Colin Ernst’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Score!”—Jim P’s review
The grid features an EXTRA / POINT (1d, [With 55-Down, kicker’s contribution, and what’s found in the circled letters). The circled letters spell out POINT and those letters are “extra” within their respective familiar phrases.
- 17a. [Food bank worker, to some?] SUPPER HERO.
- 23a. [“Keep Off” on a front porch?] STOOP SIGN.
- 37a. [Comical Kristen wearing a fat suit?] BIG WIIG.
- 47a. [Famous reason to sleep in the stable?] CLOSED INN. Technically, it was famously full, not closed.
- 58a. [Task at the framing shop?] CHECK MATTE.
(We’re talking American football here, in case you weren’t aware.) I really wanted the extra letters to go “right down the middle” like an ideal point-after kick, and I wanted some black squares in the shape of a goal post. Maybe it wasn’t possible, but it sure would’ve been nice. Otherwise, the theme is fine. I didn’t chuckle, but YMMV.
Maybe I didn’t chuckle because I was a bit grumpy about entries like RACE TO, ULNAR, dated I’M A PC, and I.T. PRO which could’ve been IT GUY, IT GAL, or IT REP. On the plus side, I liked the SOAP OPERA and KISSCAM stack as well as MAHALO.
True story: I was just wrestling yesterday with the name ORMOND in a grid of my own making. The name hasn’t appeared very often, but when it does, it’s always in reference to the actress [Julia of “Smilla’s Sense of Snow”]. But I was going to go with a different angle with a clue like [Great ___ Street Hospital, owner of the “Peter Pan” copyright]. Maybe just as difficult a clue, but at least it’s something different. Anyway, I’ll probably scuttle the fill in that grid and try to smooth it out.
Other clues of note:
- 16a. [Broadway Rose after Ethel and Angela]. TYNE. Needed the crossings for this one. And “Broadway Rose” seems a bit misleading. I thought it was the name of a character, but the only “character” I could find with that name was an actual famed panhandler from the 1940s. The clue refers to the musical Gypsy and the character of Rose Hovick, which is considered by many to be a role of a lifetime. So maybe a better clue might be [Broadway’s Rose after Ethel and Angela].
- 8d. [“Did you try rebooting?” asker]. I.T. PRO. Reminds me of the sitcom, The IT Crowd (see below).
Helen Chen’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s review
Difficulty: Easy (8m13s)
Today’s theme: BLACK JACK (*Casino game associated with the sum of this puzzle’s shaded squares)
- PL(ACE)S A BET (*Wagers at the casino (11))
- AMOUN(T WO)N (*Profit at the casino (+2 = 13))
- F(ACE) CARDS (*They’re worth 10 points at the casino (+1 = 14)
- BREAK(S EVEN) (*Has a wash at the casino (+7 = 21!))
I like the idea here — again, playing into my personal bias as someone who got caught up in the WSOP frenzy of the mid 2000s and who doesn’t mind sitting in a cigarette-choked poker room for hours on end, folding hand after hand and calling all of my life choices into question. But the execution feels uneven, for a number of reasons.. You don’t need to consider the theme at all to solve the puzzle, which is always a bit of a letdown on a Thursday. Then you get dealt two ACEs, but neither of them span the theme entries. You also have the less-than-idiomatic PLACES A BET and AMOUNT WON. The kicker, though, is that you get BLACK JACK on your last card, yet that somehow becomes associated with a wash/breaking even, when in reality a BLACK JACK only results in a push about 10% of the time. It should feel like a celebration, but that doesn’t really translate here.
Cracking: VELVETY— is it just me, or does this instantly evoke Kraft Mac & Cheese?
Slacking: CTRLP — not as bad as ZXCVBNM, which has been an actual entry an incomprehensible three times; but this still reads like gibberish to me.
Sidetracking: ORLANDO — ever wonder why the IATA code is MCO? It was formerly McCoy Air Force Base before becoming one of the busiest tourist hubs in the country. Someone cue the “The More You Know” theme.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today Crossword, “Tore Down” — Emily’s write-up
Great puzzle all around, with again fantastic bonus fill!
Theme: the word TORE is each of the downward themers
- 3d. [Color similar to scarlet], TOMATORED
- 5d. [“This email doesn’t require as response”], NONEEDTOREPLY
- 30d. [Mechanic’s field], AUTOREPAIR
TOMATORED is one that I needed crossings for, particularly since I’ve been in Ohio long enough that the word “scarlet” is default paired with “gray” and “The Ohio State University” and “football”, so I couldn’t get those references separated enough, plus with all of the Pantone colors in my mind, I couldn’t narrow it down with out a foothold. NONEEDTOREPLY is a fun themer but took me a bit longer, as I typically think of the similar phrase “no reply necessary” or “no response necessary”. AUTOREPAIR is also a great themer though the first half threw me off, for some reason today, and the crossings weren’t as easy for me either (kept thinking “stove” or “oven” with coils instead of TOASTER and I’m not into medical dramas as much) so that section was the last that I filled in.
