Will Treece’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “What’s Cool?”—Jim P’s review
I didn’t recognize the byline, but this isn’t a debut. The last WSJ grid Will had was a puzzle two years ago which featured a fun Blue’s Clues theme. This one is just as fun. He’s taken slang words that mean “cool” to different demographic groups and found phrases that use those words in a non-“cool” way. Then he clues said phrases with their funner “cool” meanings, and we’re off to the races.
- 22a [“Cool substitute!” said the 1960s bohemian] HIP REPLACEMENT. Ha! This is a fun one to start off with since it takes something unpleasant and turns it into a positive.
- 32a [“Cool turn!” said the surfer] RADICAL LEFT. All that’s missing is the “dude!”
- 42a [“Cool sonnet!” said the gamer] EPIC VERSE. My error in the grid occurred here since I spelled the crossing entry ETHEL MURTZ and never saw that I had filled in EPIC VURSE. Oops.
- 51a [“Cool departure!” said the millennial] SICK LEAVE. Calling a departure a “leave” is pretty awkward, but the theme put me in a fun mood, so I’m willing to let it slide. Plus, the clue [“Cool results from your billiards shot!”] is even more awkward.
- 62a [“Cool blanks!” said the Gen Xer] SWEET NOTHINGS. Another awkward one, but still, I’m okay with it. Just.
- 76a [“Cool monster!” said the yuppie] NEAT FREAK. That’s better. Back on track.
- 86a [“Cool wool!” said the beatnik] BOSS TWEED. I didn’t know “boss” was a beatnik term. It feels more modern to me.
- 93a [“Cool beginnings!” said the ’90s rapper] FRESH STARTS
- 110a [“Cool reflex!” said the skateboarder] KILLER INSTINCT
To be sure, there’s some overlap between these groups, like skateboarders, surfers, and Gen Xers, as well as the ’60s bohemian and the beatnik. But I didn’t worry about those distinctions and just went along for the ride. All of the base phrases are solid and lively, and they’re made more fun by the thematic conversion. Well done.
And the fill is just as lively and fun. Highlights include: HEAD COLD, TIME LAG, KELSEY Grammer, JOWLS, CAPONE, BABYFACE, PUSHPIN, HARD KNOCKS, OLIGARCH, ETHEL MERTZ, PENPALS, DRESS SHIRT, ARCADE FIRE, and TINY TIM. Really impressive! As is that center section with all the crossings fives.
With all the positive vibes coming off the theme and long fill, there was very little that IRKED. What did you think of 25a I’M HERS [Devoted spouse’s words]? It sounds a little far-fetched as an in-the-language phrase, and I’m sure I’M HIS wouldn’t go over well. I wonder if that section could have been re-worked to make this I’M HERE.
Clues of note:
- 56a [Makeup for Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins”]. SOOT. I had no idea what this answer could be because I don’t recall him wearing any particular makeup in the film. But then the crossings gave me that a-ha moment.
- 70a [Language in which Gandalf is called Mithrandir]. ELVISH. Bzzt! Wrong. The actual language is Sindarin, one of Tolkien’s created language. The other elven language he created is Quenya. If you have an interest in constructed languages (or conlangs), like Vulcan, Dothraki, Esperanto, etc., you’ll want to get involved with the Language Creation Society and read the book In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent.
- 73a [It’s set nightly]. ALARM. For a doctor, my wife just doesn’t get some things. She would do this (set her alarm) every night, even though she could easily have her phone repeat the alarm only on weekdays. Now she has an Echo doing this for her, so she doesn’t have to worry about it anymore.
- 89a [Like Eric Rohmer movies]. TALKY. I think of a TALKY as a film that has sound (as opposed to a silent film). But I guess the correct spelling is “talkie.” I don’t know this French director nor the TALKY reference, but you can read about him here.
- 104a [“When Can I See You” singer]. BABYFACE. With CAPONE sitting right on top of this entry, I wonder if a clue referencing gangster BABY FACE Nelson was considered.
