Victor Barocas’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Every Little Step”—Jim P’s review
I don’t mind a word ladder theme as much as some people, so I’m wondering how those same people liked (or didn’t) this theme. Me, I liked it quite a bit…once I grokked it, which took way too long.
Theme answers are all word ladders, but they are listed in place of phrases of the form “___ to ___”. I thought this was quite a clever approach.
- 22a [Penultimate] NEXT NEST LEST LAST. Next to last.
- 36a [Evoke] CALL MALL MILL MILD MIND. Call to mind.
- 58a [#1 hit for Dolly Parton] NINE FINE FIVE. “Nine to Five.”
- 68a [Beethoven composition] ODE ORE ORT OUT JUT JOT JOY. “Ode to Joy.” Not a fan of crosswordesey ORT, but what can you do? I wonder if there’s a shorter ladder? Still, this grid-spanning entry is a gem of a find.
- 78a [Finalize work on, before starting the presses] PUT PET BET BED. Put to bed.
- 98a [Perk up] COME CONE LONE LINE LIFE. Come to life.
- 117a [Destined for failure] BORN BORE LORE LOSE. Born to lose. This one caused me trouble before I caught on to the theme because I had the phrase “born loser” in my head and I couldn’t make it fit.
For me, this theme was executed perfectly. It stymied me turn after turn until I was nearly done with the solve, with numerous gaps down through the center of the grid. Then I finally got the aha moment when everything clicked, and I was able to fill in each themer systematically and polish off the grid. Oh so satisfying!
Despite my slowness in catching on, I’d say this was one of my faster solve times for a 21x. I tried not to linger too much on anything that tripped me up, and on the whole it paid off. I felt like I was able to traverse the grid fairly smoothly filling in letters at a steady pace.
Fill on the sparkly side: UNION-MADE, SET ASIDE, CLASSMATE, EPHEMERAL, JUMP ROPE. I’m not sure how PALE HORSE [Mount for Death in Revelation] would hold up in court, but I was just happy to make sense of the clue at the time.
There’s the usual clutch of crosswordese: ETAT, A NAME, IF AT, ANI, A NO, ET. AL, but nothing too egregious. Oh, I just spied ESPOO [Finland’s second-largest city] again. Yikes. I suppose it’s crossword-worthy, but dang if it doesn’t look like a TV channel dedicated to bathroom sports.
And I had no clue on the word ATLATL [Aztec spear-thrower]. I assumed this was a proper name, but no, it’s a tool for throwing a spear with more leverage and power than just your arm. You’ve seen dog owners with similar devices for throwing tennis balls great distances, yeah? Same concept.
37d AS AN is clued [Strong-ox connection]. But let me tell you about the village of ASAN on Guam. On the western shore, it was a major landing site for the U.S. Marines in WWII. On Nimitz Hill, above ASAN, Korean Air Flight 801 crashed in 1997 killing 228 people. These days you can visit its beautiful beach park (a part of the War in the Pacific National Historic Park) to catch some wicked sunsets.
Clues of note:
- 61a [Cold-blooded predator]. LIZARD. My 11-year-old just had a birthday and she wants to use her gift cards to purchase some anoles. If she does, I won’t ever think of them as crosswordese again. I have to hand it to her for thinking economically. They’re only $7 each and live up to 7 years. Pretty good bargain when compared to a $10 hamster that only lives two years.
- 74a [Like the pill Neo took]. RED. Was The Matrix really that popular that most solvers know what COLOR the pills were? I’ve never seen any of those films, so I relied on the crosses here.
- 77a [Sequel in which Ripley returns to LV-426]. ALIENS. This one I do know, and I’ve even listened to all the related audiobooks in the series. The geek in me loved this clue!
- 81d [Singer who works close to The Edge]. BONO. Cute clue.
Fun puzzle from start to finish. 4.3 stars.
David Alfred Bywaters’s Universal Crossword, “Double-O Six”—Judge Vic’s write-up
THEME: The title is a clever play off 007, no? But it’s more literal, as we have six theme entries of one-syllable homophones with the long-O sound. We start with the unnecessary (imho) reveal:
- 37a [Domestic helpers, or this puzzle’s starred answers?] AU PAIRS–The beauty of the theme is in the successive pairs of homophones. To the extent that their long-O sounds are more than incidental, the unusual thing to me is that the same sound is executed in so many different spellings–OW, OE, OUGH, AUX, etc.
