Thursday, October 3, 2013

NYT 5:26 
AV Club 5:10 
Fireball 4:56 
LAT 7:49 (Gareth) 
BEQ 50 minutes, DNF (Matt) 
CS 5:36 (Dave) 

Evan Birnholz’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 10 3 13, no. 1003

This puzzle is strikingly irreverent for an NYT crossword. (I like that in a puzzle.) The two-way rebus theme wants a double-B for the Down answers, and {TO BE} for the Acrosses:

  • 17a. [“Good thing I don’t have the same problem!”], “SUCKS {TO BE} YOU!” The more genteel, traditionalist crowd may be appalled by the use of the word SUCKS here, but to those under 50, it pretty much just implies “stinks.” Nothing obscene.
  • 5d. [Certain ring bearer], HO{BB}IT. Five squares? I was certain it would be BILBO or FRODO, but I thought the “Tao of Pooh” guy’s name started with HO. (HOFF. I was thinking HOLT at first.)
  • 21a. [1986 top 10 hit for Billy Idol], {TO BE} A LOVER. Never heard it. My Billy Idol experience ended by 1984 or 1985, by which time I switched my allegiance from top 40 to college rock.
  • 8d. [Fictional substance in a Disney film], FLU{BB}ER!
  • 36a. [“Apparently”], SEEMS {TO BE}.
  • 32d. [Half of an old comedy team], A{BB}OTT.
  • 39a. [That is the question], {TO BE} OR NOT {TO BE}. Perfect clue! Why mention Hamlet and give it away?
  • 34d. [Caen cleric], A{BB}E.
  • 37d. [Drifts away], E{BB}S. Do you all love the early-’70s Dobie Gray song, “Drift Away,” as much as I do? Why more music videos aren’t filmed in lush gardens, I’ll never understand.
  • 42a. [One who may need a shower?], BRIDE {TO BE}.
  • 35d. [Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, e.g.], RO{BB}ERS.
  • 54a. [“Truthfully …”], {TO BE} HONEST.
  • 54d. [What’s not for big shots?], {BB} GUN.
  • 62a. [Classic rock song in “Easy Rider”], BORN {TO BE} WILD.
  • 53d. [Mr. ___], PIBB. An updated clue would be [___ Xtra].

Did not know 49a. [N.B.A. Hall-of-Famer Walker], CHET. Here he is.


  • 45d. [“Whatever!”], “SCREW IT!” As with 17a, nothing sexual/crude in this usage.
  • 27d. [Ohio city WSW of Columbus], XENIA. I should hate it as a podunk town of under 30,000 we have no reason to know, but a dear friend introduced me to the uncommon word xenial, and XENIA makes me think of that and of being appreciated for warmly hosting a houseguest. There’s another X proper noun in the puzzle too, PHOENIX (and the two do not cross at the X).
  • 41a. [Robert of “Quincy, M.E.”], ITO. Raise your hand if you had a childhood crush on his smart forensic scientist character.

Eight rebus squares, wielded well. Solid fill. Some fun clues. 4.5 stars.


Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 66”

Fireball “Themeless 66” solution, 10 3 13

Any themeless puzzle containing WAX POETIC is going to win my heart. No, wait, that’s not true. A puzzle with WAX POETIC offset by a bunch of boring, clunky fill will leave me seething with disappointment. But Peter knows how to fill a grid and includes plenty of other juicy stuff and no crap fill.

Just look at the goodies here. An OSCAR NOD (which might also be OSCAR NOM, no?), almondy AMARETTI, VOX POPULI VOX DEI (which contains eight letters that are Roman numerals, which seems apt for a Latin phrase that crosses the Roman numeral DVI—which is clued as [Eleven-twentieths of CMXX] and no, I didn’t do the math), an OLD MASTER (clued with [Carpaccio, for example], and I had no idea there was an artist by that name—the raw beef carpaccio is named for the painter’s use of meaty red pigments), HANGER-ON, YAMMERS, XBOX LIVE, POT-AU-FEU, DIXVILLE NOTCH (New Hampshire’s quaint home of early voting), and the interesting word SURCEASE.

In the cluing arena, we have TENURE clued as [Fire insurance?]; FIG, [Contemptible amount]; ADIEUS; [Byes at the French Open?]; YAMMERS, [Whinges, stateside] (I love the word whinge); PEG, [Alternative to Madge], as nicknames for Margaret; and SIXTY, [Subscript in the formula for buckminsterfullerene].

