This week’s AVCX is a meta contest closing on Sunday, July 11. We’ll have a writeup available once the deadline has closed.
Matthew Sewell’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Service Animals”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Certain two-word animals (real or fictional) are given jobs by adding the suffix -ING to their first words.
- 20a. [Shortstop’s service animal?] FIELDING MOUSE. Field mouse.
- 34a. [Soldier’s service animal?] MARCHING HARE. March Hare.
- 41a. [Pugilist’s service animal?] BOXING TURTLE. Box turtle.
- 56a. [Writer’s service animal?] DRAFTING HORSE. Draft horse.
Another cute theme. I’m imagining these professionals engaging in their work with their service animals by their sides. The one who seems the most unsuited to their profession is the turtle, and that makes that one funnier.
My only nit is the clue for the last one. “Drafting” is not an activity a writer engages in, AFAIK. A writer may produce a draft, but I’ve never heard anyone call that process “drafting.” I’d have gone with an architect myself.
Looking at the fill, hmm, nothing jumps out as especially colorful. I struggled to piece together the Bee Gees song at 44d [1979 #1 hit for the Bee Gees], but then had an aha moment when the G fell into place to give me TRAGEDY. Everything else is fairly workmanlike…which turns out to be appropriate for the theme.
Clues of note:
- 32a. [Comet feature]. ANTLER. The reindeer, not the celestial body. Anyone else try to think of a synonym for “tail” that’s six letters long?
- 66a. [Career]. RACE. Ah, it’s a verb, not a noun.
- 8d. [Edmund Pettus Bridge location]. SELMA. Pettus was a Confederate general and KKK leader. The movement to get the bridge renamed gained traction after the death of Rep. John Lewis, but I can’t find any news online since January of this year when legislation was announced to let the people of Selma vote on a new name.
- 59d. [NPR’s Totenberg]. NINA. I listen to NPR a lot, and I don’t know why, but something about NINA Totenberg’s voice just makes me tune out. I have nothing but respect for her, but for some reason, when she starts reciting dialog from the Supreme Court justices, my mind just starts wandering, and I have to force myself to pay attention. Just me?
Cute theme. Not so much sparkle in the fill. 3.5 stars.
Peter Collins’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The theme is scattered all around the grid. The TORTOISE in circled squares on the diagonal from top left to bottom right competes against the HARE diagonally starting in square #6. 38a SLOW AND STEADY / 71a WINS / 72a THE / 73a RACE, the moral of the Aesop fable. The hare 22a TAKES A NAP and also 57a LOSES A BET. But hang on, this doesn’t work visually: The tortoise is leaping to every second square, racing to the far corner, while the hare takes a few baby steps. Is this tortoise not tearing through the grid pell-mell?
The diagonal entries mean plenty of compromises in the fill. Nobody loves to see a single ALP, DEBAR, ON LSD (memo to contructors: please do nix ONPOT from your word lists!), ECTO AIRE DONOT SSTS. Presumably the puzzle was constructed before HBO NOW fell into obsolescence last year.
And then there’s 47a. [“Quiet, you!,” quaintly], OH, DRY UP. Beg pardon?? I’ll send you $5 if you can prove you’ve ever said this out loud prior to this crossword’s publication.
Did not know but pieced together 41d. [Ancient Greek festival honoring the god of wine], DIONYSIA.
I don’t care for dupes, especially when they cross. BRER Rabbit crossing Warner BROS.? That’s br[oth]er and bro[ther]s, you know.
Three more things:
- 3d. [Don’t knock until you’ve tried it], DOORBELL. Fun clue!
- 32d. [Mischief-maker], GREMLIN. It still boggles the mind that in the 1970s, there was actually a car model named the Gremlin.
- 69a. [Quesadilla alternative], TACO. Thanks for the suggestion! I think I’ll have a quesadilla for lunch tomorrow.
Three stars from me.
Aimee Lucido’s New Yorker crossword—Matt’s write-up
Super-smooth grid from Aimee this morning, and the stars of the show for me was the long downs. I cannot stomach ranch dressing, but dropped in JALAPENO POPPER [20a – Appetizer often served with ranch] pretty quickly and then got to enjoy all this goodness:
- 26d – [“Tsk, tsk!”] for SHAME ON YOU
- 27d – [“Egads!”] for HELL’S BELL’S
- 4d – [“That’s using your noodle!”] for GREAT IDEA
- 32d – [Shook] for AWESTRUCK
- 9d – [Haphazard] for HIT OR MISS
- 34d – [Neatened] for SPRUCED UP
- 11d – [Enjoy disliking, as a reality-TV star] for LOVE TO HATE
- 12d – [Good bet] for SMART MONEY
That’s eight flavor-filled clues and entries crammed into fifteen columns. A joy to solve. Other notes:
- Don’t let my focus on the downs take away from 50a – [Game that rewards inexperienced players?] NEVER HAVE I EVER
- 35a – RALE [Breathing abnormality] is a word I see once in a blue moon, but rarely enough that it gave me pause. It’s cognate with “rattle.”
