Wednesday, December 2, 2015

NYT 5:24 (Erin) 


WSJ 13:59 (Jim) 


BuzzFeed 4:24 (Amy) 


AV Club 9:36 (Ben) 


LAT 3:38 (Gareth) 


CS 12:11 (Ade) 


Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 2 15, no 1202

NY Times crossword solution, 12 2 15, no 1202

Wednesday seems to be the day of silly twists on related words and phrases. Today’s involves OUT OF THIS WORLD PUNS involving astronomy terms:

  • 17a. [Easy two semesters at school?] LIGHTYEAR
  • 25a. [Lech Walesa, for one?] POLESTAR
  • 36. [Attire during an X-ray exam?] RADIATIONBELT
  • 51a. [Lenin, say?] REDGIANT
  • 61. [Fabulous deli delicacy?] SUPERNOVA

Three of these are fantastic and accessible. A LIGHT YEAR with a few EASYAs (not in the grid, but used in crosswords often enough) is something many students would hope for. Vladimir Lenin would definitely count as a RED GIANT. Can’t say I’m a huge lox fan, but I’m sure there are people who go from deli to deli looking for some SUPER NOVA. After those, it falls apart a bit. I did not recognize the term POLE STAR (it’s a star like the North Star that is close to the Earth’s axis so it can be seen year-round from one of the planet’s poles), but after it was in the grid I was able to infer its meaning. I don’t tend to think of political figures as stars, though, so that was a stretch. RADIATION BELT didn’t ring a bell at all for me. There are X-ray protective belts that cover just the reproductive organs, so it makes sense as a pun, but I could not recall the term or infer its meaning.

Other than AJAM  and AHIGH at the top of the grid, the fill was solid. I loved LUNA / MOTH because they’re gorgeous. The pop culture references seem to skew on the less recent side, save ALLISON Janney and ANGELINA Ballerina. I recommend not introducing Angelina to young children. She is a little prima donna and there are much better role models out there. Luna moths, on the other hand, are awesome.


Alan DerKazarian’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Rough Around the Edges” — Jim’s review

Constructor Alan DerKazarian has filled today’s WSJ puzzle with incendiary language. I, for one, won’t stand for this.

Of course you know, this means WARS!

Specifically, BORDER WARS, as identified by 45- and 25-Down. (Yes, that’s a really strangely placed set of revealers. I can only assume that Alan tried multiple grids and this gave the best result. So, we’ll go with it.)

In case you haven’t noticed, the perimeter of the grid is lined with words that can precede the word WAR. They are each clued as if they have nothing to do with WAR, thus masking the theme for a while.

WSJ - Wed, Dec 2, 2015 - "Rough Around the Edges"

WSJ – Wed, Dec 2, 2015 – “Rough Around the Edges”

  • Top: COLD [Far away, in a children’s game], FLAME [Sweetheart], and BOER [Afrikaner’s ancestor].
  • Left: CIVIL [Polite], GULF [Deep divide], DRUG [Put under].
  • Right: RACE [Candidate’s focus], TURF [Yard material], PROXY [Web server type].
  • Bottom: GANG [Work crew], PRICE [Star of 1953’s “House of Wax”] (That’s Vincent PRICE, BTW), HOLY [Word with cow or smokes].

A nice collection of theme answers and clues. I especially like COLD‘s clue; it took me a while to sort out and gave me a not-unsatisfying “Duh!” moment.

It’s worth noting that most of these are just phrases except for BOER WAR and GULF WAR which are actual events. COLD WAR is a phrase that became the moniker for a historical era.

DRUG WAR made me pause. I normally hear “War on Drugs”, but south of the border, it’s the Mexican DRUG WAR.

Crazy Joe Davola in a “Seinfeld” episode

I have never made one of these BORDER-type grids, but I hear tell it’s a bear to work with, especially in the corners where you have constraints on two sides. No doubt this is the reason for such challenging fill as IVEY at 14A [Judith with two Best Featured Actress Tonys] and RIDI at 58A [“___, Pagliaccio!” (“Vesti la giubba” lyric)]. We also get MASC crossing ERST in the NE, though the SE escapes relatively unscathed, despite the X in PROXY (which results in the nice inclusion of STAX records).

