Carl Larson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Box Social”—Jim P’s review
I don’t think I’ve ever heard the titular term, so I looked it up. It refers to a specific type of early 20th-century fundraising event which you can read about here. The main revealer in the puzzle, BLOCK PARTY, is a more modern term that describes the theme equally well. The circled squares in the grid form blocks, and the letters in each block spell out a word meaning some type of party: FEST, BASH, FETE, PROM, BALL, and GALA.
There’s no wordplay involved with this theme, but it did do its job; figuring it out did help me in a couple sections in the bottom half of the grid. But that means that other than those little blocks, the rest of the puzzle solves like a themeless.That’s not a bad thing when you’ve got a lot of lovely long fill: ERROR CODES, LIFE CHOICE, LOBSTER POT, TEETOTALER, SAND TRAPS, “THAT’S MINE!,” CAFE AU LAIT, and “BEAT IT!” SPICED ALE is good too, though I can’t say I’ve ever heard the term.
That said, the crossings in the SE corner, AARE, LITA, and LTYR, were not fun. Also, I didn’t know the name RAFER [Decathlete Johnson who won gold at the Rome Olympics ], but that’s on me. RAFER Johnson won gold in 1960, was one of the three men who tackled Sirhan Sirhan after he fatally shot Robert Kennedy (the other two were football player Rosey Greer and journalist George Plimpton), and was instrumental in creating the California Special Olympics. Later he turned to acting and had parts in an Elvis film and a James Bond film among others. Quite a career!
Three more things:
- 17a. [Becoming a vegan, for example]. The clue says LIFE CHANGE to me, but LIFE CHOICE is more in-the-language.
- 29a. [Alternative to bow ties]. PENNE. Got me. I was thinking neckwear the whole way.
- First time I’ve seen CBD [Trendy oil ingredient from marijuana] in a grid. I expect it won’t be the last.
Tidy little theme with six(!) themed blocks (compared to yesterday’s NYT which only had four) as well as a boatload of excellent long fill. 3.8 stars.
Daniel Raymon’s New York Times crossword—Amys’ write-up
Where do you do most of your dreaming? Wherever you do most of your sleep, probably. That’s what this theme is about:
- 20a. [Winter whiteness], BLANKET OF SNOW. I know fleece blankets have their negatives but I’m a fan.
- 24a. [With 27-Across, slippery hazard], SHEET / OF ICE. Cotton in the summer, fleece in the winter. I’ve given up flannel.
- 32a. [With 37-Across, metaphor for comfort], BED / OF ROSES. I love my latex mattress, no wire coils or edges. And no stinky TempurPedic off-gassing.
- 53a. [1989 Best Picture nominee … with a hint to 20-, 24-/27- and 32-/37-Across], FIELD OF DREAMS. That space where you’ve got your bed and sheets and blanket, that’s your Field of Dreams. Cute concept!
Five more things:
- 4d. [Common clothing item … or what you might become when wearing it], SWEATER. Heck, it’s summertime. You can sweat in tank top now.
- 42d. [Company that’s RAD on the New York Stock Exchange], RITE-AID. Did not know that. Also don’t have any Rite-Aid stores by me.
- 5d. [Does the dishes?], COOKS. good clue.
- 23a. [Longtime music director of La Scala and the New York Philharmonic], TOSCANINI. Arturo looks good stretching across the grid.
- 57a. [Like certain transportation pricing], ZONAL. Kind of an uncommon word. I might have preferred TONAL here, though. ZAP to TAP, workable.
There was plenty of fill I didn’t love. OZS (the official plural of the “ounce” abbreviation is just oz., no S), the OLEIC/OMANI stack crossing REATA, APER, ENSOR? Hard pass.
Four stars for the theme, three stars for the rest of the enterprise.
Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
What’s this? A New Yorker post on a Wednesday??! Believe it, dear readers, for it is true: the New Yorker has added another puzzle per week (and three new rockstar constructors and a rockstar editor!) to their weekly offerings. According to their site, the challenging-to-easy progression will continue, with Wednesdays being the “moderately challenging” puzzles. The new hires are Wyna Liu, Caitlin Reid, and Robyn Weintraub, three of my all-time favorite themeless constructors, and the new editor is Andy Kravis, recently of the NYT editorial team. The future is bright at the New Yorker crossword!
And that should come as no surprise; these puzzles are consistently excellent*, and today’s was no exception. Patrick Berry’s puzzle includes some lovely long entries, some “moderately challenging” cluing, and high-quality fill. I also love this grid design— it’s cute AND functional! It’s the “thanks, it has pockets!” of grids.
Ok, so long entries, from hardest to easiest sections for me:
- US MARSHALS / CLOSE TO YOU / LANA TURNER – Yeah, this was not my section. I’ve never heard of LANA TURNER because I am an uncultured brute, and I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard CLOSE TO YOU, only people mockingly quoting this particular line from it [but am now listening to it while writing this sentence, and I don’t feel like I was missing all that much…!]. I also didn’t know whose job it was to protect people in the witness protection program, so I’m 0/3 up here. Thank god for fair crosses!