- 28d [Elphaba sings “Defying Gravity” at the end of it]. ACT I. I had no idea what this was referring to, but it turns out to be the musical Wicked.
I feel like there was a definite attempt in the grid to reference both older and newer pop culture. In the older camp there is ETHEL MERTZ, Paul ANKA, Andy Taylor and Ben Cartwright. In the newer camp, there’s BABYFACE, ARCADE FIRE, and Wicked, for example. I think the grid still skews slightly older, but I applaud the effort to include fresher fill.
Wonderful puzzle. 4.25 stars.
Sam Ezersky’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Y’all, I am tired. The puzzle took me a good bit longer than the typical Saturday NYT. Is it me being ready for an early bedtime, or the puzzle being harder than usual? Twitter suggests it’s some of both, depending on who you ask.
Fave fill: PRO TIP, my beloved LITE-BRITE (I was sorely tempted to buy one earlier this year! It comes in a flat-screen format now, you know. I could use it for household notes: “Take out trash” in colorful illuminated letters.), my beloved AVEENO (nice fragrance-free lotion) and the acne treatment PROACTIV, knees that GO WEAK, CROP CIRCLE (great clue: [Unbelievable discovery in one’s field]), HEIST FILM, TECH-SAVVY, LIFE OF PI, and tasty BIRYANI.
Did not know, because it’s wildly obscure: 46a. [Intense craving for a particular food], OPSOMANIA. This isn’t a cool word you’ll be using, since no one will know what you’re getting at.
Did not like: AC TO DC, ONE GRAM, plural ATS, A TRACE including that indefinite article when SLIGHT BIT goes without, CAPITAL V. I’m also not sure that the Fox Broadcasting Company has any entity called FOX TV, 53a be damned. Do any of the networks actually use those “___ TV” formulations we see a lot in crosswords? Local affiliates to, probably to distinguish the TV stations from the radio stations with the same call letters. But networks?
Five more things:
- 28a. [Video game character with the most appearances on magazine covers, per Guinness (1,200+)], LARA CROFT. Pretty sure that’s because the magazines were catering to boys and men who play video games, and they jumped at the chance to have a reason to include boobs on the cover instead of, say, Mario or a blue hedgehog.
- 42a. [Org. with magazines on magazines], NRA /31a. [Really hurt], MAIM. Change C’MON to CLOT and you get the less violent MAIL and TRA.
- 52a. [Country whose name anagrams to an island when its fourth letter is doubled], HAITI. Add a T, scramble to Tahiti, nice bit of word puzzling. Sea level rise endangers Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia. Floating islands, anyone? Those might end up being part of a solution for small island nations rather than for libertarians looking to escape governments.
- 65a. [E-sharp?], TECH-SAVVY. Are you flashing back to Wednesday’s “E-book” (etc.) theme?
- 4d. [Opposite of a state of disbelief], THEOCRACY. Nice clue, using “state” to mean a nation rather than a condition of being.
3.75 stars from me. Good night, crossword folks!
Mike Buckley’s Universal Crossword, “Songbirds”—Jim Q’s write-up
First of all, big thanks to Judge Vic and Jim Paredo for carrying the Universal write-ups all summer while I was off gallivanting! I think it’s been a solid six weeks or so since I even opened a crossword. But this one gave me very little pause- a clean offering from Mike Buckley with an easy-to-grock theme.
THEME: Singers who have a bird in their name.
- 16A [“All I Wanna Do” singer] SHERYL CROW.
- 23A [“Shake It Off” singer] TAYLOR SWIFT. How’s the new album? Anyone?
- 37A [“Best I Ever Had” singer] DRAKE.
- 44A [“City of Stars” singer] RYAN GOSLING.
- 57A [“Volare” singer] DEAN MARTIN.
Although it doesn’t quite “fit in” with the others, my favorite themer was DRAKE– especially being dead center. I found the brevity of the answer somewhat funny. SHERYL CROW, TAYLOR SWIFT, DEAN MARTIN, RYAN GOSLING… and then just DRAKE. Haha!
