Thursday, January 2, 2014

NYT 5:32 (Amy) 
AV Club untimed (Amy) 
LAT 4:56 (Gareth) 
BEQ about 25 minutes (Matt) 
CS 20ish (Dave) 

Ben Zimmer and Patrick Blindauer’s American Values Club crossword, “Hidden Msgs”

AV Club crossword solution, 1 2 14 "Hidden Msgs"

AV Club crossword solution, 1 2 14 “Hidden Msgs”

Arrgh. WordPress ate one and a half paragraphs. Here we go again. This is the third in the series of AV Club crosswords coauthored by celebrities. The past celebs were comic Patton Oswalt and rocker Ira Kaplan; this time it’s lexicographer Ben Zimmer. He writes about language for various nationally prominent newspapers; his current bailiwick is the Wall Street Journal. He’s also a talking head on TV, most recently on MSNBC talking about that regional American vocabulary quiz that went viral among language buffs (for the record, my word choices are similar to those from Rockford and Aurora, IL, and Grand Rapids, MI; not sure why Chicago doesn’t make my list of three).

Where was I? Oh, yes. Puzzle! The theme is hidden abbreviations that are used in text messages, or “msgs.” The theme looks cuter in the PDF than in the .puz file with circles around the thematic letters, doesn’t it? More like iPhone texts in the little balloons.

  • 17a. [Kids whose parents are invested in them], TRUST FUND BABIES hiding STFU, or “shut the eff up.”
  • 34a. [Persians may go in it], KITTY LITTER hiding TTYL, or “talk to you later.”
  • 42a. [Cozy material used for pajamas and blankets], MICROFLEECE hiding ROFL, or “rolling on the floor.” Does anyone still use this one?
  • 62a. [“Hamlet” words of Act V, Scene I], “I KNEW HIM, HORATIO” hiding IMHO, or “in my humble opinion.”

Solid theme with a lively assemblage of phrases. The puzzle announces its AV Club ways right off the bat with a D-BAG ([A-hole]) at 1-Across. The fill also includes two words found in Ben’s list of notable words of 2013: TWERK and DOGE. The latter is clued not as a historical Venetian magistrate but as the recent Internet meme.

Favorite clues:

  • 33a. [Finless fish forbidden in kosher diets], EEL. Not your usual stale EEL clue.
  • 6d. [Desi toon], APU. “Desi” is an Indian word for a person of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi descent who lives abroad. I think the word is rather more prominent in the UK than in the US, but the word is definitely here. And yet DESI in the crossword grid pretty much always seems to be clued as Desi Arnaz.
  • 25d. [Word before pig or position], FETAL. I think I skipped dissecting the fetal pig in junior high.
  • 37d. [Homicide site in “Folsom Prison Blues”], RENO. “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” yes?
  • 39d. [Ünnecessarily ümlauted band, for short], CRUE. Mötley Crüe.

Did you notice that SENATE and SEX ACT both follow the SE*A** pattern? That clue for 50d, [Congress], pointed that out to me.

Patrick and Ben, I’m curious to know how you split the labors on this puzzle. Patrick, of course, is a whiz at developing themes, filling grids, and writing clues, but I’m thinking longtime puzzler Ben (who joined the National Puzzlers’ League when he was but a boy) probably has some secret crosswordy chops too.

Four stars.

Todd Gross’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 1 2 14, no. 0102

NY Times crossword solution, 1 2 14, no. 0102

(Thanks to pannonica for filling in last night. Just when I was about to sit down to the crossword, zap—power outage. It’s hard to blog by candlelight, especially when the candles don’t make Wi-Fi work.)

It wasn’t till I found myself all the way down at 51-Across that I made sense out of the theme. The letters that I’ve circled are to be read rebus-style as, for example, “B ending,” meaning a letter B that ends the entry. Move that letter-plus-“ending” word to the beginning, and you get the stealth theme answers:

  • 17a. [Food or drink dispensers], MACHINESV, or v-ending machines.
  • 32a. [Robert Frost poem that includes “Good fences make good neighbors”], WALLM, or “M-ending Wall.”
  • 51a. [Taking liberties], THERULESB, or b-ending the rules.
  • 10d. [Going without help], FORONESELFF, or f-ending for oneself.
  • 24d. [Future court case], LITIGATIONP, or p-ending litigation.

