Thursday, 6/16/11

NYT 3:53 
LAT 5:38 (Neville) 
Fireball 9:08 
Tausig tba
CS 7:23 (Sam – paper) 
BEQ untimed (MG, AR) 

David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 6 16 11 0616

It’s a mystifying theme until you grab some scratch paper and get to work on decoding the central answer. There are a bunch of clues tagged with asterisks, and those answers are all 4 letters long. What they also have in common is that they can be parsed as three words: Rather than just the word HISS, you can read that as “H is S.” That’s the secret to cracking the code. HISS, MISO, LISP, WISH, VISE, DISC, RISD, and FIST instruct you to change HLMFFWVDMRV into SPOT THE CODE. That’s a weird little phrase.

Lots of longish answers in the four corners of the grid. BON JOVI, SANGRIA, “I’D SAY SO,” DOMINO’S, IQ TESTS, JIGSAW, and MIDWEST enhance the puzzle. The shorter stuff includes some clunkers, though. [Two-time Oscar nominee J. Carrol __] NAISH?? Let’s Google him. He was active from 1926 to 1971, and was a white dude cast repeatedly as “ethnic” characters. Do you think he knew Leo Gorcey and Lila Kedrova? Also in the “meh” category (for me) are ANADEM, AERY, OZMA, OF ID, XOO, LIQ, ESA, SERT, AIRE, N-TEST, assorted abbreviations, and ERODENT.

I mostly prefer themes that reveal themselves during the solve, rather than having the crossword’s entire point be saved for the post-game period. Bonus points for a creative approach to devising a theme (never seen anything like this before, part crossword and part cryptogram), but I’m going to go with three stars for my rating.

Bill Ballard’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

If I could vote for my favorite themed puzzle in the LAT this year so far, I think that this puzzle would get my vote.

  • 17a. [Schubert’s eighth, aptly] – UNFINISHED SYMPHony
  • 27a. [Reference book, aptly] – ABRIDGED DICTIONary
  • 48a. [Burnout sympton, aptly] – DIMINISHED INTERest (also a bailout cause)
  • 65a. [Logical principle that applies to 17-, 27- and 48-Across, aptly] –REDUCTIO AD ABSURdum

For those not in the know, REDUCTIO AD ABSURdum (Latin: “reduction to the absurd”) is a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence (courtesy of Wikipedia). My favorite version of this is of course the mathematical technique of proof by contradiction, in which you state, “Suppose not. QED.”

I love this theme for three reasons:

  • Look how tight it is – each in the language entry starts with a word that means shortened, so it gets cut off at the end.
  • There is a tying-together entry that also gets the same treatment.
  • Each entry is truncated by exactly three letters. Wow! (The removed letters anagram to UNDO A MYSTERY, which is what the unifying entry does.)

Bravo, Mr. Ballard. I didn’t recognize the name, but I see that he’s been published more than a few times. I hope this is part of a comeback, but I really liked this puzzle!  No stellar long entries otherwise, but that’s okay.

I had an extra 30 seconds on my time trying to find an error I had – I spell BOCCI with an E, so that led to some confusion. And GAR isn’t a lovely 1a, but the rest gave me a smooth solve. Some favorite entries and clues, since I have nothing else to grouse about:

  • 1d. [Caesarean conquest] – GAUL, as in “GALLIA est omnis divisa in partes tres.” – De Bello Gallico.
  • 25a. [Sue Grafton’s “___ for Lawless”] – L IS for this biography of actress Lucy Lawless. Seriously, I appreciate these clues because you can’t miss them. Free licks.
  • 37a. [Puppet dragon of early TV] – OLLIE, as referenced on “Match Game”
  • 49d. [Its Hall of Fame is in Charlotte, N.C.] – NASCAR. I’m a bit proud to say that I didn’t know this one immediately.

