Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hex/Quigley untimed (pannonica) 


LAT 8:40 (Amy) 


NYT 9:05 (Amy) 


WaPo 12:20 (Jenni) 


John Lampkin’s New York Times crossword, “Ring Out The Old, Ring In The New”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 31 17, “Ring Out The Old, Ring In The New”

The theme answers either add an O (“ring”) or remove an O from a familiar phrase. The “ring out” theme answers are in the top half of the puzzle, and the “ring in” ones are in the bottom. Chronological order, of a sort.

  • 22a. [Result of a French powdered drink shortage?], LAST TANG IN PARIS. I’m still angry at Marlon Brando and his director for essentially “surprising” Maria Schneider with a gross sexual assault and filming her very real reaction for their fictional movie, Last Tango in Paris. It’s wrong now and it was wrong in the ’70s.
  • 35a. [List of things said by Siri?], CELL RECITAL. I guess cello recital is a thing, if you play the cello, but CELL RECITAL feels awkward.
  • 55a. [Washington, D.C.?], POL GROUNDS. Polo Grounds is a thing. POL feels like a word that gets used far more in crosswords than elsewhere.
  • 15d. [One having trouble with basic arithmetic?], SUM WRESTLER. Sumo.
  • 76a. [Struggling sci-fi writer’s plea for recognition?], I NEED A HUGO. Cute.
  • 96a. [Treat that gives a glowing complexion?], URANIUM OREO. Uh, I’m pretty sure that eating uranium doesn’t make one look radiant.
  • 113a. [Weeklong Irish vacation?], SEVEN DAYS IN MAYO. No idea what “Seven Days in May” is. Definitely a trip to Ireland is better than spending a week in a tub of mayonnaise.
  • 64d. [Some loose dancing?] FLOPPY DISCO. I guess DISCO is also a verb, so that works. However, floppy disk is by far the more common spelling.

I’d like the theme better if more of the entries had been amusing.

Oh, wait, there were also 7-letter Down theme answers. It is remarkably easy to not notice short themers in a 21x grid.

  • 34d. [Photog’s bagful?], CAM GEAR. Camo gear is a thing, I guess?
  • 65d. [Godfather after being double-crossed?], MAD CAPO.

When I started working this puzzle, my first two answers in the grid were CWT and SMEE—not a good sign. I expect that a lot of solvers got stuck where 4d. [1/20 of a ton: Abbr.], CWT (that’s 100 lb, or the abbreviation for hundredweight) meets 4a. [New Deal org.], CCC. Off the top of my head, I have no idea what CCC stands for.

Felt like more verb + preposition answers than usual, no? LIE TO, FELL TO, BLAME ON, OPTED IN, LAP UP, SEAL UP, DINES ON … meh.

Five more things:

  • 51d. [Historic Mesopotamian city], EDESSA / 67d. [Kyrgyz city], OSH. Adjacent crosswordese cities crossing a theme answer? Good gravy. If you don’t know the Hugo Award or the cities, you’re looking at I NEED **UGO and wondering where you went wrong. And you’d need to know that 66a. [Cobbler, at times] is a SOLER if you don’t know EDESSA and OSH. Oof.
  • 59d. [Grow feathers], FLEDGE. Oh! So a fledgling is a young bird that’s grown its feathers and not merely one that’s maturing and can leave the nest. I see the cognate in fletch and fletcher, feather-related terms from archery and arrow-making. Learned something I didn’t know.
  • 76d. [“The Last Days of Pompeii” heroine], IONE. That doesn’t ring a bell in terms of IONE clues I’ve seen before.
  • 54a. [___ Conference], TED. Oh! Did you know that there are lots of regional TEDx conferences? Team Fiend’s own Dr. Jenni gave a talk this fall. “Jenni, a physician and palliative care advocate, discusses the conversations that people need to have with their loved ones about end-of-life issues. She makes a strong case for having conversations about individual values and wishes so that family members and medical professionals can act accordingly.” Here’s the YouTube video of her talk.

  • 78d. [Legitimate business practices], FAIR TRADE. That’s a really weird clue. People usually use fair trade to mean (as the Oxford dictionary folks say) “trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries.” More exploitative business practices are plenty common and “legitimate.”