Probably not the SERENER Williams

There’s more less-than-desirable fill such as UNROBES (instead of the more normal DISROBES), ENTRE, ONE L, partials LET NO and AS OUR, and awkward SERENER (which sounds like how a Brit might say the first name of a certain Williams sister).

But I’m willing to look past all that because of the number and choices of theme entries and the constraint they place on the grid. Plus we do get some good stuff like BOMBARDED (adding to the WAR theme nicely), TERABYTE, DRUNKARDSUDOKU with the good clue [Digital poser], and HOUDINI with the brilliant clue [He got out a lot].

The Lone Cypress in Monterey, CA

I’m not sure about the clue for SWAMP (51A [Cypress setting]). Are cypresses known for growing in SWAMPs? When I think cypress, I think of The Lone Cypress on 17-Mile-Drive in Monterey, CA. Also, I never heard the phrase [Trial balloon] which is the clue for 57A FEELER. So I needed all the crossings for that.

I also didn’t know AGITATO or TO MORNING, so those were near the last to fall.

Overall, a very good grid despite some constraints and tougher fill. A few challenging clues made the solution that much sweeter. 4 stars from me.

If you didn’t know, as I didn’t, “RIDI, Pagliaccio!” translates to “Laugh, Clown!” The aria “Vesti la giubba” occurs as Canio the clown discovers the tragedy of his wife’s infidelity  yet must prepare himself for a performance. He must turn his inner tragedy into outward comedy. Check out Pavarotti’s rockin’ performance:

If you want a laugh, click the Joe Davola clown picture above, then watch this fan-made video:

Seth Geltman and Jeff Chen’s AVCX crossword, “Spare Parts” — Ben’s Review


Spare Parts

I thought today’s AV Club puzzle was so fantastic I’m willing to overlook that it felt a little harder, structure-wise, than the 2/5 difficulty rating they sent out with it.  This was more of a 3 or a 3.5 there, but the general idea of a RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE (as pointed out by the circled letters in the puzzle) was pretty great:

  • 36A: STEP A) Start up the ___ laser, which burns through some… — RUBY 
  • 3D: STEP B)…___, which split open, dumping miniature…  — GARBAGE BAGS 
  • 25A: STEP C) …___, which smash into a papier-mache… — GOLD BRICKS
  • 27D: STEP D) …___, sending a puff of air into a… — BERG
  • 40A: STEP E) …___, which slides into the laser, diverting its beam with a clean line across your… — BIG MAC
  • 41D: STEP F) … ___, alighting finally on a tube of … — CHIN
  • 49A: STEP G) …___, which drips down to soothe your face.  Simple as that! — VASELINE
  • 62A: Apt Facebook status for this puzzle’s subject — IT’S COMPLICATED

It’s definitely complicated, with the way the theme clues are a little more strewn through the grid than usual (which definitely made getting the cross clues or doing some paging back and forth to remember the previous parts of the machine necessary), but I loved the overall craziness of what was going on.

Elsewhere in the puzzle, I learned that my blood type (B NEG, 30A) is shared by only 2% of people, and that I should trust my crosswordese instincts when it comes to both “Vintage Olds cars” (32A), which are REOS, of course, and the “Best Picture of 1970” (66A), which is PATTON.

I’m still really wowed by the construction of this one, even if it was a little more complicated than I expected.

4/5 stars.

Mary Lou Guizzo’s BuzzFeed crossword, “Do This Puzzle On A Whim!”—Amy’s write-up

BuzzFeed crossword solution, 12 2 15 "Do This Puzzle On A Whim!"

BuzzFeed crossword solution, 12 2 15 “Do This Puzzle On A Whim!”

The “on a whim” of the puzzle’s title is synonymous with AT THE DROP OF A HAT, and HAT drops through the 15-letter Downs as we move through the grid from left to right. “HATE TO EAT AND RUN,” “SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW?,” EARTH-SHATTERING, and MAID IN MANHATTAN join the 11-Down revealer in dropping HATs. Solid theme with five excellent 15s.

