Zhouqin Burnikel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Squeeze Play”—Jim P’s review
A perfectly apt title indicates that we have to squeeze the names of plays and musicals into single squares in the theme answers.
- 23a BOR(N IN E)AST L.A. crossing 4d BE(NINE)SE. Tough because BENINESE looks odd, and because I’d never heard of the musical.
- 35a BREATH OF FRES(H AIR) crossing 18d ARMC(HAIR)S. Not tough.
- 42a S(CAT S)INGERS crossing 43d (CAT S)CANNERS. Tough, because I just wanted SCANNERS for the Down entry and SINGERS for the Across entry.
- 70a I A(M AME)RICA crossing 51d EDA(MAME). I like both of these things, so the entries were easy, but I didn’t know the musical, so this was tough for me.
- 86a PA(RENT)ED crossing 55d LEDGE(R ENT)RY. Not so tough.
- 105a YOU S(AID A) MOUTHFUL crossing 101d L(AID A) TRAP. Somewhat tough because I wanted SET A TRAP for the Down entry.
- 123a ANIMATI(ON CE)L crossing 112d I C(ONCE)DE. Tough because ANIMATION CEL is green-painty and I’d never heard of the musical.
On the whole, I had a challenging time with these, but mostly because of my own failings. I admire this theme and grid greatly.
Plenty to like in the fill: MS. PACMAN, “IS THAT SO?”, PANORAMA, PARFAIT, SUNHATS, “MY TURN,” “OR IS IT?,” and RAFFLES. I also liked seeing Hawaiian actor Jason MOMOA in the grid, and with grid-friendly letters like that, expect to see more of him.
With all that challenging theme material—in both directions—there’s bound to be some staleness in the fill. This shows up in the likes of AGEE, AARE (crossing ERNE, no less), OSAGES, NCAR, UTA, ADDL, ANON, BFS, TOR, ON UP, and SDS. I have much dislike for this last one which has zero currency these days.
So where does that leave us? A good theme (even better if you know all the musicals), some strong fill, but some detracting fill. Let’s go with 3.75 stars.
Trenton Charlson’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Here is why I wish Will Shortz and his team would try to keep entries from appearing in clues elsewhere in the puzzle. You get a weird entry like ENTWIST (which is a word that approximately nobody speaks or writes), and then a clue like [What happens after a zany plot twist] picks at the ENTWIST scab. And then you’re also annoyed that HILARITY ENSUES is the answer, because HIJINKS ENSUE is so much more fun (but, per Google, less often used).
This grid’s a 62-worder, packed with a zillion 7s plus a pair of 14s and a pair of 8s. Some of the 7s are zippy enough—AQUAMAN and AQUINAS (together again!), those poor LAB MICE, OUTKAST (though they’re a duo and not a group, and I will fight Merriam-Webster for saying a group only needs two members), FAD DIETS (not sure fruitarianism qualifies as such, and also that’s not a 7, I lied), and painter RAPHAEL.
- 17a. [Boiling point?], WITS’ END. I don’t think you can lop of the at my/your/their/etc. from the start of that phrase. If I ever had property at the end of a road, near a cliff, or near a shore, though, I would absolutely call it Wits’ End. (Merriam-Webster is cool with either at one’s wit’s end or at one’s wits’ end.)
- 21a. [Who’s first?], SILENT W. The English language is cruel. What, when, where, and why all start with a W or HW sound, and then who comes along with just an H sound, like how. Why do we wreak this nonsense on people learning the language?
- 51a. [Parent’s peremptory “reason”], “I SAID SO.” Mmm. No. This parent might have said “because I said so,” but constructors keep pretending that I SAID SO is some sort of stand-alone phrase that’s in common use.
- 57a. [Contemporaries of the Pharisees and Sadducees], ESSENES. Yep, this is the sort of S- and E-heavy crosswordese you might expect to find at the bottom of a low-word-count puzzle. It does not … spark joy.
