Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fireball 8:15 (Amy) 
AV Club 4:27 (Amy) 
NYT 4:14 (Amy) 
LAT 3:28 (Gareth) 
BEQ 8:05 (Matt) 
CS 5:19 (Dave) 

Tyler Hinman’s American Values Club crossword, “Shift Happens”

AV Club crossword solution, 2 20 14 "Shift Happens"

AV Club crossword solution, 2 20 14 “Shift Happens”

Before I even looked at this puzzle, I had an email from a solver who was mystified as to what the theme is. It wasn’t readily apparent to me either, but eyeballing the revealer clue pointed me in the right direction:

  • 54a. [Printing innovation, or an alternate title for this puzzle based on how the first words of the answers to the starred clues shifted on the keyboard?], MOVABLE TYPE. Look at the letters in those words on a keyboard, and when “Shift Happens,” you get new letters next door. Occasionally, I do catch myself typing letters one key over (e.g., hitting REW when I mean to type TRE), but I don’t usually generate actual words.
  • 17a. [*Watch over and over and over and over again?], VIEW TO DEATH. Jump one key to the right of V, I, E, and W, and you get BORE: “bore to death” is a familiar phrase.
  • 25a. [*Total amount of corrosion?], RUST SUM. Tidy sum! Again a shift to the right.
  • 34a. [*What a candlemaker provides, compared to other artisans?], WAXIER SERVICE. Escort service.
  • 45a. [*Drugs purchased with settlement money from Napster-related lawsuits?], RIAA POT. Tosspot.

I hope Tyler lit on this theme after accidentally mistyping a word and seeing the wordplay potential. I wonder if there was a technical way of searching for keyboard-shifted word pairs, or if Tyler just gazed at the keyboard and noodled around until he had a good list of candidate words. This theme is insane in a good way, and I like it.

The puzzle was billed as a 3 out of 5 on the difficulty scale, which is spot on for the crossword proper but I’d add a half notch for the “Wait, what’s the theme?” postgame.

Top clues (and it’s the clues that are worth the price of admission to the AVXword—the clues and the themes):

  • 22a. [Wolverines’ archenemy?: Abbr.], OSU. University of Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State, not the X-Men’s Wolverine.
  • 4d. [___ Garden (variety crossword in which answers are entered in “blooms”)], ROWS. Patrick Berry’s last WSJ Rows Garden was a month ago (PDF here), and Andrew Ries’s every-other-week Rows Gardens are available via pay-what-you-want subscription here. I love this type of puzzle—lots of brain work to figure out what goes where, combining jigsaw puzzle action with crossword action.
  • 11d. [Poem with a word reading vertically], ACROSTIC. That’s one meaning of the word. There’s also the double-crostic puzzle, such as Cynthia Morris’s free weekly puzzle at I’m not a big acrostic fan personally, but you should also know that Mike Shenk writes one acrostic a month for the Wall Street Journal (scroll through this page to find the Shenk acrostics). Cox & Rathvon have one every couple weeks (?) as the NYT’s second Sunday puzzle. (Edited per Dan Feyer’s comment.)
  • 44d. [“Who” cares?], DALEKS. Daleks are these evil machine doodads on Doctor Who. Always a worry/care for the Doctor et al.
  • 46d. [Reebok innovation of the early 1990s], PUMPS. I remember that! It did not revolutionize the sneaker business.

Did not know: 59a. [Stat considered more useful than batting average], OPS. “On-base plus slugging“? C’mon, that’s not a thing!

I didn’t like Tyler’s fill this time as much as I usually do. REA and RIA, AGA and ODA MAE, the PACA, the uncommon word RHINAL, and the ugly B-TWO (52d. [U.S. stealth bomber (usually written with a numeral, but how about a little creative license?)])? Bleh. But I do like the variety puzzle references, WISING UP, poetic/literary CAESURAE, and FROST OVER. A 72-word themeless-grade grid is tough to fill around a five-part theme.

4.25 stars. Big thumbs up for the theme!

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 70”

Fireball solution, "Themeless 70" 2 20 14

Fireball solution, “Themeless 70” 2 20 14

This was a tough one; almost felt like a Newsday “Saturday Stumper” with the large blank areas I had for so long.

