Friday, January 18, 2013

NYT 18:15 DNF (Matt) 
LAT 4:48 (Gareth) 
CS 4:47 (Sam) 
WSJ (Friday)  

Tim Croce’s New York Times crossword — Matt’s review

Matt here again, guest-blogging an NYT freestyle puzzle for the second time in six days, and for the same reason (Amy’s internet is down again).

This one I enjoyed rather less than Saturday’s. I have nothing against triple-stacks, but they’re so commonplace now that I can’t give constructors much leeway just because they’ve created triple-stacks. I still need to see some high-value letters and interesting phrases, and here I’m afraid this puzzle falls short.

Judge for yourself. The six are:

1-a [“Hold on, why am I being dragged into this?”] which is a long way to go for the not-too-familiar WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE?

16-a [Last single blasts?] for BACHELOR PARTIES. The entry itself is good, but I’ve never understood clues like this. The words “Last single blasts” do not play off any base phrase that I can see, so what is point of the question mark? Just put the clue with no question mark and that’s it. It’s not like extremely unusual meanings of any of the three words are being used.

17-a [Unlikely to develop clothing lines?] = CREASE-RESISTANT. Hard to come up with a duller 15-letter entry than this, and only one of its letters is worth more than one point in Scrabble. And again with the inexplicable question mark in the clue; using two different meanings of the word “line,” which has dozens of familiar meanings, does not constitute wordplay requiring a question mark.

53-a [Does some flattering] = MASSAGES ONE’S EGO. I have a few problems with this. First, far too many grid-spanners in triple-stacks use ONE’S in a phrase, period. It should count as .1 off by now. A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE, for example, is openly mocked now by many constructors because it appears so often.

Second, in addition to the frequency with which constructors use these ONE’S entries, they’re also subpar in my book because YOUR is much more commonly used in most of these cases; for instance, “take your time” is heard more often than “take one’s time” unless you’re watching “Downton Abbey.” I suspect these ONE’S entries appear so often because they are database entries culled from online dictionaries.

Finally, in not infrequent cases, “someone’s” is more correct than “one’s” as is the situation here. “Mind one’s manners” means you mind your own manners and “take one’s time” means you take your own time, but “massages one’s ego” means you massage someone else’s ego, so it wants the “someone’s.”

60-a [Poke on Facebook, say] is a vivid clue for ATTENTION-GETTER. A fine phase in its own right, but one point from being as un-Scrabbly as a 15-letter crossword entry can be.

And finally, 61-a [Relaxes] for RESTS ON ONE’S OARS. I certainly don’t like one ONE’S, but to have two in one triple-stack is a dealbreaker for me. And a dull phrase to boot, this one with zero letters not worth one point in Scrabble.

Wow, I’m complaining a lot. But I also didn’t even finish the middle area, as you can see from the grid at right. I quit after 18 minutes. Had the EGGS of 32-a but thought the beginning was a creature of some kind. Never heard of ARMY WORMS and not sure DEMIT is a word I knew.

Also, the clue for 52-d is wrong: [Old 58-Down capital] is BONN and 58-d was GER., but Bonn was only the capital of W. GER., never GER.

Some nice things: JOEY RAMONE, THAT’S OKAY, full name NIA LONG, tricky 7-d clue of [Pennsylvania city or its county] where I’m sure you put ERIE in there instead of the correct YORK just like I did.

Nice little misdirect there, but a grid like this is made or broken with its 15’s and I didn’t dig these much, nor their crossing fill (HAR/OLEOS/ERST/JACAMAR (?!)/EIN/SOO/ETA/GER/ORS). 2.65 stars.

Updated Friday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Toodle-oo List”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, January 18

It’s the end of the work week, so many folks are getting ready to say goodbye for the weekend. Patrick Blindauer offers us a helpful cheat-sheet filled with various expressions meaning “goodbye.” As if it’s not enough to have six of them in the grid, each is clued with yet another variant of “goodbye,” bringing us to 12 total expressions–enough to last for three months of work weeks!

I’m not very good at goodbyes, but let’s see if I can at least recite the theme entries:

  • 17-Across: [“Bye!”] and AU REVOIR.
  • 23-Across: [“Ciao!”] and FARE THEE WELL
  • 32-Across: [“Ta-ta!”] and ARRIVEDERCI. I wasn’t confident with the spelling on this one, so thank you, crossings!
  • 42-Across: [“Until we meet again!”] and SEE YOU LATER.
  • 48-Across: [“So long!”] and THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH HASTA LA VISTA.
  • 61-Across: [“Sayonara!”] and PEACE OUT.

