Friday, February 28, 2014

NYT 7:08 (Amy) 
LAT 4:37 (Gareth) 
CS 5:32 (Dave) 
WSJ (Friday) 10:07 (pannonica) 
CHE 6:36 (pannonica) 

If you like contest crosswords with meta answers, you’ll want to check out the new weekly Vulture Crossword Contest. Vulture is the online arm of New York magazine, which already runs a crossword by Cathy Allis and has just become the coolest magazine around by adding a second crossword that includes a meta! Matt Gaffney will now be making two different contest puzzles each week. I did the first Vulture puzzle already and hope to be selected at random to get a New York print or iPad subscription.

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 2 28 14, no 0228

NY Times crossword solution, 2 28 14, no 0228

Oh, man. I really tried to give this puzzle a fair shake but I just did not enjoy it. Three fourths of the 15s in the central quad-stack include -TIONAL? Come on now. (Is that a record? There’s also a TION in 5d. Does Xword Info track word fragment records?) And the one that doesn’t is the not-dictionary-grade phrase MALARIA PARASITE (38a. [What a tropical tourist definitely doesn’t want to bring home])? That’s the sort of phrase that should reside in the clue; I’d be fine with PLASMODIUM FALCIPARUM in the grid. (I enjoy the show The Monsters Inside Me, so bring on the parasites!)


  • 18a. [It’ll keep a roof over your head], LIVING WAGE.
  • 23a. [They soar at the opera], HIGH NOTES. 
  • 56a. [Street view], STOREFRONT. I am partial to neighborhood places like the Unabridged Bookstore or Rocks Lakeview that have spread over time to occupy three storefronts. I use “storefront” as a unit of measure.
  • 19d. [Finder’s query], “WHAT IS THIS?” I like this not in the way it’s clued, but because it EVOKEs the Internet meme “what is this I don’t even” for me.

And then there’s this:

  • 24d. [Couldn’t hit pitches], HAD A TIN EAR. … What is this I don’t even. Can we also use HAD A DIET COKE and HAD A PUPPY?
  • 41a. [Some Windows systems], NTS. Wait. Been seeing this for a few years, but can you pluralize Windows NT like this? If you can’t have plural “iOS 7s” or “Maverickses,” then no.
  • 32d. [Suffix with Edward], IANA. Or is that an -a tacked on to Edwardian? Not sold on -iana as a discrete suffix.
  • Too much boring (to me) stuff like ATP, AFT, NTS, CII, ABBE, REHEAR, T-MEN, A DIET, IANA, XENIA, and AT ‘EM. Don’t get cute with your little-known Scrabbly Ohio towns with a clue like 48d. [City with major avenues named Cincinnati and Columbus]; there’s no payoff. Wikipedia informs us, “As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 25,719. Xenia is the third largest city by population in Greene County, behind Fairborn and Beavercreek.”

Did not know: 27d. [Singer who’s a Backstreet Boy’s brother], AARON CARTER. I have heard of erstwhile teen-idol singers Aaron and Nick Carter, but don’t ever ask me to name any of the Backstreet Boys or the New Kids on the Block. They were after my time and there are too many of them. See also: One Direction. Five is too many!

There were a lot of groany bits in this grid and, for my money, nowhere near enough “Oh!” and “Aha!” or “Ha!” bits to tide me over. Three unenthused stars from me.

Updated Friday morning:

Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Downloads” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Welcome to the last day in February, unless this is a leap year… Even if your long division skills are a bit rusty, knowing that presidential years fall on leap years (with the notable exception of the upcoming year 2100), helps. Today’s CS puzzle features either 3 or 5 theme entries (see below) in the down direction, which end with a word that is a synonym of LOAD:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 02/28/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 02/28/14

Let’s start with the three I am sure of:

  • [1955 #1 hit by Tennessee Ernie Ford] was SIXTEEN TONS – dig the finger snappin’ rendition here.
  • [Mule, for one] had nothing to do with shoes as I first thought, but BEAST OF BURDEN
  • [Boxing division] clued HEAVYWEIGHT

So what about these two that seem to be the right length and position to be additional theme entries?

