Adam Vincent’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Turn of Phrase”—Jim P’s review
The groups of circles contain the same four letters S, T, O and P, in rotating configurations (as you travel clockwise from the NW). We’re treated to not one, but two suitably apt revealers:
- 27a. [They can make you take turns, and a description of the circled letters]. FOUR-WAY STOPS. “Take turns” as in alternating who makes the next move.
- 47a. [You can make them take turns, and a description of the circled letters]. SPINNING TOPS. “Take turns” as in rotating.
The theme felt rather pedestrian until I discovered the second revealer. Then I was suitably impressed. What are the odds of having two perfect revealers to explain the exact same occurrence and have them fit symmetrically? That’s serendipity (and excellent theme execution) in action. Nicely done. A theme like this offers little wordplay (other than in the cluing), but that double revealer definitely won me over.
The long fill held its own, though the short fill was patchy in places. In the plus column we have HAVE-NOTS, EGG TOSS, SOLO SHOTS, STEPDAD, GRINDERS (sandwiches), and OSH KOSH. And on the “meh” side there’s ESTER, ESPO, IPSO, ERE NOW, SNARERS, DOTER, STRO, ILIUM, and GAH. Bah!
Clues of note:
- 21a. [Brand name derived from the German for “peppermint”]. PEZ. I knew this at one point, but it must have gotten pushed out. Google tells me the full German word is Pfefferminze.
- 30a. [Subcontinent currency]. In today’s edition of “Video games will make you smarter” you’ll learn that the currency in The Legend of Zelda games is also the RUPEE.
- 64a. [Stamp-selling org.]. USPS. What’s the latest USPS-based voting scandal? Oh yeah, for three weeks in August, they failed to update 1.8 million changes of address, just as ballots were being prepared to go out. Sigh.
Despite some trying short fill, I enjoyed this theme. 3.8 stars from me.
And what better way to go out than with The Four Tops?
Rich Proulx’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Either I have lost my mojo or this puzzle is wildly out of place on a Wednesday. It took me longer than most Saturday NYTs! Crikey.
The theme revealer is 66a. [What each number in the starred clues represents], DIGIT, and that’s DIGIT as in finger (or toe, technically) and not number. Various hand gestures are clued by describing what you do with your fingers to make them:
- 18a. [*1st and 5th], HANG LOOSE. Pinkie and thumb, a Hawaiian/surfer thing.
- 24a. [*1st separate, 2nd and 3rd together, and 4th and 5th together], VULCAN SALUTE. This one takes some coordination.
- 39a. [*2nd and 3rd separated], VICTORY. The “V” sign. (Also “peace.”) I think of the index finger as the first finger, not second. The thumb is off doing its own thing.
- 49a. [*1st], “CAN I GET A LIFT?” Now, specifically, that thumb should be up and out.
- 60a. [*2nd and 3rd crossed], “HOPEFULLY.” Fingers crossed.
I like the theme all right, and certainly it’s a fresh angle. One thing that made the puzzle feel hard, aside from the “what are these ordinal numbers all about” issue, is some really rough fill. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen [So much, in music], TANTO before. The ENOKI/KUSH crossing ([Long-stemmed mushroom], [Potent strain of marijuana]) probably stymied plenty of solvers. Never heard of [Newswoman Phillips], KYRA, and it’s a damn good thing I dredged HORAE ([Goddesses of the seasons]) out of the dusty recesses for that R.
Three more things:
- There must be a hundred different ways to clue SHE. So why go with 15a. [Word that becomes its own opposite if its first letter is removed], which insists that HE and SHE are somehow “opposite,” which, even if you accept a gender binary (I don’t), they aren’t. I don’t care how many times the phrase “member of the opposite sex” is used, it still doesn’t make these opposites like “on” and “off.”
- 7d. [Capital at an elevation of 12,000 feet], LHASA. I went with LA PAZ first. Wikipedia tells us that La Paz, Bolivia is 11,942 feet above sea level, while LHASA’s elevation is 11,995 feet. La Paz is currently a national capital, while China took over Tibet so Lhasa no longer has “official” capital status.
- 52d. [Extremely cold], GELID. I’ve never used this word in a sentence. You?
The fill might have been smoother with those 10-letter Downs split into 5s and 4s. It’s a 76-worder, and you can go up to 78 without alienating the editors. Would have been good to not pile I’LL BE and I’M GAME into the same puzzle as CAN I GET A LIFT, too.
It is true that John OATES was 16a. [Hall’s partner], but these days, Daryl Hall entertains himself and his fans with “Live from Daryl’s House” performances with assorted other musicians and singers. Here’s one with a cover of a 1980s song by Paul Young. The actual song portion starts around the 1:15 mark.
Four stars for the theme, less for the fill.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Hi team, welcome to Wednesday. Today’s puzzle from Natan Last bears all the hallmarks of a Natan Last puzzle, and (for me) perfectly nailed that moderately challenging Wednesday vibe. Great way to start the day!
The long entries today included a central staircase of AMIRI BARAKA / ALL-NIGHTERS / ADVICE GURUS and many long downs, including GALADRIEL / THE GRINCH / DREAMLIKE / BAIN MARIE / BHUTANESE / HEREUNDER. The staircase is super solid, and although I didn’t know AMIRI BARAKA, all of the crosses were very fair. I enjoyed the symmetry of GALADRIEL and THE GRINCH, who at first seem like completely opposite fictional characters, but upon further consideration do share a love of gifts, shiny bobbles, trees, and making cute small creatures do the work they should really be doing themselves.
