Thursday, December 19, 2013

NYT 9:02 (Amy) 
AV Club 12ish minutes (Amy) 
LAT 3:28 (Gareth) 
BEQ 6:10 (Matt) 
CS 5:39 (Dave) 

If you haven’t done the Thursday NYT puzzle yet or you’re wondering where the heck they’re hiding the PDF, here’s the link for the PDF. The Times, in its infinite wisdom, tells puzzlers they ought to solve on the PDF and then they leave the PDF link in its usual place on the Wordplay page. I’ll never understand why they don’t include it in that “five ways to play/download the puzzle” pop-up.

George Barany and Michael Shteyman’s New York Times crossword

Review coming shortly–wanted to get the PDF link up quickly … an hour after puzzle release.

NY Times crossword solution, 12 19 13, no. 1219

NY Times crossword solution, 12 19 13, no. 1219

Okay, so the NYT puzzle page said, basically, “You can solve the puzzle via .puz but if you want the full effect, you should print out the PDF.” Then the PDF link is not, apparently, to be found on that page. I didn’t feel like penciling in my solution, so I used the .puz file and solved the puzzle just fine. I couldn’t make sense out of the circles that were used in the .puz, but the Xword Info solution image makes somewhat more sense. The OIL and WATER rebus squares (three OILs floating in the top of the grid, three WATERs in the bottom) were all circled, but the .puz’s other circles are standing in for bars separating entries in the grid. Imagine the line above the L in LAST PASS or the W in WHEELIE is a thicker line. But then, there is space for the water and oil molecules to mingle in the center row (LIKE WATER AND OIL), as the bars do not cut off the two halves of the grid. The science/salad dressing angle is nifty, and those stacked 15s at the sides are really interlocking 7s and 8s. (You still get some blah little crossers, but nothing ridiculous.)

blank grid from PDF

blank grid from PDF

Now, I don’t know why the rebus squares are circled in the .puz file, because they aren’t in the PDF. They serve to both make the puzzle easier and render the theme less comprehensible, what with circles used to mean two entirely different things. Wish the OIL and WATER squares hadn’t included circles. Clearly the PDF, with the obvious bars and clue numbers rather than circles across the middle, is easier to make sense out of, so since the .puz was rendered more difficult, they opted to circle the rebus squares to make it a little easier? And also as clear as mud. Thick mud.

The Xword Info constructor/editor/blogger notes hype the use of heavy bars, but these are not startling to anyone who’s a fan of variety cryptic crosswords. They’re used here as a supplement to the usual black squares, but Matt Jones has a pack of 25 barred themeless puzzles coming out in January (for folks who pledged support via his Kickstarter campaign). Click that link and watch the video to behold the deliciousness of those spacious grids with nary a black square to be seen.

So. Let’s look at this puzzle qua a puzzle. Rebus theme, with REC{OIL}S crossing TIN F{OIL}, ET V{OIL}A crossing {OIL} LAMP (hey! that OIL means oil but the other ones don’t), and BR{OIL}ER crossing T{OIL}ET {WATER}. That T{OIL}ET {WATER} also crosses HOT {WATER} BAG, which is not a phrase I’ve ever encountered (hot water bottle, sure). The other WATER rebuses are LOW {WATER} crossing {WATER}SKI and ICE {WATER} crossing SEA{WATER}, with all the {WATER} rebuses meaning water. The non-oil OILs throw me off a little. 54a. [Either the top or bottom half of this puzzle, figuratively speaking] clues LAYER.

The bars are just skinnier black squares that separate Down answers but let the Acrosses pass through.

Top fill: COLOR TV (I am old enough to have had a B/W TV), RATFINK, MAITRE D’, TODDLER, generic WAHOO (a baseball mascot reference would have landed this in the hate column, unless of course the clue included the word “racist”), and WHEELIE.

Four stars from me.

