Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “On Break”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Today we have phrases containing a word that ends in -ON. That word is “broken” into two words before the ON, thus ensuring crossword wackiness.
- 17a. [Commuting humorist?] WAG ON TRAIN.
- 25a. [Stand-up routine tweaking game show host Monty?] SET ON HALL. I was thrown off by the word “tweaking.” Maybe “ribbing” or “roasting” would have been more on target.
- 36a. [Mutiny?] COUP ON CLIPPER. Nice one.
- 47a. [Zipper friction?] DRAG ON FLY. Good one. I liked this one best.
- 58a. [Plush sofa cushion occupant?] BUTT ON DOWN. Hmm. Not so sure about this one. Do people have down-filled cushions on their sofas? Seems like you’d sink in uncomfortably. I would have thought BUTT ON NOSE would have lent itself better to a humorous clue, even with a cigarette angle.
I enjoyed the wordplay here, but the cluing felt a bit tortured at times.
Fairly wide open corners in this grid, no doubt due to the 13-letter central entry. For the most part they’re quite smooth; I especially like the BAD CALL / CAR RADIO stack in the SW. The only sticking point might be that MANOLO / MOA crossing in the SE. And maybe not everyone knows SMAUG (though that sounds like crazy talk to me).
Clues of note:
- 9d. [Kimberley canine]. DINGO. New to me (Kimberley, not DINGO). And according to Wikipedia, it’s The Kimberley. The Kimberley is a region of NW Australia, not a city as I had assumed.
- 52d. [Monarch with gilt feelings?]. MIDAS. Ooh. That’s a nice clue. It’s not new, per the Cruciverb database, but it may have originated with Mike Shenk.
Anne Grae Martin’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Tonight I learned that I really don’t know very much about yoga. The theme answers are five YOGA POSES (58a. [What the five formations of circled letters in this puzzle represent]) illustrated by the circled letters. With the diagonal and bending poses snaking through the grid, each of those circled letters appears in Across, Down, and circled answers, so that’s three-pronged checking instead of the usual double-checked letters.
We have CAT in the northwest corner of the grid. Uh, this is the same shape as the DOWNWARD DOG, just smaller. Wikipedia shows me a CAT pose that is not at all an inverted “V” shape; perplexing. I did not know there was a CHAIR pose in yoga. COBRA is familiar, but I feel like the head of COBRA is the C, not the A, and would have liked the head to stretch upwards. Last, there’s a BOAT pose, but that OA makes for a wide, flat butt, doesn’t it? Rather than a V-shape? Didn’t know there was a pose called the boat.
Interesting theme idea, but the triple-checking brought about some compromises in the fill (the worst offender is 61a. [___ omen (Latin akin to “Heaven forbid”)], ABSIT?!)
Five more things:
- 43d. [Colorfully named victim in the U.K. version of Clue], DR. BLACK. Samuel Black, apparently. The US version has Mr. Boddy. Did you know the UK version is called Cluedo?
- 32a. [Headstrong], OBDURATE. I like the word but I’m pretty sure I’ve never said it out loud and there’s a good chance I’ve never written it in a sentence unless it was a high-school vocab word one week.
- 4d. [12- or 62-Down], SIB. Does anyone like encountering a cross-referenced clue in the puzzle’s opening corner, much less one with two x-refs in it? I don’t care for SIB as an entry (how much do people really use that shorthand?), and the SIS/BRO [Member of the fam] two-fer is okay, but I think “fam” comes from Black American usage where it doesn’t actually mean “members of one’s immediate family.” More like your friends, your people, your chosen family. Yes?
- 17a. [“Mrs. America” actress Uzo], ADUBA. One of these days, I’ll remember it’s ADUBA and not ADUBO when I first try to spell it.
- 42a. [Flesh out some wedding plans, perhaps], SET A DATE. I originally had MR BLACK instead of DR BLACK, and must say I like the concept of SET A MATE as part of your wedding plans. It’s an essential first step!
