Nancy Shack & Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “GQ Models”—Jim P’s review
On Saturday, Jeff Chen teamed up with solver extraordinaire David Plotkin for the latter’s crossword debut. Today, Jeff works with longtime behind-the-scenes crossword documentarian, Nancy Shack, to give us her WSJ debut. Nancy is often the one to bring us ACPT photos, and she somehow always finds the links to articles in the world at large whenever crosswords or puzzlers make the news. Plus, I’m sure she does a lot more for crossworld that I’m not cognizant of.
Their theme today boils down to a simple letter-change endeavor where Gs become Qs.
- 16a [The Ten Commandments, in shiny commemorative gold?] BIBLICAL PLAQUES. …plagues. The base phrase feels rather green-painty, but I gather the only other 15-letter option, PNEUMONIC PLAGUE, fails the breakfast test.
- 26a [Sewing dysfunction?] QUILT COMPLEX. Guilt…
- 45a [Medieval crusade to locate a suitable suitor?] WEDDING QUEST. …guest.
- 59a [French bird that’s part of a Rube Goldberg contraption?] COQ IN THE MACHINE. Cog… This was my favorite entry due to the surprising U-less Q. Plus I love Rube Goldberg machines.
I don’t normally think of a letter-changing theme as qualifying for Thursday-level trickery, but I suppose the difficulty is raised here somewhat by the introduction of all those Qs. And I have to say the themeset is pretty exhaustive since there aren’t many words or names that can swap Qs for Gs. Still, I always hope for something surprising on Thursdays. That’s not so much a knock on the puzzle as it is its placement on a Thursday.
In the fill, the Qs don’t result in too much weirdness. We get BBQ, QUIP, a lovely QUICHE, and a TOQUE. Elsewhere, TELL-ALL, EL GRECO, NATALIA, and BEELINE are nice. I didn’t know the definition or spelling of BURGHER [Member of the middle class], but that’s a fun one to learn. Lots of potential for puns there. Of course, I couldn’t not think of the Rankin and Bass villain, Burgermeister Meisterburger upon filling that one in.
Cluing felt fresh and interesting, including these:
- 1a [Robotic vacuum cleaner brand]. NEATO. I only know Roomba, but this was a fun entry to start the grid.
- 6a [Go for a Gala]. BOB. I needed all the crossings to realize we’re talking apples here.
- 15d [Abrupt digression]. TANGENT. This makes me wonder: If one is talking in circles, wouldn’t going off on a TANGENT be a good thing?
- 23d [Something you saw in a shop]. WOOD. Ha! Fave clue right there along with 35d [Break cover] for CAST. Tricksy!
- 49d [“Rhiannon” singer]. NICKS. That’s Stevie NICKS of Fleetwood Mac fame. I never knew the name of that song (see below).
Solid-enough puzzle though it’s not as flashy as Thursday offerings often are. But all in all, a nice debut. Congrats, Nancy! 3.6 stars.
Alex Eaton-Salners’ New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
Getting a grip on today’s NYT was tricky – I had ideas at what Alex Eaton-Salners was cluing at, but the letters I had in the grid from the down crossings didn’t fit. Eventually, it slid into place:
- 17A: Invitation to connect on social media — AMI REQUEST
- 26A: Sport requiring a tow — EAU SKIING
- 40A: Short-term employer of counselors — ETE CAMP
- 52A: “By all means!” — OUI INDEED
- 60A: Big clay court event…or a hint to the answers to 17A,26A, 40A, and 52A — FRENCH OPEN
Ah, yes, a FRENCH OPEN to each of the phrases here – (FRIEND) REQUEST, (WATER) SKIING, (SUMMER) CAMP, and (YES) INDEED. Trés bon, Alex.
(This is where my brain goes when I see Steffi GRAF in a grid.)
Elsewhere in the grid, I enjoyed learning that AYE-AYE is also a type of lemur, that MISSY Elliott has won multiple Grammy awards, and seeing ELI ROTH’s acting turn in Inglorious Basterds get a shout-out in the cluing. I also dug TORPEDO, PARTING WAYS, DEBT CEILING, as far as the longer down fill goes.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Five in the Second of Six”–Jenni’s write-up
This appears to be a vowel-progression theme, but the title suggests there’s something else going on that I’ve missed – or maybe I expect more trickery from Peter than this puzzle gives us.
There are five theme answers; each has a W which is followed by a vowel. The vowels progress: A, E, I, O, U. Perhaps the “of Six” in the title acknowledges the absence of Y? Or maybe Peter’s been assimilated by the Borg. I was missing something! Each theme answer has the six-letter string W*NDER, with a different vowel in each example marching through A, E, I, O, and U. Thanks to commenter BarbaraK for enlightening me.
