Wednesday, 9/14/11

Onion 3:53 
LAT 3:31 
NYT 3:01 
CS 6:35 (Sam) 

Would you like a sneak peek at how Will Shortz edits a crossword? The Atlantic gets an inside look as Will wrangles a recent Elizabeth Gorski puzzle into its final form, in “How Will Shortz Edits a New York Times Crossword Puzzle.” I’ve never laid eyes on a crossword manuscript as edited by Will (though I know how one looks when I’ve edited a batch of clues).

I glanced at the article this morning when Rex Parker tweeted the link, and the Atlantic’s original headline had the word “Creates” where you now see “Edits.” I’m presuming that this was one of the several corrections Will asked the Atlantic to make before he sent the link out hours later. Nicely played, Will!

Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers, 9 14 11 0914

Fun theme! Jeff finds a valid way to repeat an answer in the grid and give solvers a little tip-off to the theme right in 1-Across. It’s a highly oppositional theme. 1a and 71a are the black SPY and the white SPY (though they are both equally black and white in my crossword) from Mad Magazine’s timeless “Spy vs. Spy” feature. The remaining theme entries are the NATURE VS. NURTURE concept, the MAN VS. WILD TV show (have you seen Bear Grylls eat that gigantic larva?), the RENT VS. BUY real estate decision, and the movie ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. Bonus points for a fresh and fun theme concept with a soupçon of rule-breaking.


  • 25a. SHE gets clued by way of the Talking Heads song, “And She Was.” I love that song! Here, if you watched that horrible Man Vs. Wild clip, cleanse your mental palate with Talking Heads.
  • 55a. Blame George Lucas for the oddball spelling of WOOKIEES. No, there’s no reason at all for that double E.
  • 7d. [Our 206]? Why, that’s the area code for Seattle, isn’t it? It’s also the number of BONES in the human body, typically.
  • 19d. Great clue for ROYAL: [Word before pain or treatment]. Were you thinking of all sorts of body parts and medical conditions?

Not wild about the crosswordese slant to ASTI, RARA, OLEO, KENO, and SLIER. And the clue [Reply to a knock]—I’m pretty sure I have never responded to a knock at the door by calling out “ENTER.” If you’re the kind of person who does that, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest people may find you off-putting.

3.5 stars.

Don Gagliardo and C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 9 14 11

Cute theme that hides its true purpose until you reach the revealer answer:

  • 62a. Those [Words in a classic game show that can be followed by the ends of the answers to starred clues] are “I’D LIKE TO BUY…” a vowel. Which one? Maybe an A, an E, an I, an O, or a U—and ANA, ANE, ANI, ANO, and AU are lurking at the end of the other theme answers.
  • 17a. [*”The Music Man” number] is “GARY, INDIANA.” Also a person, Michael Jackson’s hometown, and a dismal place to drive through on I-94. (But if you hit Detroit on the same trip, you’ll see even more burnt-out, boarded-up buildings there than in Gary. Sad.)
  • 21a. A CANDY CANE is a [*Sweet stocking stuffer].
  • 34a. [*Lead singer in No Doubt’s hit “Don’t Speak”] is GWEN STEFANI.
  • 42a. A PLAYER PIANO is an [*Instrument using rolls].
  • 52a. AL JARREAU is a [*Seven-time Grammy-winning jazz singer].

I like the theme a lot better than the fill. Prefix API gets a clue—37a: [Bee fore?]—that is trying too hard to rescue it, when a boring clue would draw less attention to the blah fill that is API. The combination of SOU and ECU (49a: [Trivial amount] and 63d: [Former French coin], respectively) feels trapped in a crosswordese echo chamber. Then there are AGHAS, Roman numeral DCC, and ELOI ELAN ALBA ABBA AUK TET ISH. And the PERI SOYA LOGE ENIAC bundle all smooshed into the opening corner? Not helping the solver enter the puzzle with enthusiasm.

The presidential cross-reference is a nice touch, though. 30a: [Predecessor of 33-Down] and 33d: [Successor to 30-Across] looks supremely irritating in the clue list, but then you get enough crossings filled in and boom, presidents JOHNSON and NIXON hold hands in the grid.