The bad stuff in this puzzle includes … well, the worst it gets is merely ordinary. 4.5 appreciative stars for this 70-worder.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Magazine Mergers” – Dave Sullivan’s review

I mentioned recently that it was rare that I would correctly guess the theme from just the title of a puzzle, but here’s another where it was pretty obvious from the title what we would be treated to. Namely, two magazine names would be “merged” to form a wacky phrase:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 10/03/13

  • [“A penny saved is a penny earned,” e.g.?] was:    
  • [What a teen may find at home when curfew is broken?] clued:
  • [Thanksgiving in New York City, e.g.?]was:
  • [Result of a population explosion?] clued:

Man, that was a lot of work putting those magazine covers together, I think I’ll just have to call it a day, other than noting I’ve never heard of “More” magazine before, have you? Will have to keep an eye out for it next time I’m in a grocery store cashier’s line. Oh, I did want to also ask you guys why [Ballyhoo] clued PLUG? I think of a “plug” as an advertisement for something, not so much making a big deal of it, which “ballyhoo” implies to me.

Pancho Harrison’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

OK, back to our usual LA Times programming. Thanks once again to Matt for filling in and also for the kind words!

Today, we have another example of the increasingly common clue/answer reversal theme. This one works better than most because the clues are all [See 49-Down]. This means that the cat isn’t let out the bag with the first theme answer and there’s a big a-ha moment when you finally figure out what the puzzle is looking for. It made the puzzle play more like a Friday (not a bad thing), especially as the final clue, [Diving rotation, and the clue for four puzzle answers] I found particularly devious. I was trying to come up with some sort of set of moves that divers use, rather than the actual rotation in the air. Also, I didn’t read the clue properly, because I was thinking the answers were going to be four different words that formed a set described at 49-down. Sometimes I think very stupid things.

So the theme answers, each a TWIST, are:

  • OHENRYSPECIALTY. Twist in a novel.
  • DRINKGARNISH. Twist of lemon.
  • SIXTIESDANCE. The Twist.
  • OLIVEROFFICTION. Oliver Twist.

It’s always good to start the puzzle on a high note, and [Like bars in noir films] is very evocative – providing a strong visual image. The answer is SMOKY (which is not to be confused with Smokie, the washed-up British rock group from the 70’s currently touring South Africa)

I found the proper nouns tougher than usual. I suspect there’s a dissonance between my and Mr. Harrison’s knowledge bases. I think we all experience this with certain crossword constructors. Anyway I didn’t know [Salsa singer Cruz]] CELIA; I barely knew [Conductor Zubin] MEHTA, and the intersection of that with OHENRY was a mystery for a time! EIGER clued as [Peak in a Trevanian title] was another mystery name. I assumed Trevanian was an adjective, like Shavian, but apparently it’s the author‘s name. Another mystery name in the grid was the particular [Governor who opened the Erie Canal] CLINTON. After the obligatory post-solve Wikipedia look-up I have vaguely heard of him. It begs the question; how many 19th century governors can the average American name? [Alley Oop’s girl], OOOLA was a gimme for me, but it is kinda obscure. It doesn’t appear too frequently in crosswords, so it is refreshing here in a way; I’d prefer it to stay only an occasional answer though…

Other remarks:

  • The partial answer APOOR is rescued by linking it to the Simon and Garfunkel lyric.. (one could also have gone with a Queen lyric.)
  • YARDARMS is a nice nautical answer. I originally know of them from this 70’s South African pop-rock song.
  • For [Mont. neighbor], SDAK I initially had SASK – that’s a deliberate trap if ever I saw one! I suppose I should’ve realised the clue would then be [Mont. neighbour].
  • [Bierce defines it as “His”] for HER. I don’t get this at all. I assume it’s a joke of some sort.
  • [Granada bear], OSO. A more contemporary clue would be [Disney’s Special Agent ___]. I don’t know why it is expected we know the Spanish for bear; a popular cartoon seems far more legitimate for crosswords.

The theme was nicely executed and the rest of the puzzle played out fairly. 3.75 stars from me.


Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “From A to Z” — Matt’s review

Earlier this week Brendan asked on Facebook for people to test-solve this puzzle. I volunteered, then forgot about it and left BEQ high and dry.

