Dan Schoenholz’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s write-up
Andy here, filling in for Jenni today. Breezed through this one so quickly I didn’t get the theme until after I was done. The revealer is hidden in the center of the puzzle: 25/36a [With 36-Across, what this puzzle features, literally] is a PICTURE / FRAME. That is, the crossword itself is “framed” by (the titles of motion) pictures:
- 1a, AVATAR [Gamer’s representation].
- 7a, JFK [“We choose to go to the moon” speech giver, informally].
- 10a, REDS [Wines said to go well with steak].
- 65a, TESS [___ Trueheart, Dick Tracy’s sweetheart].
- 66a, RAY [Bit of hope, in an expression].
- 67a, PATTON [U.S. general who was a pentathlete in the 1912 Olympics].
- 1d, AMADEUS [Mozart’s middle name].
- 13d, SELMA [March locale of note].
- 44d, PLATOON [It’s smaller than a company].
- 49d, GHOST [Quickie Halloween costume].
The titles of the movies weren’t chosen completely at random; a bonus theme answer at 51a reveals that the ACADEMY was the [Organization that honored those referenced in the 25-/36-Across, with “the”]. So they’re all either Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated movies, I guess. That theme answer felt a bit shoehorned in, either to tighten the theme or to provide a symmetrical answer for PICTURE.
The degree of difficulty on a theme like this is very high. The entire border is completely restricted, making filling the edges very tough. In addition, three central theme answers means that basically the entire puzzle has some sort of built-in fill restriction. Plus, the constructor seems to have additionally limited himself to Oscar-nominated movies. Given those restrictions, I thought the fill was extremely good. KTS, I MET, and IT A (especially so close to IT’S A GIRL, one of the better entries) were the low points for me, and I needed all the crossings on RENA. I’m still not sure whether I like I’M A COP (I’m leaning towards “yes”), but I did like REDDIT, VARIETAL, and HITHERTO.
Despite these feats of construction, I didn’t have a lot of fun solving this puzzle. At 78 words and with no particularly long entries, this felt like solving a Monday puzzle, or one of those off-brand puzzles in the daily metro paper. PICTURE FRAME is a nice revealer, but that’s about as exciting as the theme got for me since I didn’t pick it up while solving.
Until next time!
Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “The Secret Garden” — Jim’s review
Lovely imagery today from Sam Donaldson who invites us in to his Secret Garden with an impressive set of CLIMBING ROSEs. Here they are from left to right:
- 28d [Rustler’s woe] SADDLESORE
- 5d [Words of warning] YOU’LL BE SORRY
- 7d [Simple proposal] YES OR NO QUESTION
- 11d [What a pitcher hopes to complete] SALES ORDER
- And the revealer at 23d [Trellis flower, and something found four times in this puzzle] CLIMBING ROSE
That’s a lot of theme material, thanks in part to the grid-spanner in the middle.
I’ve gotta say I like this theme better than most “secret word” themes, mostly because it just makes sense. Not only do you get the hidden word, but you get the vertical visual aspect. You can easily imagine the grid as a trellis with ROSEs in bloom all over it. And the title is so perfectly apt. What’s not to like?
(Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that my mom’s name is ROSE, but as she will become an octogenarian this weekend, I hope her CLIMBING days are behind her.)
I must admit I’ve never read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. But reading about it makes me think I should recommend it to my kids.
As I said earlier, that’s a lot of theme material, so there are bound to be some compromises — most notably, right there in the dead center where that Q is just not playing nice. That whole DQS/DHS/ODS/ODOM/NOTI section is an eyesore. But you know what? In going with the theme, let’s just call it a thorn. There ya go. Every ROSE has one (except my mom), so we have a perfectly plausible explanation for some not-s0-nice entries in the grid. It just happens to be that most of the thorns are concentrated in the middle of the trellis.
Let’s see, what else? ADELE and KANYE make for an intriguing pairing at 33 and 34d. TARRAGON is nice as our longest piece of non-theme fill, and it’s matched with BOLDLY GO (20a, [Emulate the USS Enterprise?]) which should serve as a reminder for us all to joyously celebrate Trek‘s 50th anniversary.
Clues of note:
- 19a. Our puzzlemaker bucks the trend and clues ELSA as [Swedish model Hosk].
- 69a. Cute clue for E FLAT: [“Eroica” key, fittingly]. Is a long E sharp in contrast then?
- 51a. I was going to object to [Minus arm candy] for STAG, but I think the phrase “going stag” can refer to women as easily as men.
Overall, not a lot to talk about in the fill because it’s the showy theme that’s on display here. The result is an expertly cultivated puzzle.
