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.