Well, f@#$er got his revenge today because this puzzle kicked my ass six ways to Sunday. I gave up after 50 minutes and, upon seeing the solution, saw 1) how getting 50% of the grid right does NOT mean you’re done on one of these and 2) a couple of traps can kill you in an A to Z.

Quickly felt confident as all 26 clues fell within about 4 minutes. Confidence ramped up further as I conquered the SE corner quickly, busting through with BEAUTIFUL DAY, UNZIP, DUBAI, YUPPIE and KHAYYAM. Saw through the diabolical [Emirate on the Persian Gulf] clue, which must be QATAR in a necessarily-Scrabbly puzzle like this, right? Wrong — it was DUBAI, which fit nicely, and in it went. Was sure I was about to roll thought the rest, especially since I was pretty sure MENSCH was going to be the answer to [Honorable, decent guy] and that it was going to intersect KHAYYAM at the H along the right edge (which turned out to be correct).

And then…brick wall, trap after !@#$% trap. ?I???Y had to be SINGLY, clued as [Not as a group]. No, that was JITNEY [Cab/bus hybrid vehicle]. Knew that [Jesuit missionary St. Francis] was XAVIER, and realized it had to be the left entry across the center row, because that would leave me with ???TAXI for [Cab/bus hybrid vehicle]. So you can see how screwed I was at that point.

The only other progress I made was in the upper right, where IRAQ, QUAD, RAIDERS and PAPRIKA had to be right (and was). But I didn’t at all question SINGLY — it fit the ?I???Y sequence and the clue perfectly, and there was no other S-word in the grid or in my mind — so banged my head against a brick wall trying to make ?P???E work for one of the other clues.

Well, XAVIER was in the right place at least, but that ?????X? turned out to be CONTEXT, not some kind of TAXI. I knew OUIJA and LUIGI had to be in some order among those 5-letter entries in the NW, but there were several possible combinations and I didn’t know which was which.

Brutal but clever. Anyone who solved this correctly please post your solving times so I can channel some of my BEQ-directed rage your way. I do like this puzzle type a lot and would like to see more of them — maybe a little easier next time, though? (I can almost feel the schadenfreude from MGWCC solvers who didn’t get last week’s meta).

Patrick Blindauer’s American Values Club crossword, “Fill in the ___”

AV Club crossword solution, 10 3 13 “Fill in the ___” by Patrick Blindauer

I’m digging the guest appearances in the AV Club byline! Smooth puzzle with a fresh twist from Mr. B: Wherever PHIL is supposed to appear in the theme answers, it’s been replaced by BLANK. So when you put PHIL in the BLANK, you get the correct phrase:

  • 18a. [Fuzzy green sports mascot since 1977], BLANKLIE PHANATIC. Phillie Phanatic.
  • 41a. [2013 Tom Hanks movie], CAPTAIN BLANKLIPS. Vague hints of Hot Lips Houlihan here. Captain Phillips is the new movie about the ship captain who bravely handled a hijacking by Somali pirates.
  • 66a. [Subject for Judith Butler in “Gender Trouble”], BLANKOSOPHY OF SEX. When does “philosophy of sex” ever get a shout-out in a crossword puzzle? Pretty much never.

Super-fresh base phrases for the theme? Check. Simple three-part theme allowing the fill to breathe? Check. Zippy stuff in the fill? Check (see BUG-EYED, RAG ON, PARASAIL, LITERATI, ACID TRIP). Fun clues? Check:

  • 1a. [Godzilla’s 1969 animated opponent], BAMBI.
  • 27a. [Doing long-distance, say], APART.
  • 1d. [Aquatic worm that may slice up its prey (appropriately, given the homonym)], BOBBIT.
  • 5d. [Light blue Pac-Man ghost], INKY. Shouldn’t Inky have been dark blue, though?
  • 26d. [Win, lose, or draw], VERB.
  • 60d. [Slang for a thong that’s worn backward], T-BAR. Ha! That one’s new to me.
4.5 stars. It’s not necessarily a puzzle for the ages (that would be a 5-star crossword), but it is very good indeed.
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34 Responses to Thursday, October 3, 2013

  1. Ethan says:

    What a contemporary-feeling NYT! (Even with the Billy Idol trivia.) It’s especially refreshing to see a clue for TWEE that doesn’t refer to the word as being British. Nothing British about it anymore.

