David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword
You know the phrase “great minds think alike”? David’s theme is six movie titles plus the EXCLAMATION MARK that completes each one: VIVA ZAPATA!, MAMMA MIA!, OLIVER!, AVANTI!, AIRPLANE!, and HELLO, DOLLY!
Just last Friday, Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy puzzle put the exclamation point in the clues for six movie titles. Doug skipped the two 6s and instead included THAT DARN CAT! and MARS ATTACKS! (both of which, unlike OLIVER! and AVANTI!, I have seen). Where David has a [*1952 Marlon Brando film], Doug had [1952 Marlon Brando film title!]. Interesting solution to the problem of calling out the exclamation points that are left out of the grid.
There’s some good stuff here:
- [Bubkes] cluing both 15a: ZILCH and 52a: NIL. Who doesn’t love Yiddish?
- 19a. [It might hold the solution] cluing a VIAL. Chemistry solution, not puzzle solution.
- 23a. [Parent who can pass on an X or Y chromosome], DAD. Fresh clue.
- 50d. [A ring bearer], BILBO. This is not about weddings. Did you see that Times article about women planning their weddings despite not having met their future groom yet? A travesty! I am a firm believer in weddings being about the union of two people crazy in love with each other, not so much an event that’s about having very particular decor, food, and accoutrements, with outsize expenditures. /soapbox
- 60d. [Many a YouTube upload], VLOG. The only vlog I follow at all is Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine. Look at the freeze frames for all those videos—what an expressive face! Plus he’s always got his own well-considered slant on an issue. Have we seen VLOG in a newspaper puzzle before?
There was, however, an awful lot of crosswordese. I suspect the EXCLAMATION MARK-in-the-clues approach freed up a lot of the grid in the CrosSynergy variation on the theme, whereas planting it in the center of the grid constrained things and led to crosswordese ALERS, SLOE, I-BAR, ACTA, ERNE, SKAT, and AROAR; foreign MERS and NYET; and proper names CASS, YVES, AETNA, OBAMA, ANSEL, EGAN, RAVI, OZAWA, SILAS, ZADORA, MAE, ADEN, AHAB, NENA, ELSA, OLGA, RYAN, and LEE. I count 18 propers, not counting the movie titles. The folks who grumble at being asked to know a bunch of names probably wore out the batteries on their Scowl-o-Meters here.
2.75 stars. I hadn’t seen Doug’s iteration of this theme last week (the household was on Maximum Norovirus Alert last Friday) but was tipped off to the déjà vu it evoked in another solver. The lowish rating relates not to any stolen theme thunder but to the overall fill.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Startup Domain Names”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The first three letters of the four theme entries are various internet address endings. According to this article, there are six generic “top-level domains,” and here we get four of them:
- 17-Across: A [Medical transplant need] is an ORGAN DONOR (containing .org, the domain largely used by non-profit organizations).
- 30-Across: [Hades] is also known as the NETHERWORLD (containing .net, the domain used mostly by internet service providers).
- 48-Across: The [“Uncle” to early TV viewers] was MILTON BERLE (containing .mil, the domain for the military). I confess that I either never knew about the .mil ending or had forgotten it ever existed. I would have assumed that all military addresses would have had a .gov ending.
- 65-Across: The [Funny-paper cartoon] is a COMIC STRIP (containing .com, which you hardly ever see).
The last two domain names (.edu and .gov) would have been hard to work into the grid because every EDU- and GOV- term I can think of relates directly to education or government. The four used in the puzzle are a little more subtle–none of the longer words relates directly to the domain hidden in the front. To add the other two, you’d have to reject the subtlety. The right choice was made here.
The grid has some interesting fill. The presence of both CON GAMES and SET-UP has me a little worried for Sarah. I hope she hasn’t been a victim of either. Justice ALITO makes yet another appearance in crosswords–we’ve seen his name a lot over the past week. SPEEDERS is a fine term, but [Ticket takers?] tries a little too hard to be clever. The same could be said of [Electric?] for EELY. But otherwise the puzzle was fine.
Favorite entry = HEAVE, clued not as [Toss cookies] but as [“Ho” preceder]. (My first thought when I saw that clue? DON.) Favorite clue = [One to ten, sometimes] for SCALE. Yeah, not much by way of clever clues.
