Joe DiPietro’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Never Fails”—Jim P’s review
This took me a few good minutes of post-solve cogitation to really understand what was going on here.
The theme entries consist of well-known phrases except that a portion of one word is replaced with a homophonic letter which is then clued as if it was a letter grade (A-D—no F, hence the title).
- 18a. [Result of an excellent high schooler’s digging?] A TEEN HOLES. Eighteen holes. I was thoroughly confused by this. One, it’s just plain awkward. Where the second and fourth entries (below) make sense when you say them, this one doesn’t. Two, what is “excellent” in the clue—the high schooler or the digging? It’s meant to be the digging, but it’s unclear when you’re solving. Three, to my ear, the A should be replacing the “ay” sound, not the “eight” sound. When I say “eighteen,” I make a very brief hard stop after the first T. Last, I’d prefer a puzzle that didn’t make me think of TEEN HOLES, whatever those might be.
- 26a. [Did some above-average manufacturing for fishermen?] MADE A B LINE. Made a beeline. The entry makes sense in retrospect (compared to the first one), but the fishermen angle threw me off. I was thinking a “beeline” was some sort of fishing term I didn’t know about. If I was cluing this one, I’d’ve gone with a scriptwriting approach, like [Wrote some above-average dialogue?].
- 46a. [Effectiveness of a satisfactory comic insult?] C ZING POWER. Seizing power. This suffers from the same problem as the first one in that the final phrase is awkward. Perhaps it’s meant to be seen as an entry in a report card, like “C: ZING POWER”. But then, the B and D entries aren’t written like that (and they’re much better for it).
- 58a. [Check out some unsatisfactory sights?] TAKE A D TOUR. Take a detour. This is the best of the lot, IMO. It makes sense and it flows naturally.
Consistency is the problem here. If all four entries had been of the same structure as the B and D entries, that would have reduced the confusion immensely. As it is, the A and C entries disrupt the flow and make it unduly hard for the solver to get the theme.
Moving to the fill, and in keeping with the school theme, we have a TWO-HOUR weather delay (ah, the good ol’ days), and we GOT A WEDGIE by some pranksters. Pranksters? Bullies, is the more appropriate word, I think. Elsewhere, I liked GOOD ADVICE, “KING ME,” “GO HOME,” ON FIRE, and the VIS-A-VIS / EN MASSE crossing in the center of the grid.
Clues of note:
- 40a. [Pole product]. TOY. I’m guessing this is referring to Santa’s workshop, but it feels like the clue needs a little more specificity.
- 61a. [Brand originally called Froffles]. EGGO. Glad they changed it. I wonder what the slogan would’ve been. “Awful, my Froffles!”?
- 57d. [Alien in Boulder]. MORK. That’s a pretty deep cut from the ’70s. If you never watched Mork & Mindy, you wouldn’t know it was set in Boulder, CO. At least the clue wasn’t [Boulder alien].
In sum, two of the theme answers felt unusually awkward, making the theme feel off-balanced. I like the idea though. Three stars.
Erik Agard & Andy Kravis’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Hey, look at that! Despite being unable to crack into the northwest corner with the Across clues and having to back into it later, I still solved in a faster-than-usual (for me) Wednesday time—despite the grid having an extra column to fill in. It helped that I entered the fourth themer with zero crossings.
The puzzle is a good antidote for the headachy vibe from the (unilaterally) shouty debate I watched tonight. The theme revealer is 62a. [Profanity … or what 17-, 24-, 36- and 52-Across start with?], FOUL LANGUAGE, and there are synonyms of “foul” at the starts of the themers, but with different meanings in the theme phrases:
- 17a. [They’re the opposite of consummate professionals], RANK AMATEURS. You can smell the inexperience.
- 24a. [Disgustingly wealthy], STINKING RICH.
- 36a. [Wonderfully high number of years to have lived], RIPE OLD AGE.
- 52a. [Arm-flapping dance of the early 1970s], FUNKY CHICKEN. Did any solvers under the age of 30 drop that one in there without any crossings? Respect your elders, for we know of the Funky Chicken. Enjoy the video of 112,000 people doing that dance to Rufus Thomas at Wattstax. It’s glorious!
I’m often irked by grids like this for mid-week puzzles, with those open corners accommodating 16 7-letter entries. But you can trust Andy and Erik to do right by a grid, because they’re both exceptionally talented. This grid is smooth, y’all! And it’s made space for crisp entries like SIR DUKE, SHUSHES, and GOT WIND.
Seven more things:
- 40d. [Sacred creature to many Native Plains people], BUFFALO. Nice clue.
