Wednesday, December 4, 2013

NYT 4:12 (Amy) 
Tausig untimed (Amy) 
LAT 3:45 (Gareth) 
Blindauer 100 years (Jeffrey) 
CS 5:55 (Dave) 

Daniel Raymon’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 4 13, no. 1204

The theme answers change words with an /sk/ sound into /skw/:

  • 17a. [Food critic’s assessments of calamari?], SQUID MARKS. At first, I thought this one would be a specific assessment, such as SQUID REEKS. (Skid marks.)
  • 27a. [Maneuver on a chessboard?], SQUARE TACTIC. (Scare tactic.)
  • 43a. [Rug rat pursuer?], SQUIRT CHASER. (Skirt chaser.)
  • 57a. [Outstanding posture for a catcher?], GREAT SQUAT. (“Great Scott!”)

Colorful base phrases for the four theme entries. Now, ideally, either all four would have the SQ word at the beginning of the phrase, or all at the end, or half each way. It’s always a bit discombobulating when you get X … X … X … and then Y. With so much symmetry in crossword puzzles, the theme ought to hew to the same model. Did the fourth theme answer’s structure throw you for a loop, or did you not care?


  • 21a. [Part of a Holmes comment to Watson], “MY DEAR.” “Elementary, ___ Watson.”
  • 24a. [Tony-nominated musical based on a 1992 Disney movie], NEWSIES. I don’t care for a newsboy cap. There, I said it.
  • 10d. [Topiary pro], LANDSCAPER. Any mention of topiary is good by me.
  • 27d. [Made more aware], SENSITIZED. Generally always a good thing.

Dislikes: -ESQUE, ANIL, -EER, -ETH, HGTS., APERS, HIREES. Does anyone’s employer actually call new hires/new employees/new staff “hirees”? This source suspects not.

Three stars.

Ben Tausig’s Chicago Reader/Ink Well crossword, “A Little Off the Top”

Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword solution, 12 4 13 “A Little Off the Top”

As the title suggests, we’ve got vertical theme answers that have each shaved a letter off the top/beginning. They’re all clued with haircut-related contexts:

  • 3d. [Person offering their wavy hair to someone in need?], PERM DONOR. Sperm donor.
  • 19d. [“Get $5 off on your haircut by getting tight waves”?], CRIMP AND SAVE. Scrimp and save.
  • 14d. [Answer to a problem with bobs?], ALINE SOLUTIONAline is a cousin of align that I’ve seen in crosswords. Or maybe it’s A-line here. Not sure I’d say that a bob follows an A-line, though. Saline solution.
  • 7d. [Stylist in charge of dealing with complicated cuts?], LAYER MANAGER. Player-manager.
  • 33d. [Money earmarked for neatening up one’s hairline with a razor?], EDGE FUNDS. Hedge funds.

Solid theme.


  • 13a. [Spoils seekers], MARAUDERS. Love the word marauder.
  • 17a. [Reach for balls rather than the ball, say], PLAY DIRTY.
  • 47a. [Soviet contraband literature], SAMIZDAT. Is that what that means? Okay.
  • 59a. [Some Cadillac lowriders], ELDORADOS.
  • 62a. [Top of the card], MAIN EVENT. Boxing/MMA reference.
  • 35d. [Austin, TX festival], SXSW.

Lowlights: When there’s a little too much blondiness going on from the last couple rounds of highlights, my colorist applies lowlights. In the puzzle, also, plural ERTES, meh.

Did not know: 22d. [Big name in classical guitars], ALVAREZ.

Four stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

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

Four theme entries with a synonym for ammunition (where does that “o” of “ammo” come from? Why isn’t it “ammu”?):

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 12/4/13

  • [Beef strip loin] was SHELL STEAK – yesterday’s first theme entry was Veal Scallopini. The puzzle is starting to cater to carnivores, no?
  • [Speech highlights] clued BULLET POINTS – I like to think this term stems from the shape of the arrows that precede each item on a slide, but I may be wrong.
  • [Stimulus] clued SHOT IN THE ARM
  • [Tournament format] was a ROUND ROBIN – a “round” seems like a unit of ammunition, not a synonym (as the others are), but, despite now living in Vermont, I don’t have any experience in this area.