Hardest things, for me:

  • 10a. [Gridiron great nicknamed “Mr. Everything”], HALAS. George Halas? In Chicago, his overriding nickname is “Papa Bear.” Never heard the other one.
  • 54a. [Writer Gilbert who translated Georges Perec’s lipogrammatic novel “La Disparition” into English, keeping it e-less], ADAIR.
  • 57a. [“The Red House Mystery” novelist], MILNE. Must be the sequel to “Winnie-the-Pooh and the Case of the Missing Hunny.”
  • 58a. [Foreign imports and others], PLEONASMS. Overly redundant phrases.
  • 3d. [Game with runners who take tokes], KENO. Game I know nothing about.
  • 7d. [Scalper’s profit], ICE. Term I didn’t know.
  • 10d. [Plants of the mint family once thought to have curative properties], HEAL-ALLS. Unfamiliar term for me.
  • 27d. [Game that’s “never the same” and “always bizarre,” according to its song], CALVINBALL. From Calvin & Hobbes. There was a song?
  • 48d. [Top 5 hit for six weeks in the summer of 1998 when “The Boy Is Mine” was #1], ADIA. Crosswordese song!

Top clues:

  • 16a. [Don’t spend an arm and a leg after giving someone your hand?], ELOPE.
  • 20a. [Crafty ways?], SEALANES. Ways = routes, crafty = having to do with watercraft.
  • 19a. [Foil with lots of cracks?], STOOGE. As in Shemp or Curly.
  • 55a. [“More bounce to the ounce” sloganeer of long ago], PEPSI COLA.
  • 2d. [Henry, e.g.], UNIT. The henry is a unit of conductance.
  • 33d. [Chump change], HAY. I think they’re interchangeable in the negative: “That ain’t hay” = “that’s not chump change.”
  • 36d. [They have branches all over the world], TREES. Yes, indeed.
  • 51d. [Rock to metal, perhaps], MOSH. As in rocking out to heavy metal.

Top fill, because one does not live on clues alone: FUKUSHIMA, PINTEREST, ST. BARTS, DEVIL RAYS, PEPSI COLA, SLINGSHOT, CALVINBALL, RAW BAR, LOUNGEWEAR. You give me more than two or three zippy answers and I’m happy, provided you don’t surround the zip with crap.

4.5 stars.

Don Gagliardo and Zhouqin Burnikel’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 2 20 14, no, 0220

NY Times crossword solution, 2 20 14, no, 0220

The Don & C.C. power duo is back with another puzzle, with an unusual theme: 37a. [First name of a former president … or, read another way, what each of the circled lines is] clues WOODROW, and the rows of circled letters feature words that can follow “wood.” All of those short theme answers are clued without reference to wood—golf CHIP shot, corporate STOCK, [Tidy sum] PILE of money, George Washington CARVER, the verb WORK, a garbage BIN, “MAN!,” [Empty talk] WIND, CUTTER boat, LAND a fish, [Origami, e.g.] as a CRAFT, the verb SHED. Interesting concept.

There wasn’t any work to do in piecing the theme together, as all those circled words were clued straightforwardly and the WOOD ROW revealer is clear. So we turn to the fill, which has some sparkle with POP DIVA, “I DON’T BUY IT,” and the French Open’s CLAY COURTs. Thanks to the 59 theme squares occupying four and a half rows of the grid, each section has a blah answer: 3d IN RE, 18a AROAR, 12d/13d LORI/ESME, partial 40a OR I, partial 41a A DIET, 39a YAW … the southwest corner is plain but solid … 53d RATA, 62a ECRU. There’s also a word-root dupe with 35a UNE and 46d UNI. But aside from AROAR, nothing overtly Scowl-o-Meter-instigating.

Needed plenty of crossings for 28d. [Polish-born musician who was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom], Arthur RUBINSTEIN. I was trying to think of a Polish name, but Rubinstein’s got a Jewish name rather than a Slavic one.

3.5 stars. Twelve words that can follow “wood” are not in and of themselves entertaining, but I appreciate a new theme presentation.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “In Honor of Jack Benny” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Four theme answers that end with a word that can precede [Tightfisted] or CHEAP, which was Jack Benny’s signature trait.

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 02/20/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 02/20/14

  • [Buzzer beater that ends a contest] clued GAME-WINNING SHOT – nice sports vibe with that and the crossing [Hit a home] or WENT DEEP.
  • [Outing for a foursome] was a DOUBLE DATE – so is a “cheap date” something you don’t pay a lot for, like going to the movies or a fast food joint?
  • [Fast one] was not to be taken as implying celerity, but a DIRTY TRICK – so often these entries lead me down a musical memory lane; here’s today’s earworm.
  • [1A and 1B, on many airplanes] clued FIRST CLASS SEATS – I have to admit being a bit bothered by this particular theme entry being the exact opposite of the “cheap” version. I prefer theme entries which have little or nothing to do with the implied entry.

