David Plotkin & Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Metamorphosis”—Jim P’s review
David Plotkin is one of America’s fastest crossword solvers (he earned 3rd place at this year’s ACPT), but this appears to be his first puzzle creation alongside veteran constructor Jeff Chen.
The circled letters in today’s grid have been morphed (in one direction) to alter a familiar phrase into something wacky. In toto, the circled letters spell BUTTERFLY, in case you didn’t recognize the dominant shape in the center of the grid.
- 23a [Battleship?] BOAT OF ARMS. Coat of Arms.
- 39d [“Grisham’s a hack! He’ll never write a book as good as ‘Presumed Innocent’!” e.g.?] TUROW SHADE. Throw shade.
- 40d [Writer actively avoiding synonyms?] ROGET DODGER. Roger dodger.
- 42d [Painters of “Water Lilies” forgeries?] MONET MAKER. Money maker.
- 43d [Executive at Lipton?] TEA OFFICER. TSA officer.
- 24a [Sound heard when hell freezes over?] MIRACLE BRR. Miracle Bra.
- 108a [Post-traumatic stress from spending all day assembling IKEA furniture?] SHELF SHOCK. Shell shock.
- 103a [Snoopy’s alter ego Joe Cool, et al.?] CHILL DOGS. Chili dogs.
- 111a [Affordable copy of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”?] CHEAP YEATS. I couldn’t figure out what the original base phrase was here. My first guess was “cheap dates” but that’s not consistent with the rest of the entries due to the spelling change. To find out the actual base phrase, read on.
Beautiful grid. Strong base phrases. Humorous modifications. Great cluing. And perfect symmetry. What more could you want?
But wait…there is more.
Not liking the use of “cheap dates” as a base phrase, I started looking at the other base phrases. “Boat” was originally “coat”, “Turow” was originally “throw,” “Roget” was originally “Roger,” etc. That’s a C, H, and R so far. Hmm. If you do the rest, they spell out…drum roll, please, CHRYSALIS. And that’s how I figured out the last base phrase was cheap seats. Wow! That is just a whole lot of icing on the top. Beautiful job! (Of course, if I had paid attention to the clue for PUPA [Life stage originally represented by the circled letters, prior to metamorphosis], I would have cottoned on to this a lot sooner.)
The fill on this thing is just gorgeous. Look at all those long, lovely entries: LIP SERVICE, THE RAT PACK, ANTEATER, MAGLITES, SEVEN SEAS, GALACTICA, CANTINA, ANECDOTES, ART DEGREE, SET RATE, NEUTRINOS, GO BERSERK, and one of my favorite authors, NEIL GAIMAN.
I had a tough time in the lower left section with CHURL and ENDURO, but I eventually sorted it out. OUTGAS [Release vapors into the air] is one I’ve never heard of and sounds made up. But that’s all the questionable stuff I can come up with, which is fairly amazing in a 21x grid.
Aside from the good cluing in the themes, these others stood out to me:
- 4a [Opposite of effective?]. CAUSAL. As in, “cause and effect.”
- 57a [With eyes wide open]. ALERT. The clue says “adverb” to me, so I really wanted this to end in -LY. What say you?
- 120a [@BigBird messages, e.g.]. TWEETS. Ha! Sesame Street is 50 this year!
- 18d [Where Venus Flytrap deejayed]. WKRP. Ha! Love this throwback clue.
- 22d [Components of some KFC orders]. With ___SIS in place, I could not get this without the crossings. The end result, PEPSIS, is better than SEPSIS, I suppose.
- 47d [Sinbad’s milieu]. SEVEN SEAS. I was convinced this was referring to the comedian. Nice trickery.
- 109d [TV monitor]. FCC. What a great clue for a boring acronym!
This was a fantastic puzzle from every angle and from start to finish. I’m going with the full five stars!
Neil Padrick Wilson’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
I did enjoy some things in this puzzle—Rick James’s SUPERFREAK, the linguistically erroneous NO PROBLEMO, SNOOZEFEST (napping festivals should absolutely be a thing), the retro shout-out to Hercule Poirot’s “SACRE BLEU!” (I read a lot of Agatha Christie as a tween), “IT FIGURES” (despite there being two other IT entries), and STANDING O with a cute clue, [Rapturous reception for Oprah Winfrey?].
