Peter A. Collins’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Heart Strings”—Jim P’s review
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and this grid may be the start of a thematically-apt run of puzzles from the WSJ. The revealer is LOVE IS ALL AROUND (39a, [1968 hit for the Troggs, and a hint to what can precede this puzzle’s perimeter words]). Each of the twelve words on the puzzles edges can follow “love” to form a two-word phrase or compound word.
Those phrases are (proceeding clockwise from the NW):
- Love HURTS. 70s hit song for Scottish band Nazareth
- Love SONG
- Love GOD. Hmm. “GOD of love” sounds more natural to my ear.
- LoveBIRD. Listen to Charlie Parker here.
- Love SHACK. Huge hit for the B-52s.
- Love NEST
- Love POEM
- Love TAP
- Love LIFE. Big hit for The Rutles. See it here in a clip from their self-titled documentary.
- Love HANDLE. Hmm. Usually these come in pairs.
The revealer song title didn’t ring a bell, (though it did bring to mind 1978’s “Love Is In the Air” by John Paul Young), but upon hearing it (below), I recognized it—though it’s been ages. Quintessentially 1960s, I’d say. The theme works (mostly).
Fill highlights include STEEL TRAP, CLEARS OUT, TARANTINO, ELECTRA, and GOES WILD.
I’ve heard that building a grid where your themers are all on the edge is tough to do. Add to that a grid-spanning central revealer, and you have a lot of constraints to contend with. The difficulties definitely show up here with a SCAD of sub-par fill. That SE corner seems particularly thorny with ATONIC [Unstressed] crossing ATT [NFL passing stat], MOR [Its cap. is Rabat], and partial A MENU [“Would you like to see ___?”]. Elsewhere there’s AT TWO (not to be confused with ATTU), CANO, the singular SCAD, IMING, ERI, and A GAL. This was enough to cause distraction and took away from the good things in the puzzle.
Clues of note:
- 6a. [Spirit assignment]. SEAT. I needed to think about this one after the solve to realize it’s referring to Spirit Airlines.
- 2d. [Rode by clicking]. UBERED. Hmm. Overly cutesy clue, IMO. And most people would probably tap on a smartphone rather than click on a computer.
- 8d. [When clocks are turned back in November]. AT TWO. Got that? Two o’clock in November. Make a note of it. (Sorry for the snark, but this has got to be one of my least favorite clues of all time.)
- 34d. [Frontman of the Maytals]. TOOTS. New to me. Per Wikipedia, “Toots and the Maytals, originally called The Maytals, were a Jamaican musical group, one of the best known ska and rocksteady vocal groups.” Listen to TOOTS Hibbert and his band here (if you only click on one musical link in this post, make it this one).
- 49d. [Tiffin of 1961’s “Summer and Smoke”]. PAMELA. Another song? Nope, this one’s a film. But a 50-year-old lesser-known movie seems to fit right in with the other dated references in this grid.
The theme on this one is good, but I wonder about some of the fill and cluing choices. MEH [“I’ve seen better…”]. Three stars.
Kate Hawkins’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Pour yourself a pint of Guinness to mull over this theme: The revealer is STOUT, 64a. [Kind of beer … or a multi-word hint to 18-, 22-, 37-, 51- and 57-Across]. Each of those five (!) themers is formed by lopping off an initial ST to get it OUT of a familiar phrase.
- 18a. [“Strike three!” or “Yer out!”?], UMP SPEECH. Politicians give stump speeches.
- 22a. [Way to catch a conger?], EEL TRAP. Is your mind like a steel trap or perhaps a bit more like an EEL TRAP, trying to contain things that are prone to wriggling out?
- 37a. [The main characters of “Brokeback Mountain,” e.g.?], RANGE BEDFELLOWS. Playing on strange bedfellows, such as politics makes, with a clue citing the deep, heart-rending romance of two cowboys in a 2005 movie (or the Annie Proulx short story it’s based on—how many movies have been adapted from short stories?).
- 51a. [Drinking buddy?], ALEMATE. Your buddy wants ALE, you want STOUT, and you can only afford one to split. You’re at a stalemate.
- 57a. [Gross messages?], ICKY NOTES. I love this! Yes, sticky notes is the generic for Post-it Notes.
What else? The fill is pretty smooth overall, despite the inclusion of six thematic entries. Some might give a demerit for NAPOLEON and AVERSE TO being longer than the 7-letter themers, but they did have straight clues, no question-marking tomfoolery. I didn’t notice that issue while I was solving.
