Tuesday, 3/8/11

Jonesin' 3:25 


NYT 2:43 


LAT 4:26 (Neville) 


CS 5:43 (Evad) 


Paul Hunsberger’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution 3/8/11 0308

This theme gimmick was done before, by Patrick Merrell in 2005. Pat assembled three 15-letter answers that can be typed with just the left hand, and spelled out the gimmick backwards-acrostic style in the first letters of the clues.

Comparing today’s puzzle and the 2005 Merrell, I have to say that I prefer Hunsberger’s quartet of 10s to the somewhat less natural 15s Merrell had. But where the shorter fill comes into play, I think Merrell made it a bit smoother. When it comes to omitting half the alphabet from your crossword, you necessarily force a ton of compromises, and I can’t say the gimmick is quite cool enough to merit the trade-off. Although it was neat to type all my answers with my left hand, leaving the right hand free to navigate via the arrow keys!

Of course, the theme is probably mostly annoying if you’re solving on paper, and even solving online, I found myself making all sorts of frowny faces at partials like AS FAR, A RAT, SETS A, and A RAW. And the plethora of abbreviations—GER, BRAZ, SSE, STRS, SRTA, SERV (no! service is typically abbreviated as Svc.!), CTA and ETAS. And foreign words (ERDE, ARRET, ETAT) and overly crossword-friendly names (REBA, ERBE, ASTA). Not to mention the crosswordese (AGAR, RETS, ERAT) and the affixes (RESEWS, TAXER, TREATER).

On the plus side, I do like the four 10s: TREAD WATER, EXACERBATE, STAR-GAZERS, and the outdated STEWARDESS (deftly clued as [Old TWA hiree]). Also classing up the joint: RED SEA, QBERT (and the Q is a gutsy inclusion since the U is on the wrong side of the keyboard, along with I and O), SARTRE, DRAGSTER, CABARET, and CASSAVAS.

Every single answer in the puzzle is a theme answer (!), but only one has a thematic clue: 69a: WEST, [The half of the keyboard on which all of this puzzle’s answers can be typed].

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “IQ Test”

Jonesin' crossword answers 3/8/11 "IQ Test"

The theme consists of phrases with I.Q. initials—some more familiar than others:

  • 17a. [Nickname for a standoffish woman] is ICE QUEEN. Yeah? You wanna make something of it? Hey, you know what they call a standoffish man? “Sir.” He doesn’t get labeled with an insulting term.
  • 21a. [2007 coin with a peregrine falcon on it] is the IDAHO QUARTER. You might say “Pfft! That’s not remotely ‘in the language,'” but I would say “Tcha! Who doesn’t have a collection of all 50 state quarters, plus some of the U.S. territories, the national park quarters, and some of those golden presidential dollar coins?”
  • 38a. [It’s hidden (but suggested) in job interviews] clues IMPLIED QUESTION. Huh? INTERVIEW QUESTION would be much better, but it’s too long for a 15×15 grid.
  • 50a. IMAGE QUALITY is [Clarity measured in digital photos]. Yeah, I’ll go with that.
  • 62a. [“How nice and peaceful!”] clues IT’S QUIET. This might not be “in the language” for you. Matt Jones has twin toddlers. I’ll bet it’s in his language—but hardly ever!


  • 1a. BANKSY is the [Graffiti artist who didn’t win a 2011 Oscar (which made the identity-reveal speculation a non-event)]. This is not a nickname for 30 Rock actress Elizabeth Banks. Super-fresh fill.
  • 66a. [Packet near a soup bowl] clues SALTINES. This is one of those oddball answers that works way better in the plural. Yesterday at L.A. Crossword Confidential, PuzzleGirl complained about a surfeit of needless plurals. SALTINES is in a different category.
  • 40d. I raised an eyebrow at this clue. [Body part that dangles]?!? Oh. It’s just a UVULA. Carry on.
  • 46d. [Narrow in the light] clues SQUINT. Love that word.
  • 54d. Well, that’s not the usual clue for ANTS. [Insects that can become “zombies” via different fungi]? I had no idea.

Mystery 3s:

  • 9d. [Latin abbr. meaning “he/she speaks”] is LOQ. No idea when this abbrev gets used, but it must be related to loquacious and norma loquendi.
  • 10d. Right next to LOQ is CRU, [Hero of the 1986 BMX movie “Rad”]. I know neither the movie nor the character.

