Tuesday, 12/4/12

Blindauer untimed (Matt) 
LAT 2:51 
NYT 2:36 
Jonesin' untimed 
CS 4:28 (Sam) 

Liz Gorski’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 12 4 12, 1204

This puzzle is rated PG:

  • 20a. PROVING GROUND, [Weapons-testing area].
  • 31a. PLANE GEOMETRY, [Subject of a Euclidean treatise].
  • 38a. PEANUT GALLERY, [Cheap seating area in a theater].
  • 52a. PRINCESS GRACE, [Bride in 1956 news].

(Another crossword-friendly PG is Peter Gordon, the crossword editor/constructor who brings us Fireball Crosswords. He’s taking 2013 subscriptions, under $20 for 45 puzzles throughout the year. Highly recommended for those who crave tough crosswords with top-quality fill.)

Highlights: PEACH PIES are delicious, but sorely underconsumed by me. I need to remedy that next summer. This past summer, I had an insanely good peach/raspberry pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company, whose existence Nancy Shack alerted me to. Not a pie person, really, but they make damn good pie. WIND-UP TOY is also a stellar crossword entry. [Clapping monkey or chattering teeth]? Indeed. I also like HERE YOU GO, MINI DONUT (Hostess Donettes, R.I.P.), and the REQUIEM above the ELEGY.

Could-do-withouts: TETR-, USRDA, RTES, ADZE, the AGHAS/IMAM/EMIRS trio (the bey and the dey are meeting secretly to discuss their exclusion), and ULAN.

I wonder if the Hormel plant that makes SPAM uses a filtering process. Who wouldn’t like the reassurance of knowing that the Spam in a can is only that which made it through the Spam filter?

3.25 stars.

Patrick Blindauer’s website crossword for December, “Operators Are Standing By”—Matt’s review

Last Wednesday the New York Times ran an extremely simplistic algebra-themed crossword. Its three theme entries were X PLUS Y IS SIXTEEN, X MINUS Y IS FOUR, and then, if your mathematical abilities are below those of a fifth-grader, the helpful X IS TEN AND Y IS SIX.

Rex Parker wrote on his blog:

I have no idea what this is. Or, rather, I do, but don’t understand *why* it is. Is this a famous equation? It appears that this equation is in the grid only because it somehow manages to fit into the grid in three symmetrical segments. I didn’t even have to do any algebra. The grid just filled itself in, and I’m left with the … pleasure? … of reading the world’s easiest algebra equation. Yup, it checks out. Now what? Where’s the twist? The zing? The “here’s why you’ve been entering an equation into the grid for the past five minutes or so”? Nowhere. Not that I can see. Someone needs to fire the IDEA MAN (50A: Think tank types).

Illustrating the difference between a passable crossword and an excellent crossword, juxtapose that puzzle with Patrick Blindauer’s December website masterpiece. It’s likewise an algebra problem, but note the differences: 1) Patrick worked eight numerals into the grid, Henry Hook-style; 2) this allowed him to create a much less simplistic algebra problem; 3) Patrick doesn’t just semi-insultingly state the solution to said simplistic problem at the end; 4) once you do solve the problem yourself, there’s an excellent “a-ha moment” awaiting. The result is a far superior experience.

The equations are:

X PLUS 3Y MINUS 2Z = 5 (x + 3y – 2z = 5)
2X PLUS 4Y PLUS 3Z = 15 (2x + 4y +3z = 15)
3X PLUS 5Y PLUS 6Z = 23 (3x + 5y +6z = 23)

I trial and errored my way to — nothing, which is only slightly less embarrassing when I see the algebra required for the solution, which is introduced by Patrick’s counsel that “The easiest way to solve this is to use an online applet…”

The other problem was that I’m always trying to outtrick the trickster on Patrick’s puzzles, and I thought the trick was that one of the unknowns was a negative number, so I focused my trial and error there. Turns out there was a trick (naturally) but not the one I was expecting (naturally): the title of the puzzle is “Operators Are Standing By,” and of course you’re supposed to realize the mathematical meaning of “operators” and think you caught the joke. But no: turns out that X=4, y=1, and z=1, so 4-1-1, the number you used to have to call (and maybe still do?) to get an operator on the phone.

It’s a pity that only a few hundred people will solve this brilliant puzzle, while millions solved the mediocre Wednesday New York Times. Let’s work on that equation, shall we?

