Matt Skoczen and Victor Fleming’s New York Times crossword — Matt’s review
Oktoberfest is the order of the day, and the TOASTs you might hear there. Each is clued as [Oktoberfest exclamation]:
20-A: DOWN THE HATCH
37-A: BOTTOMS UP
53-A: TO YOUR HEALTH
And then the revealer at 66-A: [9-, 20-, 28-, 37-, 48- or 53-Across] which is TOAST.
So that’s a serviceable crossword theme, but if all of these are Oktoberfest exclamations, why wouldn’t “Prosit” be in there? I went to an Oktoberfest last weekend, full of lederhosen and beer and steins and that thigh-slapping dance, and all I heard was “Prosit.” So kind of an odd thing to omit, especially since there were two six-letter theme entries it could’ve replaced. Maybe it was originally just a generic toasts puzzle and was transformed later on into an Oktoberfest one?
The fill is a mixed bag. Nice stuff includes IACOCCA, ERITREA, KEYED UP, AT THE TOP, BREAK TIME, SAUCY, GOES MAD, PESCI and the TOFU/UFO crossing.
But Amy’s Scowl-O-Meter, on loan to me for the evening, went off for the crosswordy AAR [Swiss river] and EELER [Fisher with a pot], plus with the general ragged vibe of ILIE-STA-INA-AGT-ESA-AERO-REO-TEL-NCO-UNE-DER-ACT I. You really want to minimize these in your crossword grid, and many of them could have been easily removed. For example, STA vanishes by making it ATE, and AGT and INA are replaced by turning ALIEN and GENRE into BIDEN and ADORE. These and other quick changes would have noticeably improved the grid’s feel.
I sometimes complain that the NYT has a “musty vibe,” and that’s the case again today. Not a single clue couldn’t have been written ten years ago; the most recent references are IPOD (released in 2001) and NIA Vardalos rising to fame (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” 2002). I’m not asking for Quigley levels of hipness, but some indication that the puzzle was made in the past decade would probably be a good thing. [xkcd creator Munroe] for RANDALL might’ve been nice, or cluing INA to Ina Garten, or something CNN has done recently.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Attitude Adjustment”—Janie’s review
It’s all in the title—the key to understanding today’s theme. Pay attention to that second word, which tips us off to the fact that today’s offering is an anagram puzzle. There are letters in the theme fill that get “adjusted,” and in today’s puzzle those letters are related to a particular “attitude.” And what a great choice our constructor has made in that department. Additionally, she’s found phrases that mix up the placement of the anagrammed attitude. It starts two of the themers; it ends two of ’em. What makes the theme execution even more elegant, though, is that this anagrammed word opens the first (amazing!) theme phrase and concludes the (also impressive) final one. Take a look.
- 20A. HATER BLOCKERS [Large, wraparound sunglasses—often worn at night to make critics less visible]. Clearly, I have been living under a rock, as this phenom was totally new to me. But it’s all over the internet. It’s a gif. It’s a song (R-rated. Maybe more like X-rated. You can Google it if you choose to). It’s on t-shirts and coffee mugs. It’s simply Great Fill.
- 25A. BRET HARTE [He wrote about the California Gold Rush]. And someone was savvy enough to put together those stories in a single volume.
- 47A. EARTH TONE [Terra cotta, for one]. Yes, ’tis.
- 52A. CHANGE OF HEART [2008 Jodi Picoult novel … or a hint to the puzzle theme]. But you got that from the title, right?… First of all—that’s a great stand-alone phrase in its own right. But then, how fortuitous that it’s also the title of a book by an esteemed contemporary author. Not only did Ms. Picoult briefly write the Wonder Woman comics in 2007, but Change of Heart was her second novel to debut in the top spot of the NYT Best Seller list. Not too shabby!!
Also “not too shabby”? The long verticals, each of which interlocks with two of the themers. This is how we get: EGG POACHER and the cheeky [Fabergé’s favorite cookware?] (please, oh, please [unless you wanna have yer goose cooked…] don’t attempt to poach a Fabergé egg—in any kind of cookware!!); STEEL-TOE [Safety shoe feature]; the glorious PEA-BRAINS [Small-minded folks?] (a lively epithet if ever there was one); “MOST OF ALL…” [“Chiefly…”] (which I think I love most of all today); though I don’t want to short-change DITHERED or the spicy PROSCIUTTO. The “D” of dithered nearly did me in. Wasn’t convinced by the clue [Made a nervous fuss] that dithered was being looked for. I think of dithering as vacillating—but more in a wishy-washy way than nervously. And I was gettin’ zero help from the crossing clue [Guess in a game of Battleship]. So it was a “guess in a ‘game’ of crossword solving” that led me to D-TEN. Never played Battleship, but now I see the light!
Did not know that new-age singer ENYA had roots as a folk-rocker, but early in her career, when she sang with the family-band Clannad, that was one component of their repertoire. And excuse me, but how was I supposed to squeeze REASON TO SCREAM IN EXASPERATION into the mere six squares allotted for [Hearing “Your call is important to us” over and over…]? Somehow ON HOLD doesn’t quite say the same thing. ;-)
Of course, that’s the time when having a little “attitude alteration” can go a long way. You gotta breathe and, like the song (a Broadway golden-era classic) sez: “You Gotta Have Heart“!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “What If?” — Dave’s review
So constructor Matt Jones asks us “What If … we took out the letters IF from familiar phrases? Would hilarity ensue?” Well, dear readers, let’s take a look:
- [Drab shade from a Kardashian divorcée?] is JENNER GREY. I’m only very tangentially familiar with all of the celebrities involved in this clue–Kris Jenner, Robert Kardashian and Jenn(if)er Grey, but I did find it interesting to read that Jennifer is the daughter of Joel Grey of Cabaret fame.