Crisp theme with a new bit of wordplay I haven’t seen before. I wasn’t crazy about Todd and David’s Arthur Wynne-themed puzzle on 12/21, but Todd’s redeemed himself with this theme. (Although again with the byline bunching! Only 12 days since Todd’s last appearance in the NYT.)


  • 25a. [Like virtually all gold medalists in Olympic table tennis], CHINESE. Is this a Shortz clue or a pander-to-Shortz clue? At any rate, good clue.
  • 40a. [Pope who declared “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition”], FRANCIS. 
  • 43a. [Hog], GLUTTON. It’s a neat word, isn’t it? It doesn’t look like many others.
  • 7d. [Hircosity], LUST. Obscure clue word! (Not mentioned in dozens of dictionaries.) And one I did not know. The Collins definition says “the quality of being like a goat.” Are goats on the farm known for being particularly randy? (Note the inclusion of a sin clue for the pope and then some deadly sins.)
  • 8d. [1968 #1 hit for the Supremes], LOVE CHILD. Don’t know the song, but it’s a good phrase regardless.
  • 32d. [Where Snickers, Skittles and Starburst are manufactured], WACO. I had no idea. None at all.
  • 39d. [Inconsequential stuff], PEANUTS. Good clue.

Did not know 43d. [“Grand Canyon Suite” composer], GROFE. And this 9d. [Feeling romantic], AMATIVE—that’s fairly uncommon, right? Amatory is more often used?

Lowlights include IBARS, DOETH, ETAPE, ODA, DOERR and DERR. Six Scowl-o-meter entries is not as bad as, say, 10 or more such entries, but it is definitely enough for me to notice while solving.

Four stars. Despite the lowlights, I admired the theme and there were plenty of deft Thursday(-plus) clues.

Updated Thursday morning:

Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Pay Up!” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Four phrases in the down direction where PAY appears from bottom to top:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 1/2/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 1/2/14

  • [It’s a plus for the consumer] clued HEALTHY APPETITE. “Consumer” in the more literal sense of someone who eats something, I’m thinking.
  • [According to legend, its continued presence on Gibraltar allows the British to retain control thereof] clued BARBARY APE. I’ve actually seen said apes (actually I think they are a type of “macaque,” but maybe pannonica can clear that up), strange to pass through customs as you head from Spain into Gibraltar (you also cross an active runway as well). These “apes” are very tame and have learned how to beg for food from tourists.
  • [Sticky treat stuck on a stick] was a CANDY APPLE. Before I had the theme pattern down, I put in CARAMEL POP at first. If there isn’t such a thing, there should be!
  • [Woody Allen comedy with a rhyming title] wasn’t the soon-to-be-released tennis biopic “Clijsters and Her Sisters,” but instead MIGHTY APHRODITE. I think this one had Olympia Dukakis in it, but I’m not quite sure.

Not the most challenging of themes, but as typical with Bob Klahn puzzles, this one had me for lunch and dinner, and then got up and ate me again as a late-night snack. For some reason, I clung onto BASIN instead of ROSIN for [Pitcher’s need], had no idea what [Fibbies] were (G-MEN, I finally discovered), and held onto BAR for PUB clued as [Spot for a shot]. BLOODY for [Really rare] was another tough entry as I was thinking about “hen’s teeth” at first. The nice juxtaposition of [Be curious] for ASK and [Curious] for ODD, was just one example of many felicities the puzzle offered. Another tough workout!

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website variety puzzle, “A to Z” — Matt’s review


5-point review:

1) This puzzle type, which I believe was invented by Will Shortz, is one of the most enjoyable that I’ve ever come across. Brendan, if you’re not already writing a book of these, please do so. Way back when I tried to make Kaidoku the word-equivalent of Sudoku, but this variant is far superior. You can’t brute force it and just when you think the whole rest of the puzzle is about to fall…suddenly you’re not so sure. Awesome.

