Thursday, July 18, 2013

NYT 5:54 
AV Club 3:57 
Fireball 3:50* 
LAT 4:47 (Gareth) 
BEQ 6:17 (Matt) 
CS 6:08 (Dave) 

Todd Gross and David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 7 18 13, no. 0718

Well, the diamond in the grid looks great, and it spells out DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND without omitting the punctuation, which also appears in the Across and Down crossings, HE’S and ABC’S.

(We will not discuss the unfortunateness of the instructions to use the first letter of the punctuation, which would be A for apostrophe. I used the A and the software told me that square was wrong. “Reveal” informed me that what I needed in that square was a Z. Went back and put the damn apostrophe in where it belongs. Those of you who solve on paper can cackle with glee that no crazy glitch interfered with your solve. It’s almost comical, the parade of errors from the NYT’s technical folks.)

The theme consists of the triple-checked squares in the song title plus MARILYN MONROE, who sang the song in an unnamed movie that came out 60 years ago Thursday. Why on earth isn’t Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in one of the theme clues? [Star who sang 23-Across in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”], there you go.

The theme’s triple-checked tentacles lead to a lot of compromises in the fill. The crosswordese/etc. parade includes ARTE, -OUS, URI, BELS, SNERD, ELIEL, AER, ALG, and ETTE. Some regular enough answers get stodgy old clues, too: ARGO is [Mythical ship], VALE is [Goodbye, in old Rome], ALBA is [Duchess of ___ (Goya subject)]. There’s nothing wrong with those clues, but when they’re added to the parade, I can’t help feeling we’ve gone pre-Shortzian.

I’m curious about the clue for 2d: IMAM, [Kuwait V.I.P.]. I filled in EMIR right away, but that mangled 1a: MINSK. I did a quick check in the Wikipedia article on Kuwait. I did a “find” for emir and there were 32 instances of the word on that page; for imam, zero. Clicking through to the Religion in Kuwait article, again no imam. Digging further, the Islam in Kuwait article yields two imams in mosque names. The Emir, on the other hand, is the country’s monarch. I think he wins in the V.I.P. sweepstakes. You’ll probably find more powerful imams in Iran, no?

Aside from looking at the empty grid, thinking fondly of Elton John and KIKI DEE (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”), and admiring NEAT FREAKS, nothing in this puzzle felt fun to me. 7d. [Advance notice request], WARN ME, felt contrived as well. 2.5 stars.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Extremely Bad”—contest puzzle

Okay, no actual review at this point. Meta contest! Deadline is Sunday. My boss and I were trying to puzzle this one out, and we seem to have made excellent progress save for the “two words total 20 letters” part. To the tune of “Khaaaaaan!!” I say “Metaaaaaaa!”

Brendan Quigley’s AV Club crossword, “With Pride”

AV Club 7 18 13 solution

This puzzle feels a few weeks late, as most locales celebrated Pride Week(end) in late June. Better late than never, though. 64a: LGBT is clued as [Queer community inits., and a hint to the start of this puzzle’s theme answers]. Sound those letters out and you hear Elle gee bee tea:

  • 19a. [Fashion model nicknamed “The Body”], ELLE MACPHERSON.
  • 24a. [“Omigosh!”], GEE WILLIKERS. I might’ve gone with whillikers, but the one dictionary I’m checking has neither spelling.
  • 42a. [Utah’s nickname], BEEHIVE STATE.
  • 49a. [Song from the Police’s “Synchronicity”], TEA IN THE SAHARA. “My sisters and I / Have one wish before we die / And it may sound strange / As if our minds are deranged.” Cups still full of sand! I know the lyrics, but I don’t know what this song is about.

Hot spots:

  • 9d. [Part of a dress code stipulation on convenience store signs], NO SHOES. You know how places that serve food require customers to have shoes and a shirt? After the pride parade, my friend and I saw a guy leaving our bar/pizza place wearing naught but a thong and sandals. The owner working the front door didn’t know how he’d gotten past him with that health code violation.
  • 6d. [Get back down to brass tacks?], RENAIL. Blurgh.
  • 41d. [“Hit Me with Your Best Shot” singer], BENATAR. Is this song encouraging partner violence?
  • 63a. [David McKee’s patchwork elephant of kiddie lit], ELMER. I missed this one when I was little, and missed all the spin-off books when my kid was little.
  • 44d. [Red eye treatment], VISINE. Holy cats, did the day camp pool have too much chlorine today. Kid came home with pink sclera and blurry vision. Non-Visine-brand eye drops helped.

Four stars. Fresh way to lay out a theme, no?