The theme answers:
- 18a [Desire to travel] is WANDERLUST.
- 24a [Director of “Paris, Texas”] is WIM WENDERS.
According to Peter’s answer key, this is the E themer, which apparently ignores the W-I in the director’s first name. This is one of the reasons I was looking for something more complex, but apparently it’s just – not good.See above.
- 34a [Title character in an Oscar Wilde play] is LADY WINDERMERE.
- 46a [Gershwin song from the musical “Funny Face”] is ‘SWONDERFUL.
- 56a [Toss in front of, as a figurative oncoming bus] is THROW UNDER. In this case the W-U spans two words, which I find infelicitous. I realize it would have been challenging to get WUNDERKIND into the grid, but still.
Not my favorite Fireball. Not my favorite puzzle this week. It’s particularly disappointing after last week’s puzzle, which was great. Still not my favorite Fireball but a whole lot better than I initially thought.
A few other things:
- 1d [“Arrowsmith” novelist] is LEWIS. I’ve started to notice when men are used to clue words that could be clued either without reference to gender or with a woman’s name. Sinclair and Shari are both pretty fusty references. We need adjustments like that if we’re going to approach parity.
- 4d [Perfume from a one-named Barbadian singer] is RIRI, Rhianna’s nickname.
- I was going to say that [1995 film with the tagline “All she wanted was a little attention”] was an obscure clue for TO DIE FOR, and then I looked up the movie. Nicole Kidman won a Golden Globe for her performance. Objection overruled.
- 32a [Drug bust figure?] is KILO.
- 34d [Female flock member] is not a farm animal. She’s a LAYWOMAN.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that there’s an A–BALL team called the Lansing Lugnuts.
Joseph Ashear’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
Not a unique theme (are there any still?), but definitely an interesting one. It features clue/answer reversal, which is often irksome, but today has some extra effort. I thought all the counts – of (24)TWISTERDOTS, (6)CLUEWEAPONS, (25)BINGOSPACES and (10)BOWLINGPINS – must be the same initially, but instead they each incorporate the number of their down clue! I am under the influence of codeine headache tablets, however. Yeah, that’s it!
The constructor name is unfamiliar to me. Some design decisions could have done with feedback from a mentor (or editor). The Scrabble-fucking in the UNJAM and EQUIP don’t add to the puzzle, they just add dross. PELOSI, TOPHAT and IPANEMA are choice nuggets though.
Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1209), “Party Till You Puke”—Ade’s take
Hello there, everyone! Apologies for the late arrival, but we do hope you all have enjoyed your solving experiences so far in getting ready for the weekend!
It’s Thirsty Thursday (well, at least some people all it that), which means, as far as this grid is concerned, it’s time to get its drink on! Each of the four theme entries are phrases widely associated with times of the day when you might sneak in an alcoholic beverage…or seven!
- LIQUID LUNCH (16A: [Bender stop #1 (late morning)])
- DAY DRINKING (54A: [Bender stop #2 (early afternoon)])
- HAPPY HOUR (10D: [Bender stop #3 (late afternoon)])
- NIGHTCAPS (32D: [End of the bender (just go to bed already, no need for these])
The northwest corner was the last one to fall for me, especially since I needed a couple of crossings to finally make out ANIME for its clue (13A: [“My Neighbor Tortuto” genre”]). Also originally had “dials” for CALLS as well (1D: [Rings up]). Just noticed the “J” staircase formed with the first letters in the entries for JONAH HEX (27A: [Western comics antihero played by Josh Brolin in a 2010 movie]), JONES (33A: [Intense desire]) and JUKED (36A: [Did a fancy move on the field, say]). The latter of the three is usually mentioned in American football parlance, e.g. a juke move by a player carrying the football. Though it’s pretty dated, I liked the fill of LUMP IT (21A: [Eat your peas, informally]). Favorite fill in the grid is definitely JIVE TALK, and I only wish Barbara Billingsley was here to give us a lesson in such language (36D: [Cat’s lingo]). Well, speak of the devil! Here you go! You’re welcome…
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: GIGI (43D: [Model ____ Hadad]) – One of the greatest American tennis players of all time, Puerto Rican-born Gigi Fernandez won 17 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, winning at least one Grand Slam title every year between 1989 and 1997, save for 1989. Fourteen of her 17 women’s doubles titles came while partnering with Belorussian Natasha Zvereva, with those 14 titles being the second-most doubles titles by a team in Grand Slam history, only behind the legendary duo of Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver. Along with the Grand Slam wins, Fernandez partnered with fellow American Mary Joe Fernandez to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996. In 2010, Fernandez was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame along with Zvereva.
