Alan DerKazarian’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Sound Engineering”—Jim P’s review
This one’s gonna take some ‘splainin’. Homophones of certain letters replace those letters in phrases which originally defined the sound of the letters. Clues for the new creations are crossword-wacky of course, but the clues also identify other entries in the grid that start with the sounds suggested by the original phrase. Got all that?
- 5d. [One of us, when only a tot? (start of 38-Down)] SHORT YOU. A short U starts UNLAWFUL.
- 13d. [Stretched center of a hurricane? (start of 39-Down)] LONG EYE. A long I starts ISOLATE.
- 59a. [Body of water that’s difficult to cross? (start of 18-Across)] HARD SEA. A hard C starts CAYENNE.
- 61a. [Subdued exclamation of wonder? (start of 17-Across)] SOFT GEE. A soft G starts GEOLOGY.
This just felt odd, and maybe overly-convoluted with all the cross-referencing. I think I might have liked it just fine without that cross-referencing, which is how I solved it. It also seems weird that there are other entries in the grid that start with those sounds, but aren’t identified as such, for example UNLOCK, IRON HAT, and COOLERS. Ah, I just noticed that the cross-referenced entries are symmetrically opposite the theme entries, which explains some things and is a nice touch. Maybe you solvers caught on to that quicker than I did.
The fill (even including the theme entries) is loaded with 7s and a few 8s, and as such, doesn’t contain a lot of engaging sparkle. I liked “I’LL SUE!” and “IS IT ME?” and SWOLE best of all but beyond that, it felt workmanlike.
Did not know IRON HAT [Rust-colored outcropping], and I’m not sure that many other solvers would either, unless they have a particular interest in geology. Also, once again we have proper names crossing: KERN and TEENA as well as OSAKA and SAKI. Combined with MONIST—and if you didn’t know “weeks” in Spanish is SEMANAS—that SW corner proved challenging.
Clues of note:
- 49a. [One of four teams to have never played in a Super Bowl]. LIONS. Huh. The other three are the Texans, Jaguars, and Browns.
- 44d. [2014 musical “Star Wars” parody]. ANI. Hadn’t heard of this one. You can watch it in its entirety here.
This one was different. Different isn’t necessarily bad, but this just didn’t grab me. 3.25 stars.
Jesse Goldberg’s Fireball crossword, “Fall Play”—Amy’s write-up
I confess I didn’t grasp how the theme worked here and quickly popped over to Peter’s solution PDF for the explanation. The revealer is 76a. [Participates in an activity at some fall parties … and a hint to this puzzle’s theme], BOBS FOR APPLES. Each short answer to an asterisked clue is a variety of apple (and not symmetrically placed), clued as something else. The other four long entries are oddball phrases made by replacing one of those apple names with the surname of a famous Bob.
- 1a. [*Sports competition, across the Atlantic], GALA? I like Gala apples but this clue meant nothing to me or to my sports-fan spouse. The Longman dictionary offers up “British English a sports competition, especially in swimming.” Sigh. Peter! Sometimes “fresh” clues are just annoying af.
- 19a. [*Terrence Howard TV series on Fox], EMPIRE. I’d call it a Taraji P. Henson show rather than glorifying a domestic violence perp.
- 45d. [*Brand of bicycle], FUJI.
- 83a. [*Sports radio host Jim], ROME.
- The British Empire’s apple joins up with Bob Barker for 15a. [Yorkshire terrier or Sussex spaniel, e.g.?]. BRITISH BARKER.
- “When in Rome…” – Bob Denver – 21d. [Start of a sentence that might end “… go to the mint and a Rockies game at Coors Field”?], “WHEN IN DENVER…”
- The Met Gala – Bob Marley – 32d. [Was acquainted with a yellow Lab of book and film?], MET MARLEY.
- Mount Fuji – Bob Dole – 25d. [Part of a range owned by a fruit company?], MOUNT DOLE.
I’d appreciate the theme more if the theme phrases felt smoother.
Five more things:
- Clue I only understand because of the annotations on the solution PDF: 68a. [Part of Washington], ISRAEL. Denzel Washington played Roman ISRAEL in a movie. Not keen on the “part of X” phrasing in the clue; it’s unnatural.
- 42a. [Hard-to-categorize sort], TWEENER. Not sure if this refers to kids who are tweens (roughly 9-12, middle grades) or some other sort of TWEENER I’m not familiar with.
- 22a. [“Spider-Man” character Leeds], NED. Haven’t seen any of the MCU Spider-Men and am hit-or-miss on the ensemble Avengers movies. Peter Parker’s bestie, played by a Filipino American actor, Jacob Batalon—I’m always keen to find out about more Pinoy/Pinay celebrities.