- NEIL GAIMAN / TAKE A STAND – I love Neil Gaiman’s work, but I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a T or an M at the start of _AKEASTAND
- ORANGE PEEL / FALSE ALARM / FLEUR DE LIS – Ok this section was a breeze, I mostly just wanted to say that I don’t like negronis.
- MOVES ALONG / PRETTY SURE. This I love! Both light phrases with excellent colloquial translations in the clues
A few other things:
- It seems like a big assumption that all schools practice a thing called SKIP DAY and that it is practiced in the same way (i.e. that only seniors skip on SKIP DAY), although this was the case at my high school, so what do I know
- Names I didn’t know: LANA TURNER, Gil HODGES, MIKE Hammer, Richard LOEB (whose wikipedia page I just read— yikes!)
- Favorite clues: [“No one’s stopping you”] for GO AHEAD and [Empty feeling?] for HUNGER
- I wanted the [Tupperware innovation] to be BURP. Alas.
AS A WHOLE, this puzzle is tight and moderately challenging, especially if you, like me, are unfamiliar with The Carpenters and LANA TURNER. Lots of stars from me, and see you all on Friday!
*Occasional dupes notwithstanding. I suspect that the disregard for dupe conventions is an editorial choice, rather than an editorial mistake; the sense I get is that they find it a convention that is more of a suggestion than a requirement? Would love to have this confirmed by someone in-the-know.
Francis Heaney’s AVCX, “You Wear It Well” — Ben’s Review
I loved this week’s AVCX. It took me a second to realize what was going on with the theme clues, but that’s why this was a 4.5/5 in difficulty. Let’s take a look:
- 21A: “Everybody knows …” — IT’S MASKCRET
- 39A: Name associated with orderly marches — JOHN PHIMASKOUSA
- 55A: Trait of Sesame Street’s Oscar — GROUMASKESS
Like we all should when in public spaces, per the latest from the WHO (check out that snazzy infographic at the link!), this puzzle’s theme answers are wearing a MASK over its NOSE (IT’S NO SECRET), LIPS (JOHN PHILIP SOUSA), and CHIN (GROUCHINESS). You can’t just wear it around your neck as a talisman. I also liked that NOSE, LIPS, and CHIN all appear in the grid relatively close to the affected theme entry. It’s a solid construction throughout
Elsewhere in the fill:
- I was familiar with Lennon Parham and JESSICA St. CLAIR‘s TV show “Playing House”, but if you weren’t familiar with that or “Best Friends Forever”, their show from before “Playing House” that ran for under a season on NBC, you may have had a tricky time with both parts of that clue.
- As someone who mentally pronounces both the DIET and the RICH in Marlene DIETRICH‘s name, it was nice to see a clue calling out that those are both words that can be related to one another
- I was super close when I initially entered that “[what] may permeate the air at a Phish concert” was a POT SMELL. That smell, of course, is caused by POT SMOKE, the correct answer.
Stay safe, all!
Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Comparatively Speaking” — pannonica’s write-up
Nouns with -er suffixes are reinterpreted as comparative adjectives.
- 20a. [Liquid that’s more low-calorie?] LIGHTER FLUID.
- 39a. [Movie preview that’s more amusingly exaggerated?] CAMPER TRAILER.
- 58a. [Casino worker who’s more tapped out?] BROKER DEALER.
Was hoping to make something of the constructor’s surname, but ‘coult’ is meaningless. I did however learn that the Scottish/Irish name (I knew that part) “may be from Scottish Gaelic cùl tir, meaning ‘back land’, or (at least in the case of the Lanarkshire village) from a distortion of the Scots language Cootyre, meaning a safe place to store cows.” (Wikipedia, whence you can find the two sources for these claims)
Would’ve been more elegant—and perhaps not significantly more difficult—to have eliminated the -er suffix (in any context) from the ballast fill. Am looking at the crossing 23a [One may catch a moray] EELER (noun) and 2d [More optimistic] ROSIER (adjective), 6d [Animal on a XING sign] DEER is of course ok.
- 1a [It becomes another name when surrounded by “H” and “N”] ERMA is quite a way to open the proceedings.
- 46a [Average name?] DOW. Had this as DOE. Fixing the crossing with 48d [Rousing] WAKING constituted my last filled square.
- 38d [Best Actor nominee for “The Fixer”] ALAN BATES. Surprisingly his highest Oscar honor, though he was the winner of two Tonys (Butley and Fortune’s Fool). So it’s purely coincidental that the clue contains a theme-like element.
Gail Grabowski’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
In (mostly old-timey) slang a clapped out car can be a HEAP, a WRECK, a CRATE or a BEATER, which end four entries; as well as a BUCKETOFBOLTS, the central revealing answer. Others include: LEMON (not necessarily old?), CLUNKER, RATTLETRAP, JALOPY, a HOOPTIE, and a JUNKER. I’d have personally eschewed CHESTBEATER in favour of the less contrived EGGBEATER with a new partner. In any case, 11/12/13/12/11 is also a tough theme to build a grid to fill cleanly for several reasons.
As an example of why this theme design makes for a difficult to fill grid see the top left, with dual foreign ARTES and ORIENTE plus sundry awkward 3s (the opposite corner features the same).
SPARERIBS is what I made last night, but marinaded and slow roasted in the oven, so that’s one answer with a strong positive association.