Justin Werfel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Plight”—Jim P’s review
Theme answers consist of familiar phrases where one word normally has a double-P, but one of those Ps is removed resulting in crossword wackiness. The title should be read as “P-light,” i.e. each phrase has fewer Ps than it did originally.
- 17a. [Crazy about optimism?] HOPING MAD. Meh. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
- 21a. [Coffee on a hillside?] SLOPY JOE. I can see coffee plants growing on a hillside, but it’s not “joe” at that point. And I didn’t know “slopy” was a word.
- 39a. [Pillow stuffing arranged in bands?] STRIPED DOWN. Again, meh. Feels forced.
- 58a. [The Tao of bees?] APIAN WAY. This one I liked a lot. And the clue sounds like a sequel to The Tao of Pooh.
- 64a. [Caretaker who will never be replaced?] LAST SUPER. Also good.
While the the first three entries didn’t do a lot for me, neither did they overly bother me, and the last two were enough to win me over. So all in all, I enjoyed the theme. There can’t be too many double-P words that are still words after removing one of the Ps, and I appreciate using the double-P as a constraint.
In the fill, we have the fun INSPECTOR Gadget, LIP BALMS, MOJITO, and FRESHNESS. I didn’t know NANKIPOO [The Mikado’s son], but it looks great in the grid.
Clues of note:
- 28a. [Richtung auf einem Kompass]. OST. I incorrectly guessed that “Richtung” meant “right,” which still led me to the correct answer (which means “East”). Nope, “Richtung” means “direction.”
- 46a. [Popeyes choice]. BREAST. Lest you think less of Popeye the Sailor man, the clue is referring to the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen restaurant chain. Don’t think I didn’t notice “chicken” in the crossing clue for 46d: [Less chicken].
- 11d. [Pachelbel’s Canon is in it]. D-MAJOR. When I was a kid, my older brother gave me a tape titled, “Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit” (singular). It was a compilation of various versions of the piece. One can’t be grumpy at a puzzle while one is listening to the Canon, so here’s two hours of it (see below).
Nice puzzle overall, 3.75 stars. Oh, and it’s a debut, so congrats to our constructor!
Ruth Bloomfield Margolin’s New York Times crossword—Zachary David Levy’s review
Difficulty: Hard (13m57s)
Today’s theme: Literally.
- (O)BJECTIONS (Make one’s opposition known, literally)
- (S)TINK (Protest, literally)
- (F)AMILY (See children through to adulthood, literally)
- (M)INIMUM WAGE (Alleviate income insufficiency, literally)
- VOLUM(E) (Show respect to one’s neighbors late at night, literally)
- TEMPERATUR(E) (De-escalate tension, literally)
- PRIC(E) (Put on sale, literally)
- TOILETSEA(T) (Demonstrate a bit of bathroom etiquette, literally)
I really want there to be some extra step here, a revealer I glossed over, an angle I didn’t spot, but it doesn’t feel like it’s in the cards. You’ve raised a STINK, a FAMILY, the MINIMUM WAGE, and OBJECTIONS so that they’re off the top of the grid. On the flipside, you’ve lowered the VOLUME, PRICE, TEMPERATURE, and TOILET SEAT off the bottom. Considering how straightforward the theme is — for the third Thursday in a row — this one played much harder than the last two. Why? Maybe because you have fill like WELTED and LYS and SAMI, MALA fides instead of bona fides, TRE MAV EPI TSO, and a run of proper Ms — MISSY and MAEVE and MIMI and MOIRA, oh my.
Cracking: SO LAST YEAR — is it ironic that this phrase is so last decade? Still fun fill, tho.
Slacking: EAL — you know what else ends in EAL? Venereal, diarrheal, gonorrheal, congeal, perineal, etc.
Sidetracking: YAMS — YAMS are inexorably linked to an episode of Night Court inside my head, titled “The Last Temptation of Mac”, where Christine’s bad YAMS make everyone violently ill. You also get Leslie Jordan making a great cameo as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade handler. Mac’s storyline, incidentally, is the least memorable part of the episode.
Overall, not bad, but not for me. 3/5.
Zachary David Levy’s Universal crossword, “Gnarly!”—Amy’s write-up
A rather complicated theme here. I haven’t been doing many of the Universal puzzles, but based on this theme, I’m going to guess that the difficulty level does ramp up throughout the week (though this one’s easier than a Thursday NYT). The puzzle’s title is (old?) surfer slang, and that’s the vibe:
- 28a. [Wave rider’s excited shout, and a hint to 19-Across], SURF’S UP. 19a is clued [Four pi r squared, for a sphere], but SACE AREA is nothing. However! The SURF goes UP, so 19a is SURFACE AREA, with 1d being the nonsensical FRUS, or SURF when read from bottom to top.
- 37a. [Wave rider’s failure, and a hint to 15-Across], WIPEOUT. 15a‘s clue is [Hit that isn’t head-on], but SIDES looks wrong. SIDESWIPE fits the clue, and it fits the grid if you take the letter sequence “WIPE” OUT.
- 44a. [Wave rider’s stunt, and a hint to 61-Across], HANG TEN. 61a is clued [One may have a clay surface], which leads to a TENNIS COURT with the TEN left HANGing down from the initial T.