Gail Grabowski and Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s review
The final long across, 57, has two purposes: first, successfully cross intersecting fill, and second, to reveal the puzzle’s theme. [Designed for two functions, and a hint to the answers to the starred clues] DOUBLE DUTY.
- 20a. [*4–0 World Series win, e.g.] CLEAN SWEEP.
- 41a. [*Broom alternative] DUST MOP.
- 11d. [*Scouring aid] SCRUB BRUSH.
- 28d. [*Graffiti-maker's medium] SPRAY PAINT.
As you can see, what allows these items is adjectivization of verbs in the noun phrases. The eight actions of the four themers can all be seen as household chores, but I sense an imbalance, as the six comprising the first three involve cleaning, while the last one, SPRAY PAINT, seem more like maintenance or improvement tasks.
Scrabblish letters appear in short fill such as KHAN, AZTEC, VESPA, and the unhappy abbrev. N. MEX. There are some fun fill items such as ICHABOD Crane; the chatty DO TELL; the old-timey, possibly crosswordese, but nevertheless charming YEGGS; SNAFUS; and of course FIENDS. A plural trio!
On the down side, the awkward partial EAR TO, the unfun partial bok CHOY, and the not-quite stand-alone phrases AM SO and GO SEE; TOP TEN, DO TELL, and NO PETS all have solidity. Not sure about ACED OUT [Prevailed against, slangily].
Why yes, USENET (est’d 1980) is still in use. Must be relegated to the shadow web these days.
Otherwise, smooth though unremarkable fill (read: Tuesday) and no-nonsense clues (although I was momentarily tricked by 45a [Nora was his mistress] ASTA). Average puzzle.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “It Takes a Village”
This theme is not for me. The cartoon TV series The Smurfs debuted in the U.S. when I was 15 and not sitting on my duff watching cartoons anymore. The theme was a complete and total mystery to me until I reached the revealer entry at the very bottom of the grid and even then, most of the theme components meant nothing to me thematically.
- 71a. [It follows either word in the four long answers], SMURF.
- 20a. [He's always dropping dishes?], CLUMSY CHEF. Apparently Chef Smurf and Clumsy Smurf are both Smurf characters. Who knew? Not I.
- 37a. [Bedroom area that's useful to have around?], HANDY VANITY. I think Vanity Smurf used to back up Prince in the ’80s.
- 43a. [He has a corny sense of humor?], JOKEY FARMER.
- 57a. [Guy who trimmed Dad's beard?], PAPA BARBER. Hey! I’ve heard of Papa Smurf. Last fall, we saw him walking down the street on Halloween weekend. I would also recognize a handful of other Smurf names, but I can’t summon them up off the top of my head.
Interesting fill that we don’t see in a zillion crosswords:
- 40d. [Biker's exit line], LET’S RIDE. Motorcycles, not bicycles, right?
- 8d. ["I just remembered..."], “OH, YES…”
- 68a. [A few extra pounds], PUDGE. We would also have accepted BULGE, no?
- 2d. [Short name for Boone or Webster], DAN’L. Old school.
- 4d. [Average fool], SCHMOE. I prefer the spelling schmo.
- 10d. [Top vs. bottom-seed shutouts, for instance], EASY WINS. People rarely romp to an easy win at the ACPT.
- 18d. [Actress/model/socialite ___ Hearst-Shaw], LYDIA. Never heard of her. She’s Patty Hearst’s daughter and looks a lot like her.
- 21d. [Griff and D's Public Enemy cohort], FLAV. Short for Flavor Flav, Chuck D, and Professor Griff (I had to look up the last one).
- 26d. [Silent killer?], NINJA. For that clue, we would also have accepted HYPERTENSION or CARBONMONOXIDE.
- 45d. [Date on some food packaging], EAT BY. What? The label never says “eat by,” does it? Consume, use, sell, or best by, yes. Eat, no.
- 49d. [The back, in medical textbooks], DORSUM. Or maybe in anatomy textbooks and medical dictionaries. I’m thinking most medical texts just call it the back.
The theme does what it sets out to do, but I am simply not part of the audience who appreciates a good Smurfs theme. 3.5 stars? Are these well-known Smurfs to those of you who know your Smurfs?