Ella Dershowitz’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Speech Bubbles”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Synonyms for “talk” are squeezed into single squares and marked with a circle. The revealer is SMALL TALK (36a, [Party pleasantries, and a hint to this puzzle’s “bubbles”]).
- 17a. [Cause] BRIN(G AB)OUT with crosser BU(GAB)OOS.
- 20a. [Capital on the Horn of Africa] MOGA(DISH)U with crosser YID(DISH)ISM.
- 57a. [Marinated-and-grilled entree] TERI(YAK)I with crosser WHADDA (YA K)NOW.
- 59a. [Drink made from almonds, rice or tiger nuts] HOR(CHAT)A with crosser PIT(CH A T)ENT.
Very nice, eh? I like that there’s a different rebused word in each entry, and the title is spot on. For the most part, the choice of entries are fun and challenging in their own way and there’s a definite international feel among them. It’s not often we see a rebus puzzle in the Journal, so this was a pleasant surprise.
I must protest the spelling of WHADDA YA KNOW though. I’m sure there’s no one correct way, but I’m partial to “Whaddya know.” The NPR quiz game show is possibly the closest we’ll come to an official version, and they spell it “Whad’ya Know.” But the entry in the grid looks weird to me with that extra A.
What’s in the fill? Quite a lot to chew on. Let’s see…I didn’t know POP SUGAR [Female lifestyle website], but you can check it out here if you don’t already know it. BOOYAH is always fun, and I liked COROLLA, AL DENTE, TRIPLETS, SEESAW, and DARES NOT. I’m not sure A COUPLE makes for legit crossword fill. What say you? Hadn’t heard of ECOTONE [Transition area between two biological communities] which sure looked like it wanted to be ECOZONE. Some old crosswordese shows up in OREAD, EGON, and HIE. And GONE ON is straight-up glue holding things together in the SW.
Clues of note:
- 4a. [Imperfect release]. BETA. This sure looked like it was going to be about physically throwing something. Good misdirection.
- 8a. [“Take that!”]. BOOYAH! Usually this gets clued in a more celebratory way, but I like this “in your face” angle as well.
- 16a. [Casarosa who directed Pixar’s “Luca”]. ENRICO. Does this make him crossword-worthy though? We can’t be expected to know every director out there, can we? I’d be fine with a Fermi or Caruso clue since we don’t see this name that often.
- 26a. [Poorly]. ILL. The Brits use these words interchangeably, as in, “Harvey can’t attend school today, he’s poorly.” Note they also reserve the word “sick” for those times when vomit is involved.
- 61a. [Womb crowd]. TRIPLETS. As in, “Three’s a crowd.”
A few minuses in the fill but plenty of pluses as well. Overall, a well conceived and executed rebus theme. Four stars.
Adam Wagner’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
We’ve got circled squares in today’s grid from Adam Wagner, but they’re a bit irregular in their occurrence. Once the grid is filled in, it makes solving the related clues easier, though you may have been on this one’s wavelength well beforehand (like I was) and filled them in with FIBONACCI right away.
- 30A: When preceded by [the circled letters], natural shape said to be seen in 61-Across and 27-Down — SPIRAL
- 27D: Certain cephalopods — NAUTILI
- 61A: Classic van Gogh subject — SUNFLOWERS
- 11D: Numerical constant associated with [the circled letters] — GOLDEN RATIO
- 37D: When preceded by [the circled letters], progression starting with 0 and 1 — SEQUENCE
- 17A: Someone well versed in this puzzle’s theme — MATH TEACHER
This is a fun, math-y theme that was right on my wavelength as soon as I noticed the spiral in the middle of the grid. In fact, today’s grid reminded me of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. I kind of wish there was a little more going on with the theme – the circled squares using Fibonacci is nice, but this feels like it needed one more aha, though I’m not sure what that would have been.
Alex Eaton’s Fireball Crossword, “Single-Minded Pursuits” – Jenni’s write-up
I found this one harder than the most recent themed Fireball puzzles I’ve done. I figured out the theme and solved the puzzle correctly and had absolutely no idea what one of the theme answers meant.
The theme answers are paired and cross-referenced, like so: [9-Down, for one]. We need to take that literally.
- 3d [14-Across, for one] is ANAGRAM and 14a is EON, which is indeed an ANAGRAM of “one.” I didn’t get this corner until late in the solve.
- 18a [9-Down, for one] is CAESAR SHIFT and 9d is BAR. Peter doesn’t usually explain the theme answers in his solution sheet and he must have realized this one was obscure, because he has this: In a CAESAR SHIFT encryption, each letter in a message is shifted alphabetically by a set amount. The most common Caesar shift is ROT-13, which shifts (“ROTates”) the letters by 13 places. BAR (9-Down) is the ROT-13
transformation of “one.” Um, OK.