  • [Restaurant companion] was a DINNER DATE – scratching my head here how “date” relates to “load.”
  • [Nervous wreck] was a BASKET CASE – same question here about “case” and “load.” Or maybe “basket” is the operative term here?

Apologies if my brain seems to be stuck in the frozen weather that has gripped the northeast recently. I’m completely expecting a head-slap AHA moment once someone explains all of this to me in the comments section. Speaking of the northeast, I enjoyed the FRISBEE / BEANBALL action there, whereas the partial A COG (as in [Slip ___ (blunder)]) has got to be one of the stranger partials I’ve seen. I grimaced as well on [Very wide shoe sizes] or EEES–eek! Ending on a high note, though, I did like the consonant-rich TV SPOT / RSVP crossing at the V.

Jacob Stulberg’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Growing by Degrees” — pannonica’s write-up

CHE • 2/28/14 • "Growing by Degrees" • Stulman • solution

CHE • 2/28/14 • “Growing by Degrees” • Stulberg • solution

Glossed over the title, completed what was inferably the revealer (no circled letters) without reading the clue and before seeing any of the theme answers in full. So perhaps it’s understandable that I worried it might be another version of Yakov BenDavid’s recent Sunday NYT crossword (“Passing Grades“) or Anna Schechtman’s Wednesday offering from a few years ago (“Grade Inflation“). Thankfully it turned out to be a different animal.

49-across is [Process that yields the answers to 19, 24, and 43 Across?] GRADE INFLATION. But instead of “promoting” typical grade-letters (A, B, C, D, F) appearing in in fill, the answers feature base phrases that have typical abbreviations for postgraduate degrees inserted. (addendum: as pointed out in the comments, the answer is actually GRAD INFLATION (which I can attest is easily misread!). In this light, the degrees augment graduates, not grades.)

  • 19a. [Nicorette connoisseur?] SMOKING GUM FAN (smoking gun, MFA (Master of Fine Arts)).
  • 24a. [Spurn, as a just-opened present?] JAM BACK IN THE BOX (jack-in-the-box, MBA (Master of Business Administration). My favorite of the lot; evocative image.
  • 43a. [Prepare to connect printers to a computer?] ADD SERIAL CABLES. (aerial cables, DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery). This one was the most difficult for me, and in fact encompassed the last part of the grid I completed. Serial (and parallel) cables are nowadays obsolete, replaced by USB, wi-fi, and Bluetooth, and “aerial cable” is not a phrase I’d encountered before (though it’s certainly a thing).

Unusual 13/15/15/13 breakdown, and possibly as a result there are no non-theme fill longer than eight letters: a pair of those, a pair of sevens. And I was dearly tempted to write in STRINGED or STRUMMED for 37d [Like some instruments] SURGICAL, but discretion and patience won out. Ditto for SHRED vs RIP UP at one-across.

Nothing very zippy in the ballast fill, but nothing overly clunky either. A detectable sense of playful style throughout much of the cluing (e.g., [Word before or after house] for BOAT; cluecho for 34a BEES and 63a ANTS; [Looks into?] for X-RAYS) elevates the solving experience.

Good puzzle.

Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Interacting Oscars” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 2/28/14 • "Interacting Oscars" • Fri • Long, Shenk • solution

WSJ • 2/28/14 • “Interacting Oscars” • Fri • Long, Shenk • solution

In the main, the theme answers were all fairly easy in this timely crossword, but I never fully acquired my sea legs for the ballast fill, at least in certain stowaway parts. Right off the bat with one-across [Call from a cutter], which turned out to be the nautical AHOY. But let’s recap the feature presentation: repurposing the surnames of Oscar-winning actors. In the process, modifying nouns and compound word components are transformed into verbs (hence the “interacting”—also, acting!).

