Sunday, September 22, 2013

NYT untimed 
Reagle 8:53 
LAT 7:26 
Hex/Hook untimed (pannonica) 
WaPo 8:28 (Gareth) 
CS 8:17 (Dave) 

Note to raters: Is your hobby stopping by Crossword Fiend and lowering puzzles’ average ratings by assigning 1-star ratings to puzzles that most solvers liked better than that? If so, knock it off. You’re no better than a vandal and you’re out of step with the respectful analysis we strive for here. (If you really hated the puzzle, please leave a comment explaining the reasons behind your 1-star vote.)

PDF link for the NYT crossword (subscribers only): link

It’s probably best to print out the PDF and solve on it, but if you solve online or in an app, you can eyeball the thickened lines in the PDF and work things out by looking back and forth between the PDF and your on-screen puzzle.

Mike Selinker’s New York Times crossword, “Letterboxes”

NY Times crossword blank grid, 9 22 13 “Letterboxes”

No puzzle review, per se. This one’s a contest puzzle. Low-stakes contest, with NYT crossword calendars the prize for 25 randomly drawn entrants with correct solutions. But the real appeal of the puzzle is cracking Mike Selinker’s meta to come up with the secret message.

I give it five stars for a well-conceived and -executed meta in the confines of a solid crossword with some lovely long answers.

No spoilers in the comments, please. Contest runs through Tuesday at 6 pm Eastern. Any spoilers posted before then will be thrown to the wolves.

Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “True Grit”

solution to Merl Reagle’s Sunday crossword, 9 22 12 “True Grit”

Timely theme, and more expansive than the one Liz Gorski was able to fit into her 13×13 Daily Celebrity Crossword on September 13—Earlier this month, Diana Nyad completed a historic swim, and wordplay buffs reveled in the aptness of her name.

  • 25a. [Quote from 75 Down], “YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD to chase your dreams.”
  • 32a. [What the mystery word at 106 Across is, aptly], AN ANAGRAM OF HER FIRST NAME.
  • 54a. [Distinction, Part 1], FIRST PERSON TO SWIM …
  • 64a. [Distinction, Part 2], … FROM CUBA TO FLORIDA …
  • 78a. [Distinction, Part 3], … WITHOUT A SHARK CAGE.
  • 97a. What the mystery word at 106 Across is, aptly], A HOMOPHONE OF HER LAST NAME.
  • 106a. [One of the dictionary definitions of 122-5-74-84-42: A woman who is ___], A SKILLFUL SWIMMER. It’s not in every dictionary, mind you. Taken together, the letters in squares 122, 5, 74, 84, and 42 spell out NAIAD. Anagram of DIANA, homophone of NYAD.
  • 3d. [“Success! Finally!”], “SHE MADE IT!” I’m sure a lot of people exclaimed just that on the afternoon of September 2.
  • 75d. [The “her” in 32 and 97 Across], DIANA NYAD.

Isn’t that delightful? Sure, Merl had to stretch and  squeeze the grid from his usual 21×21 into a 23×19 to accommodate the wordplay entries. but everything’s executed so deftly here. The inclusion of the occasional bit of crosswordese (STELES!) went largely unnoticed as I was solving, since Merl worked in a number of ways to keep me guessing as I worked through the theme answers. And the one answer that mystified me was largely forgotten by the time I’d finished the puzzle—

  • 5d. [Surveyors’ devices], ALIDADES. The word derives from Arabic, as you might guess from its al- beginning (see also: algebra, alcohol, alchemy). You can read up on the devices and see some pictures here.
  • Wait, I also didn’t know 113a. [SEC chairman ___ White], MARY JO.

This crossword’s a lovely tribute to an admirably persistent woman of a certain age. She’s less than a year from Medicare eligibility and still an elite endurance athlete.

4.5 stars.

Updated Sunday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Lovely themeless by CrosSynergy constructor Martin Ashwood-Smith that hinges on 3 grid-spanning 15-letter entries:

CrosSynergy crossword solution – 09/22/13

  • [“The Giving Tree” author] was SHEL SILVERSTEIN – I knew about his children’s literature (such as the title in the clue), but was not aware of all of his other talents, including being a singer-songwriter.
  • [Heavens above] was CELESTIAL SPHERE – I’m looking for a definite article to lead this one; a beautiful phrase nonetheless.
  • I was first thinking [It may help you carry a tune] was either an iPod or a boombox, but it ended up as a TRANSISTOR RADIO – one of my favorite gifts from my father when I was young was a small square radio with a telescoping antenna that I would carry around with me everywhere. Can’t remember what I liked to listen to back then, though.

