The Fireball puzzle is still on summer vacation.
Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review
I did not like this puzzle, and I am going to say why. I will do my best to be respectful and thoughtful, but if negative critiques are not your thing, you may want to skip this one.
It’s Robert De Niro’s birthday today! Oh, wait, no. It’s Robert De Niro’s birthday tomorrow! August 17th won’t be a Monday-Thursday until 2020, so rather than wait until 8/17/2020, Will decided to publish this a day early.
Anyway, ROBERT / DE NIRO [With 65-Across, subject of this puzzle, born 8/17/1943]. Here are some things about him:
- 1a, CASINO [64-/65-Across work of 1995].
- 7a, THE FAN [64-/65-Across work of 1996].
- 18a, GOODFELLAS [64-/65-Across work of 1990].
- 34a, RAGING BULL [64-/65-Across work of 1980].
- 40a, DEER HUNTER [64-/65-Across work of 1978, with “The”].
- 53a, TAXI DRIVER [64-/65-Across work of 1976].
- 10d, FILM STUDIO [Employer of 64-/65-Across].
- 25d, COMEDY CLUB [Venue for a 64-/65-Across movie of 2016].
In some ways, this puzzle is tremendously ambitious:
- There is So Much Theme Content. Eight theme answers plus ROBERT and DENIRO is a tremendous amount of theme for a 15×15 puzzle.
- The four corners of the puzzle are very wide open (which, for what it’s worth, is necessitated by having the 6/6 revealer in the bottom row).
- There is some good fill in places: I liked BURRITO, OBERLIN, ORLANDO, and STARDOM.
In many other ways, this puzzle does not work:
- The long down answers did not need to be theme answers whatsoever, except insofar as the amount of theme content is meant to overawe the solver.
- The amount of theme masks the fact that the theme is merely “things about Robert De Niro,” a type of theme Will Shortz almost always summarily rejects.
- Releasing the puzzle the day before De Niro’s birthday diminishes the puzzle’s timeliness, which is one of the few main things it has going for it.
- Having THE FAN but a “The”-less DEER HUNTER is inelegant.
- Having a 6:2 film:not-a-film ratio of theme answers is inelegant.
- FILM STUDIO and COMEDY CLUB are strange, if defensible, choices for the not-a-film theme answers.
- Choosing mostly De Niro’s best and most famous films, but then also THE FAN and an oblique reference to the widely panned 2016 The Comedian is inelegant.
- Stuffing the puzzle so full of theme answers that the rest of the fill has to contain things like EDD and ABIE and NONS and ALGA and ITER and OISE and ENTR’ and TRAX and BIER and the partial SADR etc. etc., is inelegant.
I don’t know whether there was any version of this puzzle I would have enjoyed. The idea of “here are eight symmetrical things about a timely celebrity” gets tiresome in a 15×15 puzzle (to say nothing of a 21×21 — I’m looking at you, every 100th anniversary puzzle). If, perhaps, there had been an interesting commonality among a few of DE NIRO‘s movie titles, that might have been a nice jumping-off point for this puzzle. But I don’t see what’s interesting about listing six or eight of about a hundred titles of a man whose birthday is tomorrow except, maybe, being reminded of a time before De Niro’s career took a swift zag into Dirty Grandpa-land.
Until next time!
Caleb Rasmussen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Pop-Up Books”—Laura’s review
This was an interesting solve, particularly for someone whose day job is all about books, and very tough in some spots. Oh! Jim P. is on vacation — that’s why I’ve covered a few WSJ puzzles for him lately. Soon he’ll return the favor.
[20a: Posthumously published novel that features a trip to Bath]: NORTHANGE <pop-up> ERAB <turn right> BBEY
[36a: 1951 novel with a phony-spotting narrator]: THE CATCHER IN THE <pop-up> ERYE
[63a: 1960 book written with only 50 different words]: GREE <pop-up> NEG <turn right> GGS AND HAM
We have three novel titles that pop-up into the grid, one of which completes itself with the pop-up (with a beautiful reversed character name of someone who is in the title of the book for which she is the heroine and it is one of the best novels of all time, don’t @ me), and the other two of which take another turn into nonsense (on their own) entries in the grid, clued as [CLUED ELSEWHERE]. My thoughts? 36a was so lovely and perfect; I would’ve liked to see the same elegance with the other themers. But I love the concept. So, yeah — I knew 20a would be an Austen novel — pretty much everyone in the Austenverse ends up in Bath at some point. My fave of hers, Persuasion, is mostly set in Bath, and it was also published posthumously, like Northanger Abbey (think, just think, about what she could’ve done had she access to modern medical care). Moving on to Mr. J. D. Salinger, famous local New Hampshire recluse who in his senescence used to haunt my place of employment and once — I shit you not — asked me to help him with the copier, because none of those other phonies would. In a feat of regional coincidence, our next author is Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, after whom the medical school at my place of employment is named (I mean, he isn’t even a real doctor). This one was tougher because it could’ve been any one of his famed limited-word tomes (okay, The Cat in the Hat has 236 words).
