Thursday, 6/21/12

Fireball 7 minutes 
NYT 4:05 
LAT 7:34 (Neville) 
CS 5:57 (Sam) 
BEQ 5:05 (Matt) 
Tausig untimed 

Caleb Emmons’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers, 6 21 12 0621

What are the odds of that? A nifty, unexpected gimmick comes along, and it’s easy for me to figure out because Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest just used the same gimmick less than two weeks ago. And Matt tells us Brendan Emmett Quigley used the concept in a 2009 puzzle as well. Caleb may well not have seen the BEQ, and certainly he didn’t see the June 2012 MGWCC before making this puzzle. It’s a great idea, with the unfortunate-for-Caleb timing of being published so soon after Matt’s riff.

The gimmick in question is completing theme answers by using the clue number as the beginning of the phrase. The [Apocalyptic figures] are the {4} HORSEMEN, not just HORSEMEN. Heinz famously boasts of {57} VARIETIES. There’s {21} JUMP STREET, clued as the old TV series rather than this year’s movie. 19d: [A dystopian novel] combines the clue number with {19} EIGHTY-FOUR. There’s a rather dull {18}-HOLE ROUND, and Jack Benny was perpetually {39} YEARS OLD. (So am I.) There is a mix of answers that really want the number word and answers that are best served up with the numerals. You want Four Horsemen and Nineteen Eighty-Four, while 57 and 21 demand the numerals. The 18 and 39 could swing either way; I prefer numerals for 10 and up.

HEY, MOM” is cute, but it’s mired amid an H-TEST, SST, and ELUL. Overall, the fill is pretty lively and Scrabbly, though Rex Parker will be delighted that the Z, X, J, and K are not joined by a Q requiring compromises in the fill to achieve a pangram.

4.5 stars, because the number trick is indeed clever even if I just saw it in that MGWCC puzzle. If this puzzle had been published a month or two ago, there’s a good chance Matt wouldn’t have even used the gimmick (as he likes to catch his solvers off guard with something they weren’t expecting) and Caleb’s achievement would be more memorable as a nifty 2012 crossword theme. Can’t punish Caleb for the long time most NYT constructors wait to see their puzzles published, can we? Of course, there are only a few thousand people who see the MGWCC puzzles (which is criminal—all of you who love untangling clever crossword challenges should visit Matt’s website right now to scope it out, and sign up at his Google group to receive the puzzle via email every week), so the other gazillion who solve the NYT but not MGWCC will just be impressed with this one and not compare it to Gaffney’s.

John Lieb’s Fireball crossword, “Not Easily Swayzed”

Fireball answers, 6 21 12

I haven’t got an exact solving time to report tonight, as I finished the puzzle without receiving any congratulations from the puzzle software. I scanned the entire grid looking for possible typos, gave up, selected “check entire puzzle,” and found out that my BABY rebus squares were wrong. But just putting a B wouldn’t look as neat! Nor would it display the gimmick as clearly to blog readers. Sigh.

Anyway: Cute theme! Patrick Swayze’s memorable line from Dirty Dancing, “NOBODY PUTS {BABY} IN A CORNER,” occupies the middle theme answers. Defying Swayze, (début?) constructor John Lieb has put BABY in four corners of this grid, along with the inner corner crossing in the quote. Such gall! Nobody puts Baby in a corner four or five times and doesn’t get his butt kicked by Johnny Castle, amirite?

You know you want to click it. It’s the “Time of My Life” final dance from Dirty Dancing, in high definition. Go ahead. We’ll wait for you back here. You can go dance for a bit if you want.

