Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword
The theme is DATE MOVIES, defined as “movie titles in which the letters D-A-T-E appear in order, but not consecutively, in circled squares”:
- 18a. [1990 Kevin Costner film], DANCES WITH WOLVES.
- 23a. [1990 Nicolas Cage film], WILD AT HEART. Never saw it.
- 51a. [1967 Dustin Hoffman film], THE GRADUATE.
- 56a. [1989 Robin Williams film], DEAD POETS’ SOCIETY.
That sort of DrAmaTic rEveal doesn’t do much for me. Those letters are common, and I imagine they’re found in a lot of phrases, especially since there’s no restriction here on additional instances of the letters in the theme answers here. Mind you, this theme narrowly ESCAPEs being an example of #4 on BEQ’s list of “bullshit themes” by virtue of the theme answers all being members of a category (movies).
Highlights in the fill include a Mötley Crüe UMLAUT, the BANGLES, MOLIERE, and Anna PAVLOVA.
On the down side, we have AWN, ALPE, GOERS, ARR, SRTAS (plural foreign abbreviation! we’ve hit the trifecta!), IWO, AUS, IPSO, EEW (people groused about that spelling in a Gorski ACPT puzzle not long ago and I don’t blame them—EWW has more dictionary support), ELEM, ORIG, SIL, PEWIT, and APO. If this were a venue with titles for daily puzzles, “Date Movies” could have been extricated from the grid, loosening up the constraints on the overall fill. Or the movies could have been clued as, say, [1967 Dustin Hoffman "date movie"]. Chicago has a lot of Mies van der Rohe influence and buildings, and when it comes to crosswords, I tend to agree with Mies: “Less is more.”
Steve Blais’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Solid theme: IT TAKES A VILLAGE is clued as 37a. [1996 Hillary Clinton best-seller, and what might be said about the start of 17-, 24-, 48- or 59-Across], and those four answers evoke the village green, the Village Voice, the Village People, and the village idiot.
- 17a. ["American Idiot" punk band], GREEN DAY.
- 24a. [Performer who is heard but not seen], VOICE ACTOR.
- 48a. [Table scraps, to the dog], PEOPLE FOOD. Fun phrase. Village People food, of course, is a spicy variety of Soylent Green. Did you hear that one of the Village People got married last weekend? (It was the cowboy.) It was a trivia question on Million Second Quiz.
- 59a. [Boob tube], IDIOT BOX.
Remarks on other parts of the puzzle ensue:
- 1a. [Terrible grade], EFF. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary lists “ef” as the word for the letter F. “Eff” is not included in the hardbound volume, but is more commonly seen as shorthand for the F-bomb, as in “eff off.”
- 64a. [Sch. in the smallest state], URI, University of Rhode Island. Also upper respiratory infection.
- 66a. [Source of some psychiatry grants: Abbr.], NIMH. I hear there are rats there.
- 2d. [Pink-slip issuer], FIRER. Is this a word you’ve ever used?
- 10d. [Former Seattle NBAer], SONIC. Also the name of a drive-in fast-food joint that is supposed to be coming to my part of Chicago, and while I find none of their food eatable, I do like the slushy with chunks of strawberries in it.
- 12d. [UFO pilots, in theory], ETS. The dictionary tells me that “in theory” implies that the thing does not really happen.
- 32d. [__ tendonitis: arm muscle ailment], BICEP. Yes, this is appropriate. No-S bicep has been used as an adjective since 1939, as in “bicep curl.”
- 33d. [Daylong military march], ETAPE. Been hoping that this word catches on in the ultramarathon setting, but I don’t think it will come to pass. The word remains unfortunate crosswordese.
- 35d. [Mart opening], WAL. Eh. Meh. Since the Waltons changed their brand name to “Walmart” from “Wal-Mart,” it’s hard to rationalize WAL as a crossword answer.
