Paul Coulter’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Makeshift”—Jim P’s review
This was a whole lot of not fun for me. An inscrutable theme coupled with an abundance of crosswordese meant that the clues that were intended to be tough just became annoying. I pretty much just gave up after a while.
The theme takes long common phrases that imply anagramming a certain word. But you don’t know what that word is until you find that theme entry’s partner, the entry preceding or following it. That second entry gives a definition which is a synonym of the unknown word. But you still have to figure out what that unknown word is and then anagram that into another word which you put into the grid but which has no clue indicating what it is. Does that all make sense? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The problem is, unless you can think of this unknown word, crosses are almost no help to you.
- 23a [Extreme anxiety] SHATTERED NERVES & 26a [Angst, if you’ve 23-Across] DARED. Somehow, you’re supposed to realized that “angst” means “dread” and then you “shatter that nerve” (whatever that means) to turn it into DARED. Are we having fun yet?
- 34a [Creating controversy] STIRRING THE POT & 33a [Marijuana, if you’re 34-Across] OP-ED. Stir some pot (i.e. “dope”) to get OP-ED. At least this makes a little more sense.
- 49a [Attitude reversal] CHANGE OF HEART & 54a [Middle, if you have a 49-Across] RECENT. The keyword being “center.”
- 73a [Diner dish] SCRAMBLED EGGS & 71a [Urges on, if you’ve 73-Across] SIMPLE. This one was really hard to get because of the surrounding fill (EADIE, TRIS, ESTAB, etc.) and because it seemed like the clue wanted a present tense verb ending in S (this was well before I grokked the theme). It did; it wanted “impels”, but of course you have to scramble it.
- 90a [Starting a conversation, perhaps] BREAKING THE ICE & 94a [Winter coat, if you’re 90-Across] MIRE. The keyword being “rime”. I think this was where I finally started to see the light.
- 106a [Supper side] MIXED VEGETABLES & 105a [“Musical fruit,” if you’ve 106-Across] BANES. I applaud the attempt at humor (yes, sometimes I applaud fart jokes), but BANES does not make for good fill. Surely there is a better 5-letter anagram of a vegetable out there. (*googles*…Hmm. Maybe there isn’t.)
Like I said, trying to figure out this theme took a long time, and in the meantime I felt beset by crosswordese’s greatest hits: LATH, ACRO, RIIS, ETERNE, SETA, ENTRE, MARLS, ERSE, I GET A, READ A, COOER, RELO, ILER, EPISC, EADIE, TRIS, AARE, ANIM, AER, SRS, AN IN, OSSA, ONE ON. No doubt all of that is due to the fact that there’s so much theme material: six near-grid-spanners when you put the paired entries together. But suffering through that onslaught before understanding the theme meant that I was in a bad place for a very long time. And the a-ha wasn’t enough to lift me up.
There were some highlights though. TRATTORIA, ENERGY BAR, SENSEIS, SET FREE, TIP OVER, HELENA, TWO BITS (minus the shave and a haircut), and AGGRO [Belligerent behavior, to Brits] are my fave bits of fill.
I admire that this is something different, an attempt to change things up rather than present us with the same ol’ standard fare. Maybe if the fill wasn’t so rough I’d have been more inclined to go along for the ride. But with six pairs of themers, there are a lot of constraints on the grid. It strikes me that if it was reduced to five pairs (lose the first one, IMO), the fill would be improved and the solver would have a better overall experience. 2.5 stars from me.
Ryan McCarty’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
I learned a few things tonight. Apparently 28a. [Time-consuming environmental procedures] are called GREEN TAPE, riffing on red tape. And 4d. [Penalty box, in hockey lingo] is called the SIN BIN. (Congrats to the St. Louis Blues on their Stanley Cup win this week!) Apparently California has a Santa LUCIA Range, too.
Fave fill: LESBIAN in Pride Month. BLUE MOON (joining GREEN TAPE and CLARET RED in a colorful cluster). The verbs SHOEHORNS and FACETIMED. Classic candy BIT-O-HONEY (eww, hard pass) crossing a BEEHIVE.Cinematic IVAN DRAGO and CEREBRO. A protestor’s messy FLOUR BOMB. GOOGLE HOME and something I wouldn’t do when that thing was on, RUN ONE’S MOUTH. And I like seeing IRONMAN because my brother-in-law did his first IronMan 70.3 this past weekend (and finished!).