Seven faves:

  • 9d. [Freaks and geeks, e.g.], PLURALS. I almost always fall into the trap such clues make, tricking me into assuming the “X and Y” phrase is to be weighed the way it usually is, rather than parsed as “two random examples of a grammatical or rhetorical class.”
  • 40a. [Grammys’ U.K. counterparts], BRITS. How did I not learn this earlier?
  • 46a. [Octet in Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man”], artsy clue for LIMBS.
  • 6d. [You can count on him], GO-TO GUY. Good entry.
  • 22d. [Orientation named for an ancient Greek poet], SAPPHISM. Sappho was just in the Onion puzzle, wasn’t she?
  • 27d. [Obsession of Martin Short’s Ed Grimley], PAT SAJAK. “I must say…” Hmm, I’m not sure the character stands the test of time. Some friends and I were just talking about Martin Short recently. If you’ve never seen his movie Clifford, in which the grown man plays a troublemaker 10-year-old, you have missed a gem! And by “gem,” I mean turd. Apparently. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it was walk-outable during its theatrical release.
  • 35d. [“Gonna Fly Now” composer], BILL CONTI. Video! Bo-o-oring. Here’s Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” from a later Rocky movie. In second grade, my kid’s teacher printed out the lyrics from the internet and taught a group of kids to sing the song…complete with the line “it’s the cream of the fight.” Mmm, creamy fighting.

Four stars.
Updated Thursday morning:

Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “No E-Books, Please” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, June 21

Here’s a crossword you can judge by its cover. The four theme entries contain a word that doubles as part of an old-fashioned print book:

  • 17-Across: The [Cephalopod’s defense mechanism] is OCTOPUS INK. I’d give six arms to have the ability to squirt ink as a defense.
  • 26-Across: Something that is [Really scary] is said to be SPINE-TINGLING.
  • 42-Across: A SMOKING JACKET is [Elegant attire for a cigar puffer]. I’ve never owned a smoking jacket. I would think it would need its own closet so as not to infest the other clothes with the stench of smoke.
  • 55-Across: An [Empty threat] is often described as a PAPER TIGER. “Tiger paper,” on the other hand, is used for lining circus cages.

The theme keeps you on your toes because you don’t know if the book-related term comes at the front or the rear. But it all comes together nicely–one might say it has good binding.

I really, really wanted [Mexico’s Quintana ___] to be RIO (you know, “river”). So much so that I stuck with it even though I was getting -ANII as the end to the [Asian city with a Revolution Museum]. For some reason I had trouble seeing SHOP as the answer to [Go for the gold, perhaps?] (as in “go shopping for gold and other valuables,” apparently), so the Asian city just wouldn’t reveal itself. It was only when I finally gave up on RIO that HANOI became visible to me. But that left me with … Quintana ROO.  Huh? It sounds like the name of a gang in a Quentin Tarantino movie. But it’s one of Mexico’s 32 states. As odd as it seems to me, I’m sure “South Dakota” sounds just as strange to a Mexican crossword blogger.

Favorite entry = PEKING DUCK, the [Chinese entree with an out-of-date name]. Favorite clue = [They’re toast] for GONERS. It’s hard to have fun with this concept, but I think Lynn pulled it off nicely. It’s both slightly whimsical and classy.

Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 6 21 12

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 6 21 12

Batter up!

  • 17a. [*Personal history] BACKGROUND
  • 24a. [*Russia’s is the largest in the world] – LAND AREA
  • 37a. [*Only women understand one] – GIRL THING. You don’t want to even have a clue as to what I thought this might be.
  • 53a. [*Many a dorm resident] – ROOMMATE
  • 61a. [Exciting inning ender, and an apt description of the answers to the starred clues] – DOUBLE PLAY

So each compound answer can have either of its components preceded by the word “play” to make a new phrase… playback, playground, etc. That’s a clever revealer at the end, Jack! Way to swing for the fences.

Let’s learn some geography. The TACONIC mountains, [Mount Greylock’s range] are a part of the Appalachians up in New York and New England. That’s a new range for me. (I wonder if Jack had originally tried LACONIC in that spot, but ran into problems at 1a.) Next door (in the grid, not on the map) is ALABAMA, [Tuskegee’s locale]. That could refer to either the city of Tuskegee or its university (nee institute) of the same name.

Is it just me, or is it really neat to have OBSERVE and LIP READ right next to each other, too? I can’t help but think that an awful lot of work was put into filling this grid. Well, the bottom row’s not great (particularly REPRO and YSER), but we’ve all seen worse. I’ll allow it.