Byron Walden’s AVCX crossword, “The Second List” — Ben’s Review
This was one of those puzzles where I should have paid a little more attention to the title when printing it off. I spent a little too long trying to connect what was going on with the theme clues and realized all too late that it’s completely spelled out in the title:
- 18A: Engage in rough spanking play? — BELT BOTTOMS
- 27A: Paramour of Disney? — WALT BANGER
- 33A: Autobiography of a guy who plays Uncle Sam in parades? — STILT LIFE
- 44A: Costume change in Braveheart? — KILT SWITCH
- 53A: Liquefy a biblical character to make sure he doesn’t come back from the dead again? — MELT LAZARUS
- 7D: Moved some time ago to getting information exclusively from Breitbart? — ALT-RIGHT ALREADY
As I said, it’s all in the title – the second L IS T. Going back and replacing the first T in these with an L, you get the more common BELL BOTTOMS, WALLBANGER, STILL LIFE, KILL SWITCH, MELL LAZARUS, and ALL RIGHT ALREADY. It’s a simple theme, but cleverly clued and well-distributed in the grid – everything branches off from 7D’s mid puzzle stance.
A few other notes:
- 2D: Delayed settling up — RAN A TAB (I misread this as “delayed setting up” my first few times through the puzzle)
- 13D: 1980s designer jeans advertised by Roy Orbison — SASSON’S (Totally thought “You Got It” would be used for the ad, when it’s clearly the perfect opportunity to use a reworking of “Pretty Woman”)
- 23A: Where Conan was exiled — TBS (I knew this was going to be O’Brien rather than The Barbarian. I wouldn’t say TBS is exile – they are killing it with Samantha Bee’s show on a weekly basis)
- 36D: Short green guys wth antennae hanging out in craters, in many depictions — MOONMEN (I completely glossed over the craters portion of this clue and tried to make MARTIAN fit, and tried to figure out if the plural form was MARTIA before realizing the correct answer. MARTIA MARTIA MARTIA!)
- 40D: Role on Capt. Kirk’s bridge for Nichelle Nichols and Zoe Saldana — LT. UHURA (Nichelle Nichols wrote an autobiography in the early 90s that I picked up because Nicole Cliffe of The Toast kept posting snippets to her Twitter feed and they were so good. Highly recommended!)
Another challenging but lovely entry from the AV Club in the past few weeks.
Gail Grabowski and Bruce Venzke’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
The theme concept is good: verbs (in simple, present, 3rd person, singular form) meaning “is angry” are found at the end of theme phrases. They are used in those phrases as plural nouns. Thus there is a good separation between uses. We have: EXHAUSTFUMES, FRICTIONBURNS, BRUSHBRISTLES, SEAFOODBOILS.
Not much to say about the rest of the puzzle. The EMALL/AOKAY/SOAVE should not be publishable. It’s partner has PARTD which is totally arbitrary. I’d have sent this back for a reworking / redesign myself.
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “Terrific Stuff” —Ade’s write-up
Hello there, everyone! How are you all? Today’s crossword, brought to us by Mr. Randolph Ross, gives literal definitions to common phrases that just happen to contain superlative adjectives in the phrase.
- GREAT UNCLE (17A: [Terrific relative?])
- SUPERCONDUCTOR (26A: [Terrific orchestra leader?])
- FINE MOTOR SKILL (41A: [Terrific talent with automobile engines?])
- GRAND PIANO (54D: [Terrific musical instrument?])
Speaking of terrific stuff, I loved seeing the abbreviated representation of the weekdays, MTWTF, in the grid (1A: Workweek letters]). Can someone be a big fan of a musician/band yet not listen to their music as much as a regular fan would? If so, that’s totally the case for me and GREEN DAY (9D: [“American Idiot” band]). Definitely love their music, but, as I’m looking at my music list on iTunes, I don’t have any music of theirs on my playlist. Pretty sure I have to chance that, and pronto. Probably my favorite entry was HOOSEGOW, as that (and its clue) made me think of the interesting terms used to describe a jail cell (36D: [Pokey]). I think hoosegow, clink and cooler are my favorites…not that I would want anyone to actually reside in them, of course. Stay out of trouble, people!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: BOSSY (44A: [Like an overbearing big sister or brother]) – Hockey Hall of Famer Mike BOSSY was an integral member of the New York Islanders’ four consecutive Stanley Cup winning teams between 1980 and 1983. A natural goal scorer from his right wing position, Bossy became only the second player in NHL history to score at least 50 goals in his team’s first 50 games of a season, pulling off the feat during the 1980-81 season. Back problems forced Bossy into early retirement (played his last NHL game at age 30), and he ended his 10-year NHL career with 573 goals and 553 assists.
Thank you so much for your time! Now it’s time to blow out some birthday candles and TEAR OPEN some imaginary gift boxes (4D: [Rip into])!!