Gary Larson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Digs Down”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Phrases whose last word can be a synonym for “dwelling.”
- 3d. [Dwelling for a baggage handler?] PORTER HOUSE.
- 7d. [Dwelling for sailors on weekend passes?] LIBERTY QUARTERS. This only works if you happen to know that such passes are called “Liberty Passes” in the Navy/Marines. I barely knew this, and I’ve been around the military all my life. My dad was in the Navy but he retired well before I knew anything about anything. I expect most solvers wouldn’t get this one.
- 9d. [Dwelling for squabblers?] RUN-IN PLACE. Meh. “Place” is not a synonym for dwelling. When you add a possessive pronoun—my place, your place, etc.—it is, but on its own, it’s not.
- 26d. [Dwelling for a search party?] SCOURING PAD. Why do search party members need a dwelling? Don’t they have more pressing matters to attend to?
- 30d. [Dwelling for the “U Can’t Touch This” singer?] HAMMER HOME.
I couldn’t get excited about this. Too many little foibles for me, and some of these were just too on the nose.
Some of the long fill is quite nice (POLECAT, PET PEEVE, TRIANGLE, AGRIPPA), but there were too many distracting gluey bits (UNEEDA, AQI crossing DREI, REARER, ETES, ABBE, SRI). I for one didn’t know UNEEDA and that first letter crossed Y_P [“You betcha!”]. An E seemed almost as likely as the U there.
Various issues kept me from enjoying this grid. Three stars.
Ashish Vengsarkar’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
This is just another one of those “poetry meets physics” crossword themes—they’re a dime a dozen, aren’t they? What’s that you say? You don’t think you’ve seen a physics/poetry mashup in a puzzle theme before> Here’s what Ashish brings us:
- 1a. [This is the way the world began, per 51-Across], BIG BANG / 51a. [Physics Nobelist who co-discovered cosmic microwave background radiation, confirming 1-Across], PENZIAS. How is it that I’d never seen Arno Penzias’s name before, never heard his life story? I’m glad to learn a little now.
- 71a. [“This is the way the world ends,” per 24-Across], WHIMPER / 24a. [Literature Nobelist who penned 71-Across], T.S. ELIOT.
And then there are the PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE progressing through three 15s:
- 16a. [At an ungodly hour], PAST ONE’S BEDTIME. I only invoke that when I’m up past two.
- 39a. [Tomorrow’s cash flow assessed today], NET PRESENT VALUE. This phrase isn’t remotely familiar to me.
- 64a. [Classic film series that anticipated the invention of hoverboards] BACK TO THE FUTURE.
Awfully scholarly for a Wednesday puzzle! And I don’t quite grasp why PRESENT is incorporated into the theme structure. Just a “You Are Here” bit?
With 73 theme squares, things do get a mite crowded, and we get lots of stuff like NACRE, ARN, KOP, SES, SLO, BBL, BAAS, and whatnot.
Five more things:
- 4d. [Chinese dumpling], BAO. If you’ve never seen the Oscar-winning Pixar short Bao and you have access to Disney+, do take a few minutes to watch it.
- 12d. [___ octopus, creature so named for its large, earlike fins], DUMBO. It’s great to watch!
- 49a. [Fictional N.Y.C. locale on children’s TV], SESAME ST. Ugh, no, just … no. Also not a fan of abbreviated ELM ST in a grid. These are not good fill! You could do worse than to remove these two from your word list if they’re currently included.
- 5d. [Man’s nickname that omits “-old”], ARN. Hmm. Is that actually a nickname as reputable as Arnie? Feels awkward to make a point of that “-old” when OLDE’s in the grid.
- 13d. [Like C-O-L-O-U-R or M-E-T-R-E], SPELT. As in the British equivalent of “spelled.” Cute clue!
Four stars for the physics/poetry part, three stars for the rest.
Malaika Handa’s AVCX, “Parting Company” — Ben’s Review
This week’s AVCX is a guest puzzle from Malaika Handa, and 36A/38A explains all of what’s going on:
- 36A/38A: Regulatory slogan from Elizabeth Warren, and what the black squares between the shaded letters in this puzzle do — BREAK UP / BIG TECH
This affects AMAZON spread across PANAMA (“Site of a canal that did NOT have a giant ship lodged in it for several days”) and ZONKS OUT (“Falls asleep”), GOOGLE between MAGOO (“Nearsighted Jim Backus cartoon character”) and GLEE (“TV show that featured the Warblers and Vocal Adrenaline”), APPLE in SLAP (“Play with the knuckle, as strings on a bass guitar”) and PLEAD (“Get on one’s knees, maybe”), and FACEBOOK between BONIFACE (“Name for nine popes”) and BOOKER (“Cory, partner of Rosario Dawson”). It’s a cute theme, and as soon as I had the revealer, I was easily able to fill in the circled squares.