I give this puzzle A FOUR AND FOUR-FIF…

Updated Thursday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Multitudes of Amys” – Sam Donaldson’s review

This puzzle should have been run on August 15, which, if I remember correctly, is our fearless leader’s birthday.  Today there are indeed “multitudes of Amys” (paging Stephen Sondheim!), as ten of them are crammed symmetrically into this grid:

  • 1-Across: Amy TAN is the [Amy who wrote “The Joy Luck Club”].  I saw the movie when it was in theaters many years ago but never opened the book.
  • 17-Across: Amy DICKINSON is the [Amy who writes the advice column “Ask Amy”].  Just ask her.
  • 26-Across: Amy AQUINO is the unknown (to me) [Amy who was on “ER” and three episodes of “Judging Amy”].  That’s a cute way to re-reference “Amy,” but c’mon…three episodes?!?  I wasn’t much of an “ER” fan, so her name is just not on my radar.  Fortunately, the crossings were easy.
  • 38-Across:  Amy MADIGAN is the [Amy of “Field of Dreams”].  If you watch it, she will act.
  • 40-Across: Amy SEDARIS is the [Amy of “Strangers With Candy”].  I’m aware of this show but have never seen it.  I know her from guest appearances on Letterman and other shows.  According to Wikipedia, “In addition to acting and writing, she runs a cupcake and cheese ball business, Dusty Food Cupcakes, out of her home kitchen.”  Ham and eggs, peas and carrots, cupcakes and cheese balls.
  • 53-Across: Amy LOWELL is the [Amy who posthumously won the Pulitzer for Poetry]. Pray thee, the posthumous Poetry Pulitzer prizewinner penned plenty of pretty, picturesque passages.  Pity she perished.
  • 66-Across: The uber-wonderful Amy WINEHOUSE is the [Amy whose “Back to Black” won five Grammys].  I can’t explain why, but I have a major crush on her.  I find this woman’s talent intoxicating.  (Oops, poor diction.)
  • 73-Across:  Amy RAY is the [Amy who is one of the Indigo Girls].  Crossword-solving indie rock bands rule!
  • 12-Down: Amy IRVING is the [Amy of “Yentl”].  The clue reads like an Old English form of address: “Good day, fair sir, I am Amy of Yentl.  Might you be Robin of Jumanji?”
  • 48-Down: Amy LOCANE is the [Amy of “Cry-Baby”].  You may know her better as Brendan Fraser’s love interest in “School Ties.”  Or maybe not.

I kept waiting for Amy Adams, Amy Poehler, and even Amy Chua of “Tiger Mother” infamy.  But it’s not like this grid needed any more theme entries.  The ten Amys here consume 60 squares (if you counted 62, remember that there are intersecting theme entries!), a heavy concentration of “themage” by any measure.

But it’s not just an Amy infestation, as plenty of other people find their way into this grid.  Holy cats, there’s JANIS Joplin, CARLA from “Cheers,” architect Maya LIN, Emma THOMPSON, IDI Amin, Roberto ALOMAR, JANET Leigh, Hermann HESSE, NANCI Griffith, ORSON Welles, JOHN Q. Public (okay, I’m taking liberties by including this one), AVA Gardner, NELLIE Bly, Mark HAMILL, author Scott O’DELL, Irma ROMBAUER, ELIJAH Wood, and VANNA White!  (As our own fearless leader observed, “BLOSSOM Dearie, ISLA Fisher, and fictional Liz LEMON are pouting because they could’ve gotten the clue-name treatment too.”)

Even without the Amys, this would be a very heavy concentration of names.  With the ten Amys, it’s a veritable bumper crop of famous (and maybe quasi-famous) people.  I’m not so sure this was such a good idea.  Those who don’t know their Famous Amys (not to be confused with Famous Amos) might seek consolation from the fill, but when they find 18 more names there, well, I suspect they might just give up in frustration.  You can almost hear the cranky “I don’t want NAMES in my crosswords” missives being written now.  Personally, I love names in my crosswords, so this one worked just fine for me.  On top of that, I thought the grid was very smooth given the extensive number of symmetrically placed theme entries.  So I’m currently wearing a flattering shade of impressed.*  It will be interesting to see the opinions of others in the comments.

* As in “Color me impressed.”

