Thursday, December 12, 2013

NYT untimed (Amy) 
AV Club 5:26 (Amy) 
LAT 3:47 (Gareth) 
BEQ 6:51 (Matt) 
CS 6:11 (Dave) 

.puz/Across Lite solvers: Be sure to read the Notepad entry for the Thursday NYT. It won’t really spoil the solve for you, if you’re one of those people who prefer to solve without benefit of explanatory notes. It will make the theme clearer if you don’t figure it out on your own.

David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 12 13, no. 1212

I’m blogging this from a tournament copy of the puzzle, before the electronic versions are released. I have no idea how well the various formats grappled with this puzzle’s gimmick. I also have no idea what it’s like to figure out the gimmick while solving, as I had perused the answer grid before ever seeing the blank puzzle. (The travails of a tournament judge!)

This 72-worder is essentially a themeless puzzle with 11 intentionally blank squares—left blank so that the clues make sense. If you overruled the clues, you could plunk an R into each blank, and you’d have plausible fill in both directions. The note atop the puzzle says: After this puzzle was created, the constructor did something to 11 squares—as suggested by a two-word reading of 63-Across before alteration. So you take 63a: [Moderates], E*ASE*S, you add two R’s where the blanks are to get ERASERS, and then parse that as “erase R’s.” Every instance of an R in this grid is blanked out, with legitimate words left behind.

Now, the theme could also have played out with the words-with-R being clued rather than the words-without-R. Then you’d have to go and erase all the R’s to get that “Oh! They’re still legitimate entries without the R” epiphany. Is that to be preferred over filling in a puzzle and leaving blanks, and piecing together the theme via ERASE R’S? I can’t say. Either way is tricky.

Those with a keen eye will see some erased letters in my blank squares. At 7d, I had appended the first T in TEST above the E, rather than two squares above. At 9d, I approached the 5 squares for [Wise] with SAPID instead of SA*GE, blithely ignoring the fact that sapid means “tasty” and it’s sapient that means “wise.” I was also tempted to complete 60a: [Bath locale] with MATINEE despite the clue; it’s MA*INE*, which R-completes to MARINER.

Neatest find in the puzzle: 36d [Munchies from Mars] clues M*ANDM*S, and with the R’s added you get MR AND MRS. I wonder if that was the seed for the whole puzzle, rather than ERASE R’S. Perhaps David will tell us.

4.5 stars. The fill is good, with freshness like CEDILLA, PAD THAI, BENGAY, MANIACS, and those M AND M’S (though the AND-for-ampersand swap remains bogus outside of crosswordland). And I appreciated the blank-square angle, which does not get much play. It’s nice to be all done with a crossword despite not having filled in all the squares. I can envision commuters being done with the puzzle and having onlookers think they’re unable to finish!

Updated Thursday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Character Assassination” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Constructor Patrick Jordan has put together a set of four (now) well-known actors who played victims in a movie earlier in their careers. Sort of reminds me of the classic Star Trek maxim: if you don’t recognize one of the security members of a landing party on a foreign (perhaps hostile) planet, they’re done for by the end of the show.

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

  • I had all sorts of trouble parsing the first theme entry, [Then-obscure actor who played a victim in “The People Under the Stairs” (1991)] or VING RHAMES – I wasn’t sure if the crossing [Reek] was STANK or STUNK, and that NGRH sequence made me first think letters were being removed from actor’s names (namely vowels in this case), perhaps to symbolize their character who was offed in the clued movie. Though I didn’t recognize the name, I certainly recognize his picture and his role in Pulp Fiction.
  • [Then-obscure actor who played a victim in “Friday the 13th” (1980)] was KEVIN BACON – I guess that would be Kevin Bacon number of zero.
  • [Then-obscure actor who played a victim in “Anaconda” (1997)] clued OWEN WILSON – I love him in every (more recent) movie I’ve seen him in, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris tops among them.
  • [Then-obscure actor who played a victim in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)] clued JOHNNY DEPP

Not sure how uncommon it is for famous actors (but perhaps more so for actresses) to have played a victim in a movie before they became famous. Anyway, nice take on the title “Character Assassination.” I also thought the fill in this was above par–having MORBID in particular was a nice echo of the theme entries. EQUALIZE above LOCUSTS and DOWRIES were nice features of the open middle area. “GIDDY UP!” and the crossing J action of JOWL and JOVIAL were also enjoyable finds. But my FAVE has to go to FAVE! I mean, how perfect is that?