Other fill notes:
- It’s Eurovision week, so enjoy ABBA‘s winning performance from 1974 above.
- STEVIE Nicks was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame. This year Tina Turner, Carole King, and The Go-Gos join her there.
- “Machine that helps you chill” for ICE MAKER was one of my favorite clues.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup
Good morning! My aunt texted me a picture of a camel this morning so I guess that means it’s Wednesday! Let’s talk about the New Yorker puzzle.
Although there were parts of this puzzle I very much enjoyed, on the whole it left me a little cold. The spanner SUGAR SUBSTITUTE isn’t exactly exciting, and with the clue [Sweet freebie at a coffee bar], I almost felt a little ripped off? Like if I saw a sign outside a coffee shop that said “Sweet freebies inside!” and then the barista was like “…yeah, it’s the Splenda packets,” I’d never go back to that coffee shop again! False advertising on the sweet freebie, for sure. I did enjoy most of the other long entries, particularly: RIDE-SHARE / UNVEILING / LATE TEENS / I DISAGREE / ARAB SPRING / CHILD ACTOR / ADVANTAGE / HUCKSTERS. I don’t think I knew that HUCKSTERS just meant “people who huck things”– for some reason I thought there was some element of a scam involved. I guess many infomericals *are* scams, so maybe I wasn’t wrong?
The fill today was pretty hit-or-miss. I liked some of the short fill (DUH, PAN-, MAE), but a lot of it I could definitely live without. In particular, CCCL / MEAS / AST / SQ MI / REL / TAC / SEG / ERNES / LINE A are all pretty icky, and I’m not convinced that SUGAR SUBSTITUTE and a couple neat corners was worth it.
A few more things:
- Favorite clues:
- [Minor celebrity?] for CHILD ACTOR
- [Intro to sexuality?] for PAN
- [They’re designed to raise people’s standards?] for FLAGPOLES.
- I identify as a FRUMP
- Lol’d at AHOLE in the grid
Overall, not my favorite, but a decent start to the morning nonetheless! See you Friday.
P.S. Claire Rimkus and I have started an independent crossword blog called “Just Gridding!” where we will be publishing our own puzzles on a regular (or semi-regular) basis, as well as the occasional “just gridding,” which will be just a grid that we will crowdsource the clues for. We’ve got one puzzle each up so far– check them out here and here!
Jennifer Marra and Brian Gubin’s Universal crossword, “Produce Containers” — pannonica’s write-up
Nothing fancy about the title this time around. ALSO, there’s a clear revealer: 56a [Like many strudels, or the starred answers?] FRUIT FILLED. And we get starred entries, and circled squares. Nothing left to chance here.
- 16a. [*Alternative to a stud] HOOP EARRING.
- 23a. [*German women’s tennis great] STEFFI GRAF.
- 33a. [*”Creature” that makes many children laugh] TICKLE MONSTER.
- 47a. [*Occasional residence] PIED-À-TERRE.
Pear, fig, lemon, date. All are legitimate strudel fillings. Good consistency in that each of the fruits spans one or more words in the entries. Is there grid art suggesting a strudel’s stretched surface, revealing its filling? Open to debate, but I think not.
- 12d [They won’t keep you up at night] DECAFS. Barring a placebo effect.
- 20d [Number that only goes up] AGE. Got me thinking of M Amis’ book Time’s Arrow and whether that phrase was, like so many others, taken from Shakespeare or Cervantes—but no. Did lead me down several rabbit holes concerning—among others— BoJack Horseman and Arthur Eddington, though. 64a [In the past] AGO.
- 24d [“I wanna be there!” mentality, briefly] FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out, in contemporary parlance.
- 37d [Scheme that makes a villain say “Mwahaha!”] EVIL PLAN. MEH (1d [“I’m indifferent”])
- 48d [Cologne’s waterway] RHINE. Had the clue spelled it Köln, then the answer would be RHEIN.
- 1a [Hot chocolate drink?] MOCHA. I guess the question mark is there is to warn the solver away from COCOA.