2.75 stars overall, with a 4-star theme held back rather than supported by its surrounding fill.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Surely You Jet” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, September 14

Lempel takes four common expressions containing a word ending in -EST, removes the “S” so that those words end in -ET, then clues the results as if they were real entries. Let’s put that description “to the Tet:”

  • 17-Across: The [Equipment in the New Orleans Arena?] would be a HORNETS NET, a play on “hornets nest.” The NBA team in New Orleans is the Hornets, and they would need nets to play the game.
  • 28-Across: Another way to say [“Oppose this liquor ban, dude!”] would be to say GO WET, YOUNG MAN, a variation on “Go west, young man.” Great theme entry.
  • 44-Across: Your BET INTENTIONS (a play on “best intentions”) would be [What you give your bookie?]. If you had a bookie, that is.  Another great theme entry.
  • 58-Across: The [Goal of obedience school?] might well be described as PET CONTROL, a twist on “pest control.”

It’s a simple, accessible theme that’s well-executed. The grid has a nice mix of high-culture (VIOLIN SOLO and WINE BOTTLE) and more pedestrian entertainment (the MUPPETS and YAMAHA guitars—GOODY!). Other highlights include ABYSS, the [Immeasurable depth], and JUST SO.

I had JOEY as the answer to [Dennis the Menace’s friend], but this time the answer was GINA. RUFF would be another possible answer, but that one didn’t occur to me until just now.

My favorite clue was [Black sheep, maybe] for EWE. Speaking of the clues, I’m not sure I would call the TRAY an [Airline passenger’s convenience]—it seems to me the trays either come down too far or not far enough. The tray sits level only when the plane is banking sharply in one direction. And they usually contain gross, sticky remnants from prior passengers—I’d rather eat off a Motel 6 bedspread than the typical airplane tray. Convenience my eye! (Or, more accurately in this context, I suppose, “my lap!”)

Matt Gaffney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword solution, Matt Gaffney 9 14 11

I wasn’t understanding the theme at all until, towards the end of the solve, I got all of I’LL SAW YOU IN HELL figured out (had that ending with HALF first). Familiar phrases get a word that is (or can also be) a verb converted into the past tense, which completely changes the phrase’s meaning:

  • 17a. [Command that Ms. Barrymore not leave her poop in the toilet?] is “FLUSH, DREW.” I don’t know what flush draw is. Something poker-related, perhaps?
  • 25a. [Movie killer John Kramer’s sadistic promise?] is I’LL SAW YOU IN HELL. “I’ll see you in hell” is certainly fresh fodder for a crossword theme. No idea what John Kramer is. That’s the name of the killer in the Saw movies? I thought he was just called Jigsaw or something.
  • 43a. [Valentine’s Day gift from Mt. Olympus?] is a red ROSE OF THE TITANS. What on earth is rise of the Titans? A title of something? I know Clash of the Titans but that’s it.
  • 57a. [Result of chewing on a pool table?] is MOUTH FELT, green felt in the mouth, rather than mouth-feel.

So the theme was hit-or-miss for me. Smart concept, but I’d have preferred original phrases that were more familiar.

Good fill overall. Favorite clues/answers:

  • 5a. [“Drugs are bad, ___?” (Mr. Mackey line on  “South Park”)] clues M’KAY.
  • 20a. A SAD SACK is a [Debbie downer].
  • 5d. [Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in headlines] is MAD COW disease.
  • 6d. [Cameron of “Growing Pains” and “Left Behind: The Movie”] clues KIRK. Gotta love a little Left Behind action in your pop-culture clues.
  • 9d. MACHINE gets a great clue: [Person with great power and stamina, as it were].

Bleh: 36a. [Two after tee] is VEE, as in the letter V is two past T in the alphabet. Nobody likes the spelled-out-names-of-letters thing in the grid, much less spreading to the clues. Not to mention SLATY ISFAR EKCO EPEE ETTE.

3.5 stars.

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18 Responses to Wednesday, 9/14/11

  1. kludge says:

    I don’t say “ENTER” either and don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say it in real life, but I do remember an argument about whether to say “ENTER” or “Come in” from “The Sunshine Boys.”

  2. joon says:

    i loved this one. you had me at SPY vs SPY, really, but i had a smile on my face throughout the entire solve. SKULKS, GAMUT, DR. EVIL, WOOKIEES … what more can i say?

  3. Alex says:

    I had only ever seen this version of Man vs. Wild until your clip.

  4. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Alex, that is hilarious! I can’t wait to show that version to my husband and kid in the morning. Laugh-out-loud funny for anyone who’s seen any of the survival shows on TV.

