Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Seating Plan”—Jim’s review
Theme answers are familiar(ish) words and phrases that either start or end with a word that can precede “table.” Said table is separated from the main entry by a block and is also clued separately. The revealer is SEPARATE / TABLES (67a, [With 68-Across, 1958 David Niven film, and a feature of the starred answers]).
- 19a / 20a. [*DNA structural unit] / [Ocean motion]. NUCLEO / TIDE. Tide table.
- 33a / 34a. [Return focus] / [*Items affixed to yellow hoods, perhaps]. TAX / I MEDALLIONS. Tax table.
- 42a / 45a. [*Lose it] / [Terminus]. GO ROUND THE B / END. End table.
- 55a / 56a. [Jack or joker] / [*One might show atrial fibrillation]. CARD / IOGRAM. Card table.
I really should have expected this type of theme since it’s been a while since the last one, and editor Mike Shenk seems to put one out at least a couple times a year. But it feels like it’s been such a long time that I wasn’t looking for it.
I was struck by the grid design which is rather unusual with its big open corners and lack of “diagonality” (is that a word?) in the block placement. No doubt this is due to the location of the revealer in the last row which is quite uncommon for such a long entry. I would think that would make the grid quite difficult to fill, but of course, Mike Shenk is a pro at filling grids, even unusual ones like this.
As for the theme itself, I never heard of the film, so that didn’t ring any bells, and with the “tables” being clued normally, it was tough to suss out. All in all, it made for a good challenge, and then a satisfying aha moment helped me put it all together.
In the fill, I’d never heard of the stadium referred to as THE VET, but I’ve been to THE VET a lot lately (for my dog), so I used my own clue for that entry (after the fact). MANACLES, OVEN BAKE, MULISH, ALITALIA, HUMORIST, and THEOREM are all good stuff. Didn’t know ALTAI [Central Asian mountain range] nor NATALIA Dyer (she plays Nancy Wheeler on Stranger Things), and RIO DE makes for a weird-looking partial, but all the crossings seemed fair.
Clues of note:
- 1d. [Bootlegger’s foe]. T-MAN. Meh. A signal that this was an abbreviation would have been helpful, but I suppose it is Thursday.
- 27d. [Seeking sainthood, perhaps]. PIOUS. I would think piety and humility would go hand in hand such that one “seeking sainthood” would never achieve it.
David Harris’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up
Difficulty: Average (13m10s)
Today’s theme: BACK TO SQUARE ONE (Horizontal theme answers add IOUS, vertical entries add IONS)
- FACET/IOUS, SPEC/IOUS, CONTENT/IOUS, VICAR/IOUS, STUD/IOUS
- PASS/IONS, FACT/IONS, STALL/IONS, MISS/IONS, CAPT/IONS, TENS/IONS
An easier Thursday than my time suggests; once you get the first few themers, the others fall into place pretty quickly. But at 80 words — rarely seen, particularly in a late week puzzle — the task just takes a bit longer. I appreciate that the vertical and horizontal entries get their own separate, consistent appendage, and most of the theme entries work both alone and in tandem with their endings (with the exception of CAPT, which is an outlier as a presumed abbreviation of “captain”?)
Cracking: the otherwise groan-inducing DERMAL, ironically owing to an even groanier-inducing cluing angle (“Skinny?”) This would be in Clue of the Year territory if not for MER being clued as “Eau so big?” in Robert Ryan’s May 21st puzzle.
Slacking: PABLO, clued as (“Picasso, for one”) — “Cubist Picasso”, sure. But Picasso as a type of PABLO? No sale.. especially considering it doesn’t really do anything to obfuscate the answer. I recognize that this is not a totally unconventionally cluing format, but it felt particularly jarring today.
Sidetracking: “I wanted the CASHMERE, Georgie!” Co-STANZA!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s New Yorker crossword – Kyle’s write-up
Thanks to Elizabeth C. Gorski for today’s New Yorker puzzle. This 72-word grid has roomy NE and SW corners where we get some nice fill like 12D BIKER BAR [Hangout for hog owners?] and 38D VIOLISTS (a fun self-reference as Ms. Gorski is a violist herself).