  2. Evan says:

    Thanks for the nice review, Amy. I don’t imagine I’ll be sleeping much for the rest of today — just too excited about my NYT debut.

    I wrote a long set of comments over at Rex’s blog about my puzzle (beginning with this one). I won’t repeat all of them here, but I will say a few things:

    1. I’m inviting anyone and everyone to e-mail me their pictures of the completed grid, or pictures of them solving the grid, or drawings that they drew on the grid (I love those), or whatever so I can put them in my scrapbook. Send them to ebirnholz AT gmail DOT com.

    2. You can read an interview with me from Temple Today, the school news of Temple University. I talk about how I got into creating crosswords and how I go about constructing one. It’s also got my most artistic selfie phone pic ever, partially featuring a shot of a recent puzzle by Brendan Emmett Quigley.

    3. My original clue for PIBB did indeed have a reference to PIBB Xtra, but alas, they changed it. And my original clue for XENIA had nothing to do with the Ohio town — I had [___ Onatopp, femme fatale in “GoldenEye”], which would probably be cruel for people who aren’t familiar with that movie, but I thought it would at least be different. I also had a reference to “The Goonies” in my original clue for SLOTH, which I figured they’d almost certainly change anyway for the same reason as for XENIA.

  3. Gareth says:

    Jinkies, Evan that’s quite a debut! This puzzle is easily a hall-of-famer for me! Elegant two-way rebus, lively theme answers like well all of them, but especially SUCKSBBYOU and BRIDEBB. Also some lovely bits of misdirection like [River of film], [That’s the point] and [Holder of a pair of queens] which is one of my favourite clues ever (bearing in mind that I tend to forget even the most awesome clues within the month). Dammit Dave, where’s the “6 star” option?

    BTW, it’s strange how Billy Idol started as a Sex Pistols devotee and the original frontman of what would become Siouxsie and the Banshees could be become “Top 40” – except he was…

  4. HH says:

    Excellent writeup … but I would say that about anything that reprints a Maxim cover.

  5. pannonica says:

    LAT: [Bierce defines it as “His”] for HER [sic]. I don’t get this at all. I assume it’s a joke of some sort.

    It’s a welcome (to this solver) reference to Ambrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary,” a collection of 19th century (but in many ways timeless) social commentary in the guise of a cynical and satirical lexicon.

    Though it’s good to have a physical copy lying around for casual perusal, it’s now in the public domain and on-line.

    • pannonica says:

      I should add that the definition for Hers is “His”

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      My 4th-place finish at Lollapuzzoola 6 entitled me to choose a prize book. I was so pleased that Francis Heaney (who works at Sterling/Puzzlewright) had brought The Devil’s Dictionary along with all those puzzle books! I snapped it right up.

      Note the clearly wrong Ambrose Bierce reference in the B&N editorial review of my book. “Ambrose Bierce once defined egotism as doing The New York Times crossword puzzle with a pen.” Did he, now? He disappeared in December 1913, the same month that Arthur Wynne invented the crossword puzzle. The New York Times crossword didn’t begin until years later.

      Thanks to pannonica’s link to the online Bierce, we can quickly see that EGOTIST is defined as “A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.”

      Facts, people!

  6. Brucenm says:

    I too thought Evan’s puzzle was fantastic (and I’m not necessarily identified as someone who likes “irreverent, modern sounding” puzzles.) I second Gareth’s “Jinkies” even though I have no idea what it means. Ditto “Stonkers.” Whoever said this Forum wasn’t educational? :-)

    I saw the puzzle last week in Pleasantville as the championship puzzle, loved it then, and managed to solve it, though not in the astounding 4 minutes plus it took Bob McKay. I met Evan briefly, and he’s a likeable, irreverent, modern sounding young guy. Congrats, Evan, and I look forward to many more of your puzzles.

  7. HH says:

    I don’t know if advertising in here is permitted, so I will merely tell you all what I just did — I went to LighterSide[dot]com and, in the “Keyword or Item#” window, I typed CW-11565. You may wish to do the same.

  8. Martin says:

    Congrats on a well-crafted debut puzzle Evan.


  9. Daniel says:

    OMG, NYT was one of my favorite puzzles all year. It’s just so well-built with wit, surprise, charm, and sass. Jinkies indeed, Scooby.

  10. Jason F says:

    NYT: This puzzle is an example of why Thursdays are my favorite day of the puzzle week! This is a very nice execution overall (5-star puzzle).

