Sunday, December 1, 2013

NYT 9:24 (Amy) 
Reagle 6:38 (Amy) 
LAT 6:30 (Amy) 
Hex/Hook untimed (pannonica) 
WaPo 13:05 (Sam) (1error) 
CS 11:09 (Dave) 

Alan DerKazarian’s New York Times crossword, “Two Halves In One”

NY Times crossword solution, 12 1 13, “Two Halves In One”

This puzzle, by a constructor whose NYT debut was just a few weeks ago (Matt Gaffney declared that 11/7 puzzle to be one of November’s five best), tells us that Mr. DerKazarian likes themes that play with the conventions of the grid. Today’s crossword appears to violate a cardinal rule of construction: That no part of the grid may be sealed off from the rest by black squares. See the central diagonal? It looks impermeable, but in fact there are a number of answers that cross over it, with four black squares standing in for the word BACK:

  • 27a. Passage from life to death], GREAT DIVIDE. Such as spans the center of this grid.
  • 39a, 41a. [Round trip … or the subtitle of “The Hobbit”], THERE AND {BACK} AGAIN.
  • 48a, 49a. [Aquatic singer], HUMP{BACK} WHALE.
  • 75a, 78a. [Inexpensive reprint, maybe], PAPER{BACK} BOOK. “Inexpensive” is a relative term. Some paperback editions cost what hardcovers did a couple decades ago.
  • 89a, 90a. [2005 nominee for Best Picture], BROKE{BACK} MOUNTAIN.
  • 13d, 45d. [Revisits an earlier time], TURNS {BACK} THE CLOCK.
  • 30d, 54d. [Stands one’s ground], WON’T {BACK} DOWN.
  • 59d, 82d. [Cause of an audio squeal], FEED{BACK} LOOP.
  • 47d, 94d. [Try very hard], BEND OVER {BACK}WARDS.
  • 98a. [1980 hard rock album that went 22x platinum … or a hint to how to cross this puzzle’s 27-Across], BACK IN BLACK. By AC/DC.

Good assortment of phrases filling the theme squares, plus an interesting theme idea executed well. Did you find yourself trying to piece together other entry pairs into {BACK}ed phrases? SHOES {BACK} EWES just doesn’t work.

The grid’s also got some uncommonly long non-theme fill:

  • 31a. [Unwritten reminder], MENTAL NOTE. 
  • 60a. [Private gatherings], CONCLAVES. I thought this was going to be military privates.
  • 95a. [Steeply discounted product, maybe], LOSS LEADER.
  • 4d. [Tooth decay, to professionals], DENTAL CARIES.
  • 35d. [Amphibious rodent], WATER VOLE. Can I just say that “amphibious rodent” is about as alarming as “tree snake”? Stay where we expect you, vermin!
  • 51d. [Collection of vehicles available to personnel], MOTOR POOL.
  • 61d. [It’s caught by a stick on a field], LACROSSE BALL.

Potential rough crossing: 7a. [One-named rapper with a hyphen in his name], T-PAIN meets 8d. [The Carolinas’ ___ River], PEE DEE. I know the former from living in the world and the latter from crosswords (and from having a crossword buddy by that name—hi, P.D.!). If you don’t know either name, that P could really be any consonant at all. Not R or W, or else we’d have another clue for TRAIN or TWAIN.

I enjoyed this puzzle’s extra challenge and the liveliness of the fill. 4.5 stars from me. Alan D. is off to a good start in his constructing career.

Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Loaded Question”

Merl Reagle crossword solution, 12 1 13 “Loaded Question”

The most interesting thing about this puzzle is the interplay between the title and the theme revealer. The title, “Loaded Question,” suggests there will be a loaded question in the theme, but instead there is a question word. ASK, hidden or “loaded” inside each theme answer. The central revealer, 70a. [Sign on a building, and the theme of this puzzle], INQUIRE WITHIN, also connotes the hidden ASK. The theme entries themselves are a divers batch:

