Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fireball 5:36 (Amy) 
NYT 5:01 (Amy) 
AV Club 4:54 (Amy) 
LAT 3:38 (Gareth) 
BEQ 6:11 (Matt) 
CS 6:15 (Dave) 

Caleb Madison’s American Values Club crossword, “Tight Squeeze”

AV Club crossword solution, 3 20 14 "Tight Squeeze"

AV Club crossword solution, 3 20 14 “Tight Squeeze”

The theme is that “tight squeeze” known as a BEAR HUG (35d. [Warm embrace that each of the starred clues is wrapped in]), and the other themers becing with BE and end with AR:

  • 16a. [*Pat who sang “Love Is a Battlefield”], BENATAR. She rocks.
  • 26a. [*Thongs and surf shop T-shirts], BEACHWEAR.
  • 35a. [*2007 hit single for Shakira and Beyoncé], BEAUTIFUL LIAR. Didn’t know this one.
  • 43a. [*Go on and on], BEND AN EAR.
  • 58a. [*Glass casing over a sample], BELL JAR.
  • 15d. [*”Do me a favor…”], “BE A DEAR…”

Straightforward theme, reasonably lively.

Highlights in the fill include “AMIRITE?” (that’s short for “Am I right?,” and there’s also inorite, short for “I know, right?” Inorite is not a mineral.), REVERB, OUTRAGE atop GET MAD, DA BOMB, INBREEDS, DROP TROU, and SRIRACHA sauce. Oh! And STARFLEET.

Toughest clue for me: 28d. [Letters for Nolan Ryan and Lance Berkman, once], HOU. I gather they played for the Houston Astros? The O was my last letter. I was thinking 31a. [Weed need] was going to be druggy rather than gardeningy (HOE).

Did not know: 25a. [Robert ___, transgender rights pioneer and subject of the documentary “Southern Comfort”], EADS. Never heard of him. Had a tragic ovarian cancer death that was likely hastened by many doctors’ refusal to take him as a patient.

Favorite clue: 59d. [Home to many bugs and spiders and chipmunks, often], LOG. Honorable mention: 45d. [Heart, winky face, and smiling turd, e.g.], EMOJIS.

Worst fill: Really, only AH SO (defanged somewhat with the [“I see,” sarcastically] clue) and EERO stood out.

4.25 stars.

Frank Longo’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 71”

Fireball crossword solution, 3 20 14 "Themeless 71" by Frank Longo

Fireball crossword solution, 3 20 14 “Themeless 71” by Frank Longo

This 60-worder does contain a few out-there answers, as you’d expect to see in most low-word-count puzzles:

  • 31a. [Hard agave fiber used for twine, rope, and nets], CANTALA. Never encountered this word before. Have you?
  • 11d. [Sleeper agent’s group], CLANDESTINE CELL. Gettable, but I don’t know that I’ve seen the exact phrase.
  • 4d. [Quarts, roughly], CUBIC DECIMETERS. All righty, then.
  • 6a. [2004-13 relief pitcher for the Royals, Devil Rays, Blue Jays, and Cubs], SHAWN CAMP. It’s possible I have even seen the guy play at Wrigley, but it’s not a baseball name I know. Highly possible that many of you are thinking, “C’mon, everyone knows Camp!”

Fresh (but more familiar to me) fill includes CEREAL BAR, SAM CLEMENS, PUT MONEY ON, BLATHERING, “LIKE I CARE,” Ford ECONOLINE van (my dad had one), and “pardon the offense”/”NONE TAKEN.” MACKS is also fairly modern with the 1d. [Hits (on)] clue.

Somewhat inflected by the roll-your-own vibe: RENEGERS, REDOLENCES, SASSIEST, DENSENESS crossing CALMNESS. They’re all valid words, but the -ERS, -S, -EST, -NESS additions don’t add value, they just facilitate filling a tough grid. But really, only CANTALA is an outlier cruciverbally speaking. Pretty smooth grid, as 60-word puzzles go.

Top clues:

  • 17a. [Side-walk performers?], CRABS.
  • 43a. [City famous for its traffic violations], CALI. Drug traffic, Cali, Colombia.
  • 10d. [Silver employed to make prognoses?], NATE. Statistician Nate Silver.

There are 21 black squares. In the NYT, there have been just 11 puzzles with fewer black squares out of roughly 2,000 themelesses (and about 15 with 21 blocks), so this one’s up in the 99th percentile of low-block puzzles (if you care about such things).

Four stars.

P.S. Peter Gordon sent out a bonus puzzle today, a 1979 Will Shortz “April Fools” crossword from Games magazine. Ha! That puzzle was a hoot. I was able to solve it in full without entering a single letter in the grid.