Four stars for the theme, 2.9 for the fill.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Jacks of All Trades” – Dave Sullivan’s review
When I saw the first themed clue [Actor/talk show host/author] and started to fill in the first few letters from the crossing down clues, I was trying to figure out the name of one person who was all of those three things. (“What person has written a book, starred in a movie and was a talk show host” my brain pondered.) But instead, the clue lists the occupations of three people named JACK, and the answer are their last names.
- The Jacks who are an [Actor/talk show host/author] are HALEY, PAAR, LONDON – a much better theme (which I kind of recall Matt Gaffney employing, but I could be wrong) would be to use these last names to clue something. (How about [English capital in a power outage?] for BLACK LONDON for example?)
- [Golfer/fitness guru] were NICKLAUS, LALANNE – I remember seeing Jack LaLanne on TV doing workouts in his 70′s I think. He died at the age of 96 from pneumonia.
- [Comedian/politician/movie producer] clues BENNY, KEMP, WARNER – with the first B in place, I had BLACK instead of BENNY. Kind of old school choice there.
I see how the constructor took a common phrase “jack of all trades” and was inspired to build a puzzle around various Jacks and the things they do, but there are so many Jacks and so many trades, there really weren’t many constraints on the loose theme choices here. I’m a big fan of WALLEYE fish–my go-to meal when I was on a work travel assignment in Minneapolis for a few months many years ago. I also enjoyed the currency of RAND Paul, who many think may be the next Republican candidate for President in 2016. For my UNFAVE, I think that is the fact that this puzzle seemed to try too hard to be a pangram, and for more information on that, please see my co-fiend joon pahk’s commentary of today’s Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest, to be posted at noon.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Making Connections”—Janie’s review
Today’s theme is one that kinda sneaked up on me. Saw the title, but didn’t see the theme emerge until I was nearly at the reveal. Which was fine by me! The wordplay this week is visual rather than aural—and sans circles (as it should be with this theme set!)—more subtle, less laugh-out-loud funny than we’ve seen in the last two weeks. But with five theme entries (when we usually get four) plus the reveal, no less elegant a construction. And what, uh, ties them all together? As is confirmed at 54A, ROPE [Type of bridge and a hint to the puzzle theme]. The letters R-O-P-E found in the theme fill are making the connections—bridges between words, if you will—referenced in the title. If the theme fill, as a result, isn’t always the most sparkling, this is a superb example of this kind of theme.
- 16A. PRO-PEACE RALLIES [Anti-war demonstrations for doves]. I’m thinking that the word “doves” is in the clue for a tad of misdirection. We’re talkin’ doves of the IDEOlogical (see clue for 46D) and not avian variety.
- 22A. ZERO PERCENT [Rock-bottom "teaser" financing offered by a car dealership]. Peppier clue than fill, but, hey—we do get a scrabbly Z in the bargain.
- 36A. JAR OPENER [Kitchen gadget that helps you get a grip on things]. Still hadn’t glommed on to the theme yet, so was thinking this might be CAN OPENER. JED at 36D disabused me of that notion quickly enough. And look—this time we get a scabbly J in the bargain.
- 50A. DROP EARRING [Jewelry that dangles from a lobe]. And not a lobe of your brain… So guess which is my fave fill of the themers? Yep. I do love words that conjure up images.
- 58A. TURBOPROP ENGINE [Thrust-producing component on a commuter plane]. A tad dry, I fear, but ’tis what ’tis.
IN TRUTH, with all the squares serving the theme, I was extra-pleased to see such a good amount of
well-clued longer (and in some cases shorter) fill. This is what ultimately gives this puzzle its considerable oomph. Among the stronger long stuff: the fabulous HOT TO TROT—which also made an appearance in Jeff Chen’s themeless for the NYT this past Saturday; the you-can-almost-hear-the-sound-of-the SCREECHER [Person who yells a lot]; “FLOOR IT!” and the equally lively and urgent ["Drive as fast as you can!"]; the elevating SKI-LIFT; FRESCOS [Sistine Chapel art] that most certainly was subject to PRIMING; the evocative CAVORTS and [Prances around] pairing; INNINGS appearing in response to [National League divisions?]—and American League divisions, too, presumably; the hearty pirate-song refrain, “YO-HO-HO!”; and when you COOK FOR someone [Show love with food] (adore this pair, btw), it’s lovely that this is something you can do even if the object of your affection is ON A DIET…
As for the shorter entries, hats off to: the [Inside job for Martha Stewart?] DECOR pairing (no more dodgy stock trades here, thank you very much); [Supplies for folks who are going to pot?] (as opposed to “seed”…) for BONGS; and KAFKA and the Keystone KOP for kicking things off in such a scrabbly way in the NW korner [sic...].