  • 23a. [Time’s 1930 Man of the Year], MOHANDAS K. GANDHI.
  • 29a. [Shelley work], “TO A SKYLARK.”
  • 31a. [Loaded and then some], RICH AS KINGS.
  • 38a. [Toy that’s often shaken], ETCH A SKETCH. That’s four theme entries in the top six rows of the grid.
  • 49a. [Book by a Marx brother], DAS KAPITAL. I like the “Marx brother” mislead. Karl Marx was the third of nine children.
  • 62a. [Act of betrayal], JUDAS KISS.
  • 82a. [Island attire], HULA SKIRT.
  • 94a. [Gets extremely upset], HAS KITTENS. Is the derivation of this idiom the yowling a mama cat makes when she births kittens? Because the internet suggests that cats give birth quietly.
  • 101a. [Improve oneself, perhaps], LEARN A SKILL.
  • 110a. [“Can’t you take a joke?”], I WAS KIDDING.
  • 113a. [Emulate “SNL”], PUT ON A SKIT. I keep seeing this as “put on a skirt.”
  • 123a. [Salvation Army symbol]. CHRISTMAS KETTLE.

145 theme squares (if I counted right) sounds like a lot. It’s about a third of all available squares, white and black. For comparison, last week’s Sunday NYT had 107 theme squares. So Merl didn’t leave himself space for a lot of wide-open expanses of juicy fill, which is fine. Although I find a puzzle more entertaining if the theme answers themselves involve some sort of wordplay challenge—hidden letters don’t do as much. Overall, the fill is fine. No horrible entries, no massive sparkle. 

Five more things:

  • 56d. [A wife of Esau], ADAH. I know this name not from the bible but from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible. One of the narrators is missionary kid Adah, who is quirky and prone to fits of wordplay, starting with her quasi-palindromic name. The Adah chapters were my favorites.
  • 103d. [Ballet star Radetsky], SASCHA. Never heard of him. He’s a California boy who was invited to study at the Bolshoi at age 15. Currently 36 and still dancing.
  • 117d. [Mongol sovereign], KHAN. How is this not cross-referenced to 88d. [Capt. James ___], T. KIRK??
  • 57d. [Bollywood outfit], SARI. Speaking of Bollywood, I have a new favorite Bollywood actress, Mallika Sherawat, but all I’ve seen her in is this press conference. I like her brand of feminism, plus she is gorgeous and she talks fast.
  • 54d. [Scottish landowner], LAIRD. I’ve always liked this word because it was the first name of my high school’s favorite guidance counselor and psychology teacher, Laird Luoma. (My counselor was … Rod the wrestling coach.) I am including his name so that when somebody Googles him, wondering where he ended up, they’ll learn that he is also crosswordese.

3.5 stars.

Mike Nothnagel’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 191”- Sam Donaldson’s review

The Post Puzzler No, 191 (solution)

It’s been a while since I had to post a time with an error, but two vexatious crossings led me to hit the “reveal” button in desperation. As it turned out, I had one of them right–that was the intersection of CASSATT, [“The Child’s Bath” artist”] and T.C. BOYLE, the [“When the Killing’s Done” novelist]. That seemed as reasonable a guess as any, and it panned out. But the crossing of DAZES(clued as [Stupefactions]) and RHIZOME (clued as [Ginger, e.g.]) proved too elusive. I can’t overstate how much I wanted the “Ginger” clue to relate somehow to Gilligan’s Island instead of, I presume, the root. Maybe I’m starting to get paranoid about tricky clues.

Despite my frustration, I really liked this 70/28 freestyle puzzle from Mike Nothnagel. Nothnagel = fresh fill that will teach you something, and this puzzle is yet more evidence of that equation’s truth. For your consideration:

