Thursday, 8/11/11

NYT 4:51 
LAT 3:34 
CS 9:46 (Sam – paper) 
Tausig 5:32 (pannonica) 
BEQ 8:09 (Matt) 

Parker Lewis’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers, 8 11 11 0811

Parker Lewis can’t lose, can he? This crazy math theme somehow worked itself out even though I only did the work on making sense of the SEQUENCE for the first Across theme answer. The other two? Eh, the crossings filled them in. Here’s the math:

  • 17a. I saw that the sequence of [3, 6, 11, 18, 27…] was +3, +5, +7, and +9, so the next number in the series would be 38. Turns out that algebraically, it’s X SQUARED PLUS TWO. (1×1) + 2 = 3 through (5×5) + 2 = 27. X progresses from 1 to 5 in each series.
  • 34a. [4, 2, 4/3, 1, 4/5…]—I got nothin’. Turns out it’s TWENTY OVER FIVE X. 20/(5×1) = 4, 20/(5×5) = 0.8, or 4/5.
  • 57a. This one was 100% crossings, never even tried to guess at the series. [8, 1, –18, –55, –116…] is NINE MINUS X CUBED. 9 – (1x1x1) = 8, while 9 – (5x5x5) = 9 – 125 = –116.
  • 3d, 37d. Each series of numbers in the theme clues is a SEQUENCE and the 37d’s clue tells us the VARIABLE X stands for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… in each sequence. 28d: GIVEN may be part of the theme too, GIVEN that it is in the center of the grid.

I’ll give it this: I have never seen a theme like this before. I hope it was fun for you, but if you’re a math-anxiety type, I’ll bet it was not.

Lots of lively fill—ZEROES and DIPS hanging out by the far wall, CATNIP, JINXES, green GUAC, STODGY, the TSWANA language from BoTSWANA (first heard of the language in another crossword a few months back). And fun clues—SLED is a [Vehicle for Calvin and Hobbes]. EMU is clued as a [Bird whose name is a Midwest school’s initials]. (I think it’s Eastern Michigan University.) ABBY is an [Apt name for a nun?] (abbey = Abby, get it?), but my brother-in-law is dating an Abby and I don’t think she’s in a convent. BEEST is pretty terrible fill, but it just might be salvaged by its [Ending with wilde- or harte-] clue. If you’re gonna go bad, you gotta go all out. Don’t just give us part of a Siberian city’s name or a little-known 1950s actor.

I liked seeing UNICEF in the grid, as the organization was among the first to get food aid into Somalia, where hundreds of thousands of children are in danger of starvation. Truly heartbreaking, the combination of drought and politics that is creating this dreadful famine. If you can spare a few bucks, I hope you’ll donate to Unicef too.

3 4/3 stars.

Clive Probert’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 8 11 11

If you’ve got to put boxing lingo into a crossword, this is the way to do it—clued in entirely different trumped-up contexts. That may sound snarky but I’m dead serious. I would never have known 17-Across as a boxing punch. Here’s the theme:

  • 17a. [Very angry, informally?] clues RIGHT CROSS. I…don’t know exactly who would ever phrase it that way. “I’m right angry,” I could see, but “cross” doesn’t seem to go with “right.” However! It’s not clued as a punch so I’m OK with it.
  • 26a. LEFT HOOK could be defined jokily as a [Tackle box item for liberals?].
  • 44a. [Chuck steak, for example?] clues UPPER CUT. Because…the chuck steak is cut from the top of cattle? I don’t know much about cuts of meat. Tell me it’s the deltoid muscle and I’ll be able to visualize it much more easily.
  • 58a. [What 17-, 26- and 44-Across are, figuratively and literally] are PUNCH LINES, as they’re sort of punch lines to the “jokes” in the clues, and words for punches. Except that only 26-Across is remotely jokey. The others are bland phrases calling on alternate definitions of their component words.


  • 10d. [Bar drunk’s comeuppance] is getting the HEAVE-HO from the bouncer. Friend of mine just got the heave-ho at Murphy’s, across the street from Wrigley Field. He accidentally used the women’s room and was ejected from the premises.
  • 38d. [Velvet Elvis, e.g.] clues KITSCH. Great clue, great answer.
  • 20a. Interesting foodie clue for STILTON, a [European cheese with a Protected Designation of Origin].

