Colin Ernst’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “That’s Gotta Hurt!”—Jim P’s review
Theme: The circled letters in today’s grid comprise words that can precede “knife.” Each set of circles is in a zigzag pattern going down and to the right. This “twist” is the subject of the revealer TWIST THE KNIFE (37a, [Increase someone’s distress, as exemplified by the circled letters]).
The knives in question are BOWIE, STEAK, BUTTER, and PARING. All but one of them can be found in most kitchens.
Does the pattern of circles feel like a twist to you? I’m not 100% sold on it. To me, it just seems like the words are written at an angle. But once I realized they’re in more of a zigzag formation, I felt a little better about it.
I think I’d have been okay with “twist” being used to indicate an anagram—cryptic-style. For example, STEAK is anagrammed in ROCKSTEADY and BOWIE in BIOWEAPON.
But that’s another theme for another day. This one did the job in that it helped me sort out a couple of the groupings. I got STEAK just off the K and BUTTER of the TE.
Without any long theme answers, there’s a boatload of long fill, the best of which includes FREE SHOTS [Prizes at a bar trivia contest, perhaps] (which I briefly had as FREE SHOES—huh?), SKID MARKS, DEAD HEAT, and JOB OPENING.
Clues of note:
- 16a. [One of 40 in an 1865 promise]. ACRE. The promise was “40 acres and a mule” made by Union General Sherman to allot confiscated Confederate lands to freed slaves during the Civil War. It included 400,000 acres of land from South Carolina down to Florida to be assigned to families. But by the fall of that same year, the country’s new president, Andrew Johnson, rescinded the program and returned the land to the former slave owners. Read more here.
- 21a. [Reason for two golds]. DEAD HEAT. Remember this story from the most recent Olympics. It wasn’t a foot race, but it did result in two golds being awarded to two BFFs.
- 28a. [Over and out preceder]. ALL. “All over” and “all-out.”
- 43a. [Lord of the rings?]. ALI. Don’t think I’ve seen this clue before. Nice one.
- 18d. [Some blue ribbon winners]. PIES. I went with PIGS first. Anyone else?
- 36d. [Doughnut leftovers?]. SKID MARKS. Anyone who uses that spelling (“doughnut”) probably doesn’t burn rubber. Here’s how to do donuts.
Graham Herrli’s Fireball crossword, “Public Opening”—Amy’s write-up
This 17×17 puzzle makes space for six long themers, each one a portmanteau with 3 or 4 overlapping letters between the words that are joined. The results are clued reflecting both word components:
- 19a. [Birdbrained in the extreme?], PEACOCKAMAMIE. Peacock and cockamamie, with extra birdiness for cockamamie.
- 26a. [Site whose videos go bacterial, rather than viral?], YOUTUBERCULOSIS. This one works well, but is also disease-ridden.
- 38a. [Number of pages?], BEEPERFORMANCE. This one feels iffy to me. If you get paged on a beeper, how is performance equivalent to the number of messages?
- 50a. [Censoring any mention of a crooked joint?], ELBOWDLERIZING. Gotta love anything that includes the word bowdlerize.
- 65a. [Diatribes at seeing what will never be able to be unseen?], EYEFULMINATIONS. Eh.
- 74a. [Fracases about who caught the Golden Snitch?], SEEKERFUFFLES. If you’re agnostic about all things Harry Potter and don’t know that the pretend sport quidditch calls some position players seekers, this might have been a rough area for you. The film ARRIVAL is clued by the nicknames given to a pair of alien “hexapods,” Abbott and Costello. Saw the movie, had no recollection of that aspect. Drag queen SYMONE used her RPDR platform to embrace her Blackness and to remind us to “Say Their Names” via a real statement gown (this one was a gimme for me, big fan of Symone). Crossing CLUERS and AMBERY are bizarre word forms, and you’ll need to remember Bolivia’s first indigenous president, EVO Morales.
Unusual theme. Liked it, didn’t love it.
Seven more things:
- 82a. [“Watchmen” co-screenwriter Alex], TSE. (That’s Watchmen the movie, not the limited series.) Didn’t know this one. He’s had an interesting oeuvre, but spaced out. Can screenwriters make a decent living with this sort of workflow?