I guess the elephant in the room would be calling RYAN GOSLING a singer. I mean, c’mon. He’s known as an actor. An actor who had to sing in a film. Is MERYL STREEP a singer? She’s done it in a number of films.
That being said, the title doesn’t wholly suggest that the theme entries need be musicians. But it certainly feels that way, doesn’t it?
At 78 words, there are still plenty of longer entries to keep the fill lively. SEE DOUBLE, BRAND NAME, THE WIZARD, ERGOMETER in the downs. The longer across ones run the risk of being confused with theme answers, but OVEN MITTS and ABOVE ZERO were fun to uncover.
Nice to be back with a solid puzzle!
Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
This one has a nice stack in the middle of three 13-letter entries, and tons of longer entries throughout the puzzle. I use CrossFire on my MacBook to examine and construct grids, and it says this puzzle has an average word length of 5.79. I don’t often notice that stat, but that seems on the higher side, but this is only a 66-word count grid, and there are relatively few 3-letter entries found here. Very nicely done! Not too hard; I got through it in under 6 minutes, but still a fun puzzle. 4.4 stars today.
A few highlights, including all three of those 13-letter entries:
- 23A [One in a gun show?] GYM RAT – Is this the best clue? It might be!
- 30A [1843 story narrated by a murderer, with “The”] TELL-TALE HEART – I read this story literally 40 years ago. I should re-read it! My wife is also allegedly a distant cousin of Edgar Allan Poe!
- 35A [Finger in the dike, so to speak] DAMAGE CONTROL – That’s one way of putting it!
- 37A [Out until tomorrow] GONE FOR THE DAY – I need to be “gone for the day” soon. Yes, there is a holiday in a week!
- 56A [Heavy burdens] MILLSTONES – This is a biblical reference, I believe.
- 1D [Slow cooker associated with Boston] BEANPOT – I have never been to Boston. One of these days! I have had Boston baked beans served in one of these. There is also a college hockey tournament called The Beanpot featuring the four big Boston schools: Northeastern, Harvard, Boston U. and BC.
- 9D [Advice for the itchy] “BE PATIENT!” – Oh, THAT kind of itch!
- 27D [“Sesame Street” segment] ELMO’S WORLD – I never did like that Elmo …
- 32D [Ali hooks, at times] LEFTS – This seems a little overly vague, but I suppose this is boxing language, so any boxer would work. I thin.
- 38D [Spousal consent] “YES, DEAR!” – If you’re married, you know this phrase!
I’ll stop there. Going car shopping later today!
Sutphin & Agard’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
The byline for this puzzle says “Sutphin & Agard”, which I can only assume is Bruce Sutphin and Erik Agard. This one was a doozy. Well over 30 minutes for my solve. I stared at a mostly empty grid for about 10 minutes. The lower left fell first, then the lower right; getting 14A (see below) broke open the NW corner, and I fought the NE to the bitter end. I did use the check answer feature in Across Lite for this one, and unbelievably, there is only one incorrect mark! Even with a slow time, I will consider that a win! This was the toughest Stumper I have done in weeks, and some of the clues I still don’t understand, but I don’t seem to be getting frustrated when they are this hard anymore, so that is also a win! 4.7 stars for a great, REALLY tough puzzle! You two can get busy on the next collaboration!
- 14A [410 U.S. 113 (1973), familiarly] ROE V. WADE – After a little thought, I then realized: what happened in 1973?? Great clue!
- 25A [”Pronto,” perhaps] MAÑANA – I guess “pronto” IS also a Spanish word; I don’t know why I thought it was from some other Romance language. A vague clue, but fair.
- 38A [SIMPLE __] IRA – I think I do see this in all caps, but I am not sure why. Another tough clue.
- 47A [Part of a Peter Pan costume] HOSE – I tried TUTU and MASK. I haven’t seen this movie in decades, but didn’t he have a mask at some point??
- 58A [Word from the Latin for ”put side by side”] ACCOST – I learned something new!
- 59A [Smooth state] EVEN KEEL – I had EVENNESS in here. The incorrect suffix caused issues, but I knew the EVEN part had to be right. Mainly from 56D (see further below!)