  • 23a. [Steer clear of Oscar winner Holly?] DUCK HUNT.
  • 25a. [Provide accommodations for Oscar winner Peter?] HOUSE FINCH.
  • 41a. [Make Oscar winner Geraldine a dame] TITLE PAGE.
  • 43a. [Boycott Oscar winner Frederic’s movies?] PROTEST MARCH.
  • 63a. [Do a caricature of Oscar winner Jeff?] DRAW BRIDGES.
  • 74a. [Fight with Oscar winner Sally?] BATTLE FIELD.
  • 94a. [Hold Oscar winner Helen dear?] TREASURE HUNT.
  • 97a. [Make Oscar winner Maggie secure?] LOCK SMITH.
  • 116a. [Stick Oscar winner Jeremy in a sauna] STEAM IRONS.
  • 118a. [Ring up Oscar  winner Shirley?] PHONE BOOTH.

Ah, but then the puzzle takes on the quality of an epic, featuring a supporting cast of seeming thousands:

  • 19a [“Peyton Place” nominee Turner] LANA.
  • 60a [Oscar-winning director Kazan] ELIA.
  • 86a [Best Picture winner “Out of __”] AFRICA.
  • 112a [“West Side Story” Oscar winner Moreno] RITA.
  • 1d [2004 Oscar nominee Alan] ALDA.
  • 3d [Film whose “Falling Slowly” won the Best Original Song Oscar] ONCE.
  • 84d [“The French Connection” Oscar winner Hackman] GENE.
  • 101d [James who won an Oscar for the “Titanic” score] HORNER.
  • Honorable mentions to: 10a [Mrs. Butler’s maiden name] O’HARA, 73a [Indiana Jones find] ARK, 113a [Laurel and Hardy. e.g.] DUO, 7d [Film critic, at times] RATER, 33d [Russell’s “Tombstone” role] EARP (first name/surname mismatch), 35d [“Frozen” snowman] OLAF, 68d [Name on a marquee] STAR.

These don’t feel forced or shoehorned, and they add to the celebratory hype of the event. But the breakout performances belong to the cluing:

  • Continuing with the nautical introduction, there’s also 37a [Tender tenders] SAILORS, 40a [Arctic explorer John] RAE, 44d [They involve revolting hands] MUTINIES, 2d [Ferry, say] HAUL. More tenuously, 125a [Aboard] ONTO, 55a [Sea sound] ROAR, 9d [Baltique ou Caspienne, par example] MER.
  • Favorite clue: 90d [Champagne pop] PÈRE. Runners-up: 64d [Cost of quarters] RENT, 99d [This answer is hard] CEMENT. Award of Special Merit: 75d [Engage in cerebration] THINK.
  • Various echoic clue pairs and triples.


  • Least favorite fill: REGRAB (91d).
  • Tough spots: 69a [Erstwhile Treasury offerings] E-BONDS (before I could confirm the crossing TEL). 76d [Wetland bloodsucker] DEER FLY, not something hirudine. 106a [Flowering plant also called plumbago] LEADWORT.
  • Lifetime achievement statuette goes to full name (for once) old-school crosswordese AL OERTER, 31a [Four-time Olympic discus champion].

Fun, immersive crossword.

Daniel Landman’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140228

LA Times

Thank you to Doug Peterson for filling in yesterday and for the kind words.

The best part of this puzzle by Daniel Landman is the cute, simple reveal: GIGI. It implies that the letters GG are added to the 5 longest phrases, creating new whimsical, fantastical answers. It’s subtle, but I also admired the sequence of the theme answers: GGLE, GGY, GGLE, GGY and then a rogue GGS. I haven’t investigated thoroughly, but I imagine most plausible “add GG” phrases will use the patterns seen in the first four. Anyway… the theme answers:

