Katja Brinck & Brad Wilber’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Friends of Ours”—Jim P’s review
This looks like it’s a debut for Katja Brinck. Congratulations!
Katja and Brad get a little overzealous with their use of personal pronouns, so much so that they’ve injected a bunch of them into well-known phrases, thus creating crossword wackiness.
- 23a [Witch’s lunch order?] COBWEB SALAD. Cobb Salad.
- 29a [Trampoline act at a family reunion?] COUSIN FLIP. Coin flip.
- 40a [Bell prompting someone to get into the tub?] BATHER SIGNAL. Bat-signal.
- 51a [Trading a wimple for a turban?] CHANGE OF HEADDRESS. Change of address.
- 72a [Posting by a LaCrosse owner’s parking spot?] THE BUICK STOPS HERE. “The buck stops here.”
- 85a [Laundromat-in-disrepair complaint?] WASHER IS HELL. “War is hell.”
- 100a [Miss Piggy’s favorite water park ride?] SWINE FLUME. Swine flu.
- 108a [Isaac Newton’s yacht?] GRAVITY BOAT. Gravy boat.
So let’s see…accounted for are the subject personal pronouns I, he, she, we, and it (missing: you and they) and we have the object personal pronouns me, her, and us (missing: you, him, and them). “It” can be either the subject or object of a sentence, of course. I found myself wishing there was a complete set of pronouns in the grid, or at least a “him” to go with the “he”.
But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the theme entries and the humor that is evident therein. For some reason, I like CHANGE OF HEADDRESS best, followed by Isaac Newton’s vessel, GRAVITY BOAT, which seems like a hipster/ironic name for something that’s supposed to float.
I also really like most of the choices of base phrases which are a lively bunch for the most part. Given a wide-open theme like this, I bet they had a lot of options to choose from, and I think they made some good choices.
Beyond the theme, the fill is solid, if not shiny. I like DUE TIME [An appropriate future moment], but it feels like it’s missing the leading “IN.” DESPERADO, TRANS FATS, “THAT, TOO!”, SLAPSHOT, SCANDALS, CAR TRIP, ALPACAS, SEATTLE, and PIRATED are the other highlights. And I like UGLIFY as well, which, apparently, is a real word.
I almost thought I would Natick at the crossing of foreign-language word SESTO [Sixth, in Siena] and proper name OATES [“Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart” author]. Thankfully, the O is the only thing that made sense.
Other unfortunate entries include all these tough geographical names ESPOO, APIA, ORONO, and ORSK.
Fave clue goes to 46a [Political hanger-on?] for CHAD. Those hanging chads of the 2000 election have provided so much fodder for ongoing jokes, haven’t they? Although, if your name is Chad, you probably think it’s all rather grim.
Solid puzzle with fun wordplay. 3.75 stars.
Trenton Charlson’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
So I know some people blew through the Friday NYT faster than usual, but it fought me. And then the Saturday NYT rolls out, and whoosh, I zip through it like a Tuesday or Wednesday puzzle. It was a lot of fun, and I saw the generous helping of Scrabbly letters but didn’t feel like the filler stuff was crap to facilitate things like PIXY STIX and JV SQUADS.
Preemptive measure: Don’t waste your breath with a tired rant about how Chicago’s DEEP-DISH pizza is some dang “casserole” or what-have-you. Try it at Lou Malnati’s before you pass judgment. Lou’s deep-dish is substantively different from other places’ deep-dish pies. Chunky tomatoes, Wisconsin mozzarella, and you gotta get the butter crust. You like sausage? Lou’s classic presentation is to plunk a giant disk of their sausage (shudder—I don’t eat sausage) on the middle of the pizza, rather than small pieces of sausage, so if you dig sausage…
Fill I liked, besides the three previously mentioned entries: RAPUNZEL, IMPROV CLASS, PRICKLY PEAR, NOT QUITE, SPHINXES, JR. PAC-MAN, sciency AZIMUTH, PANCREAS (friend of mine got a kidney/pancreas transplant a few years back), and Minnesota’s Lake ITASCA, which is the headwaters of the Mississippi River. (About that last one: Wikipedia tells us, The Ojibwe name for “Lake Itasca” is Omashkoozo-zaaga’igan (Elk Lake); this was changed by Henry Schoolcraft to “Itasca”, coined from a combination of the Latin words veritas (“truth”) and caput (“head”), though it is sometimes misinterpreted as “true head”. It is one of several examples of pseudo-Indian place names created by Schoolcraft. Oh, the caucasity!)
Five more things:
- 30a. [Only 20th-century president whose three distinct initials are in alphabetical order], HST. Little bit o’ trivia for you.
- 49a. [Charging too much, say], IN DEBT. Meaning “charging too much on credit cards,” not “charging too high a price.” I wonder what percentage of Americans’ debt burden comes from credit cards (and have you seen how high a lot of CC interest rates have gotten? it’s unconscionable) vs student loans.
- 56a. [Monogram on L’Homme products], YSL. We would also have accepted [Monogram on those fancy color-blocked washcloths my mom bought in the 1970s, and it was so cool how she helped prepare me for crosswording].
- 47d. [___ Norman, 1983 Pulitzer-winning playwright], MARSHA. I don’t know her work personally, but certainly I know the name. Her Pulitzer was for ‘night, Mother.
- 10d. [Rat in “Ratatouille”], EMILE. The protagonist rat was Patton Oswalt’s Remy. Emile was Remy’s gluttonous brother, apparently.
Four stars from me.
Erik Agard’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Erik is the man! He has both this puzzle and the Stumper this week! This one, in tru Erik style, has great entries that you don’t always see in crosswords. I tried to race through this one, and the clues weren’t too difficult, so I got it filled in just over four minutes, but I have solved a lot of Agard puzzles (I have his book!) in the last few years, so I think I am at least somewhat on his wavelength. Believe me when I say I found the Stumper MUCH harder. See that review below. 4.4 stars for this one.