For the musically inclined there’s also 3D G MINOR [Key with two flats]. Personally, I like musical keys as entries, though this one slowed me down as I stopped to work out the answer in my head (“Is 19A TAN or TAJ? OK, it’s TAN, so a minor key…what major key has two flats? B-flat major…now what’s the minor key associated with B-flat…G MINOR!”).
I didn’t care for some of the short fill like MCII [1102, in ancient Rome], GHI [Letters underneath 4, on a phone], and SSS, especially with the clue [Draft org.]. There hasn’t been a draft for the US military in 50 years!
Stella Zawistowski’s USA Today Crossword, “Earring Backs” — Emily’s write-up
Tougher puzzle for me today, thought to be expected from Stella. Still a fab one and very enjoyable!
Theme: each themer ends in a type of earring back
- 20a. [Fixture at a free-throw contest], BASKETBALLHOOP
- 38a. [Go on a spending spree], SHOPTILLYOUDROP
- 51a. [Poker variety also known as “Down the River”], SEVENCARDSTUD
A fun themer set today with lots of free-time activities for everyone: BASKETBALLHOOP, SHOPTILLYOUDROP, and SEVENCARDSTUD.
Favorite fill: DAPHNE, LANA, CRAB, and SNEAKS
Stumpers: IDED (cluing didn’t quite get me there), DANDY (needed crossings), and EVEN (misdirected by “tied”)
Fun solve with excellent cluing and fill, along with an interesting grid.
Hanh Huynh’s Universal crossword, “See You Later!” — Sophia’s write-up
Theme: In four pairs of adjacent words, the left one is missing the letters CU from its clued answer, and the right one has the letters CU inserted. In both the inserted and deleted cases, the resulting words also are valid crossword answers.
- 17a [*Items hurled at the Olympics] and 18a [*Place for suits to hang] – DISSES and CLOSE CUT (clues for “discuses” and “closet”)
- 26a [**Chose museum pieces for] and 27a [**Response to “Where?”] – RATED and THE CURE (clues for “curated” and “there”)
- 43a [***Actor’s prompt] and 45a [***Like a good Christmas] – ECARD and MERCURY (clued for “cue card” and “merry”)
- 59a [****Beaded counters] and 61a [****Most introverted, usually] – ABASES and CUSHIEST (clued for “abacuses” and “shiest”)
This is pretty high concept for Universal, and it’s an impressive feat of construction. Hahn needed to find words that worked both with and without CU, and place them into the grid symmetrically – speaking of which, I love the up-down symmetry in this puzzle! My favorite re-parsing is “there” into THE CURE. “Abacuses” as a plural felt a little off to me – I wanted “abaci” – but the internet tells me it’s valid. Anyways, this puzzle gave me a real “aha” moment during my solve when I figured out the theme, which is always a great feeling.
Loved seeing ISSA RAE clued via the new Spiderverse film – I am generally a superhero movie hater, but that was the best movie I’ve seen yet in 2023. Everyone should watch it. Other fill highlights were RIDE OR DIE, RED HOT, and TV MOM clued via Carol Brady.
August Miller’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s theme summary
August Miller offers up an ambitious version of the “hidden centres” theme trope. [Ravioli option, and what the answers to the starred clues literally have?], CHEESEFILLING explains the gimmick, with each of four two part themers containing a cheese varietal: two of the four seem a little “green paint”: [*Fruit pastry], APRICOTTART and [*Array in some wine bars], CAFETABLES; a third, [*Unwanted color fluctuations, in digital photography], CHROMANOISE is quite technical. The set is rounded out by [*”Star Wars” role for Oscar Isaac], POEDAMARON. As alluded to, many of these hidden entries are quite unwieldy, and I think that explains the theme entries used.