Jim Curran’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Element of Change”—Jim P’s review
The byline for this puzzle wasn’t familiar to me, so I looked for previous grids by this constructor. I found one all the way back in 2011 in the Chronicle of Higher Education. That’s a healthy gap between publications!
This puzzle uses the gas ARGON as a basis for removing letters R from various words and coupling the R-less words with their original forms. The revealer’s clue is [About 1% of Earth’s atmosphere, and a phonetic hint to this puzzle’s gimmick]. Get it? R gone? Maybe this would be a good puzzle for the day after Talk Like a Pirate Day. Oh hey! Whaddya know. Talk Like a Pirate Day was only a few days ago on Sep 19th…and I missed it. *sad emoji*
- 17a. [Instant pasta topping?] PRESTO PESTO.
- 36a. [Monty Python comedy sketch?] BRIT BIT.
- 53a. [Huckster’s strident accomplice?] SHRILL SHILL.
- 11d. [Well-constructed den?] STURDY STUDY.
- 25d. [Hack whose hackles are up?] CRABBY CABBY.
Fairly straightforward and easy to grasp. It only took one entry to figure out what was going on, so that certainly helped fill in the remaining theme entries.
What I struggled with was some of the fill, most especially the pile-up of proper names in the eastern section: SUVA, CAMDEN, and SAROYAN, all crossing NIVEA. At least the other proper name in the mix, LEANN (Rimes) was easy to fill in, but no doubt that was a tough section. Elsewhere the crossing of AIMEE (not Mann, by the way) and the river ELBE required a guess, and lastly we have ABACO Islands, which I’d never heard of. That’s a lot of proper names and geography in one grid. It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t so much crossing going on. HHH and LMN are other bits of less likable fill.
I do like ZOOT SUIT, of course, and starting the grid off with SWAMI is a nice touch.
Clues of note:
- 26a. [“Revolution” and “Unchained Melody,” for two]. B-SIDES. “Revolution” was the B-side to “Hey Jude.” As for “Unchained Melody,” producer Phil Spector had The Righteous Brothers cover the older song as the flip side to what he thought would be a hit: a song called “Hung On You.” Unbeknownst to Spector though, the duo modified their version of “Unchained Melody” with the line “I need your love,” and arguably, that helped the song become a hit. When the record went out to DJs across the country, they preferred the B-side and played that instead, infuriating Spector. Read more here.
- 42a. [Fan, at times]. YELLER. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t clue this as [Old ___].
The theme is light and easy to grok which puts it at odds with the thorny fill and some opaque cluing here and there. The end result is that it feels unbalanced. 3.25 stars.
Grant Boroughs’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap
I enjoyed this breezy puzzle and it played more like a Tuesday than a Wednesday—but then, I’m good at names, and this puzzle looks to have just enough proper nouns to (a) please me and (b) annoy that other contingent of “I just want dictionary words, please” solvers.
The themers add -ICS to familiar phrases to change their meaning, with a goofball clue to match:
- 17a. [Much of Roy Lichtenstein’s work?], DOT COMICS. Take a dotcom, add -ICS, and consider those Roy Lichtenstein pop art paintings with comic book/newspaper printing dots rendered giant.
- 28a. [Euclid’s “Elements,” Descartes’s “La Géométrie,” etc.?], MATH CLASSICS.
- 38a. [Wacky shenanigans of a woodworker?]. CARPENTER ANTICS. I liked this one.
- 46a. [Frights upon waking up from sunbathing naps?], FRYING PANICS. Also a good one. People! Wear good sunscreen and don’t get burned.
- 64a. [Things that dad likes to discuss?], POP TOPICS.
I liked the fill, and the AMERICAN/EUROPEAN clue pair is neat. Also liked the coach’s GAME PLAN and APPLETON, Wisconsin, where I visited when my sister-in-law graduated from Lawrence. Feel like we don’t much see 45a. [“Beats me,” in textspeak], IDK, in crosswords, but I don’t mind it a bit. (idk = I don’t know.)
That’s it from me for tonight. A solid four stars, an enjoyable Wednesday outing.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Salsa Dip”—Sophia’s recap
Theme: Each theme answer ends with a salsa spiciness level. Each successive answer also literally “dips” lower in the puzzle.
- 3d [Far from assertive] – MEEK AND MILD
- 17d [Good compromise] – HAPPY MEDIUM
- 27d [Just out of the oven] – STEAMING HOT
This is basically a food theme, so I’M ALL IN for it. I wasn’t sure whether the puzzle’s title would refer to dancing or sauce when I first started out, which was a nice bit of misdirection. The first two themers are great, but the last one doesn’t ring as true for me – I kept wanting “piping hot” over STEAMING HOT. I did however enjoy the inclusion of TABASCO in the fill as a bonus condiment.
Because the theme answers were on the downs, there are a fair amount of midlength acrosses today that add some interest to the fill. I particularly liked ODD JOB, COLISEUM, and HONEYDEW, and the words GLIMPSE and STYMIE are fun as well. Does anyone actually call uniforms UNIS? Is EMU OIL a thing that has a use outside of crosswords? Who knows! The last part of the puzzle to drop for me was the middle right – As mentioned before, I didn’t see STEAMING, and not knowing OTTO or SUI didn’t help either. Thank goodness for TORTE helping it all fall into place.