  • 18a, [Non-magical “Harry Potter” animal?], MUGGLEDEER. Muggles are “regular” non-wizard people in the Harry Potter universe, FYI.
  • 23a, [Camembert left out in the sun too long?], SAGGYCHEESE. You know, I don’t think this clue works. That’s not what Camembert would do if it were out in the sun too long. At least I don’t think so. Anyone posh enough to have Camembert available to test this?
  • 37a, [Woman’s enticing movements?], FEMININEWIGGLES. Sort of vaguely objectifying, but I can’t put my finger on why.
  • 52a, [Miracle in the mire?], BOGGYWONDER. Doug Peterson will appreciate the shout out to Dick Grayson.
  • 58a, [Periodical dedicated to stylish boots?], UGGSWEEKLY. Always good to finish with the best answer! I do dispute the use of the word “stylish” though!

The grid is soundly constructed and well-balanced to accommodate the five-answer theme. It doesn’t have any non-theme answers longer than six letters, but that’s a side-effect of what appears to be very careful placing of black squares to avoid hard-to-fill zones. Among those sixes, SUNGOD and OBIWAN were my faves. On the other hand, I was bit perturbed about [Annoy], MOLEST. Would you then also use RAPE and clue it as [Canola]??

There were a couple of mini-themes. LIONS, HYENA and GNU form an African fauna set. Mr. Landman also placed GEKKO and GREEK adjacent to each other, which is cute.

This puzzle is mostly about the theme. A cute revealer and a few fun puns make for around 3.5 stars for me.


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27 Responses to Friday, February 28, 2014

  1. Martin says:


    Have/has/had a tin ear is a legit idiomatic phrase, whereas to state the obvious, “had a puppy” is not.


    • Avg Solvr says:

      Have to agree with Amy (which I’m sure will make her want to reassess) about HADATINEAR. “Has a tin ear” is a known phrase but “Had….?” Then again, making the conscious decision to use Spelunker as a clue for TORCH pretty much sums up this puzzle for me.

      • Bencoe says:

        I’m far more okay with ATP as valid fill than Amy is, but I found this one really difficult to get a handle on. Really not on my wavelength.

  2. Jeffrey K says:

    I thought “It helps you let go” was EMOTIONAL TOILET.

  3. I’m a great admirer of Martin Ashwood-Smith, and those TIONAL’s that Amy pointed out were lost in the delight of cracking the puzzle. As it turns out, the New York Times is not the only venue for this last day of February that you can find an MAS pangrammatic quad stack. Try 4 Broadway for another one. Which do you prefer?

  4. Nick says:

    HADAPUPPY: What the bitch did?

  5. John From Chicago, AKA JFC says:

    Sigh. Amy, as I count, that is one star per TION.

    Martin, between Amy and Rex, you’re taking a beating but I know you Canadians are a strong lot. Keep up the good work.

    PS. I thought some of the clues sucked nonetheless.

  6. Huda says:

    NYT: I too had not noticed the “TION” feature. I wonder how many more typical solvers will care about them. I enjoy these stacks because it feels like I am disentangling a knotty problem. And I am always wondering what brain process is involved in seeing the possibility of these stacks. Pretty remarkable.

    I zipped through the NW corner, I DID, and it gave me a lift which carried me through the trickier parts. The unstacked top and especially the bottom are lovely– ZILCH, TORCH, DOGMA, EVOKE, XENIA and BOTOX next to BRONX– that’s a great neighborhood!

  7. Gary R says:

    Enjoyed the puzzle, and thought it was just about right for a Friday. Did not notice, and don’t care about the TIONALs, but maybe that’s because I was so pleased with myself for putting NATIONAL ANTHEMS in with no crosses. Actually, I think it’s because I thought all three of those clues/answers were solid (MALARIA PARASITE however, doesn’t roll off my tongue).

    Is ROCKIE the correct singular form of Rockies? Thought it should be ROCKY, like the mountains. Or maybe there’s not really a singular form, like Red/White Sox?

    Is anyone else more familiar with just RIOT, rather than ANTIRIOT helmets and shields?