Not keen on the GANGRENE/SICKROOMS crossing, which is just grim. Crosswordese-ish OAST and AGAR, abbrevs PTA ETD ORG HUD IRR, the in-too-many-puzzles “AM I LATE?”
3.9 stars from me.
Craig Stowe’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I don’t think I am quite in Craig’s wheelhouse yet; this one played a little tough for me than a usually Saturday LAT. Definitely no time for a Downs Only this week! I thought this was a phenomenal puzzle, with tones of fun and interesting entries that kept me engaged. Solving wide-open corners is also satisfying for the solver. This one gets 4.7 stars from me today. I loved it!
Some of what I loved:
- 17A [U.S. gross national debt units since 1981] TRILLIONS – This seems quite timely, since it is many trillions now and often brought up in campaign talk.
- 19A [Ready for action] HOT TO TROT – This one garnered a smile upon solving. Haven’t heard this phrase in years.
- 27A [Aristotle in the 20th century] ONASSIS – This one got a partial smile. Oddly, he was quite crossword famous for a while, but I have not seen ARI in more than a minute.
- 44A [Early one-named Velvet Underground vocalist] NICO – This was tough, since I don’t know this artist that well. Slightly before my time and out of my music wheelhouse of knowledge. You can learn about her racist leanings here.
- 54A [It may be a stretch] LIMOUSINE – Could this be the best clue? Quite possibly!
- 7D [Never] AT NO POINT IN TIME – This is the long 15-letter entry going down the center. Well done.
- 11D [Type of economics] BEHAVIORAL – This is certainly not an economic term, but still appropriate. That is what made this a great clue.
- 25D [Name wrongly associated with cake] ANTOINETTE – Yes, the famed “Let them eat cake!” quote has been debunked, I believe, and that is what the cluer is referencing here.
- 45D [Feet in a meter?] IAMBS – This is also a great clue, but I wasn’t fooled!
- 50D [E-__] ZINE – Yes, I wrote COLI in here. This could also be VITE. Even though it’s simple, I think this might still be one of the best clues
I could go on, but I will stop here. Anxiously awaiting the next Craig Stowe puzzle!
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Not a bad time for a Wilber Stumper! I will gladly take it. I struggled a little at first, but then it slid to a solution fairly quickly. At least after the letter check I did, which resulted in all of the error marks in the grid! I think I am starting to see a change, after three years, of using my brain at work vs. manual labor. My brain is fried in the evening, whereas that wasn’t always the case. Lesson for me: solve in the morning! 4.5 stars.
A few high points:
- 17A [Motherboard’s heat sink, e.g.] RADIATOR – This is a great clue, since “motherboard” and “radiator” are never used together. At least I don’t hear them together!
- 25A [Home of winetrain.com] NAPA – This makes sense once you stop and think a moment!
- 38A [Vegas’ Graceland and Cupid’s] CHAPELS – I misread this clue as rooms in Graceland! I told you I was tired …
- 59A [Egypt’s canine-head god] ANUBIS – I know this! It just was on the tip of my tongue, so to speak, until I got the A!
- 63A [Half a court pairing] SNEAKER – Yes, I was fooled by this. Another great clue, although I think I have seen similar ones before.
- 12D [Kool-Aid measure] SCOOPFUL – Now THIS brings back memories.
- 37D [Coffee-flavored sponge cake] MOKATINE – Yup. I put TIRAMISU in here. Mainly because I have NEVER HEARD OF MOKATINE!
- 40D [Lack of pitching ability] TIN EAR – If Harry Caray could learn to sing, even if it was one song, anybody can!
- 49D [Word from the Sicilian for ”swagger”] MAFIA – I learned something in this clue! I thought it came from a root meaning “family.”
- 51D [Protector of sheep from coyotes] LLAMA – Learned League members will love this answer!
Have a great weekend!
Gary Cee’s Universal Crossword, “Idiomatic”—Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: “Bring to ______” (last word of the theme answers completes that blank).
- 20A [*It’s constantly changing] TRAFFIC LIGHT. Ever get stuck at one that’s
broken and doesn’t change? The confusion that ensues is entertaining, assuming you’re not in a hurry.
- 27A [*Unassuming existence] QUIET LIFE.
- 38A [*What those who agree are of] ONE MIND.
- 47A [*Grizzly or Kodiak] BROWN BEAR.
- 51A [Force an agreement, or what the starred answers’ ends complete (Hint: Imagine this answer’s first two words in quotes!)] BRING TO TERMS. “Bring to” terms, that is.