Francis Heaney’s American Values Club crossword, “Seasonal Staff”

Contest puzzle! You’ve got until December 23 to solve the puzzle and crack the meta. Not an AV Club subscriber? No problem! For a measly dollar, you can buy this puzzle and get in on the contest action, as well as enjoying a smart and clever puzzle. No spoilers here. 4.66 stars from me for this puppy.

Updated Thursday morning:

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Put Up With It” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Four phrases in which UP has been inserted and hilarity (hopefully) ensues:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 12/19/13

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 12/19/13

  • [Brassiere spec for a well-endowed Walla Wallan?] was WASHINGTON D-CUP. Aren’t D-CUPs the same nationwide or would each state have its own specifications? I kind of like the idea of having a state office of bra size regulators. Here in rural Vermont, we have an official coal weigher, fence viewer and wood inspector, offices that date back to the 1800’s and are now largely ceremonial, although there has been known to be some heated property line disputes the fence viewer has had to arbitrate.
  • [Adds water to the Knorr mix?] clued MAKE IT SOUP. The base phrase I believe is from the newer edition of Star Trek, the one with Patrick Stewart instead of William Shatner.
  • My FAVE entry, [Soirée for the snooty?] was UPPITY PARTY. A “pity party” is generally a party of one when you are feeling sorry for yourself.
  • Gloria Gaynor gets into the mix with [Declaration by a news agency exec in the face of a business slump?] which clued UPI WILL SURVIVE. With Jeff Bezos taking over the venerable Washington Post (which I heard this morning was hacked!), I wonder if this theme entry is true?

Scottish Parliament designed by Catalonian Enric Miralles

There’s been a lot of discussion on these pages recently about theme consistency. Here we have two where UP- was added to the beginning and two where -UP was added to the end. I think I prefer this than all four having the same addition, but if it broke 3/1 in either direction, I would’ve thought that less elegant. Recently back from Scotland, I have to give a shout out to the clue [Votes against, in the Scottish parliament] or NAES. It’s a beautiful new building in Edinburgh and the first step in Scottish devolution from the British monarchy. I found a few entries a bit tough for beginning solvers (and even this somewhat more experienced one): the NYC club CBGB, Wolfgang Puck’s SPAGO, the rap figure SUGE Knight, restaurateur Toots SHOR and ROWAN of “& Martin” fame. That’s a broad swath of culture and years to span for one’s individual knowledge base. Finally, I’ll add an UNFAVE of FOUR-H, since it never appears that way in print–it’s just 4-H any time I’ve seen it.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website puzzle, “Little Help, Please?”


Brendan adds ELF to base phrases, but hilarity doesn’t really ensue:

17-a [Long walk across a massive sheet of ice?] = SHELF OUTING. From “Shouting.”

28-a [Steal like a resident of Peru?] = PELF AS IN PERU. From “P as in ‘Peru.'” 1) Is that a real phrase? No. 2) Can you use PERU in both the clue and the answer? Also no. I imagine that in the holiday rush, Brendan meant the clue to say “Lima.”

48-a [Ale you’re determined to drink?] = SELF-WILL BEER. From “swill beer.”

63-a [Gentle state assistance?] = SOFT WELFARE. From “software.”

And then the revealer at 69-a: [Christmas help, and a hint to what’s added to 17-, 28-, 48- and 63-Across] = ELF.

Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth

lat131219Today’s puzzle by Jeff and Ms. Guizzo is an interesting interpretation of PIGHEADED! Each word starts with a type of pig-meat. Three are mass nouns (although you may occasionally talk about “a ham” I guess, you generally refer to any quantity of this meat as “ham”, “pork”, and “bacon”) but wiener is decidedly not. “I ate some wiener today” sounds utterly wrong to my ears (putting aside the fact that wiener itself is not a word in South African English). Similarly, “I ate a wiener” sounds natural, but not “I ate a pork/bacon”. Maybe I’m expecting far too much thematic rigour and this didn’t bother anyone else? Probably. Anyway, I still enjoyed the theme. The entries are:

  • 17a, [Some broadcasting equipment], HAMRADIOS
  • 30a, [Political patronage], PORKBARREL
  • 36a, [Degrees of separation from actor Kevin, in a parlor game], BACONNUMBER
  • 41a, [Dachshunds, familiarly], WIENERDOGS. As I said, these don’t go by that name here. Rather, they are called sausage dogs, sausages, worshonde, worsies, or dachsies familiarly. Also, why can no-one spell (or pronounce) dachshund? Two syllables dachs/hund. “Dachs” has the same guttural “ch” sound of loch. The number of bizarre spellings I’ve seen by owners and colleagues is astonishing!
  • 58a, [Obstinate, and what the other four longest puzzle answers are?], PIGHEADED

I almost always enjoy the style of “big” corners employed here… Favourite answers included AYCARAMBA, CHIAPET, WATUSI, and LADYBUG. I appreciated the contemporary clueing on EARBUDS.

One clue is perfectly in the language, but offended my personal sensibilities: [Rescued one, hopefully], STRAY. “Rescue” is an emotive term used by animal rightists to imply animals at a “no-kill” shelter vs. those at a “kill” shelter. Public Service Announcement: STRAYS are picked up. A finite number, dictated by the number of available homes will be rehomed. The rest will be euthanased. “No-kill” shelters are merely full and thereafter dogs are sent to “kill” shelters. Sorry, if this is way off topic and steps on toes, but it needs to be said more.

Unexpected theme and an interesting grid: 3.5 stars.

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19 Responses to Thursday, December 19, 2013

  1. Art Shapiro says:

    I was a bit surprised at the Color TV clue. They were exceedingly rare in the 50s. Well into the 60s the handful of colorized shows would be proudly introduced with an announcement: “The following program is brought to you in living color.”

    My first encounter with a color TV was in June, 1964. My well-to-do grandparents had just gotten it, and my first experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event: Jim Bunning’s perfect game for the Phillies.

    Enjoyed the quite-unusual puzzle today.

    • Jeffrey says:

      I was Litzing a New York Times crossword from 1955 or 56 last week and there was a reference to COLOR TV. I forget the exact clue.

      We must have got our first one around 1970.

  2. Huda says:

    NYT: Like the government, the NY needs more tech savvy people working for it. I never saw the note, just did it on Across Lite. They did warn me, I guess, but the meaning of the circles morphing in midstream was what threw me most. In the end it was not hard, but disorienting. But I did not let that reflect my rating of the puzzle, which I thought was great fun.

    It would have been fabulous if the circled letters in the middle area had spelled something relevant- like interface. But since the constructors never intended them to be circles…

    In Damascus, we got black and white TV may be around the time that color TVs were coming to US households. At first, we mostly had old reruns of US shows with very little local programming. I got such a weird view of America watching I Love Lucy as my introduction to the culture…

  3. HH says:

    “I kind of like the idea of having a state office of bra size regulators.”

    Are they hiring?

  4. cyberdiva says:

    Loved the puzzle, especially after I learned that the circles not containing OIL or WATER weren’t supposed to be circles. The circles really threw me for a while, since I recognized some of the rebus circles and thus assumed that all the circles had to either be rebuses or at least spell out something relevant. (I did see the note, looked for the pdf, but wound up doing the puzzle on AcrossLite as usual.)

    As for COLORTV, I too question the clue. It surely wasn’t a fixture in the households I knew in the 1950s. Indeed, most people I knew were just getting black and white TVs in the ’50s.

    I especially enjoyed the “ah ha” moments the puzzle gave me. The last thing I filled in was MAITRE’D, whose clue had stumped me for longer than it should have. It didn’t help that I decided that the aching joint soother was a hot water BED. Duh.

  5. Jeff M says:

    Think there might be an issue with BEQ 28A…

  6. Gareth says:

    Loved it (the NYT)! Had to look at the PDF version post-solve to fully understand what was going on. The visual water-level is an especially neat touch! Also, is it just me, or is Thursday the hardest day of the week most of the time these days? I’m not complaining, hard Thursday are among my favourite puzzles!