Leading the lowlights, we have our long-lost crosswordese friend ALTAI (22d: [Central Asia’s __ Mountains]). This is jai ALAI’s big brother. I almost liked the -ARINA crossing of TSARINA and OCARINA, but then I remembered that I’m not crazy about either entry.

2.75 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Shopkeepers” — Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, August 11

For the third consecutive day we have the hidden word gimmick. Two days ago, it was R-Y-E, and yesterday was C-E-L. Today, we get the S-H-O-P letter sequence bridging the two words in each of the four long Across answers (thus, each theme answer “keeps” a SHOP inside):

  • 17-Across: [“I’m crossing my fingers”] clues HERE’S HOPING. As in, “Here’s hoping the shop will still accept that expired coupon.”
  • 28-Across: The [First major U.S. medical school to admit women as well as men] was JOHNS HOPKINS. I don’t think I knew this, but for whatever reason it came to me right off the bat and I didn’t really question it. Oh, and as for shops, the Johns Hopkins Hospital has two gift shops and a flower cart.
  • 43-Across: The [“Easy Rider” writer, director, and costar] is the late, great DENNIS HOPPER. I don’t think he ever owned a shop, but I believe he dabbled in photography.
  • 57-Across: [Its winner raises the claret jug] refers to the BRITISH OPEN golf tournament. Darren Clarke was the most recent golfer to raise it in victory. You can purchase a replica version at this shop.

Note how the diagonal arrangement of black squares down the middle effectively separates the grid into two halves, with your only access from one half to the other going through either JOHNS HOPKINS or DENNIS HOPPER.  I completed the right-hand side first in 4:50 and really liked it. There’s some great fill, with TIKI BAR, KING MIDAS, GET BACK, ONE-UPS, and TOTO TOO really bringing some pizzazz to the table. SATORI, clued as [Zen enlightenment] took me a while to suss out, but everything else gave way eventually. I loved how the consecutive clues for 49- and 50-Down tied to All in the Family: [Archie Bunker’s liberal neighbor Lorenzo] for IRENE and [Liberal, to Archie Bunker] for PINKO.

The left side took about the same time (4:56) but felt much tougher to me. At the core of the complexity was CALUMNY, a word that looks like it’s missing at least a vowel and a consonant. My dictionary says it is synonymous with a slanderous statement, so while the clue, [Slander], feels a bit off I think it’s legitimate. That it intersected with SLANGUAGE, the [Colorful vocab], didn’t help me any. Because I had ONE-A as the answer to [In a class by itself], I couldn’t figure out the [Monks’ monotones] because the right answer, CHANTS, looked wrong. But once I found that ONE-A was supposed to be ONLY, it made much more sense. The fill on the left side didn’t feel as zippy as it did on the right, but the left side did have my favorite clue: [Strip at the pool] for LANE. Yes, my mind went there for a moment.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Pop Duos” — pannonica’s review

Ink Well crossword "Pop Duos" answers 8/12/11

Pop duos, in that each theme entry is a mash-up of two brands of soda (carbonated soft drinks, for our readers outside the USA), and the new phrase is clued. For kicks, I looked up the parent company of each.

  • 17a. [Romantic fantasy for an elf?] SPRITE CRUSH. Lemon/lime & orange. (Coca-Cola & Dr. Pepper/Snapple)
  • 11d. [Account with a drug dealer?] COKE TAB. Cola & diet cola. (Coca-Cola & Coca-Cola)
  • 38d. [Picture of a criminal relation?] DAD’S MUG. Root beer & root beer. (Dad’s Root Beer Company & Pepsi)
  • 55a. [Child laborers?] SQUIRT HIRES. Grapefruit & root beer. (Dr. Pepper/Snapple & Dr. Pepper/Snapple) Easily the most unappetizing pairing of the four. Squirt was unfamiliar to me.

It’s a cute theme; the answers and their clues elicited a few grins from me, but the quantity is quite low. Two of the themers—half of them—are only seven letters long. Of 193 letters in the grid, a mere 36 constitute theme material: less than 19 percent. Even the nine-letter central across answer is not of the theme; a marginally saving grace is that it’s crossword related: WORD GAMES [Scrabble, Boggle, etc.]. If Tausig had been looser and allowed himself to use names as homophones and puns he would more easily have been able to include more theme content, but he played it straight-up, unadulterated.

