Wednesday, February 19, 2014

NYT 3:31 
Tausig untimed (Amy) 
LAT 4:51 (Gareth) 
CS 5:58 (Dave) 

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Logical Connections”

Chicago Reader / Ink Well crossword answers, 2 18 14 "Logical Connections"

Chicago Reader / Ink Well crossword answers, 2 18 14 “Logical Connections”

This week’s theme plays with the key conjunctions used in logic, AND and OR. Four phrases that contain OR get an AND swapped in:

  • 20a. [Crisis following the breakup of Guns N’ Roses, the Eagles, and Mötley Crüe?], L.A. BAND SHORTAGE. Labor shortage. Extra OR in the last word, not changed.
  • 25a. [Horror movie set at the dry cleaner?], FATAL ERRAND. “No! Don’t do it! Don’t hand over your claim check!” Fatal error.
  • 38a. [Choice words swapped in this puzzle’s theme answers], AND/OR.
  • 44a. [Tour manager for gummy bears and M&M’s?], CANDY BOOKER. Senator Cory Booker.
  • 54a. [What the host of “Deal or No Deal” eats to make the gold suitcases look, like, *extra* gold?], MANDEL MUSHROOM. Morel mushroom meets Howie Mandel.

Six notes:

  • 24a. [Human tail?], -OID. Suffix for the word, not a literal tail.
  • 59a. [Bureau that provides sports stats], ELIAS. Never heard of it.
  • 2d. [Ancient tropical tree], CYCAD. These trees still grow around the globe in warm climes.
  • 5d. [Play the dozens], SIGNIFY. I learned something new; SIGNIFY means “exchange boasts or insults as a game or ritual,” as in playing the dozens, in African-American slang.
  • 11d. [Michelangelo sculpture subject], KING DAVID. I had no idea that Michelangelo’s David was King David and not some other Biblical figure named David.
  • 46d. [Animated clown some claim is based on David Letterman], KRUSTY. I’d never heard that before.

Did you notice the stacked jazz singers, 36a: IVIE Anderson and 60a: NINA Simone?

The fill is not awesome-wow!, and it’s not eww-ugh. It’s solid. 3.75 stars.

Michael Dewey’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 2 19 14, no. 0219

NY Times crossword solution, 2 19 14, no. 0219

The theme here is military commands, but clued in playful non-military contexts:

  • 20a. [Overly bold member of the “Little Women” family?], FORWARD MARCH. This page will tell you how to properly execute your moves when someone barks “Forward, march” at you.
  • 29a. [Result of bankruptcy?], COMPANY HALT. Not familiar with this one.
  • 44a. [What blood donors do?], PRESENT ARMS.
  • 51a. [Motivational words for a boss at layoff time?], READY, AIM, FIRE. Not sure how the answer fits the clue, what with “aim” having pretty much nothing to do with firing people.
  • 11d, 39a, 58d. [With 39-Across and 58-Down, response to a military command], SIR, YES, SIR. Yep, that’s SIR appearing in two symmetrical places in the grid as part of this 9-letter phrase.

The clues for 20a and 44a are cute, no?

There’s a bit of a Crosswordese on Parade vibe in the fill, with OMOO, “Maria ELENA” (a #1 hit song … from before my mother was born), SRO, OTOE, EPEE, -ESE, HST, and TEHEE. But then there are Hostess HO HOS and Hungry Hungry HIPPOS for your HHH action (but no Hubert H. Humphrey today), a THERMOS, and a DIPHTHONG ([“Oy” or “ow”]) to add a little zip.

Favorite clue: 27d. [“Cry me a ___”] RIVER. It’s got a little attitude.

I wonder how many solvers will look at 16a. [Object of ancient Egyptian veneration] with I*IS in place and fill in the Egyptian goddess ISIS, given that the crossing is 10d. [Japanese P.M. Shinzo ___] ABE. Abe Lincoln, Abe Vigoda, and Abe Simpson are likely far more familiar to most solvers than Shinzo Abe, and a goddess is as plausible an “object of veneration” as a bird (the IBIS) is.

Might’ve been nice to ditch the HST in that corner, too. DEEP atop IAGO on PROD, crossing EAR/EGO/POD would work.

3.25 stars from me.

Updated Wednesday morning:

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

Cute play on the homophone “hairline” (as in fracture)–the first words of the three theme entries spell out something a [Wisecracking rabbit] or BUGS BUNNY would say.

