Peter Collins’s New York Times crossword, “At the Halloween Play”—Amy’s write-up
It’s the last Sunday before Halloween so we have a playful holiday theme:
- 23a. [At the Halloween play, when the black cat appeared, the ___] AUDIENCE HISSED. People hiss at cats?? This is backwards.
- 36a. [… the skeleton gave a ___] BARE-BONES RENDITION.
- 48a. [… Frankenstein had ___] A VARIETY OF PARTS.
- 68a. [… the critics loved the witch’s performance, ___] WARTS AND ALL.
- 85a. [… the ghost had ___] NOBODY TO ACT WITH. This one is just weird. There is no requirement for ghosts to be solitary, if Beetlejuice is to be believed, and I think the “nobody” is referring to a ghost but it’s worded as if it’s about whoever isn’t in the play with the ghost … but hello, there’s a skeleton, Frankenstein(‘s monster), witch, vampire, and mummy. So this themer doesn’t fit. Also, “nobody to act with” doesn’t invoke anything I’m familiar with. It’s not as if we say the star of a one-performer play has “nobody to act with.”
- 92a. [… the vampire never ___] REFLECTED ON HIS ROLE. Because of the mirror thing for vampires.
- 117a. [… the mummy was a hit ___] AT THE WRAP PARTY. Cute.
Putting the theme aside, a few multi-word entries grated: “IT WAS I,” “IT’S WAR,” and END IN (which would work better with a FITB clue like [___ a tie] than with [Finish with]; I tried END ON first). There are some clunky single-word (or fragmentary) entries, like OSSE-, ANSE, GENL, and abbreviation pileups (ATM KHZ DMZ, RTE MRE). Also, metric abbreviations generally don’t take an S to form a plural; ten millimeters are 10 mm, not 10 MMS.
Five more things:
- 57a. [Most common U.S. street name, surprisingly], SECOND. Who knew? I’m sure I’ve seen this in a clue before but I didn’t remember it.
- 65a. [“Of course I remember you!,” often], LIE. Ha. Do you feel personally called out by this one?
- 108a. [Southern shade trees], LIVE OAKS. Nice botanical entry.
- 37d. [What you’re doing at every moment], AGING. With every crossword another 10 minutes or an hour closer to death! Thanks for the reminder.
- 4d. [Final destination, perhaps], POINT B. Wait. Is that death? A cemetery? See 37d.
Your musical accompaniment, in tribute to the monster mash-up in this theme, is a “Monster Mash” cover by drag star Sharon Needles.
Three stars from me.
Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword — “Change of Mate” – Jim Q’s Write-up
THEME: The word MEAT (or MATE depending on which revealer you’re looking at) can be found anagrammed within phrases.
- WHAT A MESS
- INCOME TAX RETURN
- CHARLOTTE AMALIE
- 60A [Holiday pie choice, and a hint to each starred answer’s anagrammed word] MINCE MEAT
I remember my parents warning me at Thanksgiving dinner one year when I was about seven or eight years old to stay away from the mince meat pie. I don’t know if they were concerned about the cleanliness of my aunt’s kitchen, as she had baked it, or if they just thought it was gross. Regardless, I’ve never had MINCE MEAT (I always thought it was “minced” meat).
The puzzle was one of those right-over-the-plate theme types that we see a lot of in Universal. I haven’t checked the web app, but I’m willing to bet circled letters are still not a thing, which they should be since they are circled in the puzzle that I solved (I’ve made the argument many a time that it’s a turn off- especially to newer solvers- to ask them to count and circle their own squares). However, this one may not suffer as badly as some have without the circles.
CHARLOTTE AMALIE was entirely new to me. Glad to have learned it, though. WHAT A MESS and INCOME TAX RETURN both neatly hide the MEAT/MATE anagram.
Favorite mistake was COCOA BUTTER (then COCO BUTTER) for COCONUT OIL [Natural skin moisturizer]. The misspelled COCO BUTTER and COCONUT OIL have a lot of common letters!