One clue makes me wish I lived on the beach (and on island time, of course): [Good time for clamming] – LOW TIDE. Mmm… clams. (No, not mmm… low tide.) Clams sound so much better than SHAD ROE to me. Color my palate unrefined, but me impressed with this puzzle!

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “The World’s Easiest Math Quiz”–Matt Gaffney’s review

BEQ 6/21 solution

Brendan gives us the “World’s Easiest Math Quiz” today, which would naturally include an IDIOT PROOF, a BABY FORMULA, one you can’t miss since it’s NO PROBLEM, JOY DIVISION and a CAKE SQUARE. Each of these are clued as simply [Question #1], [Question #2] and so on. I like the theme concept and it starts strongly, though it runs out of steam towards the end: the first three make perfect and funny sense, but JOY DIVISION seems a bit of a stretch (I get the idea, you’re doing division that’s so easy it’s a joy, but still doesn’t quite click like the others) and CAKE SQUARE works but the phrase itself is not too familiar (it’s just a square piece of cake, but doesn’t sound idiomatic to me, nor does it Google very well).  So we’ll go thumbs-sideways on the theme.


It’s a BEQ so there’s lots of good fill, of course: nice to see MOGAMBO in the grid instead of cluing Ava, you can’t fool me with a Metta World Peace reference for L.A. LAKER, ZEUS, WINSOME, BB GUN, OH DEAR!MR. MACHO, I OWE YOU, SNAP-ONS, VOTE NO and CUBE crossing the SQUARE in that cake entry. Minimal crud in there, which doesn’t rise to the level of being mentioned.

Don’t forget to hit up Brendan’s tip jar; for a $10 tip you get a copy of his new 21×21 freestyle jam!

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Ecological Change”

Ben Tausig Ink Well crossword solution, 6 21 12 "Ecological Change"

With the wide-scale destruction of wetlands by real estate developers, it is crucial to find a way to preserve wetlands habitats. And Ben Tausig has found a way: With puns.

  • 17a, 55a. [With 55-Across, wetlands where you can collect a little peat but not feel committed?], FENS WITH BENEFITS. (Plays on friends with benefits.) I like this one because I knew all about marshes and swamps as a kid, and I heard a little about bogs. But fens? I never hear anyone talk about fens. Maybe it’s regional? Maybe it’s more obscure. I don’t know. To me, it’s a word I learned from crosswords and see mostly in crosswords. So it’s nice to see that crosswordese repurposed to good effect.
  • 22a. [Annual wetlands tournament involving cattails and water lilies, casually?], MARSH MADNESS. The marshes I visited as a kid had cattails up the wazoo but I don’t remember any water lilies. (March Madness.)
  • 35a. [Wetland area that hosts keggers?], BEER BOG. (Beer bong.) Have you ever walked on a peat bog? I did, in college in Minnesota. Your feet get wet and the ground (matted vegetation atop acidic water) bounces when you walk on it.
  • 45a. [Wetland that rents living spaces to crocodiles and dragonflies?], HOUSING SWAMP. (Housing slump.)


  • 4d. Led Zeppelin’s KASHMIR, [Long song from “Physical Graffiti”].
  • 6d. [Like some Halloween candy] BITE-SIZE. It’s dangerous to keep bags of bite-size candy bars around after Halloween—too easy to snack your way through the whole bag.
  • 9d. [Strip with a lot of people around?], MAIN DRAG. Great fill, greater clue.
  • 50a. [Produce a boner], SCREW UP. “Boner” meaning “mistake” is a usage I see mostly in crosswords.
  • 1d. [Inseparable middle sch. pals, perhaps], BFFS. Best friends forever. LYLAS!
  • 31d. [Minnesota shopping mecca, briefly], MOA. Mall of America! Also an extinct New Zealand ratite, but I bet more people know MoA than the moa.

Did not know: 24a. TOBIN [___ Sprout of Guided by Voices].

3.75 stars.