Three stars from me. Would’ve enjoyed a funnier theme and crisper fill.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “End Game” – Jenni’s writeup

I’m filling in for Erin this week, and I was a bit concerned when I saw this was a meta puzzle – but either I’m getting better at metas or this was a really, really obvious one.

The meta says “Use the clues to help you win this puzzle’s game.” Each theme answer contains a game, helpfully circled (I don’t mind the circles in this one, for some reason).

WaPo 12/31/17, solution grid

  • 22a [Oddly titled first book in Michael Scott’s fantasy series about Nicholas Flamel (computer game)] is THE ALCHEMYST
  • 24a [Star of some sports records (board game)] is ASTERISK. I mis-read this as “start of some sports records” and was confused.
  • 37a [Place for storing fine plates (card game)] is the CHINA CLOSET If you’re not familiar with SET, it’s great fun. There’s an electronic version on the Times puzzle page every day.
  • 49a [Locale of Pakistan’s Mahabat Khan Mosque (card game)] is PESHAWAR. This brings back memories of summer camp, where we’d each take our cards home each day and pick up the game again. WAR never ended. Sort of like these days.
  • 90a [Breakfast cereal option from General Mills (board game)] is RICE CHEX. I hadn’t heard of HEX before. It looks intriguing.
  • 99a [Like some KFC orders (guessing game)] would be EXTRA CRISPY. I SPY a puzzle…
  • 117a [Didn’t have a date (playground game)] is WENT STAG.
  • 119a [TV executive who created “20/20” (app game)] is ROONE ARLEDGEEDGE is also new to me. Apparently it’s been the subject of a trademark dispute.

In the middle of the puzzle, we have some more information.

  • 67a [With 71 Across, something you’ll find in this puzzle’s corners] gives us MURDER WEAPON.
  • 68a [Person you’ll find in the first letters of this puzzle’s circled words] is the SUSPECT.
  • 57a [Place you’ll find in one of this puzzle’s clues] is the ROOM.

So clearly we’re talking about the game of Clue. The first letters of the circled words spell out MRS WHITE and the corner letters spell ROPE. I think this happened in the LIBRARY – see 82a [Agatha Christie’s “The ___ in the Library”] which also gives us BODY.

Very well-done and very satisfying to solve. Thanks, Evan!

A few more things:

  • 27a [Artistic creation that may have a biomechanical design] took me a while to figure out. I thought we were looking for some avant-garde art/robot thing. Nope. It’s TATTOO.
  • 41a and 104a are both [Vending machine drink]; COLA and SODA, respectively.
  • It appears to be the day for references to TED talks. This time it’s 81d [Series of lecture events focusing on local communities], or TEDX. If you have the chance to participate in or attend a TEDX event, do it. It’s a great experience.
  • 69d [Sanction] is a word that holds two opposite meanings. This time it’s ENDORSE.
  • 75a [Wouldn’t stand for it?] is SAT. That made me giggle.

What I didn’t know before I solved this puzzle: see above for the two games I’d never heard of. I also didn’t know that Apocalypse and the X-MEN are enemies.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s CRooked crossword, “Dug Life” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 12/31/17 • “Dug Life” • Quigley • bg • solution

Th- sound starting a word in an existing phrase is changed to d- sound. No further spelling alterations are made.

  • 24a. [Alien engine noises?] STRANGER DINGS (Stranger Things). Not pings?
  • 26a. [Dentist-themed amusement park feature?] DRILL RIDES (thrill rides).
  • 47a. [Government led by the stupid?] RULE OF DUMB (rule of thumb).
  • 55a. [“Tell us your story, Charles!”?] THE PLOT, DICKENS (the plot thickens). Additional punctuation necessary for this one. Not an issue.
  • 77a. [Actress Barrymore immediately after a shower?] DREW IN THE TOWEL (threw in the towel).
  • 88a. [Humming salons?] DRONE ROOMS (throne rooms).
  • 107a. [Music with some R-rated content?] DIRTY ROCK (Thirty Rock).
  • 112a. [Dangles using one single Rasta lock?] HANGS BY A DREAD (hangs by a thread). 

Theme was serviceable, but there were enough nits spread around the rest of the grid to result in the overall solving experience being annoying. Hope you’ll excuse my not running through them today.