Robert Fisher’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

3/8/11 LA Times crossword answers

Sometimes you just feel like a lunkhead – this was one of those puzzles for me! Robert’s taken HEAD START to be a [Racer’s edge, or the ends of 17-, 23-, 39- and 49-Across, unflatteringly]. If you’re not a dunderhead, you easily figured out the theme entries:

  • 17a. [Not so humorous humerus spot] is the FUNNY BONE. (BONEHEAD) Homonym humor at its finest. Sometimes you get a weird feeling when you hit your funny bone, or ULNAr nerve (clever working that in at 3d, Robert!). Other times it hurts like heck, though!
  • 23a. [Exam taker’s dread] is MENTAL BLOCK. (BLOCKHEAD) I haven’t taken an English class in a few years, but I’ve been having a recurring dream where I go to an English class, but I haven’t read the book. What’s worse, it’s an oral exam – but at least I’m still fully clothed. Dream analysis: What does this say about my odds at the ACPT?
  • 39a. [Daydreams] are CASTLES IN THE AIR. (AIRHEAD) Cool grid-spanning entry, but I wanted the castles in the SKY to start.
  • 49a. [Devoid of niceties, as some politics] – that’s BARE-KNUCKLE. (KNUCKLEHEAD) I’m not too familiar with this term – is that to say that if you’re filled with niceties, you’ve got hairy knuckles? That can’t be right. Maybe without gloves. I’d believe that.

I solved this puzzle with disregard for the theme, because it wasn’t apparent until I got to the bottom right. However, I got confused because I misread the connecting clue as [Racer’s edge, or the beginnings of 17-, 23-, 39- and 49-Across, unflatteringly]. FUNNY HEAD? MENTAL HEAD? CASTLES HEAD? BARE HEAD? It’s true – you shouldn’t go up to someone and call them bare-headed, but that wasn’t the idea here.

Other points of interest:

  • 5d. YO-YO MA has been in the Shortz-era NYT puzzle 3 times. YO MAMA! has yet to appear in the NYT puzzle.
  • 57a. CBS is the [“The Amazing Race” airer]. That’s my favorite reality show on TV these days, and right now I’m rooting for Gary & Mallory. Plus, there’s an Amazing Race-type game Saturday night at the ACPT – prepare to be U-Turned, everyone.
  • 58d. [Verve] clues BRIO. In my mind, Brio is a brand of wooden trains. The clue definitely didn’t give this away for me – I wanted ELAN immediately. Oops.
  • 26d. Hey! Yesterday was the first day of ADAR Bet! (It’s still the proper Adar – this is a leap year.) The Hebrew calendar never ceases to amaze me.

And with that, Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!

Updated Tuesday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Stall for Time”—Evad’s review

CrosSynergy 3/8 crossword answers

So the “stall” we’re talking about here isn’t the verb, it’s a noun, synonym of BOOTH or what can follow the first word in these four theme entries:

  • [Fund-raising sight] is not Jerry Lewis but a PHONE BANK. I wonder if they give lollipops to their customers at that bank like they do at mine? A phone booth is of course where Clark Kent changes into his Superman duds…changing clothes in a phone booth is a superhuman task on its own in my book, have you ever tried it without scraping your elbows?
  • [More or less distant family member] is a KISSING COUSIN. I’m not familiar with a kissing booth, sounds like something my parents might’ve stepped into. Do they still exist?
  • [Alcohol-free cocktail] is a SHIRLEY TEMPLE. Shirley Booth played Hazel on the 60s sitcom with the same name. Though I was 5 or 6 at the time, I do remember watching it.
  • [Mentally healthy state] is a SOUND MIND, or compos mentis to lawyers. A sound booth is a common fixture of recording studios and old gameshows, the latter used when someone was placed in isolation, listening, one assumes, to Muzak to distract them. The ACPT features a kind of sound booth, which is a basement room where finalists await their turns so they can’t see the grids being solved by the finalists in prior categories. Amy and Joon, do they play Muzak in that room?

All in all, the “booth” phrases skewed to the older generation, which is ok by me. I guess there aren’t any other phrases that start with John Wilkes, are there? I had some obvious trouble in the lower left, starting with CLAMOR before UPROAR for [Racket], which led me to ANKH befoe RUNE as an [Ancient symbol]. Liked POPTART in the dead center, my favorites growing up had raspberry jelly filling in them. To your left is a picture of EL GRECO‘s The Opening of the Fifth Seal; looks like that was one envelope that should’ve remained closed!

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14 Responses to Tuesday, 3/8/11

  1. John E says:

    Special bonus points for the inclusion of the classic QBERT in today’s NYT. Perhaps there will be a themed NYT in the future, including such Atari classics as PITFALL, BARNSTORMING and KABOOM….

    Finished the puzzle in 7 minutes only to have a typo that took me 4 minutes to find (ugh – it’s not FOR, it’s FER).

  2. Todd G says:

    Dream analysis: Neville, based on your dream description, I’d say the odds are that you will be fully clothed at the ACPT. I think most of us are glad strip crosswords never caught on. ;)

  3. Howard B says:

    John E, I second your bonus points comment. QBERT might be a polarizing answer for some, but I do enjoy the occasional classic video game reference in a clue or the grid :).

