Note: Fireball is a contest this week. We’ll post a review after the submission period closes.
Tom Pepper’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Stated Words”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Familiar phrases have a specific word replaced by a state abbreviation, which when read letter-by-letter, sounds like the missing word.
- 17a. [Fourth in the Chicago Cubs batting order?] CLEAN UP ON IL NINE. Clean up on aisle nine or Clean up on Illinois Nine.
- 27a. [Yearning for Big Sky Country?] FEELING MT INSIDE. Feeling empty inside or Feeling Montana inside.
- 44a. [Prizes won by Acadia National Park for the first sight of sunrise in the U.S.?] DAYTIME ME AWARDS. Daytime Emmy Awards or Daytime Maine Awards.
- 59a. [Proper method for butchering Omaha steaks?] NE WAY YOU SLICE IT. Any way you slice it or Nebraska way you slice it.
It wasn’t until I made it through the second entry that the penny dropped. Having to pronounce the two state letters was a bit unexpected, but once I caught on to it, I liked it fine. The phrases as read with the state names can get a little awkward, but they have a certain charm to them. I especially like the Montana entry.
Elsewhere, we have SPAMALOT, MINESTRONE, GLOBE TROTS, and TRASH CAN. A fun collection of long fill entries, that. I needed all the crossings for TITI [Soft-furred monkey], as it’s been a long time since I’ve had need to think of one. It’s interesting to note that their tails are not prehensile.
Clues of note:
- 14a. [Pats on the back, maybe]. BURPS. Ha. Unexpected as well, but nice.
- 48a. [They’re found in ballot boxes]. XES. Not “ballot boxes,” but boxes that are on ballots. Hold up. Anyone here have boxes on their ballots that they X in? Ours (Washington state) are bubbles that you fill in completely.
- 64a. [“Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.” author]. OATES. It took me a few seconds afterwards to realize that this was referring not to Daryl, but to Joyce Carol.
- 50d. [Ill-fated priestess of myth]. HERO. I’ve probably seen this clue in the WSJ before and commented on it. But I must have promptly forgot about it, because it still felt new to me. Yet the link to the pertinent Wikipedia page is red in my browser, indicating I’ve been there before. Maybe I should read it and try to remember it better.
Nice puzzle. 3.5 stars.
Dan Caprera’s New York Times crossword—Zachary David Levy’s review
Difficulty: Very easy (7m21s)
Today’s theme: BATTLESHIP?
- STUNTWOMAN (N-2: P)
- CANINE TEETH (A-9: L)
- INDONESIANS (D-1: O)
- BREAKS EVEN (K-7: T)
- PLOT (What’s spelled out, appropriately, after mapping the coordinates indicated by this puzzle’s circled letters)
I don’t know what game this is. The closest thing that comes to mind evokes accusations of unfairly placing ships diagonally, and to a lesser extent, being jealous of people that had a functioning battery-operated version with *KA-PLOWIE* sound effects. But I think what’s referenced here is simply spanning PLOT points along two parts of a theme answer, and having them spell (appropriately enough) PLOT. I was still waiting for the app to treat me to some kind of underwater explosion upon finishing the puzzle. I appreciate the unusual grid elements that keep the puzzle more in line with a Thursday curveball, although I came close to a personal record and suspect others will do the same.
Cracking: MALI — my family used to live in Abidjan, so I have a soft spot for all things West Africa. TIMBUKTU (someone please put that in a puzzle without cluing it as “the middle of nowhere”) was, once upon a time, the most important center of commerce and academia in all of Africa.
Slacking: UNSURE OF — hard to make anything ending in “of” sparkle, and the longer the phrase, the worse it gets. AS OF, okay. IN ANTICIPATION OF, barf.
Sidetracking: OMNI — okay, I don’t know if you’ve stayed in the average Radisson lately, and I recognize that they have both entry-level and mid-scale properties, but on the whole they are most certainly not drawing from the same clientele.
Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker puzzle– malaika’s write-up
Hey folks! I breezed through this puzzle, which had four interlocking long answers in sort of a tic-tac-toe pattern. My favorites were MADE AN ENTRANCE and CREPES SUZETTE. RECESSIVE GENES probably would have benefitted from a hard clue, and ORIENT EXPRESS didn’t do a ton for me since I haven’t read any Agatha Christie. (I did really enjoy the movie See How They Run, which riffed off of The Mousetrap.)
I also liked to see SPIN CLASS. I’ve never taken these– I’m on a HIIT kick right now. But I do like biking through New York, especially in Brooklyn where the trains leave a little to be desired, and the busses appear to run twice an hour. Some of the longer slots went to standard words that didn’t feel super colorful, like PLEASANT and ARTISANAL, but that also means we get a very smooth puzzle.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword, “Special K’s”—Darby’s review
Theme: Each of the theme answers strategically (specially?) adds to two K’s to a common item, idea, or phrase.