Robert E. Lee Morris’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Alien Nation”—Amy’s recap

LA Times crossword solution, 12 31 17, “Alien Nation”

The theme revealer is 113a. [Remote region … and what literally ends each answer to a starred clue], WILD COUNTRY. (Not that wild country sounds super-familiar to me as a phrase—could just be that I’m a city person.) Of course, that does not literally end each theme answer. It ends each theme answer in the loose, backwards way you see in cryptic crossword clues. Wild = anagram, and the themers end with anagrams of country names. PUBLIC ENEMY, Yemen. SNAIL MAIL, Mali (extra credit for also being an anagram of world capital Lima). MANGO TANGO, Tonga (MANGO TANGO is a cocktail, though?!). GOLD CHAIN, China. MODEL PLANE, Nepal. HEAVY RAIN, Iran. DAYTIME SERIAL, Israel. ACHES AND PAINS, Spain.


Three more things:

  • 64d. [Tree with long beanlike pods], CATALPA. Also, large, heart-shaped, yellow-green leaves.
  • 59d. [Tradesperson], PLIER. As in one who plies a trade? No. Nobody would call that person a PLIER.
  • 94d. [Wine choice], CARAFE. Weird clue, as it’s not a “choice” but a container, and one that could also contain, say, orange juice or mimosas.

Might’ve been fun if the scrambled-country angle could have been hinted at a bit in the theme clues prior to WILD COUNTRY. I, for one, solved nearly the entire puzzle without having any idea what the theme was. “Alien Nation” had me thinking of the following: (1) doubling a letter to split a word (alienation) in two; (2) something with ET added; and (3) based on SNAIL MAIL and MANGO TANGO, some rhyming action. All of those were derailments. 3.5 stars from me.

Happy New Year!

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18 Responses to Sunday, December 31, 2017

  1. Sam Szurek says:

    Seven Days in May was an early 1960’s best-selling novel and the source material of a relatively successful film. It’s about a group of right-wing generals who plot to overthrow the President of the US in order to establish a military regime. The generals in question were unhappy with a liberal President who was a tad too willing to make peace with the Soviet Union.

  2. JohnH says:

    The theme took me forever because I just could not make sense of CAM GEAR, so glad to hear it doesn’t make much sense to Amy either. And, reflecting her nits, OSH and EDESSA were my last to fall. (I kept thinking I’d an error somewhere else ruining Odessa.) Lots else along the way. Alas, a promising theme just seems to have gone badly awry in execution

  3. Steve Weiner says:

    CCC stands for Civilian Conservation Corps., a program that FDR launched in 1933 to provide jobs during the depression.

  4. Ethan says:

    I remember having to clue CCC for a puzzle and being on the fence about whether solvers would object more to a random New Deal org. or a random Roman numeral. I guess the CWT crossing made the Roman numeral a non-option.

  5. Chris Wooding says:

    NYT: Not sure why Amy wants “ disco” to be a verb. “Dancing” is a noun (gerund, if I remember correctly).
    Does anyone still recite things like “Rub-a-dub-dub”?

  6. huda says:

    NYT: My sincere thanks to Jenni Levi for discussing the difficult end of life topic in such a thoughtful way. Over the years, I have cared for close family members who were extremely ill or dying, and it is so incredibly important to really know what this person wants for themselves, and what they absolutely do not. That includes preferences that are fairly individual, not strictly medical. For example, one of my relatives did not want family members to bathe or clean her, she wanted it to be done by nursing or home care people, mostly because she felt that her privacy is essential to her, part of maintaining her dignity.
    One thing I learned is that times when a family member is very ill are also opportunities to talk about what matters to each of us individually. As I was caring for my dying father, I spoke with my adult children about my own preferences, about what I would like done similarly or differently. I feel that this should be a topic that gets revisited over time, and reinforced in multiple settings. I want my family to be very sure about how I want to be treated, not to think this is something I said once as I was preparing a living will or having a conversation under the stress of an illness. I would like to give my children the same gift of certainty that Jenni’s mother gave her.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      Thank you, Huda. There’s a document called The Five Wishes, available at that has a section for exactly those kinds of wishes. My dad would have said the same thing as your relative about having family provide intimate care. Take a look at the Five Wishes and please feel free to get in touch with me if you want some help sorting through the options.

