David Poole’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Jumping Jacks”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Famous Jacks are found in the circled letters jumping across blocks in the grid.
- Jack FROST. 17a / 18a AFRO / STAPLE GUNS
- Jack LEMMON. 26a / 29a: EMBLEM / MONA LISA
- Jack LONDON. 45a / 48a: ART SALON / DONATE
- Jack HORNER. 61a / 63a: NEWS ANCHOR / NERO
So that’s two real Jacks and two fictional Jacks, unless the last one is referring to the paleontologist who was the partial basis for Sam Neill’s role in Jurassic Park, but somehow I doubt it.
With so many Jacks in the world, why were these chosen? I would have liked to have seen some other element tying these together. Maybe make them all fictional (Jacks Bauer, Reacher, Ryan, Sprat, and Sparrow are available) or make them all real (Jacks Palance, Benny, Nicklaus, Black, or White have potential as well). Unless there’s something I’m not seeing in the chosen set, it just feels too random.
The fill is heavy on the 6s and 7s with a couple 8s thrown in (THROWS IN, STARTLED). I liked DIADEMS, RATTLER, UNISEX, GOBLET, BRUNEI, TAIWAN, and “NOW, NOW.” But there isn’t anything especially sparkly, and the gluey bits were noticeable: MAAS, ONE-A, CRU, OTO, SIL.
Clues of note:
- 32a. [Fête des Mères month]. MAI. Without looking that up, I’m assuming that’s French Mother’s Day. (In my very limited French, the phrase looks like “Party of Mothers”.)
- 45a. [Exhibition of paintings]. ART SALON. I guess I’m not familiar with this term. I was thinking it was synonymous with “art gallery,” but it’s not.
- 61a. [Rather, once]. NEWS ANCHOR. Dan Rather, that is.
- 41d. [Aromatic evergreen]. RUE. For a while I thought this clue was an erroneous spillover from 68a LAUREL. But no, it’s accurate. I don’t recall ever seeing this word clued this way. You?
- 48d. [Strawberry, for one]. DARRYL. The former Major Leaguer.
I’m okay with the theme concept, but I wish it was a bit tighter. Three stars.
Meredith Colton Hazy’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The theme entries are split into two parts (two on 2/2/22!), and the preposition in each phrase is suggested by positioning. The highlighted entries in my grid are BENDS over BACKWARDS, and the theme plays out with A CUT above THE REST, HITS below THE BELT, and WATER under THE BRIDGE. We’ve seen other themes with positional words implied by grid positioning, and I usually enjoy them.
Fave fill:CUBANO, UBERED, LONDRES, HIGH-TOP, LOST CAUSES.
Fill I could do without: INHIBITIVE isn’t an inflection we see much of. I’d be OK to never see ILOSE or ILOST in another puzzle. There’s also a dupe: the awkward GOT HOT plus HOT TEA.
Guess who feels too sleepy to make sensible remarks about this puzzle now?
3.5 stars from me.
Hoang-Kim Vu’s USA Today Crossword, “Red Envelopes” — Sophia’s recap
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: The start and end of each theme answer form the word RED, so “red” is literally “enveloping” the answer.
- 17a [It offers perks for purchasing] – REWARDS CARD
- 27a [Completely merited] – RICHLY DESERVED
- 44a [Elastic item for strength training] – RESISTANCE BAND
- 57a [Portable piece of hotel furniture] – ROLL-AWAY BED
Happy Lunar New Year everyone! I love a timely theme, and this one is perfect for this week – the wordplay works on every level. The theme answers are all solid phrases that I feel like I haven’t seen a million times in puzzles before – REWARDS CARD and RESISTANCE BAND are my favorites. It took me a while to see RICHLY DESERVED as I kept trying to put “well deserved” even though that doesn’t work with the theme at all. Plus, I had “air hole” instead of AIR HOSE for 9d [Tube for an underwater diver] which didn’t help matters. But that was pretty much the only hold-up I had throughout the puzzle.