- 3d. [“Idol Truth” memoirist Garrett], LEIF. Leif Garrett! I was about 9 to 12 years old (tween!) during his Tiger Beat pop idol heyday, the target age for such magazines.
- 7d. [Head to one’s stateroom, perhaps], GO BELOW. Aw, I thought head was a noun here, and that a term for cruise-ship bathrooms was in store… but that would a a head, which is not 7 letters long.
3.5 stars from me.
Claire Rimkus’s USA Today crossword, “Set The Bar High”— Sophia’s recap
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer starts with a type of bar. The answers are oriented vertically, meaning that the bar type is at the top (“high”) part of the puzzle.
- 3d [Shop with jelly bean dispensers] – CANDY STORE // candy bar
- 8d [Real estate event] – OPEN HOUSE // open bar
- 28d [Flat sea urchin thought to resemble a coin] – SAND DOLLAR // sand bar
- 33d [The way things are] – STATUS QUO // status bar
This puzzle certainly sets the bar high for USA Today style crosswords, in my opinion. The four theme answers are all fun, evocative phrases, and the overarching concept connects well to the title. The whole time I was solving this puzzle I was thinking that CANDY BAR related to having a wide variety of different types of candy to choose from (like they have at some weddings, or like Dylan’s Candy Bar) as opposed to, you know, a singular candy bar. I also personally believe that every person between the ages of 20-25 learned the phrase STATUS QUO from High School Musical (iykyk).
Oftentimes when a puzzle has full diagonal lines across its middle, said middle can become choppy and feel full of short answers. The opposite happened here – the middle feels wide open. The northeast and southwest corners take that hit, though, and feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the puzzle. The fill is suuuuuuper clean today though – on a pass through, TERA is the only minor problem I have, and that’s saying something. The long across answers of QUADRUPLED and NO NONSENSE are also lovely.
- Loved the queer-friendly clue on 40d [Mommy’s partner, maybe] for MAMA.
- There were a lot of numbers in this puzzle – ONE, TWO, and FOUR all make an appearance. And yet, because they were all clued in distinctive manners – [“___ ring to rule them all . . .”], [Twelve divided by six], [Number that’s a homophone of a preposition] – it didn’t feel repetitive.
- I hadn’t heard of “Everything SAD Is Untrue”. It’s an autobiographical novel by Daniel Nayeri about moving to Oklahoma as an Iranian refugee. Here’s an NPR interview about it.
Alan Massengill’s New York Times crossword—Matthew’s review
Matt filling in for Ben again today, this time with the Times puzzle.
I’m somewhat surprised this is Alan’s fourth puzzle for the Times; I feel as if I’ve seen his name a bunch more than that. I always open a Thursday puzzle with high hopes for tricky themes. Today’s not that, but it is seasonally appropriate.
Common phrases are clued as if they were relevant to zombies:
- 17a- (Future zombie’s last words?) BE RIGHT BACK. Took me a minute to parse, but I guess the idea is that there’s a momentary period of dead-ness between “alive” and “zombie”.
- 27a- (Country music standard at zombie karaoke night?) I FALL TO PIECES. This is lost on me. Do zombies actively decompose in their zombiehood?
- 48a- (Reason the zombies, are, of course, skipping the empty house?) IT’S A NO BRAINER. This one still makes me laugh each time I read it, and is the strongest of the bunch for my money.
- 64a- (Zombies’ cry in the face of defeat) WE ARE SO DEAD. Presumably the undead return to being “dead” once defeated?
I have no stomach for the horror genre and thus little familiarity with what is standard for zombies, so my apologies if some of those questions are harsh. The theme as a whole didn’t excite me — IT’S A NO BRAINER is a winner and the clue made me chuckle, but I wonder if the pairing has a better home in a themeless given the varying degrees of forced the others feel.
Big highlight of the fill for me: OH GOD NO (52a- “Abso-lutely not!”). You know I’m a sucker for conversational entries where the clue nails the tone. Rest in the notes:
- 6a- (Behind, nautically) ABAFT. I have no idea how common this word is among boat people. But I know how rare it is in crosswords compared to other boat words, and for some reason it always is the first into my head. Today, it paid off.
- 3d- (Toon with a talking map) DORA. Dora The Explorer’s heyday was well after I aged out of the target audience, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by its lasting power. The live-action movie did quite well in both the domestic and international box offices.
- 11d- (“I really appreciate it!”) THANKS A TON. I never say this! “Thanks a lot”, “Thanks a bunch”, “Thanks a million”, all in my repertoire, but never “ton.” It sounds so wrong to me — I’m sure some of my alternatives sound wrong to some of you.