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Trim the Tree” — Matt’s review

The Lorax’s nightmare comes true today: you’re not trimming the tree per se in Brendan’s puzzle today, you’re trimming it out of existence. Three of our forest-dwelling friends remove themselves from the three grid entries, leaving treeless hilarity in their wake:

19-a [Let out a melody during a bath?] = SING IN THE TUB, trimming the OAK (31-d) from “soaking in the tub.” It’s a helpful touch that Brendan included the three trees we’re trimming, since otherwise the base phrases might’ve been tough to decipher.

39-a [Cover a lot of ground wittily?] = SPREAD LIKE WILDE, trimming the FIR (63-d) from “spread like wildfire.”

57-a [Richard Strauss tone poem about about one former politico Gore?] = AN AL SYMPHONY, trimming the PINE (8-d) from “An Alpine Symphony.” Which I’ve never heard of because I’m not particularly music-oriented. I’m 100% sure Brendan wanted to make this a two-word entry, but backed off because it would’ve messed with the original parsing of the base phrase.


***38-d [Latvian city where Mikhail Tal was born] = RIGA. No reason to make this a chess clue except to bait me, so I’ll give you a famous Tal fact: at the 1959 Candidates’ Tournament, Tal blanked the 16-year-old Bobby Fischer 4-0 (with no draws) in their four head-to-head games. When a fan asked him for an autograph afterwards he signed Fischer’s name, explaining that he’d beaten him so badly that he now had the right to sign autographs on his behalf. Bonus fact: Tal only had three fingers on his right hand.

***Your standard crazy-good BEQ fill in the 7+ letters range: WAY LESS, TAILPIPE, PORSCHE, HATFIELDS, COPS OUT, HARTMAN, IN A HEAP, ONE MILE. He’s the Steve Kerr of fill 3-pointers.

***And note how clean the fill is, even with three long theme entries and three required pieces of short fill. Here are the five worst entries in the grid: UNE, ON A, ON IT, CEL and…there really isn’t a fifth. There’s no crosswordese at all in here *and* the fill sparkles. Amazing. Millions of people should be solving this puzzle today instead of thousands.

Amusing and timely theme, above-average clues, textbook grid. 4.30 stars. And there’s no telling when the MacArthur committee will give Brendan his Genius Award — could be years — so kick in now to his annual Tip Jar drive.

Robert W. Harris’ Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

I read the clue for 16a, and immediately suspected that 35a would be CROSSWORDPUZZLE. It is intersected with ARTHURWYNNE, which is very apt, even if his invention is (slightly) disputed. The other two 15’s were far less apt in my book. Who solves a crossword this way? Step 1: EXAMINEALLTHECLUES. Step 2: WRITETHEANSWERS. Anyone? I examine clues until I find one I know, then try to see if I know answers crossing it. I think that’s a more normal, if harder-to-put-succinctly-into-a-crossword-grid approach!

Spotting the theme early made the puzzle play quite easy for me? Under four minutes is unusually quick for a Thursday for me.

Answers I found interesting included CAVEMEN, FAERIE, DUNST and ONEDGE.

3 stars. If you didn’t know WYNNE, memorise the answer now, because I expect we will see him in the NYT in the near future!


Byron Walden’s American Values Club crossword, “Not Too Shabby”

AV Club crossword solution, 12 12 13 “Not Too Shabby”

I don’t get the title. I see that the theme answers all consist of a sequence of letters that is repeated with a B added to the start of the second iteration. But “Not Too Shabby” … “not too shab B”? “Not two sha B”? Someone bail me out here. — Ah, now I see. Having waded through the grid for the blog post, I discovered a revealer I had missed while solving with the Downs, at 61a. A B+ is not too shabby at all. — And now I see that I missed a short theme answer opposite 61a.