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword acrostic—Matt Gaffney’s review

BEQ goes acrostic today, with help from Mike Shenk’s snazzy and intuitive solving app.

The level of difficulty was just right for me; I got enough clues right on the first pass to gain a foothold in the grid, but not so many that the rest was mindless.  Instead I got that nice clues-to-grid-then-back-to-clues oscillation that makes acrostics fun.

So the clues and answers were good: highlights were SHARIA LAW, KANGAROO COURT, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and IRISH STEW.  The only thing I didn’t like about the acrostic was the choice of quote: BEQ taps fellow Bostonian Bill Simmons’ famous Book of Basketball for the quote, but with such a superior writer as Simmons there had to be a more exciting quip around.  I’ll type it out for posterity:


OK, so the guy’s a talented control freak, but I just don’t feel the quote payoff.  Not funny or intriguing, and it’s confusing, too — why/how could Stern have banned superstars without telling anyone? I understand the fixing games part of the joke, but given that ref who threw NBA games a couple of years ago under Stern’s watch, how funny is it to joke about Stern doing it?

My gripes with the quote choice aside, I’d like to see more acrostics from Brendan.  As BEQ points out, Shenk’s program takes all the drudgery out of solving this puzzle form and keeps the enjoyment.  Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ, and have a pleasant Thursday, everyone!

Tony Orbach’s Fireball crossword, “Solving, Schmolving!”

Fireball 2:22 answers (Tony Orbach)

The title pretty much gives away the theme, but that’s OK because this 17×17 still took me longer than the typical 21×21. Terrific theme—phrases with a word that starts with the \s\ sound change the S into the Yiddish SCHM (as in “Solving, Schmolving”), with the rest of the word’s spelling usually changing too. “Best-selling” becomes BEST SCHMELING. “Babysits” is BABY SCHMIDTS. “Suzy Q” snack cake or the “Suzie Q” song becomes SCHMOOZY Q, and I love the word schmoozy. “Bath salts” (which have somehow become a drug of abuse, no lie) yield BATH SCHMALTZ, which, thank goodness, is clued with reference to the city of Bath rather than a bathtub of chicken fat. Bill Parcells’ nickname is Tuna, “seared tuna” is food, and SCHMEARED TUNA uses a non-cream-cheese meaning of schmear. The theme’s entertaining and fun to read aloud, and it works a lot of uncommon letters and letter combos into the grid. Love it!

The rest of the fill and clues keep pace with the theme. Fresh but not obscure, challenging but never infuriating.

A delight. Five stars.

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37 Responses to Thursday, 6/16/11

  1. Jim Paget says:

    A much better clue to 67A in the NYT puzzle would have been “Computer mouse?” [e-Rodent].

  2. arthur118 says:

    A quick check of the Times blog tells us that this is a debut puzzle for David Steinberg who is all of 14 years old.

  3. ArtLvr says:

    Egads — I was totally baffled at the NYT’s solution. Nice debut, anyway!

  4. Erik says:

    The NYT puzzle hearkens back to Matt Gaffney’s “W OR T” gimmick. This did not help my time.

  5. ArtLvr says:

    The LAT was amusing because 48A Burnout symptom could conceivably have other endings, like DIMINISHED INTERactions, but of course that would spoil the symmetry. Again, I wan’t in code mode — didn’t spot the anagram of the missing letters! BooHOO.

  6. Gareth says:

    Two breathtaking, five-star themes! NYT had some rough patches fill-wise, though.

  7. Martin says:

    I mostly prefer themes that reveal themselves during the solve, rather than having the crossword’s entire point be saved for the post-game period.

    For me it’s just the opposite. A second puzzle strikes me as very generous. I wonder if it’s a speed-solver thing to any extent. The normal Mr. Happy Pencil-type of timing is really irrelvant here. (Hint: it’s not really “post-game.”) And including the time spent solving the cipher makes for an unfair comparison with “normal” crosswords.

    I have no such problems. :=)

  8. Tuning Spork says:

    I also didn’t get the gimmick until I’d filled the grid. Agreed, Martin, that a “second puzzle” is fine, but I think it’d be even better if more of a hint as to what’s going on were given during the solve.

