This week’s AVCX is a meta puzzle from Francis Heaney, with a contest running until Sunday. We’ll have a writeup posted after submissions for that have closed.
Julian Kwan’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “International Icon”—Jim P’s review
The revealer is OLYMPIC / RINGS (39d, [With 51-Down, where to find parts of the starred answers interlocking, as suggested by their positions in the grid]). I’m not sure about the wording of that clue, but the upshot is that the colors of the rings are strategically placed in the grid at the appropriate locations.
- 1d. [*Daughter of Beyoncé and Jay-Z] BLUE IVY
- 6d. [*Clandestine missions] BLACK OPS
- 11d. [*Area between the goal and the 20-yard line] RED ZONE
- 20d. [*1966 Donovan hit] MELLOW YELLOW
- 21d. [*Spoiler alert: It’s people!] SOYLENT GREEN
Again, I was thrown off by that revealer clue which I feel is confusing. I was expecting the colors to interlock in the grid, but they don’t. (Not that I know what that would mean.) A better clue might have been [International icon whose colors are found at the appropriate location in the grid] or some such. I might have liked it better if all the colors were toward the center of the grid where they might at least have some overlap (as in my hastily doctored-up image, below-left).
Further, the differing word lengths of the colors makes any attempt to draw the rings look distorted. Trying to represent rings with a vertical word seems like an odd choice. And the lack of symmetry—including with the revealer—isn’t in keeping with the symbol being represented.
But I do like the fun theme entries. There’s something humorous about MELLOW YELLOW paired up with sinister SOYLENT GREEN.
Oh, and there’s an added thematic tidbit at 42d: [Country where the 39-/51-Down made their debut in 1920] = BELGIUM.
The left/right symmetry of the theme causes some challenges in the fill. The center section requires additional long fill entries stacked next to a theme answer. Those are solid (KENT STATE and ALPHA MALE), and the crossings aren’t terrible, but AKBAR (16th-century Mogul emperor) and APA (Actor KJ of Riverdale) were a challenge. And if you have to have ADIA (Sara McLachlan song) in your grid, that’s a red flag for me. I mean, I own the song (somewhere on a CD), but it no longer has any crossword currency. Elsewhere, the crosswordese crossing of ERSE and ERN stands out.
But I also like LOST SLEEP, ST PETE, and I MYSELF.
- 13a. [Donald Duck’s twin sister]. DELLA. No idea on this one. I almost put DAISY, but…that would be weird. Turns out DELLA is an amputee with a robotic leg!
- 28a. [Mars follower]. AVRIL. Doubly tricksy since Mars usually refers to the planet or god (or sometimes the candy company) and AVRIL is most often clued as [Singer Lavigne]. But both are months in French.
Mixed feelings on this one, but it certainly is well-constructed. I’m just not sure I agree with the choices made in the execution of the theme. 3.5 stars.
Alex Rosen & Brad Wilber’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The name of the game is 53a/21a, JACKSON / POLLOCK. I don’t think I’ve encountered the word DRIBBLE (39a. [Make art like 53-/21-Across (as suggested by this puzzle’s circled letters?)]) used in reference to his primary painting style. Just me? There are four allied answers in which the circled letters in the word P-A-I-N-T are “dribbled” in dribs and drabs. We’ve got PETUNIA PIG with PAINT going from right to left, PADDINGTON with left to right, UP TO A POINT going down, and TENNIS CAMP going up. TENNIS CAMP is the sort of phrase I have never once given any thought to. Now, the orientation of these PAINTs suggests Mondrian to me more than Pollock. V. orthogonal.
Nice two-fer: 66a. [Leaning to the right: Abbr.], ITAL., atop 69a. [One leaning to the right], TORY.
