Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Brand Ex”—Jim P’s review
Theme: The letters EX are added onto the ends of certain words in familiar phrases.
- 20a. [Really outstanding glass cleaner?] STELLAR WINDEX. I’ve heard of “solar wind” but not “stellar wind.” But what is the sun if not a star? Ergo, the phrase makes sense even before I looked it up.
- 35a. [Nail care product shared by shipmates?] CREW CUTEX.
- 40a. [Watch that requires a magnifying glass to read?] TINY TIMEX.
- 52a. [Cereal variety that’s taken on a yellow-green tint?] OLIVE BRAN CHEX. The phrase “taken on” really confused me here. Maybe “acquired” would be more clear. On another note, this is the only entry that requires the separation and re-parsing of a word (“branch”), making it a bit of an outlier. On the other hand, I found it the most humorous of the set. If my cereal acquired an olive tinge, it would probably go straight into the bin uneaten.
If you told me the theme was about adding the letters EX, I’d have guessed they would be tacked on at the beginnings of phrases. So I found it a little surprising—and interesting—that they’re added at the ends here.
And as slow as I am, I just realized that all the changed words became brand names, and that tightens up the theme tremendously. Now I’m inclined to look much more leniently at that last one, and the title makes a lot more sense rather than being just a play on the term “Brand X”.
(Missing brands: Rolex, Kleenex, Kotex, and Durex. What is it about ending your brand name in EX that’s supposed to make it appealing to would-be buyers?)
Lovely long fill today: FALL GUY, RAINBOWS, “I’M EXCITED,” WENT TO WAR, MING VASE, CATNAPS. A couple crossings may be tough for some: BISCAY [Bilbao’s province] crossing the Y in Y-AXIS [The abscissa is the distance from it], and SUN RA [Jazz legend with an “Arkestra”] with the A crossing the proper name GIA [Supermodel Carangi].
Clues of note:
- 61a. [Screw feature]. SLOT. Where the screw meets the screwdriver.
- 10d. [Dressing spots]. SORES. Probably like most solvers, I was thinking salads and clothing before bandages.
Matthew Stock’s New York Times crossword—Zachary David Levy’s review
Difficulty: Easy (9m59s)
Today’s theme: FOUR CORNERS (U.S. tourist locale that inspired this puzzle)
- C(UT)ICLE / SH(UT) DOWN (Utah)
- MALE G(AZ)E / L(AZ)IEST (Arizona)
- TA(CO) BOWLS / ON RE(CO)RD (Colorado)
- IRO(N M)AN / LEAN O(N M)E (New Mexico)
I’ll say up front that I am biased towards liking this puzzle, regardless of the overall content or execution. Exhibit A: the space on my souvenir board where a FOUR CORNERS magnet would reside, save for the fact that it’s literally in the middle of nowhere and I haven’t made that particular journey yet. But needless to say, I am a Road Trip Junkie, a bottomless pit of Americana Adulation, and this puzzle is the bee’s knees.
If I’m being more objective, the puzzle would be better served with the rebus squares symmetrically placed, as one of the hallmarks of the actual FOUR CORNERS is the perfect geographic symmetry of the monument. I’m well aware of how arduous that would become from a constructor’s perspective, but when you need nits, you better start picking.
This also played fairly easy for a Thursday. Once I got the gimmick, I breezed through it pretty quickly, and spent the last two minutes just staring at the TASSEL / HEELS / GARLIC section. I suppose it’s a product of my MALE GAZE that my mind kept trying to make TUXES work for (Some formal attire).
Cracking: IOLANI palace is actually the only royal dwelling on U.S. soil, an absolute architectural beauty, and was wired for electric lighting in the late 19th century before even the White House. In fact, I’d argue that POTUS should just move the whole operation to Oahu, save for the fact that it would put a pretty ugly colonial exclamation point on the history of U.S.-Hawaii relations.
Slacking: TASSEL — it slowed me down for a reason. Graduation hats, yes. Corn, no.
Sidetracking: FILL ME IN — paging Ryan Hecht and Brian Cimmet. Of all the crossword podcasts out there, Fill Me In is definitely also one of those.
Overall, right up my alley. 4.5/5 for not sticking the symmetric rebus landing.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 156″—Amy’s recap
Brief recap, filling in for Jenni.
Fave fill: MR. NOODLE (also a fan of Mr. Noodle’s brother, Mr. Noodle), the **mitone buddies ADMIT ONE and SEMITONE (solely because of that 6-letter overlap), FRENZY, LESS IS MORE, ONOMASTICS (I kinda dig [The study of proper names]).
Fave clue: 11d. [Side that comes full circle?], ONION RINGS.
Did not know: 14a. [Giants head coach Tom who won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI], COUGHLIN. Allow me to express my disdain for Super Bowl Roman numerals. Why should anyone care if it’s the 46th championship game (or be expected to remember notable games by Roman numeral)? Just use the fling-flang years like normal sports do. The Bears won the 1985 Super Bowl—I have no idea which numeral that one was.
