Wednesday, February 26, 2014

NYT 3:48 
Tausig untimed (Amy) 
LAT 3:53 (Gareth) 
CS 5:29 (Dave) 

Ruth Margolin’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 2 26 14, no. 0226

NY Times crossword solution, 2 26 14, no. 0226

The theme answers are made by adding -IST to transform a word into an entirely unrelated word:

  • 17a. [Journalists covering abstract art?], CUBIST REPORTERS. Cub and cube (cubism) are unrelated.
  • 26a. [Help from a jerk?], POMPOUS ASSIST. Here I thought it would be about a soda jerk.”Pompous ass” is the best base phrase for a theme answer that I’ve seen in a while.
  • 44a. [Canned tuna without mayo?], STARKIST NAKED.
  • 58a. [Narcoleptics with string instruments?], SLEEPER CELLISTS.

I like the consistency of having pronunciation changes involved in all four -IST formations. And I’m glad there’s no clunky little theme revealer explaining that IST is added. I got mentally hung up on the clue for 1-Across. [Fare in “blankets”] clues PIGS, but pigs are animals, not “fare.” The “fare” here is called pigs in blankets but it contains hot dogs, not pigs. The fare inside the dough “blanket” is a hot dog. Yesterday someone somewhere was asking if random long fill was the new thing in the NYT crossword. CREDIT RISK and MAIN STREET? Check. I don’t know if anyone not in the sewing, fabric, or curtains business likes to see a clue like 38a. [Sheer curtain fabric]. Do you know how many 5-letter fabric names there are? Here are four: VOILE, today’s answer, is a sheer material that can also be used as mosquito netting. Toile is a thicker fabric with a picture drawn on it, and it has 4 letters in common with VOILE. Tulle is also sheer and used for veils (VOILE is the French word for “veil”—go ahead and try to keep this straight), bridal gowns, and tutus. Ninon is another sheer fabric that can be used for curtains. 26d. [World leader with an eponymous “mobile”] clues POPE. I wasn’t sure Pope Francis used the popemobile but he does. He’ll even invite a friend to hop in for a ride, because that’s how he rolls. (He did dispense with the armored vehicle for driving around town, and drives a 1984 Renault.) Favorite clue: 49a. [Like one texting :-( ], SAD. 3.5 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Bag It!” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Those curious about what tied the four theme phrases together need look no further than to 48-Down’s clue: [Accessory in which one might keep the ends of…] or a PURSE:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post solution - 02/26/14 (I promise!)

CrosSynergy / Washington Post solution – 02/26/14 (I promise!)

  • [Place for prisoners awaiting arraignment] was a HOLDING PEN – I think more of animals than of prisoners when I think of this term, but I live in rural Vermont, so it figures.
  • [Stemmed barware] was MARTINI GLASSES – like “pen” above, it’s nice that these glasses are not the type you’d find in a purse (unless, of course, you travel with your own barware just in case.)
  • [Composition] clued PHYSICAL MAKE-UP – I’d be hard-pressed to enumerate the typical make-up carried in a modern purse: lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, blush, etc. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Amy with a purse and I sort of doubt I’d find this kind of stuff in it if she did have one.
  • A staple of The Voice, which is just beginning a new season btw, is [“Girl on Fire” musician] cluing ALICIA KEYS – again, nice that it’s a different type of “keys” here, unless of course, the family used to be ancient locksmiths.