Pretty standard theme, but I thought this one had some superior fill and cluing. Not too many entries begin with HGW, but here we have [“The Time Machine” author] or H. G. WELLS. I also liked learning that TOPEKA was the capital of the “Sunflower State”–funny, I don’t recall any sunflowers in the farm on The Wizard of Oz. Fox Business Network’s John STOSSEL and [Works by Peter Max] or POP ART rounded out my list of FAVEs.

Paul Hunsberger’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth

LAT 140220


It’s stunt puzzle time again. There are two interrelated themes here. Theme #1 four definitions of [BLANK]: EXPRESSIONLESS, HOLDSCORELESS (news to me that that can mean “blank”), LINEONASURVEY, and EMPTYCARTRIDGE. Fine, but dry.

The second is that every clue is in some way a FITB clue. Now I don’t know about you, but to me those are among the most one-dimensional of clues. Fine in moderation, but quickly become boring. [___ of drawers], CHESTS uses one of the most contrived ways to disguise a plural.

WEAIM, NOU, ATEAR, BITO, ANAP, SAMEOLD (7 letters!), NOTELL (6 letters!), ITAS, TOAT, INDYCAR (as clued it’s another 7 letter partial!), ITRY push the partial count well below the LA Times self-imposed limit of 2 per puzzle. I hate partials; I’d much rather see “obscure” but genuine answers than such contrivances.

Very challenging to construct, joyless (outside of [X-Ray ___: U.K. punk band], SPEX) to solve.
1.5 Stars

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword, “Hair Curlers” — Matt’s review


Careful with that diagram to the right! I have two letters wrong. See below.

Take the title literally: HAIR at the end of each theme entry curls up and around:

20-A [It has a large cushion] = OVERSTUFFEDCHAIR

41-A [Extremely delicate] = AS FINE AS FROG’S HAIR. Almost had a DNF on this puzzle since I’m not familiar with this phrase and had a hard time coming up with the crossing entries AFTA, DIG and NSF. Actually even after Googling I’m still not clear on the last one, clued as [Bouncing letters].

59-A [It’s a relief] = BREATH OF FRESH AIR

So that’s something new that theme entries can do. At first I thought the hairs curled down so the NE section was a mess. Finally got the finny PI RHO [Frat for arsonists?] and the trick fell into place. OK, just now I’m seeing that I did get two letters wrong: for [It can get you into a different mindframe] as ?S? I put in LSD and then never questioned it, but it turns out to be ESP. FULL ROD made some sense for [Nuclear reactor component] instead of the correct FUEL ROD, and then I had DIG instead of the correct PIG for [Glutton]. OK, got it now.


****I AM OZ is a great entry. Does he say that in the movie? Yes:

****[Vegas hotel with an Egyptian theme] = LUXOR. The famous pyramid in the desert. Mojave, not Sahara.

****[Actor Ziering] for IAN is now a fresh clue again. He was on “90210,” then on nothing, but now semi-back again due to his starring role in “Sharknado.”

3.95 stars. And speaking of curling, see BEQ’s writeup of his contest crossword from last week, the answer to which was CURLING.

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31 Responses to Thursday, February 20, 2014

  1. Ethan says:

    Is it Pink now? She’s not doing P!nk anymore?

    And what exactly is a woodman? I Googled it and it seems like it’s an archaic term for woodsman? I’m not sure I like using an archaism in a theme like this.

    • ArtLvr says:

      Ah, Ethan — you must be too young to recall The Tin Woodman of Oz, wherein Nick Chopper finally sets out to find his lost love, Nimmie Amee, but discovers that she has already married Chopfyt… Yes, the series went on a bit too long, but the first two dozen or so books are memorable!

      • ArtLvr says:

        p.s. note that the NYT has a (wood)cutter, another term for the Woodman.

      • Ethan says:

        I actually did read Baum’s Wizard of Oz as a child. It was written in 1900. I stand by archaism. I would never use “World’s Series” as a theme entry even though it’s called such in the Great Gatsby.

    • David L says:

      Woodman, spare that tree!
      Touch not a single bough!
      In youth it sheltered me,
      And I’ll protect it now!


      (Courtesy of The Golden Treasury of Godawful Poems)

  2. ArtLvr says:

    The Fireball was a hoot, even if Henry as a UNIT was unfamiliar… The commentary gave me an added extra giggle with your “PLEONASMS. Overly redundant phrases.”

    • Having a minor in physics, the Henry is familiar enough to me, but I can completely understand it not being well-known.

      And by the way, the Henry is a unit of inductance, not conductance. Completely different electrical concepts.