Other puzzle notes:
- I thought the three letter [Source of milk] was going to be “oat”, “soy” or “pea”, so I was surprised (and amused) when it was actually dairy related with YAK.
- I like the LEG/OLEG section in the bottom middle; I find it satisfying to have groups of the same letters next to each other so the LL/EE/GG acrosses were fun to uncover.
- Hello Sunshine is REESE Witherspoon’s production company, which focuses on telling female-driven stories on film and TV. Pretty cool!
- Like any teen who lived through the 2000’s, I’m a huge Mean Girls fan, so 1d [“Is butter a ___?” (“Mean Girls” quote)] for CARB was the perfect way to start off the puzzle! I think it’s an easy enough quote to puzzle out the answer of even if you don’t already know it, and the crosses are fair besides.
- Things I learned during the puzzle: MONA [___ Hanna-Attisha, doctor whose research helped expose the Flint water crisis] and CHA [Tea, in Mandarin].
Aimee Lucido’s AVCX, “Off Broadway” — Ben’s Review
We’ve got a supersized AVCX this week from Aimee Lucido! It was a nicely chewy 4.5/5 difficulty puzzle that took a little bit of time when it landed in my inbox last night.
“Off Broadway” is a great title that tells you exactly what’s going on with this puzzle’s theme clues. One set of these clues various one-word musicals that something has happened to:
- 14A: [1967 musical previously here, until 70-Across 117-Across] — HAIR
- 58A: [1981 musical previously here, until 27-Across 117-Across] — CATS
- 88A: [1996 musical previously here, until 50-Across 117-Across] — RENT
- 130A: [2012 musical previously here, until 94-Across 117-Across] — ONCE
As to what’s happened to these, 117A explains that another answer in the grid STOLE THE SHOW (“Shined onstage … and what someone did four times in this grid”). Each of the other theme clues in the grid is a common phrase that’s stolen each of the four shows to make a crazier phrase:
- 27A: Hospital’s response to “Do you have modern X-ray diagnostic machines?,” perhaps? — YES WE CAT SCAN
- 50A: Family members on TV only, say? — FAUX PARENTS
- 70A: Source of the hirsute gene? — HAIRY CHROMOSOME
- 94A: Motto for a VR company that wants users to forget they’re wearing a plastic helmet thing? — CONCEAL TECH
And then since there’s been stealing in the grid, the down clues for each of the clues that cross 14A, 58A, 88A, and 130A skip over the letters of each musical, cluing an entry for just the letters that remain (for example, OWL, CHE, TIS, and ATS) that become a different crossword-friendly word once the musical is back in place (HOWL, ACHE, IT IS, and RATS for my example above, which used HAIR). It’s all very tricky, and manages to do all this with the various theme entries maintaining general placement symmetry, so it’s a feat of construction.
I always think about David Rakoff’s essay about the musical RENT from This American Life after his death.
other things I liked in this grid: FANTASIA, JETSKIED, CLARINET, and the delivery app SEAMLESS.
Jeffrey Stillman’s Universal crossword, “Play Off Picture” — pannonica’s write-up
The wordplay here involves titles of films and components of moviemaking, alternatively parsed from familiar phrases.
- 20a. [Screenplay author for a 1990 Moore-Swayze film?] GHOST WRITER.
- 27a. [Cinematographer’s accessories for a 1997 Jodie Foster film?] CONTACT LENSES.
- 50a. [Gaffers’ needs for a 2000 Benicio del Toro film?] TRAFFIC LIGHTS.
- 58a. [Graphic designers for a 2018 “Star Wars” origin story?] SOLO ARTISTS.
So, two people and two objects. Good balance. One point: ghostwriter is typically one word, but a minor typographical adjustment seems fine to me.
- 3d [Range above tenor] ALTO. 5d [Singer Dionne] WARWICK. Got me to wondering what her range is, whether it might be at least partially alto. According to one authoritative-seeming wiki source, her range is considered to be contralto/mezzo-soprano, which would seem to encompass ALTO.