- 17a [“No longer has drinks in a demitasse”] KICKED ESPRESSOS / ICED ESPRESSOS
- 27a [“Lizard man of the cloth who wears a red biretta”] CARDINAL SKINK / CARDINAL SIN
- 47a [“Really cheap British fetish”] KINK FOR A POUND / IN FOR A POUND
- 60a [“Absorb the funk of a black-and-white mammal”] SOAK UP SOME SKUNK / SOAK UP SOME SUN
- Revealer: 32d [“Letters added twice to each of this puzzle’s theme answers”] KAYS
KICKED ESPRESSOS is my favourite of these, and all of them are pretty solid. I also liked SOAK UP SOME SKUNK (though RIP to anyone who’s had this experience). It’s a bit odd that IN FOR A POUND is only part of the longer “in for a penny, IN FOR A POUND” phrase, but it still works.
There’s so much theme content in this grid that I feel like it was key to move through the puzzle, which can be tricky if you don’t get the themers right away. BEQ helped us out with this, I think, by including an explicit revealer in KAYS. From there, I was able to move through the answers I was most confident about in combination with the themers to finish the grid.
Some of my favourites included:
- 4d [“Answer on ‘Jeopardy’”] – I loved cluing ASK this way because it feels so backwards, but, obvious, it is not.
- 23a [“Author who coined the phrase ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’”] – It’s been ages since I read DANTE, but this was a fun fill, as was the crossing 24d [“NL East player, for short”] NAT (I clearly miss baseball).
- 43d [“Crept (away)”] – I love the EERIE-ness of this answer, and it’s been ages since I’ve seen SKULKED in a puzzle.
I was less crazy about 21a [“Hindu in a turban”] SIKH because SIKHs aren’t Hindu.
Overall, though, I had a good time with this, and the theme worked really well in the grid itself. In what may seem obvious, this puzzle felt very linked to its theme, but what I mean is that it was an integral part of the fill itself.
David Taber & Laura Moll’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
David Taber & Laura Moll give us four XforY phrases. The clues manipulate these into new meanings by linking X & Y to specific jobs and implying a bartering between members of these jobs. The clues felt rather awkward and forced to me, but that is often the case with such puzzles…
- [Trade between a football coach and a candymaker?], PLAYSFORASUCKER
- [Trade between a hairstylist and a computer retailer?], BOBSFORAPPLES
- [Trade between a lingerie shop owner and a utility manager?], JOCKEYSFORPOWER
- [Trade between an opinion writer and a bus driver?], TAKESFORARIDE
- [Trade between a plastic surgeon and a game store owner?], ANOSEFORTROUBLE
I found the puzzle trickier than usual, but I can’t point to much outside of the oblique theme clues that is tricky in and of itself. [Nevada copper town], ELY is a place I bet few Americans could find on a map, but very little was obscure or misdirectingly clued.
Catherine Cetta’s Universal crossword, “Take Aim” — Sophia’s write-up
- 20a [*Award-winning writer and director of “Lost in Translation”] – SOFIA COPPOLA
- 27a [*Game-winning scorer in the Olympic Women’s Soccer finals in 2008] – CARLI LLOYD
- 47a [*”Tattooed Man at a Carnival” photographer] – DIANE ARBUS
- 53a [Meteor that might be wished upon … and a literal hint to the asterisked clues’ answers] – SHOOTING STAR
Nice interpretation of the word “shoot” in three different ways – SOFIA COPPOLA shoots movies, CARLI LLOYD shoots soccer balls, and DIANE ARBUS shoots photographs. The only thing I don’t like about the theme is that it feels a little loose with its people – why this director/soccer player/photographer over someone else? – but I do like how all the people highlighted are female.
Like any puzzle that’s based around pop culture, this one’s difficulty will come from if you’ve heard of the people or not. I personally knew Carli and Sofia, but DIANE ARBUS took me every single cross. The selection of people is nice in that it encompasses a wide range of knowledge, which should appeal to many folks.
Highlight fill clues: 4d [Sculpt a body?] for CHISEL, 23a [Lansbury who will appear posthumously in “Glass Onion”] for ANGELA (I am very hyped for this film)
Highlight fill answers: TO DO LISTS, REREAD, LAILA Lalami (move over Laila Ali, there’s a new Laila in town!)
Scott Earl & Brooke Husic’s USA Today Crossword, “Fill Out” — Emily’s write-up
Finally something that you will be happy to “Fill Out”! This was a speedy (and satisfying!) solve for me so I imagine others will be even quicker.
Theme: the word “fill” is brackets each themer, split with each starting with FI— and ending in —LL
- 18a. [“Number one…”], FIRSTOFALL
- 39a. [Battle with all one’s power], FIGHTLIKEHELL
- 60a. [Share your name in ASL, for example], FINGERSPELL
FIRSTOFALL dropped right in for me, since it’s a go-to phrase of mine. FIGHTLIKEHELL looks me longer though I got the first part but I kept thinking about “might” since it felt suspiciously absent from the cluing though that intinct didn’t prove correct. The theme didn’t occur to me until after the solve otherwise the title should have been enough of a hit had it figured it out with the first themer. FINGERSPELL is used when there typically isn’t a sign for the word or when makes sense so this is usually the case with names.