  • 4a. [Turn on a diamond], AT BAT.
  • 20a. [Noisy dispute, in British slang], ARGY-BARGY.
  • 31a. [Crotch shot, say], LOW BLOW. Punch, not photo.
  • 34a. [“Dead Man’s Party” band], OINGO BOINGO.
  • 38a. [1962 Paul Anka hit], ESO BESO.
  • 49a. [Wee], ITSY-BITSY.
  • 61a. Decent grade that could be given to this puzzle’s six theme entries], B PLUS.


  • 11d. [Diet soda introduced in June 2005], COKE ZERO. It’s Diet Coke aimed at men, only with a sweetener I cannot abide.
  • 34d. [Dark volcanic glass], OBSIDIAN. This is the stone that looks like chunks of glass rather than a rock.
  • 36d. [“Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country,” e.g.], BUSHISM.
  • 45a. [Fruity red wine type], SHIRAZ. Also called Syrah.
  • 47a. [Latin for “trumpet”], TUBA. Etymology!
  • 32d. [Michael Scott or Mr. Slate], BOSS. The Office, The Flintstones.

Oddball fill: A REAR clued as a partial (better than the crosswordese-type word AREAR), ONE CLUB, YANKER, CBS EYE. Not a big fan of any of these ones.

It’s rare to have three theme answers stacked together in the middle of the puzzle. The 72-word grid is more wide-open than the typical themed puzzle, too. Four stars.

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50 Responses to Thursday, December 12, 2013

  1. John E says:

    It seems like it would have been a clever puzzle – except that the applet said “See Notepad”, but there was no notepad. Anyone else have that issue?

  2. Ethan says:

    I have to say, the note really bugged me. Not because it was too much of a spoiler, but because if you take it at face value the puzzle doesn’t work. When I hear “after the puzzle was created,” I take that to include all aspects of making the puzzle, including adding the clues. (There are solvers out there, as I’m sure we all know, who aren’t sure if the grid or the clues are done first!) But the clues were obviously written after the r’s were erased, because the puzzle clues AMBLE, not RAMBLER. So the note really misled me. It would have been fairer, if wordier, to say that the grid was finished, then the alteration was made, then the clues were written.

    • Martin says:

      I think Will was trying to minimize the spoiling. You really need some hint to grok the reveal, but you don’t want it to be “put R in all the blank squares.” Adding “he also rewrote the clues when he erased the R’s” is getting pretty close to spoiling the surprise, I think. This way you get another aha moment (like your third?) when you figure out that adding the R’s makes another valid fill. Alluding to the concept of pre-erasure clues would prevent you from discovering the final trick.

      (By my reckoning, aha moment 1: “there are blanks;” aha moment 2: “the note means ERASE RS, which means the blanks were R’s;” aha moment 3: “put R’s in all the blanks and the grid still works.”)

      Pretty damn cool, I thought.

      • David L says:

        I grasped the general idea at GAMMA/GRAMMAR and managed to finish the puzzle without being able to make any sense of 63A and the note. As I understand it, the clues refer to the ‘R’-less words, so to complete the grid you (and the constructor, Mr Steinberg) have to add Rs, not erase them. Even after reading the explanation, I still don’t really see the logic of ERASE Rs.

        • Bencoe says:

          Me too, with GAMMA I had the double M and an A, plus I had noticed that 7 Down should be either N-Test or A-Test, so I realized there were blank spaces then. Didn’t figure out to put R’s in them until the revealer (eveale?), though.

  3. Matt says:

    I got that there were blanks pretty early on, then got stuck in the NW corner and took a harder look at the blanks. Harder look yielded the insight that the blanks were ‘R’s, and all the ‘R’s, so I was able to finish the puzzle. Saw the Notepad icon only after finishing, didn’t see the revealer before that. Overall, a good puzzle even without the trick.

  4. tony O. says:

    I circled the blank squares and put tiny Rs in them, lest my fellow commuters think I hadn’t finished – good call, Orange! Neat puzzle, David!

  5. Papa John says:

    No thanks.

    This puzzle makes no sense to me – not after I read the Notepad “explanation”, not while I was solving, not when I got Mr. Happy Pencil (with all the R’s in place) and even not after I read all the comments on this site. I went back and removed all the R’s and Across Lite said that’s wrong. That made me even more baffled.