One of those puzzles that (and I’m guessing I’m not alone here) I completed before sussing out the theme. The revealer with its extra hint seems to recognize that may be the case. I’m not sure I would’ve put it together without that nudge.
I’m guessing “FRUITION” does not complete any other common two-word phrase! Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word used without “Bring to” in front of it. PASS would’ve worked as well- feels more familiar than BEAR in the “Bring to” sense.
Northwest corner took me the longest as CHAFF didn’t come to mind (I’ve heard the word, but still needed all the crosses). Smooth grid overall.
My thanks to Stan and crew for the best puzzle out there.
NYT: Unsure as to why 10D could not have been clued as the 1963 Newman-Neal-Douglas-deWilde-Bissell-Ashley-Vickers-et al movie….
WSJ I thought this puzzle was quite a tour-de-force. Some sections were tough which is part of the fun of a late-week puzzle. And the theme entries were remarkably clever and, because I’m pretty bad at anagrams, added a final challenge. Thanks Paul!
Agreed. I was prepared to be annoyed when I caught the theme at DREAD but I liked it more and more as I went on. Yeah, each anagram was baffling — until it wasn’t — and I have to disagree that the crosses weren’t a help unless you could figure out the “target” word being anagrammed; for me, they were critical in getting that word.
Very clever cluing. Also I dot the theme and Rex didn’t. Happy Pride Day (whenever that is)
I would like to reiterate my regular complaint that OAST is not a “brewery fixture.” An oast is an oven for drying hops. Traditionally, oast houses were built next to hop farms, for obvious reasons. Dried hops then go to the brewery.
No need to respond, Martin.
Apart from that I liked the NYT a lot. I had a moment of confusion at 12D wondering what PIPTOE could possibly mean.
CLARETRED seems redundant.
As long as you Beetlejuiced me, I’ll say upfront that you’re right. That said, there are breweries with oasts, even if they’re for color.
But the reason that this clue of, shall we say marginal accuracy, persists is that a Saturday clue for OAST should avoid the word “hops.” You might argue that “brewery” is almost as much of a telegraphed spoiler, but there are certainly more choices for brewery fixture than hops something. Leaving out either word (“Kiln” or “Drier,” e.g.) is probably too difficult, although Farrar, Weng and Maleska used them often. Maleska, btw, was the one to introduce “Brewer’s …” clues for OAST.
So take a bit of solace in the fact that you’re not being denied; rather, precision is taking a back seat to usefulness to the solver.
“Claret” is the British term for the red wines of Bordeaux. So as “garnet red” is the color of the stone or “blood red” is the color of the bodily fluid, “claret red” is the specific hue of these wines. It’s very different than, say, burgundy red.
Of course if context makes it clear, we can say “garnet” or “burgundy” or “claret” to mean the shade of red, but in other contexts we’d need to make it clear we’re talking about the color.
NYT: The middle stack was fun. I got stuck in the NW – Ivan Drago was unfamiliar, as was SIN BIN – and the SE was even more challenging, as I had “flag” for ACRE, and have not heard of ARM BAR or CEREBRO (a cool word, though) and I thought the clue for RENO was yet another way to clue ERIE.
So it was a workout! Good challenge. You can keep your BIT-O-HONEY :-)
LAT: I thought this was a great puzzle, too, in spite of a few obscure bits of trivia. And appropriately challenging for a Saturday. Well done!
BEHAVIORAL is, in fact, an economic term: Behavioral Economics studies the relationship of psychological and social factors to economic decision-making. In the last two decades, several Nobel prizes in economics have been awarded for work in this field.
On the other hand, I will argue that TRILLIONS are not “units.” The national debt is measured in units of US Dollars. So that’s my nit to pick. Otherwise, I loved the clues!
There’s the aligned “come to fruition”, I suppose.
LAT: (thought I hit “Reply” to Doug) — To each (their) own, and I think this one had too much trivia. This is an example of constructor software perverting what could be a good puzzle: The thrill of being able to fill a grid that has 4 stacks of long triples (9s and 10s) outweighs the common sense of “Is this a fun solve?”
Crossword puzzles are about wordplay — they’re not trivia contests. Some proper nouns are needed to hold a grid together, but if this many are needed, then the constructor should start over. If he had inserted one black square each into two of the 10s, that would have taken a lot of pressure off the grid and could have resulted in better fill. To me, this puzzle was unpleasant and not worth the time spent.