A man with a “murse”

I think the fact that all of these purse items have different meanings in the theme answers is a definite plus, but I do wonder about the timeliness of the theme itself. A modern purse (or “murse” as depicted to the left here) would more likely have a PDA, cell or other electronic device. I used to carry around a messenger bag when I worked in Boston, mainly for my workout clothes as I was able to leave my sneakers at the gym. It was an essential accessory as I used to ride the Hubway bikes from North to South Station where I worked. I was also curious to know if the [Proctor & Gamble dentrifice] or GLEEM was still for sale; I think of it more in the IPANA family than, say, CREST or COLGATE. MACHE or [Chichi salad green] was completely new to me; I see here that it’s a type of lettuce popular in French cuisine.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Pairing Down”

Chicago Reader / Ink Well crossword solution, 2 26 14 "Pairing Down"

Chicago Reader / Ink Well crossword solution, 2 26 14 “Pairing Down”

The title is “Pairing Down,” not “Paring Down,” and the long Down answers have an E that’s been doubled to change a word’s meaning. From left to right:

  • 3d. [Black mother, peppermint father, genmaicha aunt, pekoe baby, etc.?], STEEP FAMILY. Steep your teas. Splits “stepfamily” into two words.
  • 33d. [TV chef, to her critics?], DEEN OF SIN. Oh, Paula.
  • 20d. [Protest against squished conditions inside easter candy packaging?], PEEP RALLY. Oops, Easter should be capitalized. Also, speaking of sin and Peeps, marshmallow Peeps are the work of the devil and those who love eating them must be cast out.
  • 10d. [King of the borscht?], ALPHA BEET. Splits “alphabet” into two words.
  • 23d. [Monthly ranking in Tiger Beat?], TOP TEEN LIST.

No “odd man out” troubles in the theme—the base word gets split 2 times, stays the same 3 times. First word 3 times, end 1 time, middle 1 time. Base phrases have one word 2 times, two words 1 time, three words 2 times. It’s sort of like that card-matching game called Set—you can match three cards that share a trait, or you can match three cards that share no traits at all. My favorite parts of the theme are the “black mother, peppermint father” family and the mighty beet. I Googled for a beet face picture and I found the Queen of the borscht with a beet head winning a bike race. It’s a 74-word grid but all four corners have triple-stacked 7s so it’s got a themeless-grid vibe to it. Highlights: BRA SIZE plus D CUPS; brunchy MIMOSAS; fresh NUDE PIC. Did not know: 17a. [One way to turn on a snowboard], TOESIDE. Favorite clue: 40a. [Cold and waiting to get drunk], ON ICE. It’s the drink that is cold, not a person. 3.5 stars.

Bryan W. Young & Jeff Chen’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140226

LA Times

Jeff Chen seems to have taken over Nancy Salomon’s mantle of mentoring heaps of new constructors to the big time! Good on you, Jeff! He and Bryan have a stealthy theme for us today. I had no idea what was going on during the solve… Looking afterwards, I see two nursery rhyme characters spelt out on each of the two edges of the puzzle! I’ve never seen a theme like this before! It utilizes eight theme entries: four on each side, but because 4 of these are only six letters long, it only comes in at a hefty but manageable 62 theme letters! The two characters are THE/BIG/BAD/WOLF on the left side and LITTLE/RED/RIDING/HOOD on the right. They’re spelt out in…

  • 16a, [“Blackadder” network], THEBBC. Loved that the clue recognised probably the funniest 24 episodes of television ever created…
  • 26a, [Head honcho], BIGCHEESE
  • 42a, [Unsavory sort], BADEGG
  • 53a, [Borzois, e.g.], WOLFHOUNDS


  • 20a, [Impressionist whom Mel Blanc labeled “The Man of a Thousand Voices”], RICHLITTLE
  • 35a, [Show shame, perhaps], GETRED
  • 48a, [Driving with abandon], JOYRIDING
  • 63a, [Prominent Ore. peak], MTHOOD

With eight entries and 62 theme squares, you would expect solid rather than scintillating ballast fill. However, when you have a puzzle with a novel, unexpected theme, this provides more than enough to make an excellent crossword (even if you only appreciate that after the fact!) PUPTENTS, SCHMO and ENBLOC provide some dashes of colour.

There’s also nothing I can see to complain about. Some people dislike SETI, but I find it difficult to do so, because it reminds me of the classic computer game Civilization, which I fell in love with ca. age 7. SNERD is old, but a few old answers in a puzzle is not in fact a bad thing; lots of old people solve crosswords!