Adam Wagner’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
From the get-go we can see this quite a busy theme. The entries with circled parts plus the final ten come to 62 squares: 10/13/16/13/10. The theme is SHELLGAMES, and each of four sets of circles surround their answers and spell out a board game (considered loosely). The set of entries that contain them were a little dry: TWINSISTER, CHERRYPICKERS, OPENINGNARRATION, and CHRONICSTRESS; but this is understandable given the large words spelt out by the circles!
I was very impressed with the design of the top-left and bottom-right stacks. Both have two theme entries plus a second pair of tens and a pretty open style. I imagine the “painting in” of the grid start there with CASECLOSED and SWEATITOUT. The top stack also has MENSCH and NEONOIR with the bottom a little more difficult to balance, resorting in a right-most SSTS to hold it all together.
NYT: Not that there was ever any doubt, but I’m clearly a nerd. I loved this one. I liked the multi-layered time theme with the PAST defined by astrophysics and the FUTURE defined by poetry. Maybe the present should have been defined by psychology.
It’s pretty profound, in that it captures the many different ways to define existence and time…
My biggest nit is with NET PRESENT VALUE–Not because it’s a completely new concept for me (I like learning something new) but because it’s not nearly as fun/familiar as the other two entries with the timeline. But I do admire the fact that PAST is at the start, PRESENT in the middle and FUTURE at the end of each phrase.
Thanks for this multi-textured offering.
Nerds unite! I loved this puzzle, too. It’s such a great concept that a smattering of three-letter crosswordese is forgivable. Fun!
If next year’s Orcas have a Best xwordinfo Profile Pic category, this dude’s a shoo-in.
Sad to hear of Nancy Salomon’s passing. Her “Don’t get too attached to entries” advice was crucial to me.
Agreed. I only knew it because I’ve seen the James Caan film Cinderella Liberty (1973).
“James Caan film Cinderella Liberty (1973).” LOL, that was my reminder too! I even was planning on mentioning that here. I remember liking that movie. I checked to see if it could be streamed, but seems only for fee or rental.
Interesting. I would have thought that “liberty,” as a term for shore leave would be more familiar than LIBERTY QUARTERS, which I think haven’t been minted in something like 70 years. But then, I’m from that age group that grew up on WWII movies.
Moviewise, I guess I’d tie it to Mister Roberts, in which the title character’s attempts to secure liberty for his crew play a pretty prominent role.
NYT I knew Penzias as the author of the Big Bang theory because I cross examined him at the trial of the AT&T case in 1981 – the case that led to the breakup of the Bell system. I was introduced to him prior to the trial and tried to impress him with my mathematical knowledge by saying “division by zero is impossible”, a phrase that had been taught by my college math professor. Penzias replied: “a lot of people believe that but it’s incorrect” and then turned away in contempt. On the witness stand he said that even today you can detect the existence of the Big Bang by tuning your radio across the FM spectrum; between stations you will hear a hum that is partially caused by the Big Bang. I was tempted to ask him this on cross-exam: Dr. Penzias, is it not true that before the Big Bang occurred, everyone got better reception on their FM radios. But, I chickened out.
I remember division by zero as not being impossible but undefined.
Like so many things in mathematics, it depends on the context. In standard arithmetic dividing by zero is undefined, because there’s no number on the real number that, say, 1 / 0 could reasonably be.
However, in some higher-level theory you could give 1 / 0 a reasonable value. For example, the extended real numbers contain the “number” infinity, so 1 / 0 could be infinity, in this case. This might seem a bit silly or contrived, but actually it can be a useful convention in some applications.
Is it just me or have Gorski’s NYer puzzles in the last half year or so been mostly a letdown? I have the utmost respect for her, and much of her work (especially those memorable NYT Sundays) are jaw-droppingly good. But lately her NYer puzzles have consistently included an excessive splattering of partials, abbreviations, and Roman numerals; oftentimes unsparkly long entries; and what seems to me like a general lack of refinement that’s below the standards of the both the NYer constructing crew and her earlier work.
TNY: I didn’t mind sugarsubstitutes a bit, we’ve seen “diner freebies” for straws and menus and napkins etc., so the extra “sweet” was a valid sort of misdirection to me.
Rachel… LOVE LOVE LOVE the new place, and really enjoyed both puzzles! Thank you! I’ll keep an eye out for more!!
Thanks so much, @marciem!!!! More to come ☺️