I find myself happy that those were the only stacked 15’s in the puzzle, since it allowed for some really unique crossing entries in the 9-12 range (such as CENTER SPREAD, GLASS SLIPPER and the colloquial THAT HURTS!). And I should also mention the nice stacked 10’s in the northeast and southwest, including SPACECRAFT, ODOR-EATERS and HAIRPIECES, the last cleverly clued as [Temporary locks?]. I think my FAVE clue though goes to [Petty clash] for TIFF, with “clash” rhyming with “cash.” I question the commonality of Maurice JARRE who composed Doctor Zhivago’s “Lara’s Theme.” Give a listen and see if the composer’s name is familiar to you. The theme was reused as “Somewhere My Love,” sung by Ray Conniff and Connie Francis.

Julian Lim’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Hurry!”

LA Times crossword solution, 9 22 13, “Hurry!”

This wasn’t a difficult puzzle, but I had no idea what the theme was until I reached the revealer answer at the bottom. 119a. Embarking on something exciting, and a hint regarding what this puzzle’s starred answers’ endings have in common] clues OFF TO THE RACES, and the ends of the answers to starred clues are words that can precede “race”:

  • 23a. [*Similarly troubled], IN THE SAME BOAT.
  • 38a. [*Mythological trick], TROJAN HORSE.
  • 63a. [*Design on a shield], COAT OF ARMS.
  • 78a. [*Most people can’t stand to work in one], CRAWL SPACE.
  • 100a. [*Fire], GIVE THE SACK. Not familiar wording to me. “Sack him,” “give her the ax.”
  • 17d. [*”Bor-r-r-ring!”], WHAT A DRAG.
  • 82d. [*Bad thing to get off on], WRONG FOOT.

The liveliest fill in this puzzle includes BAR CODE, WHO’S WHO, RIHANNA, WIKIHOW (22a. [Collaborative instructional website]), KARAOKE, MIA HAMM, CROUTON (great clue—117a. [Bread with salad?]), BON MOT, YITZHAK, timely AUTUMN, and JUNK MAIL. Lots of good stuff! These are offset to a degree by some crosswordese—the dye twins ANIL and AZO, AFTA, E-NOTES, STEN. But overall, the good outweighs the bad.

15d. [Striped rainforest critter] clues OKAPI. I had no idea this giraffe cousin was a rain forest animal—I would have guessed the savanna. Apparently the okapi’s native to the rainforests in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

31a. [Till the cows come home] clues TO NO END. Isolated in the grid, the phrase was looking clunky and wrong to me, but a moment of Googling reminded me that I do use the phrase in that way. You might appreciate this linguist’s discussion of usage of “to no end” vs. “no end,” and what people think “to no end” means (“endlessly” vs. “with no purpose”). He found no consistent geographical patterns, with various North Americans and Commonwealth peoples using both “no end” and “to no end.”

3.75 stars.

Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 181” – Gareth’s review

The Post Puzzler No. 181

Generally speaking, a themeless puzzle lives and dies by the answers in its grid, as well as by its clues – although the latter tend to be homogenized to some extent by the presence of an editor. There were a few nice answers to be found in this puzzle by Trip Payne, but it was mostly conservatively filled… More on that later.

Most of the long answers in this 32/70 puzzle are in two stacks of 3×9 crossed by 8,8,7 answers. There were several nice answers among the stacks: JUMBOTRON is a perfect 1-across, with a great clue – I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely sure what a JUMBOTRON was until the puzzle clarified this! Also in this stack is ALIENRACE, and crossing ULTIMATE (which is made more interesting by the frisbee clue) and the somewhat ephemeral-in-fame MIAMISOL (I hadn’t heard of it – granted I don’t follow US sports, so the jury is still out on this entry.)

The opposite corner has SEPIATONE, IRONMINES as well as REDVINES. I must respond with an “ugh” to the Instagram reference. Yes it does, give the puzzle a modern feel, but I really don’t get the appeal of Instagram, software designed to mimic what the last 100 years of improvements in camera hardware have sought to eradicate… Bizarre! I added REDVINES as a plus answer, I haven’t heard of it, but then I’m not likely to have. I’m sure it provided nostalgia-value for most of you!

There were a number of beautiful clues. I already noted [It could make you a big fan] for JUMBOTRON. [Square for Pythagoras] rescues the common crossword answer AGORA. RAFFLE for [Drawing of a school, perhaps] is also great!

Of course the single most impressive feature of this puzzle is high standards for fill! As I implied above, there aren’t too many stand-out answers, but try and point to the contrivances Trip has used… TOVE, DARER, HEMPS – that’s it for the awkward fill!!! I didn’t know TAMA but looking at her resume she’s perfectly crossworthy.

