Christopher Adams’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Do the Splits”—Jim P’s review
Our theme consists of entries that BREAK A LEG (56a, [Encouragement to an actor, and what this puzzle’s starred answers do]). Each entry is a two-word phrase that has LEG spanning the middle ground.
- 17a. [*Playground apparatus] JUNGLE GYM. Considering that I spent a formative part of my youth stomping through the jungles of Guam, this would be a good nickname for me…spelled correctly, of course.
- 24a. [*Reference for a reporter] STYLE GUIDE.
- 34a. [*Modern way to look smart?] GOOGLE GLASS. I’m not quite sure what pun the question mark is implying. Does one become smart by looking things up on Google? Also, is this product even still around? I haven’t heard much about it since it came out a few years ago.
- 44a. [*Tittle-tattle] IDLE GOSSIP
- 9d. [*Mechanic’s lubricant] AXLE GREASE
- 27d. [*Bread choice] WHOLE GRAIN
I’ll be honest here. I didn’t realize those two long Down entries were themers until I was writing this up. At first, I thought the theme was solid yet workmanlike with a standard four theme entries plus a revealer, but now I’m duly impressed since those Down entries cross two other themers. The fact I didn’t notice indicates that everything fits and flows together so smoothly. Very well done!
And I was also admiring those corners! It’s pretty unusual for a themed puzzle to have such massive stacks in the corners. Starting the puzzle off with a non-themed eight-letter-entry is a bold move, but aside from some minor nits (like the one noted below), it pays off well. I like MAMA CASS and MAN-BUN as well as “LONG DAY?,” MR. TOAD, GALLERIA, and FADE OUT.
It was the crossing of ALAN-A-DALE [Character who narrates Disney’s “Robin Hood”] and CALE [John of the Velvet Underground] that nearly Naticked me. John COLE seemed more likely and ALAN O’DALE seemed feasible, too. But I must have that name somewhere in my little grey cells, because I guessed correctly. It was a near thing, though; go beyond Friar Tuck, Little John, and Maid Marian, and I’m going to start floundering. By the way, in the Disney film, the character is a rooster voiced by singer Roger Miller.
Clues were mostly of the straightforward variety, so I’ll close this by reiterating how impressed I was by this construction. Four stars from me.
Amanda Rafkin & Ross Trudeau’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
Quick recap on account of my foul mood. Theme is TWO PEAS IN A POD, with two P’s in four asymmetrically located rebus squares. The PP joins two words in the Acrosses but is within a single word in the Downs: STRIP POKER/COPPER TOP, WRAP PARTY/I’M HAPPY, VIP PASSES/WHOPPER JR, and FLIP PHONES/APPLE. The only other P’s in the grid are in the theme revealer. (Surprise! Rebus Wednesday instead of Thursday.) Solid theme execution.
Only knew CREVE Coeur, Missouri because my BFF spent some of her childhood there, but otherwise that is not the sort of partial name that you expect in a Wednesday puzzle. Nice to see TO RENT instead of foreign TO LET for a change … though FOR RENT would be much better. I like the MONETS since there’s an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago now … but the museums are closing down again because of COVID, oh well. More fill here that I wasn’t wild about, like NYJET, MACHONE, RANDR, EXFBI, YSL, ERES TU … meh.
3.3 stars from me.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Quick writeup today. Major points: grid shape (cool!), pop culture references (abundant!), fill (pretty good with one exception!).
The grid design here is rad. I love that the New Yorker constructors have fewer qualms/constraints regarding “cheater” squares, letting them experiment with less traditional grid patterns like this one. It looks really cool! It also means there are lots of medium-length entries but no long ones. A few highlights include: ROCKET MAN, CONTRARIAN, CAN I KICK IT, GOOD AS HELL.
True to form, Natan packed this grid with pop culture/music/”New Yorker”isms. In addition to the Lizzo and A Tribe Called Quest references above, we also have SNOOP LION (Snoop Dogg’s temporary stage name after being “reborn” on a trip to Jamaica), Gilberto Gil/Seu Jorge, and ROCKET MAN. Really fun entries and clues all around! Some people struggle with/actively despise this style of puzzle, packed as it is with trivia and culture, but I think it’s good and important that the New Yorker showcases different styles, and learning about pop/culture outside one’s own bubble never hurt anyone!