    So, what’s right and what’s wrong? Is SARGE right or SA GE? CORNERS or CO NE S? MARINER or MA INE ? And the topper – ERASERS or E ASE S or ERASE RS?!?! To me, no matter how you look at it, it’s all w ong.

    Well, not entirely; without the gimmick, it was a darn good theme-less.

  6. Howard B says:

    I really love the concept and creativity of the NY Times. Second the M AND MS find.
    During solving though, I did not know what the heck was going on. Had a lot of trouble parsing it and wasn’t sure fully what was happening after I solved it; (I could not read the full notepad as it wasn’t available on the applet).
    With the full notepad reveal, now I see the magic :).

    Edited: I can’t complain about the solving experience on the puzzle for using an old PC that did not display the short notepad text well. That did not take away from the puzzle, and the construction is excellent!

  7. Huda says:

    NYT: I never saw the notepad until I came here. I did figure it out on my own though. Still, the solving experience felt rather frustrating, although I can admire it after the fact.

    There were echoes of the Sunday Patrick Berry Puzzle “Two Outs” although of course that was a lot easier to grok. For me, the fact that they both occurred in close proximity diluted the impact of this one. But I realize each puzzle should be judged on its own.

    I did appreciate that ALL the R’s were removed from the puzzle by the ERASE R’s deal. It’s growing on me :)

  8. sheera says:

    Admired and appreciated the NYT puzzle…after it was done. Didn’t find it fun to solve and the notepad ‘clue’ made no sense to me.

  9. Gareth says:

    Saw Amy’s note about the notepad. Glad I ignored it. It made the puzzle very much harder, but I like harder. I solved it and had 11 blank letters that I had no idea what to do with. Then I read the notepad. Answers like DEMILLE and CEDILLA are very much harder to puzzle out if you don’t know their length! I thought there were blanks around EYEBOLT for the longest time and that it was some sort of >letter< bolt!

    • ahimsa says:

      I did the NYT puzzle without a note, too. But not because I was trying to make it more challenging. I didn’t know that there was a note!

      My general method is to download the .PUZ file. Sometimes I do it online but usually I print it out. I didn’t realize that it would not also print out the note if there was one. (my crossword APP is BlackInk, maybe AcrossLite and other APPs do print notes?) So, I guess I should use the PDF version of the puzzle if I want to print it. Anyway, I learned something new for future puzzles.

      Back to this puzzle, after a long struggle I got the main idea that some squares were skipped. I managed to finish with the correct 11 blank squares but then I wondered what on earth the pattern was. I wish I had read the note before I checked my solution!

  10. Daniel says:

    Loved this puzzle. What a bear! The clues were fun and the grid was solid, with R’s and without. The longer solving time meant I got to spend more time in my robe this morning than is strictly proper.

    • Lois says:

      A slow solver, I just stay in PJs all day and run for my robe if the postman comes. I didn’t realize that puzzles might be part of my excuse — if I thought I needed one.

  11. CY Hollander says:

    It was a nice touch that all the Rs in the puzzle were erased.

  12. Avg Solvr says:

    Q: How do you know it’s a David Steinberg puzzle?

    A: It’s pretentious, contrived, artificially difficult and unenjoyable?

    1. If you don’t know Quien Sabe, a key to the reveal, the puzzle takes on even more of a challenge.

    2. Is Erase Rs two words? Maybe in a strict sense, but then so is Erase Daves.

    3. The erasure theme is contrived: A puzzle isn’t left with erasures after alteration and the Rs don’t enhance the answers. (A nitpick but this theme is more contrived than any in recent memory.)

    4. The NW corner is a “do you know it fest” with cedilla, Lola, Demille, eyebolt, luego, Nui, Ely, Elle, In B and if I’m correct, a clue for a hand fan!?

    Apparently some people “solved” this puzzle using Rs but didn’t see the theme which is quite perplexing.

    • Ethan says:

      Did this criticism have to take the form of an ad hominem attack? Get a grip, dude.

      • Avg Solvr says:

        It’s not ad hominem at all. Could it be seen as a bit blistering by some? Yes. Blistering, accurate and legitimate by others? That too.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          I had no idea the teenage constructor already had a reputation for “pretentious, contrived, artificially difficult, and unenjoyable” puzzles. (That “pretentious” bit feels ad hominem to me. “How do you know it’s a David Steinberg puzzle?” is also 100% ad hominem when everything that follows is negative.) I generally enjoy David’s puzzles and I know many others do, too.