- 11a. [Chess whizzes, for short], GMS. Got this one via the crossings. Grandmasters is apparently abbreviated as GMS. Who knew? I don’t mind an alternative to the usual baseball clue.
- 67a. [Not widespread, as a film release], LIMITED. Since March, this has been largely irrelevant in the US. Nothing has been seen in cinemas by a mass audience. Maybe next year, if we’re lucky.
- 70a. [What “radio wave,” “foregone” and “main event” all hide], STATES. This is cleverer than the random cryptic crossword clue plunked into the midst of a standard crossword, and it plays on cryptics’ “hidden word” clues without being a cryptic clue. Iowa, Oregon, and Maine appear in the clue’s quoted terms.
- 10d. [“What had happened ___ …”], WAS. This delights me because it hearkens back, for me, to the SNL “Black Jeopardy!” sketches featuring Kenan Thompson. (Check YouTube for the Black Jeopardies featuring Chadwick Boseman and Tom Hanks—they lack the WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS category but are great.)
- 42d. [Hit 2018 Netflix stand-up special for Hannah Gadsby], NANETTE. Highly recommended. It ain’t all comedy, just so you know. I’ve yet to see her follow-up show, Douglas, but I hear good things.
- 60d. [Job for a lawyer … or outfit for a lawyer], SUIT. Good clue.
4.3 stars from me.
Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Hello! I’m still in a terrible mood after the televised embarrassment that was last night’s “debate,” so this will probably be pretty brief. I enjoyed the solve right up until I finished with an error and had to spend another minute or so hunting it down!
The long entries today included NW and SE stacks and two long downs: ST BERNARD / AIR GUITAR / IMAGINARY / DEGENERES / CHAINMAIL / CARD TABLE / IN EARNEST / OAKLAND A’S / ONE MAN BAND / MUSICAL SAW. I loved the clue on AIR GUITAR [It’s nothing to play with?] and enjoyed the mental image of a ONE MAN BAND playing a MUSICAL SAW [Sharp instrument?]. I (truly!) regret to inform you that Ellen DEGENERES is mean and apparently created a toxic work environment on her show. I wish it weren’t so.
A few more things:
- My error was at BOCCACCIO / BASTILLES, because I am an uncultured brute who did not know BOCCACCIO and because cASTILLES seemed equally plausible
- ET TU – if you haven’t checked out the absurdist and absurdly fun crossword blog et tu, ettui?, you probably should!
- I just binge-watched RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue, and Yvie ODDLY is far and away the best part of that show. No, Patrick Berry did not clue ODDLY as Yvie ODDLY, I just wanted an excuse to talk about Vegas Revue.
- I’m not convinced GAGSTER is a thing
Overall, this was a fun puzz but I am still in a bad mood, which is not the puzzle’s fault. It’s probably very good and deserves many stars!
Kevin Christian’s Universal crossword, “Skating Along” — pannonica’s write-up
Only a minimal write-up today, as there’s much else for me to do today.
- 58aR [Sport suggested by the first few letters of 16-, 22-, 36- and 47-Across] ICE HOCKEY.
- 16a. [Shoddy] RINKY-DINK (rink).
- 22a. [Kissing couple?] PUCKERED LIPS (puck).
- 36a. [“Stranger Things,” for example] NETFLIX ORIGINAL (net).
- 47a. [Reaction to a high price] STICKER SHOCK (stick).
- 1a [Apt first Across answer] BEGIN. In more ways than one.
- 35d [“__ Coming” (Three Dog Night song)] ELI’S.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s AVCX, “Knead a New Ending” — Ben’s Review
This week’s AVCX is from BEQ, who I feel like it’s been a minute since we’ve seen a puzzle from him in this venue. “Knead a New Ending” has a 3/5 on the AVCX difficulty scale, and when I first saw this grid, I almost expected a themeless from the square pattern. What’s actually going on under the hood is a nice twist on a standard crossword theme idea:
- 17A: What a famed tidying consultant feels when something REALLY doesn’t spark joy? — THE WRATH OF KONDO
- 21A: Version of a certain martial art in which you might plotz down on the mat and get schmutz on your uwagi? — ASHKENAZI JUDO
- 46A: Where Vito Corleone might place a picture of Sonny or Michael on a wall, given his hierarchy of esteem? — ABOVE THE FREDO
- 52A: Lad known for being phony? — A BOY NAMED PSEUDO
All of these entries are standard titles/phrases (THE WRATH OF KHAN, ASHKENAZI JEW, ABOVE THE FREY, A BOY NAMED SUE) with the extra phonetic “dough”, er, DO, we
knead need added onto the end to make some more out-there phrases.