A few more things:
- I struggled in the NE with ZAP MAMA/ GONZO / NEATNIKS because I put in… bEATNIKS… despite it making no sense with the clue. The clue on GONZO [In the style of Hunter S. Thompson, say] didn’t really mean anything to me, so would personally have preferred a reference to the blue chaos muppet here, but this is The New Yorker, so literary references win the day. Also did not know ZAP MAMA but am glad to have googled (see video below!).
- Favorite clues:
- [“The tea is…”] for I HEAR
- [Backbiters?] for MOLARS
- [“Hold on a sec … O.K., finished!”] for AND… DONE!
- Representation: Spotlighting AMIRI BARAKA, Regina King, ZAP MAMA, Cate Blanchett — I’m sold
Overall, lots of stars for a well-made, entertaining, Very New Yorker™ puzzle. That’s all from me today!
Mark McClain’s Universal crossword, “Geez!” — pannonica’s write-up
In which an extra G is introduced to the beginning of each phrase’s second word, immediately after the first word’s -ING ending. Kind of reminiscent of the two Cs in “McClain” … but I digress.
- 20a. [Husbands-to-be in line at the courthouse?] WAITING GROOMS (waiting rooms).
- 28a. [Crops harvested early in the year?] SPRING GRAINS (spring rains).
- 46a. [Baseball accessory that will last a lifetime?] UNDYING GLOVE (undying love).
- 56a. [Superficial attraction touted in a casino ad?] GAMBLING GLOSS (gambling loss).
Aside from the first letter in 56-across, the only Gs in the grid are the doubled ones of the theme answers. There are none in the non-theme sections.
- 47d [Snatch] NAB, followed by 48d [Hawn in “Snatched”] GOLDIE. I thought the latter was asking for her character’s last name, which would have been … <consults interwebs) … MIDDLETON.
- 5a [Artistic production] SHOW crossing 6d [Install in a gallery] HANG.
- Favorite clue: 33a [Apt cry from a grumpy shepherd?] BAH.
- 41a [Nation east of Italy’s “bootheel”] ALBANIA. Just want to say that without a space or a hyphen bootheel sure looks strange, but that seems to be the standard orthography.
Jeff Stillman’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
Product placement in crossword themes is a touchy subject. Here we get kind of equal opportunity advertising with the first, third and fifth most popular browsers: Google CHROME, Microsoft EDGE, and Apple’s SAFARI; featured at the start of three long answers. Firefox (2) and Internet Explorer (4, still) are excluded for obvious reasons. 8th Place Opera is bundled with many phones here, especially more basic ones and has a more amenable beginning. CHROMEDOME and SAFARIJACKET (whose clue doesn’t seem to be claiming the term for “bush” for Australia, for once) are both excellent choices. EDGECITIES is a tad more technical.
- [Req. for some IKEA purchases], ASSY. It does seem to be an in use abbreviation, though I can’t imagine a circumstance where you’d use it like that…
- [Peyton Manning’s alma mater, for short], UTENN. Tried UPENN. Seemed reasonable. And HOPCIDER seemed as plausible as HOTCIDER. I don’t think either are a thing here.
- [Brother of Ophelia], LAERTES. You’d think he’d show up more given the letters…
- [Uma’s role in “The Producers”], ULLA. Was it a memorable role?
Byron Walden’s AVCX, “Mind the Gap” — Ben’s Review
This week’s AVCX is a 17×17 grid from Byron Walden. Byron’s cluing wavelength generally exists in a separate space from my own solving wavelength, and that was definitely true for the bottom part of this grid. Let’s take a look at the theme:
- 20A: Regimes of violent underworld criminality — MAFIOCRACIES
- 26A: Cadences like that of “Jack and Jill went up the hill …” — FALLING RHYTHMS
- 38A: Alter ego de Clark Kent — SUPER HOMBRE
- 47A: Certain weather reports — DOPPLER READINGS
- 55A: Bears defensive end named Super Bowl XX MVP, whose last name suggests something of the physical impact he could make — RICHARD DENT
- 67A: Birds with distinctive plumage in Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” — FAN-TAIL PIGEONS
- 78A: “Back off a bit,” or a hint to the circled letters in each of this puzzle’s theme answers — I NEED MY SPACE
I had an additional challenge with this grid, as my go-to solve program (an HTML5 Across Lite tool) did not render the circled/shaded squares in this week’s grid. Once I saw those, grokking what was going on was much simpler – FORCE, FLIGHT, PROBE, OPERA, CADET, and ALIEN can all have the word SPACE proceed them to make SPACE FORCE, SPACE FLIGHT, etc.
Here’s one more thing that needs its space, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.
As mentioned, Byron and I tend to be on different wavelengths, but I thought that might not be the case – I was sailing through things like TOP CHEF, KLAATU, and “A Salt with a Deady PEPA”, and then I hit the bottom third of the grid and slogged through trying to figure out what subgenre the ska bands No Doubt and Reel Big Fish fell into (that’d be SKAPOP) or Athena’s counterpart (that’d be MINERVA). Still, this was a fun solve.