Three more things:
- 9d. [Make drunk, quaintly], BESOT. Odd word in that form. Besotted, as in “smitten with,” is far more common.
- 14a. [World capital that’s home to the Temple of Literature, built in 1070], HANOI. What an interesting clue! Every country ought to have a Temple of Literature, even if it’s a country that’s less than 250 years old.
- 19d. [Cheese in an Italian sub], PROVOLONE. Making me hungry. I already snacked on cheese this evening. I’m thinking pecans or cashews are next. What’s your favorite post-crossword nighttime snack?
4.3 stars for this one. A solid Wednesday offering with a kinda fun theme and good fill, including those corners with the 6-stacks.
Wyna Liu’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
WOW, I [simply love] this puzzle. Which is to say, I ADORE it. The marquee entry is interesting (and previously unknown to me, so I just did a crash course on wikipedia), and the long 15s running down instead of across are both fabulous. The entire grid is super clean and packed with lively fill, but my favorite part of this puzzle is the clues. Wyna has a knack for evocative and/or hilarious clues, and that talent really shines through today—I laughed out loud *more than once* while solving this morning.
The central entry, the DUNNING-KRUGER effect, is clued as the [Doubly eponymous cognitive-bias effect whereby people with limited knowledge in a given domain overestimate their own competence]. This is such a precise and lengthy clue that I almost *didn’t* have to read the Wikipedia page to learn more. I wonder a little whether this clue length will be allowed in the puzzles the New Yorker decides to run in print. I’m a print subscriber, so I’ll report back (although we don’t know yet which of the three weekly puzzles will run each week).
Back to this puzzle, I also love that the entry about overestimating your own competence crosses DINGBAT [Nincompoop] in the middle. This seems to me like a defining characteristic of DINGBATs! The other marquee entries are the down-15s UNPRONOUNCEABLE and THREE-TOED SLOTH. Both are great, and the clue on THREE-TOED SLOTH is also so precise and evocative: [Critters with twelve claws]. Because three toes x four paws = 12 paws = 12 claws!!! Sloth math is the best math. And I shouldn’t forget to mention the other shiny longish entries: SINCERITY / CAROUSES / LAP DANCE / I DOUBT THAT / ON THE SLY / PARTY HAT. All so good!
Several more things:
- I have now added LIU CIXIN‘s “The Three Body Problem” to my to-read list
- Favorite clues (there were many):
- [One who won’t take just any cab?] for WINE SNOB
- [How many mixtapes were distributed in the nineties] for ON CD – ok, rude, I actually still distribute mixtapes ON CD, Wyna!
- [Headgear sometimes seen by candlelight] for PARTY HAT – such a nice visual clue! Doesn’t this make you just picture someone leaning over a birthday cake? Remember birthday parties? /sigh
- Loved the [“Highly unlikely”] [“Highly unlikely,” sarcastically] pairing for I DOUBT THAT and I’LL BET, although I think I’LL BET is not [“Highly unlikely,” sarcastically] so much as “Highly likely,” sarcastically, right?
- [Polo, e.g.] for SPORT – ok this one I love just because Wyna’s extremely cute dog is named Polo. Sneaky!
- For a puzzle with a ton of names in it, the only crossing I see that might give some solvers a hard time is the LUPE/DUNNING KRUGER. If you don’t know LUPE Fiasco, that U could be hard to pin down. Maybe also the LUPE/ELSA crossing?
Overall, pretty much all the stars from me. The impeccable cluing really elevates this puzzle, and the grid is gorgeous and sparkly and clean. More Wyna puzzles, please!
Will Nediger’s AVCX, “Twist Endings” — Ben’s Review
This week’s AVCX is a Sunday-sized grid from Will Nediger with a twisty theme:
- 23A: It turns out [Cramped spot on a plane] was [Egypt’s area] the whole time — MIDDLE EAST
- 25A: You were expecting [New Year’s Eve celebration]? Surprise, it’s [Bright and early]! — FIRST THING
- 40A: It’s [Coral ecosystem], not [Designed with accessibility in mind], like you might think — BARRIER REEF
- 50A: In a shocking reveal, it’s [Curly-tailed fish], not [Shell-selling site] — SEA HORSE
- 67A: [They’re kept burning]? Nope, it’s [Hash browns relative] — HOME FRIES
- 87A: Spoiler alert: we learn that [Featured conference talks] is actually [Important part of an arch] — KEY STONE
- 93A: [Picture advertising a picture] removes their mask, revealing [Manic pixie dream girl, etc.] — MOVIE TROPES
- 113A: [Alfresco marketing group]’s true identity was [Hot dogs from carts, e.g.] all along — STREET MEAT
- 116A: [Bachelorette’s existence] was the real mastermind behind [Orderly way to walk] — SINGLE LIFE
Each clue features two bracketed phrases, and the last word of the answer for each of these clues can be anagrammed to make the phrase clued that’s not in the grid:
- MIDDLE EAST/MIDDLE SEAT
- FIRST THING/FIRST NIGHT
- BARRIER REEF/BARRIER FREE
- SEA HORSE/SEA SHORE
- HOME FRIES/HOME FIRES
- KEY STONE/KEY NOTES
- MOVIE TROPES/MOVIE POSTER
- STREET MEAT/STREET TEAM
- SINGLE LIFE/SINGLE FILE
The “Pseudonymous Twain” you’re looking for this week is SHANIA, not Mark.
