Wednesday, March 14, 2018

AV Club 7:11 (Ben) 


LAT 3:43 (Gareth) 


NYT  3:27 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Exciting news! The Indie 500 crossword tournament has just opened registration for the June 2 event in Washington, D.C. There’s a solve-at-home division for those who can’t be in D.C. then. The Indie 500 puzzle constructors are mostly women this year! V. exciting. (March 14 happens to be Pi Day, so I’ll also note that this tournament always has tiny little pies that are delicious.) All the details here. I highly recommend this event for anyone who likes crossword puzzles, fun, and people.—Amy

Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

When I finish a non-Monday puzzle in under four minutes, you can be sure it was an easy one. This puzzle was not made for me. It has circles, and the circles contain anagrams. Not my cup of tea. My actual cup of tea is a lovely ginger brew, but that’s not important now.

NYT 3/14, solution grid

The connection among the theme entries is not obvious – at least it wasn’t obvious to me.

  • 16a [Take dead aim at] is ZERO IN ON.
  • 24a [Breakfast order often containing cinnamon] is HOT OATMEAL. Does anyone eat cold oatmeal?
  • 37a [Indoor stadium surface] spans the grid with ARTIFICIAL GRASS. 
  • 49a [A cappella genre] is BARBERSHOP. I sang with a women’s barbershop ensemble last year and I’d love to do it regularly, if only because the first altos get to sing the melody!

The revealer is at 61a: [Sauce made from ingredients mixed up in 16-, 24-, 37-, and 49-Across], and that’s MARINARA. So the anagrams are ONIONTOMATOGARLIC, and HERBS. I do love a good marinara sauce. This puzzle, OTOH, was not my favorite dish. The theme is well-constructed and consistent. I don’t think it’s a bad theme; it’s not to my taste.

A few other things:

  • 19a [Locker room emanation] abides by the crossword rule that ODORs are bad smells.
  • 15d [Request by someone with a tongue depressor] is SAY AH, pleasing all my friends who are PAs and NPs and RNs and were frustrated with the way clues for this common entry usually refer to MDs only.
  • 26a [Made a cattle call] is literally MOOED.
  • 34d [Rakes in the dough] is MAKES BANK and is not clued as slang. Interesting.
  • I filled in PERSE at 54d from crossings and couldn’t figure out what word it was. That’s because it’s two words. The clue is [In itself], so the answer is PER SE.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that there is? was? a “text adventure game” called ZORK.

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Missing Persons” — Jim’s review

Who’s missing from this puzzle? Exactly.

WSJ – Wed, 3.14.18 – “Missing Persons” by Samuel A. Donaldson

  • 1a [*TV cliffhanger of 1980] SHOT J.R.
  • 19a [*2000 megahit by Baha Men] LET THE DOGS OUT
  • 36a [*Sentry’s query] GOES THERE
  • 53a [*Motivational bestseller published in 1998] MOVED MY CHEESE
  • 68a [Rock opera pioneers, and what’s missing from the starred answers] THE WHO

Sam brings us famous questions sans “who.” Where is said “who”? Presumably on first base. Or perhaps with all the other Whos down in Whoville.

What do you think of this theme? It’s similar to the Saturday grid from a couple weeks back (“Double Negatives”) which featured phrases missing their leading “Not”s. But where that one’s clues acknowledged what they were missing, this one is clued as if the “who”s are still there. I think there’d be more opportunity for humor if the clues took the other approach. For example, GOES THERE could be clued [Broaches a taboo subject?]. LET THE DOGS OUT could be [Removed one’s shoes?]. But perhaps MOVED MY CHEESE would be too tough to re-clue without using “my.”

In the end, the theme helped me fill in some of the grid, and that’s what the theme’s job is, I suppose. And they are all lively entries. I especially like the pairing of LET THE DOGS OUT and MOVED MY CHEESE. That’s a nice find.

