Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NYT 3:31 
LAT 3:57 (Gareth) 
CS 5:20 (Dave) 
Tausig untimed 

Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 5 1 13, no. 0501

This puzzle has the same vibe as the scene in A Christmas Story when the mailman finally brings Ralphie the decoder ring he’s been waiting for, and Ralphie sets to work like any eager puzzler to decode the secret message now that he has the proper tools. And the message is nothing but shallow marketing: “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” Ralphie feels like he’s been played for a fool. Here, we have a puzzle with all sorts of subpar fill, and the payoff is … there is apparently something on May 1 called LEI DAY (who knew? not I), and there is a lei in the grid made not of orchids but of LEI LEI etc. The words ALOHA and HULAS round out the theme.

The fill on my list of disliked answers includes ALIA, FELID, ROAN, YIPE, ELO, ADIA, AFLOW (good lord, what is that? [Running, poetically]?), the French trio of SERIE (?!)/ESSAI/CLAIR (and [Montaigne work]’s only cue that the answer is French is the presence of Montaigne’s name, so woe to the solver who doesn’t know that [Charlotte ___, Virgin Islands] is spelled AMALIE and not AMALYE crossing ESSAY), A-LEVEL, ODER, OLEIC, PIELS, A PLOT, YALE U., EELERS, AGLARE, EEO, and IER. The influx of forced L’s, E’s, and I’s doesn’t make for crisp fill, does it?

Actually, I’m not sure SERIE is French. [Something watched on télévision], is that specifically French accenting? I am more familiar with the Italian soccer league Serie A.

Usually Paula’s puzzles (particularly her themelesses) have markedly better fill than this. It’s a surprise to see this much clunky fill under her byline. Two stars. The ODER is AFLOW.

Erik Agard’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s Review

Erik’s theme seems almost minimalist in this day and age. Three theme answers (12,10,10) and a 12-letter revealer: SHUFFLEBOARD. Bear in mind that with a 12-letter revealer, the constructor has to use the 4th/12th row for the first pair of theme answers. This all but caps the number of theme answers at four. We’ve had a few anagram themes recently, and this is another. Each theme answer begins with the letters BOARD in some other arrangement. Only the first, BROADSTROKES, is contained within one word: the next two spill over into a second. BROADSTROKES is colourful, BARDOFAVON solid, and BADROMANCE lends a contemporary feel to the puzzle. A very nice collection of theme answers!

The most striking thing about the rest of the puzzle is the high-Scrabble-value answers. The average Scrabble score is 1.84 which is very high! I’m a bit ambivalent about their use here though. 1a is JANDJ, a classic crossword contrivance. I like the clueing angle on the crossing JORDAN a lot though: [Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” river], what has been called “extra-effort clueing.” I’m also not sure that the additional X’s in the bottom-left are a plus. UNIX is very familiar to me growing up in a computer programming family, but it feels like adding an answer that’ll be obscure to many just to get an X in. I like its ZANY/ZEUS counterweight a lot more; and also the central BRONX (which gets more NY flavour from nearby CONEY island)! [Feel free to rebut this vociferously in the comments of course!] Another interesting extra-effort clue is [Puffed cereal with a Berry Berry variety]: They named a cereal by making a pun on Vitamin B1 deficiency??? Bizarre!

Overall I’d say this is a solid puzzle, with nice theme answers. I may have devoted a lot of text to it, but the Scrabble issue had only a minor influence on my solving experience… 3.4 stars.


Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Mayday!” – Dave Sullivan’s review

CS solution – 05/01/13

This puzzle was written specifically for today, the first of May or May Day. But instead of dancing around a maypole, constructor Patrick Blindauer gets rid of that space and reinterprets the phrase as a distress call at sea, or S.O.S.

Of the four theme entries, SIGNS OF STRUGGLE is the only questionable phrase in my mind, the others are rock solid. (Too bad one of my favorite bands from the ’80s, SWING OUT SISTER is a letter shy of 15, and it would also break the middle OF pattern.) A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR is probably my favorite, since “…it helps the medicine go down!” Check out the robotic robin in the clip below (can you imagine what today’s CGI might do?):

My FAVE entry hands down is ELLEN Ripstein of “Wordplay.” She can seriously solve puzzles and twirl some batons! Right next door, though was my UNFAVE: VIGGO Mortenson of “Hidalgo”–I almost called out “Mayday!” for that one!