- 12d- (Ball game) BOCCE. It’s been a while since I played a good game of bocce. As a kid we often played in backyards, with both natural and artificial obstacles. So the pristine gravel rectangle courts I see around just don’t pique my interest. But I’d love to play – far more interesting to me than horseshoes or bags.
- 29d- (Something that may be pulled in college) ALL NIGHTER. My sleep habits were SO BAD in high school and college. I may have pulled an all nighter just about once a week my freshman and sophomore years, out of pure procrastination. Now I go to bed at 9:30.
- 50d- (Ideal picnic forecast) NO RAIN. I have a decent tolerance for green paint-y things, but this one sits funny with me.
- 57d- (Preceder of a certain “-naut”) ARGO. I’d love to do a “sports will make you smarter” bit a la Ade here, but I need to be brief. The Toronto Argonauts are a football team playing in the Canadian Football League, and are the oldest professional sports team in North America still using their original name.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1413, “Returned Equipment”—Darby’s review
Theme: Each themed answer includes a play on a piece of sports equipment with the second word in the phrase reversed
- 19a [“Bill after playing a test match”] CRICKET TAB / CRICKET BAT
- 21a [“Decuplet playing with a shuttlecock”] BADMINTON TEN / BADMINTON NET
- 37a [“Dribbling Milne character”] BASKETBALL POOH / BASKETBALL HOOP
- 57a [“Flat cap worn while pinning”] WRESTLING TAM / WRESTLING MAT
- 61a [“Coffee enjoyed on a rink?] HOCKEY KCUP / HOCKEY PUCK
Do you ever come across a theme and wonder how the universe made words this way? That’s how I felt with this. Like, come on. HOCKEY KCUP? BASKETBALL POOH? Absolutely unreal. I thought that this was a super fun theme and am glad that someone pointed this out about these particular pieces of sports equipment. I may steal this for jokes going forward. BEQ, we’ll talk about royalties!
I liked the grid here with some longer 8-letter answers like HISPANIA and LISA LOEB. 40d’s [License plate of Doc Brown’s DeLorean] OUTATIME is a classic. We love seeing those 80s movies references. I was absolutely screwed when it came the bottom middle section, having little familiarity with musical conventions (ETUDE and CODA), country music (Jake OWEN), or kitchen brands (EKCO). SCOW (59a [“Garbage transporter”]) is also a new addition to my vocabulary (and I appreciated its pairing with 49d [“Garbage collector”] OIL PAN.
A few other things:
- 5d [“Mentos rival”] – Generally, I don’t really think of TIC-TACs as comparable to Mentos. This is mostly because when I think of Mentos, I absolutely think of Diet Coke.
- 6d [“Rubber City”] – I went to high school not far from AKRON, Ohio, so naturally, I was made I didn’t catch this right away.
- 35d [“Wild goat of the Alps”] – IBEX feels like a crossword regular, and it was definitely a creature I was seeing more when I first started solving. I greeted this dude like an old friend because I always found it interesting that IBEX sounds like some fancy beverage company. Instead, a wild goat.
That’s all from me for today! See y’all tomorrow.
Jerry Edelstein’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s theme summary
Jerry Edelstein’s puzzle is revealed at MASTERPIECES. As indicated by the added circles, the three other long acrosses have anagrams of MASTER. I’m not too sure how PIECES is interpreted as an anagram indicator. The one pair of answers – ALMAMATERS & LIONTAMERS seem destined for each other, as I’m not sure there are many more choices out there. The first answer, INCOMESTREAM is paired with the revealer.
Adam Simpson’s Universal crossword, “Boardwalk”— Jim Q’s write-up
Debut here for Adam Simpson! Congrats! And great title.
THEME: WOOD “drifts” from one side of common phrases to the other.
- WOOL BLEND
- WORSHIPS GOD
- (revealer) DRIFTWOOD
This is clever with the revealer so solid. Really like the way the WOOD travels ever so slowly to the other side. Didn’t really appreciate what was going on until the revealer. I wonder if this theme was originally pitched to include circles. I’m glad it didn’t have them in this case. Made it more fun and less of a gimme to figure out.
I didn’t particularly find the themers themselves all that “flashy,” nor much of the fill surrounding it. That was a bit of a bummer. At 74 words, it *almost* has a themeless look to it, so I was hoping for some fun stuff in those big corners. HTS is an abbr. I don’t see that often…
Nice clue for MISHEARD [Interpreted “All of you” as “I love you,” perhaps]. Could be a dangerous mistake to make, depending on the context.
Looking forward to more from Adam!
3,3 stars from me.