Sort of a crosswordese vibe to EPEE ACTA ARIOSO AVIA OLA ESTER. I love to see the REDBUD tree in the grid, but the BFFS clue, [Buds that are very close], had an unpleasing echo. Yes, I know Shortz et al don’t give a whit about such dupes, but I find them inelegant and largely avoidable. See also: dated I DIG IT crossing I TRY at the pronoun.
re: 24d. [Indian flatbread], ROTI—We ordered Indian last night (channa masala for me, and of course vegetable samosas), and the menu offered several breads: naan, paratha, chapathi, and tandoori roti. Wikipedia tells me that chapati (another legit spelling) and roti are the same thing. There is also a fast-casual Mediterranean chain called Roti ; “Roti are dishes made with round flatbread, often filled with chicken or shrimp, common in many cultures from India to Trinidad and Barbados.” Who can unravel the roti mystery for me? Is it the same as chapati? Do Mediterranean cuisines also include roti rather than just pita? Is anyone in the mood for flatbreads now?
3.25 stars from me.
Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s write-up
Not a single long answer – and there are ten 10- or 11-letter entries – in Anna’s puzzle failed to make me smile. Crunchy enough to need some crossings, but not overly so.
The stacks in the NW and SE were the highlights for me: REACTION GIF (1a – [Moving reply?]), BILLIONAIRE (15a – [Every one is a policy failure, per a progressive political slogan), and INTERNET BOT (17a – [Faux Twitter follower]) and then STORAGE WARS (58a – [A&E reality show that might be called “one man’s trash…TV”]), SIMONE BILES (64a – [Olympian with four namesake elements in her sports Code of Points]), and MASS TRANSIT (66a- [Commuting option]).
With all the long horizontals, there’s not a ton of connectivity between the top and bottom halves, but there were plenty of highlights to help out:
- 49a – [Dissertations on a single subject] MONOGRAPHS. Once upon a time, I learned this word entirely from Sherlock Holmes stories, so that’s a happy memory.
- 64a – Speaking of SIMONE BILES, what leadership from her yesterday, demonstrating on the highest stage that her mental health is paramount and bowing out of the team competition at the Olympics. Simone has put so much on her shoulders to continue holding USA Gymnastics accountable while also staying at the top of her sport, and I hope she’s ok, whether she competes in the individual events later this week or not.
- 24d – [Celebrity chef and restaurateur Matsuhisa] NOBU. I haven’t been to a Nobu Restaurant, but I’ve lived in multiple cities that have one. Maybe someday.
- 43d – [Bitingly sarcastic] MORDANT. One of those words I love and I don’t know why!
- 47d – [Beginning and ending of a Greek apologia?] ALPHAS. I was glad to see this as something other than the (how do I say this?) “personality descriptions,” which I find creepy and reductive, or to wolves – alpha wolves don’t exist in the wild, only captivity!
- 50d – [Pioneering radiation researcher] GEIGER. I think I learned about Geiger and Geiger counters from The Boxcar Children series.
- 52d – [The Divine _____ (nickname for Bette Midler)] MISS M. Some closing music this time around, from a great cover album:
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Last Up” — Sophia’s write-up
Theme: “Last Up” – The four down theme answers all have the letters “TSAL” in them, so that when they are placed in the grid, the word “LAST” is going up.
- 3d [Specifies the maximum amount, for example] – SETS A LIMIT
- 8d [Red and green dish often topped with feta] – BEET SALAD
- 27d [“No worries”] – ITS ALRIGHT
- 31d [Has no help] – ACTS ALONE
USA Today has been doing a fun collection of connected themes this week – Monday’s puzzle was titled “First Things First” and Tuesday’s was “Right This Second”, and today’s puzzle rounds things out with “Last Up”.
It actually took me a while after I finished solving to understand the theme – strangely, the last words of the two long across answers ARE WE CLEAR and SPIN DOCTOR (both great pieces of fill, incidentally) form legitimate phrases when “up” is added to them (clear up, doctor up), and so I thought I must have been missing something from that angle. I was glad when I found the actual theme though, because it was much more satisfying to me – lots of phrases contain “up”, but very few have this particular letter string! I also thought it was elegant that the “TSAL” was split across different words in each answer.