  • Gottfried Wilhelm von LEIBNIZ is the [Mathematician and philosopher who coined the phrase “the best of all possible worlds”]. Mike Nothnagel teaches math, you know, so this was probably well within his wheelhouse. Not mine, though. So this one’s in the “teach you something” camp.
  • Same for CRIMEAN, the answer to [Like Sevastopol residents]. Hey, I tried CHILEAN first, even though I was skeptical that Chile would have a city that neither ends with O or A nor contains an accent or tilde.
  • Instinctively I wanted USS for the [Battleship designation], but I knew the answer ended with W. I briefly wondered if the clue referred to the board game, but even then nothing came to me. Only through crossings did I see that the clue indeed referred to the game, for the answer proved to be ROW
  • Didn’t know NEHI was a [Sister brand of Snapple]. See? It’s fun stuff like this that adds to the entertainment value of this puzzle.
  • [Conduct unbecoming?] is a great clue for VICES.
  • Another item I didn’t know: “ad-zapping” is another term for the “time-shifting” feature of DVRs. You know, the ability to fast-forward through commercials. Hence ADS was the answer to [Zapped things]. 
  • Anyone else think of automobiles after reading the clue for WILDCAT, [Jaguarundi, e.g.]?
  • I like how the adjacent answers at 9- and 10-Down are combined to form TREND / LINE, a [graph part that shows a prevailing pattern].

You know what makes this puzzle sparkle? It’s all the two-word answers: WORKS ON, AT LARGE, IN-HOUSE (close enough), TEN PAST, THE FORCE, I KNEW THAT, ARE YOU OK, ANY MORE, GET OVER, THE DEAD, ON EARTH, NEZ PERCE, REAR-END (also close enough), ONE INCH, UP ABOVE, TREE TAGS, and my favorite entry revealed below. That’s nearly one-quarter of all the answers in this grid, so everywhere you turn you’re getting something interesting to parse. I once had a freestyle puzzle rejected by an editor because, among other things, 25% of the answers had just three letters; I was told that’s too many threes for a puzzle without a theme. So I suppose the inverse proposition must also be true: a puzzle where 25% of the answers have 2+ words must really shine. And this one does. 

Favorite entry = HATE-WATCH, to [Stick with a program even though it hurts?]. That clue was in the running for the next honor, too. But Favorite clue = [Box that notes come out of] for an ATM. Yep, I’m a sucker for fresh clues assigned to frequently-used fill.

Updated Sunday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review

A nice open 68-word grid from constructor Randolph Ross today, featuring 3 15-letter entries in the form of a capital H (with the ends of the crossbar sticking out a bit on each side):

CrosSynergy crossword solution – 12/1/13

  • [Mobile produce preserver] was a REFRIGERATOR CAR – c’mon, you first wondered as I did what produce was native to Alabama, didn’t you?
  • [Pastime involving a draft] had nothing to do with beer (well, on second thought, perhaps it has a lot to do with beer), but was FANTASY FOOTBALL – don’t you think “pastime” should have 2 T’s? Let’s all start spelling it that way in prottest.
  • [Publisher’s problem] clued POOR CIRCULATION – especially if the publisher in question doesn’t exercise much.

My sticking point was in the SW, where [Two on a date, for short] was FEB, as I was thinking of people not calendars (as I’m sure the constructor or editor intended). BULWARK for [Mainstay] is an unusual word, which also contributed to my difficulty in that quadrant. Speaking of quadrants, the NW and SE are only accessible by one square, which makes them difficult to gain entry–reminding me of the NYT theme today with the “great divide” of black squares running diagonally down the grid, separating it into two halves. Perhaps Gareth can enlighten us on RHEBOKS and why our shoe company eschews that H for an E.

Pawel Fludzinski’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Misstakes”

No, that’s not a mistake in the spelling of this puzzle’s title. Each theme answer is missing a take at the beginning:

  • 23a. [Accept unpleasantness], THE GOOD WITH THE BAD. Actual phrase is “take the good with the bad.”
  • 37a. [Be skeptical about], WITH A GRAIN OF SALT.
  • 56a. [Demonstrate unselfishness], ONE FOR THE TEAM.
  • 75a. [Find a path of least resistance], THE EASY WAY OUT.
  • 91a. [Start to deteriorate], A TURN FOR THE WORSE.
  • 110a. [Tackle a problem head-on], THE BULL BY THE HORNS.
  • 3d. [Use a roundabout route], THE LONG WAY HOME. Musical interlude time! Go listen to Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson singing “Take the Long Way Home.”
  • 51d. [Emulate a bank robber], THE MONEY AND RUN.

Elsewhere in Songs That Start With “Take,” we’ve got the Eagles and also the Eagles (“…to the Limit,” “…It Easy”).