  5. JoelF says:

    Loved it as well. Great theme and some great fill. Only complaint is the NEVIS/ELVER crossing, never seen either word.

  6. pianoman1176 says:

    Subscribed to Mad Magazine as a kid (rather, I bought a 10-yr subscription with my cash prize from a 5th-grade (GA) state-wide spelling bee championship, so I suppose it lasted well into my sophomore year of college). Notwithstanding, I owe my sense of humor to some mash-up among Mad, Arrested Dvmt., David Sedaris and Curb Your Enthusiasm, for what it’s worth.

    Somehow transliterated the “Y” from Bear Grylls into MANVSWYLD and it shaved precious seconds off a potentially stellar time (esp. since I was timing it on the NYT site). Loved the puzzle though Jeff. :-)

  7. Gareth says:

    Very Monday Wednesday! But a 5-star Monday! Really fun theme plus lots more fun in the fill!

  8. Jenni Levy says:

    One of my college friends said “Enter” but we all thought he was a little much.

    I really liked the puzzle but winced a bit at INCOG. Maybe I don’t read enough tabloid mags at the supermarket check-out – is that actually used?

  9. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @JoelF, clearly you need more Sporcle in your life. Start with the “name the countries in North America” quiz, which gets all those teeny Caribbean country names (like “St. Kitts and Nevis”) into one’s head. I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to remember all of them at the same time, though.

  10. Howard B says:

    NY Times – Well done today! Spy vs. Spy brings back Mad memories. Fun theme, rule-bending, and why not, throw WOOKIEES in there as well. Works for me :).

  11. John Haber says:

    ENTER didn’t both me, since it may not be idiomatic but it’s obvious. I’d never seen the Discovery Channel show or heard of the long entry for the 2004 movie, but I guess they were reasonably obvious enough. I didn’t know NEVIS, but ELVER and DINAH gave it to me. (The first of those two is crosswordese, but so it goes.) I think Austin Powers is incredibly stupid, but that entry too was whatever looked reasonable.

    Speaking of idiomatic, though, I’ve never heard of INCOG or O for ovation (and don’t care enough for Star Wars sequels to enjoy all that much the crossing with the bar game).

  12. Jeffrey says:

    There was a WOOKIEE in the original Star Wars (Chewbacca) so not sure what the sequels/prequels have to do with it.

  13. Jeff Chen says:

    Wish I could take credit for throwing WOOKIEES into the puzzle, but that’s Will’s revision (along with DR. EVIL – wish I had thought of that!).

    Will Shortz, giving a shout out to the 2-0-6 (my area code)!


  14. Zulema says:

    John Haber,

    Thank you for explaining “standing O.”

  15. LARRY says:

    I have been having troubel the last two nights getting the app to accept my solutions and my times. It keeps telling me my solution is incorrect even though the answers all check out against the published solutions on the .puz version. Anybody else have this difficulty? Any clues on how to solve it? (Not that I’m very fast – I only play the M-W puzzles online and usually come in between 250-350.)

  16. Martin says:

    It’s tough enough to transliterate Chinese. Why is it surprising that Shyriiwook’s moans and gurgles map to quite a few diphthongs and triphthongs using our vowels? “Ie” and “iee” are very different.

  17. Loved it, definitely one of my fastest Wednesdays in a very long time. Picked up SPY vs SPY from the Y in YETI, threw down NATUREVSNURTURE from the T in YETI, and I was off to the races. Next I laid down ALIENVSPREDATOR, and I wanted MANVSWILD but I wasn’t sure, so I held off until a got a couple of crosses there.

    I was hoping for MANVSFOOD at some point (that was the first thing that popped into my mind after filling in NATUREVSNURTURE), but that never panned out.

    I recently finished playing L.A. Noire, which allows your character to go into “incognito mode” when tailing a suspect, so I had no trouble putting in INCOG, but I can understand people being upset at that entry.

  18. John says:

    Coincidentally, the Liz Gorski puzzle written up in that Atlantic article turned up today in the local paper that runs the syndicated NYT crossword. Unfortunately, I read the article before picking up the paper, so my solving experience was compromised.

    After solving, I went back and checked out Amy’s review, and was interested to see that she had singled out what turns out to have been one of Shortz’s changes–the clue [A Mexican might sleep under it]–for criticism. I think it’s a fair criticism, but even so, I think it’s an improvement over the Gorski original, [Mexican hat].

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