A steady diet of this kind of theme would get old fast, but in small doses it has a certain quirkiness that adds a lot of charm. I’ll take it!

Six theme entries don’t leave much room for elegance in the fill. Sure enough, there are some short clunkers here you don’t normally see in one of Patrick’s puzzles (like ADV, EPI, ETDS, ENV, and MME). But some of the shorter fill also felt notably fresh: DEV [Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Newsroom”], SKOR candy bars, PIG STY (the [Digs in the mud?]), RSS FEEDS, and even the quirky PLACEMAT.

Favorite entry = CICADA, the [Noisy summer bug]. Favorite clue = the aforementioned [Digs in the mud?] for PIG STY

David Poole’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

It’s Wacky-style Friday again, and today’s phrases come courtesy of Canada’s David Poole! David has gone the subtraction route [since the blogger is South African and the constructor Canadian, you are requested to pronounce this “root”] today, generally considered much harder to make work than your typical letter addition theme. For some reason, it’s harder to achieve “amusingly wacky”. Considering this, I think David gave us a good puzzle, which kept me amused, even after figuring out the gimmick pretty quickly! If you haven’t yet, the PIEDPIPER has played his tune and led away all the rats to their death. Of course, in the second act, Mr. Piper steals all the town’s children, but that part isn’t represented in the puzzle, maybe if you find David’s earlier Sunday draft…

So we have:

  • 17a, [Bolshevik film festival fodder?], R(RAT)EDMOVIES. Alliterative clues are always a plus!
  • 21/51a, [Puerto Rico pecan and Cuban coconut custard?], PI(RAT)ESOFTHE/CARIBBEAN. More alliteration!
  • 26a, [Auden’s vineyard], THEGRAPESOFWH. Clever change-up, reducing WRATH to a MERE WH!
  • 46A, [Side dish made with russets and Tanqueray?], POTATOESAUGIN. Can some brave soul try and make this dish and report back to us? Cos I can’t imagine it being even remotely palatable!

So… 62 theme squares, that’s a lot for any constructor to dish up onto their plate! Despite that, David has managed to squeeze in quite a lot of fun fill. That said, there was also some less desirable short stuff, but the fun answers more than paid their dues, IMO.

I’m going to do the normal listing thing now, highlighting my favourites as I go…

  • On being confronted with 1a, I knew “That’s a trap!” The clue [Socks for Clinton, e.g.] could either be caT or PET. A cunning way to start the puzzle!
  • 4a, [Mums’ relatives, in a way], GLADS. Wonderful clue… Florist’s slang for chrysanthemums and gladioli!
  • 15a, [Petrol purchase], LITRE. Non-US answer!
  • 40a, [Montreal moniker], NOM. Another Canadian nod, eh.
  • 42a, [Gym ball], PROM. Saturday tough mis-direction. Great clue!
  • 45a, [Doctor of music?], DRE. No one could ever accuse crossword constructors of forgetting about Dre!
  • 57a, [“The Kiss” painter], KLIMT. His name looks cool in the grid!
  • 64a, [It’s often stored upside-down], CANOE. Another nice clue!
  • 9d, [Unrepeated event, in Essex], ONEOFF. Perfectly normal idiom here too, though I take it not Stateside.
  • 10d, [Roared], GUFFAWED. Long one-word answer, but still adding colour to the grid.
  • 30d, [Ecuadoran province named for its gold production], EL ORO. I’ve seen this answer before. I don’t think much of it at all. It’s inferrable, I’ll give it that.
  • 39d, [Cyberface], EMOTICON. Good answer!
  • 41d, [Nutty], CRACKPOT. Another one!
  • 55d, [Yorkshire river], AIRE. Don’t confuse it with the OUSE!

That’s all I’ve got for you today. I’d give it a 3.75-star rating: lots of theme, surprisingly popping grid, tempered by some short clunkers.


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22 Responses to Friday, January 18, 2013

  1. Jason F says:

    All the comments in the review are true, but still … I enjoyed the challenge.

    This took me a *very* long time. When I was done, though, nothing seemed unfair – just tough clues. This is a puzzle I couldn’t have finished a year or two ago, so just completing it was a victory.

    (Actually, the ERST/TILDA crossing was a bit unfair – but nothing but T seemed to possibly fit).