Favorite fill: ERIE (fun cluing angle), AREWEON, MYDEAR, and LIN (fair crossings too)
Stumpers: EDUCATE (close but “teach” and “instruct” were my first instincts), NOBLECAUSE (needed crossings because only “just cause” came to mind), and ANIMALS (tried “rhymes” first based on those listed, which I thought was clever too)
I’m loving these asymmetrical grids and the possibilities for bonus fill because of the design. It’s quite spectacular, especially trying to break into constructing myself and finding a smooth fill to be a challenge sometimes with the classic rotational symmetry. The title hint is even more important, as some of the lengthy bonus fill grabs my attention since they can look close to the length for a themer, which I enjoy because they are impressive to fit into an already strong puzzle. I can’t wait for more Zhouqin Burnikel crosswords, which thankfully shouldn’t be too long!
Good morning everyone! I liked the swirly shape in the center of this puzzle. Those Utah blocks (which you don’t typically see in a themeless puzzle) allow for answers that are thirteen letters long. I loved THAT’S HOW I ROLL, but I’ve never heard the saying A BRIDGE TOO FAR. I kept wanting to put in “a bit too far” which didn’t have the correct length.
Other entires that I stumbled on were TRAGIC FLAW (I wanted “fatal flaw”) and NO TIME FLAT (I wanted “no time at all”). No question mark clues in this one! Perhaps they’re too tricky for what is the New Yorker’s easiest day of the week.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Double Features” – Jenni’s write-up
I’m really struggling to figure out what to say about this puzzle. I’ll start with the good: I liked the theme. Each theme answer is a move title made ridiculous by the addition of a letter doublet.
- 24a [What to do if you make a mistake and there’s a Muppet rodent nearby?] is BLAME IT ON RIZZO. Blame It on Rio.
- 31a [Ridged potato chips for munching on while pressing apples?] is THE CIDER HOUSE RUFFLES. The Cider House Rules.
- 39a [Giving lessons to composer Elfman?] is TRAINING DANNY. Training Day.
- 55a [Daughters from a Saudi pilgrimage city?] is MECCAN GIRLS. Mean Girls.
- 67a [Diamond stud for a certain body piercing?] is THE JEWEL OF THE NIPPLE. The Jewel of the Nile.
- 77a [Person who travels next to a canoe by sitting on the blade?] is PADDLE RIDER. Pale Rider. I guess “next to” means they’re sitting on the paddle while the canoe is in motion? Odd.
- 89a [Pester Chicago hoopsters?] is GET ON THE BULLS. Get on the Bus. Never heard of it before, which shows the narrowness of my white experience. It’s a Spike Lee movie about African-American men traveling to the Million Man March.
- 99a [Wagering with a “Places in the Heart” Oscar winner?] is BETTING JOHN MALKOVICH. Being John Malkovich. This is my favorite both because it struck me funny and because of the meta-ness of using a different movie in the clue.
- 113a [Headline after a woman with a music award goes to a casino and loses?] is GRAMMY LADY DOWN. Gray Lady Down, also new to me. It’s a 1978 disaster flick.
Lots of theme entries because it’s a Sunday-sized puzzle. All the theme answers are solid; I’m a bad judge of whether movies are obscure because I am not much of a moviegoer, so I won’t carp about the two films I’d never heard of. What I will carp about is the rest of the puzzle.
It’s no secret that I like hard puzzles. This one is hard in a way I did not enjoy. Let’s take the NE corner for an example. The two Zs from RIZZO are there. I watched Sesame Street as a kid in the 70s and watched it with my kid in the aughts. I also watched a lot of the Muppet Show with my Kermit-obsessed mother. I mention all this to establish my Muppet bona fides before I mention that I have no memory of RIZZO. So I needed crossings to get the Zs. The crossings are 16d [Source of fine-grained wood] and 17d [Bluto’s creator]. The wood completely stumped me but I know Bluto is a Popeye character and so I confidently entered SEGAR into 17d and added the S to make the Muppet RISSO. OK, that didn’t make much sense, but, hey, it’s a Muppet. The rest of the corner also made no sense. None of the other crossings worked. I took SEGAR out and filled in the rest and still had two blank squares in the Muppet name. I finally realized the wood was HAZEL and thus 17d was ELZIE, which it turns out was E. C. Segar’s first name. I have only ever seen his initials. His Wikipedia entry is under E. C. I’m not a constructor and can’t say whether it would have been possible to reconstruct that corner to get ELZIE out of there. If not, there are much easier ways to clue HAZEL. There’s the nut. There’s the old TV character. There’s the eye color. “Fine-grained wood” is a Saturday Stumper-level clue, and that’s fine except when there’s no other access to theme answer besides an absolute obscurity. I would also have done better with a Pink Lady “Grease” clue or a M*A*S*H clue for RIZZO, but that’s entirely personal preference.