So. The theme. It’s moderately satisfying, in that the idioms are all familiar and they have a nice vibe together. I’m not sure that “miss take” is so compelling a rationale, though. It’s not stale, at least; I’ll give it that.

This ‘n’ that:

  • 48d. [It has its ups and downs], THE DOW. Good clue. Did you all hear Pope Francis’s indictment of greed this week? “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
  • 116a. [Official state dog of Alaska], MALAMUTE. Part of a solid wide-open corner. Well, its CHAO LEHAR OMA crossings are less than wonderful.
  • 58d. [Intolerant sort], RACIST. I wonder if any of the newspapers that run the syndicated LA Times Sunday puzzle will get blowback on this one. There is a definite contingent of people who view being called a racist a worse offense than holding racist views. Will they recognize themselves as “intolerant sorts” and take umbrage in defense of their intolerance?
  • 81a. [Feelings of dread, in Düsseldorf], ANGSTE. The plural of Angst is Ängste, which I learned in another crossword in the past week. Now that we’ve had ANGSTE twice, can we go back to not having it in the puzzles?

The puzzle felt uncommonly larded with names, didn’t it? From PATRICIA and ACHESON in the top left corner to HAMLIN and ENSLER in the bottom center, it felt like there were more names than usual. I tend to blow through puzzles with a lot of names, so I had a shorter solving time than I’d expected. Solvers snagged by so many “you know it or you don’t” names may have been grumbling their way through the grid.

3.25 stars.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Wrap Music” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 12/1/13 • “Wrap Music” • Cox, Rathvon • hex/hook, bg • solution

This is such an odd combination for a theme that it seems it must have had its genesis in the punned title. Top down, if you will.

We get song titles incorporating puns involving apparel that can be considered to be wraps.

  • 22a. [Tin Pan Alley wrap song?] DASHIKI OF ARABY (“The Sheik of Araby”). Got this one rapidly, with only a few letters in place, but overall slowed down from there.
  • 32a. [Roger Miller wrap tune?] KING OF THE ROBE (“King of the Road“).
  • 38a. [Wrap carol?] FLEECE NAVIDAD (“Féliz Navidad”). It can get chilly out there in the Elision Fields.
  • 49a. [1966 R&B wrap hit?] COOL JERKIN (“Cool Jerk”). Absentmindedly put in COLD… and left it there for a while. Original title (supposedly): “Pimp Jerk.”
  • 62a. [The Comets’ double wrap song?] FROCK AROUND THE CLOAK (“Rock Around the Clock“).
  • 75a. [Nat King Cole wrap ballad?] KIMONO LISA (“Mona Lisa”). Really, Internet? You have no picture of Lisa Simpson in a kimono for me? Not even with the episode that takes place in Japan? So disappointed. Anyway, this is the occasion to mention that whenever I hear Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House” I’m compelled to think of it as “Kimono My House.”
  • 83a. [Jazz wrap number?] HEART AND STOLE (“Heart and Soul“).
  • 91a. [Bo Diddly wrap song?] HOODIE YOU LOVE (“Who Do You Love?“).
  • 104a. [Pop wrap hit of 1968?] MACARTHUR PARKA (“MacArthur Park“).

Some supreme groaners on the playlist, and that’s a good thing. Really appreciated the offbeat nature of the theme, once again a result of how it was birthed.


  • HANSA was  in yesterday’s NYT; a variant spelling appears here. 54d [Medieval guild] HANSE.
  • 70d [Good __ (Southern stereotype] OL’ BOY. Speaking of songs, am reminded of the brilliant Randy Newman 1974 album Good Old Boys. There was a dust-up in these pages back in August regarding the appreciation—or lack thereof—of the inherent satire of this artist. Also, Spike Lee has just released his remake of the Korean cult film Oldboy to very polarized reviews.
  • Slang doesn’t always have a long shelf life, especially in our ADHD era, so these entries felt unhip: 8d [Cool, in hip-hop) DEF (also a strong dupe of themer 49a); 36d [Skatepark “great”] RAD; 76d [Browser users] NETIZENSnb: It’s ok to say unhip because it’s old enough to be retro. What goes around comes around. See also, 9d [Give __ (care)] A HANG.
  • On the downside of A HANG, there were a noticeably intrusive amount of aesthetically-challenged partials, including chug-A-LUG, -LOCKA, RICE-/-A-RONI, -OON, BID A fond farewell, Be-Bop-A-LULA.
  • Had to do a double- and then a triple-take while filling in 74d [Keen or kind] SWEET, but a really fine clue.
  • Enjoyed the pivot of 5d [Comic-book artist] INKER to 101a [5-Down, at times?] SQUID.
  • It’s embarrassing how long it took me to grasp the proper parsing of 12a [“Dang” or “shucks”] AW, HECK. “Like ‘a-whack’?” “Why am I thinking of Alek Wek?”
  • Favorite non-theme fill: 58d [This moment, more or less] NOWISH.