A few of those great entries:
- 1A [Peak of early 2000s cinema] BROKEBACK – Oh, THAT peak! I never did see this movie; I think it is available to watch for free somewhere.
- 17A [“Let’s rock and roll!”] “IT’S GO TIME!” – Great phrase here. Only 2 NYT hits for this one.
- 18A [Actor Max von __] SYDOW – Is this actor crossword-famous? I don’t think so just yet; he is famous on his own since he has been in EVERYTHING!
- 27A [“Claws” star __ Nash] NIECY – Haven’t seen this show. I think this has been TNT summer fun for the last couple of summers. I’ll binge it someday.
- 45A [Role for which Liam got an Oscar nod] OSKAR – This is a reference to Schindler’s List, which I HAVE seen. It’s a miracle!
- 29D [Contents of some 20-Across] CHAI – I love this stuff. My wife hates it. That means I can buy some for the house and it is ALL MINE!
- 32D [Fight over covers, perhaps?] SHARE A BED – If you’ve ever lived with a partner, this likely hit a nerve!
- 33D [Citrusy flavor] LEMON-LIME – This wasn’t too hard, but it evokes images of all the clever Sprite commercials from the past several years. I actually had a Sprite yesterday because I didn’t feel well!
- 34D [“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very __ is an act of rebellion”: Camus (attributed)] EXISTENCE – A long way to go for this clue, but a great quote!
- 55D [Rapper Lil Uzi __] VERT – This is a typical Agard entry: his inclusion of pop culture, especially black pop-culture, seems to color a lot of his puzzles. And that is a good thing! I know who this is, but I picture some older Caucasian solvers struggling with this one!
It is Saturday, so time to watch the Wolverines today!
Erik Agard’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Erik is the man! As mentioned in the LAT post above, Erik has this puzzle AND the LAT puzzle today. The LAT puzzle was not so difficult; this one was a different story. It took me over half an hour to crack this one! Tons of tough clues, a word or two I didn’t know, AND a wide-open grid contributed to a high level of difficulty. I was scratching my head several times. There is a mixture in the middle of this grid of several long entries, including a stack of three 15s, which is also a feat of construction. I will mention mostly those below, but it is time to go lick my wounds from this one! 4.8 stars for a stellar puzzle!
Those promised comments:
- 18A [One writing pointedly] BALL PEN – This is not a phrase! Isn’t it rollerball pen or ballpoint pen? I found this extremely tough.
- 19A [Kazakh capital renamed in 2019] ASTANA – I watch a fair amount of cycling, and there is an Astana team specifically from Kazakhstan, which is evidently a cycling crazy nation.
- 32A [Unsettling?] STUBBORN AS A MULE – I was fooled by this one until I had several crossers. Very difficult, at least to me.
- 36A [Group projects] SOCIAL MOVEMENTS – I had an error crossing the end of this entry, so that made it rougher than it should have been.
- 37A [Microseconds?] A LITTLE BIT EXTRA – This is great. I would call this a casual phrase. Sometimes it is hard when an answer starts with the article “a”, but it is needed here. Nicely done.
- 49A [Long-time partner of 42 Down] SERENA – 42D is VENUS, and this is certainly timely since Serena is playing for Grand Slam title #24 today!
- 53A [Sharjah citizen] EMIRATI – This is another word I didn’t know. Sharjah is in the UAE, but I didn’t know this plural of emirate. Never too old to learn!
- 57A [One way to be out, in MLB] ON THE DL – I thought it was ON A ???? for a while, but I have seen this before. I don’t watch as much baseball as I used to.
- 8D [Skipping work?] LABOR-SAVING – This might be the best clue in the puzzle!
- 20D [Duel venues] PIANO BARS – Do they have duels in there? Most piano bars I have seen only have the one piano!
- 22D [Attraction in West Potomac Park] FDR MEMORIAL – I had FD??.. in there at first and I thought it was wrong! I also don’t know this memorial that well; I have been to DC several times and I don’t think I have seen this before. Next time I’m in DC I will try to find this!
- 47D [”The”-rhyming dude] BRUH – Another signature Agard entry/clue! I definitely smiled once I figured out what he was talking about!
Have a great weekend everyone!
Debbie Ellerin’s Universal crossword, “Follow the Ball”—Jim Q’s review
THEME: Phrases that end with words that can follow “party”
- 17A [*Ingratiate yourself] CURRY FAVOR. Party favor.
- 26A [*Most direct route] BEE LINE. Party line.
- 35A [*Teddy bear, for one] STUFFED ANIMAL. Party animal.
- 48A [*Snobbish] HIGH HAT. Party hat.
- 56A [Celebration’s continuation, and a hint to the ends of the starred answers] AFTER PARTY.
A very enjoyable puzzle with some clever clues and a classic, but well-executed theme. I wasn’t able to figure out the connection before the revealer, which (when the revealer is solid) is always fun for me.
Some new vocabulary for me was refreshing to uncover including TANGRAMS, ELYSEE PALACE, and HIGH HAT. I always associate the last phrase with a drum kit, even though that’s spelled HI-HAT more often than not. Googling HIGH HAT in quotes mostly yields pages that are trying to hawk drum parts, but indeed the main definition offered at the top of the page is the one used in the puzzle.
LOVED the clue for 3-Down [A la King?] EERILY. Stephen King, that is. It’s also timely as the second half of the It reboot was just released in theaters.
Perfect Universal fare: Not too hard, a couple new things, and a solid easy-to-grok theme that is not overtly obvious from the get-go. Also… excellent title.