Brad Wiegmann’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Arms Akimbo”—Jim P’s review
Jim P here sitting in for pannonica who is traveling this weekend.
Whew! This was chewy but good! Theme answers are familiar phrases that hide some kind of weapon within. Those weapons “drop” (turn downward) and become their own Down entries while the main theme answer finishes in the Across direction. The revealer is at 69a DROP YOUR WEAPONS [Instruction for solving six clues in this puzzle].
- 1a. [Place where up is down and good is bad] BIZ(ARRO W)ORLD. This was incredibly hard to discern since I did not expect a theme answer at 1a, and since I had TOY at 1d [Transformer, e.g.]. It took me a long time to get out of this corner, but my reward once I did was that I grokked the theme.
- 12a. [Those with a no-return policy] T(AX E)VADERS.
- 33a. [Pie-making tools] APPL(E PEE)LERS.
- 90a. [Emergency care facility] TRAU(MA CE)NTER.
- 102a. [Confess error] EAT ONE‘(S WORD)S.
- 108a. [George W. Bush’s first press secretary] A(RI FLE)ISCHER. This one was a little tougher to see since the I at the top of 110d looks like the I in ARI. It’s not.
Not having any indication for where the theme answers are made it more challenging, but that’s appropriate for a Saturday. I enjoyed sussing this out and finding all the pieces. I especially like that all the weapons are their own answers and not parts of other Down entries. Expertly designed and executed!
Despite the intricate theme, there’s still plenty of fun long fill. POLICE DRAMA is great and gets a theme-adjacent clue [TV genre in which 69-Across might be said]. Other goodies include MEL BLANC, MOBILE AD, “OH, IT’S ON!,” OVERHEAR, NEXT BEST, MONSTER. ETERNITIES, VHS TAPE, OIL PAINTS, MINI BAGELS, ERIC THE RED, SENATE SEAT, “NICE IDEA,” and GO FORWARD. Plenty to like here!
And a couple head scratchers: PIELS [Beer with 1950s spots featuring Bert and Harry]. This looks to be a regional beer. I needed every single crossing. Also, not very excited about ZEALOTRIES taking up so much space. I can’t imaging anyone ever using that word.
Clues of note:
- 49a. [Under-the-bed dweller]. MONSTER. Yikes! Can we get a “perhaps” here, please?
- 64a. [Medium rare nowadays?]. VHS TAPE. Tough one. I was thinking of clairvoyants the whole time.
- 76a. [Sauron symbol]. EYE. And since there are some of you who’ve come to despise modern geek culture clues (LOTR, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones), I’ll throw in a picture so you’ll remember it for next time.
- 112a. [Push on]. GO FORWARD. We also would have accepted [Line before “Move ahead” in Devo’s “Whip It”]
- 122a. [Name shared by two of the stars of “Only Murders in the Building”]. MARTIN. Steve and Short.
- 19d. [Boom Technology’s planned Overture, e.g.: Abbr.]. SST. Ugh. I was really hoping the crossword world was done with this entry. Now it’s getting new life.
- 33d. [2022 Disney+ “Star Wars” series]. ANDOR. Oh, heh heh. Star Wars. I gotta say this show is fun and smart. It’s the best of Star Wars with excellent, well-developed characters.
- 43d. [Food wrappers?]. BOAS. The snakes that wrap around their snacks.
- 68d. [Performance-enhancing supplement?]. ENCORE. Excellent clue.
- 92d. [Cook’s spice]. MACE. I’m still trying to figure out if “Cook” is a generic chef or Captain Cook. A cursory online search didn’t reveal a link between the explorer and the spice, though.
Excellent puzzle. 4.5 stars.
Kanyin Ajayi’s New York Times crossword—Jim P’s review
Jim P here sitting in for Amy who is hopefully enjoying the night off with her feet up.
We have a very nice debut puzzle on our hands with a literary mini-theme going on:
- 16a. [Jean Rhys novel that’s a response to “Jane Eyre”] WIDE SARGASSO SEA.
- 56a. [Chinua Achebe novel that’s a response to “Heart of Darkness”] THINGS FALL APART.
Being a not-very-good English major at least helped me recognize the titles (though I haven’t read them). If nothing else, they make for a lovely pair of grid-spanning entries.
There’s even more literariness with UNDERWORLD clued as [Locale in Dante’s “Inferno”], and author COELHO [Paulo who wrote “The Alchemist”]. This last one is at least on my Audible wishlist (read by Jeremy Irons(!)), so maybe I’ll get to that one sooner rather than later.