You know, with the world being such a dangerous and militaristic place that it is, I’d really prefer to keep that topic away from one of the few areas to succumb to such trends, our daily pastime. Perhaps that’s a bit pollyannaish of me, but do guns have to invade even something meant for our amusement? Ah well, we did have the fun PODUNK, ADLIBS (which reminded me of playing Mad Libs as an adolescent), and BREEDER, which is how the gay community sometimes disparagingly refer to the other 90% of the population. I thought the clue for SPLIT, namely [Champagne container] was interesting–I see here it’s synonymous with a quarter bottle.

Patrick Blindauer’s December website puzzle “Turning 100” – Jeffrey’s Digression

Hi, all! Jeffrey here, filling in for Matt Gaffney, who claims he is too busy to blog but likely couldn’t solve the puzzle, as he is bad at trickery in crosswords.

The December monthly puzzle at Patrick Blindauer’s web site is by Patrick Blindauer. Patrick calls this “a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle” which is timely as December 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle.

But the title “Turning 100” has a second meaning. Wherever you see a “C”, which happens to be the Roman numeral for 100, you turn from across to down or from down to across to complete your answer.

Theme answers:

  • 18A. [Real looker] – KNOCKOUT/ 9D. [IPO of 2012] – FACEBOOK
  • 26A. & 32D. [Ford Thunderbird, e.g.] – PERSONAL LUXURY CAR
  • 39A. [Nobel Prize category: Abbr.] – ECON / 28D. [Ruff stuff] – LACE
  • 44A. & 49A. [2001 Treet Williams/Linda Hamilton film] – SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET
  • 59A. [Face sideways?] – EMOTICON/ 42D. [Monstrousness] – ATROCITY

A fun pangrammatic entry in what will surely be a large number of anniversary puzzles about puzzles. There are a few books out and lots of talk about why crosswords have lasted and are so popular.

I’ll get back to Patrick soon, but first, this seems like an opportune time to describe my hobby obsession.

I was a casual solver until 2006. I did the daily New York Times and also some puzzle books. I knew one name – Will Shortz. So when I saw Will Shortz’s Tournament Crosswords, Volume 2 in the bookstore, I grabbed it. Who knew there was a Tournament? The enclosed link to the ACPT website led me to order the 2006 puzzles by mail. The silly dream of attending was born.

Then “Wordplay” came out. After we watched it, I idly said to my wife “I should go.” For reasons I still don’t understand, she agreed. My life would never be the same.

Since then, I have solved over 15,000 puzzles. I have blogged over 250, mostly here, with guest spots at Rex Parker and LA Crossword Confidential. I have commented on countless other blog posts, initially under the non-de-puzzle Crosscan. I was the self-proclaimed archivist of Ryan and Brian’s crossword podcast, “Fill Me In.”

I have been published in the Orange County Register newspapers. I have Litzed over 700 Pre-Shortzian puzzles. I haven’t been published in the New York Times (yet), although I inspired a Gareth Bain creation.

I have attended 12 tournaments, in Stamford , Brooklyn, Queens, Alameda, Los Angeles and Santa Monica. I have travelled to Seattle to meet with constructors in a bagel place that has a giant crossword on the wall.

Who knew when I watched “Wordplay” that I would one day share a cab with Al Sanders, spar on Twitter with Tyler Hinman, or share Montreal stories with Ellen Ripstein.

I’ve seen my name in the Vancouver Sun, the New York Times Wordplay blog, and was just interviewed for an upcoming Toronto Star feature.

Thank you Arthur Wynne, for that first crossword 100 years ago. Thank you Will Shortz, for creating the modern community. Thank you Amy Reynaldo, for letting me be an active part of that community.

Finally, my five favorite memories:

5. Talking about the construction of quad-stacks with my cab driver, Martin Ashwood-Smith, surely a first in the history of cabbie-fare discussions.
4.Completing a Monday Newsday on paper in 1:59.
3. Walking into the Stamford Marriott hotel in 2007.
2. Hearing Will Shortz call my name for the first of my 4 ACPT trophies.
1. Finishing in the Top 10 of Puzzle 5, 2012 ACPT. The creator of that crossword? Patrick Blindauer. See, I told you we’d get back to him.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

I loved the self-referential revealer in this puzzle! It’s an EASYPUZZLE because its theme phrases have the letters EZ (pronounced “easy” if you’re American, otherwise ea-zed, which makes less sense) embedded between their two-word phrases. Importantly, the phrases themselves were mostly above average in interest for me.