3.3 stars with circles. 3 stars without.
P.S. Now that I’m thinking about it, is “Change of Mate” an in-language phrase? If not, is it supposed to be wordplay on a common phrase? If so, what phrase is that?
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Metamorphosis” – Jim Q’s Write-up
This puzzle had a lot of bite. In more ways than one.
THEME: Famous people are “transformed” into hideous monsters from mysterious hidden things in the puzzle.
This is tough to lay out… so I think I’ll just describe rather than using the traditional clue/answer format.
- For 26A, the answer is TELESCOPIC HANDLER. However, the down answers crossing the C HANDLER part of that clue are missing a letter. GOLF CLAP, HURA, MISLABEL, EVILNESS, WEB MD, LYSOL, OEDIPUS, and UNRETIRE. The missing letters spell out FULL MOON. That clue also tells us to go check out 80 Across, where CHANDLER BING should be the correct answer. However, CHANDLER caught sight of the full moon and turned into WEREWOLF BING.
- For 15D, the answer is ATMOSPHERIC. However, the answers crossing the –ERIC part of that clue are missing some letters as well. They are BELA, IRAN, STINK, and FREE CDS. That BITE has been bestowed upon comedian ERIC ANDRE, who has transformed into ZOMBIE ANDRE.
- For 55A, The answer is INVIGORATING, yet the –IGOR– section of that clue is missing another BITE at the crossings from BISON, ORIGIN, ATONE, and LONER. And, of course poor IGOR STRAVINSKY at 108A has been turned into VAMPIRE STRAVINSKY.
This is brilliant. Just… out of this world. Think about all that had to go into this- find phrases with CHANDLER, IGOR, and ERIC in them, then find crosses that could accommodate funky rebus squares side by side, then include their metamorphosized name somewhere else. It’s stunning. All while maintaining a clean grid with rotational symmetry (a 21x grid with rotational symmetry is not all that common these days in the WaPo!)
Without a doubt, this took me much longer than usual- much of which had to do with solving on paper (my eyes ain’t what they used to be!) However, I enjoyed the challenge and the slow-build to the AHA. This is a theme that revealed itself bit by bit for me.
Lots of extra eeriness in the clues and fill to give it a truly haunting feel.
I stopped rating WaPo, but this is another 5+ Star puzzle.
Alan Olschwang’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “A Series of Missteps” — Jenni’s write-up
I’m not a huge fan of anagrams (although I do the Spelling Bee religiously. Go figure). I especially do not like anagrams in my puzzles (although I’ve now started doing cryptics. I blame Stella). An anagram-themed puzzle – with circles, no less – is my idea of Not A Good Time. If I hadn’t been committed to write this review, I would have abandoned the puzzle as soon as I realized what was going on. But here I am. The things I do for you.
Anyway. Each theme entry has an anagram of the word STRIDE (a series of missteps. Get it? Get it?). The check in the grid is where my typo was.
- 16d [It’s often passed at family meals] is a BUTTER DISH.
- 27a [Many an investment] is CALCULATED RISK. Either this needs an “a” or it should have been clued as [What the actuary did].
- 44a [MTV Video Music Award category] is BEST DIRECTION.
- 69a [Where many scenes are presented] is the THEATER DISTRICT.
- 76d [Records] is WRITES DOWN.
- 99a [Used one’s clout] is PULLED STRINGS.
- 119a [Freegan’s activity] is DUMPSTER DIVING.
Now I realize that the anagram spans (steps over?) both words in each theme answer. So it’s a feat of construction, I guess. That didn’t make it any more fun to solve.
A few other things:
- I looked up the Pepsi Challenge because I thought it was a dated clue for TASTE TEST. Turns out Pepsi resurrected in on social media in 2015, according to Wikipedia.
- One Asian currency unit in a puzzle is my limit. We have both RIEL and BAHT in this one. For USers who aren’t international money traders, these counts as crosswordese.
