Brandon Koppy’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
I think this is a debut puzzle, and I really wish someone had advised the constructor to be a little less ambitious. Ten thematic answers and a 76-word grid with wide-open corners … and here we have too much iffy fill for my taste. I’d much rather have four themers plus a revealer, or five themers without, and more breathing room for smoother fill. Brandon, you show definite talent here, and I think you can make a really smooth puzzle if you rein in that urge to pack the puzzle with theme.
I like the theme idea: FLIP-FLOPS are 63a. [Questionable political moves suggested by the answers to the nine starred clues], and those nine answers are legit phrases or compound words made by flip-flopping the two halves of what’s clued. For example, 17a. [*Principle of international economic pacts] clues FAIR TRADE but the entry is a TRADE FAIR, which is sort of a business expo. And 40d. [*Residence in a row] clues TOWNHOME but the answer is HOMETOWN. MAN CAVE, PACKRAT, HEAD-BUTT, TAKES OUT, OVERPASS, GLASS EYE, and HOUSECAT are the other themers. There are a bunch of other non-theme answers that are also 7 or 8 letters long, which makes it a little harder to zoom in on the *ed themers. APPLE PAY and the game FORTNITE were crisp new(ish) entries, though.
In the debit column, we have SIEG, clued as [Victory, in German], but quite tasteless in a society where anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism are ascendant. (49d ANTIFA is fighting these forces.) I was so jarred to find SIEG in the grid, I literally stopped solving and, for a few long moments, contemplated just not continuing the puzzle. (Left the clock running on solving time.) Yes, it’s a German vocab word, but it’s one that most Americans who haven’t studied German know only from the “Sieg Heil” Nazi salute.
Also not so keen on crosswordese OGEE, SOLI, I ATE, RLS, QEII, plural abbrev ESQS.
Three more things:
- Lots of ways to word your PTAS clues without using “pop” when PTAS crosses POP TAB in the grid. [Mom-and-pop grps.] isn’t ideal here.
- 24a. [Old Chrysler], LEBARON. When the crossword is still paying respects to the MODEL A, REO, and EDSEL, it’s cute to see a car that ended production in 1994 called “old.” (Not saying it’s inaccurate, just surprised by the clue.) Memo to constructors: Might be good to remove LEBARON, CIERA, and ALERO from your word lists, though.
- 1a. [Emanuel of Democratic politics], RAHM. Hah. He realized how tough it would be to win reelection again, after sitting on the video of Laquan McDonald’s death until after his last election, and is not seeking another term as Chicago’s mayor. Not sure how much of a future he has in Democratic politics.
3.5 stars from me.
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Check Your Glasses” — Jim P’s review
Thanksgiving festivities are almost here, and AES reminds us to make sure our drinkware is ready to go.
The grid has left-right symmetry; that’s the first thing you notice. The second thing you might notice is that huge cup-shaped group of blocks in the center. You might notice that, but I didn’t. I was thinking of something else (I’ll get to that in a minute), and I somehow skipped the title.
The rest of the theme is made up of people, fictional or not, who might see that cup as something in particular.
- 13d [Group who may see a holy grail in this grid] MONTY PYTHON. Indiana Jones might fall in this category as well.
- 14a [Boy who may see a goblet of fire in this grid] HARRY POTTER. From the fourth book, Harry Potter and the One Where Robert Pattinson Dies.
- 23a [Film star who may see a silver chalice in this grid] PAUL NEWMAN. No idea on this one. The film, The Silver Chalice, was Newman’s debut. But he later called it, “the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s.” No wonder it’s so little-known.
- 25a [Person who may see an ace of cups in this grid] CARD READER. Hmm. To me, a CARD READER is a device which will read a credit card, SD card, or similar. A quick Google glance shows that the term “tarot reader” is far more prevalent. The other problem with it is that all the others are specifically-named people; this one is general.
I guess since I’m none of these people, I didn’t see any of those things. I didn’t even really see the cup, as I said. Right before I did this puzzle I was watching videos about how to spatchcock a turkey, what with the impending holiday. So me, I saw a spatchcocked turkey which included both the upper and lower sets of blocks in the grid. Right? You see it too, now, right? Don’t lie to me.
How did the rest of the grid treat you? Mostly good, I’d say, but there are a couple questionables. I like SISTER ACT and HAS ON HAND, but their placement sure has them looking like they’d be theme entries. Also good: MENORAH, OPEN ERA, NO WISER, GOT REAL, and BLUE HEN.
SO DOPE [Way cool] doesn’t sound so dope to me. It sounds either dated or just not in-the-language. But then, I’m not one who’s up on the latest slang. I WANT TO [“Count me in!”] also feels off, and it was tough to parse with the crossing AWL [Gimlet’s cousin] and LAU [Batting coach Charley, who wrote “The Art of Hitting .300”].
The rest of the grid felt pretty clean and smooth.
But for me, CARD READER is a serious outlier since it’s so inconsistent with the others. I’m good with the theme idea and the construction in general, but I think that one needed a replacement.
Byron Walden’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #32” — Ben’s Review
It’s a themeless week at the AVCX, which is great as someone who’s in the midst of holiday travel. This one was a Byron Walden themeless, which meant that it was off of my usual wavelength and gave me way more to chew on than usual without the footholds I needed.
- LOTS of names that are out of my wheelhouse this puzzle: Judith RESNIK, PJ SOLES, PABLO (the penguin from the Backyardigans), and JOHN AMOS.
- Some nice big fill in the grid: FOR PETE’S SAKE and PRETTY IN PINK on the down, NOVELTY CHECK (“Big bucks?”) and COMMON SAYING on the acrosses
- I had to perform “Geographical Fugue” as a high-schooler for an all-conference choir and it’s burned a lot of facts about Lake TITICACA and the other sites it lists in my brain as a result.
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
STARTUP/CAPITAL has a few new wrinkles on a frequently mined theme source – capitals, particularly European ones. It has a clever revealer, and I don’t recall seeing them hidden at the beginnings before either. We get two full names, political BERNIESANDERS and fictional ROMEOMONTAGUE (who is more usually represented mononymously). I’ve never heard of a RIGATONIPIE but it Googles well; I may try making one, which I have done with other unfamiliar cuisine items…
Not too much other splashy stuff, CC often manages to fit quite a lot of other lively answers. [Amazon Echo’s voice assistant], ALEXA is modern, but feels like will get overused, fast… On the other hand, very little in the way of weird abbreviations, plurals and the like, a squeaky clean grid.