Meta fans, the 2014 round of the Muller Monthly Music Meta kicks off Tuesday. Visit Pete Muller’s site for the lowdown on the 2013 results and to subscribe to the 2014 puzzles.
Todd Gross’s New York Times crossword
All the theme answers are to be found around the edges of this grid:
- 1a, 72a. [With 72-Across, what the answers on this puzzle's perimeter form], WORD / LOOP. Didn’t know “word loop” was a thing, but it makes sense.
- 5a. [Beech and birch], WOOD. Changing the R in WORD to an O.
- 9a. ["Yay!," in a text message], “WOOT!” Technically, this should have zeroes and not O’s: w00t.
- 12d. [Beep], TOOT.
- 31d. [Knee-slapper], HOOT.
- 57d. [Basketball target], HOOP. Then the LOOP … but shouldn’t the words in the bottom and on the left appear backwards to keep the loop links connected head-to-tail?
- 71a. [Take a gander], LOOK.
- 70a. [Nutcase], KOOK.
- 58d. [Diner employee], COOK.
- 32d. [One may pop on New Year's Eve], CORK.
- 13d. [Telephone attachment], CORD. Raise your hand if every phone in your home is cordless and/or cellular. “CORD”!
Given that there are just 46 theme squares here—it’s not as if there are 65 or 70—I’m not sure why there’s so much iffiness in the fill. We have a whopping six partials (UP AS, -A-WEE, LET A, OR ME, A TRIP, WILE E.), the fragments AGRO- and -ISE, and an assortment of words that I place in my Crosswordese and Beyond category: EBRO crossing OBER, IMARET, OGEE, ORNE, and ADRIP (!! — [Leaking, as a faucet]). ADRIP! I don’t recall seeing that one before. It crosses A TRIP, which is clued here as a partial but has often been clued as a single word that relates to ship anchors.
Now, on the plus, side, I really like “WE MADE IT!” and NEWSWEEK and KEY WEST. The word loop concept is cute, though I still have some reservations about the words all reading forward when traveling along the loop should make half the words read backwards. 2.75 stars. Throwing OGEE and IMARET at Tuesday solvers just seems mean, Will. These aren’t words that most college-educated people know unless they’ve picked them up from crosswords. Honest. Maybe you can argue for these stale words to appear in a Friday or Saturday puzzle, but Tuesday?
Edited to add: Okay, some folks are suggesting that the inclusion of only the vowel O in the word loop (and its absence from the rest of the grid) is somehow thematic or intentional. If only that twist had actually made the puzzle more fun from a solving standpoint. And it’s a rather subtle thing to drop into a Tuesday puzzle without any sort of revealer clue alluding to it.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Don’t Look Down”
This week’s theme reminds me of a favorite Sesame Street book, the 1971 Grover classic The Monster at the End of This Book. Throughout the book, Grover begs the reader to stop turning the pages because there is a monster at the end of the book. Spoiler alert: Turns out the monster is Grover himself, nothing to be scared of.
The circled letters spell out the names of three furry monsters from Sesame Street. Each one appears beneath a BED in the grid:
- 19a. [Completely disheveled], BEDRAGGLED. On top of ELMO, 23a. [Patron saint of sailors].
- 26a. [Post-game complaint], WE WUZ ROBBED. On top of GROVER, 34a. [President Cleveland].
- 44a. [Inseparable friends on "Community"], ABED AND TROY. On top of fairly recent Muppet addition ZOE, 47a. [Actress Saldana of "Avatar"].
- 54a. [2013 Eminem hit featuring Rihanna (and inspiration for this puzzle's theme)], THE MONSTER.
- 63a. [What three examples of 54-Across are hidden under], BED.
Advice to solvers: Don’t dangle your arm or leg over the side of the bed when sleeping, because that’s how the monsters get you.