    I’d noticed that “I” was the second letter in each starred answer, but (mainly ‘cuz I was wondering “two eyes”???) failed to recognize that “S” was the third letter in each. So, maybe, instead of [*___ soup] for MISO, it could have been [*___ soup (or, read differantly, a clue to 39-Across)].

    Or something less clumsy, but somewhat more informative. As it was, we were left with two seperate puzzles to solve, in succession, rather than one cohesive puzzle with two dimensions to it.

    The down clues weren’t very tough. So we knew, early on, that we were looking at gibberish in the center. We just didn’t know why, yet. And speed solvers aren’t apt to explore the gimmick if exploring it is more likely to cost seconds than to save them.

    And, just because there aren’t enough opinions on the internet:
    I usually don’t make a point of speed solving late-week puzzles, and I like solving cryptograms. So it would have been nice to mix the two more than I, personally, could with this one. (If the gimmick were slightly more obvious and the down clues slightly tougher, it would have been a better mix. In my opinion. :-D )

    P.S. Congrats to David Steinberg on his NYT debut. Woo hoo!!

  9. Todd G says:

    I don’t know about anyone else, but the (very clever) NYT puzzle reminded me of this…first broadcast more than 20 years before David Steinberg was born!

    Let’s see someone use THAT as their puzzle’s theme!

  10. pauer says:

    Impressive debut! My debut was a code puzzle, too ( but I was far from 14 when I wrote it! Hope to see many more from this wunderkind.

  11. Duke says:

    Really liked the NYT today. It was fun and different even if some of the fill could have been better. If you know your movies, then you know J. Carroll Naish. A perfectly fine answer. We each have our areas of expertise.

  12. Karen says:

    A gold star for making the crossings for the coded part of the NYT quite gettable. I’ll admit, I thought it was an internet abbreviation I hadn’t heard of before (like TANSTAAFL) and looked on the NYT blog for a clue. Once I knew there was a code I figured it out. David should team up with Matt Gaffney.

    In the Tausig, I found 64A rather surprising.

  13. Matt says:

    I liked the NYT– there was a real AHA moment, which works for me. I suppose that now I’ll have to accept OHO, AAH, and OOH moments in puzzle solving as well…

  14. Howard B says:

    Congrats on the debut! I always appreciate outside-the-grid concepts :).
    That said, I simply could not grasp this theme until the explanation here. Pretty much my shortcoming, despite this being exactly the kind of theme I usually enjoy. I really could not find the connection here, and the middle answer was mystifying.
    Now that I have seen the light (Thanks, Amy!) I appreciate it much more. I just feel silly for completely missing the bus.

    There was a code-based puzzle a few years back where the theme answer was some kind of cryptogram or rotation (I forgot), with a reveal indicating that you had broken the code. I enjoyed that too, although I think the decoding instructions were imbedded in that puzzle. This had a reminder of that, though in a different way.

  15. Jan (danjan) says:

    Great debut! I didn’t get the theme until I came here, either. Of course, knowing I can come here might make me a bit less diligent in trying to figure out themes, but I was really stumped. I did make an attempt to shift the letters one forward or back in the alphabet to see if that worked, but it didn’t.

  16. Jim Paget says:

    Congratulations to Alex Vratsanos on his New York Times debut.  Getting published there is quite an accomplishment for anyone.  Read more about Mr. Vratsanos at today’s Wordplay blog at  It is clear he has a bright future ahead of him.

  17. Dan F says:

    Four great puzzles and I haven’t seen BEQ’s yet…

    Gotta agree with Sam, there are way too many proper names in the CS. Even though I like ’em, this is the exact complaint made in a letter to the editor recently (was it at the WaPo?). Isn’t the customer always right?

    And PB2 may be too modest to note that he also had a NY Sun theme like today’s NYT — xISx as a key to deciphering gibberish theme answers. But we know young David wasn’t influenced by that one! :)

  18. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Cruciverb database members can see PB2’s 2/9/07 Sun code puzzle here. I still have that puzzle in .puz form if anyone’s champing at the bit to try it.