Victor Barocas’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 3 20 14, no. 0320

NY Times crossword solution, 3 20 14, no. 0320

Nifty theme: Four phrases that join “get” with an adverb are interpreted literally, and the GET part of each theme answer is placed accordingly.

  • 18a. {Gripping read [“Get back!”]}, PATEGURNER. That’s PAGE-TURNER with the GET running backwards.
  • 24a, 25d, 33a. {Oil containers [“Get down!”]}, STORAGE TANKS with the GET running in the Down direction.
  • 50a, 43d/up, 43a. {Amherst and Orono, for two [“Get up!”]}, COLLEGE TOWNS with GET running upwards.
  • 61a. {1977 W.W. II film [“Get lost!]}, ABRIDOOFAR. That’s A Bridge Too Far having lost the GET. An abridged A Bridge Too Far.

I liked figuring out what what going on in this puzzle, and I like that two answers bend into multiple entry spaces and two occupy single entries. Balanced variety is the spice of cruciverbal life.

Fill highlights include CONGOLESE, WRIT LARGE, and

Victor sent the following remarks:

When I wrote the puzzle, I did not put GET in the clues, but rather a phrase that implied it: {Fast read (“Don’t stand so close!”)}, {Large containers (“Show us your funky dancing!”)}, {Norman and Orono, for two (“Stop lying in bed!”)}, and {1977 World War II film (“Scram!”)}.

Will changed them to [the “get __” clues you see here], which is a much easier solve.  I shared this information with my wife, who made some comment like “Oh, I’m sorry that he changed your puzzle so much.” All of this, though, is the prelude to the important part of the story. The next morning, she said to me, “I thought about it, and Will Shortz did the right thing.” Her conclusion was that my original version was unfair because it forced the solver to figure out two different things: (1) that the clue phrases all refer to phrases that start with “get,” and (2) that the resulting phrases indicate how the entry should be placed in the grid. Now, one could agree or disagree with my wife’s contention—I obviously felt differently when I created the puzzle—but the important thing is not her conclusion but the question that brought her there: What puzzle would provide the best experience for the solver? Bravo to her for reminding me that a puzzle is fundamentally about the solver’s experience, not the constructor’s, and that as a constructor, I should always ask that question.

Indeed. Solvers enjoy puzzles that are designed for their enjoyment!

Good fill, fun and twisty Thursday theme. 4.25 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

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

This puzzle seems suited to those who can recall the names of the horses the Lone Ranger and Tonto rode, and even further in most’s memory banks, Dale Evans and Roy Rogers:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 03/20/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 03/20/14

  • [Roy Roger’s favorite digit?] clued TRIGGER FINGER – “digit” in the sense of an appendage here; I first wondered if the cowboy might like one number more than any other. (I’m partial to 9, myself.)
  • [Tonto’s favorite jamboree supervisor?] was SCOUT LEADER – can’t this phrase just be clued as Tonto himself?
  • [The Lone Ranger’s favorite symbol of privilege?] was SILVER SPOON – not too many other symbols of privilege to choose from. This term always reminds me of Ann Richards.
  • [Dale Evans’s favorite celestial sight?] clued a BUTTERMILK SKY – evocative phrase that means dappled with wispy clouds, I imagine.

I could recall Silver and Trigger, but Scout and Buttermilk seem less famous to me. I wonder if anyone born after say 1970 would even know who Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are, except perhaps from crosswords. Funny that all the famous horses today aren’t associated with celebrities, but jockeys. It’s perhaps a better thing that the horses are famous for what they did as opposed to what their riders accomplished. (If celebrities can be claimed to have “accomplished” something, that is.) Anyway, I think I would’ve preferred a bit wackier clues on this one–perhaps implying the possessive on the horse’s name, such as [Roy Roger’s horse’s hoof replacement?] for TRIGGER FINGER, etc.

Buttermilk and Trigger

I enjoyed the reference to Ronald Reagan’s preference for JELLY BEANS, but perhaps a more modern reference could’ve been made to the latest release of the Android operating system. (I should’ve prefaced that one with a geek alert, huh?) In fact, the entire puzzle seemed to have an old-timey vibe to it, including the 1907 Cubs poem reference, Tinkers to EVERS to Chance, and [1950s White House name] for MAMIE Eisenhower. Even an INBOX, referenced as a physical [Desktop receptacle] seems out of date with today’s electronic mail systems. The standout, though, would be the dash of physics with the [Particle physicist’s s, p, d, or f], which are ORBITALS. Not sure which each of those letters stand for, any help from the audience?

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Mojo” — Matt’s review


Pretty much blazed through today’s BEQ, the answers filling the grid steadily and evenly from top to bottom, like ooze making its way down a wall. The theme involved adding mo’ JO to a word in each theme entry, like this:

18-A [Pearl Harbor attack, e.g.?] = TOJO ORDER. From “to order,” which doesn’t seem like a stand-alone phrase on its own. Wants to be “made to order.”