I also liked the pairing of HIT OR MISS and RIDE OR DIE, the latter being a modern bit of slang which I learned via crosswords. Other goodies: MANHUNT, ILLUMINATI, TWOSOMES, TIE A KNOT, AUTOPAY, FAKE TAN, and “THAT SO?”
Today I learned the word RHETOR [Classical orator]. Of course I know “rhetoric” but I didn’t know it was based on another word.
Clues of note:
- 36a [Open many tabs, maybe]. BARTEND. Nothing to do with surfing the net, which is where my brain was on this clue for a long time.
- 38a [Not keeping up]. TOO SLOW. I fell into the trap of thinking this was going to be a gerund like LAGGING or some such.
- 47a [Père d’une princesse]. ROI. Um, editors? You know you have UNE just two rows above this entry?
- 14d [Turned to refuse]. TRASHED. My mind would only read “refuse” as a verb for the first 10 times I read it.
- 59d [The first Black American sorority, in brief]. AKA. Didn’t know this, but nice to see a new cluing angle for this crossword staple.
By the way, reading the constructor notes over at Wordplay, I’ve learned that Ms. Ajayi is one of the first constructors to come through the NYT’s Diverse Crossword Constructor Fellowship. Nice to see the program helping new constructor produce such quality work. Congrats on a fine Saturday debut! Four stars from me.
Bill Pipal’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up
Sorry to say this one wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m blending my constructor and solver selves here to say that one big reason I got to that unsatisfyingly short 2:26 solving time is that there are no entries in this puzzle longer than 10 letters, and there are an awful lot of 4s and 5s — 46 of the puzzle’s 72 words, to be exact — that make it way too easy to rip through the solve. It doesn’t help when 1-Across is one of them and it’s clued in a not-at-all-challenging way: ACAI as [Berry from Brazilian palms].
Those 10s — TRASH PANDA, TRACK SHOES, POLICE RAID, SALSA DANCE, AVOCADO PIT, RECORD TIME, TIP ONE’S HAT — lacked that elusive quality of “sparkle” to me. One reason TRASH PANDA, which I think is the best of these, didn’t do it for me is that it feels like it’s been making the rounds in puzzles lately (most recently in Robyn Weintraub’s NYT on 11/18, which of course the constructor and editor wouldn’t have known about; also see Paolo Pasco in TNY in June).
Stan Newman (“Lester Ruff”)’s Saturday Stumper crossword—Matthew’s review
A day late in adding this review in, covering for pannonica. This was not the challenge I expect from Saturday Stumpers, even ones with Stan’s “Les Ruff” by line, signifying a lighter lift for the solver. The grid is appealing – PRETERIT [12d Verb for the past] required a bit of a mental dive back into my school days – and smooth, but the cluing falls flat for me.
I’m uncertain of the connection between “Seattle” and LETS EAT [24d Anagram for SEATTLE] other than it shoehorns an anagram in, [58a How some bagels are made] and [62a Joyce the mom in “Stranger Things”] each feel similarly off and casual for me, particularly in this venue. Did EVAS [10d] repair Skylab, or did the astronauts conducting the EVAS do that? I quite liked [Born leader] for MONARCH and [Hoppers, for instance] for ART, but in general this cluing is more straightforward with the trivia and more casual than I expect even from the easier Stumpers.
Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today crossword, “Side Part”—Matthew’s review
Also a day late:
Themers split the letters of PART to either end, and aptly, either P/ART or PAR/T, reflecting a “side part” of one’s hair.
Universal Crossword, “Universal Freestyle 48” by Rafael Musa — norah’s write-up
- LASERPOINTER 27A [Versatile device for a cat-owning lecturer] ⭐
- CHEATED 40A [Was secretly on Grindr, maybe]
- EATHUMBLEPIE 46A [Admit a mistake]
- WHATSTHEMATTER 15D [“Is something wrong?”]
- SLEIGHBELLS 24D [Sources of holiday jingles?]
(Oh gosh, solidarity with Matt in being late!) This was a fast and fun puzzle for me this morning. Anyone who knows me knows I do not know sports. Like, at all. So I was super happy when I got 9D LEBRONJAMES just off the LE-! The clue for LASERPOINTER is my favorite – I’m imagining a stressed-out academic coming home after a hard day, digging around in their bag for a laser pointer and vegging out playing with their cat.
I also enjoy the story told by MADETHECUT, EATHUMBLEPIE, and TAKETOTASK.
Thank you Rafa!
NYT: Loved the literary vibe of this puzzle. Felt smooth and on the easy side.
