Wednesday, 7/18/12

NYT 3:40 
Onion untimed 
CS 4:06 (Sam) 
LAT 3:13 (Gareth) 

David Levinson Wilk’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 7 18 12

Four two-word phrases here have MAN at the end of word 1 and at the beginning of word 2, forming a MAN-MAN union, a.k.a. one type of SAME-SEX MARRIAGE. I assumed that all of the phrases were weird contrived ones, but apparently they’re not supposed to be considered contrived. But I Googled “TRUMAN MANDATE” and Google returned fewer than 300 hits, including pages where “mandate” was a verb or “Truman” was at the end of one clause and “mandate” at the beginning of the next. WALKMAN MANUAL sounds plausible but contrived (“user manual for the Walkman” is what you’d call it, no?) SHERMAN MANEUVER similarly gets about 600 Google hits, with the top ones actually listing “Sherman’s maneuver.” And when I Googled ROMAN MANNERISMS, I found an art style called Roman Mannerism, which you can’t very well pluralize. So I have no idea whether the constructor intended these theme answers to seem to be legitimate phrases, or if he was just playing around with contrived phrases that could be clued plausibly. Perplexing.

That said, SAME-SEX MARRIAGE is a lovely 15.

As with yesterday’s NYT, proper nouns abound: Tone LOC, IANS, GINA, AARON, WENDT, UMA, ROMEO, KAHN, AMES, MAYA, ENO, RAMON, ANA, ETNA, DIANA, LIVIA, ISR., TWAIN, O’NEAL, CARL. That’s 20? No, no, no. Too many. And look at the upper right corner: LOC and GINA cross LIVIA, O’NEAL, and CARL. Can we assume that the solver will have firm knowledge of Gina Gershon and/or Augustus’s wife Livia and won’t consider this a deadly crossing? That corner didn’t have to cement five names into a small space. Replace LOC, GINA, and TRIAL with HSN, GATE, and TREED and the only negative is adding the partial HAVE A (plus, you get the STEEL NERD).

Three stars.

Ben Tausig’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 7 18 12 Tausig

Left is right and up is down: POLAR OPPOSITES is clued at 2d/3d as [extremes, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme]. The north and south poles have reversed their polarity in this puzzle’s circled squares, in that an S takes the place of an N and vice versa:

  • 28d. [Emblem of the 2011-12 New York Knicks?], FLEUR DE LIN. I heard Jeremy Lin might be going to the Rockets—Ben was smart and clued this with last season.
  • 6d. [Improve as a butcher?], SEVER BETTER. Ick!
  • 26d. [Sitcom about a wacky deck crew leader?], WHO’S THE BOS’N. Ha! Love this one.
  • 10d. [Send dirty messages while waiting at the DMV, say?], SEXT IN LINE.
  • 35d. [Wolverine without a care in the world?], MERRY X-MAN. Ha!

Neat theme with a fresh visual approach to the POLAR OPPOSITES. I do not find myself compelled to spotlight anything outside of the theme. Am sleepy.

3.75 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “S-Wear Words” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, July 18

Each of the four theme entries is a two-word term, the last of which can also be an item of apparel starting with the letter “S:”

  • 18-Across: One who [Does likewise] FOLLOWS SUIT.
  • 28-Across: A [Pompous person] may be described as a STUFFED SHIRT. Hmm. In the other three theme entries, the “S” words are used in their alternates senses. That is, the “suit” one follows is not a suit worn for a fancy occasion but the suit on a playing card. And the “slip” in the next theme entry is not the “slip” one wears to avoid giving easy reward to the ogler. But the “shirt” in a stuffed shirt is, well, a shirt. In the spirit of Olympic judging, then, let’s dock a half-point for this minor inconsistency.
  • 49-Across: An [Inadvertently revealing remark] is known as a FREUDIAN SLIP.
  • 64-Across: A CITY SLICKER is a [Dude ranch visitor].