Four more things:

  • 2d. [Japanese auto company whose name means “50 bells”], ISUZU. Trivia I did not know. Yay, trivia!
  • 22a. [Carnal contraction (the one that doesn’t used the D)], STI and not STD. Come on, BuzzFeed! You have lots of money. Can’t you spend more of it on editing? “Doesn’t used” should be “doesn’t use.”
  • With 27a. [Social suffix] having a few possible answers (-ITE, -IST, -ISM, -IZE), I really wanted it to be IZE crossing GLITZ for 10d. [Razzle-dazzle]. Alas, it’s that overused-in-crosswords ECLAT and -ITE.
  • 21d. [Creature that always uses the sidewalk?], CRAB. Cute clue.

Four stars from me. Theme’s handled well, and the fill, aside from ECLAT and SSS, is solid.

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Schmaltzy Solving”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.02.15: "Schmaltzy Solving"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.02.15: “Schmaltzy Solving”

Good afternoon, everyone! Today’s crossword, brought to us by Mr. Randolph Ross, has an interesting take on some comps phrases, replacing a syllable/entire word in the phrase with a similar-sounding one that gives it that good ol’ Yiddish feel!

  • SCHMEAR TACTICS (20A: [Strategies for spreading cream cheese on a bagel?]) – From “smear tactics.”
  • SCHTICK IN THE MUD (37A: [Dirty comedy act?]) – From “stick in the mud.”
  • SCHLOCK THERAPY (48A: [Intervention that helps those who waste money on junk?]) – From “shock therapy.”

Pretty slick theme, and thought it was slick also to start the grid with a Spanish word (for boss) commonly used here in America, JEFE (1A: [Big kahuna]). The middle left portion of the grid game me the most trouble, with APSIS being the last word on the grid to be completed (25D: [Orbital point]). It also didn’t help that I had “neuro” instead of MICRO at first, and that slowed me down for a good bit (26D: [Prefix with surgery or transmitter]). Definitely my favorite entry of the day was that of our favorite sewer worker, ED NORTON (39D: [Art Carney character]). I’ve read different blogs and comments about entries in grids passing the “breakfast test,” and I’m pretty sure KLAN would fit in that category of words that might not pass that test (51D: [Hate group]). Didn’t notice the fill until after it was solved as I got all of its crossings. Definitely a little cringe-worthy seeing it, especially when knowing about the racist rhetoric that’s being bandied about nowadays and, a good number of times, being passed off as legitimate concerns. That’s far from everyone, for sure, and that’s not the majority of people that engage in that rhetoric, for political gain or otherwise (at least I hope). Anyways, a good puzzle overall, and I didn’t have to EAT MY HAT afterward (4D: [What I’ll do if I can’t get this done]).

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ROUEN (18A: [City on the Seine]) – Former professional football player Tom ROUEN was an All-American punter at the University of Colorado before embarking on a long NFL career, mostly as a member of the Denver Broncos. Rouen won two Super Bowls with the Broncos and was an All-Pro selection in 1994. Rouen is married to six-time Olympic Gold Medal winning swimmer Amy Van Dyken.

Thank you all for your time, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

Take care!


Alan DerKazarian’s LA Times crossword—Gareth’s write-up

LA Times, Wed, Dec 2, 2015

LA Times, Wed, Dec 2, 2015

It’s just a words-that-follow theme, the word being BEAR, but I’m a sucker for zoological themes, and I appreciate the consistency of using actual bears exclusively. Yes, the moon, spectacled, panda and sloth bears get the short end of the stick, but there’s only so much space in the den. The brown, (American) black and polar bears will be nigh universally familiar. The one species solvers are less likely to know is the SUNBEAR. Have a butcher’s at the tongue to your left. How cool is that? Oh yes, there is a somewhat functional revealer in BEARSDOWN. It’s crammed into the bottom-right crossing two theme answers.

sun-bearI’m not following the clue on [One of two cold atmospheric cyclones?], POLARVORTEX. Is it something that always comes in pairs? Like a cut-off low type of thing? Wish BLACKMAGICWOMAN was clued as the far superior original version, not Santana’s cover…

If you’ve got one oldie in the grid, why not have two? Except GETAJOB, [Find work] is clued more prosaicly.

For the amount of theme action going on, this is quite a well-balanced grid. There are few awkward answers, but they aren’t well-spaced and don’t grate overly. There were clumps with quite a few names, albeit well-known ones: ABBA/SIRI/AIMEE and HOLST/FELIX/AGASSI e.g.

A thought: plural Greek letters like [Letters after phis], CHIS are rather ugly. How familiar is CHI as short for chihuahua to you guys?

