Christina Iverson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Knock It Off”—Jim P’s review
We have a letter-change theme today with the revealer STOP (69a, [“Knock it off!” (or, parsed in three parts, a hint to the theme answers)]). The re-parsing is S TO P. That is, Ss are changed to Ps at the beginning of each theme entry.
- 18a. [Money set aside for some stuffed animals?] PLUSH FUND. Slush.
- 27a. [Story line generator for an author with writer’s block?] PLOT MACHINE. Slot.
- 48a. [Some words of wisdom on adopting a dog?] POUND ADVICE. Sound.
- 60a. [Result of some Mendel experiments?] PEA CHANGE. Sea.
One of the earliest bits of theme advice I remember reading when I started my crossword constructing journey came from the great Merl Reagle when he said a theme should be as exhaustive as possible—meaning a theme should be so tight that few other potential theme answers exist beyond what’s in the puzzle. (Sorry, I can’t remember where I read this, but I’m pretty sure it came from Merl.)
This theme is not that tight. It only changes an S to a P and only at the beginning of each phrase. (One S goes unchanged in PLUSH.) There are a large number of S-words that can become valid P-words (sick, solar, saddle, song, sucker, etc.), so why were these four chosen? I would like to see some other constraint added here to tighten the theme.
(It’s entirely possible I’m missing something here, and there’s a constraint I’m not seeing. That happened yesterday. So if it’s happened again, someone clue me in.)
All that said, I do like these entries and their clues. I just wish the theme was tighter.
In the fill, despite the re-parsing needed for the revealer, I had trouble parsing a number of other entries like NO SAINT, “A BET IS A BET!” and PR PUSH. But I like MADISON AVE since it goes well with PR PUSH, as well as TOSTADA, the polite “MAY I SEE?” and HYPE UP. I like seeing TURBID since it’s a fairly uncommon word; I just wish it wasn’t one letter away from “turgid” which is equally uncommon, making both meanings easily forgotten.
Clues seemed more straightforward than the usual Thursday, so I will leave things there. 3.2 stars.
Rich Proulx’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
Apologies if you caught the earlier version of this writeup – apparently something ate the intro I had written and left last week’s in its place. Let’s take a look at what Rich Proulx has in store for us:
- 17A: [Birds] + [Bees] = P.R. campaign goal — TWITTER BUZZ
- 26A: [Lightsaber] + [Impatient fingers] = Boring — HUMDRUM
- 36A: [Cellphone] + [Bubble] = Edible accessory — RING POP
- 48A: [Cow] + [Thunder] = Snake eyes, e.g. — LOW ROLL
- 57A: Academy Awards category eliminated in 2021 … or a hint to interpreting four clues in this puzzle — SOUND MIXING
On that revealer clue, the Sound branch of AMPAS merged SOUND MIXING and Sound Editing into once category due to the overlap in scope both of those teams often have. That’s not the only change in the sound categories as of the most recent Oscars – Best Original Score now has benchmarks for how much of a film’s score needs to be original music to qualify (60% for new features, 80% for sequels/franchise films).
We’ve got SOUND MIXING of a different kind happening in each of the theme entries. Some are cute (TWITTER BUZZ is a great find), and some weirdly stymied me on initial attempts to solve – I really wanted MOOCLAP or MOOBOOM to be a thing for the combo of [Cow] and [Thunder].
Here is frequent crossword fill India.ARIE
in other fill: ASSOC, my least favorite abbreviation of “association”, YES I DO, SNERT, DOWN ARROW, and DATA MINER
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Consonantless Crossword 2″—Amy’s write-up
Hey, new riff on the Vowelless Crossword concept Frank Longo pioneered: all the vowels, none of the consonants! There are many options for a particular vowel sequence (for example, IOE is clued [Man whose spouse has died], WIDOWER, but could easily be RIPOSTE or WINNOWED or LIONESS), so you could conceivably include the same vocalic entry more than once in the grid, but I believe Peter used all distinct entries.