The theme is pretty constraining–there aren’t many (any?) common two-word terms ending in SCARF, SWEATER, SWEATS, SKIRT or SKORTS. And yet Patrick makes it all look so natural.  Moreover, this is a very smooth grid–only MLLES, the [Bordeaux bachelorettes (abbr.)] stands out as awkward. I’m attributing my relative speed on today’s solve to this smoothness and not to any special TELEPATHY, [Mind-to-mind communication].

Favorite entry = ONE WAY, the [Warning inside an arrow]. Favorite clue = [Surname synonymous with synonyms] for ROGET.

Patti Varol’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s review

LA Times crossword solution, 7 18 12

Today’s puzzle is by Patti Varol, Rich Norris’ LAT assistant, and the friendly lady who is the messenger of much bad (and good) news regarding constructors’ puzzles. I wonder if she has to write letters to herself?

Her other job, working in a bookshop, is clearly a source of inspiration. Today’s puzzle is a simple, elegant affair involving 39a [Author of the 1974 novel found in the starts of the starred answers], (John) LECARRE. The novel is 18a [*”Peter Pan” pixie], TINKERBELL , 24a, [*Not mass-produced] TAILORMADE, 52a [*1962 Shirelles hit] SOLDIERBOY, 61a [*Hand-held telescopes], SPYGLASSES.
I have not read the book, but I have watched the film, which was definitely most absorbing! The title is based on a nursery rhyme, which I seem to remember is not so familiar to American audiences. I know it from A.A. Milne’s Now We are Six, which has a version entitled “Cherry Stones”.

I always like grids with long downs in the corners; here we get two double stacks of nines: I really liked two of those answers – 12d [Explore all of Hawaii, say], ISLANDHOP, and 32d [“Where the folks are fine / And the world is mine,” in a Linda Ronstadt hit], BLUEBAYOU . The latter is a mellifluous song title; I knew the artist/song pairing, but I have actually never heard it before; feel free to give it a listen on Youtube and I’ll do the same! Also, we get a full name, 5d [Ballplayer with the autobiography “My Prison Without Bars”], PETEROSE; and a nod to yesterday’s NYT in 5a [Bear in a kid’s tale], PAPA, with its ursine clue echoing the ursine crossing 7d [“Giant” bear], PANDA. 22a [Like morning grass], DEWY, has been incorrect, locally; for most of the country, the morning grass has been frosty, and in some places, snowy.

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61 Responses to Wednesday, 7/18/12

  1. Martin says:

    I assumed the (theme) phrases were intended to be whimsical, hence the question marks.


  2. Erik says:

    no love for the lesbians?

  3. Howard B says:

    Judging by the quirkiness of the NY Times theme clues and answers, I had guessed they would be made-up phrases, formed by the necessity of the letter restrictions. But I really enjoyed how legitimate they (mostly) sounded. Thanks for the extra Googly research on that!

    @Erik: We’re a fair bunch around here, so have at it :). Of course, you may have to invoke cruciverbal license here and use a couple of SHEs, HERs, or whatever floats your particular boat to make it work.

  4. Yeah I was Natick’ed by the LIVIA/LOC crossing. Also couldn’t remember if it was KARL or CARL Jung, which didn’t help.

  5. Erik says:

    @Howard B: “we don’t need anotHER HERo,” the theme song to “mad max beyond thunderdome”. that’s all i got…

  6. By contrast, I love lots of answers based on proper names and trivia. (Except OTARU.) While my wordplay skills have improved over the years, I benefit far more as a solver from having a veritable fountain of useless information in my brain. Thus, I knew SHERMAN right away from the first themed clue, but it took me most of the crossings to figure out MANEUVER and then determine the overall puzzle theme. I also guessed the wrong pitching Martinez (as I suspect did many Red Sox fans), and that fix slowed me down a bit.

  7. Will Shortz says:

    Pardon me for butting in. But since this issue will apparently keep coming up …

    Two proper names in a puzzle are too many if they’re obscure and they cross. Twenty proper names are not too many, IMO, if they’re generally well-known and clued appropriately.

    So to set a “rule” that a daily crossword can have no more than 14 proper names is arbitrary and stupid. Where did the number 14 come from?