An olio of other musings:

  • I started off on the wrong foot with ALIST for ATEAM and ?M??OR for FSHARP. This was soon corrected by HEMPS and BETH though!
  • Remind me again what [“Are you getting 100%?” product], TOTAL is in this context… Oh, a breakfast cereal.
  • [City in the title of a Larry McMurtry novel], LAREDO – One of my father’s favourite novelists, the title of the novel comes from the folk song
  • KAPOK is a fun-to-say shorter answer with its two K’s!

Not quite enough pizzazz for four stars, but unimpeachably well-filled: 3.75 stars?


Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “What’s in Town?” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 9/22/13 • “What’s in Town?” • Cox, Rathvon • hex/hook, bg • solution

I picked up my bag, I went looking for a place to hide,
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walking side by side,
I said, “Hey, Carmen, come on let’s go downtown”
She said, “I got to go but my friend can stick around”

Hiding in the names of various US cities are some everyday words. Constructors Cox and Rathvon, once again utilizing their cryptic crossword chops, have exploited a standard feature of that milieu and transplanted it to a standard puzzle.

Each theme answers leads with the town, and then the “heart of town,” and is clued correspondingly. Let’s have some in-town tourism:

  • 27a [Beer in an Oregon town?] SALEM ALE. Not SALE MALE.
  • 29a. [Montana town’s inherent spirit?] MISSOULA SOUL.
  • 44a. [Wind through an Arizona town?] NOGALES GALE.
  • 53a. [Maine town’s wind?] AUGUSTA GUST. Thematic GALE and GUST are linked by the crossing GIST, 46-down.
  • 72a. [Poetry in a California town?] MODESTO ODES. Not MODES TOODES.
  • 80a. [Summer in an Illinois town?] WHEATON HEAT.
  • 93a. [Bird in a Kansas town?] LAWRENCE WREN. Not Sir Christopher Wren.
  • 97a. [Ride through a Vermont town?] STOWE TOW. Not STOWETO (as in South Africa).
  • 37d. [Massachusetts town’s resident peacenik?] ANDOVER DOVE.
  • 40d. [Pennsylvania town’s animated figure?] ALTOONA TOON. Not AL TOONATOON.

Ten entries, none less than interesting, and from ten different states, though some of those towns have equally famous namesakes in other states (Salem, Maine for example). There’s one more—sort of—at 90d [Town with an elm in it?] S(ELM)A. Predictably, perhaps, I found this as well as the presence of other town names in the grid (GENOA, HANOI, TERRE Haute) to GRATE not a little (see also the crossing 56d as clued, GET AT), be a distraction and even DEVALUE the puzzle a bit. 4d [Cleveland sight] LAKE ERIE was fine by me, though. (24a, 38a, 54d, 63a, 14d)

Clue Highlights:

  • 15d [Point counterpart?] ERASER.
  • Three-way cross-reference, but it’s fairly tight in location and sense. ÉMILE | ZOLA, author of “NANA” (1880) and [“J’accuse”], the famous newspaper article about the Dreyfus Affair. (108a, 67d, 111a)
  • 78d [Asteroid-whacked] CRATERED. Don’t know, just struck me as funny. See also 100d [Impact report] WHAM.
  • 80d [McIntosh kin] WINESAP, a reliably good apple variety. Though for some reason it did cause me to think momentarily of Winesburg, Ohio.
  • 99d OTTO von Bismarck, immediately following 98d [Twister-tossed pup] TOTO; “toss about” TOTO à la cryptics and you get OTTO.
  • 39a [Mice and men, e.g.]: fooled me into thinking it was MAMMALS, with the –LS already in place. PLURALS. I know I wasn’t the only one to fall for it.
  • Havana gets callback clue duty for 5d CIGARS and 57a AHORA. Then there’s the reminiscent 61d CUBED.
  • 67a [Kazantzakis figure], five letters, ZORBA, not JESUS.
  • SOLO, CODA, ARIAS, all clued musically. (76a, 78a, 101a)
  • 90a [Town square figure] STATUE. Evokes the theme, in a good way.

Strong, clever cluing throughout. Altogether, a slightly above average crossword.

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32 Responses to Sunday, September 22, 2013

  1. reybo says:

    What’s the meaning of Reagle’s clue WJM guy? Ted is the answer, but why?

  2. dook says:

    What the note doesn’t tell you is that the “check” and “reveal” functions in NYT won’t work for this puzzle. And if you use the reveal function, it becomes a real mess.