Updated Thursday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Release the Hounds” – Dave Sullivan’s review

A playful romp with phrases that begin with another word for “man’s best friend”:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 07/18/13

  • A [Youthful infatuation] is also PUPPY LOVE – recently “steady boyfriend” was a theme phrase, this phrase seems to come from a similar era.
  • [Mismatched comic strip pair] are MUTT AND JEFF
  • [Line-drive punt, in football] clues POOCH KICK – the alliterative phrase “pooch punt” is more familiar to me, what I don’t know is if this is an intentional kick (like when you are hoping to get the ball back with an onsides kick toward the end of the game) or the punter mishits it. I think the latter is a “squib” though. Funny all these terms for types of football kicks, methinks a theme seed is in there somewhere.
  • [Cuspid] clues CANINE TOOTH – or just a “canine” on its own, no?
  • [Container for half a steak, perhaps] is a DOGGIE BAG – I would like to think many Americans take home half of the meat portion they are served at a restaurant, but I’m afraid too many eat what is way more than a recommended amount given what I read about obesity trends in the U.S.

You know, this was a very good puzzle–fun theme, interesting phrases and surprisingly good fill given the theme density. My FAVE award goes to the clue [Hands and feet] for UNITS, both being units of measurement. (I think of the height of horses when I think of using hands to measure, are there other things that are measured this way?) Some tough names for beginning solvers–Johanna SPYRI of “Heidi” and John CHO of Star Trek (any relation to Margaret?) may not be in your brain’s puzzle databank. I’ll have to give my UNFAVE award though to POOP, which could’ve been clued more closely to the doggie theme, but instead the opportunity was missed with [Latest information].

Julian Lim’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth

LA Times

Many of us admire intricate multi-layered themes, but I’m just as impressed by one that’s simple, yet elegant, like this one. The revealer is 54a, [Ignore warnings, say … and a hint to the last words of the answers to starred clues], ASKFORIT, and the starred entries end in a word that completes “Ask for ___”. All of those words are two or three syllables long, which makes the puzzle all the more impressive! Today’s theme answers are as follows:

  • 17a, [*”Press Your Luck” contestant’s cry], BIGMONEY. “Ask for money”. Familiar phrase, but the clue meant nothing to me, referring to a US game show that’s never aired here. I assume it’s well known.
  • 19a, [*What sputtering might indicate], ENGINETROUBLE. “Ask for trouble”. One demerit here as “ask for it” and “ask for trouble” are pretty similar in meaning. ENGINETROUBLE is a great answer!
  • 34a, [*Aid for the short?], DEBTFORGIVENESS. “Ask for forgiveness”. Debt relief is more familiar to me as a phrase, but “debt forgiveness” googles quite well!
  • 47a, [*Glee club on “Glee”], NEWDIRECTIONS. “Ask for directions”. Didn’t know this, but then I haven’t watched “Glee” and have no desire to. It’s still a certified fresh answer!

Eight-letter answers in the third and thirteenth rows play havoc with your grid design, I can tell you! They force stacks of 6-letter answers in the opposite corners. Stacking 13-letter answers on top only ups that challenge! This grid is a 38/72, which is themeless-legal. I’m guessing the open grid with extra white space is what tipped Rich Norris towards running this puzzle on a Thursday, because the theme certainly isn’t in any way tricky!

The most obvious thing I noticed about the non-theme fill and clues was a golf mini-theme! This is especially appropriate as it ties in with the start of The Open today! We got 15d, [Tiger’s concern], BOGEY, 35d, [Longish club], FOURIRON (Tricky to clue that!) and finally 37d, NAE clued as [“__ wind, __ rain–__ golf!”: Scottish adage]. This clue is doubly appropriate as this year’s Open is being played at Muirfield, Scotland. I wasn’t familiar with it, but after some squinting, it seems to suggest that golf isn’t golf without wind or rain, the prevalent conditions of a Scottish links course!

What else is there to note?

  • I didn’t know that 14a, BORABORA was known as a [Honeymooner’s island destination]. Fun answer though!
  • I also didn’t know 18a, DTRAIN, [Bronx-to-Coney Island subway]! I was only aware of the celebrated a-train! I assume trains C and D exist as well?
  • 23a, [Big name in smooth jazz], KENNYG. Another strong answer! People seem to love to hate this guy, yes?
  • Again, I didn’t know 53a, [San __, Argentina], ISIDRO. It seems to be a district of Buenos Aires
  • 13d, [Ballyshannon’s river], ERNE. Thank you! The river/lough clue angle is massively superior to the bird! The erne doesn’t go by that name anymore, at least everywhere that I’ve encountered it. Rather “White-tailed eagle” is the current name.