  8. Jeff M says:

    A little confused about the revealer theme entry in the CHE…can anyone shed some light?

    • Jeff M says:

      Never mind, I’m a little slow on the uptake.

      • Tracy B says:

        Yeah, me too—I get it now, but I was mystified for a bit by the oddness of that revealer, GRAD INFLATION (and it’s written out as GRADE INFLATION in the review here, which made me doubt again, but it’s all good).

  9. Howard B says:

    CALL OPTIONS / ATP was the killer for me here. Got through it, but ouch.
    Not too bad otherwise.

  10. Huda says:

    ATP: I think ATP is way superior to most 3- letter abbreviations. Like DNA, it’s not crosswordese. People actually say it, think about it, and touch it….I have added it to reactions. I’m not saying everyone should automatically know it. But it’s worth getting to know as it’s relevant to our lives– actually critical. And it was clued well, which always makes me happy where science terms are concerned.

    • Howard B says:

      True, I recognize it now, just with AT- in place crossing an unfamiliar financial term, it was the toughest spot to solve for me. I always welcome the knowledge though :).

  11. I had W_L_ for FIRST NAME IN POPULAR SHORTS and went with WILE of Wile E Coyote. Things went downhill from there.

  12. sbmanion says:

    I thought this was a great puzzle, but it was hard for me.

    I started out quickly with IRAQ and at one point my favorite song was SHE USED TO BE MY GIRL by the OJAYS, but I bogged down in the middle. I did notice that TION was the likely juxtaposition of letters, but even so had a great deal of trouble, mostly because I thought Dodgers referred to the baseball team and inserted an S at the end of the answer before I knew what it was, which obviously proved to be incorrect.

    HAD is awkward to my tin ear.

    What has happened to sports clues? They are rarer and rarer with each passing week, an especially strange phenomenon because Will very, very seldom makes a sports idiomatic or factual error anymore.


    • Papa John says:

      Reducing the number of sports clue would decrease the chance for error, no? One would seem to follow the other. Is there term in Logic for this?

  13. Shawn P says:

    WSJ: “[Russell’s “Tombstone” role] EARP (first name/surname mismatch]”
    Not a mismatch. Kurt Russell played Wyatt Earp. Both are surnames.

    • pannonica says:

      Ah. I was envisioning Russell Crowe. I think he was in the earpless The Quick and the Dead. Two dings for me today. And counting, no doubt.

  14. Richard says:

    Although I have always been a Mac user, my understanding is that Windows NT is a family of operating systems. If this is the case, then it seems appropriate to pluralize it.

    As Amy says, it is true that t-men is used rather frequently. However, I have no problem with repeated use when a new and fresh clue is used, which certainly was the case here.

    I also really liked the tin ear answer and the misdirection with the clue. I would have tried to avoid the past tense though as I suspect that having a tin ear is not something that one outgrows.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Exactly, Richard! I am never going to outgrow my tin ear. It can’t happen.

    • Davis says:

      If this is the case, then it seems appropriate to pluralize it.

      While it might make sense in theory, I don’t remember anyone ever referring to the various versions as “NTs.” You would say “versions of NT.”

      I’m trying to think of what the MacOS equivalent of “NTs” would be: “Xes”, maybe? That seems right–there are multiple versions of MacOS X (and non-X versions of MacOS, from way back when). No one calls the various versions “Xes”, do they?

  15. bonekrusher says:

    The NYT was a great puzzle with really clever cluing, especially the TIN EAR one and ODS. Those of you who didn’t like it are incorrect. That is all. Have a nice day.

  16. Ruth says:

    “He always wanted to join in the singing, but he had a tin ear.” No problems with that.

  17. tammyb says:

    Plumbago = Leadwort

    Never heard that word in 60 years and now suddenly, it’s a clue in Friday’s WSJ puzzle AND an answer (or should I say, question) on Monday’s Jeopardy. It always amazes me when this happens! I’ll have to find some for my yard…

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