Randolph Ross’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Body Blows”—Jim P’s review
The theme today is a list of common phrases featuring a body part and an action that sounds unpleasant if it were done literally. Despite the title, these phrases are clued straight (that is, as the phrases are normally used) not as part of some sort of crosswordian torture chamber.
- 23a [So sad] HEART BREAKING
- 38a [Extremely troubling] GUT WRENCHING
- 55a [Intimidation] BROW BEATING
- 79a [Very tasty] LIP SMACKING
- 94a [Reluctance to act] FOOT DRAGGING
- 116a [Overly picky] HAIR SPLITTING
- 3d [Hard to explain] HEAD SCRATCHING
- 16d [Nasty office gossip] BACK BITING
- 51d [Revolting] STOMACH TURNING
- 73d [Strikingly impressive] EYE POPPING
This is a pretty good and lively list, but “dragging” and “scratching” don’t quite fit in my mind as they aren’t as unpleasant as the rest. There are a great many of these types of phrases (I know, because I made my own list once) so there are plenty of alternatives to choose from, such as KNEE SLAPPING, SPINE TINGLING, TONGUE TWISTING, HEAD BANGING, ARM TWISTING, JAW DROPPING, etc. etc.
And cluing these straight is perfectly fine, but it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more imaginative and fun, like the aforementioned crossworder’s torture chamber. However, I expect an imaginative clue for something like EYE POPPING—while I love it—might not pass the breakfast test.
In the end, we’re left with a nice themeset, although I wanted something more from it.
Anyone else have trouble with that NW corner? I was slowed down trying to parse RED OSIER which has an unpleasant crossing with EBRO. ASHRAM, THE ERA (also tough to parse) and 80’s song SHE BOP added to the challenge especially when you throw in ARS, MACCA, and AP BIO. This is what happens sometimes when you cross themers, and we can probably blame those Hs at the start of HEART and HEAD for constraining the fill. The SE fares better, but we still have RHE, IT ON, and LONG ES to contend with.
Elsewhere the fill is stronger with the likes of POWER ON, TAKEOUT, GROUPON, YORKIES, NO NUKES, GOALIES, TOO COOL, PITCH IN, DENALI, INSULIN, DIAMOND, and a desperate “I’M RUINED!” HANDSET is good, too, but it probably shouldn’t be there given the theme.
And there are still plenty of gluey bits, and not all of it short: GOER, SNEERER, NEEDS TO, ABOUT TO, OMERTA, AGAR, IRT, RGS, etc.. And given all the gerunds in the theme, I could’ve done without ING even if it is clued as the financial company. And VIG [Bookie’s charge] is not a word I’ve ever heard before.
Clues of note:
- 50a [Girl, condescendingly]. MISSY. I can’t help but wonder why you would clue this this way when you easily go with rapper MISSY Elliott or the Doctor Who character.
- 13d [Double space?]. DIAMOND. Baseball? I think? I guess so, since one might hit a double during the game. But space? Meh. Trying too hard to be cute.
- 93d [Gonna soon]. ABOUT TO. I was wondering why there was a slangy clue for a not-slangy answer. Then I realized the clue couldn’t be “Going to soon”. Meh.
This puzzle came straight down the middle for me. Some good stuff, some not as good stuff. The themeset is lively, but I wanted more liveliness in the clues. 3.5 stars.
Kevin Der & Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Aaaah! I was enticed by the double byline, two all-star constructors, and they did not disappoint. The puzzle kinda kicked my butt, took me quite a bit longer than the typical Saturday NYT, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Sometimes a hard puzzle annoys me with things that feel too arcane or oblique, but this challenge was fun.
First up, the highlights: JAMAICAN RUM. “I MET SOMEONE” (they’d better be worthy of you). “GOTTA BOUNCE” with an extra layer in the clue, [How a security guard might say goodbye?]—bouncers are basically security guards. HEADBANDS, a largely female-associated term, with a tricky clue, [Do loops?] (give me more HEADBANDS and fewer TTOPs). A sports (or trivia!) league COMMISH. A theatrical cast’s WRAP PARTY with a misleadingly orthopedic clue, [Setting for a plastered cast?]. “IT CHECKS OUT.” “TRES CHIC.” WEDGED IN. [Really hit one’s stride?] as the clue for CLOMP. “FIRE AWAY.” TWINKLY. OGLE clued via [Exhibit a male gaze, perhaps]. Sports trivia that may come in handy some day: [Mascot of the W.N.B.A.’s Mystics, e.g.], PANDA (recall that Erik wore an Elena Delle Donne Mystics jersey for his ACPT championship). So much twinkly fill, so many tricksy clues. Love it!
Five more things:
- 1a. [Shaken thumb, in American Sign Language], TEN. I don’t remember learning any numbers in that intro to ASL class I took.
- 44a. [Start of some juice portmanteaus], CRAN. I’m looking forward to breakfast tomorrow! A bagel with cream cheese and the cranberry sauce (with fresh-squeezed OJ and orange zest) my son made for Thanksgiving. Yes, I know a good Jew would be horrified at the application of sweet fruit to a bagel, but hey, I’m not Jewish. My apologies to those offended by such things. It will be delicious.
- 6d. [Dairy farm product], METHANE. Yes, the CHEESE elsewhere in the puzzle made you think this would be something made from milk rather than … from cows.
