Sean Griffith’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Deductions and Refunds”—Jim P’s review
Back when I was a project manager in the Air Force, we used the initialism OBE a lot. It didn’t stand for Order of the British Empire or Out of Body Experience. Instead, it meant Overcome By Events, as when an activity requiring a decision to be made is rendered pointless due to external extenuating circumstances.
In some ways, I’m feeling this puzzle is OBE since Tax Day was officially moved to July 15 due to the pandemic. It’s nothing to do with the puzzle itself, it’s just now kind of odd to have it on April 15 when the actual Tax Day isn’t for three more months.
But be that as it may, we still have a taxing puzzle to look at. So what’s going on?
Well, to be honest, I’m not 100% sure. We have entries with various parts of the word TAX in circles. Let’s look at the entries first and then try to interpret them.
- 20a [Shaft near a driver’s feet] FRONT AXLE
- 27a [Those firing shots?] ANTI-VAXXERS. Meh. I’m not sure how being opposed to vaccinations is “firing shots.” And I dislike how flippant this clue is regarding people who openly disregard science when it comes to the health and lives of their children and the people around them. Get your kids vaccinated, people! And what will this group of people say when a coronavirus vaccine is eventually developed? Oh, I see they’re already hard at work spreading lies. Apparently, the coronavirus was created so that the government could mandate vaccinations at a future date. Phew! At least it’s not a Chinese bio-weapon anymore!
- 37a [What some do regarding a 54-Across] FILE AN EXTENSION. Yeah, well not this year. Everyone gets an extension. Like I said, OBE. Plus, it’s weird to have a tax-related entry here among the other non-tax-related entries.
- 45a [1999 movie satirizing “Star Trek” fandom] GALAXY QUEST. Turns out it has its own cult-like fandom.
- 54a [Citizen’s annual homework assignment, and this puzzle’s theme] TAX RETURN
How to interpret this? On the surface it just looks like your TAX is decreasing and then it’s increasing again. But based on the title, I guess we’re taking deductions from the TAX we owe up top and then it’s getting returned to us down below. I guess? It’s not totally clear.
And I’m not sure what to make of the fact that the Xs in all these entries are lined up in the middle column. I guess it just makes it more visually obvious that TAX is being deducted and then returned. Again, I’m just guessing here.
One clue of note: 66a. [Stinger seller]. KIA. I don’t recognize this vehicle, but I guess it’s been around for a few years now. Any Stinger drivers out there?
So what’s the bottom line on this grid? It’s just an odd duck to me. First, it’s not Tax Day. But second, TAX is such a short word to do this with that the vast majority of the theme letters are superfluous. Lastly, it’s just not crystal clear what’s going on here, and the visual isn’t all that effective. Maybe it needs something like the IRS up top and YOU down at the bottom. I don’t know, but I think it needs something to make it clear that Uncle Sam is getting less and you are getting more. If I’m missing something please feel free to let me know in the comments.
John-Clark Levin & Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
This 15×16 puzzle with left/right symmetry has a theme revealer in the middle: 34a. [Complete … as literally suggested by the four symmetrical pairs of answers to the starred clues], HEAD TO TOE. There are four pairs of entries, all running in the Down direction, and the first letter (the “head”) drops down to the end (the “toe) to form another legit entry:
- 2d. [*Mythical beast that’s half lion and half eagle], GRIFFIN / 12d. [*Making up variations on a theme], RIFFING.
- 21d. [*Send off, as rays], EMANATE / 22d. [*Sea cow], MANATEE. The classic pairing; I’ve seen this combo before.
- 39d. [*Waits for a better offer, say], HOLDS OUT / 44d. [*Antebellum Dixie], OLD SOUTH. Gonna pass on any Old South nostalgia, if you don’t mind.
- 50d. [*1896 Olympics locale], ATHENS, 52d. [*Hush-hush org.], THE NSA. Not loving that THE as part of the entry, plus it crosses WHAT THE.
When you have all these stacked 7s and 8s along with the constraints of having nine theme entries, you end up with an awful lot of compromise. Entries that held no delight for me included CLARO, ROLFS, AFTA, EFREM, ENDPIN (“WHAT THE…!?”, indeed), RAH, GST, MENLO, plural EHS, REDFIN (clued as some fish I don’t know rather than as the real estate company I do), SAY TO, and that dangling GO SEEK.
Three more things:
- 9a. [Cigar milder than a maduro], CLARO. Cigars are gross. You know what sort of maduros are great, though? The sweet fried plantains. I will never say no to an order of maduros at a Latin restaurant.
- 45d. [People are asked to sign it after an accident], CAST. If you get a cast for a broken bone, that is.