- 37a [33-Down, for one] is HOMOPHONE. 33d is WON. That’s when I understood what was going on.
- 45d [60-Across, for one] is SYNONYM and 60a is SOLE.
- 61a [59-Down, for one] is TRANSLATION and 59d is EINS.
This is a fun theme with a very satisfying “aha!” moment. I would have enjoyed the puzzle a lot more without the CAESAR SHIFT. I know what ROT13 is, have never heard the more general term for that type of encryption, and I don’t feel particularly enlightened by the knowledge. It feels like inside baseball to me – if you know, you know, and if you don’t, too bad, because it’s not inferrable.
A few other things:
- 5d [Wild rival] is the KRAKEN. NHL teams – the Minnesota Wild and the Seattle KRAKEN. KRAKEN sounds like a silly name for a pro sports team, but then again we have the Iron Pigs playing AAA baseball here in Allentown so I really shouldn’t comment.
- 20a [Parts of gigs] are MEGS. Data storage, not live music – I tried SETS first.
- 3oa [Sent sentences] is a nifty clue for LETTERS.
- The color SIENNA will always make me think of Crayola crayons – burnt sienna, anyone?
- 69a [Exceptionally smart] is DRESSY.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: CAESAR SHIFT. I also did not know that Al HIRT recorded a song called Java, although when I pulled it up I realized I know the tune:
Matthew Stock’s USA Today Crossword, “Ahoy Mate-y” — Emily’s write-up
Excellent puzzle with great fill, a fun theme, and delightful clues.
Theme: each themer phrase begins with a type of chess piece
- 16a. [“Mistake Creek Massacre” painter], QUEENIEMCKENZIE
- 38a. [Central Plains tribe], PAWNEENATION
- 64a. [Award for Michaela Onyenwere in 2021], ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR
Today’s theme is subtly hinted at chess in the title “Ahoy Mate-y”, if you didn’t get misdirected to think of sailing and pirates like I did. QUEENIEMCKENZIE was an aboriginal painter with evocative works of art. PAWNEENATION is located in Oklahoma and recently named a new Executive Director, Jenifer Gover LittleSun. ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR for WMBA 2021 was nearly a unanimous vote and Onyenwere is the first New York Liberty player with the honor. The crossing for the themers in particular were very fair, I found, so no matter what you knew, these were all fairly easy to fill.
Favorite fill: OMNI, EMULATES, and NAPKIN (got me craving hot wings too!)
Stumpers: IMDUE (needing crossings), TUNA (first instinct was “fish”), and WHEW (usually think of as “phew” but luckily I had the crossing 6a STRAWS already filled in so had the first letter anyway)
I zoomed through today’s puzzle and while not quite a p.r., it was close. The gird itself had me wondering for a moment if there were additional themers in the SW corner especially with those bonus fill, though there were many others as well throughout. Very enjoyable!
Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker puzzle– malaika’s write-up
Good morning folks!
Faves: DON’T MIND ME, TEHRAN, IS THIS THING ON (which I dropped in with no crosses, please clap), the reference to meat-and-three (the answer for me is fries, mac and cheese, and dirty rice, although that’s assuming cornbread is included), HONEST TO GOD, MING DYNASTY.
Least faves: Spent half my time on that bottom right corner, between two people I’d never heard of (LORI Petty and Omar EPPS) and “past self” for PAST LIFE and not knowing whether it was PRIMP or “preen.” I think “evil eye” works better than THE EVIL EYE. The clue on LATE DATE (Rhyming phrase that means “time shortly before an impending deadline”) felt needlessly confusing… I would have gone with something like [10pm drinks, say].
Other: Toffee Crunch OREOs sound sooo good. I am watching Bill HADER in Barry right now and wow it is so good and so terrifying.
Rebecca Goldstein’s Universal Crossword, “Buzzwords”— Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Things that are yellow can be found when the beginning and end of common phrases are combined.
- HOUSE MONEY. Honey.
- CARDIO PULMONARY. Canary.
- STICK IN YOUR CRAW. Straw.
- MUST BE HARD. Mustard.
- (Revealer) YELLOW JACKETS.
This one was a rough solve for me. I mean, anytime I am in a position where I have to use the truly terrible webapp that Universal embraces (which cannot employ circles around letters when the theme calls for it, and offers solvers a truly terrible “workaround” by asking them to count and mentally circle their own letters. Go figure…), a five star puzzle can still be an unenjoyable experience. The lagging, loud, and oddly dated “click” sound effect as you type letters is about the most obnoxious feature of the software which doesn’t seem to have been updated since crosswords first started appearing online. The fact that entire rows/columns are highlighted when you are entering a single entry (depending on where in the puzzle you are) is befuddling as well. I’m truly stunned that they are still going strong with this software and boasting that they “…set the standard for all daily crosswords” (per its own website).