4.75 stars.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Hitch Up the Horses”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, December 4

Today’s puzzle features three 15-letters entries, and if you look closely you’ll see that the last word in each of those entries doubles as a horse-drawn vehicle:

  • 20-Across: To [Abandon abstinence] is to FALL OFF THE WAGON.
  • 36-Across: Another way to say [“Stop being such a pest!”] is to say YOU DRIVE ME BUGGY. When I got here, I had entered FALL OFF THE WAGON, but I was paying no attention to the theme and hadn’t seen the puzzle’s title. My first thought was YOU DRIVE ME TO DRINK, sensing an alcohol theme. For a split-second I considered YOU’D DRIVE A SAINT TO DRINK, but even I knew that was too long to fit on one line of a 15x grid.
  • 49-Across: [Pat Riley or Bobby Knight] serve as an example of a former BASKETBALL COACH. Are there no famous active basketball coaches? Is seeing the name “Krzyzewski” too intimidating?

Besides the YOU DRIVE ME TO DRINK episode, my only other misstep was trying WELL-TO-DO as the answer to [Bringing in big bucks] instead of the correct answer, WELL-PAID. (Well, okay, maybe it was also a misstep to think of CHANNING as the first answer to [Tatum of Tinseltown] instead of O’NEAL. But if I never write it down, it’s not really a misstep. Right?)

Favorite entry = IT’S A TRAP, Admiral Akbar‘s [Warning shout to the unwary]. I think J.J. Abrams best captured my reaction upon learning that Star Wars: Episode VII is in development: “Part of me? Thrilled. Part of me? Terrified. Most of me? Thrillified.” Exactly. Favorite clue = [Soap made with pumice] for LAVA. My parents loved Lava soap, so I appreciated the reference to my childhood.

Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 12 4 12

Three theme answers can be said to have LOOSE ENDS in that the phrases end with synonyms for “loose”: RESTS EASY, COMMERCIAL-FREE, and CUT ME SOME SLACK. I like that last one a lot; sounds like something a tailor plans to do.

Mildly scowly at the fill that isn’t so Tuesday-friendly:

  • 5d: [Possess, in the Hebrides], HAE, and 40d: [Hebrides tongue], ERSE.
  • 66a. [Sask. neighbor], ALTA. Most Americans, I feel safe in saying, do not know the traditional abbreviations for Canadian provinces. Heck, how many Americans could name more than three provinces?
  • 24d. [1920s-’30s Flying Clouds, e.g.], REOS. Cars from 80-90 years ago? Please. I wish this answer would go away. At least the singular can be clued as part of an ’80s band.

Lots of abbrevs here: AARP, ALTA, ECON, ASSN, ETDS, RDA, GMAC, EDUC, SSNS, and OTS? Ten abbrevs I.A.L. (is a lot).

2.9 stars.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Into the Great Wide Open”

Jonesin’ crossword solution, 12 4 12, “Into the Great Wide Open”

It’s time for a themeless, or “freestyle” Jonesin’ puzzle. This time, Matt opted for a 15×16 grid and an asymmetrical pattern, with a central ZZZQUIL crossed by 7- to 12-letter answers. Not everything in the puzzle is wonderful, but there are plenty of bright spots.


  • Scholarly VIDE SUPRA, boozy BLACK RUSSIANS (my kid’s best pal is a Black Ukrainian by parentage), ZZZQUIL, I’M OUTTA HERE and its counterpart WE’RE THERE, LOCAL COLUMNISTS, “SERENITY NOW!”, CORAL SNAKE, Jon CORZINE‘s KLEZMER RED ZONE (the accordionist is to die for), TENS UNIT (that’s transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), COPENHAGEN, and CHRIS EVERT (has she been in cryptic crosswords with that EVER inside CHRIST?).


  • Crosswordese EBOLI; contrived STOLEN LUNCHES and UNIQUE TALENT; the EEK-A/TREN/I YET patch; the never-heard-of-it ATG, [1991 e-commerce company acquired by Oracle in 2011].

The squares with good stuff outnumber the squares with iffy stuff. 71 words means it’s not super-low on the word count front, and the atypical grid pattern allows that crazy, wide-open swath running northeast and south from ZZZQUIL. The contrivances made me enjoy the puzzle a bit less overall, though. 3.5 stars.