But there was a larger number of questionable entries that shook me out of my groove, mostly phrases. IS IT and ATE IT. I’M UP, I HAD A BLAST, I’M OUTRAGED (if that last one is fair game, then you could basically make a case for 100 other adjectives to follow I’M). Plural UTTER BORES feels off. USED AS BAIT also feels a bit arbitrary to me, like I’M OUTRAGED. ENGLISH TEA without the word breakfast in the middle doesn’t ring a bell. “OK, SO” doesn’t strike me as the sort of phrase that is common enough to work as crossword fill, and the clue, [“And this affects me … how?”], doesn’t seem to bear on the answer too directly. I really wish constructors would try to avoid UTNE, because it’s got such a small footprint in the media world. And I don’t know what NOT US is doing in a crossword. ZORRO MASK is colorful, but the movie The Mask of Zorro makes the word order feel wrong to me.
Three more things:
- 19a. [One with something to prove], PROSECUTOR. Good clue—the prosecutor has a case to prove.
- 51a. [They might be curled or dipped], TOES. Really good clue, no?
- 43d. [Hearing aids, in brief], PAS. Eh. If you’re hard of hearing, a disembodied voice over the loudspeaker ain’t always easy to discern. You put “hearing aids” in a clue, that’s where my mind goes.
Three stars from me. Here’s Rick James to play us out.
Joe Deeney’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Got through this one quickly. It is time to start trying to get some speed back, since the ACPT is coming quickly! This is a wonderful wide open grid by Joe, and when the solve doesn’t take too long, that means that a lot of the answers, even the longer ones, are not too obscure or difficult. Another enjoyable LAT solve; 4.5 stars.
In my comments, I will concentrate on the longer answers that intertwine in the middle:
- 19A [More than is prudent] ONE TOO MANY – Sometimes you do have just “one too many,” as in potato chips!
- 30A [Privileged group] INNER CIRCLE – I have never been in any type of “inner circle,” and I don’t think I want to be!
- 33A [Sign of fall] SAGITTARIUS – This was a little tricky, since it is the only lengthy zodiac sign in terms of letters.
- 34A [Comedy of errors?] BLOOPER REEL – Great clue!
- 46A [Michigan national park] ISLE ROYALE – This was a gimme, since I grew up in Michigan. Although this island is practically in Canada.
- 9D [“I Spy” actor] ROBERT CULP – I watched this show in syndication. Do you young kids even know this show existed?
- 14D [Baby shampoo product line] NO MORE TEARS – Is this the brand name? I always thought it was just baby shampoo!
- 17D [Auditors follow them] PAPER TRAILS – Yes, they do …
- 20D [Air freshener option] NEW CAR SMELL – Yes, you can buy this. Perhaps I will buy some for my older car! We just bought a new car, and yes, it still smells nice!
- 26D [PBS cooking show hosted by Mary Ann Esposito] CIAO ITALIA – This is supposedly the longest running cooking show in the US, and I have never heard of it.
That is all!
Greg Johnson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
The first thing I noticed about this grid is the left-to-right symmetry. The second thing I noticed is that I didn’t know a single answer! I stared at a blank grid for about 3–4 minutes at the beginning of this solve. But I paused the timer, walked away for a bit, and when I came back answers just started to fall into place. Isn’t it interesting how the human brain works? I still enjoy that sensation of having your brain work, so much so that I have not even the slightest desire to try drug or alcohol abuse to get through life. Puzzles are my drug! I am sure I am not alone among people on this blog!
Anyway, still another great Greg Johnson puzzle. A solid 4.6 stars for this one. Here are some comments:
- 1A [Pharaoh-era figurine] USHABTI – Yeah, I have never heard of this. But it is a word!
- 18A [Dogood, for Franklin] PEN NAME – Mrs. Silence Dogood, to be exact. I think I HAVE heard this before.
- 31A [Arboreal bandage] PINE SAP – Why is the sap a bandage??
- 38A [What cats crave] JAZZ MUSIC – One of my favorite clues in the puzzle here. I definitely smiled!
- 7D [”America’s Favorite Mashed Potatoes”] IDAHOAN – I will admit: I am not sure they sell these where I live. I will ask my wife!
- 8D [They sleep to conserve energy] LAPTOPS – I thought this was the other really good clue in the puzzle.