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 02/19/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 02/19/14

  • [The true state of things] clued WHAT’S WHAT – true dat.
  • [Like late-breaking news] was UP TO THE MINUTE
  • [Companion of Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon] was DOC SEVERINSON – leader of the “NBC Orchestra” at the time. This is now Questlove of “The Roots” for the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Errr…what’s up, doc?

Rather interesting grid design from the master of quad stacks–we have some very nice adjoining long downs in the NE and SW and two other 10-letter down entries. My FAVEs were:

  • [Reverse course suddenly] clued MAKE A U-TURN – you won’t find that in many computer-generated grids!
  • [Pseudonym] was NOM DE PLUME – literally “pen name”
  • [Zero interest] had me thinking of car loans, but was NO DESIRE – you won’t find that in many computer-generated grids either, but perhaps there’s a good reason for that if it’s not a real lexical chunk. What do you think?

Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140219

LA Times

The theme of this puzzle is fairly basic: five answers start with titles of supreme rulers. Four are male only, with MONARCH the only gender-neutral one. Also, CAESAR and KAISER are cognates. To me, these are minor issues. There are two elements that really made this theme sing for me: the interesting choices of theme entries, and the waay Mr. Wechsler skilfully avoids using the rulers in a direct sense. The entries are:

  • 17a, [Confederate slogan symbolizing financial independence], KINGCOTTON. I didn’t know a lot about this. As always, Wikipedia was there to help!
  • 24a, [Romaine lettuce dishes], CAESARSALADS.
  • 39a, [“Happy Feet” critters], EMPERORPENGUINES. Putting that as your central answer is a surefire way to make me love your puzzle!
  • 50a, [Study guides for literature students], MONARCHNOTES. I didn’t know this answer, and am struggling to get an adequate idea of what they are, beyond summaries of books. I’m willing to bet this is a fresh, interesting and familiar answer to most solvers though!
  • 64a, [Sandwich choice], KAISERROLL.

Mr. Wechsler also seems to have carefully seeded his grid with a few other choice answers: the symmetrical long downs HOPPINGBAD/BIGFATLIAR make a striking pair. Another symmetrical pair, ACPLUG and PERTON, are a little quirky, but they also seemed fresh and made for surprising answers!

AOKS is utterly contrived, but other than that nothing really bothered me.

4 Stars
Gareth, leaving you with a classic song by 58A.

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19 Responses to Wednesday, February 19, 2014

  1. pannonica says:

    NYT: It seems that the four long themers also describe a sequence of events.

  2. Ethan says:

    I liked the theme answers, but I thought the SIR YES SIR was kind of unnecessary, since it wasn’t really punning on anything.

  3. Art Shapiro says:

    Add me to the ISIS / ASE group. Rats. Perhaps a bit obscure?


  4. Papa John says:

    KING DAVID, as the answer to the clue for Ben’s Ink Well 11d: “Michelangelo sculpture subject”, is misleading, if not outright incorrect. Yes, the Bible says David was to become the second king of a united Israel, but Michelangelo’s depiction shows the youthful David, long before he became king. The statue is known simply as “David” or “Michelangelo’s David”, never “King David”.

  5. Jeffrey K says:

    So is the unchanged OR in the InkWell puzzle no big deal, inelegant or a fatal flaw?

  6. Ben Tausig says:

    Hi Jeffrey,

    Happy to weigh in here, as this is an important topic.

    The remaining OR in LABANDSHORTAGE is fully yours to interpret, and I’m sure there are solvers would choose all three of the possibilities listed. To me, it reads decidedly as an inelegance. It’s too significant to the theme to be no big deal, but I can’t imagine it ruining a puzzle, just as the unchanged F in the recent Times puzzle didn’t ruin that theme for me, let alone the puzzle. (But I did spot it, and maybe made a face).

    I noticed the OR issue when I developed this theme set. I also noticed that LABANDSHORTAGE was the only one of the four entries that transformed the affected word into multiple words, and moreover that FATALERRAND is the only one of the four entries in which the changed word is at the end of the phrase. These are odd-men-out.

    Editors usually notice all the major problems of a theme set. In this case, I really liked LABANDSHORTAGE, because it’s evocative and funny, so I decided to stick with it. The theme concept also isn’t terribly flexible, such that many of the alternate possibilities were dry. I channel Merl Reagle in moments like this, and try to prioritize being funny over being meticulously consistent – especially when the choice is stark. For the same reason, I’m permissive about certain kinds of repeated word roots in the grid. With obvious exceptions, I just don’t think solvers care much. My sense is that Will feels the same.