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15 Responses to Tuesday, 12/4/12

  1. Giovanni P. says:

    I have to wonder if Patrick wrote this puzzle as a response to the NYT puzzle mentioned above by Matt. If so, I think this one was miles ahead of the other. The little a-ha at the end is something I like about Patrick’s puzzles that a couple of the recent ones didn’t have. I look forward to what he has in store in this year’s extravaganza.

    Speaking of metas, does anyone have any ideas about the meta Patrick put in his last few Puzzsocial AV Club puzzles? He says it’s a 17 letter phrase, and there are 17 theme entries, but nothing jumps out at me.

  2. Nancy Shack says:

    Amy, I will make you a peach pie when peaches are in season. After all of these years of living in such close proximity but never having visited, it will be the perfect excuse for a pilgrimage to your neck of the woods.

  3. john farmer says:

    Finally got to the x, y, z puzzle. Very clever, very well done. Among other things, I learned that when you haven’t solved algebraic equations in many years, they can be challenging.

    Directory Assistance (formerly Information) still exists, but I don’t why anyone would want to pay a buck or two to get a phone number these days. Then again, the NYT continues to offer xword answers on its 900 number for $1.49 a minute. Somebody must be calling, right? (You can reach the D.A. operators at 411, but to reach the operators for collect calls, etc., dial 0. The operators are still standing by, but they’re really relics of another era.)

    Not to disagree with your comments — PB made a super puzzle — but if it had run in the Times, there may have been a few howls.

  4. Pamela says:

    Could this puzzle be referring to Princess Kate?

  5. Evad says:

    I enjoyed the PB as well, much more so than the NYT. Really liked the tie-in between the “operators” in the title with the 4-1-1 of the variables. Can’t wait to sink my teeth into his Las Vegas puzzles later this month!

  6. bob says:

    I went about the algebra in a way i found easier. Multiply the top eq. by 3 and add to the bottom eliminating the z term. Multiply the second eq. by -2 and add to the bottom eliminating the z term. then you have 6x+14y=38 and -x-3y=-7. Multiplying the last eq. by 6 and adding to the first gives 4y = 4 -> y=1, subbing for y in either gives x=4 and going back to an original gives z=1.
    Rusty math still took 10 minutes.


    • Daniel Myers says:

      Exactly, Bob! Good show. I should have been more specific by stating that attempting to obtain the first variable by mere substitution leads to an algebraic mare’s nest.

  7. Daniel Myers says:

    The easiest way to solve Patrick’s equations, BY HAND, is still by setting up simultaneous equations, though it’s rather more involved. The substitution method leads to an algebraic mare’s nest, if one is not merely checking one’s answers. Oh, yes, I almost forgot, one can also use three dimensional graphing and find the intersection point (a node above the 4,1 point on the Cartesian plane).

    Do they even teach 3-D graphing anymore without computers? I’m sincerely asking joon and others who would know. I had to learn how to do it w/o a computer screen when we learnt complex numbers in either Pre-Calculus or Calculus. In any event, I’d be interested to know how students learn it now? Is it all computers?

    • sbmanion says:

      I tutor kids for math occasionally and much prefer eliminating one variable at a time as Bob suggests. I shudder when I have to use matrices because frankly I don’t remember using them in the slide rule era and always have to reinvent the wheel. Here is an excellent discussion of a three variable series of simultaneous equations using matrices.



      • Cyrano says:

        I solved by eliminating one variable at a time, but for some stupid reason had “4ON” for 17 D “Bases loaded” which gives x= -5, y=4 and z=3. One of the many reasons I love this blog. Thanks Matt for pointing out my silly error and providing the a-ha moment that I had missed trying to figure out what -5, 4, 3 meant. Great job Patrick. Excited for Las Vegas on Saturday.

  8. Curious says:

    Nobody else bothered by one constructor showing up another?

    • pauer says:

      Well, that certainly wasn’t my intent, though I can see how it could be seen that way.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        @Curious, I’m more troubled that the puzzle that purports to be the gold standard, the one that surely brings in more annual revenue than any other crossword out there, ran a puzzle with a pointless algebra theme that left me wanting so much more.

  9. Chris says:

    I thought the Jonesin’ Crossword was great. I have done that one every week for many years now, and I haven’t loved them lately, but this one felt like a return to form. Nice grid, nice clues, and I really didn’t mind the contrivances because the rest was very satisfying. Nicely done, Matt. Congrats on 600!

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