- 4D [Hex sign] EVIL OMEN – This was a great clue. I chuckled when I finally figured it out. And I don’t think there is a six-sided street sign!
- 9D [Upper-level arrangement] COIF – Possibly one of the best clues in the puzzle.
- 22D [Heavy lifting?] SNEER – This is the one I don’t understand. This also was one of the entries that I was surprised was correct when I checked answers! Someone please explain this!
- 28D [Intro to a reluctant comment] “ABOUT THAT …” – Great entry. I love casual phrases!
- 32D [Evenhanded remark?] “I CALL” – I didn’t understand this one either until the very end. Another head-slapper here once solved.
- 56D [LP, essentially] PVC – Sneaky!!
I could go on, because there are tons of great clues in here. Have a great weekend!
bit heavy on the trivia maybe but some great clues in the nyt
and i think i may have lasting damage from that stumper!
Is there a CHE archive anywhere? I am trying to locate the August 16th puzzle, in any format.
Thanks for any help that is available.
I don’t think there was a CHE puzzle this week; regardless, the archive I use is:
It’s linked from Will Johnston’s Puzzle Pointers, which archives many other great puzzles, too!
Thanks! I was able to get the 8/16 puzzle from here. Yes, I realize that there was no puzzle this week. I was looking for last week’s.
There’s a problem with the puzzle links at the fleetingimage.com CHE archive site, though: every one I looked at included only one slash after the “http:”, instead of two.
For example, here’s what the link to the 8/16 puzzle looks like: http:/herbach.dnsalias.com/che/che20190816.puz
This explains why I am not ever able to connect to anything using these links (I have tried to get the Universal in this way in the past). I had to copy it and add in the missing slash to make it work. But that did solve the problem.
Thanks for your help; I’ve bookmarked the site and I’ll know what to do next time.
Also, thanks to Will Johnston for the archive site!
I don’t see the single slash problem. Does anyone else have it? What browser are you using, Lise?
When I mouse over the link, the url that is displayed has only one slash. This is true in IE and Edge.
Here’s the URL that I get when I mouse over the Aug. 16 CHE:
In case that helps.
When I mouse over, it starts with herbach… The http:// is missing entirely, so something is odd for you. That’s why I wonder if anyone else sees this behavior. I have been using these calendar pages for years.
I looked at a few of the puzzle calendars that are linked from Will Johnston’s Puzzle Pointers page and hosted, like that page, on fleetingimage.com. (Other host sites are not affected.) The source code for all the calendar pages I checked points to a base URL that begins with http:/herbach.dnsalias.com (one slash). The individual puzzle links are coded relative to that base URL, so all of them also begin with just one slash.
The single slash following http: creates an improperly formed protocol. Many browsers automatically correct for this error, but others won’t. (Which method is preferable is open to debate.) In particular, IE and Edge do not correct, so clicking the faulty puzzle link does nothing.
Other than using a different browser, here’s a workaround I found for IE and Edge. Right-click the puzzle link on the calendar page and choose Copy shortcut (IE) or Copy link (Edge). Paste the copied link into the address bar. In this situation, the browser accepts the malformed URL. It then offers to download the .puz file for you, and the calendar page remains open.
Thanks. I’ll report the problem.
Hi Lise … I fixed the missing slash problem in my calendar pages. Should work fine now. Thanks for reporting this. You may need to refresh in your browser to load the fixed pages.
BTW, CHE made a late change to their summer schedule, and the puzzle originally slated for yesterday was a casualty. According to Brad, there won’t be one next week either, but they will resume a weekly schedule on 9/6.
That’s why Will’s calendar page is inaccurate right now.
NTT: I, for one, see no problem with OPSOMANIA. It is an Hysteria that often afflicts members of the Fairer Sex, particularly those With Child.
I found the NYT quite tough and slow going, one quadrant at a time. Finished in about double my usual time. A good one.
I’ve worked a lot of Erik Agard’s puzzles, and I have tremendous difficulty following his cluing. If I think “that’s really stretching it” more than a few times in a puzzle, then I know the constructor had much more fun than I will.