3.75 Stars

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24 Responses to Wednesday, December 2, 2015

  1. Evad says:

    Those moths are awesome–an amazing fact about them is they live just a week or so as they have no mouth and cannot eat. Their one-and-only raison d’être is to reproduce before they die. They’re also surprisingly large (5-6 inches tall) if you haven’t see one in person.

  2. ArtLvr says:

    I got a kick out of the NYT puns, especially POLE STAR and RED GIANT. I had to google the ICE RAIN to see if it really was a thing, and found good photos & definitions! Who knew?
    (p.s. why is my icon a nasty bug?)

    • David L says:

      I’d never heard of ICE RAIN, but googling it produces descriptions of freezing rain, which is something I learned about when I lived in the midwest. I’m still not convinced ice rain is really a thing.

      RADIATIONBELT doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in a non-astronomical context, but the other theme answers were cute. Good puzzle overall.

    • pannonica says:

      The icons are Gravatars (“globally recognized avatar”) and, in the absence of one being directly uploaded or somehow registered at their website, it is algorithmically generated based on e-mail address (or possibly IP address?). Until recently they were geometric patterns, but currently they’re styled as low-res beasties.

  3. PJ Ward says:

    AVCX – Loved it. It should be more complicated than expected.

    • Norm says:

      I have mixed feelings about the puzzle. It was a very cool concept, but it seemed awkward that the circled letters phrase didn’t span the puzzle — or somehow “drop” into something. And, BERG and BIGMAC were total duds, in my opinion. I have no idea what a papier-mache BERG might be (maybe like a middle school science fair volcano? a pretend iceberg? why not a real one?) or how it could emit enough air to move a BIG MAC — and where the heck did the burger come from in the first place? Rube Goldberg’s contraptions had an insane logic to them. I thought this puzzle fell short, although the step cluing was both ingeniously cruel and interesting to work through.

      • aries says:

        I agree Norm. OCCAMSRAZOR was a neat touch, but the GOLDBRICKS and BERG and BIG MAC silliness really ruined it for me. I realize those entries are necessary when using the circled letters to highlight RUBEGOLDBERGMACHINE, but perhaps a different approach should have been employed to lend at least a bit of sensibility to the idea, no matter how “complicated” it’s supposed to be.

  4. Alan DerKazarian says:

    Re: Wall Street Journal. Interestingly the New York Times passed on this puzzle because they said it was too violent. I thought the same would happen with the Journal but was happily surprised when they took it.

    Also Mike changed 41-across. I had LEE MAY there instead of LEGMAN but that led to the unfortunate prefix AREO, so I think I like his better!

    Now let’s see what Gareth has to say about my LAT today!

    • Norm says:

      Too violent? How wimpy. This was a great puzzle. Caught the theme about half-way through (when I ran across the revealer), and that a great help in solving the rest, since I could go back and forth between the theme concept and the individual clues to get myself out of rough spots.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I didn’t get that sense at all while solving. To me they were (mostly) just phrases that had WAR in them. Of course, I then got completely sidetracked by “Pagliacci”.

      WAR. What is it good for? A puzzle!

  5. Papa John says:

    I finally decided to go for it, so now I have to see if it works. If it does–ta da! My Gravator!

    [edit] How ’bout that? It did work. Sweet.

  6. Alan DerKazarian says:

    Holy cow! I just did Patrick Blindauer’s December puzzle and it’s a tour de force! Get it here:

  7. Zulema says:

    If someone had not asked about the avatar I would not have noticed that something had been added, so how do I change mine to something like a puppy dog, do I supply it? Perhaps someone can explain the green creature I have now?

    Interesting puzzle, I also liked RED GIANT and POLE STAR.

    • Evad says:

      Hi Zulema, if you send me a picture you’d like to use, I’ll try to associate it with your email address used on this site. (That’s how gravatar makes the connection, btw–the email address you enter when you post a comment.)


  8. Richard says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who underestimated the 2.5/5 difficulty of the AVCX. I whipped it out for my 10 minute lunch break and was disappointed to barely crack it when it was time to run back to work. It was very satisfying once I got to finish it, though!

  9. Sarah says:

    Is HATE TO EAT AND RUN even a thing people say? Never heard this, and the search results aren’t too convincing that this is a common phrase.

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