- Crossword Bechdel test! Umberto ECO (could’ve been clued without people at all), EFREM Zimbalist (a name I learned from the crosswords of yore), TAFT, a generic LINEMAN, the Kinks, MOE of the Three Stooges, FDR, Magic Johnson, Edmond ROSTAND, that’s 9. (Magic isn’t a white dude, so we could also go with 8 here.) Fictional LOLA in a dude’s semi-gross song lyrics, fictional ELENA of kids’ TV, Beyoncé’s SASHA Fierce persona, ETTA James, Nora EPHRON, that’s 5. Bzzzzzzzt!
3 stars from me.
Alex Rosen’s Universal crossword, “Pronunciation Guide”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Well-known phrases whose circled letters describe specific pronunciation sounds.
- 25a [Resident of the Hamptons, e.g.] LONG ISLANDER
- 32a [“Tainted Love” band] SOFT CELL. I believe that was their only big hit—at least in the U.S.
- 39a [Unfortunate part of a stick] SHORT END
- 48a [Tough ball for a shortstop to field] HARD GROUNDER. I’m not so up on my baseball terminology, but I believe I’ve heard this before.
I still feel like I’m missing something. I keep looking for a revealer telling me what the puzzle is trying to get me to pronounce (it claims to be a guide after all). But if you make the sounds as described by the theme answers, you get something close to “ice egg”…which isn’t a thing as far as I know.
Check that. Apparently ice eggs are a thing. See this news story about ice egg formation and when they’ve been washed ashore en masse in recent years.
But I really don’t think that’s what the puzzle is aiming for. I suspect there isn’t an actual word or term we’re meant to pronounce which is unfortunate, because that would’ve been a really nice touch. But I’m thinking the constraints might be too difficult to pull this off. After all, only vowels can be long or short, and only the letters C and G can be hard or soft. And of course you’d have to have specific well-known phrases that fit symmetrically in the right order to have the desired effect. So yeah, I don’t think it’s possible.
Still, it’s a little weird to have a puzzle titled “Pronunciation Guide” which doesn’t have a pronounceable over-arching answer. But I d0 like the idea here.
In the fill we have RED TAPE, a RARE GEM, and a WARM SPOT. STALLED and ALMANAC are fine, but ON LOAN TO feels like a missed opportunity to put something more interesting in a marquee position.
Clues of note:
- 60a. [Stud poker?]. NAIL. This doesn’t seem like it would be a new clue, but I don’t recall seeing it before. Good one.
- 63a. [Purple candy’s flavor, often]. GRAPE. Only in the U.S., I think. Elsewhere, purple signifies blackcurrant flavor.
- 64a. [Maker of detergent PODS]. TIDE. This clue reminded me that we recently used the PODS storage and moving service to get my college senior’s belongings from her school in Minnesota to our home in Washington. We had a great experience with the company and all her stuff arrived on time and in the exact condition in which she packed them. We would use them again if needed.
I thought this was a creative and interesting theme. (And I think it’s a debut, so Congrats on that!) But it set me up to want just a little bit more from it. 3.8 stars.
Stella Zawistowski’s AVCX, “Rear-ended” — Ben’s Review
This week’s AVCX puzzle pairs nicely with Byron Walden’s puzzle from a few weeks ago, for reasons that are apparent from the title (“Rear-ended”) and the theme entries:
- 18A: “Yeah, right” — MY AUNT FANNY
- 24A: Snack that used to come in caramel flavor (*sniff*) — PIRATE’S BOOTY
- 51A: Certain sweet breakfast treats (if you’re not on the Keto diet) — CINNAMON BUNS
- 61A: Decision-making paradox, in philosophy — BURIDAN’S ASS
It’s butts, y’all. This is a cute, cheeky theme.
I got briefly stymied before I figured out what was going on because I assumed our decision-making paradox was the TROLLEY PROBLEM and the breakfast treats were CINNAMON ROLLS, both of which are too long for their respective grid spaces, but DO have ROLL, so I thought we had some kind of rebus situation happening. Nope! It’s CINNAMON BUNS and BURIDAN’S ASS, which is where you place a donkey between a pile of hay and a pail of water and let chaos ensue.
Today I learned that Jane Krakowski is in the music video for the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye EARL”
Lots of great food/drink clues in the fill today: in addition to PIRATE’S BOOTY and CINNAMON BUNS from the theme, there was Sha CHA Chicken, the ADOBO sauce that chipotle peppers are canned in, ROTINI, KIRIN beer (which is made by Ichiban but brewed outside of Japan), chocolate ASSORTMENTs, the crossword-ubiquitous OREO, and salad NICOISE.
Be well, all!
Craig Stowe’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
It’s “words that go with” Wednesday again at the LA Times. Today’s word is WAY, and it is signaled with a more intricate revealing answer than is typical: RIGHTOFWAY. Put “way” in front, i.e. to the left, of STATION, SIDE, BILL and WARD and it makes four other words.
Best bits: I’m not sure what a BROHUG is, but I’ve probably seen one? The clue for POSTMEN as [Male carriers?] which is a tad awkward, but also very clever.