 7-3-3 layout of rows 1, 2, 14, and 15 created more constraints than a more typical split of 5-5-3 or 4-6-3 — feels as though the NW and SE corners are constrained by the 7s crossing 6s and maybe are less sparkly than they could have been (though there is some sparkle).
Gotta say I love your daily theses on what is wrong with all of these puzzles and how you would improve them. You should write a book on crossword construction. Where can I find your puzzles? I imagine they’re flawless.
So glad you asked. Yes, I am a new constructor, and because I have very high standards, I haven’t yet submitted anywhere; I don’t want to publish until I’m really, really good. Everything I’ve critiqued in puzzles by others is something I no longer allow in my puzzles but did in my earliest (high percentage of dull fill; theme sets that aren’t tight; themes that have been over-used; themes that are so-so rather than clever).
You might notice that I offered praise for the Universal — which was good but could have been better, and the smart young constructor owes it to himself to push himself. And that the LAT critique was offered without nastiness, and with a sincere desire to help. (I’ve never seen a rating that low — and I’ve never stopped solving midway because I found the puzzle so lacking.) I’ve also posted some comments that are 100% praise.
When a solver opens a puzzle, she-he-they expects it to be worth her-his-their time. That isn’t the case with some of the puzzles published these days, and some of that has to do with an over-reliance on software (the subject of my two longest critiques) — not the *use* of it but an over-reliance on its ability to fill a grid.
Thank you for your critique of my critiques. And, you’re free to not read mine — I dislike the comments by a certain person on another blog, so I skip them.
Edit: Thank you for your response (it wasn’t a critique — just a response). And I totally support your right to post it, while also noting that my critiques are posted with the goal of helping, not the goal of being acerbic. (But I reiterate that I support your right to be acerbic.)
WSJ–O.K, I give. Could someone please explain 58A, “Shaker marking (ESS) and 69A, First perfect number (SIX). Thanks.d
Salt and pepper shakers are sometimes labelled S and P so you know which is in which.
A perfect number is equal to the sum of its divisors. The divisors of 6 are 1, 2, and 3, and 1+2+3=6. (The second perfect number is 28. 1+2+4+7+14=28)
Barbara K. Thanks. I now understand both, although I think that ESS for S is a bit of a reach–must be just me.
I think today’s AVCX is the best themeless I’ve solved anywhere in 2019 (and I prioritize themelesses over all other puzzles when budgeting my solving time).
Its many merits:
* Solid long entries—BURY THE LEDE (using the industry spelling that has now crossed over to ordinary English), PR NIGHTMARE, OPPOSITE DAY.
* Great medium-length fill: STACCATO, EJEMPLO.
* An extremely low number of proper names.
* But most of all: the clues. So, so clever. The clues for OPPOSITE DAY, SUMMER HOUSE, HOSTEL, LIE DETECTOR, BOSE, BOTTOM LINE, EJEMPLO, and BERG were particular winners. Also a big shoutout to the clue for OTIS REDDING causing some nice confusion.
This is, in my opinion, exactly what a themeless should be. I firmly believe that in a hard themeless, the difficulty should come substantially from the clues. Can’t wait for the next time I see Wyna Liu’s byline.
I second this. GREAT puzzle.
Agreed; this was a terrific puzzle. The SE corner took me quite a bit of time, not because of OTIS REDDING but because of LOCHTE. When will I learn to spell his name?
Some bad crossings and rough fill in the AVCX today. I had three unknowns where BIKRAM is – the I-K-R-A are all crossing foreign words (LIDEE, DASHIKIS, (eyeof)RA, STACCATO). I’m glad I learned a few things, and LIDEE is the only one of these that I’ll objectively call bad fill (an 87-year old French silent animated short film is pretty darn obscure, and I watch a lot of movies), but you need to be especially careful when crossing these entries. So that area was a not-so-fun key-pressing game. Then there’s LINC, ALEA, ITEN, the contrived UPUP, MDC, NEI (???), PION, etc. Lots of nicer longer entries (OPPOSITEDAY excepted, which even after Googling I don’t get what it means) but enough short liabilities to tamp my enthusiasm.
I agree. I think some people are reluctant to call out bad fill in a 5 star difficulty puzzle. Just because something is supposed to be hard, doesn’t mean it has to be full of obscure trivia, awkward phrases, and severe stretches. Not to say there wasn’t some good stuff in there but there is some real groaning garbage in there as well. I thought for sure I would come here to see it panned, but I stand corrected. (Of course the reviewer is obviously friends with the creator, so…oh well.)
NYT: on a Wednesday, it would have been nice to at least put an asterisk or somehow indicate the revealer clues. DNF.