    Furthermore, what is the distinction between a capitalized noun and an uncapitalized one anyway? “Fetlock” is the name for the tuft of hair on the back of a horse’s foot. “Matlock” was a 1980s-’90s TV legal drama. According to the no-more-than-14-proper-nouns “rule,” the former doesn’t count toward the limit, while the latter does. That’s just dumb. These are both names for things, and they’re stored in the same part of the brain. They can’t be treated differently.

    Instead of arbitrarily capping the number of proper names in a puzzle, a critic instead should consider … is the puzzle generally solvable by the intended audience? This is all that matters. Yes, this is a subjective test. And, yes, some solvers on occasion will have blind spots and be Naticked. This can happen, and it’s not the puzzle’s fault.

    In today’s puzzle, I expect Times solvers to be familiar with both Livia and Tone Loc. These are important cultural references. Any solver who’s unfamiliar with both of them simply fails the test. That is all.

    Every Times crossword is tested by at least five people before it appears in print. I modify clues based on their feedback. If a crossing or an area of a grid is too hard, I make changes. By this standard every Times crossword is “fair.” Arbitrarily limiting proper names makes no sense.

    –Will Shortz

  8. Sean P says:

    The Onion is a lovely and original gimmick! Enjoyed the fresh cluing, too.

  9. Sean P says:

    Meanwhile with regard to proper names. I tend to agree with Shortz that no exact number can reliably explain where a number of names becomes too many.

    Isn’t the issue one really one of cluing rather than fill? I get exhausted coming upon a third consecutive clue structured like “actress smith of ‘Movie’,” but if the cluing is more playful and varied (and of course if the names themselves are within reach) then I’m unlikely to notice.

    I suppose some inelegance abides when a corner has too many proper names, but that point in itself is moot.

  10. HH says:

    I once got a letter from an indignant solver who said one of my BG puzzles had too many proper names. I made sure the next one had twice as many.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Like @Brent H, I am good at puzzles with lots of names in them, but I have seen again and again that there’s a sizable group of solvers who don’t like them. The 14 isn’t all that arbitrary–when there are, say, 12 proper nouns in a puzzle, I don’t see people complaining. When there are 15+, I do. And there are absolutely some names that we see in the Times crossword that are not important cultural references. “HEC Ramsey” comes to mind. So I will continue encouraging constructors not to make puzzles that are more than 20% names, particularly with crossing names that aren’t broadly familiar.

    I just Googled Oona Chaplin to see if she’s as crossword-famous-but-not-regular-famous as I thought. Ha! Oona O’Neill Chaplin’s granddaughter is Spanish actress Oona Chaplin, who is in HBO’s Game of Thrones. A new OONA!

  12. Howard B says:

    Thank you, Will, for that information. I agree pretty much with that perspective.

    I find it’s not the quantity of names that sets a flag off for me personally, but how many obscurities (proper or otherwise) cross, and how common the names are overall. About the only detail I differ on here is that Tone LOC doesn’t quite maintain his cultural significance of the previous decade or two (He had 2 major mainstream hits in the late 1980s-early 90s, minor R&B success beyond that, and not much cultural resonance beyond that). This is going to be the case with many pop culture and musical personalities, so this is a minor specificity, and misses the overall point.

    Crossing a rap/music star and a Roman name is a nice mix of knowledge. I would have more of an issue with less diverse name knowledge required on a crossing, such as a stage actor X Broadway musical lyricist or lyric.

    @Amy – Nice find on OONA!

  13. Pete says:

    There can be a difference between Matlock and fetlock. If you knew both, there isn’t difference, just fill in the answer. If you didn’t know fetlock, but learned what it is from the solving process, that added knowledge stood you in good stead, as in when they discussed the injury sustained by Barbaro in the Preakness, you know what part of his leg actually broke. If you didn’t know Matlock, but learned it from the solve, that additional knowledge does you no good in your future life.

    So yes, there’s a difference between learning real things and ephemera.

  14. John Haber says:

    Looks like the threatened embargo on subscribers finally kicked in today. I’m logged in as me, a weekend newsprint subscriber, and today’s puzzle doesn’t appear on the online crosswords and games page. It has, of course, a link to the Times blog, which has links labeled pdf and puz, which take one back to the crosswords page without crosswords links.