Fresher fill includes sandwich/salad joint PANERA, SLEAZEBAG, EFFED up, DIERKS Bentley, HOT-GLUED, ALTAMONT, IN LIMBO, and GREAT DEAL. Now, I thought there was an unspoken connection between 18a: “HELTER Skelter” and 38d: ALTAMONT, but the 1970 documentary film about the Altamont concert/deaths is Gimme Shelter, which merely rhymes with the 1976 TV movie about the Manson murders, Helter Skelter. Guess all those S*elters swirled together in my young mind. (Mind you, Matt’s clue for 38d couldn’t be clearer: [Concert site in "Gimme Shelter"].)
Not much else of note, good or bad. Four stars. Ambitious eight-piece theme plus some 9s in the fill just for the heck of it? And the eight-part theme didn’t come at the cost of woeful fill? I’ll take it.
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Upside Down Cakes” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Tricky puzzle today where the theme entries which begin with a type of cake run down the grid and are reversed:
- [Square pants wearer] was EGNOPSBOB – So having NEAR for NIGH didn’t help in that area, especially since I didn’t know what was going on with the theme entries. “WHAT IS IT?” for [Response to an interruption] makes sense in retrospect, but it could’ve easily been LEAVE ME ALONE or something of that ilk. A “sponge cake” is well aerated, and as I read here, can be made by the batter or foam method. The latter sounds like a type of birth control.
- [Java time?] clued EEFFOC BREAK – do you have Java 7 on your Mac or PC? Now I can’t seem get the applet on Matt Gaffney’s weekly crossword contest site to work. Not a big problem, as I’m an AcrossLite solver whenever possible. Edited to add: if you add LitSoft’s “http://icrossword.com” to your Java site exception list, you’ll just get a warning and can run the app. Anyway, “coffee cake” is a breakfast item with cinnamon sugar on top.
- [Seeking change?] was NAPHANDLING – I kind of prefer the changed version of this phrase, “nap-handling” is something I would like to become an expert in. “Pancakes” are another breakfast item–since the other entries have the word separated, I was first wondering what made a “pan cake” unique?
- [Hash tag symbol] clued DNUOP SIGN – timely entry for those who habituate the Twitterverse (pas moi). A “pound cake” is much like a sponge cake I think, but more dense.
Surprisingly twisty theme today that gave me fits in the northwest, but I finally got the hang of what was going on. I’m thinking beginning solvers will look at an entry like EGNOPSBOB and really scratch their collective heads. But that’s what we’re here for! I guess I’m not completely on board with the clue [Lots of computer dots] for PIXELS, as “lots” implies to me that perhaps some dots aren’t pixels or that pixels have to be lots of dots (when it could be as few as two in the plural). I see we have SUE ME again, which I think needs a “So,” in front to be a complete response. SCRUPLES is an excellent thing to find in the puzzle and to have in general. Highly recommended!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Universal Film Festival”—Janie’s review
What a timely topic, eh? Not only are we in the midst of the film industry’s “awards season” (pre-Oscar; post-Golden Globe, -Critics Choice, -SAG and -Producers Guild), but the Sundance Film Festival is in full-throttle even as we speak. And yes, today’s themers are all movie titles but (spoiler alert!) not one was produced by Universal Pictures. Two are from MGM, with one each from Columbia and Fox 2000. No, the universal in the title speaks instead to its literal meaning of “applicable in all cases.” Which today would apply to the general population of boys, girls, women and men. Or in terms of the movie titles in question:
- THE SUNSHINE BOYS (MGM/1975)
- UPTOWN GIRLS (MGM/2003)
- LITTLE WOMEN (Columbia Pictures/1994)
- THE MONUMENTS MEN (Fox 2000 Pictures/2014)
One well-wrought theme set—for several reasons. First, its universality by way of population age and gender referenced in the titles. Also, the range of time in which the films themselves were made: four decades are represented in a five-decade range. All of them, too, relatively (and I mean that quite literally…) recent (that last one won’t even be in release until early next month). In response to one of Amy’s observations about catching sight of the passage of time (prompted by her reaction to this week’s Sunday NYT), Brucenm wrote: “The sense of generational continuity is one of things I like best about this site…” Ditto. “Generational continuity” is also something this theme set demonstrates and I make that a great asset in puzzle-making. Additionally (from a construction standpoint), the boys and the men give us grid-spanners.