3.4 stars from me.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Break the Mold” — Sophia’s recap
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer is surrounded by the letters MOLD:
- 16a [Tunes for customer support callers] – MUSIC ON HOLD
- 36a [Present-day setting] – MODERN WORLD
- 60a [Malayalam cinema] – MOLLYWOOD
Classic USA Today theme type today executed very well. I appreciate that the M O L D is split up differently in each of the three answers. Is MUSIC ON HOLD a thing? I really wanted that answer to just be “hold music”. I didn’t know MOLLYWOOD but it fits a well-known word pattern and was easy enough to puzzle out, and it’s a fun answer besides.
So much colorful fill in the puzzle – ME THREE is definitely my favorite, followed by SHE SHED and TOSTADA. I didn’t know BOUNCE as 2d[Big Easy music], my first thought there was “zydeco”. Fun that POBOY is also in the puzzle for double Big Easy. Other answers I got entire from crosses include 62a [“___ Zero” (manga)] for EDENS and 65a [“___, Papa, and Me” (children’s book)] for DADDY – man, it’s a good thing the downs in the SW were gettable for me!
I’m really curious about the black square pattern here. One reason I think asymmetric grids can be great is when they allow for theme sets with answers of different lengths. But today, this theme set could be placed symmetrically in the grid – MUSIC ON HOLD and MODERN WORLD both have 11 letters, and MOLLYWOOD could go in the center. Another reason for asymmetry is to put in a particular extra answer as bonus content, but (with apologies to SHE SHED), there aren’t any long standout answers. And a third reason for asymmetry is if the grid is particularly difficult to fill, but given there are only three theme answers here, I doubt that is the case. So I’d be interested to know why this pattern was chosen, even if that reason was “because the constructor felt like making a asymmetric puzzle”! USA Today continues to break the mold (haha) when it comes to crossword conventions, and I’m here for it.
- I went to elementary school with DALE Chihuly’s son! We did not get along very well as 10 year olds. The Chihuly Garden and Glass museum here in Seattle is incredible, I definitely recommend it to anyone in town.
- I enjoyed the clue for CAR referencing public transportation rather than, you know, cars. My friends and I dressed up as the Seattle light rail (stations, not cars though) for Halloween a few weeks ago.
Byron Walden’s AVCX, “Pace Yourself” — Ben’s Review
Byron Walden and I aren’t often on the same wavelength, which makes his AVCX puzzles challenging. This week’s was no exception:
- 17A: Army base store with the motto “You do you”? — PERSONAL TASTE PX
- 29A: Pitch some symphony directors on “The Planets” as their next big production? — SHOP A HOLST EPIC
- 42A: Collection of conical dwellings at an abbey? — THE MONK’S TEPEES
- 58A: 1973 Lynyrd Skynyrd single … and a hint to this puzzle’s theme answers — GIMME THREE STEPS
I was trying to figure out something far more complicated going on with the theme answers than just your standard “add a word to some phrases to make new phrases” theme, but with step. The phrases in question here are PERSONAL TAX, SHOPAHOLIC, and THE MONKEES
Other nice fill: RIAN Johnson (of “Knives Out” direction fame), ADULT VIDEO (“Media industry segment with high market penetration” was very cheeky), GLASSHOUSE, THE MESSIAH, EUROSPHERE, PREEMINENT, and ICE SCRAPER.
Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword — Matthew’s recap
What a pretty grid from Anna today! Four corners, a stairstack (vertically too), and only four three-letter entries.
Oh, and the fill is clean as hell – a couple of iffy plurals (ETES, PAMS, LLCS) are well worth highlights like MORE COWBELL (14d- “S.N.L.” catchphrase for Christopher Walken) and THANKS OBAMA (20d- Meme in which life’s inconveniences are blamed on the forty-fourth President). I liked the parallelism of “Certain archives” for SCRAPBOOKS and DATABASES.