- I don’t know if I’m amused or annoyed to see PURLIEU. On the one hand, it’s a cool old word. On the other hand, it’s way obscure. Given the way I feel about the rest of the puzzle, I’m going with “annoyed.”
- Who else put in CHEER for [Stands sound] at 74d? It’s CHANT.
- I did like [“Holy moly!”] for YOWZA.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that GUAM is the largest of the Marianas. I’m sure Jim P was all over that one.
Christina Iverson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Double Elimination”—Jim P’s review
I love a good title and this one is spot on. Our theme consists of two-word phrases that have two of the same letter eliminated, and the original phrase and modified phrase are put together to form one wackified entry.
- 23a. [Wrestler’s calculation to determine how old an opponent is? (hint: notice the C’s)] CAGE MATCH AGE MATH
- 36a. [Person who’s a little bit nice? (… A’s)] KINDA SORTA KIND SORT. This one feels like a little bit of a cheat.
- 53a. [Deity of long, thin pretzels? (… L’s)] ROLD GOLD ROD GOD
- 79a. [Drive-through pub for ’80s plush toys? (… E’s)] CARE BEAR CAR BAR. A drive-through pub would probably do well in the time of COVID…aside from the whole “drinking and driving” thing.
- 92a. [Solar system that God is smoothing? (… T’s)] THE PLANETS HE PLANES. I’m not bothered by the use of the definite article since I view it as referring to Holst’s classical composition.
- 109a. [Jacket that got soaked in Seattle, say? (… S’s)] WEST COAST WET COAT
Beautiful execution in this consistent theme. Each one has good surface sense while still being silly, and the clues capture each entry without being unduly awkward. All in all, a fun easy-to-grok theme that delivers with each entry. Brava!
I’m loving the long fill too, especially MCMANSIONS, CINEPHILES, and “ALL Y’ALL.” Also good: ZENITHS, ASHTRAY, “RUMOR IS…” (although “rumor has it” feels more in-the-language), “THAT, TOO,” “I RECKON SO,” SWEET TALK, and DEAD AIM. Such good stuff!
Clues of note:
- 6a. [“Really, though?”]. “IS IT?” I can hear the sarcasm in the clue. I love it.
- 59a. [Peak such as the Zugspitze]. ALP. Hey! I been there. Twice. The U.S. military owns a hotel/resort in the nearby Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen—basically a place for families to get in a little mountain R&R time. The Zugspitze gondola takes passengers up the mountain in record-breaking style.
- 10d. [Workers whose numbers are declining?]. BEES. I haven’t figured out why there’s a ? in the clue. Is there some weird meaning of “declining” I don’t know about? Do BEES numb you when they sting you? Dunno. Regardless, did you see the first murder hornet nest was found and removed from Washington state?
- 103d. [Metal in a ferrous wheel?]. IRON. Ha!
Fun puzzle from start to finish. 4.25 stars.
Amy… I see it as “the ghost had no body to act with” play on words… can’t do a play without a body, no?
that’s how I interpreted it as well.
NYT – I wondered if 85A was meant to be read NO BODY TO ACT WITH.
I found the “audience hissed” answer more grating than the ghost (which I agree is no body, because incorporeal). Cats only hiss when angry, not when black, and that doesn’t explain the audience. Unless they were all cat haters? But its not the same kind of punny reference as the others.
I also realized I’m not used to seeing detoo. It’s either R2D2 or Artoo, but not the full name spelled out. Wanted to put deetoo but there wasn’t room.
I thought of the audience at a pantomime booing or hissing when the bad guy appears. A black cat in a Halloween play may well be up to no good.
LAT – I kept looking for a clue down near the bottom referring to “breaking stride”. Didn’t find one. I did realize what word was being anagrammed early on, and had to use that fact several times to get me over some unfamiliar territory. I like when this happens.
My main complaint about the NYT was the crossing of mme and mms in the first five seconds of solving. That seemed inelegant if not close to a dupe. Just didn’t sit well. I actually enjoyed the Halloween play silliness.