  19. Daniel Myers says:

    The code, I found, was easy to twig, and I generally fancy this sort of thing. But the fill was a bit much for it to be completely enjoyable. MISO soup today rather than Häagen-Dazs. – I do have a soft spot for ANADEM though. Color me a LMVF, I suppose.

  20. Dan F says:

    Thanks Amy; btw, Cruciverb non-members can follow that link too, we just can’t run a search…

  21. Ladel says:


    When I was fourteen I couldn’t even spell HLMFFWVDMRV let alone use it in NYT crossword puzzle. Well done lad.

  22. john farmer says:

    Three debuts this week at the NYT. Kudos to all, and I thought today’s had a very clever, enjoyable theme.

    The puzzle today seems to have reminded a few people of xwords from the past. Here’s a 2001 WIJ puzzle I was reminded of (AL puz; solution). David Steinberg was 4 at the time. I’m sure it had a memorable impact on his young, impressionable mind.

  23. Jan (danjan) says:

    Loved the Fireball! I wanted to say so last night, but was waiting until the blog post.

  24. jamie says:

    The Fireball was VERY challenging, especially since I had never heard of Schmeling or that coach or his nickname, Tuna. I’d hate to tell you my time on that one, but yes, a 5-star gem.

    And what a pleasant surprise to get an acrostic from BEQ. I love acrostics, but I will never again solve one on paper. They were made for solving via this software. I agree that the quote was not inspiring; it also had too many repeated words (certain) and phrases (there will never be). That made it Easy rather than Medium. Still, I hope to see more of these from BEQ.

  25. Jbeck says:

    63D in the Fireball gets my vote for “Best Fill-in-the-Blank Clue of the Year”…

  26. John E says:

    I have wondered if anyone had ever created a cryptogram crossword, and today’s was about as close as I have seen anyone come. Perhaps someone can create one where either all the clues or all the answers are cryptograms. That might be too “out on a limb” for some papers but I know I would enjoy unravelling it.

  27. J. T. Williams says:

    Wasn’t this same theme of _IS_ used in a FB just a month or two ago? It seems REALLY familiar. I loved the puzzle, but I figured out what was going on after just the second starred clue or so (not that it helped my time) because I remembered the trick from a very recent puzzle. Don’t remember which one off the top of my head though.

  28. John Haber says:

    Tough theme and, I think, a tough fill. After the punny 1D, say, the next down clues are a crosswordese word (where I’d mistakenly tried “diadem”), more crosswordese for martial arts, the musical we’ll never have heard of, a variant spelling, and an Oscar nominee new to me. I’m surprised I didn’t just give up. But that said, I have to say the theme makes it a fine debut. I had seen an “_ IS _” theme before, but darned if I, too, remember when, and it didn’t kick in until I was basically done.

  29. Jeffrey says:

    What is the record for most consecutive comments made by people whose names begin with the letter “J”?

  30. just a guy says:

    Yes, J.T., that was #18: “What’s What?” by Richard Silvestri. That is all.

  31. janie says:

    @ jeffrey —

    whatever it is, am happy to do my part! and on a day w/ sooooo many juicy puzzles yet!


  32. joon says:

    it would be totally immature of me to contribute to such a meaningless “record”.

  33. J. T. Williams says:

    Thanks Just a Guy, I was thinking it was very recent. I thought the FB was very cool and the same is true for this puzzle, but I definitely would have been baffled for much longer if that pattern hadn’t clicked so fast!

  34. jandirhodes says:


    (Edited by Amy to change the first letter of the username. Game on!)

  35. Jalex Joisvert says:

    why/how could Stern have banned superstars without telling anyone?

    One of Simmons’s favorite conspiracy theories is that Michael Jordan was going to get exposed for gambling on basketball, so Stern forced him to “retire” to baseball for a few years until it blew over. Makes no sense to me, but it is what it is.

  36. David Steinberg says:

    Thanks for all your comments about my puzzle–I enjoyed reading them!

Comments are closed.