  • 18a, [Plate ump’s purview], STRIKEZONE
  • 25a, [Soda for dieters], COKEZERO. Great entry! Horrible drink – I hate the taste of aspartame!
  • 49a, [Blush wine, for short], WHITEZIN. This sounds made up, but a Google search suggests otherwise!
  • 60a, [“She’s Not There” rock group], THEZOMBIES. Great song!
  • 3d, [Citrus shavings], ORANGEZEST.
  • 31d, [This crossword, literally for some, phonetically for all], EASYPUZZLE.. As suggested previously, this clue is incorrect.

Other points:

  • 14a, [Chowhound’s request], MORE. I think “chowhound” is a new word to me, but I may have seen in it (a) previous crossword(s).
  • 20a, [Brand for heartburn], ZANTAC. A common brand here. Often our medicine brands and America’s don’t overlap, but here there is common ground as far as ranitidine goes! Is the much cheaper Ultak found Stateside?
  • 23a, [Scraps for Rover], ORTS. I learnt this word as part of my animal nutrition course. I don’t know where you all learn it?
  • 37a, OFLATE; 41a, SUITSME, and 19d, KEEPOUT form a strong area of interconnected answers. The one compromise for these is the awkward ATME.
  • 39a, GREASER, [Mechanic, at times]I can’t fathom why this contrived clueing angle is used when there is a natural, and interesting meaning. Here’ a second, less obviously connected Youtube link!
  • 5d, BOSCO, [“Thick and Rich” chocolate syrup]. I learnt about this answer from another recent crossword; and I remembered it too!
  • 8d, [Freddie __ Jr. of “Scooby-Doo” films], PRINZE. I was very surprised to discover that his father was also an actor!

A clever revealer and a generally fun grid – 4.25 stars.


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33 Responses to Wednesday, December 4, 2013

  1. Huda says:

    NYT: GREAT SQUAT… you mean the A in this word and the O in Scott sound the same? Not in my head. No wonder I can’t get rid of my accent… It’s not just my tongue that’s out of whack…

    My existential crisis aside, it was a little odd that the pattern changed in the 4th entry. My absolute favorite theme answer is the SQUIRT CHASER… totally what I did over Thanksgiving– multiple squirts in fact. As a result, I was able to eat pecan pie and not gain an ounce. Lots to be said for those squirts.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      If non-Chicagoans were to represent the Chicago pronunciation of those two words, it might look like “Scaaht” and “squaaht,” identical vowel sounds for me. Actually, the dictionary is showing me /skät/ and /skwät/, so I don’t think it’s just my area. How do you pronounce the two, Huda?

    • Papa John says:

      What is this “squirt” you’re talking about?

    • Bencoe says:


      • Lois says:

        Of course Huda is saying that she worked off her calories running after kids, as in the clue. You don’t have to remind us of the origin of “squirt” meaning kids.

  2. Huda says:

    Amy, SENSITIZED is bad in my neck of the woods– sensitization towards pain and towards abused drugs (which makes you crave them more).

  3. HH says:

    “With so much symmetry in crossword puzzles, the theme ought to hew to the same model. ”

    But then you’d get complacent.

  4. bob stigger says:

    Does anyone’s employer actually call new hires/new employees/new staff “hirees”?

    Yes, mine did. And I cringed every time, but resistance would have been futile as most lawyers are not word people.

  5. Daniel Myers says:

    I think most people, including Amy, know that Holmes never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” in any of the original Doyle stories, but, for the record, the phrase seems to have been patched together from some lines in “The Adventure of The Crooked Man”…

    “I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson,” said he. “When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom.”

    “Excellent!” I cried.

    “Elementary,” said he.

    Readers will note that this does not invalidate the clue or answer as original Doyle, merely the by now familiar sentence Amy employs in her write-up.

  6. Lemonade714 says:

    “…most lawyers are not word people.” EGAD!

    We have been denigrated, despised and made the laughingstock of so many movies, EXAMPLE but to suggest lawyers are not word people is to suggest veterinarians are not animal people. Words ARE our profession! Have your read any of the opinions of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Benjamin Cardozo and other jurists? Have you read any of the endless books written by lawyers both fiction and non-fiction? How many constructors have a law degree? Wow.