- 22d [Mondrian whose paintings inspired the Partridge Family’s bus] is a great piece of trivia setup and strong click once I dredge up the bus from my memory. That’s PIET Mondrian, of course, with his unmistakable style.
Ella Dershowitz’s Universal crossword, “Moving Pictures” — pannonica’s write-up
- 61aR [Novel forms for novels, and a clue to the word scrambled within each starred answer] FILM ADAPTATIONS. For clarity, I’ve circled the squares of the relevant foursomes.
- 17a. [*Personal growth] SELF-IMPROVEMENT. What’s it say about me that without looking at the clue and seeing SELF IMP— I tried to make a phrase beginning with “self-imposed”?
- 24a. [*Like topics you shouldn’t talk about] OFF-LIMITS.
- 39a. [*You may apply one to a selfie] INSTRAGRAM FILTER. “Selfie” strongly dupes the “self” of SELF-IMPROVEMENT.
- 51a. [*”Best-case scenario …”] IF I’M LUCKY.
As one would expect, the various appearances of the tetragram are distinct permutations. Additionally, they all span at least two words. No flimflammery.
- 28a [Perspective, figuratively] LENS. Theme-adjacent?
- 19d [Horrid] VILE, 36d [Horrid] ATROCIOUS, 24d [Unfortunate smells] ODORS. What’s that all about?
- 41d [Not touching base, informally?] AWOL. >cocks head quizzically<
- 52d [Food-on-a-stick events] FAIRS. That’s a new clue on me.
- 27a [Changed] ALTERED. Theme-adjacent?
- 45d [Lever pusher in a lab] RAT. Depressing, but not as bad as a ‘pest’ or ‘vermin’ clue, so there’s that.
Since I’m obviously not going to share a Rush song here, there must be something else I can hook a video to. Hmm…
… okay, I’ve always felt this short piece features a lot of movement:
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today Crossword, “Middleton” — Sophia’s write-up
Hi folks! I’m Sophia, and I’m thrilled to be joining Team Fiend as your Wednesday/Thursday USA Today recapper. Let’s get into it!
Theme: MIDDLE TON – each theme answer has the letters “TON” in its center, and each “TON” is centered horizontally in the puzzle.
17A: [“Quit stalling!”] – LETS GET ON WITH IT
28A: [Ingredients in some rings] – SWEET ONIONS
51A: [Benin’s capital] – PORTO NOVO
Today’s puzzle is a perfect example of why you should always read the title before solving the puzzle – the title acts as a revealer and perfectly explains the puzzle’s gimmick, giving the solver another hint at the theme. Figuring out the theme early definitely bailed me out on the final theme answer, as I didn’t know Benin’s capital (the name literally means “new port” in Portuguese).
I love how the puzzle’s use of mirror symmetry means that, even though the theme answers are all different lengths, the “tons” all line up in the center of the puzzle – very aesthetically pleasing. Mirror symmetry also allows for two fun longer pieces of fill in ROTISSERIE (a word it took me a few tries to spell correctly in the grid!) and EXHAUSTING. It’s worth nothing too that each “ton” is spread across multiple words, which made the puzzle more interesting than if each answer were a single long word with “ton” in the center.
- For those who also had never heard of SHOGI, it’s the Japanese equivalent to chess.
- I’ve never seen “The famous JETT Jackson” as it was a tiiiiny bit before my time, but I’ll never object to a Disney Channel clue!
- This puzzle is overall very light on names in both the clues and the fill. The lack of “you know it or you don’t” clues should make this puzzle accessible to a wide array of solvers. That being said, knowing the two medicine-related proper nouns (Memorial SLOAN Kettering and AETNA) certainly was helpful here.
Kurt Krauss’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s theme by Kurt Krauss is pretty basic in concept. We get a list of five synonyms for [Amazed]: TAKENABACK, BOWLEDOVER, STUNNED, DUMBSTRUCK and GOBSMACKED.
Even if you have a basic theme, a puzzle can still shine with a carefully filled grid. A few difficult names like EAGAN and ALBEE can actually be a good thing, but today was a full on assault of tired fill: is EMAG even real? ALER is apparently restricted to a very few newspaper headlines. SKAT and STEN are one a puzzle type entries, but today they cross?