I was happy to learn about toro, which I hadn’t known before. (I live in an area with a lot of Toro references, but meaning bulls not fat tunas) Now it makes sense why my co-in-laws (Asian) named their plump chihuahua Toro.
I thought the WaPo was too clever by half. It may be a great feat of construction, but it was a slog to solve.
I agree. A tremendous feat of construction – not a very satisfying solve. Give me a good, tough Birnholz themeless any day.
WaPo: This is the first puzzle from Evan–and I’ve loved them all–that absolutely defeated me. I floundered trying to figure out what was happening. I never could and had to give up. Even Jim Q’s write-up didn’t really clear up for me what was going on. Having filled out VAMPIRESTRAVINSKY at 108 across, I still made no progress. Probably my brain at a low ebb and not able to think outside the box. I’m sure this was a great construction feat–not sure there is such a thing as “too clever”–but I just couldn’t do it. Sorry, Evan.
I agree that this was an incredibly clever puzzle, but I found it confusing to solve. Maybe if the double letter squares were highlighted or something, or if the instructions about “transforming” had made it really, really obvious what that meant? I also found it confusing that two of the three answers were BITE; CHANDLER/FULLMOON and BITE/IGOR were the first two I got. I didn’t think BITE would be used again, and I was unfamiliar with ERICANDRE so I was completely stymied. I think a hint that a duplicate was happening would have helped here.
Evan, I always appreciate your creativity and it is really incredible you were able to find something like CHANDLER/FULLMOON and put it into a puzzle.
Seems to be a pretty polarized crowd today between people who loved my puzzle and people who hated it. I seem to be getting that a lot lately which is disconcerting.
While I am sympathetic about having a tough time with this puzzle and not knowing who Eric Andre is, I’m not convinced that I should have hinted at the fact that I duplicated BITE. I went with that twice because I felt that was the best way to describe the transformations into vampires and zombies. There are only a small handful of classic Halloween monsters that in popular lore came to be because of a specific transformation. A person might turn into a DEMON because of POSSESSION, but then you saw how hard it was to hide an eight-letter name in an unrelated phrase; a 10-letter name was likely impossible. I couldn’t do JEKYLL using a POTION to turn into HYDE because there just aren’t any phrases that hide JEKYLL. Something like DEATH turning someone into a MUMMY or a GHOUL felt like a copout, and in any case, DEATH pretty much explains the ZOMBIE transformation too.
With respect, this puzzle was a bit of a slog. Nobody here was able to solve it without help.
Many, I expect, including me, solved it without help.
I thought it was awesome. Yes, it was difficult to figure out, but geez, why not? Relish the challenge and keep on truckin’ man. Beats the hell out of the other end of the spectrum – the ones you fill out in 90 seconds without seeing half the clues. The whole emphasis doesn’t HAVE to be speed. Or ease of solve. It was fun piecing together the clues to come up with the theme! Slog? Not at all. Slow? maybe. But so what?
I agree with you completely. It was fun being completely lost as to what was going on and then having it slowly dawn on me. First, figuring it had to be a rebus puzzle (the Lugosi clue), then figuring it had to do with first names (the Rite of Spring clue), and then putting two and two together using the puzzle title, with Halloween next weekend. I actually liked that the puzzle didn’t use circles to highlight the rebus squares, since it made it more fun to look for the first names (two of which I didn’t know – I never watched Friends) in the longer answers.
I also liked all the extra “Halloween-ish” clues/answers (ERIE, BELA, INDIE) to go along with the theme.
I couldn’t get the solution to work in across lite app. Didn’t like it at all. No fun at all when the tool you work with doesn’t work. Btw, couldn’t get to the paper copy url and figured the app should be ok.
I can see why Amy found the NYT theme disappointing in execution. I pretty much agree. Maybe it’s a weakness inherent in the theme itself.
