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.