- [Luxury autos driven by Melchior and Balthazar?] are GTS OF THE MAGI. What, Gaspar has to sit in the back seat all the time? Anyway, “Gifts of the Magi” is close to the O. Henry title, but in this sense probably just refers to gold, frankincense and myrrh. BTW, did you know that the latter two are tree resins still used today in medicine and even some toothpastes and mouthwashes?
- [John McEnroe-esque?] clues TESTY IN COURT. Here “testify” becomes “testy” (singular of testes?) as it loses its IF. Funny how John is still considered the quintessential bad-boy on the tennis circuit, when more current aces (such as the notoriously anti-feminist French Open semifinalist Ernests Gulbis) should definitely wrest that title away from him.
- [Focus on a Franglish lesson on grammar?] modifies “life sentence” as the Franglish LE SENTENCE. Reminds me of this car for some reason.
No fustiness in this one, what with entries such as JOB SEARCH, GEAR RATIO and Roseanne BARR, referencing her failed presidential run of 2012. Contemporary musical references as well, with Alanis Morissette’s God role, Australian singer IGGY Azalea, DUB clued as a reggae subgenre, and BECK. Knowing only the one ONO, I was a bit surprised to see the whole family referenced as ONOS. I’m also curious to learn more about this recent DONUT/croissant mash-up, as if one on its own wasn’t hard enough on the old arteries!
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Musical Menagerie”—Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everyone!
Today’s crossword, brought to us by mr. Patrick Jordan, is an homage to the musical composition PETER AND THE WOLF (57A: [Work by 17-Across whose hero is accompanied by the animals in 28-, 36-, and 45-Across]) and the animals that play such a prominent role in the production. Getting the animals was much easier of an exercise than remembering how to spell the Russian composer’s last name. Totally blanked on that for a while.
- SERGEI PROKOFIEV: (17A: [Russian composer born in Ukraine])
- DEAD DUCK: (28A: [Goner]) – Being that the duck gets swallowed by the wolf in the story, this is definitely an apropos entry.
- COOL CAT: (36A: [Hipster]) – Another term that definitely wouldn’t be used to describe myself, as I’m far from “too cool for school.”
- LADYBIRD: (45A: [Jackie-Pat connection]) – Some “First Lady connect the dots” action!
I’m in an area of New York City that I sadly don’t see ROBINS around when spring starts to approach (25A: [Spring harbingers]). Either that, or I don’t look hard enough for them when I’m outside. Again, plant lovers, like before, if you have any stories about the SWEET PEA, let me know since I’m trying to broaden my knowledge of plants (20A: [Legume with fragrant blossoms]). I was very intrigued by the clue to ABBA (62A: [Group that won 1974’s Eurovision Song Contest]), since I just found out about a few months ago while watching Euronews that the Eurovision Song Contest has been around since 1956, and that Celine Dion was a past winner of the competition. And yes, I watch Euronews…a lot. A fair bit of crosswordese in this grid, including the presence of OREOS (43A: [Three-tiered treats]) and T-BAR (10A: [Chairlift alternative]), but made up for that in the northeast with T-BAR’s crossing up there, TV FEEDS (10D: [Some satellite signals, briefly]). To end today, I’ve heard so many things about LETO and his role in Dallas Buyers Club and I have to watch the movie as soon as I have some serious free time (51D: [Jared of “Dallas Buyers Club”]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ROYAL (25A: [Kauffman Stadium ballplayer]) – Yes, Royals fever is spreading, as the team has just made the American League Championship Series in baseball, but I have to put in this spot something that will appeal to the non sports crowd. So here goes nothing. Did you know that New Zealand singing artist Lorde, who reached the top of the music charts as a 17-year-old last year with her worldwide hit “Royals,” said that part of her inspiration to write the song was seeing legendary ROYAL and Baseball Hall-of-Famer George Brett signing baseballs while wearing his Royals jersey in a photo that appeared in National Geographic? It’s true! Here’s the photo that is believed to be the one that she gazed at that set the wheels in motion for a No. 1 hit in the making.
See you all on Hump Day!
Ron Toth & C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
Every good boy deserves fudge, or so I’m told. Where’s mine? Each of 5 answers spell out, in order, the pitches represented by STAFF/LINES. The theme answers themselves, didn’t bowl me over exactly, although starting with letters and having them in order places considerable restrictions on your choices of theme answers. [Symbol of a good try], EFOREFFORT I mostly see as EFOR in puzzles; I believe it’s a thing. [Movie for all], GRATEDFILMis nice; is one who gives the rating a GRATER? We have [Straight-A student’s bane], BPLUS in the middle, and then [“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” author], DHLAWRENCE with an awkward second letter following the D. The last entry, [Noted O.J. Simpson attorney], FLEEBAILEY, was unknown to me, but interesting. A lot of famous cases there, but do people really remember the attorney’s name? Like GRATEDFILM, FLEEBAILEY looks like it should be something else. [Run, stand-up comedian Bill!], e.g.
A good selection of longer answers is also on offer: KISSMEKATE, LARRYDAVID, MRROGERS plus FLYSOLO? ILLTELL! We were always taught that [Data] is raw and INFOrmation is processed… So not the same thing at all. ONEB is the big clunk in the grid – utterly arbitrary!
3.25 Stars; the slightly awkwardly executed theme being made up for by a mostly engaging grid.