    • HH says:

      WS went to law school, but decided he’d rather be a word person.

    • Bencoe says:

      I read part of an opinion by Holmes. The famous one comparing protesting against WWI to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Thought it was a false equivalency of the worst possible magnitude.
      Also tried to read Grisham once. Didn’t help your case (pun intended?).

  7. Papa John says:

    This puzzle gave me a tumble, especially for a Wednesday level. There were a few things not in my knowledge base – NEWSIES, TREX, DROZ. (They are so uninteresting to me that I didn’t bother Google them.) I had to get STEN before I could parse STENGEL. My naval background interfered with the sense of “Ones coming on board”, so it took a moment to get HIREES. My literal mind has a hard time with puns, so I was at a disadvantage with the theme. Nonetheless, I thought it was a good puzzle. It’s just one of those mornings where my mind seems to be tripping over itself, making for a bumpy solve.

    To answer Amy’s question – I did not care that the theme had an XXXY structure. I also didn’t care about the pronunciation in the punned words. I got the motif of the “SQU” substitution in the first theme answer and just went with it. The fact is, I didn’t bother trying to figure out the puns. I just waited until I read about them in Amy’s review.

    • Gareth says:

      You haven’t heard of a Tyrannosaurus Rex? That’s… impressive (struggling to find an appropriate word).

      • Papa John says:

        I said my mind was tripping on itself. I read it as Trex, not T-rex. I’ve also been informed that DROZ is actually Dr. Oz. What I can say?

        Still having brain farts, I also read a headline to one of my political newsletters as “Elizabith Warren Arrested”. Wha..? It acutally read, “Elizabeth Warren Attacked” (by the right wing, of course).

        • ahimsa says:

          Papa John, sorry about your brain fog. I can relate since I have an invisible illness that causes it for me from time to time.

          For example, I once solved a Tuesday puzzle and wondered why such a hard word, ALIENTO (I was pronouncing it as if it were Spanish, similar to caliente), was included. As I was going to google it I figured out it was a 2-word phrase. :-)

          I hope your brain clears up soon!

    • Lois says:

      I’ve filled in the answer T-Rex in numerous puzzles, and yet had a brain freeze today. Sorry for Gareth’s shock, but some days I can parse these things and sometimes not. In the case of Dr. Oz, I finally got it and thought it was cute. As far as the inconsistency in the presentation of the theme answers goes, I noticed it but thought it was worth it. Very nice theme answers indeed.

  8. pannonica says:

    Why does the NYT get called out for the theme entry pattern of XXXY, but the Tausig gets a complete pass on its XXXYZ?

    • Papa John says:

      Because Tausig is innovative and NYT is simply out of line. NOT!

      I suspect, since the NYT is considered to be the epitome of crosswords (by a great many Cruciverbalists), it is held to a higher standard of criticism. It certainly seems so on this blog. Shortz will probably agree to this – on both accounts.

    • Ben Tausig says:

      You’re the customer, and the customer is always right (within reason), so I can only explain my own standards and processes, not defend them as inherently correct. So if this answer sounds like tap dancing to you, then it’s tap dancing, and I humbly accept the criticism. But here is my justification.

      I was trained by Nancy Salomon that a set with an odd-man-out is inconsistent, while a potpourri set is OK. In other words, XXXY is unacceptable, but XXYZ is fine. The Times theme is XXXY, and Nancy would have flagged it and probably asked for a reworking. (In my own editing, I’m sometimes willing to loosen this rule if there is a good reason). That seems straightforward enough.

      However, my theme and the Times theme are not easily comparable because the Times’s potential inconsistency is a question of modified word placement within a theme phrase, while mine is of subtracted letters. And moreover, of subtracted letters the substance of which was not thematic.

      On reflection, the clustering of subtracted S words is inelegant, but I wouldn’t call it inconsistent; the subtracted letters are not thematic, the resultant phrases are. Even if they fleetingly seem that they might be while solving. The constructor/editor are responsible for resolving inconsistencies by the time the puzzle is complete, but not necessarily before then. In fact, the deferral of resolution is part of what makes a strong theme – the payoff isn’t over as soon as you’ve filled in the first theme answer. So a different take on this theme might interpret the fact that multiple entries have a dropped S as a red herring. (I didn’t mean it that way, but it might work like that anyway).