2) At one point in the solve I muttered to myself: “ZING, not ZEAL!” and then I used a four-letter word that begins not with the 26th letter but with the 6th.

3) I couldn’t remember whether LINUS or Schroeder had the blanket in “Peanuts.” But then I remembered Schroeder was on piano so he probably didn’t need the blanket.

4) I also had LOON instead of GOOF in the SW, until, panic-stricken, I realized that LINUS already uses the L.

5) Using point 5 to restate point 1: write a book of these, Quigley! They’re awesome.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140102

LA Times

We’ve got ourselves another clever theme today! Each word begins with a CONTRACTION (clued as a [Beginning of labor…], which is nice – childbirth is underrepresented in crosswords!) A lot of the theme answers are one word, which is unusual; the words are interesting though, so I think it works well! We have “can’t” in CANTALOUPE (not a word in South African English, we favour “spanspek” for that fruit), “shan’t” in SHANTYTOWN (plenty of those here!), “i’ll” in ILLINOIS, “we’re” in WEREWOLF and “won’t” in WONTONSOUP.

The design features a very 7-letter-word-heavy grid. Other answers of note included:

    • CARRARA the [City that was the source of the marble for Michelangelo’s “David”], which I had no idea about… Way above my high culture comfort zone!
    • ROES, [Agile deer]. I call foul on this clue. If you’re going to use the add s convention in the clue, you should use it in the answer and vice-versa. Don’t mix and match to try and trick solvers – it’s a cheap trick.
    • BITER, [One with a muzzle, maybe]. I forget the previous time I saw the answer, but it was clued in a way that seemed much more contrived. I have definitely used “biter” in this context many times!
    • GENTIAN, [Blue-flowering plant used in herbal medicine]. PSA, most medicine is herbal. It just makes sense to isolate the active chemical(s) and concentrate it/them and thus make it more effective.

Neat concept: 4 stars.

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32 Responses to Thursday, January 2, 2014

  1. Ethan says:

    Bobby DOERR is the oldest living Hall-of-Famer, which is probably the most interesting thing about him if you’re not a Red Sox fan. Unfortunately you can’t write that as a clue, I guess.

  2. Huda says:

    NYT… well, I’m an idiot. I got the vending, fending, mending, pending part, and then … breaking the rules! What? I sat there scratching my head about it and then came here to determine what I’m missing. A working brain, apparently.

  3. Ben Zimmer says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Amy! And thanks to Patrick and Ben T. for making the whole process such a blast. It was a truly collaborative experience, but let me see if I can remember the rough division of labor. I came up with the theme idea and some seed entries, and then we batted them around for a while, with BT coming up with the bright idea of arranging it so the abbrevs could be circled to look like texting balloons. After we settled on the theme entries, PB created the grid and I took a first pass at filling it. We went back and forth revising the fill a few times, with PB working his magic to make it squeaky clean, and then we split up the cluing. Finally, BT made some really great editorial improvements. And props to Francis for making it look so good in the PDF!

  4. Brucenm says:

    Amy, I bet you’ve heard the “On the Trail” movement of the Grofé Grand Canyon Suite lots of times. It’s played all over the place — in cartoons, commercials, Disney movies, Western movies, etc. One of the interesting things about Ferde Grofé, which surprisingly is not well-known, is that he did the orchestration of the Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue — commissioned by Paul Whiteman, and first played by his orchestra — the arrangement with the famous opening clarinet slide. Gershwin had written it for two pianos, and Whiteman passed it on to Grofé with Gershwin’s approval, or at least acquiescence, (if I’m remembering all this correctly.) So you’ve probably heard more Ferde Grofé than you realize.

    I like the puzzle a lot, though it took me a while to figure out what was going on. Very novel, creative idea.

  5. Avg Solvr says:

    With answers like Grofe, Doerr, Orson, Derr, etc, and not knowing the title Mending Wall, the theme wasn’t something I wanted to pursue for more than a second or two after I saw “after” didn’t work. One Star for me. (Please notice “for me,” which means my opinion, which may be unfounded, illiterate, juvenile, borderline psychotic, etc.)