Very hard puzzle for me. I enjoyed learning OPSOMANIA, but I did not know LITE-BRITE, AVEENO and BIRYANI nor the spelling of BWAY, SENHOR and WOOKIEE, not to mention the awkwardness to my ear of PRO TIP, A TRACE, and HEIST FILM.
Easily twice as long as normal.
Northern half+ of NYT went really quickly, but I (who gets some entertainment from the indignation generated by touchy issues) was appalled at how bad the NRA cluing and inclusion was. This puzzle must have been approved and not revisited two weeks ago with all the recent discussion of a (far-too-late in coming) limit on those d*mned things. Plus that was a horrible attempt at a clue. I started with NEA thinking they had a review of educational value in publications.
OPSO was really tough for me, I’m pretty good with that class of words, but was wholly new to me.
WSJ today will have to wait today, I’m really not a fan of big grids.
Have a nice weekend
@Derek – a SNEER is characterized by a lifted lip, often made by a heavy/bad guy
Re: OPSOMANIA and wishful thinking – I put in “Oreo Jones” at first, and I so wanted to be right! Not only have I heard of that (well … maybe not phrased like that exactly) but I’ve experienced it. And so have most of my friends and family. (After getting some of the fill, I was willing to accept the lesser “Oreo Mania”, but I was not happy about it. Ultimately, like others, I had to satisfy myself with merely learning a new word. I salved my wounds with a cookie.
Re: LARA CROFT – game culture is changing, and Lara Croft has had a lot to do with it. She is more than boobs – she is an empowered woman who never once relies on a man in any game narrative, at least since 1996. There are many, many discussions and debates about her hyper-sexuality with some making the case that “any woman who owns her sexuality is inherently anti-feminist”.
At any rate, an increasing number of women are part of game-culture, and game authors and artists are very aware of the issues of hyper-sexuality and empowerment among female characters. The balance between cleavage and power has been noted in the industry and has led to new female hero characters with more emphasis on the latter. The question is, “will these new characters increase the market-share among female gamers, without losing it among the males?”
It’s a changing demographic, and early returns say “yes”. And as much as we may not like her body representation, Lara Croft has had a significant influence on this culture, which is now a non-trivial part of our social demographics.
I was not able to edit the above quickly enough.
“There are many, many discussions and debates about her hyper-sexuality with some making the case that “any woman who owns her sexuality is inherently anti-feminist”
is incorrect. The correction is this:
“to argue that Lara’s hyper-sexuality is debilitating to her feminist undertones, as some would, actually has anti-feminist connotations that would suggest any woman who owns her sexuality is inherently anti-feminist”
And the quote is from an article that appears here:
The NYT today went overboard on difficulty. Sometimes I feel like some constructors or editors are having a contest in outdoing each other in difficulty. This particular puzzle went overboard in multiple categories. Too many obscure entries, too many very indefinite clues that should have been just a wee bit more specific, too many misdirection clues, too many answers that were directed to a small demographic and whose spelling could not be inferred at an letter so required every cross.
The final clue that really set me off was 1D (Sunday school reading) for PSALM. This went too far in trying to find a clue never used before because I’ve never heard of reading a Psalm in Sunday school. They are read in church services for worship. Children wouldn’t get anything from it. For them, Sunday school is for learning Bible stories as told and explained by their teacher. For teenagers and adults the learning involved also uses the Bible to relate to their life choices and actions. There are many clues that could have been used for PSALM that would actually have been true. Put any 2 or 3 of the above types of entries in the same area and the solver is dead in the water.
When I refer to a small demographic, I only mean that the specific entry was obscure to a lot of people not in that demographic, whereas there are a lot of things I would know that were directed at that demographic.
I expect the Sat. NYT to be difficult. I’ve been doing the NYT since 2001. It took me almost a year to be able to finish everyday because I had not been doing any crosswords before. I feel this one was very unpleasant and I couldn’t finish without help.
sam ezersky can make a difficult puzzle (i used to do his indies at his old site) – i s’pose people will disagree about the fairness of his tough ones
WSJ enjoyable, but is ‘on hire’ an available taxi? I promise you it would suggest exactly the opposite to any Londoner!