- 3d. [It just might work], CRAZY IDEA. Love this entry.
- 28d. [September 2019 debater of Amy, Andrew, Bernie, Cory, Elizabeth, Joe, Julián, Kamala, and Pete], BETO. I forgot O’Rourke had been in the running for a bit. They left out Jay Inslee, Marianne Williamson, and assorted other candidates—was this a deal where they split the candidates into two debate lineups?
- RUER, EWER, meh. LOA EER AGAR, smattering of dusty glue holding the grid together.
- 53d. [Lane Bryant founder Bryant], LENA. How did I not know a woman founded Lane Bryant?? Here’s her wiki story.
- 57d. [Cost of a letter when “Wheel of Fortune” debuted], ONE DIME. Don’t care for this entry at all. Needs a THIN in the middle.
- 78d. [Home to Citrus Co.], FLA. I have been there! Home to the Homosassa Springs wildlife park, complete with captive manatees, and Crystal River, whose springs draw wild manatees. This has been a terrible year for manatees, unfortunately, with starvation (from loss of seagrass) a major cause of death.
3.5 stars from me.
Matt Fuchs’ New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
Another week, another Thursday NYT I’m just kind of lukewarm on even though I see what’s going on.
- 16A: “My allergies are really acting up!” — BLOODY NOSE
- 23A: “That third strike cost us the game!” — FREAKING OUT
- 36A: “I keep losing things in the dryer!” — DARN SOCKS
- 52A: “My iPhone never works!” — ROTTEN APPLE
- 61A: “This bug spray is useless!” — BLASTED OFF
If this puzzle had a title, I suspect it’d be something like “Curse Words” – BLOODY, FREAKING, DARN, ROTTEN, and BLASTED are all used as the LITE curses they can sometimes be used as, giving new meaning to otherwise standard phrases.
This is the wrong SADE, I know (we wanted the Marquis de), but roll with me here.
elsewhere: I’m not sure I can get behind spelling out KAY-O as legit fill, but it was nice seeing IEOH Minh Pei’s full first name spelled out in the grid. TIKI BAR is delightful, as are AMOEBAE and MATILDA.
Stella Zawistowski’s USA Today crossword, “A Hard Puzzle”— Sophia’s recap
Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: Each theme answer begins with a hard material.
- 18a [New Hampshire nickname] – GRANITE STATE
- 32a [’80s arcade game with a rolling ball] – MARBLE MADNESS
- 50a [Angie Thomas novel with a floral title] – CONCRETE ROSE
This puzzle’s theme feels like a shout-out to those of us who have solved Stella’s puzzle’s before – I can honestly say that this is the fastest I’ve ever gotten through something she’s created. (For those unfamiliar with Stella, check out her blog Tough As Nails for puzzles that are, uh, definitely not USA Today-level). That level of meta elevated the puzzle for me, although it’s not a bad theme by any means, just a basic one. I’m more familiar with Angie Thomas’s novel “The Hate U Give”, so it took me a few crosses to get CONCRETE ROSE, although I have heard of it before. I also didn’t know MARBLE MADNESS, but it’s a very snazzy answer and I like that it disguises the material meaning of marble.
Notes on the rest of the puzzle:
- CASELOAD crossing LAWYER is cross-referencing done right! The words are clearly related to each other, and as a bonus are next to each other in the grid so you don’t have to hop around a bunch as a solver.
- I must have still been thinking about the seance mentioned in the clue for SPIRIT because when I got to 40d [Available for summoning] I wanted it to be something supernatural. Ironically, I’ve been learning how to do ON–CALL for my team at work this week.
- It was fun to have SALAAM and NO MAAM in the puzzle and have lots of double AAs.
- My two major write-overs were trying to put “pureed” for 21a [Like most baby food] instead of STRAINED and “untrimmed” for 48a [Untidy, like a beard] instead of SCRAGGLY. Luckily these are all different length words so it didn’t slow me down long.
- Some Queen for your Thursday!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1409, “Relay Race”—Darby’s review
Theme: Each of the themed answers incorporates “lay” in its pronunciation, literally re-LAYing in each theme answer.