- 21a [Tom kha kai cuisine] THAI. I remember not many years ago when practically the only clue for THAI was a generic [Spicy Asian cuisine].
37d [Shocking things to find in a stream, perhaps?] EEL. Huzzah, constructors and editors are finally learning that these fist do not dwell in saltwater environments.
- 44d [Empowered women in some stories] DAMSELS. Nice to see a bit of revisionism in the cluing here.
- 5a [Like a burrito smothered in sauce] WET. Not my preferred presentation.
- 67a [“Noice!” or “No ice!”] NEAT. Neat indeed.
- 72a [“Flying Over Sunset” drug] LSD. I thought this might be an obscure ’60s song but it turns out to be a musical that recently concluded its run at Lincoln Center.
A very workable theme, a clean grid, and friendly-level cluing.
Susan Gelfand’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s puzzle by Susan Gelfand features a more oblique than normal Wednesday theme. All of the answers have “?” style clues where each answer ends in (broadly) a seat that in the phrase aren’t literally seats, but are reimagined to be such. They work, more or less, though for instant PARTYCHAIR was a bit of a clunker to end on.
In contrast two the theme, the pinwheel theme entry arrangement makes for a very early week gird with a lot of small, easy to fill sections. The entries skew heavily to “Scrabbly”, but it mostly works: choices like JETSKI, CAJUN and AJAX made it feel a little less gratuitous.
Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s review
I often forget to look at bylines before solving. I’m not sure I could describe it in a responsibly accurate way, but I can certainly recognize Anna Shechtman’s puzzles within a few clues. This is as emblematic of her style as any I’ve done lately, and I was pleasantly surprised with my time because there was clue-driven resistance in just about every area.
Cool-looking themeless grid – at a glance seems like there should be 15s running across but instead we’ve got dense stacks in the middle and 8- and 6-stacks in the corner.
Faves: EGO DEATH, FINE WINE, MOTORCAR, RED BOTTOMS, STREET ART. Really, really colorful stuff.
(Admittedly picky) nit pick: I didn’t love the IN ANGER/TO NONE/NOT FOR/ONE A/C MINOR confluence in the western area, but none are out of place on their own. I did chuckle entering NOT FOR [39a- Against] — it feels like that’s more often the clue for “against” or “anti” than in the grid.
The toughest spot for me (and my finishing area) was in the east, where I had to guess (and surprisingly got on the first try) the DE- of DEALER [26d- The protagonist of the TV show “High Maintenance,” e.g.], COEL [33a- “I May Destroy You” creator and star Michaela], and AGNES VARDA [22a- First female director to receive an honorary Academy Award]. I certainly have some learning to do, though TV and movies will always be a weak spot for me. I do think I’ve seen Michaela Coel in a USA Today puzzle and just haven’t learned her name well enough yet (obviously).
- 16a [So-called wheat meat] SEITAN. I am mostly vegetarian and not a picky eater, but I haven’t come around to SEITAN, and “wheat meat” certainly doesn’t ring positive to my ears!
- 18a [“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” author Dave] EGGERS. I did not know the memoir referenced in the clue, but absolutely recognized the name when crossings made it clear. Turns out he’s the founder of McSweeney’s and has done some sports journalism.
- 19a [Like supermarkets and movie theatres] AISLED. This felt like an old-school crossword trick: would you describe anything as “aisled” in actual language? But I did groan in satisfaction when it clicked for me, so I suppose I can’t complain at an example of what the defunct/hiatused crossword podcast Whitey Puzzleman’s Crossword Hour called the “crossword alien” – a being who uses English grammar and syntax in a technically correct but stilted way.
- 61a [Subject of the 2010 documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop”] BANSKY. I adore this documentary, which may or may not be a mockumentary – who can tell? Separately, I visited a BANKSY exhibit put on by collectors in Chicago this past fall. Despite the repeated statements that the collectors felt the art deserved to be seen, I came away feeling like it was a pretty blatant repudiation of Banksy’s preferences.