- 24D [California flag depiction] GRIZZLY BEAR – I know good and well there is a bear on California’s flag; it took me a minute to add the “grizzly” part! Isn’t the golden bear the state bear in CA?
- 25D [”Exactly!”] “THAT’S SO TRUE!” – Great casual phrase.
- 44D [Astronaut who found Eden (1965)] HAGMAN – This is a reference to I Dream of Jeannie, a show I watched a LOT in syndication when I was younger!
- 48D [LeVar’s mom in ”Roots”] CICELY – I need to watch Roots again. I must be getting old, because I also couldn’t come up with Cicely Tyson’s name until the second solving run!
I’ll stop there! Have a great weekend!
NYT was my fastest Saturday ever.
Mine too, coincidentally. And Amy didn’t even say it played like a Friday, which is usually the case when I have a fast Saturday solve ;)
Same here, by a long shot. The long answers seemed natural to me and the fill avoided a lot of the obscure (to me) literary and religious fill that will usually drag out my times.
Same! It just fell like dominoes.
Stumper didn’t present much of a challenge either
The correct term is off gas.
I’ve heard both offgas and outgas. They may refer to slightly different phenomena.
The so-called ‘golden’ bear is an extinct subspecies of brown bear (Urus arctos) and was considered to be a type of grizzly bear (which is itself also a subspecies of U. arctos).
Its natural coagulative function is to help heal wounds in the tree’s trunk.
Nice NYT SaturTuesday puzzle
Amazon? WOMAN! … BOOM!
On the bus to the airport in Bermuda the nicegentlemanly basso Bermudian gent told us a long story about Tucker’s Town residents choosing to keep a celeb out of their neighborhood with the punchline being O. STANDING O (for an airport bus anyway) ensued.
Stumper: Incredible clue, “Volume control device” for EREADER. Fiendish.
That was mine. TY
I can’t believe there are no comments about today’s WSJ. What a masterpiece of a crossword puzzle and to think that it’s a debut puzzle! I’m pretty sure that this would be on my short list of favorite puzzles of all-time, if I had one. Bravo and congrats to David Plotkin and Jeff Chen.
That’s an excellent puzzle all around!
Congrats David and Jeff!
FYI, David’s an entomologist by trade, so it was great to see his interests infused into the clues, grid, and theme!
Didn’t do it until today. What a masterpiece.
I appreciated the puzzle crafting more after reading the review – that is truly AMAZING to morph the circles from chrysalis to butterfly!!
But personally – and this is just my preference – I like a theme that helps me get some of the crossings, especially when there is a lot of fill about which I haven’t a clue, like Aldrich Ames or grueling motorcycle races. I had to cheat and look up 5 things just to be able to keep working. (Not including the couple I stole off my husband’s copy.)
But that’s why I appreciate the reviewers! Very nice job, especially for a first effort. I hope David does more.
Amen! This is a masterpiece.
After reading Jim P’s review, I agree this is a construction masterpiece. I enjoyed the solve even without knowing what Jim revealed. Great stuff.
I’d love to agree with everyone, but this puzzle was just plain impossible for me. I guessed at all sorts of crossings, but in the end the due west narrow section had three across names I didn’t know crossing four down names I didn’t know, and only TETON was an obvious guess. Wild guesses brought me closer, but even then the name of the singer (_WEN) left me unfinished. I thoroughly hated the puzzle. If I can’t deduce an answer from crossings, I can’t deduce an answer, period.
And while I got the hidden word, how are we to get it anyhow short of an anagram? Neither left to right nor top to bottom seemed to work.
With _WEN for the name of a singer you should have been able to deduce GWEN. Granted, it could’ve been OWEN, but NEILOAIMAN seems a lot less likely than NEILGAIMAN. And if you’re going to do crosswords, you should know NEIL GAIMAN, as prolific an author as he is. Yes, I realize he’s more in the pop culture realm, but he’s won multiple literary awards, and his name will come up a lot with crossword-friendly letters like those.
The hidden word, CHRYSALIS, is found in the same order as BUTTERFLY. The first six letters are in an upside-down arc in the upper half of the grid, and the final three letters are in a small arc in the bottom half of the grid. Together they mimic the shape of a BUTTERFLY. Pretty nifty design, in my opinion.
I think 111a is “Cheap seats.”
I didn’t have a lot of love for this puzzle, too many things I couldn’t suss out.
As reported in the write-up.