This puzzle is all about the theme, and as you may have gathered I thought it was novel and cleverly executed. 4.5 Stars!

Gareth, leaving you with a cheesy old song for those with long memories!

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18 Responses to Wednesday, February 26, 2014

  1. arthur118 says:

    What an impressive debut!

  2. Martin says:

    – Good consistent theme: check
    – Good to excellent fill: check
    – Minimum of crosswordese: check
    – Solid Wed puzzle all round: check
    – Well clued: check

    At least 4+ stars in my “books”

    Nicely done!

    – Martin

  3. Ethan says:

    I would add to Martin’s post a check-plus for a visually pleasing grid. I know that gets overlooked sometimes but when you open up the newspaper or open up the file, the empty grid is the first thing you see, and when it looks nice and interesting it just puts you in a good solving mood.

    The Crossword Fiend’s review was kind of muted and stingy with the praise, was it not? This is one of those days where I get annoyed with the bloggers, because I feel like their positivity towards quality NYT puzzles is not commensurate with their negativity towards flawed NYT puzzles. This puzzle had everything going for it and VOILE is what gets focused on, and a quibble about the clue for PIGS? How about actually pointing out fun fill like CALYPSO and GUEVARA and SKI CAP since we’re always up in arms about how there’s not enough fun fill? I give this puzzle 5 stars and this review 2 stars.

    • Jonesy says:

      compare this review to Rex’s and it looks a lot rosier… I actually don’t mind PIGS for ‘fare in a blanket’ considering that hot dogs are made of PIGS and its the in-the-language phrase… now if hot dogs were made of beef/chicken/etc then I’d agree.

      • pannonica says:

        I don’t get that ‘distinction’ at all.

        However, I have no problem at all with the clue and answer. Blankets is in quotes, which in part functions to suggest that the answer might analogously be in quotes, which turns out to be the case. The items are pigs in blankets which—while essentially hot dogs in puff pastry (or some similar dough)—are these particular miniature hot dogs (or vienna sausages, et cetera).

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I rated the puzzle 3.5 stars, and the current average is 3.8, not all that much higher. Not everyone is calling it a 5-star puzzle. Now, when I give something 4.5 stars because I enjoyed the heck out of it, the review will generally be more gushy. This puzzle was solid, but the theme wasn’t breaking any particularly new ground, and the fill was good but I save myself for the fill in themeless puzzles. I enjoy themeless puzzles more than themed ones, and difficult ones more than easy ones. So sue me.

      • Ethan says:

        With all due respect, and I do respect you and this blog, I think a puzzle needs to be evaluated based on what it’s trying to do. A Wednesday puzzle is never going to have a super-tricky rule-bending theme, if it did it would run on Thursday. It’s going to be somewhat easy. A good movie critic doesn’t downgrade a comedy for not being a drama; he or she rates it based on whether it was successful as a comedy.

        I have said in recent days that I wouldn’t mind seeing a return to the days where a Monday-Wednesday could get away with only three theme answers. I think that would produce more interesting fill. But I think that Ms. Margolin did very well with four theme entries. CREDIT RISK is a really nice non-themer.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          Now I want to very specifically downgrade all Monday-to-Wednesday puzzles whose fill I think would be better if the theme had been less ambitious. I think the fill would be lots smoother if the three-part theme were the norm, not the denser four- or five-part theme we see too often now. I may make that a specific and overt criterion, that theme does not make the fill suffer.

  4. Mark M says:

    Agreed on the pigs quibble, that was a gimme and a cute clue. A smooth puzzle, fast fast time for me on a Wednesday but I think that is due to a solid construction and good clues. Even if this had been a Tuesday or Monday puzzle it would have been a four star effort.

  5. Huda says:

    NYT: The puzzle had me at POMPOUS ASSIST.