    One question: I assume G.W. is George Washington? If so, would it not be better to use “GW”? For whatever reason, college sports abbreviations rarely include the periods. A quick Google backs this up, I think.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Matt G, I didn’t time my BEQ solve, but it took me longer than I expected. Maybe 20 minutes? I don’t equate FLINCH with [Quiver], don’t know “BEAUTIFUL DAY,” and took forever to tease out VIEWING and EQUITY.

    • David L says:

      I didn’t time myself either, but I’d guess about 15 min to almost finish. I confidently put in BLOODYSUNDAY, which not only begins with B and has the right number of letters, but also crosses correctly at U, D, and Y, and kind of does at JYTNEY (alternative spelling of a word I’m only vaguely familiar with?)

      So eventually I had to google for the correct song and then found VIEWING and EQUITY…

      • Bencoe says:

        I finished this BEQ puzzle in about 11 minutes. Like Matt, got the clues quickly but then was slightly confused, as I haven’t done an A to Z puzzle before. One Across had to be FLINCH though, which matched to Quiver, and then the puzzle made sense. Thought I didn’t know St. Francis the Jesuit, but XAVIER University reminded me of him. Expected Mario, but got LUIGI. Hardest word, and most likely to kill solvers: JITNEY. I kept thinking “Jeepney” until I realized it wouldn’t work. Liked this one, though.

        • Bencoe says:

          Just checked Dan Feyer’s site and saw that he too DNF. I think this is the first time I ever beat him at a puzzle–too bad it’s not exactly a crossword in the official sense!

          • Dan F says:

            Yeah, I had to stop and google and get on with my day! Seems that with this format and its many unchecked letters, a bad guess can be hard to overcome. I had ETCHED for [Inscribed].

            Really fun AVX (as well as NYT & FB). Better yet, Patrick is not a guest constructor but a new member of the rotation!

    • Jeffrey K says:

      I finished it in around 20 minutes.

  12. janie says:

    evan’s dazzling debut (created before his 30th b’day) put me in mind of a puzzle by another talented “under-30”. finn’s puzzle also got a lotta love here. both guys have given us a sort of uber-rebus — we’ve got two ways to enter the rebus fill, depending on the requirements of the answer — and clearly that’s an approach that most of this crowd fully appreciates — especially when executed in such an expert way. it’s original and sparks multiple “aha” moments.

    as for SUCKS 2B YOU, thank you, avenue q (this is the version that was used at the tony awards; be sure to view thru to 3:11 or so for the pay off…). yes, there are even those of us in the (considerably…) over-50 demographic who have fond associations with this comically spiky phrase!


    • Gareth says:

      It also made me fondly recall joon’s alchemy puzzle (that I think he made when he was under 30….)

      • janie says:

        sheesh. what’re those guys (or perhaps more correctly, *you* guys) drinkin’?! whatever it is, pass the cup!


  13. Martin says:

    The bobbit worm in the AV is, in fact, named for Lorena Bobbitt. It’s jaws can slice a good sized fish in two. The bobbit worm in action is nightmarish and alien. The part hidden under the sand is not much better.

  14. RK says:

    Clever, refreshing, entertaining NYT. I really enjoyed the solve. Congrats to Evan.

    Enjoyed the LAT theme as well.

  15. Dook says:

    NYT was great fun. Can someone explain the Village People locale answer???

  16. ArtLvr says:

    I hope there are some readers still around this evening! On seeing OLD MASTER clued with Carpaccio I must share this amazing history & portrait of Joseph Boulogne, nearly forgotten musical genius:

    Wish I could see the film made of his life, back to back with a rerun of “Amadeus”….

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I had no idea there was a “black Mozart”! Thanks for the link, ArtLvr.

    • Brucenm says:

      Not wanting to be a lemming on your post or your web-link, but let me just agree that Le Chevalier St. George (as I know him) was a phenomenally talented Euro-Carribean violinist – composer who deserves to be much better better known. Probably the greatest violinist of his era, who arguably paved the way for violinist-composers like Paganini, Vieuxtemps, Wieniaski etc. of a later generation.

  17. AV says:

    Evan: Late to the game, but I thought this was a fantastic puzzle. And a debut to boot! Extra-praise and admiration. Keep it up – look forward to more such brilliancies! 5-stars!

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