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45 Responses to Thursday, 6/21/12

  1. ArtLvr says:

    Good one, Caleb Emmons — Your NYT debut wasn’t spoiled by anything similar seen by me beforehand and I wasn’t sure of your direction until 57A, probably because most of your theme answers were Downs. Very clever! The Fireball was even trickier, and I should have read the title first, but all was clear when I found Eartha Kitt in the SE corner. I actually saw her in New Faces ’52 way back when she was one of the newest, wow.

  2. John E says:

    I thought the NYT idea was ingenious, whoever came up with the concept originally.

  3. Foodie says:

    NYTimes- Very clever theme!! And very nicely executed! took a while for the light to come on and then it was definitely smile inducing!

    I see this sort of confluence in science– several people will come up with the same idea at about the same time and it’s the luck of the draw whose paper is published first. It makes me want to see with the puzzles one additional bit of information that we include in scientific papers: Date Submitted/ Date Accepted. I know it’s not likely to happen, but in this case, it would have been informative.

    Wonderful debut! Nicely done. Calebs rule.

  4. rh says:

    Unfortunately for me, I’d seen Matt’s beforehand, so I didn’t enjoy the cleverness as much as I would have had it been fresh.

    In one respect, I prefer this take to Matt’s: you mention how the “best-fit” version of the answers is a mix of the literal forms of the numbers and the numerals, but at least the numbers are numbers in every case, so the numerals can work, though “19-eighty-four” is an odd-looking mutt. I like that because the little numbers in the boxes are numerals, so this way we can read them straight in. Matt’s puzzle relied in several places on reading the numbers in literal form (e.g. ON Empty), which made it less elegant, if more challenging.

  5. john farmer says:

    I’m not sure which was first or if it matters — this puzzle from 1997 is a different twist using clue numbers (and I seem to remember another somewhere) — but today’s puzzle from Caleb seemed clever and fresh to me. Well done and congrats on the debut!

  6. Erik says:

    nyt puzzle was impressively constructed. how did he get those numbers to line up like that, with theme answers intersecting AND symmetrical?

  7. Bananarchy says:

    The construction is very, very impressive indeed. Super smooth solve, an ingenious theme, and remarkable thematic density. Like Erik, I’m left wondering how he ever designed that grid to lay out the theme answers. Remember, if you move even one square with a theme like this, it will almost certainly bugger up your numbering and the theme won’t work. Must’ve taken ages.

  8. Gareth says:

    In addition to Matt’s there was also a recent LAT… I don’t have the date, though.

  9. Howard B says:

    Loved the Times for its ingenuity and fun factor.
    Actually had a rough go at the Fireball. This is how a very good qualilty puzzle can actually produce a very different/polarizing solving experience (not criticism, but observation):

    I Loved the Fireball tie-in between the rebus and quote, but its specificity of theme and subject matter were challenging. I didn’t know the film quote at all (I had no idea of the related film, upon lookup I have seen the movie twice), and the surrounding fill had a lot of rather obscure film/TV related stuff to grind through. (BILL CONTI! TSOTSI! BRITS in one area? Ed Grimley/PAT SAJAK?). I know Peter loves this trivia and that’s very cool. It’s just that there was no overlap between our knowledge bases here, and the clues contained just a solid, steady drumbeat of this subject. I think if your interests mesh with this puzzle (and the quote is memorable), then it’s a great one. If not, then trust me, it’s a whole different experience.

  10. cyberdiva says:

    I’m yet another impressed NYT solver. Fortunately, I hadn’t seen this ingenious twist before, and like ArtLvr I didn’t catch on until 57A. It’s been a while since I’ve given a puzzle a 5-star rating. Bravo, Caleb!

  11. janie says:

    bill zais constructed a puzzle that was published in the times almost three years ago to the date) on thurs. 6/25/09 (and in will’s second “favorites” book, too) that also uses this terrific gimmick.

    as has been pointed out, the constraints it presents the constructor are huge. so when constructors find more ways to investigate the challenge — and with such lively fill to boot — then have at! congrats, caleb, on your dazzling debut!