    I presume you’re seeing a different page because of your identity.

    Can’t say I’ll miss today’s paper, as I was solving Wednesday mostly because it was free, but I’ll miss Thursday and Friday.

  15. Todd G says:

    If the grid were large enough, you could have Percy BysSHE SHElley.

  16. Ian says:

    Instead of LOC / CARL / TRIAL, why not LOW / WARD / TRIAD? Simple fix.

  17. John D. says:

    Mr. Shortz apparently gets cranky after his bedtime. Civil discourse typically doesn’t include words such as “stupid” and “dumb”.

    For what it’s worth, as a youngish, average-at-best crossword solver (Thursday is the limit to my solving ability), I completely agree with you Amy. There’s nothing more discouraging than trying to solve a puzzle filled with celebrities who are no longer relevant. It sucks the pleasure out of something that’s supposed to be fun, not a “test” that I’m doomed to fail.

  18. John Haber says:

    Fetlock? Matlock? Guess it’s a matter of taste, but I like building vocabulary (and know that word anyway), but the faster I can forget I have to admit having seen an episode of Matlock the better.

  19. David L says:

    I liked the Onion puz but was perplexed by the clue for LAOS. Is there an emerging hipster trend for Laotian bread and cheese? Or has it already peaked, and I will be the object of scorn and derision for even asking? The cool cats are all about Cambodian cheese now…

  20. Dave C says:

    @Howard: regarding your SHEs and HERs comment way above, have you checked out Eric Agard’s puzzles (one in particular), recently linked here?

  21. Martin says:

    I can only surmise that Ben Tausig, who constructed that puzzle and seems to have a special attachment to Thailand, agrees with this traveler.

    Prior to the birth of Ben’s son and the proliferation of cute baby pictures, the commonest shot of Ben attached to puzzle postings was of him playing the phin, the Thai guitar.

  22. Pete says:

    As a constructor who has been called out for violating Amy’s “over 14” proper noun limit on occasion (umm … like yesterday), I want to chime in and agree with Mr Shortz that it strikes me as extremely arbitrary, too. It equates gimmes (like ABE Lincoln) with the more obscure (like Mr HANEY of “Green Acres”) — each scoring as one proper noun out of your allotted 14.

    What’ s next? Since E is such a boring letter, maybe we should cap its usage to 35 occurrences per puzzle?

    I think each puzzle has to be considered in its entirety. Deconstruction serves little purpose.

    – Pete Collins

  23. Ethan says:

    OK, maybe Will’s example of Matlock wasn’t the best. But, c’mon. Included in the list of proper names that Amy complained about were TWAIN and ROMEO. Knowing who Mark Twain is isn’t relevant? That’s a depressing thought. And Romeo is only a proper name by convention; it is a legitimate English word for a pursuer of women. If tomorrow we all started writing it “romeo”, what would be the difference?

  24. Erik says:

    the LAT puzzle was beautifully constructed and a fun solve overall, but i feel obliged to point out the LECARRE theme has already appeared four times since 1998 (three times in the NYT and once in a CrosSynergy), once using the same four entries exactly. it’s a clever theme, and if you’ve never seen any of those puzzles then it doesn’t make a difference, but as soon as i filled in the TAILOR in TAILORMADE all i could think was “aw, jeez, again?”

    @Todd G – nice find!

    @Ian – brilliant.

    @Dave C – hey, thanks for checking them out! if only i’d thought of the SAME SEX reveal for that puzzle.

    @Pete – what, you didn’t know about the E rule already?

  25. Gareth says:

    Aside, I love all the crazy jargon associated with the distal part of horses legs: windgalls, ringbone, bog spavin, cannon and pastern bones the whole toot. However, trying to remember it all definitely did my head in!

  26. loren smith says:

    Gareth – PHALANGEAL LEVER 15

  27. Tony says:

    Kind of weird that I am in nearly done reading Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy. Great read. A great fictionalization of the exposure of the “Cambridge Five”

  28. Howard B says:

    @Dave C: Yes, and I actually had that somewhere in the recesses of my mind when commenting, as I recently solved that. Fun stuff!