As already stated, I adored the theme and the tough grid was deftly negotiated with only a few potholes! 4.25 Stars.


Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Reverse Psychology” — Matt’s review

Brendan’s theme today sprang from his title: “Reverse Psychology” it reads, and the circled letters spell the surnames of five famous shrinks backwards:

17-a [Information off all the stashed acorns in an area?] = SQUIRREL DATA SET, concealing Alfred (?) Adler. Yes, his name was Alfred. Don’t remember anything else about him from Psych 101.

24-a [Half a score of mountain goats?] = TEN IBEXES, concealing Binet, the IQ test guy, whose first name was…also Alfred? Yes!! 2 for 2! That one I did not feel sure about at all.

37-a [“Oh, nuh-uh, gun, you did NOT just shoot that!”?] = REVOLVA PLEASE. Silly, but how else are you going to fit Alfred Pavlov in there? OK, he was an Ivan, not an Alfred. The man who conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. A couple of decades later Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays figured out you could condition humans the same way and the field of “public relations” was born. Hey, wait a second — we’re all just a bunch of sheep!

50-a [Pullover with a bearded creature on it?] = GNU JERSEY. That’s Carl Jung in reverse, and +.25 stars for this one since it’s also a U.S. state.

58-a [Vanquisher’s savagery?] = SUBDUER FEROCITY. That hides Sigmund Freud, or her if you prefer.

Here’s a theme entry he could have used: [Calculate the chances of winning a regatta on Shakespeare’s river?] with enumerations (3,4,4)? Don’t spend too much time on it: RUN AVON ODDS, hiding Brendan’s psychologist wife, Liz DONOVAN.

I dig this theme. Wasn’t obvious what was happening too quickly, even with the circles, and even after I’d gotten the idea it was still fun to keep getting them. And the theme entries were funny, which is obv. important.


Top 3 cluage: [Snack bars?] for UPC; 15-letter word [Notwithstanding] as the clue for 3-letter YET (reminds me of people who say “alternatively” when they mean “or”); and [Either “True Grit” director] for either Joel or Ethan COEN.

4.30 stars is my reasoned assessment. Yours may be higher, lower, or precisely the same.

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34 Responses to Thursday, July 18, 2013

  1. Julian says:

    Also, who said I wanted a spoiler that there was a punctuation mark in the grid anyhow?

    • Gareth says:

      Am I the only one who never reads those notepads ’til afterwards? I reason that an extra layer of mystery will more often than not make my solving experience more fun. That said I still figured out most of the theme almost immediately today…

  2. Jeffrey says:

    “Why on earth isn’t Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in one of the theme clues? ”

    Because that would give away the singer and the song name and then what’s left?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      It wouldn’t have given awat the song name for me, Jeffrey. Not everybody has seen the old classics, you know. And as Joon commented below, “the raison d’etre of the puzzle is apparently that it’s the 60th anniversary of the film, but the film isn’t even part of the theme. so why does this puzzle exist?”

      • Neville says:

        All of what Amy said. Plus, the shape of the circled letters was a pretty big give away already.

        • Jeffrey K says:

          Madonna’s “Material Girl” video was an homage/tribute/ripoff of Marilyn’s “Diamonds” performance in the movie.

          Old Fogey Jeffrey

  3. Jason F says:

    For reference: “A” worked OK for me in the applet.

    Of course, I didn’t read the instructions before solving the puzzle, so spent some time before realizing this trick. I’ve seen this before with other punctuation, so it isn’t a total mystery – just annoying. I guess the lesson is to always click through the main page to see if there are vital instructions (sigh).

    • Howard B says:

      Same here, I avoided the potential Notepad spoiler, and the rejection of the apostrophe kind of wrecked my solving time, although not the solving experience in general :).

  4. Daisy says:

    I do the xword on my iPad (magmic app) and no matter what letter (or number or available punctuation) I put in, I am not getting a “solved.” I even rebused “apostrophe” with no luck. Anyone out there with this problem? So irritating!

  5. Linda says:

    The magmic app on my IPad accepted the letter A for the apostrophe for a “solved” verdict…

  6. Michael says:

    So did people give this puzzle two stars because of the technical fail with the solution or because they hated the concept and execution so much? Hard to imagine the puzzle was so horrible it only deserved two stars.