About 90% of the way through solving, I checked my solution thus far and had no errors. Yay! I enjoyed the whole process, even toughing out the final four squares. And I solved the tough version, with no tags or enumerations. (Am proud of self.) There are a couple entries I couldn’t make sense of despite getting all the vowels via crossings:
- 46d. [Appearance of being true], EIIIIUE stumped me. I peeked at the enumerated puzzle to see if that would help … but it only told me it’s a 14-letter word. So then I looked at the answer PDF: verisimilitude.
- 53d. [___ therapy (treatment involving high doses of dietary supplements like niacin and riboflavin)], EAIAI? Went through the same process as for 46d—it’s an 11-letter word and I’m blanking. MEGAVITAMIN is apparently a thing.
- 15a. [Thing offered without opportunity for prior inspection], IIAOE. The enumeration was super-helpful here: (3,2,1,4], PIG IN A POKE.
If you’re like me, you sounded out some of these without forming the consonants. “Ih ih a oh” for PIG IN A POKE, for example.
I had skimmed past Peter’s note that “Every answer alternates vowels and consonants” … but was noticing that was true for the answers.
Didn’t care for 50d. [Like a vaccine shot], IOUAIE. Who ever uses the word INOCULATIVE?? That said, if you still haven’t gotten vaccinated against COVID, please do! People like me are largely trapped at home in the absence of herd immunity.
Five stars from me for a new sort of challenge, a puzzle that kept me engaged for the length of three Saturday NYT puzzles, and a solved grid that looks wild and lends itself to screaming. AEEOEEE! (Yes is the answer to ARE WE DONE HERE?)
(I see now that this is Consonantless 2,” so not entirely new, but I don’t remember the prior one—I blame the pandemic—but it certainly felt like a fresh, new challenge.)
Rafael Musa’s USA Today crossword, “Triple Sec” — Sophia’s recap
Theme: Each of the three theme answers begins with the letters “SEC” – Thus giving the puzzle “triple sec”, get it?
- 18a [Title for a vice president’s husband] – SECOND GENTLEMAN
- 37a [Expense you might get back after moving out] – SECURITY DEPOSIT
- 50a [Greeting only known to group members] – SECRET HANDSHAKE
I want to start off this recap by thanking Rafael and editor Amanda for giving me what I believe is my fastest 15x crossword solve time ever. I was really on this puzzle’s wavelength – I got every single across clue until 26a [Parent in some blended families], when I had to switch to the downs to see if it was STEPDAD or stepmom. To me, this is a sign of how clean this puzzle was (no iffy answers that required lots of write-overs), the fact that most of the across answers are short and clued directly, and how few proper nouns were in the across clues (only Laura DERN and ALAN Turing, both of whom I knew). I’m curious if other people found this to be easier than other USA Today puzzles, or if this puzzle just hit a sweet spot for me.
Oh yeah, let’s actually talk about the theme now – I am a fan! All three answers are 15 letters which is elegant, and they’re all fun, interesting phrases. It’s nice that the title of the puzzle clues the solver in to how many theme answers there are going to be, and it’s a good PUN besides. As mentioned before, the fill is very clean, and the long bonus downs of FAST LANE and I WANT OUT are exciting additions. I don’t *love* crossing STEPDAD and DADDY but if it had to happen for grid cleanliness, I’m glad DADDY was used in reference to a specific person (and I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I only know Daddy Yankee from “Despacito”).
- Favorite clue in the puzzle – 34d [Riding the struggle ___ (in a tough situation)] for BUS. Love this clue, love this phrase.
- Least favorite clue in the puzzle – 11d [YA fiction reader, usually] for TEEN – normalize adults reading YA books!
- This puzzle definitely made me want to eat TRES leches cake and DRINK horchata. Maybe a plan for this weekend. Enjoy your Thursday, everyone!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1405, “Brag”—Darby’s review
Theme: Each theme answer includes scrambled letters (highlighted in grey) needed to spell out FLEX.