Cute, fun puzzle.

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8 Responses to Sunday, December 1, 2013

  1. RK says:

    Nice to see the black squares being put to use!

  2. Huda says:

    NYT: Nice change of pace for a Sunday. Puts some puzzling back into it.
    The GREAT DIVIDE evoked something you cross, span or get across, and the title “Two halves in one” further suggests a division that is somehow re-joined. So, that mindset makes the missing word “BACK” seem like an odd choice as the linker. Eventually, BACK IN BLACK helps resolve that dissonance.
    I like the consistency of the same specific squares working in both horizontal and vertical directions. Seems like a tough construction challenge, very well executed.
    I did struggle with that intersection as Amy predicted, and the entire puzzle seemed like not just two halves but a collection of small puzzles of varying degrees of difficulty. I wish I could give it 4.5 stars, as did Amy. I opted for the more conservative 4 star, so I hope someone else will err on the generous side.

  3. Alan D(erKazarian) says:

    Quick comment: in case anyone thought that Will Shortz doesn’t spend time on these puzzles, well don’t. 65% of these clues are his totally and many others are altered. He also changed two areas of the grid. Instead of “nutted” I had “netted,” making “shula” shelf” and “car” “cfr”. I thought the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) was worthy but apparently he thought it worse than “nutted”! Also believe him when he says he wants SDI out of puzzles. I had SDI for 103-down but he changed that whole section of the grid to make it go away. So he definitely had a major role (for the better) in making this puzzle what it is. Thanks Will!

    • Brucenm says:

      Alan, I loved your puzzle, and liked your original version better than Will’s “improvement.” Given all the weird abbreviations and acronyms which find their way into crosswords, I think CFR is an excellent, interesting entry. For people who don’t know what it stands for, it strikes me as a useful thing to learn; far preferable to the banal, trivial, pointless “car.”

      Once I realized that unclued entries provided a guide to where the “backs” went, the puzzle made sense. Very original and creative puzzle.

    • Steven R. Stahl says:

      Also believe him when he says he wants SDI out of puzzles. I had SDI for 103-down but he changed that whole section of the grid to make it go away.

      I agree that SDI is a bad collection of letters. “Strategic Defense Initiative” is a woefully outdated political reference; the alternatives that appeared on a Wikipedia description of SDI are even worse.


  4. Loved the NYT, but I really struggled with the bottom-middle section of the grid. With BACKINBLACK and DIOCESES as my only entries, I just couldn’t make any headway. ALANON was a total mystery, did not know Diane LANE, and the rest I couldn’t get without any crosses. Finally googled ALANON and LANE and was able to piece it together.

  5. John Haber says:

    I loved the gimmick, even though I hadn’t heard of that use of GREAT DIVIDE and had tuned out AC/DC effectively enough not to remember the song. (Also did get thrown by TPAIN.) I, too, was struck that the square worked across and down. And Alan, if it’s any comfort, I didn’t care for NUTTED either.

    I got messed up only when I had TEND rather than MIND. It was hard for me to get rid of, since I don’t know stamp collecting. MASS was helpful, though.

  6. Laird Luoma says:

    Hi, Amy. Thanks for the nice comment in your crossword puzzle. What a fun surprise! I haven’t googled myself for years since I retired 8 years ago. FYI I am alive and well still living in Frankfort. I live close to my three children and six grandkids. I am a blessed and happy man.
    Thanks again for the smile!

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