    • joon says:

      michael, i solved the puzzle on paper with none of the issues that online solvers had. i put an apostrophe in the relevant square, but this entire puzzle did not appeal to me and i gave it two stars. here are a few reasons why:

      1. the theme did very little for me. okay, there’s a diamond, but it’s already there in the grid. i didn’t have to do anything as a solver to make the diamond appear. and there are only two theme answers, neither of which involves any wordplay, humor, or aha moment of any kind. the raison d’etre of the puzzle is apparently that it’s the 60th anniversary of the film, but the film isn’t even part of the theme. so why does this puzzle exist?

      2. starting with the second letter? what? why?

      3. apostrophe? what? why? there are entries containing apostrophes (and other punctuation, and even spaces, for that matter) in the grid all the time, and we omit the punctuation and spaces as a matter of course. those are the rules. but this apostrophe gets its own square? this is a thematic apostrophe somehow? no way. i am calling shenanigans. i’d feel very different if a puzzle’s actual theme involved apostrophes (or other punctuation) in the grid; that’d be kind of cool. this felt like breaking the rules just out of arbitrariness.

      4. unsurprisingly, the triple-checked letters led to bad fill all around those diagonals. 23a isn’t actually triple-checked because there is no across answer there, just the start of the theme answer. (actually, the end of the theme answer, followed by the start of the theme answer. ugh.) and the fill near the stacking of 23a and 20a is actually quite impressive, other than the roll-your-own WARN ME. but the fill near the diagonals is where you find ALG and AER and BELS and ELIEL and ETTE and ARTE and OUS. i guess that may be par for the course these days in the NYT puzzle, but i don’t have to like it.

      both 2 and 3 smelled to me very much of “well, we tried to do this diamond shape thing with the grid, but it didn’t work so we cheated by giving the apostrophe its own square to make the length work out. and it still didn’t work so then we cheated again by arbitrarily starting the answer in the second space.” so the whole thing pretty much turned me off.

      • Brucenm says:

        Joon, I appreciate the fact that you gave careful reasons and explanations for your assessment; I see your points, but still enjoyed it more.

  7. Brucenm says:

    I’m resigned to the fact that I’m totally out of touch with the universe. I’ve declared a semi-moratorium on complaining about highly-rated puzzles which I dislike (and there have been a few of late); but I thought this was an excellent, highly enjoyable, somewhat challenging puzzle — one of my favorite Thursdays in a long time. I even liked the visual aspect, something which often leaves me cold.

    I haven’t the faintest idea who Kiki Dee or Adam Levine are, but they were gettable, and I liked pretty much everything else. E.g. I liked the geographical references; I’m a fan of Karel Capek; I liked that 2d and 28a were not the knee-jerk fill-ins. (I mused a while back that I think people *like* seeing the same thing over and over, and get bent out of shape when there is something a little different and more creative). I liked 27a, 28d, 43a, 42a, 33a, 36a. Etc.

    5 *****

  8. Akil says:

    NYT: The idea is great, the shape of the diamond terrific, the execution fell short. Needing 2 warnings before you start, about where the quote begins and a punctuation mark along the way gets you off on the wrong foot. That combined with the technical issues of on line solving sucks the joy out of it.

    I wanted “PING ME” rather than WARN ME, which would have been way more fun. But no SPM came to mind for seeking a love connection– Self-promoting male?

    And, Amy, I had the same reaction to IMAM. EMIR was my choice and OMANI confirmed it. I’m guessing that Kuwait is a stand-in for any Moslem country and Imam is simply the religious guy. Nowadays, Imam’s are not that big a deal (in my view, anyhow), they mostly lead prayers. At one point in history, Imams had an actual position of leadership, including Imam Ali, Mohammed’s son-in-law, who is highly regarded by both Sunnis and Shiites. But the choice of Kuwait in the clue is rather baffling.

    • Bob Stigger says:

      Mega-dittoes to that. My experience in Afghanistan was that there were more imams that Kentucky colonels, and it meant about as much — an imam was roughly equivalent to a pastor in terms of function and influence. Imam may be a more elevated title elsewhere in the Muslim world, of course.

  9. Brucenm says:

    Liked BEQ’s LGBT puzzle — (YES, the AV Club).

    Also liked the Fireball, though it was shockingly easy; (my time is hardly up with Amy’s, but pretty swift for me, for an FB.) Haven’t got a clue as to the meta, though, as usual.

    Incidentally, I did the NYT on paper (as I do all puzzles), and didn’t read any notepad hints, so the flap over apostrophes, starting points, etc. totally flew over my head, and I didn’t even notice any of those issues. I’m sure Huda is right about Kuwait and Imam, but I just appreciated the slightly off center answer.