Trying to put that aside (which has nothing to do with the construction), it wasn’t my favorite solve in recent memory. I like the theme itself and the revealer, but I don’t think of either HONEY or STRAW as yellow in reality (in children’s books, yes). Both are more golden to me. CARDIOPULMONARY doesn’t thrill me as a base phrase, and it feels like it’s clued as a partial [First parts of CPR?]. I had an I for the second O which made the crossing very difficult for me because the crossing clue was rather vague [Cookware item]. When spelling of a term that people don’t use often may be difficult for some, I would prefer a more direct clue crossing.
Lots of new names for me in this one. Like… lots. Holly Robinson PEETE, LENA Waithe, KERR (with a great clue though… [Warriors coach found in “locker rooms”]), AJA Wilson, RENEE Elise Goldsberry (whom I really should know as a Tony winner for The Color Purple and a star in Rent and Hamilton. I saw her in all three of those), CHLOE Zhao, to name some, among a bunch of other, more familiar names. ELSA, ASHE, IDA, etc. Felt very proper noun heavy for a 15x, or maybe it just seemed that way with the names that weren’t familiar to me.
Liked the entry EGO TRIPS! Especially as clued with the alliterative and clever [Vain “voyages”]. Nothing much else sticks out for me. Wasn’t a fan of the long partials YOU ARE and GOOD AT adjacent to one another.
So again, not my favorite solve, and definitely hindered by Universal’s webapp. Is there another publication out there currently offering two different versions of its puzzle? One for the masses and a “secret version” which is published as the constructor intended but is only available at this website?
2.75 stars from me with circles.
1.75 stars from me without.
Quiara Vasquez’s BEQ crossword, “V-Cut”—Darby’s review
This is a guest puzzle on BEQ’s blog from Quiara Vasquez. BEQ will release one of his own tomorrow.
Theme: Each answer has a 5 replacing IT within the answer, putting 5 on IT. Each theme answer is also cut across by an answer that naturally has a 5 in it.
- 3d [“Straight shooter’s technique”] CO5US INTERRUPTUS / COITUS INTERRUPTUS
- 9d [“On the frfrfrfritz”] GL5CHY / GLITCHY
- 26d [“Something stupid”] ABSURD5Y / ABSURDITY
- 34d [“‘There was an attempt’”] – 5RIED / I TRIED
- 41d [“Quarry”] STONE P5 / STONE PIT
- 61d [“She’s known to curse”] W5CH / WITCH
Revealer: 69a [“Bay Area hip-hop classic prominently featured in the film ‘Us’…or what this puzzle might say about its down answers”] I GOT 5 ON IT
I lowkey love when numbers sneak into puzzles, which is ironic considering that I’m not typically good with numbers. It took me a bit to realize that this was the case, but I knew something was up when I was filling in GLITCHY. I think I would’ve figured it out more quickly if my brain would have supplied DA 5 BLOODS faster for 17a [“Spike Lee film whose characters are named after the Temptations”]. CO5US INTERRUPTUS was a great grid spanner, as was its symmetrical partner in STUDIO APARTMENTS for 11d [“Artists’ pads (nominally, anyway)”].
A few clues I particularly enjoyed include:
- 40a [“Google Image Searches ‘oscar isaac barefoot,’ ha ha ha, who would do that, am I right??”] LUSTS
- 48a [“Pokemon that evolves into a Kadabra”] ABRA
- 50a [“TV host Kotb who was fooled into eating an Oreo with mustard (thanks, Erik Agard)”] HODA
- 59d [“When most holidays occur”] YEARLY (I way over thought this).
Super fun puzzle! Have a good day y’all!
Ashleigh Silveira’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Ashleigh Silveira’s puzzle theme is quite intricate, and difficult to explain in words; three of the more quirky names for golf scores – EAGLE, BIRDIE and BOGEY, are expressed visually as PAR/TWO (“two under par”), PAR/ONE (“one under par”) and ONE/PAR (“one over par”) within longer grid entries.
Unusually for a 15x, this grid design features 80 answers, two more than the traditional maximum of 78, but I’m sure it hardly stuck out to most solvers – what sticks out more is awkward contrived answers. That said, the 5×3 step stair in the centre was certainly an unusual choice!
