Thursday, December 26, 2013

NYT 4:30 (Amy) 
AV Club 4:33 (Amy) 
LAT 5:00 (Gareth) 
BEQ 7:53 (Matt) 
CS 5:15 (Dave) 

New link! has an exclusive excerpt from Merl Reagle’s 100th Anniversary Crossword Book here, and they’re also doing a book giveaway. Enter by Sunday to have a chance to win a crossword bundle including Merl’s book and an NYT puzzle collection.

Tim Croce’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 26 13, no. 1226

NY Times crossword solution, 12 26 13, no. 1226

Straightforward embedded-anagram theme:

  • 17a. [Many a Manhattan Project worker], NUCLEAR ENGINEER.
  • 28a. [Growth on wet rocks or the surface of stagnant water], GREEN ALGAE.
  • 34a. [What a coiled spring or charged battery has, in physics], POTENTIAL ENERGY.
  • 43a. [Targeted area?], RIFLE RANGE.
  • 58a. [Chaos … or a hint to the contents of 17-, 28-, 34- and 43-Across], GENERAL DISARRAY.

The letters in GENERAL are in DISARRAY (scrambled) in each of the preceding theme answers. Rather sciencey vibe overall, no?

Raciest clue/answer combo: 12d. [Site of some piercings], AREOLA. You know what, though? I Googled this and there are a bunch of people saying that a nipple piercing should be just that, and that the surrounding areola should not be involved in the piercing. So if you’re contemplating this, ask your piercer. And then report back here, and let us know what your piercer advises in the areola arena.


  • 11d. [Completely tuckered out], RAN RAGGED.
  • 5d. [Old iPod Nano capacity], ONE GIG. Remember when 40 megs was a huge capacity? And now we’re up to terabytes.
  • 16a. [Jamaican rum liqueur], TIA MARIA.
  • 62a. [Dubai-based airline], EMIRATES. As seen on so many soccer jerseys, because Emirates sponsors a number of teams.


  • 37d. [Yesterday: It.], IERI. Those letters in that order? They make me think of Guy Fieri (real name: Guy Ferry. Sounds like a fun boat!). Not sure I’ve ever seen this in a puzzle before.
  • 49d. [Embellish, in a way], BEGEM. There’s a mobile/Facebook game called Bejeweled. Oh, how I wish it were called Begemmed. “Beg ’em!” And the Bedazzler! Why isn’t it called the Begemmer? BEGEM is an actual dictionary-grade word, but it has a bogus look to it, doesn’t it? And BEGEM crosses BARA, which in turn crosses RACEME—this looks like it may be a vexing crossing for a lot of people.

STALER, TIRED, OLD SAW, ARRANT, IN A RUT? Is this puzzle trying to tell us something?

3.5 stars.

Updated Thursday morning (U.S.):

C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review


Those of us who have an idea of the mechanics of crosswords must have some suspicions that this puzzle’s theme would be placed unusually from the get-go. For starters, there are no long answers to be found in the typical places. Then, the second answer I looked at was 5d [___ in kilo], a very weak answer for a walled-off section of grid, provided there are no additional constraints. Sure enough, Minnesota’s Zhouqin “C.C.” Burnikel has given us a puzzle based on [Minnesota’s state fish, and a hint to all 12 border answers in this puzzle] the WALLEYE. All 12 answers on the edges of the grid fit the pattern “___ eye”. This type of puzzle is extremely difficult to pull off, especially at the corners, where two answers are already locked in. The downside is that the pay-off is mostly the “ooh, look at that” response to the feat itself, as the answers themselves are mostly short and basic.

Okay, a list of the “___ eye” answers is in order. A BLACK eye is the result of a blow. RIB-eye is a cut of meat. The NAKED eye is contrasted with the use of binoculars and such. DRY eye is the lay term for keratoconjunctivitis sicca; this answer could also refer to the phrase “not a dry eye in the house”. An EAGLE-eye is someone with good eyesight. BLIND eye exists mostly in the phrase “turn a blind eye to”, although someone with a blind eye could refer to it as such. A THIRD eye is a mystical concept, as well as anatomical structure in some vertebrates. A RED-eye is a late-night flight. A GLASS eye is a prosthesis. I’m not sure what a “big eye” is other than an eye that is big, which seems arbitrary. Anyone? A MAGIC eye seems to be one of those pictures that you stare at and then a image supposedly appears. I never knew what they were called! BIRDS eye exists mostly in the phrase “bird’s eye view.”