  2. RK says:

    DEMIT, WORMS, BIERE got me too Matt. But I don’t feel all that bad as the spell checker here doesn’t know demit either. Still a good puzzle.

  3. vijay says:

    I agree with the review, except that I think the 1A “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, WE?” is a fantastic answer.

    A comment: “I suspect these ONE’S entries appear so often because they are database entries culled from online dictionaries.”

    Not really. It’s because “ONES” is such a friendly letter combination to deal with. I agree they are often very contrived and annoying to see in puzzles. If you can’t make a stack without using one, let alone two, cringe-worthy ONES phrase, why make the stack at all?

  4. David L says:

    I agree that MASSAGESONESEGO doesn’t make any sense. I try to massage my ego from time to time, but one doesn’t believe one.

    DNF in the middle section. I had GSATS, guessed at DEMIT (never heard of it, but seemed vaguely plausible) but was left with ARSYWORMS, which sound as if they ought to be something.

  5. Christopher Jablonski says:

    Haha, that was one of the crabbiest reviews I’ve seen on this site. As for the proliferation of ONES in triple stacks, I’d wager it has to do with the vowels and commonness of the letters far more than the entries coming up in OneLook.

    I’d like to make a case for 1A (NYT) being a Schrödinger entry, as WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ME? seems to be an equally valid phrase, and MENDING strikes me as a perfectly Saturday answer to [going along]. But I might just be bitter for missing it.

    • Jeff Chen says:

      Dang, I made the same M for W error! I thought for sure I had something wrong in the middle section.

      I would comment more, but I have a lot on one’s plate today.

  6. Huda says:

    I am so grateful when the blogger has a DNF! It MASSAGEs my EGO, which is routinely aching when I see the speed and ease with which Amy and others manage to complete these babies.

    I too struggled with the ARMY WORMS neighborhood, and had to cheat to complete. I did figure out the GRADE A EGGS, so that was cool. And while “WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE” is not very scrabbly, I loved it. But my biggest nit was exactly the one that Matt had, the use of ONE’S twice in that bottom stack, and especially in the nonsensical way in conjunction with the bruised EGOs.

    BTW, that phrase makes me wince because I think that if something is aching you should massage it, but if it’s bruised, it’s not a good idea. No?

  7. pauer says:

    Only three weeks left to join the latest Puzzlefest party! Visit my website’s Shop page for all the details.

    @Sam: Thanks for the nice words about my latest CS puz, which is riffing on Donna’s title from yesterday.

    • Sam Donaldson says:

      Why is it I can never pick up on the fun subtleties like this? (Note: that was a rhetorical question.) Thanks for pointing it out, Patrick!

  8. Michael says:

    People who are saying Matt’s wrong about databases, that “ONE’S” proliferates because of common letters, obviously don’t understand how databases work. Your argument that those letters are prevalent in no way undermines Matt’s point. If anything, it supports it. (Although I can’t imagine MASSAGE’S ONE’S EGO was in any sane person’s database.) There is soooooo much more reliance on databases than I think most solvers realize. OneLook is primitive compared to the databases / construction programs most constructors use. CREASE-RESISTANT is a good case in point: straight outta the database—which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Database-driven construction can really help you produce a clean grid. But you have to be motivated by the desire for great fill, not the desire to make some bullshit stack or black square count happen.

  9. Ethan says:

    Regarding the use of idioms with ONES… they are so common because there is no better way to render an idiom that requires a possessive pronoun. I once made a puzzle that had CRAMP ONE’S STYLE as a theme entry, because I needed an idiom with CRAMP. If that ONE’S sounds stuffy, what is the alternative? I can’t remove the pronoun entirely and say CRAMP THE STYLE or CRAMP A STYLE, that destroys the idiom. CRAMP YOUR STYLE? How can that be clued without using “you” in the clue? CRAMP SUES STYLE and clue it as “Bog down novelist Grafton with rules”? Now we’re getting crazy. To me, the OP’s suggestion of replacing ONES with SOMEONES just adds four letters to no effect at all. MASSAGES ONE’S EGO makes perfect sense, as is. It’s possible to say “massage my ego”, “massage your ego”, “massage his/her ego”, etc. but we need to render this generically to be able to write a workable clue. Hence, MASSAGE ONE’S EGO.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Ethan —

      I don’t mind ONE’S used in a theme entry. My problem is when they’re 15s and overused in triple-stacks just to fill the grid and not because they’re good fill. Two 15 ONE’S in one grid is certainly too many though I’ve seen it before, and two ONE’s in one triple-stack, like here, is not pretty at all.