The rest of the fill is mostly varied and clean. Despite the call-out at 34-Across, the grid is not particularly Scrabbly. Some odd constructions like EXILER, RESIT, and SNOOZER are unwelcome. Perhaps a few too many acronyms? CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome, which I could not for the life of me remember while solving), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), KSU (Kent State University, which I’d absentmindedly filled in as OSU; gee, thanks, CSNY!), EEG (electroencephalogram), CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), USS (United States Ship), and SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory).

Further, some clues struck me as simply “off”:

  • 34d. [People who make hard choices too often?] WINOS. “Hard” liquor is spirits, as opposed to beer and wine. A wino doesn’t drink wine exclusively, but as states, one is “a usually indigent alcoholic who is addicted especially to wine” (emphasis mine).
  • 10d. [Latin phrase for improvisers] AD HOC. Ad hoc adv (Latin “for this”): “for the particular end or case at hand without consideration of wider application.” True, in the definition for the adjectival version, sense 2 is “fashioned from whatever is immediately available :improvised.” For comparison, the various forms and senses of ad lib tally more closely with improvisation. Rather than feeling tricky or misdirectional, the clue seems imprecise and poor. (Definitions from m-w, again.)
  • 36a. [XM medium] RADIO. Specifically, satellite radio, which I don’t feel is synonymous with radio.
  • 12d. [Ship in some sweet old war paintings] TRIREME. Perhaps I’m missing something obvious, but what does the modifier “sweet old war” have to do with it? While we’re here, the next clue and neighboring entry (13d) is needlessly obscure: [Go, on a scow] SET SAIL. Most modern-day scows do not have sails and even though “set sail” metaphorically (and anachronistically) means “to take to the water in a boat” and the clue is technically accurate, I didn’t care for it in context.

I suspect that non-New York Citiers will be unfamiliar with 35d MOTT ST., a major artery there. 5d ROTOS is, apparently, short for “rotisseries,” [Fantasy leagues that aren’t head-to-head]. Nice to have a clue for 22d ZETAS that doesn’t directly invoke Greek, even if it was unknown to me [Major Mexican drug cartel, with “los”]. The other clue I enjoyed was 28d [Match boxes?] for CAGES, as in a “cage match.”

So, somewhat anemic theme and uninspired ballast equals average to slightly subpar puzzle.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”—Matt Gaffney’s review

BEQ 8/11 answers

Before we get to this Thursday’s puzzle, check out Brendan’s interview in the Boston Globe.

Now, who’s up for a little civil disturbance? BEQ, that’s who: riffing off the recently ticked off citizens of England, Israel, and other spots around the globe, Brendan changes the meaning of five phrases to make them riot-related:

  • If you [Rob a bakery], you TAKE THE CAKE.
  • [What you do after looting first?] is STEAL SECOND.
  • [Destroy everything in a museum?] is TRASH COLLECTION.
  • [Throw a Molotov (cocktail) into a record shop?] is BURN SOME CDS.
  • [Detonate a toy store?] is BLOW-UP DOLLS.

Clever, current, never-before-seen (at least by me) idea and funny theme entries, so thumbs-up on themage.  STEAL SECOND is the only one I might nitpick, since STEAL keeps its original meaning of thievery, while the other four become non-riot-specific verbs. Not nearly enough to turn the theme thumb sideways, though.

Five observations:

  1. Standard Quigley fill:  TAHITI, TAX LAW, D-BACKS, MR. TOAD, XTC, GIOVANNI.
  2. 61d clue: a mini-theme entry.
  3. SW corner: awesome.
  4. Smooth grid with no cheater squares, not easy to do with five theme entries of 11/11/15/11/11.
  5. Took me 8:09 to solve this puppy. Hardly Hinmanesque, and I’m sure I didn’t beat Amy.  One day…one day soon, I shall defeat her. [Low 4s for me, Matt. Loved the puzzle!—Amy]

Thanks for the puzzle, Brendan (who may be a father by the time you solve his next puzzle), and have a peaceful Thursday, everyone!

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28 Responses to Thursday, 8/11/11

  1. Jeffrey says:

    I met Parker at a Seattle constructor meet I crashed earlier this year. Look out for more from this very creative kid. Check out his story at Wordplay.