Thank you so much for your time, everyone! Going to have to decrease the chances of being here next week. Probably 55.9 percent at the moment. But, as always, will try my best to make it here in a timely manner!
Have a good rest of your Thursday!
Really liked today’s Universal. Challenging without being frustrating, and the theme was clever. I was pleasantly surprised and amused at each theme answer (and several of the fill answers as well). Good job, David!
Could you tell us how the four main answers relate to subliminal messages please. I have not figured it out yet! Thank you!
The ADs are the “subliminal messages” … there’s a VISOR with an ACADEMIC AD on it in the form of a college logo, a SINGER who was hired to do a BALL AD for sports equipment, puppies and kittens that are OPTIONS in a PET AD and a prom DRESS that pops up in an AD in your INTERNET browser. Parsed differently, each themer is a stand-alone phrase. I don’t know if I described that all that well, but I tried.
I had an error in the NYT — AMAS/CRIS. The latter made no sense, unless it was some strange bonus French-theme word, but the idea of CRIT for “reviews, collectively” never occurred to me. In the phrase Lit Crit, it’s short for criticism, which means the academic exercise, not ‘reviews, collectively.’ Is there an example of CRIT meaning what this clue says it means?
howtocrit.com seems on point. Of course there’s a howtocrit.com. Why am I surprised?
That website uses ‘crit’ as an abbreviation for a single critique and ‘crits’ as the plural. In any case, it’s just one website. I’m not in the least convinced that ‘crit’ is a widely known abbreviation for ‘reviews, collectively.’
My problem there is that I think of CRIT as informally shortened, as in “lit crit,” but not an abbreviation. Then again, I hadn’t heard another shortening, NOM, before either.
I could have lived without two Aladdin clues, LOUDEN sounds a little weird to my ear, and I’d have preferred to pair POESY with a poet old enough to suggest a rather dated term. But the theme was nice.
Fireball is not just Wx, it’s WxNDER -thus 5 vowels in the second position of the six letter string.
Aha! I was missing something! Thank you!
You’re quite welcome! Happy to return the favor, with the many times you all have shown me what I was missing.
Can anyone enlighten me on the LAT? I’m not getting the theme at all. Honestly just hoping that typing out the question will itself give me the aha moment, let’s see how it goes…
I’m in the same boat, FWIW
Check out the clue numbers and how they relate to the “…” down answers.
I guess part of my problem might have been that I had no idea a Twister mat wasn’t five by five like the bingo card? Having just googled an image, I also didn’t realize the colors were in rows! In my head the colors were various places on the mat.
But really I just didn’t notice the clue numbers at all.
You’re not the only one. Disappointed that I didn’t get it on my own. Cute nonetheless.
WSJ had some off-beat cluing today, more the star than the gimmick.
The NYT is not worth discussing.
I thought the NYT was very cute, but then I am a very old lady. And as for CRIT, as soon as I changed “amas” to AMAT, it sort of made sense. Worse things happen on Saturday’s puzzles sometimes.
BIRNHOLZ BONANZA: I feel very fortunate to live in Tucson (since 2012 after moving from the East Coast) for a reason to do with crosswords. When I first arrived, the weekend section– CALIENTE– of the Arizona Daily Star had a special, locally-oriented, puzzle by the great Merl. Starting today (11/14), Evan Birnholz is the creator. What a lovely surprise! Two puzzles from Evan each week. I’m beside myself. Another occasion to appreciate the kindred spirits of Evan and Merl. Sorry if y’all already know this.
I may have spoken enthusiastically but perhaps too soon. Today’s puzzle in the Arizona Daily Star is “Mistaken Identity” from Sunday’s Washington Post…which I loved, by the way. Perhaps if Evan reads this, he’ll comment on whether the Star series will just be repeats of the Post puzzles. I’m surprised the Star’s puzzle page editor, Jill Jorden Spitz, didn’t mention this.
They will be repeats of the puzzles from the previous weekend’s Post Magazine, and as far as I know the Arizona Daily Star version is only available in print. I just wasn’t aware they were going to start it this soon since I got word only a few days ago that they were picking it up.
Thanks for the compliments!
BEQ – Personally, I associate LIQUID LUNCH with early afternoon (not late morning), and DAY DRINKING with late morning (not early afternoon). Either way, I may have a bit of a problem.