Lots of small things today slowed me down. I dropped in “It’s all good” for 27d[“No worries”] off of just the I, so getting into the bottom right corner of the puzzle was rough for me – I didn’t want to change my answer because the first half was correct! Knowing the theme would have definitely helped me out there. I also put in “area” for 58a [Territory] (the real answer is LAND), but I was pleasantly surprised when later in the puzzle 48d [Spheres of interest] turned out to be AREAS. My favorite part of the puzzle, though, has to be the clue for SIRS – 53a [Lancelot and Mix-A-Lot] is so fun.
- 29d [Summer hrs. in Portland] is purposefully vague, but as a west-coaster, I didn’t fall into the trap of thinking of the city in Maine. Plus, SALEM also gets a west coast clue! Lots of Oregon in the puzzle today, which was right in my wheelhouse.
- I think of BEET SALADs as having goat cheese more than feta, but maybe that’s just because I love goat cheese and hate beets so I notice it on menus more.
- I didn’t know either of the TEAS – Keemun is a Chinese black tea and Kuding is a bitter green one.
- It’s too bad this puzzle didn’t run on Friday so Darby (of 45a, [Name hidden backward in Darby]) could have reviewed it!
Julian Lim’s Universal crossword, “Sports Center” — pannonica’s write-up
Let’s play ball.
- 59aR [Dramatic baseball maneuver, or what you can do within each starred answer to form two words/phrases?] SQUEEZE PLAY. Dang, I’m going to have to play Little Feat again, amn’t I? So anyway, the gist is the word PLAY can be scooched in between the two elements of the other theme answers to form new words or phrases. Also known in some venues as ‘before & after’.
- 17a. [*Harris, to Biden, in 2020] RUNNING MATE. (running play (football), playmate).
- 28a. [*Carnival’s setting] FAIRGROUND (fair play, playground).
From my favorite Van Morrison album (even though he’s currently being a bigtime jerk about COVID restrictions):
- 38a. [*Pairing on a fight card] MATCHUP (match play (golf), play up).
- 45a. [*Outing for two couples] DOUBLE DATE (double play, play date).
My only ding regarding the otherwise excellent theme execution: ‘double play’ is—like the revealer—a baseball term. Unbalances things.
- Speaking of The Pastime: 3d [One of nine in baseball, usually] INNING.
- 9d [Photographer’s prefix for “data”] META-. Of course, not limited to photography, but in that field it includes information including such as camera type, lens and exposure settings, time and location of capture, etc.
- 11d [Parachutist’s apparel] JUMPSUIT. I kind of forgot that that was the original sense, perhaps because when I first learned about them as a tot I just assumed it was clothing you could just kind of jump into. Sometimes it’s difficult to break the neural connection of one’s original interpretation/association.
- 11a [It might be part-time] JOB. (66a [Assigned a job to] TASKED.)
- 15a [Document signed before a stunt] WAIVER. Bit ominous, that.
- 16a [One, in Cancun] UNO, 51a [A, in Cannes] UNE. >sqwince<
Hate to be predictable, but “speaking of squeezes” I’m a bit pressed for time this morning, soooo… as promised/threatened:
Daniel Raymon’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Owen Travis & Jeff Chen’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s puzzle by Owen Travis & Jeff Chen works on two levels (kind of). The revealer of the left/right symmetry puzzle is EXERCISECAUTION. Each of three other phrases begins with an exercise-related verb & is a risky idiom: STRETCHTHERULES; JUMPINHEADFIRST; SKATEON/THINICE.
Other tough spots: STOKELY Carmichael crossing old-skool botany EROSE. [Lets have it], which I could not parse, meaning SCREAMSAT. There was some grumbling about [Meas. with city and highway calculations] for MPH (which seems to clue MPG); you could argue, tenuously, that the city calculates speed limits??