Whenever there’s a punning theme, of course, there’s always the risk that only some solvers will be smiling, while others will find it forced or just routine. But most often, such a theme plays with idiomatic phrases, adjusting them to the subject at hand. Here they’re mostly, maybe even entirely not idioms at all. Rather, the pun comes from building theme phrases that more or less roll off the tongue by crossing something about a cast and something about a Halloween character. If we’re not all smiling, that distinction may help explain why? No big deal, as the solve went just fine, just not all that rewarding.
NTY: I was done in by VACA and NITTI crossing LIVE OAKS. A language I don’t speak and a historical figure I’ve yet to encounter, crossing a species of tree I’ve neither seen nor heard of. Yikes. I took a guess on LACE OAK (I mean, why not? There are lace ferns or something, I think) and CACA, which made the most sense to my understanding of cows, and NITTA, which is a fairly common Asian surname where I live. I’ll get ’em next time. :(
EDIT: I just remembered: I was once on a bus that broke down in Vacaville, California, delaying my visit to a friend in Palo Alto. When I explained to the friend’s roomie what happened, she muttered, “Cow town.” I thought it was a qualitative comment on Vacaville, but maybe she was just translating. Now I really will get it right next time.
Cabeza de Vaca‘s name seems quite memorable to me. I suspect most US kids learn about him sometime in elementary school.
That’s a good one too — I remember the name from eighth grade history, but my teacher must have skipped over its meaning! :)
Don’t think I ever came across his name until I was an adult living in San Antonio. Back in 2011, I created a geocache around the River Walk with a lot of history built in. To find the cache, players have to walk around the River Walk searching for historical clues to get the answers they need. At one point, players have to input the English translation of “Cabeza de Vaca.” There is no answer to be found nearby; my idea was that players had to find a Spanish-speaking local who could translate. (This was back before everyone had a translator in their pockets.) The answer of course is “head of a cow.” The geocache is still active (actually, it’s a special kind of geocache, called a whereigo cache), but alas, it’s for “premium” members only.
Universal Sunday: I wish I could agree with Jim P’s take on Chrstina’s puzzle. True there was some great fill. But, the themers seemed arbitrary, absurd and not funny at all. For example, ROLDGOLDRODGOD. What is a “rod god?” THEPLANETSHEPLANES?? Huh? The others were similarly awkward. I understand how the double elimination worked but am not sure it was worth the construction and solving efforts. Didn’t work for me at all. Sorry, Christina.
I appreciate your respectful disagreement; I know we all won’t like the same puzzles all the time.
I probably could have mentioned that it had to have been very difficult to find phrases that (1) have exactly two of the same letter, (2) those two letters can be removed and still leave something intelligible, and (3) when the old and new phrases are put together they have a decent amount of surface sense. They won’t all be comedic gold, but given those constraints, I felt they only needed to get close. It was probably this that impressed me the most and I should have mentioned it.
Sunday LAT – Cab category = REDS
There was no indication that the key word in this clue was an ABBREV.
Merely makes it a bit trickier.
I wouldn’t mind it if it didn’t cross with “steres.”
Phil said it well. Bad enuf for poor Igor to be a vampire. I was unhappy as soon as i saw Bela and only 3 spaces. Never heard of golf clap or Eric Andre or Hura. Managed to almost get it but wrote Turk not Serb so King not ring. Anyway, not as much fun as usual…above my pay grade, I guess.
Maybe I should find a book of NYT Sunday’s. I’d find them infinitely more satisfying and finish them more quickly than doing battle with this mess!
With the suggestion to print out the WaPo puzzle, I figured there would either be multiple letters or a word per square or something outside the grid so I was prepared for some funkiness in the fill. It was when I reached “golf clap” (oddly did that as a joke with someone the other day before working on this puzzle), that I realized it was going to be multiple letters per square. From there it just became the issue of figuring out how many of the squares were doubled up when I didn’t know the names exactly (except Igor).
I thoroughly enjoyed this fill. The only thing that mildly irked me was the double usage of “bite”, but as Evan mentions above: there aren’t many usable alternatives. And to compound that is the minor nitpick in that full moon doesn’t make someone a werewolf. They have to be bitten first. :P