  12. Stan Newman says:

    Very strange for me to be the old-timer in this conversation. But if I remember correctly, I believe the late great A.J. Santora did a 21(!) with the “clue number as start of answer” theme many years ago. I think I recall doing it in a book of old NYT crosswords when I was in tournament training mode in the early 80s. Any historians or NYT book collectors care to try to dig it out?

    I’d try to find it myself, but my NYT books, as well as most of my other books, are already packed up, as I’ll be moving to a new Long Island residence later this summer.

  13. Howard B says:

    Stan, I’ve solved that one some time ago as you did some years ago, but don’t have any evidence to back up the claim.
    I have no doubt that it is in some published NYT compilation, most likely either of Sunday puzzles or within a Greatest Hits-type book, as these are the only sources in which I would have encountered it during that time.

  14. Martin says:

    It was definitely an AJ Santora Sunday puzzle. I remember one of the theme entries was 76 TROMBONES. It’s been reprinted a number of times in book collections. I too will have a rummage around to see if I can find it.


  15. Zulema says:

    1. I just posted a comment but it seems to have disappeared.

    2. HELP! My e-mail address in the Leave a Reply box has a letter wrong – a typo, it looks like. I just noticed it today.

  16. Zulema says:

    It’s correct now, interesting!

  17. Todd G says:

    If Jack had originally tried LACONIC, he could have put an F in the upper left corner to get FALA and FEB. Both have appeared more than 10 times in the LA Times.

  18. Martin says:

    Amy, if you go to the UK (and hang aound talking about marshes) you’ll hear the word FENS in common usage.


  19. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Love Caleb’s NYT. Would have preferred it without the spoiler message, but, as others have said, we saw the same theme recently. But I thought Caleb’s realization of the theme was especially good. Also loved BEQ’s, by the way. ” Cake squares” is a familiar expression to me, (alas,) but I admit, Joy Division seemed a bit sketchy.

    I probably would have like Ben’s, but I didn’t get it — (meaning that for the most part the underlying expressions which are the source of the puns don’t sound idiomatic, or even familiar to me.) The word “fen” is not the problem. It’s just as natural to me as “marsh” or “swamp”. (Maybe it’s from reading British mystery novels from SH on down.) But the expressions–“friend with benefits”?? I never heard of. I have heard the amusing expression “a useful friend.” Same idea? Beer bong??” I thought a bong was something you smoked. When I entered “housing swamp” all I could think of was “housing swap”, though having spent 5 years of my life trying to sell a house, I suppose it could have come to me. Still, an interesting idea.

  20. Karen says:

    I don’t get the theme in Janie’s link above. Can someone explain?

  21. AV says:

    A beauty! Congrats CalebE for a brilliant offering.

    Yes, I have seen this theme before, but I was quite amazed at the intersection of jumpstreeT and varieTies, as well as holEround and Eightyfour! What a find! These crossings made the puzzle A+.


  22. Lois says:

    Karen: I don’t know cruciverb, but the listing and explanation of the vertical theme answers is on the right. I don’t understand the center answer listed in green, “something.”

  23. Martin says:

    Lois, I think it’s (30) SOMETHING.


  24. Amy Reynaldo says:

    No! It’s (20)-SOMETHING. That’s the age group just starting out.

  25. Amy Reynaldo says:

    (It’s an old puzzle. Today, 20-somethings are living with their parents and pondering their next move, hoping to be gainfully employed by the time they reach their 30s.)

  26. Martin says:

    Mea culpa, I was just going by memory.


  27. Martin says:

    … I was thinking of the TV show.


  28. Martin says:

    BTW, Amy that “No!” with an exclamation mark sounds like me scolding one of our pet ferrets.


  29. Jim Horne says:

    Karen, it’s actually 20-Something. This link shows the grid numbers and the clues so it makes more sense:

  30. arthur118 says:

    Bringing FENS a little closer to home, the home of the Boston Red Sox is Fenway Park, so named when it was built as one of the improvements in the Back Bay Fens, an expansive marshy area that was reclaimed and filled in at the turn of the 19th century (Fenway Park celebrates its 100th anniversary this year).

    The entire Fenway marsh area was improved and redesigned by Frederick Law Olmsted to become a key link in Boston’s vaunted Emerald Necklace.