A few more things:
- Fill I could live without: EARLAP (the clue says “quaint” but the internet says “archaic” and I say “no thanks”)
- Favorite clues:
- [Nom de Web] for HANDLE
- [“I feel so ___” (“You really get me”)] for SEEN
- Representation note: crushing it. Particularly pleased that the full Lizzo song title GOOD AS HELL made it into the grid
Overall, plenty of stars from me! See you all on Friday.
Nate Cardin’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #52” — Ben’s Review
Happy Wednesday! It’s a themeless week at the AVCX, with this week’s entry coming from Nate Cardin:
- I loved the flavor in this grid’s choice on entries and clues – Nate has been a vocal advocate (along Erik Agard and others) for increasing the diversity of fill in crosswords, and this grid is bursting with them – TA-NEHISI COATES, ANG Lee, TY DOLLA SIGN, etc, and even common fill like CHAPS (“Pants for Lil Nas X, sometimes”) and REGGAE (“Genre for Tanya Stephens and Rita Marley”) find novel ways to keep the fill more representative, and call out areas where the world can be more representative (as in “Like most actors who play trans characters, unfortunately” for CIS)
- I also really liked the inclusion of slangier terminology in this grid – WEIRD FLEX BUT OK (“That’s a strange thing to be proud of; still, you do you”) is a great nugget of slang that’s lovely to see in a grid, and I really dug the cluing of “Share holders in the illegal music business?” for BITTORRENTS.
- There’s a great profile of INA Garten out this week, and I love that Nate’s called out her quote “Anyone who tries to make brownies without butter should be arrested” for his cluing of her in this grid.
“Is that Beyoncé?!” Sort of. Her 2009 album introduced alter ego SASHA FIERCE, 20D in this puzzle.
I think this puzzle definitely merits its 4.5/5 difficulty rating (there’s a lot of fill where if you don’t know it, you don’t know it), but the crossings are fair in those slots, and I loved the personality in this grid. More themelesses like this, please, Nate!
Kurt Krauss’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s theme by Kurt Krauss is quite basic, but consistently executed. It is simply four HEAVYMETALS, all elements, but used at least somewhat metaphorically: TINFOILHAT, IRONCURTAIN, LEADBALLOON and SILVERSPOON.
Likely because of LEADBALLOON being a central 11, we get a heavily segmented puzzle with four chonky corners. None of those four have too much pop, however, with [Fait accompli], DONEDEAL is about as wild as things get today.
Clue that lead me farthest astray: [Dino’s love], AMORE. Wanted FRED first.
A couple of truly cringy clue/answer pairs [Spanish Olympian’s goal], ELORO. Would you accept THEGOLD clued in that way? Also – [Jazz drummer Cozy and a king], COLES is totally contrived; I do know it as an Australian supermarket; is that something Americans know, foreign supermarkets?
Jim Leeds’ Universal crossword, “Poetic Puns” — pannonica’s non-write-up
- 25a. [Incredulous reply to the “Ozymandias” poet?] SHELLEY YOU JEST (surely).
- 39a. [Piece of land where the “Renascence” poet is popular?] MILLAY PENINSULA (Malay).
- 50a. [What’s used to type the “Aeneid” poet’s works?] VIRGIL KEYBOARD (virtual).
NYT: nice entry level rebus for a wednesday! but “OH THAT” felt a bit off to me
AVXW: Can someone explain how KATO is the answer to [Juice associate] at 7D?
Kato Kaelin was living on OJ Simpson’s estate and witnessed some events before the murder. He achieved a bit of notoriety during the trial.
TNY – excellent, as usual. Natan’s puzzles could probably just come with a giant thumbs-up emoji and save Rachel the time writing up a review. (Nitpick – unless I’m misunderstanding, 38D has been a “late-night staple” since way before 2010.)