As noted, there are a few wince-worthy answers, especially in the two corners with 5×5 theme answers. KAS was noted previously. CANTI appears in its opposite corner and seems pretty contrived as answers go. ORTEA is another partial, but all in all things are well contained. There are some nice longer answers too: the pairs of NILEDELTA and PHARAOH and PLAYDEAD and LIARLIAR seem particularly cute!

3.25 stars

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Data Mining” – Dave Sullivan’s review

In a world where “big data” is George Orwell’s dystopian vision come true, we even find DATA embedded in four theme answers today:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 12/26/13

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 12/26/13

  • [Sent in one’s 1040] was FILED A TAX RETURN. Gareth may have had trouble with this one, as I imagine 1040’s are peculiar to the IRS. In fact, our constructor is from Canada as I understand, where I certainly hope their tax system is less arcane than ours.
  • [Lied] clued TOLD A TALE. I’d just use “lied” myself.
  • [Sipped] was HAD A TASTE. I certainly had more than just a taste of our Christmas dinner last night!
  • [Clearly doing evil] was UP TO NO GOOD AT ALL. The “at all” part of this seems a bit superfluous.

Last time we reviewed a MAS “common letters in theme phrases” puzzle (henceforth referred to as a CLITP®), the letters were split in different ways in each entry. Here, it seems they are all the same, except for the final one, which seems a bit inelegant to me. Some random thoughts about the fill, in no particular order:

  • [Biblical sling wielder] was DAVID. Far and away, my FAVE entry, although I might ask for a more recent clue, such as [Daily CrosSynergy reviewer on Diary of a Crossword Fiend Sullivan].
  • [Slimy-sounding Yorkshire river?] was OUSE. How is that slimy? I would imagine it rhymes with “house.”
  • [Heat-resistant glassware] was PYREX. Nice Scrabbly five-letter entry there.
  • [Jobs offering?] clued MAC. Steve Jobs of Apple.
  • [Botanical bristle] was SETA. A member of the crosswordese pantheon.
  • Nice 1-2 punch of both STERLING and POUND as [British money].
  • Finally, is AMOUR necessarily an illicit love affair? I think of it as plain old-fashioned romance.
  • [Crowds, proverbially] clued THREES. Two is company, “three’s” a crowd. Often muttered by those actively participating in an AMOUR.

Tyler Hinman’s American Values Club crossword, “To Top It Off”

AV Club crossword solution, 12 26 13 "To Top It Off"

AV Club crossword solution, 12 26 13 “To Top It Off”

Okay, I am so out of sync with the AV Club difficulty ratings. If this took me as long as a Thursday NYT, I’d call it a 3 or 4 on a 5-point scale, but the puzzle was send out with a difficulty rating of 2. Just me? Distracted solver going more slowly than the puzzle dictated?

The theme is “O TANNENBAUM,” and the circled squares (green squares in the PDF, with a star on top) are evergreen trees that may be used as Christmas trees: SPRUCE, FIR, PINE.

The illuminated PDF

The illuminated PDF

The fill’s Scrabbly, but those uncommon letters are used to a good end. ZAGNUT, GI JOE, and QBERT are lively, poppy fill. (Compare to a recent NYT that plunked a Q in the grid to achieve a pangram, but at the expense of giving a Monday solver crossing French words, COQ and QUOI. Video game character QBERT and familiar informality PDQ are much more fun. Unless, of course, you know nothing of the video games of yore but studied French, in which case you probably think I’m a yutz.)

Favorite bits:

  • 29d. [“It’s a Small World,” for one (sorry)], EARWORM. Nope, Hinman, not getting that song into my head. Nice try.
  • 4d. [Like knowledge that should be kept to a minimum in crossword clues], ARCANE. Followed by 5d. [Rough-toothed dolphin’s genus … [reads previous clue] … oh, sorry, try “Dictation taker”], STENO. If you have to include boring, outdated fill, at least have fun with the clue and acknowledge that it’s crappy. Like COEDS as a plural noun—don’t play it off as a totally standard vocabulary word that isn’t sexist and outdated and doesn’t have porny uses. Have the clue tip us off that you know the word is terrible, and we will forgive you for including it in your grid. Because I know you know I know you should know.
  • 40d. [ESPN show with men yelling about sports (OK, that may be a little nonspecific)], PTI. Pardon the Interruption. I like the parenthetical.

Four stars. Theme is simple but timely, there’s plenty of zip in the fill, and Tyler writes fun clues.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website puzzle, “Boxing Day” — Matt’s review

Boxing Day isn’t something we celebrate in the U.S., but Brendan’s visiting his in-laws in the U.K. so a Boxing Day theme it is. Puns on boxing terms, to be specific:


17-a [Very popular spot to find a boxer?] = HOT CORNER.