    That said, if solvers on this blog or elsewhere want to correct my assumptions about what they prefer, I am receptive to opinions. I get quite a bit of solver feedback by email, so I have some sense of what matters to people (and I do my best to be receptive to it); however, sentiments can change and those who respond by email may be a self-selecting group.

    I do prioritize clean fill, and if a solver points out to me an area in one of my grids could have been filled much more cleanly, I consider that a more serious problem than a likely-to-be-overlooked theme inconsistency. As a constructor, I try to avoid using entries that I love at the expense of the quality of the surrounding fill. As a solver, it kills me when I encounter that, often to the point of marring a solving experience because the final corner of the puzzle leaves such a bad taste. That’s my philosophy of construction, FWIW.

    Some wonderful theme concepts simply don’t emerge beautifully in the grid while others, often by dint of luck, flourish.

    Sorry to be long-winded.


    • Matt Gaffney says:

      This is one of the most interesting and informative posts I’ve ever read in Fiend comments. Bravo, Ben.

      • David L says:

        Speaking as a mere solver, I like what Ben T. says. What turns me off most from a puzzle is clunky, awkward, groan-inducing fill. That’s why I disliked Tuesday’s NYT so much, despite its genuinely clever theme. It was just a painful solve.

        The “inelegancies” of the recent F change NYT puz and today’s Inkwell are things I rarely notice on my own and rarely find bothersome when they are pointed out. As long as the principle of theme is self-evident (and, ideally, the jokes funny) it’s fine by me.

        Similarly, if hidden words are sometimes split across two words, sometimes entirely within one, or if added words are sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the end, I don’t (usually) care. If a puzzle had, say, a word change at the beginning of three theme entries and at the end of the fourth, I would say that was a problem, but that’s an extreme case.

        This is just my take, of course. As always, YMMV.

    • Dan F says:

      Thank you Ben for the explanation! To be honest, I felt like it was a fatal flaw. It really confuses the theme — I was thinking maybe AND/OR switch places within each themer, or a 2/2 breakdown with AND–>OR and OR–>AND. Since LABANDSHORTAGE was the first themer, but contained both AND and OR, I couldn’t figure out what was going on until the puzzle was done. (FWIW, I didn’t notice those “odd-man-out” issues at all, and don’t consider them even slightly inelegant in this theme.)

      While I’m being rude to our most prolific and feedback-friendly constructors, I’ll also note how disappointed I was by the fill in Martin A-S’s CS puz today. For a 76-word grid, there was so much dreck: IMARI, ANS, ENA, IATE, SAES, LVII, SYS, and ugh ugh TOMT*. And for what? The big blocky corners had no exciting answers. Normally I love when Martin experiments with unusual grid designs, but I’ve never seen it have such a bad effect on the fill. Sorry Martin, you know I love ya.

      *Tom T. Hall is not nearly famous enough for that godawful partial to be crossworthy. Just because Merl likes to use it doesn’t make it even remotely legit. Get rid of LEOG while you’re at it. LEEJ can stay because he is legitimately notable.

  7. Jeffrey K says:

    Thanks so much for the response, Ben.

  8. Shawn P says:

    Tausig: Ben, thanks for your insight. At first, the OR in SHORTAGE confused me, but when I realized that they were all ANDs to ORs and not the other way around, I was fine with it. If I had felt that that ruined the puzzle, why not question TORTE and (or?) ORPHANS? That said, I usually expect more entertainment from Inkwell fills/themes and this puzzle seemed a little flat.

  9. Noam D. Elkies says:

    [Typo: stray E in EMPEROR_PENGUINeS]

  10. Martin says:

    Re Dan F and my CS puzzle:

    Hey, what can I say… I thought TOMT was much better known, and I’m not big on his genre of music either. But I have heard of him, although it’s quite likely that it’s only through puzzles and not the “real” world.

    So what I’m trying to say is that it’s everybody else’s fault.

    (The above sentence should not be taken seriously!)


  11. Lois says:

    Re the NYT, I don’t mind the assumption that we should know ABE (10d). I’m not the most knowledgeable of solvers in general, about world affairs, science and a large number of topics, but if we don’t know the name of the prime minister of Japan we’d better learn it, rather than considering that crossing a Natick. I took the crossing as a meaningful rebuke and edification (the crossing was sitting there waiting for complaints) in advance of reading the comments here.

    About READY, AIM, FIRE (51a), it’s true that “aim” isn’t so perfect, but it works. It’s a bitter jocular phrase on a tough topic, as the clue says, a motivational phrase for the boss to encourage the middle managers in their unpleasant assignments.

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