          • Avg Solvr says:

            Maybe what I see as pretentious others see, or want to, as precocious. But you don’t need to be over 20 to be pretentious and isn’t this constructor at least in his mid-30s in puzzle years? At any rate, my assessment can be easily defended by contrasting his puzzles with those of other constructors. And emphasizing the negative doesn’t make criticism ad hominem, which is to say nothing about what one expects from a puzzle in the first place which forms the basis of criticism.

          • CY Hollander says:

            I’d like to point out that ad hominem does not refer to any personal criticism. It refers to the logical fallacy of attacking an argument by attacking the person. If Avg Solvr had said, “This puzzle must be bad because David Steinberg only makes bad puzzles”, that would be an ad hominem attack. Merely expressing disdain for David Steinberg’s work in general is not one.

            (That said, I personally thought this puzzle was great and rated it 5 stars. I didn’t know “Quien Sabe”, which made that section of the fill tough, but the theme helped me finish it, as “saber” is a familiar word.)

  13. Michael Hanko says:

    Many times in my life I’ve enjoyed being flummoxed and ultimately beaten by a puzzle I could not solve. The joy for me comes from the struggle as much as from figuring out the solution. It’s fun to max out on my capabilities sometimes, with pushups or puzzles or piano pieces. Sometimes I just have to sit back in awe, considering that SOMEONE was able to solve a particular devil of a puzzle, thus proving its solvability.

    It’s just extra joy today that it was MY turn to figure it out! Thank you, David, for a truly satisfying solving experience.

  14. Earl says:

    Avg Solvr, what is your problem? A guy spends hours trying to make a puzzle people will enjoy, and all you have in response is nastiness.

    • HH says:

      Yeah! — Who do you think you are, me?

    • Gareth says:

      It was a hard puzzle. RK’s reaction to a puzzle that is too hard is a common one – anger. Not everyone likes different and difficult puzzles that challenge crossword conventions. I’d say it’s pretty unfair to not recognize how creative this puzzle is though! Whether the top-left had too many difficult names is a debatable point, I know I came close to a DNF there myself…

    • Avg Solvr says:

      If the puzzles were free, the constructors weren’t paid, you might have a point, Earl. Although, then again, maybe you do. Perhaps the only thing I can say in complete fairness, in language everyone can understand, is: Quein sabe.

      Ah, yes. Quien sabe!

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        For the record, since the year 2000, SABE has been clued with [“Quien ___?”] in the Sunday NYT (3 times), Sunday LAT (which skews easy), Thursday NYT, Saturday LAT, Friday NYT, Tuesday NYT (with a parenthetical “Who knows?” translation), and Saturday NYT. So it would appear that—Avg Solvr’s knowledge lacunae be damned—both Will Shortz and Rich Norris have deemed it to be familiar enough for middle- to high-difficulty puzzles. A Thursday NYT fits right into that range. Plus, the crossing with the blank clued EASES just fine.

        • Avg Solvr says:

          9 instances in about 9000 puzzles is evidence that it’s something that’s expected to be known? This isn’t even with inspection of the crosses that may’ve made many of these instances something that needn’t be known at all, let alone seen. And if you don’t know that the answer is a four letter word, the blank, the revealer becomes much harder to figure. But as I already pointed out, I see this as par-for-the-course for a Steinberg puzzle.

          • Bencoe says:

            No, you’re supposed to know it because it’s a very common Spanish phrase and at least 45 million Americans speak Spanish fluently.
            I live in an area where Spanish is more common than English. Our radio station is a Spanish language station which plays salsa. The times they have been changing, my friend.

  15. sandirhodes says:

    When I was in grade school, the teacher gave us a problem. I found out later that it wasn’t original, but at the time I thought it was. She said anyone who got it right would get an A for the class for the semester. Here is the problem:

    Write the following sentence without using any Rs: “Robert gave Richard a rap in the ribs for roasting the rabbit so rare.”