I really liked Ezersky’s NYT puzzle, even though I found it ultra-tricky and difficult. I confidently typed in “credulity” for “state of disbelief” (4D) and “charisma” for “personal magnetism” (9D) and thought I was off to the races. But I it turned out I had just been led into the wilderness, with the result that the NE and NW were a real struggle. The rest was no picnic either. But it was just what I like on a Saturday: a bracing but fair challenge.
4D was, of course, “opposite of a state of disbelief.”
I was tempted by CHARISMA, too, but held off as the crossings didn’t look promising. This was the hardest Saturday NYT for me in a long time. In fact, right at the start I took a very long time to find a foothold. But I thought it was an unusually interesting challenge. Felt great to have worked it out. (Nit: did they clue BIRYANI as a side dish? I can’t quite remember, but if so, I think of it rather as a style of cooking for a main dish.)
The difficulties in the WSJ, although easier, didn’t seem nearly as well earned. I almost didn’t get the NE at all, with STEVE, EVIE, the curious I’M HERS, and the cluing of LATTES as setting for art, but at the last minute I somehow pulled ETHEL’s last name out of some long-forgotten past.
Hello from a new reader. I finished today’s Newsday puzzle (top left easiest for me, bottom left toughest). But I found some of the clues so implausible that I made up alternatives:
For 10-D, COIF: “Head arrangement.” Or, “It’s offered at a head shop.” Because human bodies don’t have levels.
For 17-A, RIPPLY: “A typo, believe it or not.” Because, as a Google search will confirm, RIPPLY has no relation to non-crossword ice cream. :)
For 22-D, SNEER: “It starts as a sneeze.” Yes, I’m trying for stumpy. I think the puzzle’s clue has to do with the facial movements of a bad character who’s lifting the corners of the mouth while sneering.
For 52-D, DISS: “Youthful offense.” Because a remark at a roast is meant as a joke, not a genuine beef, unless I’m totally missing the point of the clue.
For 61-A, SCISSORS: “Rock hater.” Or, “Snippy sort.”
I don’t create crosswords (except tiny ones for family), and wouldn’t claim these are great clues, but I think they’re less of a stretch.
For those who gripe about skewed clues, y’all would be doubly cranky if you did Tim Croce’s Club 72 puzzles offered on Crossword Fiend every Tuesday & Friday. With all due respect to Agard, Croce is the master of misdirection. I’ve been solving Croce’s grids since his site inception & they have taught me how to “think outside of the box.” Just like The New Yorker magazine: some articles are fun & others can disturb & jostle learning the world from another perspective.
“I didn’t know ‘boss’ was a beatnik term. It feels more modern to me.”
This is an example of one of the problems I have with certain reviewers. Boss was a beatnik term. End of discussion. Nobody gives a shit if you disagree or even learned something. These puzzles are NOT about YOU! Insight is acceptable of course, but how you feel about something you are wrong about is not.
Sorry. I’ll ban myself for another six weeks.
I think David Steinberg is doing a great job editing the Universal Crossword. For some reason it doesn’t seem to get a lot of response on this site, in spite of good reviews. Even the link at the top often doesn’t work. (It does today.)
Okay, so I’ll respond. Today’s entry is indeed a “solid puzzle,” but there is a minor blemish. “OK” occurs twice meaning essentially the same thing each time, probably because the constructor uses software that doesn’t catch dupes shorter than three letters. It was kind of the editor to let it slip through. The constructor, on the other hand, needs to be more vigilant.
I guess “pronto” IS also a Spanish word; I don’t know why I thought it was from some other Romance language.
I always thought of it as Italian. It’s both, but consulting the dictionaries, I find that the general sense of “ASAP” is considered to probably have come to English from Spanish. The specifically musical sense, like many musical terms, comes from Italian, but the OED marks that sense as rare.