- Other entries:
[__ paper: baking layer], PARCHMENT. I’m more of a spray and cook the baking tray and hope kind of baker… (In other words, lazy…)
- [Mood-stabilizing hormone], SEROTONIN. Not sure I’d call it a hormone, but rather a neurotransmitter.
- [Retired jets], SSTS. The entry itself is gradually easing to retirement too…
NYT: “this feels like it needed one more aha, though I’m not sure what that would have been.”
Well, I thought the distance between the circled letters might have followed a FIBONACCI sequence…
So, the FIB are bunched together as 011, then there are 2 spaces to get to the O then 3 spaces to get to the N, then 5 spaces to get to the A. Then, depending on how you count, you can make the first C be at 8 squares away and the next C at 13. But I can’t make the I work by counting 21 squares from that last C…
So, not sure if I made that up entirely, or it it’s the intent of the constructor and I’m missing the formula for counting that last bit…
I just went to the NYT crossword site and read the constructor notes and he says nothing about why he spaced the circles in this way, so I guess I made that up… wanting to layer an additional AHA moment…
The grid numbers of the circled letters are all Fibonacci numbers: [0, 1,] 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 34, 55.
Oops. Left out 21.
This is what makes it so good.
Oh, wow… Thank you.
How weird that I noticed the first line but didn’t think to look at the numbers themselves.
I didn’t think to either, but terrific. (It’s in part that my eyesight always makes it hard to make out the numbers in the grid.)
I thought it had plenty of layers anyhow, starting with the intriguing black squares. It was definitely hard enough, given fill like CLAUDETTE (another nice thing to learn), GSA (ditto, but I better look it up to know what it is) and CORDEN (I couldn’t care less). My only real nit is that STRAWY doesn’t seem real. Surely one would just say use “straw” as it is to modify “bed.”
Yeah easily worst word in the grid but otherwise an outstanding puzzle.
NYT: As a lifelong math nerd and former math teacher, I LOVED this puzzle! My only nit is that since the Fibonacci sequence starts with 1,1,2,3 …., maybe there should have been an FI rebus in the first square ( agreeing with Jeff’s point he made in his blog)
My heart sank when I realized it was a math theme, but in the end I loved it.
F-Ball “Sports will make you smarter”
KRAKEN is a hybrid sea animal – Homage to Seattle’s fishing heritage (mythical) – also resembles an octopus – a Detroit Red Wings tradition NHL
IRON PIGS – story – Minor League BaseBall teams are well known for peculiar names, most famously the Mud Hens seen in the comic strip Crankshaft. There are hordes of folk who collect Minor League baseball caps, some of the logos are awesome. A golfer friend of mine used to wear a different one every Saturday – I never saw one twice!
FEROUS*, the Iron Pig mascot is pretty aptly named (d-oh); PIG IRON is used in making steel (Defunct local business – Bethlehem Steel). The original name decided by contest was to be *PORK CHOP – but that is pretty offensive to the Puerto Rican members of the community – however if those emigres from NYC were Portuguese, pork chop would be a cutesy kind of name.
I thought all that might be more interesting than the NYT puzzle which didn’t do anything for me. It was all a gimme from the grid shape onward, except for a few meh clues
Ystervark – “iron pig” – is also the actual name for porcupine in Afrikaans.
NYT: I agree with all the math nerds — LOVED this puzzle. Especially when I realized the spiral wasn’t an @ sign and puzzle wasn’t Twitter related.
GOLDEN RATIO and FIBONACCIs are awesome!
Today’s BEQ: not one for the oldsters. I got about halfway through, with some answers I’m not at all sure about, and ran into a brick wall. No point wasting any more time on it.
BEQ: Too quirky to finish. Why does “5” translate to “IT”?
Same question by me. It obviously means something. But that’s what almost stopped me from completing the puzzle, until I figured out that to *someone, somewhere* 5 means IT .
Are all these crossword constructors just discovering WAP?
Or do the puzzles sit in the queue for 2 years?
Ok, never mind… the revealer is “I got 5 on IT” so there’s the 5 meaning IT
I don’t think I have ever felt so out of touch doing a puzzle as I did with the V-Cut. I can go through the list of pop culture references that I have never ever heard of. Agree wholeheartedly.
Had to kill time waiting for the A/C guy, did WSJ
Grrrrr – wish the page would allow REBUSES(REBI? – errr no)
Cute little puzzle, I enjoyed it
LAT: Being as constructive as I can, combining golf terms with cross-referencing made this an unenjoyable solve experience for me. Mostly the cross-referencing which is never a good look in xword puzzles, but sometimes can’t be helped and can add to the fun (maybe?). This did not. Maybe circles or something?
I know others enjoy the golfing theme, and that’s fine… to each their own…but does anybody really love cross-referencing?