    • Papa John says:

      Oh, yeah? Those heavy bars (or circles) are supposed to represent water ripples?

      That begins to make sense for them, but it doesn’t explain the positions of the rebus squares, does it? Perhaps the chemist constructor understand how oil floats on water better than I do, but I would assume the molecules align in a parallel fashion.

      I wonder if there’s any cruciverbal reason for the opposing triangles formed by the rebus squares; or for the heavy bars (other than to indicate the separation of the long, two-word, down fills; which those of us who solved in Across Lite didn’t need to solve the puzzle).

      So, my question is – were either the heavy bars or any circles needed at all?

      Is the inside joke the combination of OIL and WATER in the central down fill, T[OIL]ET[WATER]? That was the icing on the cake, for me.

  7. pannonica says:

    Like many, I did the NYT without the benefit of .pdf or notepad and was mystified by the non-rebus circles. It makes so much more sense with the immiscible evidence.

  8. pannonica says:

    CS: Actually, said restaurateur is Toots SHOR, not t’other way.

  9. Daniel says:

    I admit it, I’m a pen-and-paper snob. I’ll wait for the paper and do the puzzle on it, on my table with my own ink. So when a constructor gets creative and all the blogs start freaking out about bugs in the app, it just seems like more proof that the pen is still a superior technology to the keyboard.

    Seems to me this NYT would be more fun on paper even if the app had worked well.

    I had a great time with this puzzle, got stumped on some easy answers (though I don’t see how “layer” is figurative). Four stars from me!

  10. Barany/Shteyman says:

    Hello, Everyone!

    We appreciate the many kind and thoughtful responses to this puzzle. It was quite an honor to be slated as the Thursday (read “gimmick”) puzzle just two days before the much-anticipated 100th birthday of crosswords, and like the rest of you, we can hardly wait to see what Will Shortz has in store for all of us. The fact that Will chose to run with this one, and applied his editorial magic to it, speaks to the staying power of crosswords, and to their constant evolution. When constructing this puzzle, we were well aware of the extensive use of bars in the rest of the puzzle world, but it is nonetheless a new step for the acknowledged gold standard puzzle in the paper of record.

    Unfortunately, we cannot be as complimentary about the New York Times IT department, which seems to be behind the times (no pun intended) and having trouble keeping up with adventurous new formats. Over at, Jim Horne was able to devise an outstanding on-line solving experience, and Roy Leban’s team at Puzzazz handled our puzzle with no problems. While expressing our appreciation for the patience of on-line solvers who were able to get past the technical glitches at the Times Premium site, we also love the comment, not an exact quote, from someone who said that he solved the puzzle with pencil in the newspaper, as God intended.

    Paraphrasing something once said about hockey, you came here for a crossword puzzle, and a chemistry lesson broke out. Yes, we know all about immiscibility, emulsions, micelles, liposomes, colloids, hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity, surface tension, menisci, liquid-liquid extractions, Rayleigh-Tomotiak instability, Langmuir-Blodgett films, etc., etc., but Will knows his audience and we respect that. Let’s head straight to the solution, as we originally envisioned it sans spurious circles at either the interface or telegraphing where the rebuses are supposed to be. Go to this link:
    Thus, we did our best to put together a schematic approximation of an important physical chemical concept within the constraints of a mid-week diversion.

    George and Mike

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Wouldn’t it be something if Across Lite’s .puz format could actually adapt and become a more flexible, accommodating format? It’s so ridiculously limited. Can’t even handle italics in clues? It seems silly that it has scarcely advanced in the last decade or more.

      • Yeah, the .puz format is seriously limited. The .jpz format is much more flexible and extensible (being XML-based), but it’s not supported by much software, and so few constructors are using it.

        If some big publishers like the NYT were to encourage the user of other solving software like Crossword Solver which support .jpz files, then I think we might see a migration away from .puz files; but until that happens, I think it’ll be a long time before we can get solid software support for atypical crossword features.

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