    • Avg Solvr says:

      I should add (before someone may) that vending machines should be obvious but that just never popped into my head (haven’t used one in memory) and I lost interest in the puzzle due to the proper nouns and some arcane terms.

    • Brucenm says:

      I feel like I’m playing someone else’s role here, but caviling over Orson Scott Card is a bit much. He is (a) one of the best selling (perhaps *the* best selling) science fiction author of the past couple decades; (b) the author of “Ender’s Game” upon which one of the most hyped and popular recent movies was based; and (c) has received intensive, constant publicity, (mostly well-deserved condemnation), for his obnoxious homophobic views. It’s certainly possible and understandable (not illiterate, juvenile, etc.) that one might have overlooked him, but he (and the others you mention) are hardly objectionable entries.

      • Gareth says:

        It’s just the hubris of assuming that if one doesn’t know an entry it shouldn’t be there. I don’t think there’s anyone here who hasn’t been guilty of it before.

      • Huda says:

        I agree that Orson Scott Card is fair. The others that Amy pointed out might be known to some and not others, but I think I was mostly bothered by the proximity of DOERR and DERR. They were both unknown to me and their being adjacent made it harder to work them out through the crosses. I finally did, but I stared at DOERR with great uncertainty.

        Still, I think it’s a matter of how one responds to the unknown stuff. I like learning new things, so I looked him up and thought: hey, if I were 95 and stopped being in the limelight 60 years ago, I’d love it if I made a NY Times puzzle!

        Happy New Year, Bobby DOERR!

        • Ethan says:

          DERR becomes DEAR so easily, and DOERR becomes DIETS, and CHAI becomes SHAD or SHAH. It’s the kind of thing that you wonder if the constructor realized this after submitting the puzzle. Sometimes I’ll figure out a way to get rid of an undesirable entry just after the puzzle is sealed, stamped and sent. Then the question becomes whether it’s worth bothering the editor about it.

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            Ethan, I’m going to say that YES, it is worth bothering the editor to suggest an improvement to the fill. The fill is what solvers spend the most time on, not the theme—so extra attention to the fill is always a good idea. ACORN-to-ASIAN rescuing us from DOERR and DERR sure would have been nice.

      • Bencoe says:

        I actually used to know Scott Card (he doesn’t use Orson in life) and his family. I grew up in Greensboro, NC, and was friends with his son. They were very kind people. They are also very active members of the Mormon church, and the views you are speaking of come from that context.

        • pannonica says:

          That doesn’t excuse them in any way or shape or form, especially from someone who has a massive populist platform.

      • Lois says:

        I’m one of those who didn’t know several of the (sometimes crossing) items today. But thank you, Brucenm, for informing me about “Ender’s Game,” of which I knew nothing. Using the author’s name as a clue-and-answer is a nice little extra for the theme (ender’s-ending).

    • janie says:

      never hearda ORSON scott card and am always flummoxed by enders. *maybe* i’ll start to remember ’em. ;-) never hearda DOERR either. so it goes.

      but this is a thursday puzzle and, on balance, looking at what i did know (DERR and GROFE, e.g.) v. what i didn’t — all the grid entries were ultimately inferable (for me). it was figuring how those blasted final consonants worked (and i finally did!)!

      well played, mr. gross!


  6. Pamela Kelly says:

    One thing that really bothered me about this puzzle is that the M for Mending Wall also ends its down word, so that we have M(ending) HAR. I think that should have been avoided.

  7. Evad says:

    I’m a fan of the concept, but wondered what rationale we have to move the ending word to the beginning of the phrase? Why not an entry like MINDB clued as [Hallucinatory]?

    • Matt says:

      Moving the last letter to the beginning makes it into a description of the string. You have to view the complete entry as a string of letters. E.g., the letter-string ‘MACHINEV’ is composed of the string ‘MACHINE’ and ends with the one-letter string ‘V’, so the whole string can be described as ‘V’-ending ‘MACHINE’.