Looking at the non-theme fill, we encounter some film-related bonus material, such as the much (and deservedly!) celebrated/honored CATE [Blanchett who plays Jasmine in "Blue Jasmine"] (and who will also be seen in The Monuments Men); and RALPH ["Skyfall" actor Fiennes]. Do you suppose Martin Scorsese ever considered calling his 1976 drama CAB DRIVER?…
That particular entry, btw, has more going for it besides its healthy length. It also has one terrific clue: [One who's bound to take you for a ride?]. That’s his/her job! One can only hope that the driver will simply take you to your destination, however, and not rip you off (yeah—that sense of “take you for a ride”) in the bargain!
Other great clue/fill combos? This puzzle’s got ‘em! Lookin’ at you especially [Reptile known for making snap decisions?] for ALLIGATOR; also [Fix a sailing competion?] for RIG (maybe on a [One-masted boat] SLOOP); and for their heightened language, [Noodlehead] and TWIT, and [Cheap-looking] and TAWDRY (a word I love—like “meretricious”). Fans of The Threepenny Opera may remember the shout-out “Miss Suky Tawdry” gets in the song “Mack the Knife.” In fact, Ms. Tawdry‘s lineage goes right back to John Gay’s 18th-century source material, The Beggar’s Opera—ditto her pals Mrs. Vixen, Betty Doxy, Molly Brazen, et al. All of whom provide naming-by-character-trait precedence for someone like “Debbie Downer” who, we’re reminded, is someone who MOPES.
And in the other long-strong-fill category today, let me not forget ROMANTICS, with its ripped-from-the-personals-column clue [They love sunsets, candlelit dinners, and long walks on the beach] and “DON’T BE MAD,” clued (questionably in my book…) as [Comforting words to an angry person]. I say, use that approach at your own risk… I do like, though, that this fill sits directly below UPSET—which an angry person generally is (even if it’s clued here as a noun [Underdog's victory] and not an adjective).
Am not in love with (but understand the sometime-necessity for…) ART I [Drawing class for beginners] or [Maple syrup amt.] as a clue for TSP. Thinking about a stack of pancakes (or even KASHA [Buckwheat porridge]), a tsp is really a tiny amt. of maple syrup. Even as an additive to a recipe. Just seems like a clue that needs some more fleshing out—though I appreciate the specificity that Liz is going for. Wish there were more of that, too, with the very straightforward clue [2110, in Roman numerals] for MMCX. How about a bicentennial reference to something that occurred in 1910? A little bit o’ trivia goes a long way to punching up Roman numerals!
Oh! Almost forgot to mention the combo that made me laugh out loud. But only because I was so far off the mark. And that’s [Murder mystery discovery], which I confidently (and incorrectly…) filled in as CLUE. No, no. No mere generic clue here. We’re talkin’ the whole BODY. Now that’s some discovery!
David Poole’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I’m enchanted by this theme—a few years ago, my son had a cryptozoology t-shirt with cartoony drawings of about 15 different mythical creatures.
- 17a. [Sighting in the Scottish Highlands], LOCH NESS MONSTER.
- 33a. [Sighting in Douglas, Wyoming], JACKALOPE. Half jackrabbit, half antelope.
- 38a. [Sighting in the Pacific Northwest], SASQUATCH.
- 53a. [One studying this puzzle's sightings], CRYPTOZOOLOGIST.
The chupacabra, werewolf, Jersey devil, and Yeti did not make the cut today. The theme set isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it’s fine and it’s fun. And it’s fairly Scrabbly, too, with the J and K in 33a, the Q in 38a, and the Z in 53a.
I found this to be a quick solve. The fill isn’t 100% easy stuff, but the clues delivered me to the answers without a hitch. The most difficult clue for me was 36d. [Stopped the ship, in nautical lingo], LAID TO. ERE I and STYE are rather crossword-centric, but pretty much everything else is mainstream, familiar words and names.
3.75 stars from this reviewer. Solid and easy early-week puzzle.