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!