Plenty of good fill to admire, like BLEED DRY, “NO SWEAT,” USED CARS, ANTEDATE, YELLOW (clued [Apt to run]; we would also have accepted [Coldplay hit]), NAPTIME, ONEPIECE (clued [Like a maillot]; we would also have accepted [Popular anime series]), COLD FISH, STRAY CAT (clued [Alley denizen]; we would also have accepted [Strutter]), OCULIST, and “LIKE…NOW!” Whew! That’s a ton of great fill. Oh wait, there’s more: BOY TOYS, NOT ONCE, and ANEMONE. Sheesh! That’s approaching themeless levels of fun fill. (By the way, what’s a maillot?)

That said, I really disliked STG at 1d, clued [Brit. money]. I take it that’s short for “Sterling,” but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Other less-than-savory bits: CBER, IS A, ETAS, NCR, and EES.

But I guess that’s the price for all the good stuff, so on the whole, I feel the plusses outweigh the minuses.

Fave clue: [Army animals?] for OCTOPI. Perhaps it should really be [Arm-y animals?], but the extra half a tick it took for the penny to drop made the a-ha moment that much more fun.

Hmm. Let’s end with a song. But which one? “LET THE DOGS OUT“?  THE WHO‘s “Are You?”? Coldplay’s “Yellow”? The “Stray Cat Strut”? Oh, I know…”SZOOMIN”!

Byron Walden’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #24” — Ben’s Review

The editor’s notes for this week’s AVCX rated Byron Walden’s themeless at a 4.5/5, though depending on whether you’re on Byron’s wavelength or not, it may have been more of a 5/5.  I’m apparently very on Byron’s wavelength, since I tore through this in just over 7 minutes.  It’s a good themeless, and there was a lot to be delighted by in the fill:


  • That middle stair-step of MADE A BOO BOO, GALAXY BRAIN, and MACARONI ART: see animated GIF.
  • If you want to know what kind of Eurovision entry the SLOVAKIANS are sending this year: they aren’t entering!  For info on the 43 entries that are competing, I’m using this piece of fill to shamelessly plug the podcast I co-host, The Eurowhat?
  • Things I didn’t know about before solving this puzzle: the DIXIE MAFIA, RAJIV = “Lotus Flower”, who A.A. FAIR is, ESPOO as Finland’s second-largest city, it used to be spelled MANILLA, Ringo Starr released an album titled “Y NOT?”
  • Coldplay won song of the year for “VIVA LA VIDA” in 2009 and honestly I’m not mad about it, that song is actually very good (also A Rush of Blood To The Head and Parachutes were good albums despite Coldplay’s general blandness these days don’t @ me)
  • Speaking of NICE DOGGYs, the new Wes Anderson movie features a lot of them (see below) and I will be in the theater the first weekend it is wide release in my area.


4.5/5 stars.

Robin Stears’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

This theme type tends to play out very similarly. The short revealer, WORK, was made more opaque for me by being clued as a #1 hit I’ve not heard of (and had to switch off very quickly, because it sounded like nails on a chalkboard). The 10 answer parts all mesh with WORK satisfactorily, which is a plus, as many times there are a few “reaches”. The result is five not particularly sparkly themers though, which is what inevitably seems to happen with this theme type.

There are more nuggets in the rest of the fill than one would expect, given a five part theme: KAHLUA, fullname KATEMOSS, and BODYWASH are favourite entries.

Mystery bits: GAO – Government Accountability office – per Google. Could be EMO/MAO, ELO/LAO or ETO/TAO, but I don’t think either is a big improvement. I also didn’t know OREO peeps was a thing; we don’t have peeps here, FWIW.

3 Stars

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21 Responses to Wednesday, March 14, 2018

  1. jim hale says:

    It was a little too easy for a Wednesday imo and not that interesting. I would have preferred a pi day theme.

    • john farmer says:

      I would have preferred a pi day theme.

      I actually liked the puzzle as is — four major ingredients of MARINARA sauce, “mixed up” (anagrams are OK by me), and in a grid made with the usual first-rate Jeff Chen craftsmanship. But if the theme could have been a Pi Day tribute to Stephen Hawking instead, that would have blown my mind. (Maybe that’s asking a lot.)

      For what it’s worth, here’s your 3.14 Day connection.

      3 scientists, 14 letters each:

      SH died 3.14.2018, on the 139th anniversary of AE’s birth.
      SH was born 1.08.1942, on the 300th anniversary of GG’s death.