Right to notes:
- 13a- (Occupational hazard for pitchers) DEADARM. That’s baseball pitchers, and a phrase that calls back to an earlier era, both in baseball analytics and sports medicine.
- 23a- (Letters used in Old Engligh and Icelandic) ETHS. Also “edh”, uppercase: Ð, lowercase: ð; as in the verb “breathe”. Funnily enough, there’s a discussion on voiced (like eth) and voiceless -th- sounds happening in the Crossword Discord right now.
- 35a- (A.L. Lineup fixtures) DHS. I do not understand the DH. It’s completely unnatural to have nine players in defense and almost the same nine, but not quite, on offense. And yea, today’s pitchers aren’t much in the way of hitters, but the game is all strikeouts and swinging for homeruns right now, and maybe if pitchers couldn’t all throw 98 it would be more interesting. Can you tell I’ve lost all passion for baseball lately?
- 41a- (Yarn lump) SLUB. New word for me – I like it!
- 52a- (Question asked while running in the door) AM I LATE. I’m so accustomed to seeing AMIRITE in grids that I had to a do a double take here – AM I LATE? is three correctly-spelled words.
- 7d- (Kidnappers in 1974 news: Abbr.) SLA. I can never, ever remember this, even if you give me Patty Hearst. Maybe next time.
- 39a- (“Sabre Dance” composer Khachaturian) ARAM. I grew up in Buffalo, heard this song before, during, and after every Sabres game for two decades, you’re getting the Sabre Dance:
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Universal crossword, “Writing Letters” — pannonica’s write-up
Not quite sure what makes the theme answers coherent.
- 24a/27a. [… [A]cts with precision] DOTS THE IS | AND CROSSES THE TS.
- 46a. [Pronouncing “churro” like a Spanish speaker] ROLLING ONE’S RS.
- 51a. [Behave properly] MIND YOUR PS AND QS.
Certainly they’re all idioms involving specifics of letters, but only the first (paired entry) is explicitly about writing. The second references speech, and the third derives from moveable type.
Perhaps the ‘writing’ invoked by the puzzle’s title refers to the solver’s act of filling in the grid, I don’t know. In any case, I like all of these theme entries individually.
- 2d [Like grapefruit] SOUR. Putting TART in first banjaxed that top left section for a few moments.
- A pair of meta clues top right: 11d [Cookie in many crosswords] OREO, 12d [Waffle in many crosswords] EGGO.
- Similar continuity with nearby acrosses: 10a [“My Life” musician Billy] JOEL, 14a [“My Life” or “My Universe”] SONG. The latter is most associated with BTS or Coldplay; take your pick.
- 23a [Utensil for ice cream] prompted a provisional S–OO– before crossing entries resolved it.
- 40a [ __ room (foosball locale)] REC. You may be wondering about the origin of the name ‘foosball’. Turns out to be perfectly reasonable: “The game adopted the name foosball in the United States via German imports that called it tischfußball (lit. ‘table football’)” –Wikipedia
Paul Coulter’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s puzzle by Paul Coulter is one where my instinct of “if the theme makes no sense, solve around it” slowed me down. The puzzle’s conceit of [>word<, i.e.] actually being [—ie] falls kind of flat when you realise the initial version is meaningless. I.e. is invariably followed by something… Now if the puzzle had used “e.g.” it’s premise would make a lot more sense. In short the theme is BAKEDTREAT, [Cookie]; LITTLEFINGER, [Pinkie]; FIRSTYEARPLAYER, [Rookie]; BONECHILLING, [Eerie]; and AIRMISSION, [Sortie].
- [Ballet bend that’s a homophone for a cheese dish], FONDU – well, if hadn’t had the second part at least…
- [Nickname of 1950s Reds slugger Ted], KLU.
- Fun K words [Egyptian cross], ANKH & [Annoying sort], NUDNIK.
- [Part of the “Hey Jude” refrain], NANANANA. I thought it was what came before Batman?
- [Coffeehouse order], LARGE a clear fake out for LATTE>