- 10d. [Nigerian novelist Tutuola], AMOS. I hadn’t seen this name before, aside from Ice-T’s Law & Order: SVU character sharing the Tutuola surname. Here’s a recent article about Tutuola’s literary work; he began publishing a few years before Achebe and Soyinka. The last novel I read was a noir tale by a current Nigerian author, Oyinkan Braithwaite. My Sister, the Serial Killer was a quick read, and an entertaining one.
- 41d. [Holy places], SANCTA. I feel like this is the third time SANCTA has appeared in a crossword (all NYTs?) this week. What are the odds?
Check this out: the grid’s got one abbrev (SEATO) and no partials (unless you count I SAID SO as a “because” follower, which, really, we should because I SAID SO on its own isn’t really a thing). A smattering of foreign vocab, nothing out of place in a Saturday grid. And the difficulty arises from the twists in the clues more than from hard vocab or obscure trivia. Let’s call this a good 4.75 stars.
Stella Zawistowski’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I remember solving Stella’s puzzles from many years ago, and I know I am not alone in saying I enjoy having more of her puzzles appearing once again. This one didn’t play too difficult from a clueing standpoint, but there is an entry or two (or three!) that the solver may not be familiar with, but in most cases the crossing entries gave a lot of help. A couple of such entries, in my opinion, do actually cross each other, but the options for what the correct answer is somewhat obvious. (I’ll explain below!) All in all, a good themeless that, if I had my preference, would be clued just a tad tougher! 4.4 stars for this one.
- 34A [Org. that runs some 28-Across] USGA – 28A is OPENS, and the USGA surely does run several of these.
- 50A [Savory North African poached-egg dish] SHAKSHUKA – Never heard of this. And I am not sure this is even available to find in northern Indiana.
- 6D [NFL great Smith who won “Dancing With the Stars” in 2006] EMMITT – Has it been that long? Since I watched DWTS, I mean!?
- 9D [Useful remedy for getting stuck in snow] CAT LITTER – This evokes bad memories. I have had to do this more times than I care to think about.
- 13D [’60s-’70s South Vietnamese president] THIEU – I remember this name from the recent Ken Burns documentary, which I am going to recommend on the blog for the umpteenth time again!
- 21D [Storage area] CLOUD – This was surprisingly difficult. Yes, I was fooled!
- 38D [Julie of “Airplane!”] HAGERTY – I have seen this movie a zillion times, but it took a heartbeat or two longer than it should have to get this one.
- 41D [Pre-euro Finnish currency] MARKKA – This crosses 50A, but the K seems like it should be there. Finnish words seem to have a lot of double letters, so that info helps.
- 43D [Marvel Comics’ original Enchantress] AMORA – I am slightly embarrassed to say I have no idea who this is, but I was more of a DC reader in my day!
- 48D [“Star Trek” villain] KHAN – I think the mayor of London spells his name this way as well, but I know some KAHNs as well. I think this might be the German spelling, perhaps?
I’ll stop here!
Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Sorry this is late; it’s been a day!
This one Stumped me. Well over 20 minutes for me. Some of these answers just weren’t coming at all. I found the entire left half of the puzzle extremely difficult, with maybe a slight nod to the SW corner as being the absolute worst. Here’s hoping next week’s puzzle is a tad easier. I feel bruised after this one.But it’s the weekend, so I have time to recover! 4.3 stars for this toughie.
Some high points:
- 1A [Reino ibrico] ESPAÑA – Google Translate says this means “Iberian kingdom?” Any Spanish speakers out there that can verify?
- 17A [What a dealer may give you credit for] TRADE-IN CAR – I tried TRADE VALUE first. This seems redundant; around these parts you would simply call it a “trade-in” or even just a “trade.”
- 23A [221B, e.g.] APT. NO. – Well, I guess that IS what this is! Nicely done.
- 26A [Traditional time to sing ”Por los Días Pasados”] ENERO – Back to Google Translate, which says this is “For the Past Days.” Whatever it is, I am unfamiliar with it, but it sounds like a New Year’s Day tradition from somewhere.
- 33A [Parliament’s neighborhood] WESTMINSTER – I got the WEST part early on, but the MINSTER part was a little harder. I haven’t been to London in nearly twenty years!
- 37A [Online header of a sort] PINNED TWEET – This is good. I don’t have one on my page, but I have seen plenty of them!
- 38A [Certain dots on a half-circle graphic] SENATE SEATS – This was even better. You’ve seen maps like this before:
- 50A [Muslim woman’s face covering] NIQAB – This is just too hard. At least to me. I am not as up as I could be on Muslim head coverings.
- 5D [”He’s just-__ better than he should be”: Burns] NAE – Whenever Burns is in the clue, what percentage of the answers are actually NAE? I’ll bet a lot! I guessed at this one, and I was right1
- 8D [”Boy Scout Handbook” safety subject] SNAKE BITE – Seems like a handy badge to earn! (If you can, in fact, earn a merit badge for this!
- 22D [Brought up too closely] COSSETED – Why does it feel like I don’t know what this word means??
- 25D [Stop being square] OPEN A TAB – This might be one of the best clues in the puzzle. I thoroughly enjoyed this one!
Have a great weekend!