      • Evad says:

        Thanks! If that’s what the constructor was going for, though, I think I would prefer instead of an extra letter added, that FOR ONESELF would be the superior example, since that truly is “F-ending FOR ONESELF,” whereas MACHINEV is really “V-ending MACHINEV” which makes no sense.

        Sorry for the quibble, I’m just in a contrary mood today I guess!

  8. Matt says:

    I’d have said that “the quality of being like a goat” is ‘caprine’, so the Collins definition is incomplete, at best. OED says ‘goatishness, lewdness’.

  9. Daniel Myers says:

    From the Latin hircus, billy-goat. But two bob for anyone who can come up with a citation of its actual use. A certain prominent contributor to this blog will be chuffed to know that Ngram utterly fails me here.

  10. sbmanion says:

    I thought that the theme was going to take the odd letters (V, P, etc.) and combine them into a word that made sense of everything. I completed the grid without ever determining whether my theory made sense or whether there was something else going on. It wasn’t until I read the blog this morning that I saw the gimmick—-very, very clever.

    The Chinese are indeed dominant in table tennis, especially the women, who have won every gold. I was surprised to see that table tennis has only been an Olympic sport since 1988 (Seoul games and South Korea is a distant second to China). I have visions of Ping Pong diplomacy and have always thought of table tennis as a longstanding Olympic sport.

    Table tennis and Badminton (huge disgraceful scandal in the last Olympics) are incredibly fast games. There have been studies done that show that West African blacks have more fast twitch muscles and East African blacks more slow twitch muscle fiber accounting in part for the sprinting skill of blacks of West African heritage and distance skill of East African blacks. I have always wondered if there was some genetic advantage that Asians have in quick reflex sports like table tennis and badminton or whether it is just a function of thousands of hours of practice.


  11. sbmanion says:

    Fun quiz. My cities came out as Buffalo (where I am from), Yonkers (my ex-wife is from next door neighbor, New Rochelle) and Patterson, N.J (no connection). The other interesting thing is that the places I have lived, including Phoenix and Green Bay, all showed up as reddish in the grid, indicating similarity.

    Buffalo is most noted for a distinctively hard A sound, the polar opposite of Boston.


  12. HH says:

    “Way back when I tried to make Kaidoku the word-equivalent of Sudoku, but this variant is far superior.”

    So all we have to do is take a decades-old idea and give it a Japanese name, and suddenly it’s brand new?

  13. howlinwolf says:

    Another great CS puzzle from Bob Klahn. Any plans for Wrath of Klahn, Part II?

  14. Martin says:

    I thought this was an ingenious puzzle… that completely fooled me. I solved it OK, but had to come here to understand the trick. Does that make it a bad puzzle? Nope! It just means that Todd and Will fooled me… after all, it is a puzzle, and I got puzzled!

    I agree that it takes a lot of hubris to declare that an answer one doesn’t know is somehow unfair. Since when does anybody think they know all that there is worth knowing?


  15. Harry says:

    Great LAT theme and puzzle!!

  16. bananarchy says:

    howlinwolf, I feel you. The Wrath of Klahn is one of my favourite puzzle books of all time.

  17. pannonica says:

    For the record, really enjoyed the novel theme in the NYT. Was not bothered by some of the “arcana” others have complained of.

    Also, waiting for novelist and short-story writer Anthony DOERR to become rightfully more popular and appreciated.

  18. ahimsa says:

    I’m a day late but wanted to say how much I enjoyed both the LAT and NYT puzzles for Thursday. I was another one who was fooled by the NYT puzzle. I got most of the letters but could not figure out the gimmick, could not remember the name of the poem, etc. Finally I cheated and revealed the last letter of 24 down (I had ETA-E at 56 Across but would *never* have figured out ETAPE). Somehow the gimmick clicked for me at that point, which helped me fill in THE RULES B and that tough DERR/DOERR area.

    I enjoyed reading the write-up for the AV Club puzzle and was pleased to see the clue for DESI. That usage is actually what I think of first, before any of the Arnaz family. :-)

    • ahimsa says:

      Oops, bad phrasing on my part. I meant to say I enjoyed that clue using DESI in a different way (DESI toon for APU), not the clue *for* DESI. :-)

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