That’s a very long paragraph and so I won’t describe any of the other areas I found problematic except the one that you can see revealed in my grid. 44d [Song sampled in Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.”] crossing 50a [Overcharge, informally]. The answers are ABC and ROB. That may be a fair crossing and I was just so addled by the rest of the puzzle that I couldn’t see ROB, but “informally” threw me and I was expecting some hip slang answer that I couldn’t dredge up. I don’t think the clue needed “informally.”
Let me know if you all think I’m being cranky or if this was as much of a slog for you.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle….feels like the whole dang grid. There are several examples above. I’ll add one more: I didn’t know that ESAI Morales appeared “Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.”
Hanh Huynh’s Universal crossword, “Sees Through The Lies” — Sophia’s write-up
Theme: Each theme answer contains a word that means “lie”, but said word has a letter inserted within it. These letters, in order, spell out the word “sees”.
- 20a [Brother from another mother, perhaps (in this answer, see letters 4-7, minus letter 5)] – HALF SIBLING
- 31a [Venues where some play the Blues? (letters 9-13, minus 12)] – ICE HOCKEY ARENAS
- 44a [They’re read in tasseography (letters 1-5, minus 2)] TEA LEAVES
- 52a [Certain browser (letters 6-13, minus 7)] WINDOW SHOPPER
Hi all! Sophia here taking over the Thursday Universal from here on out. I’m hyped that I now review three different “easier” puzzles a week between the Monday NYT, Tuesday USA Today, and now this Thursday, so I’m looking forward to analyzing them with y’all and looking at how different publications thread the needle of making a puzzle easy enough for a newer solver while interesting enough for old hands. Let’s get into it!
I loved the multi-layered aspects of today’s theme. It perfectly encapsulates the title and adds “something extra” to the classic hidden-words concept by utilizing the extra letters. I also loved the clues chosen for each theme answers, as they are each an excellent example of different clue styles. In order, they are: a fun repurposing of a common phrase, a question-mark wordplay clue, a clue involving some new trivia where the solver might learn something, and a subtle misdirect using different word meanings (maybe this is just my CS background, but I was thinking about web browsers). The wide variety in clues kept the puzzle from seeming stale. Plus, all the answers themselves were strong too.
(Also, I know it’s not a hot take to dunk on the Universal puzzles for not being able to include circles, so I’m not going to do it much in this column. But wow, this puzzle would be better with circles. There is not a chance I am going to bother to count letters in the middle of a solve, so whenever this comes up I just solve the puzzle like a themeless and figure out the theme later).
Beautiful mirror symmetric grid today. Not too much in terms of standout long answers, but it’s very clean with no tough crosses. The only real holdup I had was at 29a [Pig in “Sing”] for ROSITA. There were a lot of fun clues though: standouts for me were 50d [Corvette color in a Prince song] for RED, 15a [K-pop or bebop, e.g.] for GENRE, and 49a [“I can’t believe ‘Legally Blonde’ came out over 20 years ago!”] for I’M OLD (my birthday was yesterday so this felt like a personal shot, haha).
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1507, “Sharp Corner”–Darby’s review
Theme: The right and bottom edges of this puzzle have cut off the last letter in each answer on the edge of the puzzle. Together, these cut off letters spell out synonyms for SHARP.
Revealer: 36a [“State-of-the-art, and a hint to the five extra answers in this puzzle.
I solved this puzzle digitally, and I quickly realized that the letters were cut off on the edge. You can see the ends of the cut-off answers in the grid screenshot above. It wasn’t until the end that I realized how these letters came together to form the five extra answers. As always, I’m impressed by how BEQ managed to make it so that they remained spaced out in the same way that the Across and Down answers were. The choice to link together 22a [“Rode around in a 27-Down”] TOOK A CAB and 27d [“See 22-Across”] TAXI was helpful in revealing the mechanism of the grid as well, making it very clear.
5a [“Movie with undead characters played for laughs”] ZOM-COM was undoubtedly my favourite answer, and I laughed so hard once I filled it in. I also really enjoyed 32d [“Pianist’s starting place”] MIDDLE C and 28d [“Night to try out some new material”] OPEN MIC. On the other hand, I had a hard time with 34a [“___-Coburg-Gotha”] SAXE, a European royal house and 20a [“‘___ Lets Flats’”] STATH, a British sitcom. The crosses on each, however, assisted in working those out.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with the cut-off edges of this grid. Even the answers I didn’t know–like 16a [“Jay-Z’s nickname”] HOVA and 43d [“Italian manufacturer of typewriters”] OLIVETTI–were intuitive once I had the crossing cut-off letters.
Garrett Herzfeld’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Garrett Herzfeld’s puzzle features two layers: the one is simply XANDY phrases – TOHAVEANDTOHOLD, PRIMANDPROPER, RICHANDFAMOUS and BIGGERANDBETTER. To tie these together all the clues are of the form [___ Couple] using a more or less in the language phrase. So: [Married,], [Perfect,], [Celebrity,] and [Power].
I got a strange kick out of seeing GEL as [Ultrasound goo]. Maybe next we will see CONDOM as [Ultrasound protector]? [Craters of the Moon locale], IDAHO was another fun straight-up clue.