    OCARINA will forever be the unknown term that Merl used in an ACPT puzzle that caused me fits a few years ago.

  2. ArtLvr says:

    Whew — congrats to Parker Lewis on this highly unusual NYT debut, as well as his Peace Corps service… I remember seeing friends off in its first year, awesome. Also a Phi Beta Kappa roomy who was “de-selected” for attending orientation sessions in DC barefoot, though her heart was in the right place. Guess they were afraid she was too LOCO.

    I also liked the LAT by Clive Probert, less eccentric and didn’t leave me GAGA.

  3. Dave G. says:

    I loved this puzzle. One of the few times that my degree in math helped me with a crossword… Only one problem: in standard math notation integer variables are usually represented by one of the following: i,j,k,l,m,n. x is usually a continuous variable. Luckily the crosses make the xes clear enough.

    OK, so that’s a really technical nit, but I picked it anyway.

  4. Jenni says:

    If I wanted a math puzzle, I’d do ken-ken. I know I was cranky when I woke up, but still.

  5. Gareth says:

    NYT makes me go “Why?” why these equations? Seems pretty arbitrary, but admittedly at least it is different theme-wise. I too mostly ignored the theme answers though, filling in odd words like minus and cubed as they appeared. I seem to have blitzed through this puzzle faster than most people (which doesn’t happen this late in the week, ever.), it’s almost certainly gonna be the only Thursday I outpace you, Amy so to make up for the other 51 weeks: “Nyah, nyah!” I do think partly its the African subtheme going on here that helped!

  6. Tom says:

    No fair. I should not have to be knowledgeable in math to do a crossword puzzle. There were some clever clues, but I can’t recall ever finishing a puzzle correctly and yet still having no idea what ALL of the long answers mean. No fun.

  7. pannonica says:

    It’s good to have variety in crossword puzzle themes, but today’s New York Times’ was most assuredly not my cup of X. And I enjoyed algebra in school.

  8. cyberdiva says:

    I loved today’s NYTimes puzzle. I don’t recall seeing anything else like it, though admittedly I don’t have extensive experience nor much of a memory. At first, I was terrified that I’d need to know terms like “Fibonacci numbers” that float around in the depths of my mind, rarely surfacing even for crossword puzzles. Eventually, I realized that I wouldn’t need to know anything more exotic that “squared” and “cubed.” Seeing how straightforward that was, I’m surprised that the puzzle took me as long as it did.

  9. Howard B says:

    Congrats to Parker on this! His writeup on Wordplay is also an interesting read.

    Well, the repressed math geek in me rejoiced at this one, but I can also see the polarization this will cause. (Which brings me back to the days of studying up on polar coordinates, but I digress…).

    The theme here requires some hindsight after solving, as there isn’t the same immediate pun or aha lightbulb moment that we expect (“-116! Of course!!!”).
    I found it more satisfying to slowly discover the intricacy of the 15-letter themes working within the mathematical constraints.

    Any time a theme strikes me as original, I’m for that too.

  10. Lloyd Mazer says:

    The middle theme answer did not feel right. The other two provided an action to perform on the variable X – (MINUS X or X CUBED) but the TIMES X was omitted from the middle answer. Anyone else feel this way or just my nitpicky self?

  11. joon says:

    lloyd, there it is: TWENTY OVER FIVE X. “over” is synonymous with “divided by”, and the operation in question is division by 5X. actually, i didn’t like this theme answer either, but for an entirely different reason: it’s not simplified! it should just be 4/X (FOUR OVER X). i would not accept 20/5X as a correct answer on a math quiz, and i bet parker wouldn’t either.

    having said that, not only did i really like this theme, i find it mind-boggling to read comments like “i shouldn’t have to know math to do a crossword puzzle.” you have to know math to be a functioning member of human society! this isn’t higher mathematics. the only thing involved is elementary operations on small integers, something we all learned how to do in grade school. expressing them in terms of X raises it to the level of algebra 1, perhaps, which i’m quite sure everybody here learned in early high school at the latest. would any grownup ever say anything like “i shouldn’t have to be able to read at a 9th-grade level in order to ____”?

    i love the word CALUMNY.

  12. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @pannonica, I’m fine with Ben’s WINO clue. It doesn’t say the wino drinks hard liquor so much as that he’s eschewing soft drinks.