25-a [Boxer’s book about a semi-circular punch?] = ON THE HOOK.

36-a [Boxing referee?] = CROSS-EXAMINER.

49-a [Boxing announcer?] = BOB BARKER. Bob is I think the “bob and weave,” a boxer’s tactic? Let me check. Yup.

59-a [Boxing circuit?] = RING CYCLE. I know it’s a famous opera series but I have to look up who wrote it. Wagner.

Still groggy and egg noggy from yesterday so this took me a painful 7:53. Painful since I kept making mistakes: PVTS instead of PFCS for [Some G.I.’s]; TV-PG instead of TV-MA for [Rating of some shows]; EVOKES instead of EDUCES for [Draws out]; and BUILD instead of BUILT for [Put up]. In retrospect those were all tough clues and reasonable guesses so this crossword is just plain tricky. Which is a good thing.

TINA FEY, SHORT I, STOLI, WHITMAN, JOE TORRE, ON A JURY and RUBBED in are all things you want in your crossword.

4.00 stars. Happy Boxing Day to everyone! If, like me, you don’t know exactly what Boxing Day is, here’s the answer.

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13 Responses to Thursday, December 26, 2013

  1. Bencoe says:

    I didn’t think IERI was right until I remembered “yesterday” in French is “hier”, which is pretty darn close.
    BEGEM/RACEME next to each other is going to kill folks who don’t know BARA. And I only know old Theda from crosswords.
    We just had VARIG the other day. Is this the first time ANAL has been clued in this sense in the NYT? I know I’ve seen worse clues for it in indie puzzles.

  2. Martin says:

    In my CS today:

    The British river OUSE is pronounced “ooze”, hence the clue. I hafta say that I don’t know what the world is coming to when crossword reviewers mispronounce small British rivers ;)


  3. mmespeer says:

    I’m still “puzzled” by last week’s AVCX..even though I received the solution and the scanned grids. I got the reds and the whites, but I know I’m missing more. What exactly were the secret clues?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Madame, taken separately the circled whites and circled reds spell out ROCK DUO and LAGERS, if I recall correctly. There’s a rock duo called White Stripes and a Jamaican beer called Red Stripe, the plural of which would be Red Stripes, and the candy cane therefore has red and white stripes! How cute is that?

      • mmespeer says:

        Amazing! I saw the stripes and the candy cane but would not have sussed out the rock duo or Jamaican beer. Once more, merci!

  4. pannonica says:

    LAT: I was also lost at “big eye,” but I suspect it may be another fish, similar to a walleye. “Magic eye” threw me as well, since I think that’s a proprietary name for what I’ve chosen to remember as the more neutral and descriptive autostereogram.

    • Steven R. Stahl says:

      I dimly remember seeing “big eye” in print, in the context of, e.g., “giving him the big eye.” Here’s a definition:


      • pannonica says:

        Okay, went to Wikipedia. Bigeyes (as fish) are quite different from walleyes; they’re deep saltwater species from the Indian and Pacific oceans, as opposed to North American freshwater denizens.

        Big eye, fish eye, hairy eyeball.

    • Jonesy says:

      I also vaguely think of “BIG EYE” as “big eye in the sky” which I think refers to security cameras generally (but especially in las vegas) but it doesn’t google too well…

      also note that GREEN ALGAE can be two different consecutive GENERAL anagrams (the underlined in the write-up can start or end in G), which is either a nice touch or inconsistent… depending on preference.

      The NYT felt a bit boring for a thursday to me… kinda like seeing rebuses or strange themes more than just anagrams – though the difficulty felt right…

  5. Amy, I also share your feelings about the AVXW difficulty ratings. I tend to agree with the 1/5 and 5/5’s, but very often I’ve felt that a 2/5 was a 4/5 or vice-versa. This week’s felt like a 3.5/5 to me.

  6. lemonade714 says:

    Happy Boxing Day, or is it Goodwill Day in RSA? I really enjoy anagrams and new twists on grid design so I had a great day.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Dave: In Canada, we send in T-1 forms, not 1040’s. And the tax system is much simpler. The Income Tax Act is only 3000 pages long.

  8. Joan macon says:

    Here’s my “big eye” connection: Blues in the Night, lyric by Johnny Mercer: “A woman will sweet talk, and give you the big eye, but when the sweet talking’s done” A great old song!

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