And wow, did I have some tough spots with the fill. That’s why I’ve posted my time as “untimed.” I had to run the alphabet at the [61a: Opposite of full]: NEW and [52d: Hellbender’s cousin]: NEWT crossing. Didn’t know, but wasn’t surprised, that STREISAND was the [33d: Only artist to have a #1 album in every decade since the 1960s].
Hope to see many of you folks at Lollapuzzoola! Please say “hi”! I’ll leave you with some funky. [50a: “Pop That ___” (Isley Brothers song)]: THANG.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “PO Boxes” — Ben’s Review
Based on today’s title, I figured the BEQ Thursday puzzle was going to have rebus squares (“PO boxes”), but it turns out I was wrong:
- 16A: Beverage that doesn’t make you act like a jerk when you get drunk? — POLITE BEER
- 22A: Beijing hair product? — POMADE IN CHINA
- 43A: Tournament for hicks? — PODUNK CONTEST
- 52A: Event to get the really good weed? — POTENT SALE
LITE BEER, MADE IN CHINA, DUNK CONTEST, and TENT SALE are all things/phrases, and they become goofier phrases when you stick PO in front of them.
Other fill notes:
- “Place for some Bears touchdowns”: instantly knew this was OHARE
- I’d much rather have a clue for DIGIT than DIG IT. Just me.
- PSA: as someone with a solid STEM education, you know what helped me be a better-rounded engineer: a Humanities requirement from my college. We need both!
- There’s no proof that the PALEO DIET has any basis in how our ancestors actually ate.
- “Sink hole” is such a lovely, concise clue for DRAIN
- “Goes overboard with the horse” feels like a really trashy clue for ODS.
- I don’t think of someone who’s CATTY as being “subtly cruel”. There’s usually no subtlety to that sort of thing.
Please enjoy this song from noted 80s band The Lice
Bruce Haight’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
What I appreciated most in this plus-sized (16-tall) grid is the design. Many puzzles with corner themes are too ambitious with the design of said corners, causing the puzzle to go to hell in a handbasket. This one makes them into four self-contained areas, which limits the damage somewhat. My puzzle didn’t have circles, but I added them, since without them, the effect is difficult to appreciate. BOXED/WINES (or as the KIWIs call them, chateau cardboard) are found in four corners. The rest of the puzzle plays out as a two-day early themeless, for better or worse.
- [__ Wars: Rome vs. Carthage], PUNIC. I know those were the combatants, but why does this clue make it sound like some terrible reality show?
- [Bond film?], GLUE. Primo clue.
- [Juicy fruit], BERRY. Peak 80’s!
- [Threaded fastener], HEXNUT to go with [___ wrench], ALLEN in a screwy mini-theme…
Agree with the shortcomings of theme. I’m also prone to be biased against trivia puzzles like this, since I’m just left thinking “Wow, if someone didn’t know a lot of the names of these movies (Very Likely for a younger solver), this would be completely undoable.” That seems undesirable.
“(Very Likely for a younger solver)” – or this older one.
I did like the LEOPOLD/ORLANDO juxtaposition. Two cool names, right there.
I assume this is because it is De Niro’s 75th birthday? (Did not like the puzzle, especially since it took away a crunchy Thursday – my favorite day – puzzle, but the 75 may be a reason why this was run this week?)
I mean, yes, that’s definitely this puzzle’s raison d’être. It’s just not much of a raison.
You know whose birthday it really is today? Madonna! She’s sixty!
How do I know this? Because she’s featured on the front page of the NYT! (The online edition, I mean).
NYT: a bad puzzle made even worse by the crossing of 41-down and 48-across. A total Natick for me, and I’m presuming many others.
Yup. Never heard of either TRAX or ABIE. The crossing was pretty guessable, so I got it right, but it’s still awful.