  29. Sparky says:

    If I don’t know some rap singer I have failed a test? Oh, come now. Failed? Hmmmm.

  30. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Ethan: I have no problem with TWAIN and ROMEO. But can you possibly defend the fame and relevance of even half of the proper nouns in today’s puzzle? I mean, I liked George WENDT on Cheers but he hasn’t been in much of anything I’ve seen in the 19 years since the show ended. ENO is famous only among elite music fans and crossworders. RAMON, KAHN, GINA? I got nothin’.

  31. Sean P says:

    @Amy – point mostly taken, with the exception of Brian ENO who is pretty nearly as famous as the frequency of his name in puzzles would imply, not to mention critical to the past forty years of pop music as both performer and producer.

  32. joon says:

    amy, you are right about many of the specifics (RAMON, LOC, etc.), but i agree with will and the others who contend that a mere count of the proper names is far from illuminating. (and for what it’s worth, yes, both TWAIN and ROMEO can be used as common nouns.) it’s more relevant to discuss the obscurity of the entries themselves. in that light, i agree that the NE is kind of a mess. amy’s proposed fix is all right, but ian’s is even better.

    i loved the onion theme, too! the fact that the new S’s are at the top of the grid, and the N’s at the bottom, was an added touch of elegance. and yes, as of late last night, it’s official: linsanity is headed to houston.

    agreed with agard about the LAT theme—i had the exact same thought upon hitting TAILOR-MADE. back when i was a novice constructor, this was one of the first theme ideas i thought of, and a quick check of the databases convinced me to discard it due to overfamiliarity. a nicely constructed grid, but the puzzle will go down as the opposite of memorable for me.

  33. John Haber says:

    Sean, of course, ENO is then open to the other objection, as crosswordese along with ELO (although I liked the first album by “The Move” before the two factions split).

  34. Jeffrey says:

    I’m with Will, but am still reeling from Gareth’s comment that he had never heard Linda Ronstadt’s BLUE BAYOU. I must have worn out that 8-track.

    Did you somehow miss the 70’s Gareth?

    Oh, born in the 80’s. Am I the old guy on Team Fiend?

    Get off my lawn!

  35. Gary says:

    @John Haber – as a Sunday-only NYT subscriber, I’ve been hoping for the past week-plus that they had abandoned the new policy and just didn’t want to come out and say so. Don’t know if you’re aware your weekend subscription includes the right to receive the daily “Times Digest” as a pdf attachment to an e-mail. This includes (or always has in the past – we’ll see what tomorrow brings) the daily crossword – but you’ll have to print the page to solve.

    I’m with @Sean P regarding the names – I don’t care so much about how many there are, but the cluing on so many of the names in today’s puzzle was just tiresome – can you come up with first(last) name of famous pitcher, psychologist, actress, lyricist, etc. last(first) name? Wake me up when this is over!

    Lately, every time I see the clue “Actress Thurman” in a crossword, it makes me think of the Ken-ken puzzles where they make you fill in the single-box entry with the number in the corner. Hmmm … what could it possibly be?

  36. Gareth says:

    @Jeffrey: LOL. I hadn’t heard Roy Orbison’s version either, must’ve slipped through the cracks. I don’t remember ever hearing Linda Ronstadt’s name before solving American crosswords, despite considerable exposure to classic rock radio and the like… [Edit: Much prefer Orbison’s vocals…]

  37. Marion says:

    My problem spot in the NYT puzzle was also the LOC/Carl area (for a moment thought it might be Tone Def). Otherwise, fun after I got the reveal and noticed the ManMan in Truman Mandate.

    Although I agree with Will that a set number is not right, I was stunned at his language to a respected CWP blogger/solver/creator at HER BLOG!

  38. Deb Amlen says:

    @Henry H: You rock.

    I once had someone complain about including the entry WIIMOTE, the *branded* name of the remote that comes with the spectacularly popular Nintendo Wii.

    After that, I made sure to include at least one of what I called my Nintendo entry in each of those puzzles.

  39. Rex Parker says:

    “I want to chime in and agree with Mr. Shortz.” There’s a shocker.