    • Matt says:

      Yeah, we had a coil with a one Henry inductance in the physics lab– familiarly known as ‘Hank’.

  3. OPS is very much a real thing in baseball, even if you’re not a big Sabermetrics guru. It shows up not uncommonly in the stats box they show on TV every when a player comes to bat.

  4. dave glasser says:

    Strangely, ADAIR was actually a gimme for me. I couldn’t believe I knew it!

  5. Sean Dobbin says:


    Calvinball song lyrics (borrowed from

    “Other kids’ games are all such a bore!
    They’ve gotta have rules and they gotta keep score!
    Calvinball is better by far!
    It’s never the same! It’s always bizarre!
    You don’t need a team or a referee!
    You know that it’s great, ’cause it’s named after me!”


    Great puzzle. Of course, if you don’t know Calvin and Hobbes very well, you may be in trouble!

  6. Oy vey. Some “Jewish names” are German, some are Polish, etc.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Right. But Rubinstein is not remotely an ethnically Polish name. That’s all I was saying. I know there are Polish Jews with Slavic surnames, but this isn’t one of those cases.

  7. Gareth says:

    “Twelve words that can follow “wood” are not in and of themselves entertaining, but I appreciate a new theme presentation.” – summed up my own feelings about this puzzle perfectly!

  8. Ruth says:

    “Cheap Date” to my knowledge means a date who displays the desired effects of alcohol use (desired by an amorous companion, that is) after only a drink or two. Not really a pretty concept.

    • Pete says:

      Ruth – I’ve never heard it used like that. I’ve only ever heard it refering to someone who’s as satisfied with burgers and a movie as with dinner at Elaine’s and box seats at the theater.

  9. Brucenm says:

    Very interesting idea by Tyler. I recognized it in part because we have all done that, and in part because I once knew a pianist named Tom Hrynkiw (sic!) whose name looks just as if that is what had happened, though, of course, it doesn’t work as such.

    • bananarchy says:

      Yes, agreed.

      Regarding Amy’s question about a “technical” way to do it (although she may have just been wondering if Tyler used any tools, and not whether or not it’s possible): yes, definitely.

      In fact, I thought this was such a neat idea that I whipped up a script to search my own wordlist for more examples. As it turns out, Tyler grabbed most of the best ones from a rather small usable set (745 unique pairs out of ~300,000 words).

      If anyone’s interested: ESCORT/WAXIER is one of only three six-letter possibilities, the others being BIRDIE/NOTFOR and UNOWED/IMPERF (what the hell is IMPERF doing in my list?). Other potentially usable five-letter options are AKIRA/SLOTS, SIENA/DORMS, ESTOP/WARIO, FEIST/GRODY, SWEET/DERRY, TRYST/RETAR, and NUBIA/MINOS. Oh, and of course BORED/VIEWS also works. All others are four letters or less, and mostly bad.

      • Tyler says:

        Yup, that’s pretty much in line with my findings. I originally had MUY NORM (“Cheers” spinoff set in Spain?) before Ben pointed out the not one, but two inconsistencies with it. After an abortive attempt at a quick fix, I ended up just completely redoing the entire puzzle. That was a sad night, and my clues probably ended up a little dickish as a result.

  10. pannonica says:

    BEQ: “…and NSF. Actually even after Googling I’m still not clear on the last one, clued as [Bouncing letters].”

    It stands for Non-Sufficient Funds. Pray that you don’t ever see it.

  11. David L says:

    Can anyone explain BEQ 61D: “Clouded item” = FILE?

    • Chaitanya says:

      A computer file can be stored on the cloud. No one says clouded so it seems a bit contrived to me…

      • David L says:

        Thanks, that must be it. From now on, if anyone asks me where I keep my backup files, I will say that I have clouded them.

    • Steven R. Stahl says:

      Can anyone explain BEQ 61D: “Clouded item” = FILE?

      He’s apparently referring to the practice of storing computer files offsite, in clouds. The files are secure and can be accessed through various devices that have online connections. Do a search on filecloud.


  12. Dan F says:

    Cox & Rathvon don’t make the acrostics for the WSJ Saturday variety rotation. Mike Shenk does, and you’re missing out if you’re skipping them. They tend to be a little easier than Hex’s in the NYT, and Shenk pulls off longer and fresher entry words.

  13. pannonica says:

    Anyone else get the sense that—in addition to being obviously 100% fill-in-the-blank—the LAT was plural-/present indicative-heavy? That is, more terminal esses than average? I haven’t quantified this.

Comments are closed.