      SH’s lifespan was 10π (31) days longer than AE’s.
      SH’s lifespan was 200π (628) days shorter than GG’s.

  2. Jenni Levy says:

    Loved the AVCX – but did anyone else think it wasn’t as hard as advertised?

    • Lise says:

      My thought exactly. I finished uncharacteristically quickly. I also loved the puzzle although I didn’t love OCTOPI. It helped that I read Erle Stanley Gardner extensively as a teenager.

      Happy pi day!


      I think Byron was obviously channeling his son! Cute and definitely not as hard as “advertised “… but I like a win on his now and then.

    • I didn’t find it too hard overall, except I botched the 37A/33D crossing. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t have kids and never played the clapping game when I was a kid, so I didn’t know it had a name (though now that I’ve looked it up, in retrospect I do remember other kids playing it). Ah well.

  3. lemonade714 says:

    Amy, isn’t the use of DOUGH in the clue – a slang word for money – sufficient notice that the fill is slang?

    I thought 19A, ODOR could have been clued relating to kitchen smell from cooking the sauce.

    Thanks, Jeff and Amy

  4. Matthew G. says:

    ZORK originated the text-adventure genres of games and was hugely famous during its time. But since that genre has been largely dead since the 1980s (except among a small and very devoted fanbase) it’s understandable that one wouldn’t know it unless one was both alive and a gamer then.

  5. Jim Peredo says:

    NYT: I’m with you on the theme, Jenni. In my head I actually anagrammed the second entry as MOTATO. “ARTIFICIAL TURF” sounds more natural to me than “GRASS.” And HERBS classified as a single ingredient? That seemed odd.

    But ZORK! That game was the be all and end all for me when I was a tween. No graphics, just descriptions. No sound, but what was in your head. No guide, just trial and error. But a lot of fun for a kid who was into Tolkien.

    You can play a version of ZORK with the app “Frotz.” But it comes with a warning: “Playing Frotz involves reading, thinking, and typing. If you just want to blow stuff up, this is not the app for you!”

  6. Howard B says:

    Nothing wrong with the nice NYT puzzle today, but for themes like this, I have that irksome feeling of “theme set generated by computer”, i.e. a theme made possible by programming and text searching: give me words where (text)(any combination of HERBS)(more text). Constructor still has to come up with the concept and winnow down the results, but the selection may be done by the technology.
    Nothing wrong with this, but why does that concept affect my opinion? Rhetorical question, I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve seen an upswing in these kinds of themes, combined with my own difficulty in coming up with theme sets :).
    Random thought for today.

  7. Noam D. Elkies says:

    In men’s (well, TTBB) 49A:BARBERSHOP, the default melody voice is the second tenor (thus called the “lead” in this context), though there are arrangements that give the tune to the (first) tenor, (second) bass, and even to the much-maligned baritone. So I’d have expected the default lead of an SSAA quartet to be the second soprano; is it really first alto? [In the really old days, the “tenor” was so called because it usually “held” the melody, and it still has that role in shape-note singing.] But that’s not important right now. (At least I think that’s the canonical Airplane! quote, right?)


    • Jenni Levy says:

      I am the furthest thing from an expert here (at least for a singer). In the group I sang with, it seemed that the “leads” were a mix of second sopranos and first altos. At least it’s an option.

  8. Pat says:

    WSJ theme answers are phrases that are in common usage, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard Who moved my cheese. In what way is that phrase used?

  9. lemonade714 says:

    WHO MOVED MY CHEESE is a modern parable that was very popular in the late 20th century.

  10. scrivener says:

    Hello, Sailor. It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

    I seldom come in under 10 minutes on an NYT Wednesday (and never under 9:00) and did today’s in 5:15. I’m just going to let myself believe I’m getting better.

  11. ahimsa says:

    Never played ZORK but did play a lot of Adventure. The changing “twisty passages” messages are probably more famous but I’ll always remember this one:

    A hollow voice says “Plugh”

  12. doug says:

    Y’all’s comments about the NYT and Zork made me want to (try to) resuscitate my old copies of Zork I, II, and III (which are on 5 1/4″ floppies). I wonder how that project will turn out….?

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