- 19a [“‘Ms. Moon Frye gave you a ring’?”] SOLEIL CALLED
- 28a [“Odd custard dessert?”] STRANGE BRULEE
- 42a [“Lose a red crayon”] MISLAY SCARLET
- 51a [“Large coffee order”] THE BIG AU LAIT
As always, this was a clever theme. I wish the title pointed a bit more clearly to it (though feel free to disagree with me here) since it didn’t really feel like LAY and its homophones were emphasized enough in the theme answers. Now, it didn’t help that I didn’t know how to pronounce “au lait” until right now, but I do also feel like it was lost a bit in SOLEIL CALLED whereas it was the end of a word in each of the other theme answers. However, I did love that LAY in its referenced spelling was only used once.
I also felt like some of the clues today were a bit clunky or just slightly off. For example, 36d is clued as [“Greets”], indicating a SAYS in the answer. Instead, it’s SAY HELLO. Additionally, I thought it was interesting that 12d [“Like ‘No Time to Die’ or ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’”] including the number in PG13 while 5a [“Fourth apartment on the ground floor maybe”] didn’t do the same, though I loved that ONE D was clued this way, since I usually see it in reference to the band.
Other things I noticed:
- 55a [“Present time?”] – I feel like XMAS often ends up with some really good wordplay, and this was no different. I liked it just as much as I liked the cluing for AGT, which was 11d’s [“Howie Mandel’s show, initially”].
- 3d [“Henrik Ibsen play that was the working title for ‘The White Album’”] – And people say that English degrees don’t come in handy! I got A DOLL HOUSE on the first go. However, my literary background did not prepare me for 33a [“1847 novel that begins on Nukuheva”]. Not only is OMOO the second book in a two book series but it is also written by Moby-Dick author Herman Melville. I do have some questions about Melville’s portrayal of Indigenous peoples in this book, so I’ll be looking into that as I build my Melville frame of reference.
- 9d [“Etaoin ___ (nonsense phrase that accidentally makes it into print)”] – This was my favorite thing that I picked up from this puzzle. When Linotype keyboards were used, letters were arranged based on the frequency of their use in English, and oftentimes, when operators of these machines made an error, they would just hit the letters in keyboard order, spelling “Etaoin SHRDLU” and filling out the line. Theoretically, it wouldn’t make it to print, as that line was retyped below, but occasionally, the phrase made it to print. You can read a much more eloquent explanation and history of this here.
- 29d [“Male mewler”] – I really didn’t love this cluing for TOM. There were a lot of other options, and it gave me some creepy vibes being so closed to 32d [“Take it all off”] for STRIP.
- 40d [“Dial on a dash”] – I definitely did not know that the RPM gauge on my dashboard was a tachometer, so I caught TACH on the crosses. I won’t forget it though!
Overall, I thought that this puzzle was tough, but I appreciated the wordplay and the sound-focused theme.
Winston Emmons’s Universal crossword, “Pub Crawl”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Words that can precede “BAR” are at the perimeter of the puzzle.
- (revealer) SIDEBAR
Nice over-the-plate familiar-ish theme type. I don’t think of DATE bars that often, or TIE bars for that matter, but everything is solidly in-language. Some of the bars refer to actual pub type settings (CASH, WINE, PIANO) and some don’t, which I’m only noticing now, so clearly it didn’t bother me that much.
Revealer was a gimme :) I like that once in a while though.
Quite a bit of longer fill, yet nothing that jumps out at me.
Hard for me to get used to TESTEE as a word. I think I prefer TEST TAKER.
Thanks for this one! 3.4 stars
Jim Holland’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s puzzle by Jim Holland has a fairly simple, nigh infinitely repeatable, concept. Add S to the beginnings of theme phrases and create “wackiness”. It felt more like an abbreviated Sunday theme idea. Given the many options available, Mr. Holland chose wisely. In particular the clue/answer combinations for SWINECOOLER and STAKEOUTFOOD are evocative.
The grid design was quite conservative, with few long phrase-type answers and most of the difficulty introduced with a few less inferrable names such as ROMO.