One of BEQ’s other gigs, the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, has a new album out! I always dig their performances.
- I liked the two pieces of long down fill in the grid – CONE OF SHAME and HOPE DIAMOND
- I recognized that “Students in the Book and Snake, Scroll and Key, and Mace and Chain secret societies” would all be ELIS because I read Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House last year, which takes all of Yale’s secret societies and does fantasy novel stuff with them. Highly recommended – I’m currently awaiting the sequel.
Jeff Stillman’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
It’s weird how this puzzle assumes you are one-hundred percent conversant with three pop culture references from circa 1990. First off, the theme – SAYUNCLE suggests each of the four people shares a name with a famous “Uncle ___”. This is a reasonable conceit. But assuming the majority of your audience are familiar with a secondary Seinfeld character, a reasonably successful (but cringy) 80’s film and a nickname of a Full House character is is a reach. I “got” the three references, but none of them seem as iconic as “Uncle Sam”. I’m guessing the problem is the other options in the same tier are Ben and Tom, and both were nixed for quite obvious reasons. This to me is a reasonable theme idea, but one that lacked enough options to be viable.
Favourite answer today: DEWCLAW. I see some doozies, ones that curl in on themselves like a ram’s horn. I almost feel I should starting mounting them on my wall!
NW of NYT was really, really awkward and dense, otherwise a smooth little simple puzzle.
WSJ, that first themer could have used a much more appropriate cluing, especially the number of golfers who read the WSJ and casually do the puzzles. I’m sure the comments there will be a mile long. I did the puz last evening with the TV on (Not during the tantrum) did it when it was released. That puzzle was ultra-slow going for me. Weird! Got the theme working bottom to top, so “18” made even less sense at first.
New Yorker was New Yorker-y. Pretty quick one for me, almost Monday NYT-like. Faster than NYer Fridays. No obscure names (to me) being the difference. Huuuuuge difference. I liked it, [of course].
I’m curious what caused trouble in the NW – I thought it was pretty clean.
GROUPIE, ANGER and PIE all went in without crosses. Then LONGEST, SPARSE and GRAPPA. I brain-cramped the first time around on 1-D, thinking at first glance that Qom was a sci-fi or video game reference (duh!). At that point, RANK AMATEURS became clear (I was looking for ____ AMATEURS after the first pass through the across clues).
I don’t really see anything in that corner that’s unfair or obscure. I didn’t know the American Idol judge, but pretty obvious from crosses.
I’LL SAY – those kinds of clues can be anything, just didn’t click
etc. Your experience may differ! I didn’t say unfair, maybe I was what was dense
Re: New Yorker
I also must be an uncultured brute because I put BOCCICCIO.
GIGSTER seems perfectly plausible for “Writer of comic material”… OK, maybe it’s not, but I saw “comic” and immediately thought of gigs. GIGSTER, as it turns out, isn’t even a word.
And, yes, that “debate” was a depressing farce. I will likely not watch the next one. What’s the point?
@Rachel: Yes! Yvie Oddly is delightful. I first saw her as a lip sync assassin on “Drag Race All Stars” and was captivated. I do hope she’s seen a doctor about the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, though. “I don’t want the doc to discourage me” is not a great reason to avoid medical care for years and years. Better to know what the deal is, make your life choices, and know how best to minimize pain and exacerbation, no?
TNY Got me in the same place (SE), for different reasons…. I am also an uncultured brute with no knowledge of boccaccio, but I also didn’t know Billy Beame’s team nor Spock’s father’s name, so finishing was all grazing thru the alphabet on each one. The rest of the puzzle was smooth for me.
NYT: Funky Chicken was the first full theme answer to fall, so I was hoping that the revealer would be Fowl language and the other themers have some relation to birds. But it was ok as it was.
WSJ Awful. Really awful. Waste of time awful.
+1 … This is my first WSJ Wednesday DNF in almost three years of doing their daily puzzle. I’ve done a lot of Joe DiPietro puzzles over the years and kind of have a love-hate relationship with his work. This one falls at the extreme end of the hate range.
Re:BEQ: @Ben – I think the standard phrase (46A) is “above the frAy”. But that’s OK. I, being an uncultured brute, didn’t know that Fredo is pronounced FRAY-DOH and not FREE-DOH, so I was wondering what kind of base phrase was “above the free”.
These days I need something good I can count on. When I came to the site and saw who reviewed the Universal puzzle I knew I would hear Laura Nyro.