  4. joon says:

    neville, YO MAMA JOKE was a recent NYT 1-across. i think that pretty much throws the door wide open for YO MAMA as fill.

    evad, no, there’s no muzak in that room, or even music. just snacks, as i recall. it also wasn’t really a booth, and it wasn’t in the basement. (i don’t know what kind of room they used at stamford; maybe amy remembers.) anyway, i really didn’t love the CS theme. phone booth is the only particularly familiar theme answer, and it’s already awfully dated, isn’t it? i can’t even remember the last time i’ve seen a phone booth, let alone used one. never heard of a kissing both or shirley booth, and sound booth seems like a pretty specialized term. i dunno.

  5. Neville says:

    Joon is, of course, right. YO-MAMA JOKE actually ran less than a month ago. On a Saturday that I couldn’t finish, no less. Oh well. Maybe this is more telling about my performance at the ACPT than my dreams – though Todd makes a great point about strip crosswords!

  6. Evad says:

    You’re right Joon, I was thinking of Stamford, where the waiting room was in the basement. I think now it’s just across the hallway from the main hall where the competition takes place. (I remember running into Byron Walden escorting some finalists from it when it was their turn.)

    So how were the snacks?

  7. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I was in a phone booth Sunday night! It was adorable. Looked like an old Irish phone booth, and the keypad was laid out in a rotary dial circle. There were bookshelves, and a pleasant little sign saying you were welcome to take a book, but please return it or bring another.

  8. PocketRebel says:

    I liked the Tuesday NYT quite a bit. I actually noticed the theme before I knew it was a theme. I was sitting at my computer, learning on my right hand and thought to myself, “Funny. I’m only using one hand to type.” Then I got to thematic clue and realized that it was intentional. I must have missed it when it was done previously. I enjoyed it.

  9. DBL says:

    Bare-knuckle as opposed to wearing boxing globes.

  10. Martin says:

    It’s pretty common for LAT and CS puzzles to get higher ratings here than the NYT. Day of the week doesn’t seem to be a predictor. I wonder if this audience a) generally feels that the LAT and CS regularly is of higher quality than the NYT, b) rates puzzles on different curves, c) comprises different subsets of solvers, the more critical of which only does the NYT, d) is affected by Rex and other critics who tend to concentrate on the NYT or e) something else.

    I’d find it interesting if even the relatively sophisticated solvers whom I assume are the regular contributors here really prefer the “word that can follow the first words of the four entries…” kind of theme to the more imaginative themes that the Times tends to use.

  11. joon says:

    martin, i think it’s pretty clearly c). i mean, the NYT always has at least twice as many ratings as the other puzzles, so there are obviously a bunch of people who only do the NYT… and i guess they compare each day’s NYT to other NYT puzzles.

    having said that, i gave today’s LAT a higher rating than the NYT because it was a very well-executed puzzle, and the theme was slightly better than the typical “word that can precede” because there was a unifying meaning to the resulting phrases. i definitely didn’t like the CS as much as the NYT (as i’ve already said). as for the NYT puzzle, it was, as you say, a more imaginative theme, but the fill was unusually replete with awkwardnesses, and i thought the payoff was pretty minimal (especially as i don’t use qwerty any more; the longest word that can be typed only on the “west” side of a dvorak keyboard is PAPAYA).

  12. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Martin, there’s also the fact that the multi-puzzlers have cause to expect the NYT puzzle to be better. For every puzzle that makes it into print at the Times, perhaps 10 others were rejected. (Whereas Merl Reagle’s puzzles and the Boston Globe puzzles don’t need to be accepted by an editor—there’s no gatekeeper rejecting most of the candidate puzzles. And the team-vetted CrosSynergy puzzles likewise are less filtered than the NYT puzzles.) I’ve seen a number of puzzles that are arguably rock-solid that have been rejected, so when an NYT puzzle that’s just passable shows up, it’s extra disappointing.

    I’m probably not the only solver for whom theme inventiveness is not absolutely paramount. If the theme’s fresh and new but the fill sucks, I am not going to rave about the puzzle. If the fill is terrific but the theme is boring, at least I had interesting fill to wade through. I also want interesting clues, so a themeless (non-NYT) puzzle that I can whizz through as if it were a Tuesday puzzle because the clues were stale and easy is not a themeless that will hold my interest.

  13. john farmer says:

    I was going to say (b) is a factor, though I don’t disagree with Joon’s point. It’s probably a combination of several things.

    My sense is that there is generally less tolerance for compromise in puzzles with adventurous themes than there was some years ago. I understand the desire for crosswords to be all smooth and sparkly, but I hope it doesn’t lead to less adventurous puzzles.

  14. Martin says:

    Thanks, all. I should have been clearer that I wasn’t talking about today’s ratings or any other specific day. It’s pretty common. Sounds like we’re leaning to b and c. I don’t disagree.

Comments are closed.