    That said, 14 *is* fantastically arbitrary (where did you actually say that, Amy?) and I think I, too, generally agree with Mr. Shortz . And sympathize with his tone (loc). More “stupid,” please. :)


    PS I don’t think the “every Times crossword is fair ’cause I got 5 test-solvers” argument works—those test solvers aren’t ordinary solvers. Then again, fair shmair.

  40. pannonica says:


  41. *David* says:

    Crosswords are hopelessly compromised as far as the fill and the reality of what most people know. Any arbitrary rules that people put out there make me laugh, since it is so much based on a personal point of view and experiences. You have some brilliant people who don’t know who Michael Stipe is, which flabbergasts me, yet I don’t have a clue on a Ronstadt song. Overall I know when I personally find a crossword puzzle constructed poorly, no rules or commentary needed.

  42. John Ellis says:

    I too agree with Will on the number of names. However, his standard of …”is the puzzle generally solvable by the intended audience?”… may not have been met with this one. I suspect the LIVIA, LOC, GINA, ONEAL corner may exceed the range of many solvers who are only capable of passing a Wednesday test. As Rex said the test solvers aren’t ordinary and may have difficulty seeing a puzzle from a more novice solver’s perspective. This has certainly been the case with some recent Tuesdays.

    That said, fair shmair could also work.

  43. John Haber says:

    Thanks, Gary. I hadn’t recalled the digest but may look into it. And I apologize for my puzzlement that I’m not seeing a link touting the puzzle, blocking me, and telling me to buy. I bet they’re treating it as actual advertising, so my ad blocker just intercepts it.

    (I definitely remember “Blue Bayou,” although I’d stopped listening to Linda Ronstadt by then. She’d come to seem a little MOR to me.)

  44. Martin says:

    Has Henry picked up the gantlet? Will we see the first all-name 21X21?

    I guess the argument loses me at “properism.” The assumption is that proper nouns are obscure unless proven otherwise. Why are names the issue, as opposed to obscure entries? Reasonable people can debate Hec Ramsey and Matlock, but their grammatical category?

    On the other other hand, I have no idea why learning “fetlock” is presumed to be a useful act while learning “Matlock” is presumed to be a waste of synapses. Is properism a form of snobbery?

    I enjoy learning new words.

  45. Jeff Chen says:

    Dear Mr. Shortz:

    Your puzzles contain too many letters in them. I very much dislike letters. I would like more interrobangs, braille marks, and happy faces with moving smiles.

    Furthermore, they contain not enough black squares as well as too many black squares.

    That is all.

  46. Jeffrey says:

    @Jeff: You will love these 9×9 crosswords I found. No letters, just numbers. And they all have a “no duplication of numbers in any row, column or 3×3 block” rule. Best of all – no black squares! Crossing nontuple stacks!

  47. Jeff Chen says:

    @Jeffrey: I also dislike numbers.

  48. Amy Reynaldo says:

    That’s the beauty, Jeff! Those 9×9 jobbers can be filled with ‽ § ‡ ℥ ⨳ ⦾ ✫ ✔ and ❤.

  49. Pete says:

    @Martin – The equine industry in the US accounts for $38 Billion dollars in direct economic impact, $112.1 in combined direct and indirect economic impact, with 9.2 million horses. Two million people own horses, an additional 7.2 million people are involved in the care and support of these horses. Each and every one of these people care about horses’ fetlocks. People are, and will continue to be, concerned about fetlocks.

    Matlock was a show that went off the air 20 years ago. Its only currency is in mean-spirited jokes about people in nursing homes being parked in front of the tube watching Matlock reruns.

    Yup, they’re the same.

  50. ArtLvr says:

    @ Todd G — good one, your Percy BysSHE SHElley! Wish I could come up with another SHE!

  51. loren smith says:

    ArtLvr – how about galoSHE SHElf?

  52. Jeff Chen says:

    @Amy: I usually color them all in with black squares and call it good. I don’t see why people think Sudoku is so hard.