- My birthday was yesterday, so AGE OUT feels particularly pointed…
- I didn’t know DANAI Gurira off the top of my head, but after Googling her I learned that she was in “The Walking Dead” and the last few Marvel movies, so I have seen her face before. I also learned that she also went to college in Minnesota (Macalester)!
- Speaking of Minnesota, I loved the broomball clue for ICE! For those not in the know, broomball is a bit like hockey but it’s played with a mini soccer ball instead of a puck, players wear regular shoes on the ice, and (if my college intramural team was any example) everyone falls over a lot.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s AVCX, “Top This” — Ben’s Review
BEQ is up in the AVCX rotation, and he’s given us a nice 3/5 difficulty grid:
- 18A: Bubbles of stale odor, the likes of which you’ve seen a million times? — HO HUM MUST POCKETS
- 28A: Sea birds just now showing off their first hatchlings? — DEBUT TERN MOTHERS
- 48A: Directive to a billionaire to keep in touch annually? — PHONE YEARLY, GATES
- 63A: Won by enough, bettingwise, and what the original phrases in this puzzle’s theme answers each did — COVERED THE SPREAD
The circled squares all spell out SPREADS (HUMMUS, BUTTER, and HONEY) COVERED by regular phrases (HOT POCKETS, DEN MOTHERS, and PEARLY GATES)
The AJA in this week’s puzzle is AJA “Métoyer of VH1’s “Basketball Wives” (whose first name is pronounced like the continent)”, but there’s always this AJA, too.
Other nice grid things: MOXIE, TUNA, MUSEUM, John ELWAY, and ARMPIT SUNTAN ENERGY
IM CHAT, though? Really?
Have a great Wednesday!
Parker Higgins’ Universal crossword, “Don’t Burn After Reading” — pannonica’s write-up
The revealer here is 59-across: [Beach trip essential, or any of three squares in this grid that affects the starred clues’ answers?] SUNBLOCK.
- 8a. [*Juice pouch brand] CAPRI ☼ (Capri Sun)
16d. [*Partner of “various”] ☼DRY (sundry).
- 7d. [*Arizona NBA player] PHOENIX ☼ (Phoenix Sun).
37a. [*What casts short shadows] NOONDAY ☼ (noonday sun).
39a. [*Some lie on top of blankets] ☼BATHERS (sunbathers).
41d. [*Summer shifts?] ☼DRESSES (sundresses).
- 51d. [*Feature of the Krypton skyline] RED ☼ (red sun). Skyline? Odd choice, but I suppose it isn’t wrong.
64a. [*Vitamin D source] ☼SHINE (sunshine).
The execution on this is really well done. The two blocks in the corner each have only two entries terminating, while the one in the center has four seven-letter entries radiating from its location.
~Musical interlude begins~
This seems the most appropriate choice, a cover of “Black Hole Sun”:
But also I can’t let a song with NOONDAY SUN in the lyric go by, especially when it’s crossed by 37d [Go out early?] NAP:
~Musical interlude ends~
- 1a [Testy response to “What a fun puzzle!”] IS IT. Bold opening gambit.
- 35a [“White” or “Red” follower] SOX. Dupes themer 51-down.
- 41a [Jardin __ Tuileries (Paris park)] DES.
- 43a [Inauthentic person] POSER. I prefer to maintain a distinction between a tough question/riddle/problem for POSER and the francophone spelling poseur for what’s described in the clue.
- Nods to a couple of pioneering women: 48a [Early programmer Lovelace] ADA, 18d [Grp. co-founded by Helen Keller] ACLU.
- 45d [Novice in gamer lingo] NEWB. Admit it, you filled in NOOB first.
Overall, a nicely made crossword, and a last gasp for sunshine, as the local forecast is for a series of overcast days and a high likelihood for rain.
Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s review
Breezy, well-connected themeless from Natan today that’s packed with neat stuff. SEX AND THE CITY (33a- Classic sitcom whose fans often categorize themselves as one of its four protagonists) runs through the middle, and really there’s just good stuff everywhere, stymieing my attempt at a narrative review.
The bottom half of this grid in particular is very in Natan’s voice, with ALLY (54a- Comrade in the fight for racial justice, say) and RENT STRIKE (55a- Collective action by a group of tenants) spanning a row, and (40a- “Abolish ___” (anti-deportation rallying cry)) cluing ICE slightly above.
Clues I liked: BOOK LAUNCH (14a- Novel marketing strategy?), NODE (56a- Point of a graph theory lecture?), DASHCAMS (21d- Producers of road movies?), and especially PISA (6a- Its biggest attraction is on a list)
- 18a- MESA (Winter home of the Chicago Cubs). Officially it’s “spring training”, but in Chicago, it’s certainly still winter when the Cubs are in Arizona for their preseason.
- 30d- HAILE (Two-time Olympic running gold medallist Gebreselassie). For a bit in my youth, I thought this was the same man as Haile Selassie. They’re different.
- 17a- ANNE MURRAY (First Canadian female solo artist to reach No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100). Anne also has won the most JUNO Awards of any Canadian, with 25, more than Bryan Adams (21) and Celine Dion
Craig Stowe’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s theme summary
Today’s theme by Craig Stowe is TAILBONE, the informal name for the coccyx. The second part of four two part answers can TAILBONE, that is satisfy BONE___. So: airCHINA (BONE CHINA), sleepyHEAD (BONEHEAD), canadaDRY (BONE DRY), squareMEAL (BONE MEAL).