      In many cases these ONE’S phrases are lowered further in quality because they’re dull, having been chosen with no regard to fill quality but only in their utility to allow the rest of the grid to fit. Utility is for 3- and 4-letter entries like EPEE and OMOO. It’s not for 15-letters entries! That’s how we get to should-be marquee answers like RESTS ON ONE’S OARS and A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE and CREASE-RESISTANT.

      There certainly is a place for puzzles with very wide-open grids whose grid fill quality suffers a bit. That’s fine once in a while, but so many themelesses these days seem much more concerned with what the unfilled grid looks like than with what the filled grid looks like.

      So now you can see why my review was a little harsh: I’ve taken all my pent-up themeless rage out on poor Tim Croce. I owe him a beer.

      • Ethan says:

        Well, hold onto your hat, because this is a heck of a thing to admit, but in principle I don’t have a problem with A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE. In fact, in principle I like it a lot. Yes, in *practice* it’s become of victim of overuse, but in principle it’s an expression that people use all the time. “I have a lot on my plate right now.” “Don’t bother her, she has a lot on her plate.” It’s in use, it’s well-known, it’s relevant, it has staying power, but crucially… IT CAN BE USED WITH ANY POSSESSIVE PRONOUN, SO WE HAVE TO USE A GENERIC “ONE’S” TO CLUE IT. I just think it’s strange that all of a sudden, after ONE’S phrases have been running in the puzzle for years, both this blog and the Rex Parker blog are now declaring any 15-letter phrases with ONE’S to be flawed entries purely because of ONE’S. One commenter has said that no sane person should have MASSAGES ONE’S EGO in his/her database, and another says that MASSAGES ONE’S EGO doesn’t *make sense*. It makes perfect sense, and a database that doesn’t have it is incomplete and is no database I want to use.

        I reiterate, if you’re taking a (misguided, IMO) stand against ONE’S, then you are against *any* idiom involving a possessive pronoun in the crossword. For reasons I explained, MASSAGES MY EGO, MASSAGES YOUR EGO, and MASSAGES HER EGO are not viable crossword entries. Therefore, crosswords under this proposed guideline will never include *any* idioms like taking one’s lumps, pulling one’s punches, having one’s cake and eating it too, and many other perfectly good colloquial phrases. Now, do I like RESTS ON ONE’S OARS? No, I do not. Why? Because I don’t know the expression. It sounds archaic. But note that I’m criticizing it on the basis of how commonly known the expression is. I’m not criticizing it because of ONE’S. I couldn’t care less about the repetition of ONE’S. More egregious repetitions occur in the NYT crossword almost every day.

        So, crossword constructors have now been put on notice that idioms with possessive pronouns are bad, bad, bad. I don’t really construct themelesses, so this doesn’t affect me much, but I’m always distressed to see an arbitrary rule put up.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          I think ONE’S criticism is hitting critical mass because the word is so overused in triple-stacks. For example, of the 11 NYT grids that have ever featured a quadruple stack, seven of them had a 15 with ONE’S in it, and two of those had two ONE’S, and one of them had three! And three of these 11 grids featured A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE.

          A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE is in the same category as EPEE. It’s totally legit, but I’d prefer it were something else because it’s seen so often.

          Doesn’t YOUR sound better than ONE’S in most of these? Would you not rate TAKE YOUR TIME as a superior entry to TAKE ONE’S TIME?

          • Ethan says:

            Well, yes, but that isn’t the best example. TAKE YOUR TIME is a fine entry, but you would clue it as an utterance, with the verb understood to be in the imperative. “No rush!” Something like that. MIND YOUR MANNERS or WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE would fall into that same category. If we can turn it into a command that people often say to other people, then sure, why not. But no way is, for example, BLOW YOUR STACK better than BLOW ONE’S STACK. The latter can be clued as “Get angry” or “Fly off the handle”. There is simply no way to clue the former, unless you think that “get angry, in the second person” is a good clue. (It’s not.)