61d just gets a [See 61-Across] clue, though TEN is a legit entry unto itself. The theme would have been a little more elegant if FRUS were also a legit entry, but it’s not, and it would be tough to lodge an answer like FRUSTRATE at 1d in a themed puzzle.
Fave fill: GELATO, TOWN CAR, IF NEED BE.
Three more things:
- 17d. [Soothing powder], TALC. Ooh, no, bad. Read the new New Yorker article on Johnson & Johnsons shenanigans to get out of having to pay settlements/damages to people whose ovarian cancer or mesothelioma might be linked to talc itself and/or the asbestos fibers that J&J has long known were an issue.
- 33a. [Opposite of “severe”], MILD. Can you tell ZDL (one of Team Fiend’s newest members) is a physician?
- 48d. [Close with a knot], TIE OFF. This feels like a mostly medical thing, too. Tying off the sutures when closing a wound, say. Are there nautical, household, or workplace uses of TIE OFF that you’re familiar with?
Four stars from me.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1505, “C-List Celebrities”—Darby’s review
Theme: Each theme answer adds a C to a common phrase, changing it so that the first word of each one is a celebrity’s last name.
- 17a [“‘Big Brother’ host Julie tears it up”] CHEN PARTIES / HEN PARTIES
- 23a [“Actor George’s Spotify playlist”] CLOONEY TUNES / LOONEY TUNES
- 39a [“Scientist whose field is Cuban president Raúl?”] CASTRO PHYSICIST / ASTROPHYSICIST
- 50a [“Big Star singer Alex’s Monopoly property”] CHILTON HOTEL / HILTON HOTEL
- 61a [“One who lends out Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy for a while”] CORGAN DONOR / ORGAN DONOR
I liked the small modification of this puzzle and thought that the clues worked well for the theme’s mechanism. CLOONEY TUNES is hysterical, and, once I got that themer, the rest fell in line pretty quickly.
The grid itself is really nice and feels open as you move through. I was pleased with myself for remembering SPOONERISM as the term for 11d [“Packed lunch / lacked punch, e.g.”]. The clue for 58a [“Chips for openers] ANTE was also really great. There’s also a joke there to be made about ANTE being an appetizer for poker.
A few other things:
- 36a [“Busan setting”] – If you haven’t read Pachinko by Min Lee, I highly recommend it. The city of Busan in KOREA has actually seen a spike in tourist visits since the release of the Apple TV series based on the book, according to this article.
- 8d [“An American in Paris, perhaps”] – The cluing on this was also pretty fun for EXILE.
- 53d [“Navajo dwelling”] – A HOGAN is a sacred home for the Diné (Navajo) people. It is used for traditional ceremonies. You can learn more about HOGANs here.
Overall, a really clever puzzle! BEQ mentions that this could maybe have spun out into a Sunday puzzle, and I’m so curious about the other celebrity options. Maybe someday we’ll find out.
Micah Sommersmith’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Micah Sommersmith does the clue reversal thing, today with [Green]. All of the greens are derived from the colour in one way or another, but are not the colour. So: BURNINGWITHENVY, PUTTINGAREA, FATSTACKSOFCASH, ECOFRIENDLY, HOPELESSLYNAIVE. This theme, for me, works much better with entries like ECOFRIENDLY that are valid stand-alone entries, otherwise they either seem padded: HOPELESSLYNAIVE or clunky PUTTINGAREA. I don’t quite get the synonymy of FATSTACKSOFCASH at all, although I recognize the connection between GREEN and CASH.
Tricky spots, of which there weren’t many:
- [Where the Wings meet the Sky?], ARENA. I was thinking Wings as in the band, but still got to the right answer, if wrongheadedly…
- [River that forms the Michigan-Ontario border], STMARYS. Tough geography!
- [Black key above C], DFLAT. Aka wait for the crossers…
- [Phillipa who was the original Eliza in “Hamilton”], SOO. At least not the canals any more!
Rafael Musa’s USA Today Crossword, “Decent Start” — Emily’s write-up
A great theme and themer set, a fun grid, wonderful cluing, and lots of fantastic bonus fill!
Theme: the first word of each themer is a synonym for the word “Decent”
- 19a. [“Do what you’re gonna do, I guess”], FINEBETHATWAY
- 34a. [Digital media platform focused on the Black diaspora], OKAYAFRICA
- 54a. [“That’s enough!”], ALRIGHTALREADY
Loved the themer set, though it took me a few crossings to help complete them. FINEBETHATWAY is a great expression, though I think of it as usually a flippant response so the cluing was a bit tame for me to make the connection. OKAYAFRICA had excellent crossings so even if this entry was new to anyone, it should be very gettable which can be tricky to do in some cases so kudos. ALRIGHTALREADY feels like it’s rushing me to hurry up with this review but despite that it’s a fun themer to round out this set. Based on the theme, we get FINE, OKAY, and ALRIGHT.
Favorite fill: SMOOCH, HIKER, GLOWSTICKS, and HABLA
Stumpers: IOTA (“a tad” and “tsps” were first instincts, needed crossings) and SATELLITE (great cluing though new to me so needed crossings)
For me, many of the entries felt fresh and fun, plus cluing was excellent too. I look forward to more of Rafael’s puzzles and hope we see another soon!