I just don’t understand Will’s attachment to puzzles with high theme density and bad fill. Unless it’s a metapuzzle, to heck with that.
I like the idea of the NYT. I think there is too much theme material. I would have been happy moving 64a to 1a and keeping 18a, 34a, 40a, and 53a as the films. Maybe use an 18×18 grid so The Godfather Part II can be a central spanner?
WSJ theme made up for, or indeed in time made it finally possible to find enough crossings to solve, some annoying fill like the Walton, the Isley brothers, and The Dukes of Hazzard. I didn’t know “hellbender” either, but at least that’s something I’m happy to learn.
Any hints to 55 down’s meaning. It’s totally over my head:
None of these compute for me.
As in (;)
“Are we agreed on robbing this bank?
I am in, you are in, he is in…
OK, we’re all in”
NYT: I’ll just marginally point out 5d [Milk choice] NON FAT / 12d [French refusals] NONS.
It’s an adjective!
That was a lightbulb that wouldn’t turn on.
Today’s review highlights for me why I have always preferred the old NYT Forum to any of the blogs. IMO, the blog has an impact on the solver’s opinion. If Andy’s critique had been a post, I would have totally accepted it for what it is: an insightful well-considered analysis. As a blog, I do not like what I believe to be the fact that the blog influences the solver.
I am a movie buff, so this was an extremely easy solve for me. The young DeNiro was one of our greatest actors; the older comedic DeNiro, not so much. I found it funny that The Godfather II (could that spelling have been an entry), DeNiro’s greatest film along with Raging Bull and The Deer Hunter, was not included.
I don’t know why you’re even reading Fiend, then. We’ve got over a dozen people writing about the puzzles here, and their analyses SHOULD carry some weight since they’ve all been thinking about and writing about crosswords for some time (if not constructing and editing them too).
Steve isn’t saying, I don’t think, that the reviewers’ analyses shouldn’t carry weight; in fact he praises them, but thinks they carry too much weight. I’m not sure what that means or why it’s a problem. Your site conceals the reviews very well, so one doesn’t have to look at them until one finishes a puzzle. It’s also designed so that one can read one review and save others until later, though of course one can’t do that with the letters. Like Steve, I liked today’s NYT puzzle a lot. I love tribute puzzles and movie puzzles. I’ve seen brilliant commemorative puzzles get low ratings here, and don’t attribute the low rating to Andy’s review at all. I totally expected it; it’s always that way.
Deniro in his prime was great art
WSJ: Super theme. I knew 20A, so the jig was up (ha!) right away. The books were each very different from one another, and it must have taken quite a bit of work to make them fit properly. I’ve read Catcher twice; once in HS and then much later, a year or so ago. I understood it a lot better as an older adult.
I knew hellbender, although I have never seen one, but I read about them somewhere and they are all kinds of cool.
Loved this one!
Abie is the male lead role in “Abie Irish Rose” a play about a Jewish man and his love….an Irish woman named Rose….and all their difficulties. Quite dated and most likely to be unpc now
Judging from the summary of the critical response in the play’s Wikipedia entry, it sounds like it was considered horribly tasteless even in its time.
And yet it was remade, essentially, in the 70s for TV as Bridget Loves Bernie.
In fairness, Wikipedia says that “Abie’s Irish Rose” was wildly popular with audiences–just despised by critics. My favorite excerpt from the criticisms: “People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success.”
Was that HL Mencken’s take?
Yes, I was waiting to see whether the answer would be “ABIE” or “ROSE,” since I had the “E.”
Let me say first that I thought Andy’s review of today’s NYT puzzle was excellent. I’m sorry he didn’t like the puzzle, but he gave good reasons why, and he was respectful of the constructor.
I liked the puzzle, because a) it is timely, and it is about one of the most admired actors in Hollywood, b) the sheer amount of theme material packed into the grid was amazing, and c) all things considered, the construction was really pretty solid. Of course, there were a few more crosswordy answers than usual, but that’s understandable given the constraints.
While it’s nice for a tribute puzzle to appear on the exactly appropriate day, I don’t have a problem with one appearing a day or two before. News stories often look ahead to coming events. I think a puzzle can, too.
Also, as a general matter, I don’t think every Thursday crossword has to have a trick or gimmick. Variety in themes is nice, too. I like occasional change-ups.
Anyway, for those of you who didn’t care for today’s puzzle — and there are a lot of you — I’m sorry.
There will be a new puzzle tomorrow.