Four stars from me.
Ada Nicolle, USA Today Crossword, “Coffee Blends” — Emily’s write-up
Creative theme and themer set with a fantastic grid design and delightful bonus fill!
Theme: each themer consists of two entries and when the first is mixed-up (“blended”) it forms the name of a coffee drink
- 20a. [Turned toward], FACED paired with 22a. [Anagram of 20-Across], DECAF
- 40a. [“___ Man” (Village People Hit)], MACHO paired with 41a. [Anagram of 40-Across], MOCHA
- 55a. [Flap for Whiskers], CATDOOR paired with 58a. [Anagram of 55-Across], CORTADO
Just when I think I’m getting good, then a curve ball comes my way. Given the title, I really should have thought about a punny approach to it. FACED gets blended to become DECAF, MACHO gives us MOCHA, and CATDOOR creates CORTADO. That third one really tripped me up, as I got misled despite the capital “W” in the clue that was there to cautioned that it was something that a cat uses and not a part of them.
Favorite fill: STUFFEDANIMALS, PIECRUST, REAFFIRM, and OHFUN
Stumpers: CATDOOR (stuck on “cheeks” or something to do with “jowls”), MUESLI (needed crossings), and AHH (initially went for “aha”)
Today was tougher to break into for me, despite an okay start, the bottom half gave me trouble with the acrosses. Nothing was clicking so I started in on the downs and made better progress and was at that point able to switch back and forth to fill it in. However, the SE corner was toughest for me, even with the down bonus fill though I completed it in the end.
Loved today’s theme especially for its cleverness and even enjoyed my favorite afternoon coffee while solving: Korean Maxim mocha instant coffee packet!
Also, I’ll now be covering Thursday USAT.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1503 “Forget It”—Darby’s review
Theme: RAM (Random Access Memory) goes in each circled square as a rebus, making them a MEMORY HOLE, a digital place to forget information.
- 14a [“Forbidden for muslims”] HARAM
- 15a [“Helicopters to hospitals”] AIR AMBULANCES
- 36a [“Byway to the highway”] ON RAMP
- 54a [“Never ever”] NOT FOR A MINUTE
- 3d [“Best Picture winner between ‘The Deer Hunter’ and ‘Ordinary People’”] KRAMER VS KRAMER
- 6d [“Game show hosted by Michael Strahan, familiarly”] PYRAMID
- 37a [“Blueprints of some apps and webpages”] WIREFRAMES
Revealer: 29a [“Place where things are put down in order to be forgotten, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme”] MEMORY HOLE
I love a good rebus puzzle, and this one was no exception. I was fit clued into it on 15a when I knew that there wasn’t a three letter word that would work. (Also: “muslims” in the clue should definitely be capitalized). ON RAMP put me right on track and I was off. I didn’t even really feel like I needed the revealer to get the rebus element, though, of course, it certainly helped in differentiating between RAM the computer storage and RAM the animal.
The stair pattern down the center of the grid was aesthetically very pleasing. I had SPELLING instead of DARK ARTS for 42a [“Witch’s skill”], which I thought was very funny, but KIEFER made it abundantly clear that I was wrong.I also enjoyed the inclusion of 26a [“Prefix with -futurism”] AFRO, 24a [“Like some spicy eggs”] DEVILED, and 46a [“‘Nobody else feels that way’”] JUST YOU.
This puzzle reminds me a lot of Tron and, specifically, the character named Ram, who – spoiler alert – dies by the end, erasing memory space from the Grid. Obviously a very nerdy reference but one, I hope, indicative of how much I enjoyed the puzzle.
Pawel Fludzinski’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Amy’s recap
Amy subbing for Gareth, who lost electricity outside of South Africa’s usual scheduled “load shedding.”
Didn’t absorb the theme while solving. Let’s see:
- 1a. [*Mean message], HATE MAIL
- 27a. [*Occasion for hiring a babysitter], DATE NIGHT
- 41a. [*”So Much to Say” Grammy winners], DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
- 53a. [*Fits together neatly], DOVETAILS
- 73a. [Mushy message, and the end of a sequence that progresses through the answers to the starred clues], LOVE NOTE
So a word ladder theme, HATE to DATE to DAVE to DOVE to LOVE. Cute, but I gotta ding it for DOVE being half a word rather than standing separate like the others. Also dinging for some fill: ALAR, ELA, RERIG, N-TEST.
Did not know: 24d. [Colonel called “the second most dangerous man in London” by Sherlock Holmes], MORAN.
3.25 stars from me for this 16×15 puzzle.
Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Spot the Difference”—Amy’s recap
The theme is four words or phrases that follow an xAByABzAB or ABxAByABz letter pattern: BERSERKER, SINKING IN, TANZANIAN, DEAD-ENDED. Doesn’t particularly grab me as compelling—maybe if the repeated bigram was the same in all four, and certainly more elegant if DEaDEnDEd weren’t the only one that ended each trio differently rather than starting them with distinct letters.
I didn’t solve the puzzle—just auto-completed the grid so I could post something. So no star rating. Toodles!
NYT: Fun theme that reminded me of apart of the country I have often visited (though not the actual Four Corners Monument, which I saw as a kid and found underwhelming).
I knew TASSEL because I had cousins who lived in rural Nebraska in the 1970’s and they made money detasseling corn.
Spelling Bee: Sorry, I know this is not one of the crossword puzzles, but I’ve seen it discussed here on occasion, so here goes.
When you click on circles in the Spelling Bee line it shows you the score that is needed to achieve each of these levels:
I sent feedback and suggested that they add “Queen Bee” at the bottom of this list, so that one can see what it takes to get there without having to cheat and look at the Hints.
Yesterday, that addition was there, which was so cool to see! But today, it is gone… I wonder if someone objected, and if so why?
nytbee.com tells you how many points and words you need to achieve Queen Bee, with no spoilers.
Queen Bee is an Easter egg and I think people like that.
That said you don’t need to cheat (or perservere endlessly) to find the maximum score: it’s always twice the second-highest level (Amazing).
Today it’s 113 for Amazing so there’s 226 points in the puzzle.
Oh! That’s great to know! thank you.
Yes. It is simple math for each level. AMAZING is 50%, Genius 70%. When Queen is odd, it is usually (2* Amazing) – 1.
I should have worked it out. I vaguely wondered about the formula but didn’t pursue it.
Constructor note! The asymmetric rebus squares was a deliberate decision I made — it wasn’t any easier or more difficult to put them in symmetrically, but I worried that, with an already-simple theme, symmetrical rebuses would make the puzzle too easy/predictable. I totally see the merits of both approaches though!
Yes, I can see that it would make it too easy. Thanks for the perspective.
I enjoyed the puzzle. HEELS and MALE GAZE made me smile.
Has MALE GAZE ever been in a NYT puzzle?
One previous appearance for MALE GAZE, in 2017.
The term was sort of familiar to me, but I needed a few crosses and the knowledge that it would have an AZ rebus to come up with it.
The asymmetrical rebus placement did make me work harder. I got UT quickly (which at the time seemed like an odd pair of letters to fit in a rebus). Then I figured out the revealer, so the contents of the other rebus squares were gimmes.
Thanks for the fun puzzle!
There actually is a pattern. Top half, the rebuses are three squares in from the side. Bottom half, two squares. Left side, two rows from the top or bottom. Right side, three rows. Not that I could claim to have seen that while solving. A rather easy puzzle for a Thursday, but a nice one.
UC: I’m hoping someone can explain the theme today for me? I just don’t get it.
Take 15 A, BERSERKER.
Breaking the answer into thirds gives you BER, SER, and KER. Change the first letter in BER to make either SER or KER.
It’s a mildly interesting thing to note about the theme words, but I only figured it out after solving the puzzle, which I treated as if it were themeless.
[Edit] I just saw Martin’s explanation and marciem’s response. But I’ll leave this here anyway.
Thanks to you, too, Eric H… as I said to Martin, I was overthinking the whole deal. I thought that once the differences were “spotted” (title), there would be new words made, anagram(s) or something. Esp. since the last one, the different letters spelled AND… but there you go, I as wrong.
I should give Mr. Colter more credit for coming up with his theme answers. I can imagine noticing, say, that TANZANIAN breaks into TAN, ZAN, and IAN, and finding that kind of cool. But I don’t know how you would use any of the clever computerized searches that constructors use to find other words that do the same thing.
And it’s fun to see BERSERKER in a puzzle. It’s not been used before — or at least, it’s not in crosswordtracker.com’s database.
I was unfamiliar with the word berserker, but I see it is/was a real thing. Happy to learn the new word, and glad it wasn’t clued as “crazier” or “wackier” or that ilk :)
Our favorite pizza parlor as undergrads was called Conan’s. The walls had Frank Frazetta posters all over the place. That might’ve been where BERSERKER entered my vocabulary.
(I’d have cried foul too if it had been clued as an adjective.)
Ber Ser Ker
Each theme entry is three triplets, with only the first letter changed.
(Response to marciem above.)
Thanks, Martin… I saw that much. I thought that we were supposed to do something with the different letters, or the thirds in the answers. Guess I was overthinking :D .
BEQ: Thanks for the explanation, Darby. I was trying to figure out what goats had to do with memory.
Never heard of WIREFRAMES, unless referring to glasses, and JOULE (46D) is a unit of energy, not force. BRIANMAY would be peeved to see his name associated with that error.