- 26d. [Try to bite], NIP AT. This is one of those flimsy “___ at” entries that irk me.
Not sure if the puzzle just wasn’t much fun or if I’m in a mood. 3.5 stars from me.
Kevin Christian & Brad Wilber’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Interesting collaboration today! This is a common themeless grid type, primarily because it doesn’t have longer words in it. I don’t think there is nothing longer than 8-letters in here. But this one is chock full of fun entries and great clues. This was an absolute joy to solve! My time was over 11 minutes, but that doesn’t mean it was difficult. That just means I was multitasking while solving! A solid 4.4 stars from me.
Some of the fun stuff:
- 1A [“Dust yourself off and hang tough!”] “COWBOY UP!” – Not familiar with this phrase, but there are not many cowboys in northern Indiana. There are SOME though!
- 16A [Walk-off hit situation, perhaps] TWO OUT – As is often discussed in the Fill Me In podcast, ending a clue with “perhaps” or “say” is not the best. This is technically true, but there may be better ways to put this.
- 18A [Country by the River Shribble] NARNIA – I have never read these books. but that river sounded made up, and it was!
- 32A [Having memorized the script, in theater lingo] OFF BOOK – I also don’t do theater much, but I think I have heard this phrase. I think …
- 34A [“Funky Monkeys” musical] THE WIZ – I HAVE seen this! More than once!
- 57A [Triumphant GIF phrase] KILLIN’ IT – I think the memes with this usually have a baby in them, don’t they?
- 12D [Unorganized, in a way] NON-UNION – I was a Teamster for nearly 30 years, but union membership in this country is quite low now. Unions aren’t necessarily bad, but the mob influence is!
- 24D [Brand that sells Arnold Palmers] ARIZONA – This is making me thirsty!
- 43D [Notorious B.I.G. discovered her in 1994] LIL’ KIM – This rapper from years ago is somewhat crossword famous! And I don’t think I could name more than one of her songs!
- 44D [Storm on ESPN] HANNAH – This is in my wheelhouse! She is a great sports reporter and studio host.
That is all! My next LAT post is on Tuesday. See you then.
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Brad has kind of a double today; he has half the byline of the LAT puzzle today as well! I found this puzzle not nearly as hard as a typical Wilber Stumper … until I got to the lower left corner! Most of the 20 minutes I spent on this puzzle was on this quadrant. I don’t know why I had so much trouble; in retrospect nothing looks too thorny! It is crazy sometimes how the mind works. Great puzzle by Brad, as usual! 4.5 stars.
- 16A [Sore spot for novice skaters] TAILBONE – They are opening a new ice skating loop here next week! I don’t think I have ever been ice skating. Perhaps this year!
- 38A [San Diego Supercomputer Center address] LA JOLLA – I have never been to this area of California before, but this was gettable with a few crossings.
- 44A [Bleacher creature’s message] “HI MOM!” – This might have been the toughest clue in the difficult corner. Again, it makes sense NOW, but I found it quite Stumping!
- 61A [Antonym of ”awash”] DESERTED – This also was sufficiently vague enough to give me awful fits.
- 2D [Telenovela ”Yikes”] “AY CARAMBA!” – Doesn’t Bart Simpson say this too?
- 3D [Landscaper’s supply stop] GRAVEL PIT – Isn’t gravel normally in piles? Just kidding, this is OK. I am lazy, so I do not do landscaping!
- 11D [Rattling adders] ABACI – This tiny little clue just might be one of the better ones in the puzzle!
- 13D [1940s ”Giant Brain”] ENIAC – This entry is getting quite dated.
- 40D [Put off] DAUNTED – I also struggled with this entry. I had DAU??ED and just couldn’t “see” what it could be.
- 44D [Sticky, in a way] HUMID – I hate “sticky” weather, but as I get older, I hate cold weather more!
- 54D [What Tennyson called combatants (1835!)] AIRY – I have no idea which Tennyson work this is from. But I am highly uncultured.
Everyone have a great weekend!