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Change Is Gonna Come”

Ink Well crossword solution, 5 1 13 “Change Is Gonna Come”

Backwards currency is the name of the game:

  • 56a. [Change, e.g., and a hint to this puzzle’s theme], MONEY BACK.
  • 17a. [How some prefer to go out], WITH A BANG. Baht backwards in the circled squares.
  • 27a. [Lamb Chop’s partner], SHARI LEWIS. Lira.
  • 34a. [Song that begins “Hey, where did we go, days when the rains came”], BROWN EYED GIRL. Yen.
  • 40a. [Array in a honeymoon suite], ROSE PETALS. Peso.
  • 53a. [British battleship], MAN-O’-WAR. Won.

Solid theme.

Favorite fill: Peter TORK (he dropped out of Carleton College), “SHALL WE?,” BROUHAHA, LADY DAY, FREE WILL.

Five comments:

  • 1d. [Vehicle that removes wrecks], TOW CAR. I know tow trucks but not TOW CARs.
  • 55a. [Doors tune?], CAROL. As in a Christmas carol sung at various doors.
  • 11d. [Stooges album with “Search and Destroy”], RAW POWER. Did not know this one.
  • 60a. [Roman four, if there’s no V handy], IIII. What are the rules for when IIII is legit and not just IV?
  • 20a. [Draft], COOL AIR. I checked the dictionary and yes, if it’s warm air, it’s not a draft. It may be a breeze instead.

3.8 stars.

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27 Responses to Wednesday, May 1, 2013

  1. Phil says:

    The puzzle is ever so much better if you read clockwise from the top, as one should, resulting in LIELIELIE…
    Or it could be a tribute to YALEU with ELIELIELI…

    That onion in the center just has so many layers.

  2. huda says:

    NYT: I guess I’m an outlier today. I do understand the complaints about the fill, but somehow I overlooked them. Maybe it’s because I love Hawaii and grow orchids, and I think having a day called LEI DAY is perfect… What a LOVERLY idea!

    I had entered MAY DAY early on (not noticing that May is in the clue!) then entered LENDL and it became LAY DAY. Nothing wrong with that either.

  3. James says:

    ACLU, ADIA, ALEVEL, ALIA, ALOU, AMALIE, CLAIR, EEO, ELO, ESSAI, HADJ, IER, ITINA, JAMESII, LENDL, LOVERLY, ODER, OLEIC, OLGA, PIELS, ROAN, SCOW, SERIE, WOLFF, YALEU…25 words (~30% crosswordese). Even the theme is crosswordese…”lei day” on Google gets only 135,000 results…”Memorial Day”, for comparison, gets about 36 million.

    I can’t comprehend how this puzzle was ever published.

  4. Martin says:

    Let’s resist the “pile-it-on” mentality here. While some of the points about the fill are valid, why on earth would anyone include JAMES II in the bad list?

    It’s a good and interesting fill word. Sorry if you don’t like it, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use it in one of my puzzles.


  5. Ethan says:

    What I didn’t understand about the theme was, doesn’t LEI refer to the entire necklace? The theme would make sense if LEI referred to the individual components of the necklace.

  6. Brucenm says:

    Gee, I kinda liked the NYT. I would not include “essai” on the bad list either, especially since Charlotte Amalie is both well known and also appears regularly in crosswords. I roll my eyes at ‘Adia’ but it’s easy enough from the crosses. But I won’t be the one to sink to a “getting leid” comment.

    The late 17th. century is one of the more fascinating periods in British history and to a word person, a principal source of a celebrated word. James II had support among the Anglican tories but the fact that he was Roman Catholic, conjoined with some of his liberal policies — (I’m fuzzy on the details) — led to his being perceived as a “disestablishmentarian,”(i.e. of the Church of England), and therefore those who opposed him defended antidisestablishmentarianism.

    Let me add my thanks to Sam for his many excellent CS reviews, and to Dave – Evad for assuming, if not the mantle, at least the maris.

    • pannonica says:

      ESSAI isn’t intrinsically bad fill; the issue is that the clue (especially in a Wednesday puzzle) didn’t do a good job of indicating that the answer should be in French—merely mentioning Montaigne is not enough. Would a similar clue, such as [Marcus Aurelius works] inspire a solver to write in MEDITATIONIBUS?

      Also, I suspect that the intersecting Charlotte AMALIE in the US Virgin Islands is not as broadly known as you suggest (however, AMALYE should look fishy to most solvers).

      • Daniel Myers says:

        No doubt your putting MEDITATIONES in the Ablative or Dative plural is meant to more fully emphasize what you see as the absurdity of the answer, but it looks jolly odd to me standing alone, all the more to emphasize ridiculousness etc.

        But I don’t really see what the SCENE is about regarding that crossing. Once the theme becomes evident, it must be an “I”.

        Changing note, the use of FELID would seem to be on the rise.

        • Brucenm says:

          Perhaps surprisingly, the “Meditations” were originally written in Greek.