- 17a [*Bucks for a buck’s partner?] DOE DOUGH
- 21a [*Adornment on a boyfriend’s gift?] BEAU BOW
- 24a [*”Well, ply that needle!”] SO SEW
- 45a [*Sign prohibiting Japanese drama?] NO NOH
- 49a [*Imaginary enemy?] FAUX FOE
- 57a [*Plumlike fruit that’s late to ripen?] SLOW SLOE
With a theme of 8-7-5-7-5-7-8 in the Acrosses, there is not much else to cite among them, though the fill seems clean enough.
MOO COW NITWITS, MATADORS ARTIFICE, and a BAWDIER HORATIO RIPOSTE lead the vertical entries.
GUI was new to me
HE-MAN offset by SHE
DATA AIM TO
SEND DUDE from A TO B
David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
I’m not thinking in paragraphs tonight.
Did not know: 59a. [1963 Four Seasons hit], “CANDY GIRL.” The counterpart, I assume, is the party boy with the MAUI WOWIE who wants to CHUG-A-LUG his beer.
Fave fill: N’EST-CE PAS?, TACO truck (dang it, if only Hillary Clinton had garnered the electoral votes, we’d be living large with a taco truck on every corner), CHI-TOWN, INDIEGOGO, GOOD AS NEW, EMOJI, IXNAY, TEJANO music, PRIME RIB.
Wondered if CHICANA was kosher to use these days. According to one Diversity Style Guide, yeah, it’s fine. What I didn’t know: “These terms [Chicano and Chicana] announce pride in indigenous ancestry, which was a significant ideological element of the Chicano movement.”
Funny meme I saw today (but can’t find now) pertained to 15a. [Leading man?], ALPHA MALE. It basically said nobody wants an alpha male because he’s not even ready for beta testing yet. (Alpha testing of software takes place before the code is ready for beta testing by users.)
Three more things:
- 20a. [Alternative to a Lambo], JAG. Lamborghini, Jaguar. There were a bunch of fancypants sports cars atop the Northwestern Memorial Hospital parking garage on Wednesday. Hottest day of the year so far, baking in the sun. I’ll bet lots of kids in Lurie Children’s Hospital enjoyed looking down from their windows to check out the Lambos, Porsches, Aston Martins, etc.
- 7d. [Rough up, in a way], PAW AT. Unsettling clue, no? Oxford offers this sample sentence: “young dogs may paw at the floor and whine.”
- 10d. [Boy’s name that becomes a girl’s name if you move the first letter to the end], ALAN. Turns into Lana. Now, I had MAPLE instead of LARCH for the [Sturdy floor wood], which had me contemplating OMAR and … Maro?
No junk fill here. 4.3 stars from me.
Greg Johnson’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I have linked to Greg Johnson’s web site before, so I won’t again, but he has a knack for making good themeless puzzles. This one is no exception. I did not find this too difficult, but I also did not try this Downs Only. Solving some of these clues made me smile out loud; others made me groan a bit, but the solve was enjoyable. See the next post for another Greg Johnson puzzle, as he has today’s Stumper as well! 4.5 stars for this one.
- 1A [It may be tuna-flavored] CAT FOOD – … or simply just tuna …
- 16A [Some Australians call it “chateau cardboard”] BOX WINE – This one made me laugh! Nothing like a good box of wine to say “what’s the cheapest thing I can find?”
- 18A [1996 Olympics site] ATLANTA – This makes me think of the current book I am reading, The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America. Part of his story takes place in Atlanta. I know the author, Tommy Tomlinson, from a few pieces he has written for ESPN. I may not be grossly overweight, but I do want to lose 20-30 pounds, and this book touches on some of the mental struggles Americans deal with surrounding food. Check it out!
- 33A [Two-thirds of 900?] ZERO ZERO – This one made me groan. It is technically correct, but I still winced a bit. I am torn on whether I like this or not.
- 39A [Matching 401(k) contribution, e.g.] JOB PERK – My job has this, and I need to enroll!
- 54A [The printed one doesn’t include specials] MENU – Those are on the chalkboard! At least at the “fancy” restaurants I frequent!
- 9D [More than eager] HOT TO TROT – Best entry in the puzzle!
- 26D [Nightclub VIP’s spot] DEE-JAY BOOTH – I don’t think I have ever been in a nightclub, so I only know this from TV and movies. Needless to say, I have never been in a DJ booth. Man, I am old …
- 36D [Crowlike birds] GRACKLES – I am not sure if we have grackles in Indiana. We definitely have crows!
- 53D [“‘A’ – __ Adorable”: Perry Como hit] YOU’RE – Have I seen this before in a puzzle? Likely, but this song is before my time. I’ll post it below.
More blogging from me on Tuesday. Here is that promised tune!