    More than you ever wanted to know about FENS, I suspect.

  31. Zulema says:

    On the contrary, arthur118, that was very interesting, at least to me.

  32. M says:

    LAT’s wordplay was cool. But “RNR” for furlough? Is that some crosswordese variant of “R&R”?

  33. Bruce N. Morton says:


    I also found your post re Fenway *very* interesting. Since I vaguely know that “Back Bay” Boston involved reclaimed, filled land, I had wondered whether “Fenway” Park might have once involved a fen, but never got around to looking it up.

  34. placematfan says:

    Here’s my take on this puzzle: Great theme, okay execution. The theme is great just because it’s cool. Who cares, for the most part, if it’s been done before or when? Puzzles, like great ideas, can be individualistic without being original; how much bad art (imho) is put out by artists trying so desperately to be original that their art ends up faddy and forgettable and forced? Great (memorable) art is usually achieved by trying to be an individual, not an original. So . . . Whether and when this theme has been done before does not, personally, affect my judgment of its individual quality, its Sparkle.

    YEARSOLD and EIGHTYFOUR seem to be the weakest entries: the former has a “gimme” feel; the latter seems to undermine the puzzle’s coolness because the theme is based on words following literal numbers, so to have those words be spelt-out numbers is mildly weird.

    This puzzle breaks the fourth wall. Ever been to a play where an actor speaks unexpectedly to the audience? It can be kind of a buzz for the viewer, as etiquette boundaries are violated–and whether the sensation is enjoyable or off-putting, it is nonetheless affecting. A puzzle like this invokes a similar affectation, as does any puzzle that alters the normal boundaries of the solving experience–for example, yesterday’s Jonesin’ MINDTHEGAP puzzle, or, to perhaps a lesser extent, rebus puzzles.

    So I hate to be the one to burst the aforementioned bubble for anyone, but it seems to me that any Joe Constructor could throw up some generic 15×15 grid pattern in Compiler, match up clue-number placement in the grid with a list of desirable entries, and come up with an equivalent of this grid’s theme-entry arrangement in an hour or so. While I was impressed with the two crossings of theme entries, I actually finished this puzzle wanting a little more thematic material, maybe a NW/SE pair or West Central/East Central pair–something to kick the Sparkle up just a tad.

    So I can’t help but wonder if the 4½ stars given to this crossword are an earnest appraisal of the individual puzzle, or a biased and nonchalant nod to the affecting novelty of the theme.

  35. joon says:

    i was really impressed by the NYT puzzle, which was executed quite deftly even if it is not 100% original. i also had a similar experience to howard in solving the fireball; i actually did manage to wade my way through the BILL CONTI/TSOTSI/BRITS section but came to a screeching halt in the NW, where i didn’t recognize the (BABY) SLING maker (caroline made her own for our kids) and, for some reason, thought 1d was (BABY) PHAT (which i’ve only ever seen in fireball puzzles) instead of (BABY) RUTH, compounded by trying ELENA instead of SONIA next to it since the letter combinations worked so much better. took me forever to dig out from those twin errors. and speaking of twin errors, i ended up with BABY (BABY) at 56d and had no idea what was going on with ACA for klondike. BAY RUB seemed just as good as BAY RUM for 64a, though. oof. i’m glad i was wrong, though, because a half-rebused BABY (BABY) would be pretty inelegant.

    arthur, i was about to make the same point about FENS re: fenway park, except at a lower level of erudition (and it’s not often i get to say that).

    did anybody else find the LAT much harder than a typical LAT wednesday? the cluing felt weekend-tough all over the grid.

  36. joon says:

    placematfan, you wanted more than six theme answers, four of them interlocking, required to be at specific places in the grid?!? good grief.

  37. ArtLvr says:

    TACONIC surprised me as a mountain range, though I’m quite familiar with lovely Taconic Parkway alternative to the Interstate from Albany to NYC — no trucks, not much traffic!