Favorite fill: MISOSOUP, SCENE, PLANTDADS, and HAYRIDE
Stumpers: YURI (needed crossings, new to me), FOYER (I was stuck on “lobby” but the crossing for the first letter clued me in), and SPOTTY (needed crossings)
The bottom third tripped me up a little bit and slowed down my solve time but otherwise I cruised through this puzzle and just adored it! So much delightful fresh fill paired with a great grid that allowed for tons of lengthy bonus fill. Excellent and I hope that we see more collabs from these two!
NYT: It took a close reading of the explanation here to figure out what was going on this Thursday. Not my favorite day, this was far from being a favorite puzzle.
From ZDL’s review: (someone please put that in a puzzle without cluing it as “the middle of nowhere”)
“My father can read big words too, like Constantinople and…. “
+1 “Tim and I a-camping went…”
While the NYT puzzle is an impressive feat of construction, I didn’t find it enjoyable to solve, perhaps because the reveal wasn’t that exciting a word. Also, I thought that with this type of puzzle, something more exciting would happen in the NYT software when I finished. So, it didn’t do much for me in terms of appreciating the platform either.
Me too. When I saw the Battleship-like grid when solving using the NYT app, I thought something special was afoot.
While some of the fill was nice, the solve was underwhelming.
I must be more dense than usual, but I came here for some kind of explanation of the theme and I’m still not sure what it is! Definitely not my favorite at all.
I also was not able to suss out the theme even after reading the write up. Finally, I got it: parse the circled letters as a single letter followed by a number, e.g, NTWO is N-2.
Now I can yawn and go to bed.
I still don’t get it either. Why would we want to spell out the word PLOT? I didn’t have any trouble guessing up front that the circles would indicate the letters and numbers of squares in the grid, but then what?
I considered maybe connecting the dots from its letters in the grid, but that didn’t seem to lead anywhere. So what are we plotting? Maybe if I remembered Battleship better from childhood, but I don’t. FWIW, I didn’t care for the fill either (Shavitz, Giedroyc, and two different Disney clues, ugh).
Why did I bother? I did it in the app because I saw the letters when I went to scrape the puzzle for AL, and figured there would be something really fun going on with the letters. Wrong. As you said, why or what are we plotting?
Every once in a while, something yellow popped up and went away quickly, I couldn’t even see what it was or figure out why it happened.
A fairly easy puzzle, with no joy in the reveal, which could have been a simple themeless as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think I even saw most of the downs.
When I said “Why did I bother?” I meant… bother doing the puzzle in the app (which I don’t like) and doing the “plotting”. I would have done the puzzle regardless of the useless gimmick. (and probably liked it better)
I usually don’t bother with the themes in puzzles — I simply don’t care. If I can complete a puzzle without it, I ignore it. So, sussing out the theme for today’s offering wasn’t necessary to fill out what I thought was Monday-level, unchallenging fare. The cluing was replete with crosswordese of every ilk.
Question: Were the heavy black lines around the two sides of the grid supposed to have the numbers in them like the one in the above review? My Across Lite version didn’t have them.
I wish Shortz wasn’t so enamored of outré examples. I’d rather have tough puzzles than cute ones ( “cute”, as in “clever or cunning, especially in a self-seeking or superficial way”).
Oh, and I never thought about the game Battleship until I read the review.
Crossword Scraper into Across Lite didn’t bring across that element. Not sure it ever converts stuff outside the actual the grid. Did not like the puzzle since the gimmick [not worthy of being called a theme] was inane, and I found it aesthetically unappealing. I would have put the letters at the bottom as well as the top and the numbers on both sides. As it was, the puzzle was unbalanced, and I felt rather seasick as I solved.
FWIW, loved TNY, UNI & WSJ. LAT was okay, but the clues were forced, and the final “trade” did not pass the breakfast test.
“BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE”?
Perfect reference John R. The puzzle yielded the same letdown. Where’s that Red Ryder Range 200 shot BB Gun when you need it!
I agree with most commenters here that this was a pretty pointless ‘trick’, if you can call it that.
The only tough spot in the puzzle itself was where I had INTONE at first instead of INCANT (is that really a word?). That gave me ORT for the Tolkien creature, which seemed fine (I can never keep LOTR stuff in my head for very long), But I sorted it out eventually.
NYT 17d: TATAS = Farewells. I think not.
I was not over-enthusiastic about today’s LAT puzzle, because the theme did not feel consistent to me — for two reasons.
One is that the pattern “[verb]s for a [noun]” holds for four of the five theme entries, but not for “a nose for trouble”.
The other is that although four of the five theme entries are familiar phrases, the entry “jockeys for power” doesn’t ring a bell for me at all. (The phrase “jockeys for position”, on the other hand, is what I’m used to hearing.)
Thought it was funny that Jockeys could ever be considered “lingerie”.
BEQ: Cute theme, but a strange error in the clue and answer for 21A. The two religions are not related.
My internet has been intermittent for a few days, so you might have had problems accessing the WSJ, Universal, Jonesin’ or WaPo. AT&T has found the bad stretch of cable and will be repairing it soon, so there will be a (hopefully final) outage for a few hours. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Not a problem – thank you for providing all these links every day!