      I actually have a business doing this and can work via Skype or phone – the website is

      • huda says:

        That’s really helpful and good to know. Thank you again, Jenni

      • ahimsa says:

        Thanks for those links, Jenni. And thanks to Huda for posting the first comment on the topic. I might have missed the video that was posted above but now I’ll be sure to watch it.

        I recently read Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, and found it very helpful.

  7. Penguins says:

    Enjoyed Mel Taub’s Puns And Anagrams as usual.

    Happy New Year to all.

  8. partisan says:

    Did no one look at the Los Angeles Times Crossword? Because I’m at a loss at what the guiding thread was supposed to be.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I just remembered 20 minutes ago that I forgot to blog it. With tomorrow not being a back-to-work Monday, it didn’t even feel like Sunday! Will put up something quick as soon as I do the puzzle.

  9. maura says:

    Thank you, Amy, for posting the link to Jenny’s talk. And thank you, Jenny, for a beautiful reminder of the value of discussing such important end of life topics with our loved ones. Yes, I loved today’s WaPo crossword — thank you, Evan — but I loved even more sharing “the rest of the story.”

  10. John Hattie says:

    Why does Evan B from WP like “people’s names” as answers. Over all Sunday crosswords in 2017, he averaged 15 names a Sunday crossword (about 10% of all clues) compared to 11 from LAT (7%) and 8 from NYT (5%). His highest was 24 names in one puzzle, with 10 puzzles with more than 20, compared to 1 < 20 for LA and 0 for NY. Can we please cut back on the names Evan!

    • 24 names was my high? That seems low. In fact I’d guess an upcoming puzzle of mine will surpass 24.

      In all seriousness, a big reason why my puzzles tend to feature more names than those other puzzles is because I avoid several other kinds of answers that may be useful for filling a grid but I don’t find very interesting. I don’t use partial phrases like IN AT or IT’S A; the eight three-letter compass initialisms (NNE, SSW, etc); random Roman numerals (anything above XII is a personal no-no for me); outdated abbreviations like SDS and SSTS; suffixes like -AROO and -ETTE; and terms that have little-to-no application outside of crosswords (like NLER). Avoiding all of those things in Sunday-size puzzles usually means you get another name or two or three.

      I realize that not everyone minds those kinds of answers like I do and that names/trivia isn’t everyone’s strong suit. But if ever I give you a name, I try my best to cross it fairly even if you don’t know who it is. Say you didn’t know KATIE Finneran from this latest puzzle (I didn’t know who she was before I wrote the clue). If you could get KA?I?, and you know you’re looking for an actress, you at least have a reasonable chance of guessing that her name is KATIE because that’s a common woman’s name.

      Anyway, thanks for solving and happy 2018, all.

  11. And yes, Jenni, you are correct: Mrs. White with the rope in the library. Nicely done!

    • Howard says:

      I am sometimes frustrated/annoyed with Birnholz puzzles. But I really liked this one, and I want to say why I think it was “fair”. There were a number of ways to get “clued in” to the theme of the puzzle. The note at the beginning of the puzzle used the word “clue” (and of course crosswords use clues). For me, the thing that opened the puzzle up was the clue 67 across — something you’ll find in the puzzle’s corners. And when I saw that was “ROPE” I knew that the meta was discovering the person, the room, and the weapon, as in the boardgame clue. Then things began to fall in place.

      But I can see how I might have used 68 across (and Mrs. White) as another “aha moment”. And then 82 across Agatha Christie … ” in the library” confirmed (or for others might have suggested) what the puzzle was all about.

      But I would contrast this with another recent Birnholz puzzle (was it last week? or the week before?) in which the clue “center/square” was intended to suggest that the center square should be filled in with four letters (NERD = square, I guess). That one, even when I had solved it, I didn’t really understand. (So a note that said: one answer requires you to cram four letters into a square, or something more clever, would have made that more fair.)

      I appreciate Birnholz puzzles, and especially now that I see his explanation of avoiding roman numerals, etc. (and do we still see “sea eagle” as a crossword clue, or am I the only one old enough to remember how common that was?). But I most like the puzzles where part way through, I have an “AHA”, rather than the ones where even when it is completely filled out, I am at a loss to figure out what was intended.

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