  53. Sean says:

    I think the problem with the names (and for me it is human NAMES, not all proper nouns) is this: I counted 18, and there were basically 3 types of clues to yield either a first or last name answer:

    *Pair of last names for a plural answer — 1

    *Very specific factoid/trait/accomplishment/action (i.e., applies to NO ONE else) — 6

    *General factoid/trait/accomplishment/action (i.e., could apply to many people: “Tennis star,” e.g.) — 11

    Personally, I liked the 6 “very specific” clues, but was disappointed by the other 12. Not trying to say that names themselves are less deserving of our love than any other part of the language(s), but the repetitive nature of the clue types seemed a little much today.

  54. Huda says:

    Wow, busy day in the Fiendom!

    My two cents: What’s frustrating about too many proper names (whatever that threshold might be) is the fact that they’re binary. You either know them or you don’t. No amount of logic could help me figure out that cross between -OC and -IVIA. Doc/Divia, Roc/Rivia, etc… Other entries in the puzzle can often be arrived at through some sort of inductive or deductive reasoning. So, when two names are crossed that are part of specialized areas of knowledge that are not common, there’s no chance to use intelligence, strategy or any puzzle skills to solve them. And that’s what frustrates the plebes.

    Un point, c’est tout.

  55. John Haber says:

    “I have no idea why learning “fetlock” is presumed to be a useful act while learning “Matlock” is presumed to be a waste of synapses.” Hmm, because fetlock is still part of a potentially growing vocabulary, and Matlock is already ancient history?

  56. Judge Vic says:

    Great discussion, gang! Well worth the price of admission.

    I forget where I learned the Proper Dozen rule. In practice I try to limit the number of proper nouns to 12, but I’m okay more than that when …

    a. Some are abbreviations.
    b. Some are 3-letter words.
    c. None are cruddy crossing cruddy.

    The target dozen is not arbitrary. It was taught me by another editor, whose opinion is that the more proper nouns, the more a puzzle becomes a trivia contest, which that editor views as negative.

    On balance, 20 is going to feel to me like it’s on the high side, but philosophically, I agree with Will’s 2/20 rule. I also agree with Amy that somewhere beyond 12 is when people start to notice–unless (back to Will now) crud’s not crossing crud and the clues are good.

    FWIW, the LIVIA/LOC “L” was the last letter for me. It was the only letter Susan did not get. And my gut reaction was that the 4-some of LIVIA, ONEAL, CARL and LOC was too many in too small a space (ETNA didn’t register with me).

    Change ETNA to EDNA and the rest can be occupied with LSD, LIMO, DAILY, LIVIA, SMELL & DORY.

  57. Martin says:


    Matlock was a show that went off the air 20 years ago. Its only currency is in mean-spirited jokes about people in nursing homes being parked in front of the tube watching Matlock reruns.

    That’s more than enough for me, and probably for HH too.

    Why not learn both words? It’s free.

  58. Andrew Greene says:

    And then there was Joe Krozel’s puzzle of 8 Dec 2009. Man, did THAT one have a lot of proper nouns!

  59. Z says:

    I think Huda makes the key point, crossing names are trivia, not puzzling. And it seems mathematically obvious that in a finite (225) square puzzle the more names you have the more difficult it is to not have them cross, hence the more likely it is to have a trivial square. And Tone Loc crossing Livia Augustus qualifies as trivial. Perhaps if they had had a Kiss Cam in the first century…. But no, Livia has been long out done by the likes of Lucrezia Borgia, Catherine De Medici and Snooki.

  60. Joan macon says:

    Gareth, you have no idea how delighted I am to find a fellow devotee of “Now We Are Six” who at the same time needs to be sure to read “Tinker, Tailor” because while the movie is excellent the book is even better. And Ray Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” is, I think, superior to Linda Ronstadt. And these trivia topics are so much more fun that discussions of how many proper nouns are in a puzzle. I am one of those who just do crosswords in the newspaper because I enjoy them, and I like to think there are others out there who feel the same way. It’s one reason I like Amy so much. She has compassion for all types.

  61. HH says:

    @Martin: “Has Henry picked up the gantlet? Will we see the first all-name 21X21?”

    No, because if I do that and someone complains, what can I do to tell the complainer “F. you!”?

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