          • Daniel Myers says:

            Yes, rather surprising, not shockingly so, but still. Thanks Brucenm. I either never knew it, or had long forgotten it.

            It was, of course, common for educated Romans to know Greek.

        • pannonica says:

          You give me too much credit, Daniel. On my own devices I thought of meditationes but ran “meditations” through an on-line translator, followed by a confirmational search for content, and meditionibus seemed legitimate enough, despite my intuition. And it was indeed more stark in its oddness.

          Bruce, I had no idea they were written in Greek! Interesting. And I thought I was selecting something that was so assuredly in Latin that I didn’t bother to double-check.

          Don’t know what to make of the FELID ngram; the rise corresponds to my time, and my precocious reading habits—especially on natural history and animal behavior—ensured that back-formations (?) such as that (from the family Felidae) seemed the norm.

        • pannonica says:

          Also, good point about the triple-cross of the I.

  7. Howard B says:

    I dunno, many of us seasoned solvers like themes, or variations upon said themes, that we haven’t quite seen before. This one is certainly something I haven’t seen. Are there some answers that are maybe less than sparkling? Yes, but I guess that shows how high we expect the bar to be now for all puzzles.
    I did like the fact that the theme wasn’t immediately clear (what with the counter-clockwise LEI) without the reveal. I have heard of Lei Day despite never having been near Hawaii, so that does bias me a little.

    Will I bestow awards? perhaps not on this one, but also consider what you ask of a puzzle.
    It challenged me, got me thinking (way too late at night to think), and was a nice diversion. In the end, that’s all I ask, really. :) So I was fine with the puzzle in general.

    • Jeff Chen says:

      Hear hear! Way to keep the vibe positive, Howard. Puzzles give me such joy during my breaks throughout the day.

    • john farmer says:

      Similar thoughts here (here here?).

      I like to see to see fresh theme ideas, like today’s. No doubt there are some constraints that affect the fill, but the puzzle was still enjoyable and will likely linger longer in the memory than many other puzzles that may be smoother but are more run-of-the-mill.

  8. janie says:

    agreed — **very** cool to see ELLEN clued in relation to la ripstein. but VIGGO’s an unfave? ah, well — “to each his own,” i s’pose. he’s someone i just love to hate!


    • Evad says:

      Well if he were clued to his LOTR role (Aragorn), I would’ve recognized him.

      • john farmer says:

        Indeed. It is hard to keep all those Mortensons straight. ;-)

        Seriously, thanks for picking up the CS baton. Nice work.

        • Evad says:

          Thanks John. As will become increasingly obvious, I have a serious lack of knowledge of celebrity first names. VIGGO, tomorrow’s OMRI (yes, a spoiler!), etc. I just don’t choose to commit to memory unless I see them so frequently I have no choice (YMA). I know it makes me an inferior solver, but since we all do this as an enjoyable hobby, I invest memory cells for the items that interest me, obscure first names do not.

  9. sbmanion says:

    The main reason I love this blog is that there is almost never a piling on mentality. I greatly appreciate the independent thinking of the posters here.

    I am not nearly as bothered by crosswordese as most of you, probably because I solve far fewer puzzles. For me, a clever clue for an unremarkable answer is still clever.

    I did not know Lei Day, so for that reason alone I enjoyed the puzzle. Paula Gamache is one of my favorite constructors.


  10. Bencoe says:

    I agree that there was a lot of questionable fill in this NYT puzzle. I found it awkward to solve. But I wouldn’t put “FELID” in that category. It’s an interesting word, which to me makes it good fill. I’d rather have a word I’ve never seen before than one which is in every other puzzle.

  11. Martin says:

    What are the rules for when IIII is legit and not just IV?

    IIII is only used on clock faces. Ben’s clue is cute but it’s not meant to be taken literally.

    • john farmer says:

      I may be repeating myself, but here’s a piece of trivia: the clock face on Independence Hall has a IIII; the picture of the clock face on Independence Hall on a $100 bill has a IV.

  12. John says:

    Of course the comments on Wordplay do not reflect the critical tone of this blog or Rex. I sometimes drop by to see if Rex’s rant enjoys wider support and Amy always criticizes in a more rational tone. Frankly, I just don’t get bogged down on the technical side of these things. I am not a constructor. Have an interest in constructing about 1 on a scale from 1 to 10. So I really don’t care so much about the fill, which it seems to me is more critical in a themeless puzzle. What I care about is if I have fun solving. On that basis I would rate this somewhere between a 3 and a 4, not a 2 Amy gives or the harsh word used by Rex. I just figure it’s tough working out a scheme that allows LEI to go around in a circle and come up with better fill. Lei Day is May 1, so this works for me and the rest I can live with.

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