  10. Brucenm says:

    Who could not like the doggy (doggie?) puzzle, but I thought a pooch punt was generally *not* a low line drive, but rather a high, short kick, designed to give members of the kicking team the chance to run under it. Perhaps Steve is the go – to guy here.

    • sbmanion says:

      “Pooch punt” is occasionally synonymous with a quick kick in which the person punting (not normally the team’s punter, but rather a running back) quickly kicks it usually without any significant height. It also can refer to a traditional punt in that midrange field position (say the opponent’s 40 yard line), which because of the wind might be too far to attempt a field goal, in which the kicker kicks it high and short to hopefully allow his team to catch up to the ball and down it close to the goal line or force the other team’s kick returner to make a fair catch inside his 10.

      I think of it as any deliberate attempt to kick it short. Quick kicks are rarities, so I am more inclined to go with a high kick rather than a low one.


  11. dook says:

    The Across Lite applet took the A without any problem. How can you not love a puzzle that references both Marilyn Monroe AND Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? It the film title had been part of the clue, it would have given away everything.

  12. cyberdiva says:

    Like Brucenm, I had no idea who Kiki Dee and Adam Levine are, and like most folks here, I quickly put in EMIR for 2d. And since I printed out the Across Lite version in a hurry, I didn’t notice that there were some instructions. I never did realize that what was needed was an apostrophe, mostly because I don’t recall seeing punctuation in a puzzle before (I have much less experience with puzzles than most of the commenters here). But I rather liked the puzzle and gave it 4 stars.

    My only objection is to the clue for 22d, “Like some books nowadays.” It’s the “nowadays” that bothers me. That seems to me like a clue dug out of a 15-year-old cluebook. I used to buy huge numbers of books on tape to listen to in the car as I drove to and from work. But in 2007, when I bought my current car, I was dismayed to find that it had a CD player but no cassette player. And more recently, when I tried to give away my large collection of books on tape, the public libraries and senior centers I approached weren’t interested. I finally just tossed the tapes since “nowadays” I too no longer had a working tape player.

  13. Jeffrey K says:

    Diff’rent Strokes day.

    I gave a puzzle two stars today – BEQ’s that Matt raves about. Random made up nonsense phrases – REVOLVA PLEASE , anyone? – just to put some reversed names in the grid. Ooooh, circles!

    On the other hand, I thought the NYT was cute. Didn’t know apostrophe-hatin’ was a thing.

    • Jeff M says:

      Revolva’ please is probably a riff on the expression: “[extremely offensive name for a Black person] please!” Believe the cultural reference is the movie “Boyz n the Hood.”

      (Don’t shoot the messenger.)

      • Gareth says:

        I’ve mostly come across this phrase as: “[extremely offensive name for a female person] please!” myself…

        • joon says:

          but that particular variant doesn’t really bear on the REVOLVER->REVOLVA transformation evinced in brendan’s theme answer.

  14. HBH says:

    A pooch punt, or “pooch kick” in the CS answer for today, is not a “line-drive” punt as the clue asks. In fact, it is a short high punt used to pin the receiving team deep in its own territory in football. Better clue for Mr. Hamel to use would have been “a short punt with lots of hang time”.

  15. Gareth says:

    Addendum: Interview with Julian Lim at Crossword Corner here

  16. Lois says:

    Although Joon’s and Amy’s objections to the NYT puzzle are reasonable, I can’t help feeling that part of the problem that some found with it, besides the software glitches, was what is often called for here – that the puzzle was targeted at a variety of age groups, and in the end lots of people found different things quite tough. I agree with Jeffrey and Dook that naming the movie would have made that part of the puzzle easier for some but no fun for us. I also found other elements impossible and unknowable. Someone who knows more of everything than I do, say, Minsk, which I couldn’t think of, could get the harder things from the crosses – say, Kiki Dee, whom I’d never heard of. Then, again, it seems as though that pop clue might be pretty old also. So, I found the whole puzzle pretty hard, but I enjoyed it up to the time that I got the theme. I liked the oddness of the unusual apostrophe box and starting with the last letter. I didn’t enjoy the difficulty of completion (I actually didn’t finish the NW corner). 2 1/2 hours.

    • Lois says:

      Since I wrote the above post so poorly, I want to emphasize that I meant what I wrote, 2 1/2 hours, not stars, in case someone thought that was a typo. It took me that long. I gave the NYT puzzle 4 stars.

  17. pannonica says:

    BEQ: [Symbolic?] INSIGNIA-LIKE. With bonus for the clue having a psychology element.

  18. pauer says:

    Just realized that 60 is the year of the diamond anniversary. That’s cool.

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