Other nice grid bits in this massive puzzle: BEEFIER, CRAGS, Scott BAKULA, MADE IN JAPAN, WET NURSE, REBECCA FERGUSON, AUTODIALING, and BEEP BEEP
Martina Waluk’s Universal crossword, “Move the Needle” — pannonica’s write-up
Little bit of a garden path theme today. The first two entries seem to be heading in one direction, but then the actual theme comes to light.
- 20a. [Girl/”pooch” duo in a 2002 film] LILO AND STITCH, though the title in fact has an ampersand.
- 28a. [2000 film about a boy and his pooch] MY DOG SKIP.
- 48a. [Tightly united] CLOSE KNIT.
- 58a. [Fictional restaurateur played by Kate Winslet and Joan Crawford] MILDRED PIERCE.
The actual theme, as you can see, is not movies featuring a human/canine duo, but phrases ending in words that can be verbs for things various needles do: stitch, skip, knit, pierce. Solid.
So here’s a bit of a promo for an acquaintance’s recent recording, as the theme—specifically 28-across— evoked the cover image in my mind. If well-crafted power pop/rock is your thing, it might be something you’d appreciate. Also if supporting independent artists is your groove.
Don’t tell anyone, but I think it also looks like a close-up of a lion’s face. Or perhaps a dog’s?
Let’s move on to the rest of the grid.
- 3d [Like bench training?] is a punny prompt for PRE-LAW. I had to verify that the ostensible meaning refers to a type of gym workout, including bench PRESSes (5a).
- 11d [“Sure, I guess”] YEAH OKAY. Just think of all the various shades of meaning that can be accomplished with permutations of the four elements ‘sure’, ‘I guess’, ‘yeah’, and ‘okay’. Right?
- 29d [One-named Greek keyboardist] hmm VANGELIS doesn’t fit, must be YANNI. That’s Yiannis Chryssomallis. (Vangelis is Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou).
- 37d [“Jelly” or “sausage” follower] ROLL. Jelly roll is a venerable (?) priapic euphemism in old blues and jazz, sausage (sans roll) is a more universal and less ARCANE (53d) one. Their both rather obvious, though.
- Favorite clue: 38d [Word that means “flourishing” with or without its second letter] BLOOMING (booming). I foolishly attempted BLOSSOMING which is way too long.
- Condiments! 15a [Yogurt-and-cucumber dip] RAITA, 24a [Garlicky mayonnaise] AIOLI. Factette: AIOLI comes from the Occitan language.
- 55a [Modern museum question] IS IT ART? I’m thinking this refers to Modernism, which is no longer so current. That is, this is a question that’s been around a long time (even before Modernism), but still has currency today. As I’m writing this, I’m going to say that this is a perennial question. And now I’m really skeptical of the clue’s veracity.
- 64a [Relation such as 20:21] RATIO. Aha! Belatedly I see the significance of those numbers in Monday’s Universal crossword in the clue for SUM at 19-across [41, for 20 and 21]. I can be slow like that.
I was going to pick something either more obvious or more obscure, but none of the various candidates felt right—they were too boring, too loud, too annoying, or too atonal. So I’m going with a tune more predictable (for me), even though it’s a bit of a stretch.
Catherine Cetta’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
HIDDENGEM(S) is a solid revealing answer to build a puzzle around. However, especially with only three answers, you want everything to be unimpeachably tight. GOTUPEARLY is a somewhat contrived way to reach PEARL and BESTPOPALBUM, especially without a qualifying Grammy in the clues, is kind of weird. The award is currently known as the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album, and has changed names frequently. MELINDAGATES was by far the most pleasing of the three answers.
The grid does a good job of being easy and breezy with little resistance. SNAKEBITE is about the one standout entry, although “old Western” is an unusual clueing angle to choose.