  13. Lloyd Mazer says:

    I loved it too – just the challenge to figure out what was going on – but the action on the X should be FIVE TIMES X – not just FIVE X – to be consistent with the others. I know I am stubborn.

  14. joon says:

    matt, i think STEAL SECOND is fine. in the base phrase, “steal” does not actually have the connotation of thievery; no object or asset is actually being illegally taken from anybody. it’s just a runner advancing to the next base. unless, that is, you’re talking about lloyd mcclendon stealing first base.

  15. pannonica says:

    ¹hard (adj): 2a. of liquor (1) : having a harsh or acid taste (2) : strongly alcoholic. (

    hard: 4 potent, powerful, or intense, in particular.
    (of liquor) strongly alcoholic; denoting distilled spirits rather than beer or wine. (

    I don’t buy “hard” in opposition to “soft” drinks, even within the context of the theme. No one asks if you’d care for a hard drink, they say (ambiguously, admittedly) “would you like a drink?” and some people choose to be offended, thinking that the alcohol content is guaranteed.

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    Yeah Joon, you’re right — Steal is used in its non-thieving sense in baseball, so the theme is consistent.

  17. Daniel Myers says:

    I second joon on the 4/x nit for 34A. As Thoreau says, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

  18. Coach says:

    @Dan Myers – Wouldn’t it have been simpler if Thoreau had simply said “Simplify”?

  19. Jeff Chen says:

    I liked the change of pace of the NYT theme today. I’m hoping Joon or another of the resident Fiend academics publishes a matrix theory puzzle in which the eigenvalues or determinant is somehow embedded into the puzzle. I can just imagine the first long answer: “INVERT THE MATRIX”…

    Ah, math humor.

  20. Daniel Myers says:

    @coach – LOL – touché!

  21. joon says:

    jeff, that’s an amusing idea. the closest i can think of is this puzzle. as for me, i’ve always dreamed of getting ONTO clued as {Surjective}, but no editor would let that go.

  22. Alex says:

    I would definitely have accepted 20/5x as correct on a quiz. FWIW.

    Also: I hate that we don’t let students write 1/sqrt(2). I know it’s totally unrelated, but it’s a huge pet peeve of mine.

  23. Tuning Spork says:

    No one asks if you’d care for a hard drink, they say (ambiguously, admittedly) “would you like a drink?” and some people choose to be offended, thinking that the alcohol content is guaranteed.

    From W.C. Fields’s “The Dentist”, after a particularly arduous tooth extraction:

    NURSE: Would you like a drink?
    WOMAN: What is it?
    NURSE: Water.
    WOMAN: No-o-o-o, thanks.

    (It was released in 1932, during prohibition.)

  24. John Haber says:

    I liked the theme, too, and disagree that it means you have to know math, beyond knowing what “cubed” means. It’s just something you get from crossings as you try, like Amy (or I) to piece it out. I actually got that the middle one was 4/n, not guessing the expression (and used to the convention of things other than x for sequences), but it still worked out in a nice way. After all, FOUR OVER wouldn’t have had enough letters. Very hard puzzle, I thought, because (even if you aren’t scared off), it’s a lot of theme entries with three full-length ones plus two downs.

    Hardest for me came after I had the theme, with whites around what worked out to the princess and game manufacturer.

  25. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Looks like today’s NYT and BEQ puzzles are both polarizing, with a sizeable number of 5-star ratings offset by 2s. I’m glad to be on the side that puts both between 4 and 5 stars, as it means I got two puzzles I enjoyed a lot rather than two puzzles that made me grumble. I’m curious to know why anyone rated the BEQ crossword with 2 stars—I thought the theme was terrific (plus a timely tie-in) and the fill didn’t detract from it.

  26. Tom says:

    @Joon, I was being a crybaby because I got beat up by this puzzle, even though I actually completed it. I regret posting in the first place.

    But mind-boggling as it may be, I really do not possess the math smarts needed to understand the answers in this puzzle. I have never been good with numbers. I failed high school algebra. Yet, somehow I AM actually a functioning member of human society.

    Also, I like the word CALUMNY too.

  27. Noam D. Elkies says:

    3 and *4/3* stars? Cute.

    And yes, “steal” is fine, at least if you imagine the perpetrator is stealing *into* second [base] by using, well, stealth.

  28. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Thanks, Noam! I should include more arithmetic problems in my ratings.

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