Am I the only one who never stopped to think that rhetor must be the root for rhetoric?
Posted before reading your review Jim P. Glad to see I’m in good company re Rhetor.
RHETOR was new to me, too.
NYT – A very enjoyable Saturday puzzle! It was a good workout but I managed a clean solve. I suspected the tab clue (36a) was bar related but I started from a consumer POV with BARHOPS,
Jim P. writes, “I also liked the pairing of HIT OR MISS and RIDE OR DIE, the latter being a modern bit of slang which I learned via crosswords.”
I liked it, too, particularly because RIDE OR DIE completely stymied me about 18 months ago when it was first in the NYT puzzle. I’d never heard it, and even with most of the letters in place, I couldn’t complete the phrase. Today, though, it was almost a gimme.
Overall, a fun puzzle, if a little on the easy side.
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NYT: Congratulations Kanyin on a fantastic debut puzzle! And on a Saturday to boot! Look forward to more puzzles from you.
Stumper: bottom half flew, top half stopped me dead. Putting oArS for “Galley array” was a tough mistake to see. TDRUN is the kind of unfairness that Stumpers are annoyingly known for (not signalling that it’s an abbr). Never heard of PRETERIT — for that first T I had to run the alphabet cause “Scrub hub” is a really hard (but good) clue for TUB. Had hOnES before BORES. Just couldn’t get a hold on the top half at all.
Made the same mistake with OARS and stared at that corner for a long time. I know PRETERIT from Latin class and really liked “scrub hub.”
I’m aware of preterite but hadn’t seen the version without an e on the end. They seem to be alternative spellings of the same thing.
Same here on oArs and PRETERIT. I’m only vaguely familiar with HAVANESE dogs,which didn’t help.
I had known RHETOR, but I had exactly the same verb problem with “refuse”, and tried to put CRUSHED in before fixing it to TRASHED. Fun Saturday!
Stumper: Can someone explain OOO for 59D?
Out of Office
I enjoyed the NYT although finding it easy for a Saturday, no doubt because of its big literary entries, both gimmes for me. FWIW, it’s only this year that I read more of Jean Rhys, and Good Morning, Midnight is now my favorite of hers — a woman down on her luck, love, and everything else in Paris. A killer. But in fact I haven’t read Coelho’s The Alchemist yet, only the play by Ben Jonson.
FWIW, I’d hate anyone to think of “Jane Eyre,” which Rhys in effect replies to, as a sexist novel or “Heart of Darkness” as speaking for Mr. Kurtz, racism, and imperialism. They were both really daring and impressive works of fiction. All the more so as Bronte was a woman, of course. There’s been some pushback at the truly great and pioneering work of feminist criticism, “The Madwoman in the Attic,” which argued for how male models limited what was available to women (and Bronte’s Shirley, which I’m reading right now is more explicitly feminist although also to my mind kinda boring, but stick with her and Villette is just great). But the controversy only brings home how diverse and interesting a feminist look at literature can be.
Thank you so much for the explanation. If you hadn’t written this up I would have thought the editor made huge mistakes.
For instance, I don’t understand why the first word:
BIZ (ARROW) ORLD does NOT drop the weapon, but only drops part of the weapon.
If the word had dropped the weapon, it should be BIZORLD but is instead BIZAORLD.
That means it dropped “RROW”
Every single answer in this theme failed to drop the weapons.
I love the concept but feel like it was purposefully NOT dropping the weapons which was so irksome.
I’m pretty sure that “Cook’s spice” in the WSJ just means a spice used in cooking, but I can see why Jim P was thrown. I myself was wondering what I missed, since “cook’s” just seemed superfluous. It’s a cook’s spice as opposed to what? A housepainter’s spice?
I wouldn’t go so far, though, as to say that the theme fill has no particular place. I got SWORD and RIFLE pretty early, and they’re symmetrically placed touching the bottom, while two more are in the center column, both four squares away from the top or bottom edge. That had me expecting a theme entry directly across from ARROW in the NW, so it took me longer to fit AXE into the theme. (One other oddity: EPEE is clued for its use as a weapon, while the other five are clued for other meanings.) So I’d say it’s just a sloppy theme rather than a proper Saturday challenge.
Oh, I forgot: I’m not sure either that I’d think of PIELS “real draft” (which isn’t a draft or terribly real if that means good) as regional, although the Wiki entry that Jim must have found starts that way. More an age thing. The clue appeals less to New Yorkers than to those who can remember its ad campaigns from (very) old TV. I see from Wiki that it’s been relaunched in the NY area, but I’ve never seen it.