Had trouble with the crossing of PHO [Vietnamese noodle soup] and OTIS [Ned Beatty's "Superman" role] at the bottom center because, ["HOLY cannoli!"], I didn’t know either one with certainty but entering the “O” at 66A made the most sense—and proved to be correct. Didn’t help either that (“HOLY cannoli!”) before I recalled PAOLI I wanted to enter PARMA. Wrong.
All in all, then, one quality-packed puzzle. Yes, I see MOA and several abbreviations of the three-letter sort (DST, ATV, MSG…[which sounds like it could be part of "Initials" from Hair]), but the big picture is that this puzzle’s strengths far outweigh the weaknesses of its more “practical” entries—which, often as not, simply come with the territory. Under the circumstances, I don’t make them a crime.
So—where were your trouble spots? And if I failed to mention what you liked best, please speak up! Back next week!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Freestyle for All”
Matt Jones’s themeless/freestyle puzzles are kinda nuts. The grid designs tend to look different from other constructors’, and his emphasis on nifty long fill sometimes leads to iffy short fill. And while there are some short answers that get overused in crosswords (plural abbrev APTS, ENOL, LAO, SERE), Matt also tends to use unusual short fill. Consider the following entries and how seldom we see them in other crosswords:
- 11d. [Ending for Scotch (anagram of DRAG)], GARD. [Commercial ending for Scotch] might’ve given enough help to do without the anagram hint.
- 41a. [Data storage device, for short (hidden in PRESS DOWN)], SSD. Not sure what it means. To the Google! Solid-state drive. Totally gettable with the “hidden in” hint.
- 25a. [Prefix past tera- and peta-], EXA. Not too familiar to me. The SERE crossing has a “hidden in” hint to give us the first letter.
The hints keep the obscurities from becoming deadly crossings. And the payoff is all the fun fill:
- 33a. [Side dish often oven-roasted], BABY RED POTATOES.
- 39a. [Dimensions beyond description], EPIC PROPORTIONS.
- 58a. [Neo's realization that prompts the line "Show me"], “I KNOW KUNG FU. From The Matrix. Here’s the clip. Love this entry!
- 1d. [Bialik of "The Big Bang Theory"], MAYIM. She’s a nerd’s actress. She followed up her teen-years starring role on Blossom with college and grad school and has a PhD in neuroscience. And now she’s on perhaps the nerdiest sitcom in years.
- 6d. [Park Avenue hotel, casually], THE WALDORF.
- 29d. [It's said with a pat], GOOD DOGGIE. Both the doggie and doggy spellings are kosher.
- 10d. [Norwegian phrase heard in the Upper Midwest], UFF-DA! I went to college in Minnesota so I knew this one.
- 30d. [Brew from South Africa], ROOIBOS TEA. We don’t see many words with the OOI letter combo. Booing, gooier … ROOIBOS TEA is cooler.
So I count myself as a fan of Matt’s individualistic approach to freestyle puzzles and I’m looking forward to his “No Holds Barred Crosswords” project on Kickstarter. These puzzles will have bars separating answers instead of black squares, so a 15×15 grid will contain 225 letters. And Matt’s hunger for fresh, surprising fill suggests that these puzzles will offer more of what I enjoy. You can get the pack of 25 puzzles for as little as $5, but themeless fans are typically enchanted by large-format themeless puzzles and most of Matt’s Kickstarter supporters (including me) are opting for the $15 level that includes a set of big bonus puzzles.