AVCX – I normally don’t care for their themelesses, but this one really killed it! (Not because they’re bad or unenjoyable, per se, I just like their creative themes far more.) The long answers were great and really made use of the open space.
(Nitpick – love seeing my city represented at 40D, but odd cluing choice to use two stations that don’t directly connect.)
Yeah, I just read that O’Brien’s been a late-night host for 28 years, and is ending his TBS show in June. He’ll be adding a weekly variety show on HBO Max.
I think the idea is that the TBS show is named CONAN.
I liked the density of two word answers in the WSJ.
That little 3×3 in the middle nearly got me.
Better than most puzzles we’re been subjected to lately!
NYer was a beautiful-looking grid, but was all over the map.
Should have been a Monday NYer. I lost interest with all the gear switching and pop-ness.
In a genuine spirit of learning how to make better puzzles, would anyone who gave my AVCX 1 or 1.5 stars be willing to give feedback on why? Much appreciated!
I’ll second this comment. I feel that anyone who gives a 1 or 1.5 rating and doesn’t explain why is a coward/troll/bully/troublemaker, or just plain incapable of putting a coherent thought into words.
I am happy to explain my reasoning for the 1.5 rating. Let me start by saying a “star rating” does not allow for any explanation in and of itself and so giving a single score to what is a complex and fun puzzle is inherently not fair but this site has that rating system and so I felt like the honest thing to do was rate it. I guess the best analogy I can give for the score is an olympic diver who does the most challenging and beautiful multi-flip dive and then splashes on the entry, the entire score is adjusted by the one major flaw. There is a triple Natick in this puzzle for many solvers and it is in the central, grid spanning answer. Absent knowing Ta-Nehisi Coates, Teena and Ty Dolla Sign there was no good way to infer the answers. I love learning new things and love your puzzles and AVDC puzzles especially but if this had been a NYT puzzle I (and many, many others) would have blasted that section for being a Natick. I hope that this explanation means that I am not a “troll or bully or troublemaker” as that seems to be a rather harsh reaction to a puzzle solvers opinion on a blog that asks for our ratings of puzzles. I am hoping by my rating and my comment that you can rest assured that I admire and enjoy your puzzles and the AVDC puzzles but I retain the right to disagree on the overall feeling I have for a puzzle upon its completion.
Kudos. I hope in the future more people who rate puzzles with 1 will do what you did. Thank you!
This puzzle was decidedly out of my wheelhouse too. I had to look up a couple things too, but ended up satisfied with my experience.
Thanks for your reply – I appreciate it and can see where you’re coming from. I guess I feel similarly when I have to solve puzzles with names of baseball players from 100 years ago or things like that which seem more “fair” to a lot of veteran solvers. Either way, I’m grateful to hear from you.
TNY: Kudos to Ric for his great explanation. I rated both Natan’s and Nate’s puzzles quite low. Ben in his commentary says “Nate has been a vocal advocate (along Erik Agard and others) for increasing the diversity of fill in crosswords, and this grid is bursting with them.” True enough. That’s why I do Erik’s edited series at USA Today every day. Those puzzles, also, have many names and cultural references that are often new to me. The difference seems to be that Erik makes sure that all crosses are fair for those who don’t know the references. I made a determination some time ago to do every puzzle from Natan at the New Yorker. Often I succeed in finishing them. Today I could not breach the unfamiliar entries. Nate’s was even more unapproachable in terms of the cultural references. I’m 66, don’t like rap music, listen to classical, watch almost no television, thrive on movies from the teen’s to the fifties, so I guess I’m at a disadvantage. I’ve subscribed to the AVCX for a long time and attempt every one, as I do with all three New Yorker puzzles each week. Thanks to Nate for not using a harsher term than “veteran.” I’ll keep plugging away.
I 100% agree that Erik is way better at this than I am!
I got a big smile out of the pun on two peas / two P’s in the NYT.
I loved the NYT crossword, no big reason, maybe didn’t like some entries, but it made me happy to fill it in!
Again, no LAT. I miss it!
It’s up now. Gareth went out on vacation and asked someone to paste in his post. We all sort of…forgot. Sorry. Thanks for the reminder!