Greg Johnson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Slow start, but then got this down in a decent amount of time. Greg Johnson, who also has today’s LAT puzzle (see above!), has today’s Stumper as well, and while this is much harder, once you get to about halfway in this one it didn’t seem to thorny. It wasn’t overly difficult to get a 35A! I have no error marks! Usually when I get stuck I will do a check to see what I have correct, and it does feel nice to finish one rather smoothly. 4.6 stars for this one.
Some high points:
- 1A [Drivers’ aids now using LEDs] ROAD FLARES – I don’t think I knew this. We had reflectors in our UPS trucks instead of flares, but everything else is going LED. You change bulbs far less using these, which saves money.
- 17A [Utility player] GAS COMPANY – I was fooled for a moment by this, as it seems like a sports reference. Great clue.
- 35A [Initial access] TOEHOLD – Great to see this in a puzzle, as I use this word often in describing a solve, especially these Stumpers!
- 49A [Greeting place] ENTRYWAY – I had ENTRANCE, which caused some minor issues!
- 60A [Trattoria staple] HOT SAUSAGE – I love sausage, but I try not to eat too much meat period these days. Man, I am getting old …
- 3D [Hardbody’s pride] ABS OF STEEL – Great clue here, and better than mentioning the famed workout videos from years ago.
- 8D [Run into, in a way] REAR END – Yes, that is one way …
- 9D & 12D [Literature Nobel name (1954)] & [Literature Nobel name (1993)]ERNEST & TONI – There are a couple of instances in this puzzle of similar if not identical clues, and this is the best example. I actually like double clues, because it makes you pause for a moment. For the record, I don’t care for “See 4-Down” clues because they seem like work, and I HATE Roman numeral math.
- 11D [Show of hands?] QUINTETS – This might be the best clue in the puzzle. This made me laugh.
- 28D [Plant with a December 12th ”Day”] POINSETTIA – Who knew?
Have a great weekend!
Steinberg’s Times puzzle struck me as the perfect Saturday challenge. An initial “Oh, man, this is going to be embarrassing” when scanning the puzzle and seeing very few gimmes. But then everything falls into place, with fresh, surprising fill.
“Chicana” is a fine word, but that’s a weird clue for it. Chicanismo doesn’t usually involve first-generation immigrants — at least not on the part of the U.S.-Mexico border where I live.
NYT: The NW fell so easily… struggled a bit more with the bottom. But I’m at 9,000 feet, and my brain is stuttering.
Did not love CALI and MERCH. But lots to love in this puzzle, as Amy describes, N’EST CE PAS?
By my count, David’s NYT has 20 answers that have something in common. They are
GOOD AS NEW
They are all in the language. They all stand alone, in that they independently have meaning out of context. Wouldn’t it be convenient if we had one descriptive term under which to group them?
How about SAILs?
Stand-Alone, In the Language?
But Vic, I honestly don’t think we need a term for that. They fit in the category of “good fill.” If they were awkward and not in the language, they’d be bad fill. And basically, isn’t anything that isn’t a partial, abbreviation, or overused garbage phrase like RAN AT in the stand-alone category? Are these not the default for good and/or ordinary multi-word entries? I think it makes more sense to label what’s not good rather than using a little-understood abbreviation to label the good fill.
Look, we have Natick for uninferrable crosses, right? I say we use another New England city for multi-word bonus phrases, one that reflects the concept. Ergo, I hereby vow to include as many “New Havens” as I can in my puzzles. We can abbreviate it: “NH Count.” So here we have “NH Count: 20.”
excellent weekend puzzles by steinberg and johnson
[Show of hands?] QUINTETS is so clever that I don’t get it — can someone explain?
Five fingers per.
Thanks … all I could think of was jazz quintets.
5 fingers on each hand?
From the Saturday Stumper, I’m not certain I understand INAN (“Emergency leader”). The best I can think of is that “In an” can lead the word “emergency” in the phrase “in an emergency”, but that seems a little weak to me. Is that it, or is there something I’m missing?
Stumper – That’s it, as far as I can tell
I loved the Saturday WSJ! As a relative newbie, I hadn’t encountered the “Word Ladder” before, but it just became my new favorite gimmick. I figured out what was going on with the very first themer, and solved most of them rather quickly by putting the first and last words in the margin, and figuring out the steps from 2 or 3 crossings.
I enjoy puzzles more when I have a second means to get the answers, since I haven’t been at this long enough to know all the crosswordese…and since I just don’t have the patience to memorize things like ESPOO (though I doubt I’ll forget that one now that I’m picturing the latest cable subchannel…)
5 stars from me!
Saturday WSJ was truly excellent. (At least in my eyes)