  38. Bananarchy says:

    placematfan, I’m not sure if you’re a constructor or not. If you are, then you’ve got serious chops to consider the development of a theme like the NYT to be a cakewalk. If not, I would suggest giving construction a shot and rethink your comment! Take it from me, one’s “list of desirable entries” is never long enough to allow for a haphazard approach to an ambitious theme like this, and adding even one additional fixed answer, even a short one, makes filling the grid exponentially more difficult.

  39. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I liked the LAT, but I’m not sure that shad roe should be classified as a “caviar variety.” It is the egg sac (the ovary to be more direct), of the shad of course, so it contains the eggs, and hence the clue is not entirely off base. But shad roe is not eaten as discrete eggs, as with any form of caviar properly so called, rather the entire shad roe is gently poached or *very* gently sauteed (to preserve its integrity). It is delicious, with a mild, delicate marine flavor, somewhat like a mild organ meat, but quite unlike any variety of actual caviar.

    (I’m half inviting, and half dreading a response from Martin H.) :-)

  40. placematfan says:

    Bananarchy and joon, I have to concede to both points. Firstly, 52 squares of theme material is pretty impressive, much more so than the 40 or so that it originally seemed like to me (not sure why)–so I was wrong about thinking/saying there was a minimal amount of theme material. Secondly, after an hour of tinkering with this theme, achieving eight theme entries has proven much more difficult than I’d imagined. Dammit. Apologies to the constructor.

  41. Foodie says:


    I agree with others that the puzzle construction must have been demanding. That was my initial impression, and if other constructors chime in to say so, then who am I to disagree… But what I liked about your post is the concept “This puzzle breaks the fourth wall.” It’s an interesting notion for puzzles, and I did feel it in the way the notepad was phrased. It was a direct statement to me, different sounding from the usual passive voice of such pointers.
    And it managed to put me on the alert, increase my interest but not give away too much. I think this would be true for anyone who had never seen the gimmick before. If you have seen the gimmick and you immediately tumble to the trick, then it’s too easy.

  42. Martin says:

    No reason to fear, Bruce.

    I’m also a purist and shad roe is not caviar for two reasons. One is that shad are not sturgeon, which are the only fish that can provide caviar by law. Even similar products from other fish must be labeled “caviar substitute.” (The paddlefish, being a close relative, is an exception.)

    The other reason is that caviar is salted roe. Usually the processing involves removing the eggs from the ovaries, as you note, but it’s really the salt-preservation that turns roe into caviar. Shad roe is eaten fresh from the shad. (By the way, shad roe is one of my favorite treats in the spring but I also consider the shad the sweetest fish there is. The tiny, y-shaped bones — called floating intercostals — make shad a difficult fish to prepare, or to eat if you leave the bones. Ask you can imagine, with the many hundreds of species of fish that I’ve eaten, the one at the top of my list is worth some trouble.)

    Having said all that, “caviar” has come to mean edible fish roe so the clue is not that bad for the non-purists. Heck, I even make and enjoy “eggplant caviar,” a direct translation from the Russian. By the way, the Russian word for caviar is “ikra.” And yes, that’s where the Japanese name for salted salmon roe, “ikura,” comes from.

  43. Bruce N. Morton says:


    Yes, I became delightfully familiar with ikra during my many summers teaching in Moscow.

  44. Martin says:


    I was pretty sure you knew ikra :).

    Tonight I fried up a mess of surf smelt, Hypomesus pretiosus. Butterflied, with the spine and ribcage easily removed with a thumbnail, salted for an hour to firm up, crispy-coated (flour-egg-flour-egg-panko) and deep-fried two minutes in 350 degree oil, these little salmonids are hard to beat. Especially at $2.50/pound.

  45. John Haber says:

    I too loved the NYT puzzle. As others say, it’s so impressive that the numbers fall in the right squares for theme entries. It doesn’t bother me at all either that 1984 uses numbers in the rest of the entry. After all, it’s not a math problem, but a famous novel. I don’t agree that Jack Benny is more of a gimme than others either, at least for anyone younger than I.

    I originally had “I did it” instead of IT WAS I, making that corner hardest for me (that and not knowing “sed,” but now I do).

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