    The center of the puzzle with the stacked REPLICA, VOILE, CARBONS crossed with GUEVARA, SPORK, ALIBI and SILOS was outstanding.

  6. Shawn P says:

    Tausig: I know that Amy did not yet post her review yet, but I just completed it and one of my favorite clues of the year is INANITY [Morning show specialty]. I have a friend who was interviewed in a fluff piece on Good Morning America about a year ago. I DVR’ed every episode until the one on which he actually appeared. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for a few weeks and I had to sit through (actually fast forward through) a lot of INANITY (to say the least).

  7. Andy says:

    One of my favorite early-week puzzles in recent memory. This is exactly what a Tuesday or Wednesday puzzle should be: well-executed (and funny!) theme, and some very decent ballast fill. I would have liked POUT and ORZO at 26/27-Down, but I don’t dislike what’s there.

    There’s a question percolating in this discussion that I want to tease out: Can early-week (especially Mon/Tue) puzzles be 5-star puzzles, or do they lose points simply because the fill/themes can’t be very adventurous/groundbreaking if new solvers have any hope of solving them? Obviously, many people feel the answer is yes, early-week puzzles can be 5-star puzzles when judged relatively against other early-week puzzles. I’m getting the sense that others feel the answer is no, because the craftsmanship on early-week puzzles can never be better than, say, a Patrick Berry themeless (a strong but debatable position). Of course, there’s no crossword ratings regulatory body, which means there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to rate a puzzle, so it would be interesting to hear people’s thought processes on how they rate a puzzle.

    • pannonica says:

      For additional grist, I recall that some record guides that used star rankings would caution readers that their star ratings were not always correlative. To wit, a five-star rating for, say, an Aretha Franklin record would not be equivalent for that of a lesser artist; in fact, it could be that a three-star rating for her would be the equivalent of five stars for a lesser light. To add further inconsistency, the capsule reviews were individually composed by a roster of people.

      Have I mentioned that I don’t rate the puzzles?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Lynn Lempel’s recent Monday NYT ( got an average rating of about 4.35, meaning there were plenty of people who gave it five stars. But I dunno. I find so many of the early-week puzzles disappointing in comparison to my expectations for them; there’s often too much stale crosswordy fill that can alienate new solvers. It’s a rare Mon/Tues puzzle that breaks free of that problem.

      • Andy says:

        That puzzle is a great example, Amy. Of the 45 ratings that puzzle received, the vast majority of raters put it at 4.5 stars, which is certainly an appropriate rating. I may have been one of those 4.5s; if not, I was certainly a 5.

        14 ratings were between 3 stars and 4 stars, inclusive. This was a cream-of-the-crop Monday puzzle by the reigning Queen of Mondays — if you (the generic “you,” not anyone in particular) gave that puzzle between 3 and 4 stars, I’m curious to know what Monday puzzle you would give 5 stars to.

        5 ratings were 5-stars. Put another way, 11% of raters were able to give 5 stars to what was widely acknowledged as one of the best Monday puzzles in recent history, which I think says a lot not only about what people expect from a 5-star puzzle, but also about what the ceiling for Monday puzzle ratings is.

        This analysis assumes, to an extent, that Monday puzzles don’t get better than this particular one. I’m not planning on doing a more thorough search for a more highly rated Monday puzzle, or a one-star difficulty AVCX puzzle (if there have been any, I can’t recall), but it might be interesting to see if there are counterexamples to the phenomenon I’m describing.

  8. Lois says:

    I enjoyed Ms. Margolin’s and Jeff Chen’s comments today about their experiences of sleeping while playing in orchestras:

  9. Amy L says:

    Pigs in blankets is another name for stuffed cabbage. I thought of that, not those dough-wrapped hot dogs, so I really liked the clue.

    Voile is fine, even though I first entered toile. But toile isn’t sheer, tulle isn’t used for curtains, and ninon isn’t a Wednesday word.

    I just wanted to give you all a pompous assist.

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