    The answer is not obvious (and does not begin “obet gave ichad,” which is what every one of us submitted!). If no one posts it by tomorrow, I will.

    • pannonica says:

      Okay, I’ll play.

      Bob gave Dick a punch in the chest because he didn’t cook the bunny enough.

    • Bit says:

      Sounds like the old riddle “Railroad crossing, watch out for cars–Can you spell that without any Rs?”, which is, of course, T-H-A-T.
      So I suppose this one could be just to write the words “the following sentence”, heh heh.

    • Avg Solvr says:

      Apparently, this is an old joke whose punchline is pannonica’s reply or variation thereof. I sometimes wonder if there’s stuff she doesn’t know.

  16. HH says:

    “Step 1: EXAMINEALLTHECLUES. Step 2: WRITETHEANSWERS. Anyone? I examine clues until I find one I know, then try to see if I know answers crossing it.”

    So now you know you’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.

    • Matt says:

      Reminds me of the reply that Irma Rombauer (author of The Joy of Cooking) gave to someone who wanted to know how to start cooking– “Stand facing the stove.”

      • John Lampkin says:

        Alternatively, Artur Schnabel when asked about “the secret to his playing”:
        “I always make sure that the lid over the keyboard is open before I begin to play.”

    • Jeff Chen says:

      Wait–do constructors make up the clues or the answers first? Oh never mind, computers make crosswords now.

  17. Jenni Levy says:

    I really liked the puzzle. I never look at the notepad before I solve, because I like figuring things out myself and I’m arrogant enough to think I don’t need the help. Unfortunately, from my point of view, the notepad text was printed out in plain site on the Times Crossword page, which is how I get the puzzle – so I saw it anyway. Grrrrr. I guess there’s no other way to get that info to the pdf and applet solvers, which is one of the reasons I still use AL – so anyway, grrr.

    For me that almost ruined the puzzle. Not quite, because it’s SO good that I finally got caught up in figuring out what was supposed to go in the blanks. I didn’t get that there weren’t any other Rs in the puzzle until I read Amy’s writeup. And I knew even before I saw Rex’s query on FB that this was going to be a love-it-or-hate-it puzzle.

    Count me in the love-it category, for the puzzle, and the still-slightly-peeved category for the spoiler. Any way I might avoid such in the future? Cruciverb, perhaps?

    • ahimsa says:

      “Any way I might avoid such in the future?”

      Have you tried using the archive link? [ ]

      I think that should work.

      • Jenni Levy says:

        Nope. Is the puzzle in the archives the day it’s posted?

        • ahimsa says:

          So sorry that the link did not work for you. It works for me as long as I’m already logged in to the NY Times web site.

          The puzzle file has been listed in the archive every time that I’ve looked for it. But I generally retrieve the puzzle in the morning, not the night before, so I’m not sure when the file gets put there.

    • Dan F says:

      I avoid the NYT site for different reasons (it sucks) so I use this for Across Lite links: Ephraim’s page

      Me, I prefer to read the note if Will is printing it next to the puzzle in the paper.

  18. Brucenm says:

    Since this puzzle was divisive, and since I have had mixed feelings about some of David’s previous puzzles, let me join the majority, for once, of those who loved it and thought it was wonderfully creative. Once I saw that there were coherent crossword entries with or without the R’s, I think the question of whether the R-less or the arred version is “correct” becomes moot and meaningless. Great puzzle. 5***** here.

  19. Tracy B. says:

    I love Thursday puzzles that feature a linguistic trick, that force my brain to be flexible, to look for another way in. The grid is solid and unfolded nicely for me once I found the hidden door. I found the Notepad clue helpful in finding that door, and didn’t feel duped or confused by it. I solve on paper, which may have helped my process with a puzzle like this. Like Tony O., I wrote in the Rs and circled them.

  20. animalheart says:

    A brilliantly conceived, brilliantly executed construction. I grokked early, I finished, but I had very little fun. I’m just a meat-and-potatoes, hard-themeless kind of a guy, I guess…

  21. Martin says:

    Avg Solver: you need to contrast this puzzle with other Thursday NYT puzzles from the last decade or so. This puzzle is no so out in left field as you may think. There have been plenty of other head-scratching hard gimmicky NYTs before on Thursdays.


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