- 15a [“‘Beverly Hills cop’ theme song”] AXEL F
- 16a [“Bit of willful isolation”] SELF-EXILE
- 20a [“Anticipates uncertainly”] HALF-EXPECTS
- 33a [“It has numerators and denominators in its numerator or denominator”]
- COMPLEX FRACTION
48a [“Glenn Close’s ‘Fatal Attraction’ role] ALEX FORREST
Revealer: 55a [“With 58-Across, ‘That’s strange and yet…I kind of approve,’ (and this puzzle’s theme)”] & 58a [“See 55-Across”] WEIRD FLEX, BUT OK
I love that in BEQ’s notes, he asks, “Do you think I’m showing off here? Or is it just Brendan dong-Brendan like things. I couldn’t tell you. Enjoy.” I do think it’s the latter, and I love that he acknowledges it in a puzzle titled “Brag.” I often talk about the creativity of BEQ’s themes, and this one is definitely up there for me. I thought that theme answers were really great, matching the medium difficulty of the puzzle.
For me, 14a [“More raw, like the cold”] BITTERER and, coincidentally, 47d [“Less developed”] RAWER felt a bit contrived, but I also think that I’m always a little wary of adding -er for the comparative form of an adjective. Otherwise, this was a pretty solid fill.
A few other notes from me:
- 65a [“Actress Sagal of ‘The Conners’”] – I credit the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House with introducing me to KATEY Sagal. Generally, I felt like the names were spread out well in this puzzle, making it easier for those who might not know who 10d [“Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce”] ARIANS is or might be kicking themselves for not remembering that EVE ARDEN was the 62a [“Actress who played the principal in the movie ‘Grease’”]. I’m definitely not talking about anyone in particular, nope, no way…
- 5d [“Trapped”] – UNFREE did not feel like it’s a real word, but it is indeed. The more you know.
- 38d [“Table scraps”] – ORTS came through on the crosses here. It’s a new one for me, for sure, and it felt a bit out of place.
- 45d [“He had all the answers”] – I’m continuously pouring one out for Alex TREBEK, and I thought that this was a fun clue to fill in that I accompanied with a “He really did, didn’t he?”
This puzzle may have been a WEIRD FLEX, BUT I’m definitely in Camp OK with it. Have a great Thursday!
May Huang and Kevin Trickey’s Universal crossword, “Picture This!”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Common phrases that begin with camera related words.
- ZOOM FATIGUE
- FOCUS GROUP
- CLICK FRAUD
- FLASH FREEZE
I’m just noticing now that these would also go in the order of the picture taking process as well. Cool!
Awesome zippy phrases here, two of which were new to me but they’re great: ZOOM FATIGUE (for me it’s GOOGLE MEET FATIGUE) and CLICK FRAUD. I’m not familiar with either of the constructor names here… actually appears to be a debut for both if my database is correct! Big congrats! I don’t see collabs that often where both bylines are new.
Really liked everything about this one. I had the hardest time with ASADA from the clue [Carne ___] because the rn looked like an M to me. So I wanted AROUND as in “Came AROUND” so very badly!
I solved on the webapp… which… ya’ know, never a great experience with Universal. Today’s ugly mishap in the dated app was the inability to feature quotes in its clues. Check this out:
Go ahead. Enjoy interpreting that clue. Over and over again.
Or how ’bout this one:
There’s like eight of ’em or something. Or thereabouts. Not gonna go back and count.
Is this the standard the Universal website is referring to when it says it “…sets the standard for all daily crosswords”?
Time to catch up Universal. The other solving webapps for other publications are, quite literally, decades ahead. No fault to the puzzle or its constructors at all.
4 stars without interpreting clues that couldn’t handle quotes.
2.9 stars with interpreting clues that couldn’t handle quotes.
Yoni Glatt & Dani Raymon’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s double by-lined puzzle by Yoni Glatt & Dani Raymon features a rather loose theme with two criteria and no explicit revealer. Five singers have broadly botanical surnames. Two are specific plants: iggyAZALEA and axlROSE; one is a plant part chuckBERRY; one is a plant growth form, louREED; one is the generic robertPLANT. I think I’d have enjoyed this more with more consistency in the surnames, even if the singer category was dropped.
All of the theme names were instagets here, as were many of the others, so I finished unusually fast for a Thursday. Even without the theme, there were names all over the place, 23 by my count, so some of you might have struggled today, and that’s OK.