  3. karen says:

    Lou (“I hate spunk!”) and Ted of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

  4. Keith says:

    Re: comment about one star ratings. Any rebus puzzle should automatically receive one. No matter how clever, they have no place in the crossword universe. One letter per square please!

    • bananarchy says:

      If you don’t like rebuses, that’s fine. But don’t you think automatically giving them one star is bit like saying they should only give out Oscars or Emmys to dramas because you happen to not like comedies? My feeling is that the star ratings should be based on how well a particular puzzle achieves what it was intended to do, so perhaps abstaining from rating puzzle types that you don’t enjoy solving would be more fair?

  5. Papa John says:

    So, no one on this blog has anything to say about Shortz’ latest gimmick? No?

    Well then, let me be the first to say; I hope it doesn’t catch on.

    • pannonica says:


      The NYT has run crossword contests before.

    • Brucenm says:

      We’re supposed to be in a spoiler-free universe here, and I hope this isn’t taken as one, but I *loved* the gimmick, though I think that by necessity, it is a one-time thing.

  6. Brucenm says:

    It looks like I’ve been frozen out of the LAT, the CS, and the Sunday Wa Po permanently. I won’t detail what’s happening screen by screen, but is anyone else having this problem? (I’m on a Mac, if that matters. )

    • bananarchy says:

      I get 404 errors (page not found) for any of the links in the “Today’s Puzzles” section here. That simply means that the URLs are no longer valid (i.e. they don’t point to an actual page), but the puzzles themselves can still be found by going to the WP homepage and clicking through to them. They must have just reorganized the pages on their site.

    • howlinwolf says:

      I have had a similar problem on my PC. This can be resolved by googling the name of the puzzle and going directly to WAPO and LAT.

  7. Richard says:

    I am curious about one thing in MAS’s puzzle and hope that he can answer it.

    Which came first – glass slipper or the three long middle acrosses? I am guessing that glass slipper came first as it seems that having three consecutive S’s could have happened only by design. Am I correct? Regardless, I find this quite impressive, actually.

    • Martin says:

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for your comments.

      To answer your question, the long 15-letter entries came first. BTW, there are alternatives to GLASS SLIPPER, for example: BRASS SECTION. CROSS-SECTION. I thought that GLASS SLIPPER was the most interesting.

      -Martin Ashwood-Smith

  8. Zulema says:

    I printed out the PDF version of the NYT crossword puzzle and solved it, but there are no thickened lines in it. I have seen them once I came here. Are there different ways of printing the PDF version?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      The PDF link is different from the “Print the puzzle” link (and harder to find). Which link did you use?

      • Zulema says:

        I tried both the one below the Across Lite and the one next to the puzzle listing for Sunday. Why is it hard to find and what is the purpose of that? I was away and suspended my delivery for a few days.

        Thank you.

  9. cyberdiva says:

    I solved the NYTimes puzzle and, hours later, suddenly realized what the gimmick was. All I can say is WOW!

  10. zulema says:

    I found the hard to find PDF and passed the info on to others.

  11. Bob Bruesch says:

    First time in YEARS I gave up on Merle. Too convoluted, complex, esoteric… Let’s get back to clever puzzling and forget the current event statements. Give us a break, Merle!!

    • Tom Hall says:

      I agree w/Bob – Merl left us adrift in “True Grit” with a poor (no) explanation of how to correlate the numbers 122-5-74-84-42 with the grid. Whether counting each white square (the only ones with letters) or all squares, horizontally or vertically, it does not seem to work.
      I love the word play/humor of Merl’s puzzles, but “True Grit” left me gritting my teeth. Can anyone “clue” me in on the numbers question?

  12. John Haber says:

    Not one for me, since I’m not a meta fan. I like a theme that means working with entries (like, yes, a rebus), and once I’m done with that, I don’t fancy an additional puzzle unrelated to the crossword. So any meta loses interest for me on both counts.

    But then, too, any theme, meta or not, may be said either to take ingenuity or just an outside reference. I hope it’s not a contest spoiler, given not just the heavy bars but the explicit 70A, to say this is the latter. Boring to me, and I doubt I’ll make the effort. So I’m surprised how highly rated this puzzle is. To me it’s terrible. And the prize is truly pathetic. I’m going to make an effort and pay to have this scanned or mailed for the remote random hope of that?

  13. Sam Donaldson says:

    The thematic elements of the NYT puzzle appear nowhere else in the grid. That’s pretty amazing, especially since I didn’t even notice that added construction constraint until I was done with the meta. It’s the subtle things like this, John, that may help account for the well-deserved (I think) high ratings.

Comments are closed.