      Realistically, if you squint hard enough, you can absolutely find inconsistencies in any puzzle. I mean any *single* puzzle, not just any puzzle venue. We tend to overlook such flaws when we are sufficiently charmed by the rest of the solving experience, and to overstate them when we are not. In any case, that’s been my observation.

      • pannonica says:

        Didn’t mean to induce such a lengthy defense, but thank you.

        Agree with the potpourri notion and a 3-1-1 distribution isn’t so bad, but the sequence is, in my opinion. An X-Y-X-Z-X arrangement—or an X-Y-Y-Y-Z one—would have been more palatable, if of course neither an X-X-X-X-X or X-Y-Z-A-B were feasible. What irked me during and post solve was the feeling of falseness derived from starting out with the cluster of three: those two things in combination.

        And completely agree on the subjectivity observation.

  9. Gareth says:

    The base phrase of SKIRTCHASER yielded an “ugh” from me. I like DROZ as an answer, but as a person he spouts pseudoscientific junk in a palatable format for people to swallow. He was in the background during work today – “foods that will prevent you from being sick.” Unless foods are able to kill pathogens this is bollocks, beyond the basic fact of a healthy body leading to a healthy immune system, which is independent of specific foods. Sorry, I’ve been wanting to rant about this the whole day. Sound changes involving Q’s is an inherently pleasing theme angle though, thank you Mr. Raymon!

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Agree completely on DR OZ, Gareth. Great entry, but the need to fill five TV shows a week with fresh topics means he presents a ton of pseudoscientific junk. It wouldn’t be so bothersome if he didn’t have a huge global audience listening to his every recommendation.

    • ahimsa says:

      “The base phrase of SKIRTCHASER yielded an “ugh” from me.”

      That got an “Ick” from me, too. I was unable to appreciate the cuteness of SQUIRT CHASER because I did not like the base phrase from which it was derived. I would have really liked this NYT puzzle, and not even cared about the XXXY pattern of theme entries, if not for this.

      I also second your rants about Dr. Oz. Thumbs down on pseudoscience.

      • Papa John says:

        TV doesn’t have an exclusive on medical quacks. Unable to properly diagnose my symptoms as rosacea, a “reputable” AMA-kinda doctor told me I wasn’t drying my ears well enough.

      • Bencoe says:

        I don’t like Dr. Oz either.
        But what about sickness that isn’t caused specifically by pathogens? Cancer, for instance. Aren’t there certain foods linked to helping prevent those types of sickness?
        The data on what foods are healthy for what changes so often that I don’t really feel in the loop. Is green tea still good? I drink a lot of that.

        • Jenni Levy says:

          Much as we might wish it were so, there is no science supporting diet as a tool of cancer prevention. Want to reduce your risk of getting cancer? Don’t smoke. Don’t inhale asbestos. Don’t get exposed to radiation or benzene. Don’t get infected with HIV or HPV or EBV or Hep C. But go ahead and eat what you want.

          Food is related to other health risks, but not cancer and not infectious disease, at least not as far as we can tell using actual science.

          Back to crosswords – I heartily concur with the ick factor of “skirt chaser”. I am not a “skirt” and I don’t think being “chased” is a light-hearted thing. Also rolled my eyes at Dr. Oz. See above about actual science.

    • Steven R. Stahl says:

      Unless foods are able to kill pathogens this is bollocks, beyond the basic fact of a healthy body leading to a healthy immune system, which is independent of specific foods.

      Various foods enhance the performance of a person’s immune system, due to specific proteins and other substances in the foodstuffs. Mushrooms, for example, have been shown to have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-tumor effects. Particular people might hype the benefits of eating some foods, but the medical benefits in general are real.

      BTW, in case people are curious: I stopped solving regular crossword puzzles years ago–too easy–and switched to solving variety cryptics instead. Reading about crossword puzzles is fun, though.


  10. ahimsa says:

    Third comment today because the other two were replies. I thought this should be a standalone comment.

    I don’t see a write up for today’s LAT puzzle but I quite enjoyed it. It was fun and just easy enough (pun intended) for a Wed for me.

    • Gareth says:

      It’s coming… I’m just finishing up the formatting…

      • ahimsa says:

        Thanks, Gareth! I usually read this site later in the day so I don’t know your regular times for posting reviews. I hope I did not sound like I was rushing anyone!

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