            I should probably also address the claim in the OP that “one’s” is only used reflexively, that is, when the subject of the verb is the same person as is referred to by one’s, as is the case in “mind one’s manners.” Of course, one only minds one’s own manners. We can’t say “John minded Fred’s manners.” But it is simply a false claim that “one’s” is only used this way. What about “steal one’s thunder”? That’s how it appears in dictionaries; it’s NOT obligatorily “steal someone’s thunder.” Google “plagiarism definition” and you’ll find that one definition is to “steal one’s writing.” Obviously we can interpret this as “steal another’s writing” and not necessarily “steal one’s own writing”. I’m afraid the OP made a simply false claim about the English language. “One’s” *can* mean “another’s”.

          • sandirhodes says:

            What to do if the pancakes are too hot at IHOP?

            (… and I could have been much more graphic!)

  10. ArtLvr says:

    I liked the NYT better than the reviewer, my solving was much like Huda’s… Favorite clue (not sure which puzzle had it): “Reason to retire” with 4-letter answer….

  11. Zulema says:

    I also had MENDING instead of WENDING and it was just as good with ME instead of WE. I found the stack on top so easy and the bottom so hard. I didn’t know there was a street named for one of the RAMONEs in NY, but I did walk by the RAMONES MUSEUM and Cafe (of course) in Berlin this past summer. Have a picture but have forgotten how to post that. Did post a picture in the Forum once.

  12. animalheart says:

    Matt Gaffney, the Michiko Kakutani of crossword reviewers…

    Actually, I had some reservations about the puzzle, but after coming here and reading Matt’s comments, I’m inclined to defend it. I’m not a constructor, though, so stacked 15s still impress me, no matter what. These six all seemed “in the language” to me, and I, like vijay, loved WHATDOYOUMEANWE. I also thought the “clothing lines” clue was pretty clever. But I agree with some of the other criticisms.

  13. john farmer says:

    Good discussion today on the perplexities of possessive pronouns. Ethan makes an important point, the problem with cluing when you substitute ONE’S with a different pronoun. Sometimes you can sub YOUR for ONE’S and it works much better. DO YOUR HOMEWORK is easily clued and less stilted than DO ONE’S HOMEWORK. LOSE ONE’S TEMPER, though quaint-sounding and rather bloodless, is a cluable phrase, though LOSE YOUR TEMPER poses a cluing challenge. A lot depends on the phrase itself. If it can be said as a quotable chunk complete in itself, it probably works better with YOUR in a puzzle. If not, you probably need ONE’S or a different answer altogether. (Someone should tell Virginia Woolf, whose “A Room of One’s Own”* sounds so last century.)

    Imo, MASSAGES ONE’S EGO is not wrong, but it does sound odd (not a desirable thing) because ONE’S usually indicates a reflexive action and in this case the massager and massagee are not the same person.

    I don’t think we need to purge all the ONE’S phrases from our word lists — though there are a lot of them: thousands in one of the lists I use — just use them sparingly.

    My first question about iffy fill is, Is it necessary? That is, can it be fixed? If not, then is it worth it or do you start all over? I don’t know about the two ONE’S in the bottom stack — maybe one of them could go, maybe not — but in the middle section I suspect with a bit of work the fill could be improved. Other than that, I enjoyed the puzzle. Similar problems as others with the final WE for 1A. Some very good 15s, and it was good to see the late, great JOEY RAMONE.

    * I’d suggest “Ain’t Nobody’s Crib But Mine,” which among other things is a shade more Scrabbly.

  14. Matt Gaffney says:

    Ethan writes:

    “But it is simply a false claim that “one’s” is only used this way. What about “steal one’s thunder”? That’s how it appears in dictionaries”

    It appears as both in dictionaries, but with a slight preference for using someone’s over one’s if there an action being performed on a second party.

    Anyway, this will be my last post about this, but thanks for the rousing discussion. To sum up my view:

    A) 15-letter verbal phrases with ONE’S are overused in triple and quad-stacks.

    B) The same triple or quad stacks should not have two of these phrases.

    C) The same puzzle should not have two of these phrases, but that’s not as bad as B.

    D) A few 15-letter ONE’S phrases are so dull and overused that they’ve become trite, like A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE.

    E) 15-letter ONE’S phrases used as part of a theme are probably going to be much better than 15’s in a themeless stack, because F) 15-letter ONE’S phrases tend to be dull because they’re chosen as part of a stack, not for their inherent quality.

    G) YOUR has become the new ONE’S in many of these case, since the use of “one’s” sounds archaic compared to YOUR as “belonging to a generic person,” e.g. “leave your cares behind” vs. “leave one’s cares behind”

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