Kevin Salat’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Starch Blockers”—Jim P’s review
SMALL POTATOES is our theme, as revealed at 37a [Insignificant thing, or what can be found four times in this puzzle]. It turns out this is a rare rebus puzzle with small representations of potatoes in four of the grid’s squares.
- 9a [Green grocery choices] (TOT)E BAGS crossing 9d [How stew may be seasoned] (TO T)ASTE
- 17a [Brilliant but troubled soul] FLA(WED GE)NIUS crossing 4d [Unhemmed feature ] RA(W EDGE)
- 60a [Fiji, e.g.] AR(CHIP)ELAGO crossing 50d [Silicon Valley debuts, in brief] TE(CH IP)OS
- 62a [Calamity for a superhero] UNMA(SKIN)G crossing 52d [Trumpeter and bandleader Hawkins] ER(SKIN)E
There are some issues here. A skin or wedge isn’t really a small potato unless it’s preceded by the word “potato,” so it seemed like mentally adding “potato” was part of the theme. Thus you would get potato skin, potato wedge, and potato chip. All good. But you would also get “potato tot” which absolutely isn’t a thing in that form (“tater tot” yes, “potato tot” no). So that felt like an inconsistency.
Second, TECH IPOS. Is that a phrase? Googling in quotes yields 167k hits which makes it feel legit, but it sure was hard to parse. Thankfully the crossing ARCHIPELAGO was crystal clear.
Not so the case (at least not for me) with the WEDGE rebus. I finished the grid with the one empty square which I assumed was the rebus in FLA_NIUS crossing RA_. The clue [Brilliant but troubled soul] had me wondering if this was the proper name of some old Roman I hadn’t heard of, and the down clue felt completely unhelpful. It took a few minutes of cogitating to finally realize that the last part might be GENIUS which led to RAW EDGE and the aha for FLAWED GENIUS. For me, this felt to be about as tough a rebus crossing as I’ve encountered. I won’t go so far as to say it wasn’t fair, but boy it was hard for me to see.
There were also a couple questionable items in the fill. POOL AREA feels rather “green paintish,” and I’d never heard of a JOGBRA. “Sports bra” yes, but JOGBRA no. I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that I’ve never heard of it. I’d welcome comments from those more knowledgeable on the subject.
But there’s a lot of good stuff to admire as well, like starting off with AMARETTO and LAVATORY crossing ALFRED, MALALA, and AVATAR. What a strong corner! We also get SIZZLE, “IT’S ON ME,” TEAR-DROP, NEPALIS, SAFARI, ONAGER (I happen to like this entry though some don’t), yummy SAMOAS, and UPSTAIRS. I’ve also seen GOATEE a lot lately—like three times in the past week, I think.
Clues of note:
- 15a [Can]. LAVATORY. I don’t think these are equivalent. “Can” is very slangy where LAVATORY feels much more formal, especially if one pronounces it “lav-uh-tree.”
- 44a [Monterrey jack?]. PESOS. Nice one. Note the two Rs which makes it different than the American city with a similar name.
- 65a [Flight destination?]. UPSTAIRS. Another good clue.
- 1d [Wayne Manor figure]. Did you first put in BATMAN as well? I did, thought about it for a second, then switched to the correct ALFRED.
- 27d [The answer is blowing in the wind]. KITE. Yet another good one.
All my nits aside, I did like this puzzle with its surprising rebus theme and its strong fill and cluing. 3.8 stars.
Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
Jeff Chen has this Thursday’s NYT, and this week’s out-of-the-box theme feels a little more standard:
- 17A: Word that can complete CARE___R — GIVE OR TAKE
- 27A: Word that can complete SH___ED — IN OR OUT
- 38A: Word that can complete DE___ — FRIEND OR FOE
- 49A: Word that can complete ___TING — DO OR DIE
- 61A: Word that can complete ___ER — BOOM OR BUST
It’s a pretty straightforward theme (CAREGIVER or CARETAKER, SHINED or SHOUTED, etc.) elevated by the cluing elsewhere in the grid.
Things I liked: CASTS clued by “Molds”, UBENDS, SERIFS, TARZAN, GAWP, IKEA‘s maze of aisles, RAGMOP, I BEFORE E, FOG OF WAR
Good Eats is back, so let’s all take 20 minutes to learn how to properly make Chicken PARM.
Happy Thursday, all!
Matthew Sewell’s Universal crossword, “Tinder Profile”—Jim Q’s review
THEME: Phrases that include items that can be used as “tinder,” clued as if they are part of a Tinder profile.
- 20A [“Hoping to feel sparks with a fellow German literature fan; here’s me reading ___”] GUNTER GRASS.
- 11A [“… Nintendo fan; here’s me playing ___”] PAPER MARIO.
- 29A [“… nutty candy fan; here’s me eating ___”] ALMOND BARK.
- 57A [“… barbershop fan; here’s me performing in my ___”] STRAW BOATER.
I was excited when I saw the title. I’ve been toying with the idea of constructing a puzzle with a “Swipe right” or “Swipe left” theme, but haven’t figured it out.
This one fell short, mostly because the themers were not all that exciting to uncover. That could be me: I haven’t read GUNTER GRASS, never heard of PAPER MARIO in all the Super Mario iterations, didn’t realize that the classic barbershop quartet hat was called a STRAW BOATER, and if you asked me to name types of nutty candies ALMOND BARK wouldn’t have made the top ten. Also, two of the “tinder” words are at the start of the phrase and two are at the end- I wonder if there was a way to keep it consistent across the theme using more familiar/fun phrases. I would’ve preferred that.
And as far as I know (read: I know) one doesn’t caption each of his/her Tinder profile photos as the clue makes it seem. I appreciate what it’s trying to do- but it misses that mark. “Stuff that can be used as tinder” doesn’t feel like a strong enough concept on its own without referencing the dating app, but that’s just not how the app works.
GEARHEAD and SPAMBOTS were fun to find, but I was on autopilot for most of the puzzle. Overall, I would’ve swiped left on this one.
2 stars from me.
Ed Sessa’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s theme features another hidden letter string. The hidden letter string today is DOOR, but there is an extra wrinkle that makes things a lot more elegant. It is a REVOLVINGDOOR, and the hidden tetragram cycles from RDOO to ORDO to OORD and then to DOOR itself in the revealer.
I must say the closed off grid design was a good choice today, and limited the impact of the overlapping WORDOFMOUTH/MADETOORDER themers in the centre, which potentially could have put a lot of strain on the fill.
CRISISMODE and RHINOCEROS look like they’re part of the theme, but they aren’t!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword, “Old Town Rows”—Andy’s review
The title gives this one away a bit — “Old Town Rows,” a pun on “Old Town Road,” means we’ve got four rows comprised of “old towns” mashed together. Like so:
- 17a, TROY HERCULANEUM [Old town row #1]
- 25a, CARTHAGE BABYLON [Old town row #2]
- 43a, SODOM PERSEPOLIS [Old town row #3]
- 57a, NINEVEH GOMORRAH [Old town row #4].
The titular pun wasn’t funny enough to justify this non-theme, which was repetitive to solve and didn’t really have an aha moment. Nothing bad in the fill, but not a ton to love either: I’M SAVED and CTHULHU were the only highlights for me. Maybe I’m just grumpy, but this was one of my least favorite BEQs in a long time.
The silver lining is that I get to post this:
Until next time!