20-A [What an “Avengers” actress uses to blow her nose?] = SCARJO TISSUE. From “scar tissue.” Nice. I bet this was the seed entry.

36-A [Homies standing in front of budget hotels?] = BROS BEFORE HOJOS. Very nice. I had HOJOS at the end of the entry and was nervously wondering what acceptable phrase Brendan would use that ends in “hos,” but this one works (the base phrase is “bros before hos”).

54-A [Bela Fleck’s instrument after an especially kick ass solo?] = SMOKING BANJO. Great entry, from “smoking ban.”

57-A [Builds a karate studio?] = MAKES DOJO. From “makes do.”

Solid themage. Highlights:

***I had K?? for [Chain with a tepee in its logo] and, although I couldn’t envision the tepee, typed in KFC. It was KOA. This was the only erasure I had in the puzzle.

***[Ronald Reagan or Bono, e.g.] = SIR? I didn’t know Americans could accept titles from foreign governments. Maybe it’s honorary. Correct, says Wikipedia: “In 1989, Reagan was made an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, one of the highest British orders (this entitled him to the use of the post-nominal letters “GCB” but, as a foreign national, not to be known as “Sir Ronald Reagan”)

***[Sacajawea’s tribe] = SHOSHONE. Which reminds of this line from “Napoleon Dynamite” (the guy is saying that he “found some Shoshone arrowheads”):

3.95 stars. And congratulations to Brendan on his Orca, awarded yesterday right here at Fiend.

Kevin Christian’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140320

LA Times

Very cute, early week theme today. Surprising to have it run on Thursday and not say Tuesday in fact. Once you twig to the theme (which for me was very quickly) the theme answers basically filled themselves in! I really like the concept of this one! One big issue I have is that of the six entries, HORNEDTOAD is the only one not ending in the name of a mammal, but an amphibian. The full name animals are consistently inconsistent: 3 mammals, a bird, a reptile and a fish – I liked that surprise factor, the fact that a TITMOUSE is a bird and a SEAHORSE a fish is inherently weird and therefore interesting when highlighted. I’d have ditched the TOAD myself, or found another answer that ends in a mammal… We have:

  • 17a, [It’s not a swine], GUINEAPIG, but a rodent. It isn’t from guinea either…
  • 21a, [It’s not an equine], SEAHORSE, but a pipefish.
  • 35a, [It’s not an amphibian], HORNEDTOAD, but a lizard.
  • 43a, [It’s not a canine], PRAIRIEDOG, but a rodent.
  • 53a, [It’s not a rodent], TITMOUSE, but a perching bird (passeriform).
  • 62a, [It’s not an ursine], KOALABEAR, but a diprotodont marsupial. This one gave me pause, as I considered PANDABEAR. The panda bear’s bearness has been in dispute for a while, but consensus has been leaning back toward it being a bear.

NirvanaNevermindalbumcoverFor six themers, the fill is well-contained. One RRN (random Roman numeral), one iffy suffix and a few legitimate if oft-repeated difficult (if you don’t do crosswords) answers. There is also a healthy amount of splash contained in answers like [Title “ungainly fowl” of poetry], THERAVEN; [“Don’t bother”], NEVERMIND; [Identifier in a folder], FILENAME; and [“Tao Te Ching” author], LAOTSE.


3.5 Stars. Very clever puzzle, a real WITOT! Only downside for me was HORNEDTOAD.


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25 Responses to Thursday, March 20, 2014

  1. pannonica says:

    The anecdote for the NYT reminds me of the American-style cryptic crossword convention of not cluing certain elements (e.g., anagrams) a step removed.

  2. john farmer says:

    Hey, there. A note from P.G. to add to your P.S. on the FB bonus — this from Games mag in 1981 on the April Fools’ Day puzzle: “We chose for this joke a grid we considered impossible to fill in because it contained so few blank squares.” [I suppose they meant “black squares.”] “So we were astonished when virtuoso constructor Merl Reagle of Santa Monica, CA, whose puzzles sometimes appear in Games, sent us the same grid, filled in with words!”

    Merl’s fill was wacky-style. Frank Longo’s fill of the same grid, 35 years later, was straight. Darn impressive, all things considered. (Fwiw, the NYT record for “open square count” is 127, including two puzzles by Frank. This grid’s count is 130.)

    Nice work in the NYT today, Victor — and I agree with your wife.

  3. Jim Hale says:

    Great Thursday puzzle and anecdote. Glad he listened to his wife.

  4. Clay says:

    Very nice puzzle day – I thoroughly enjoyed the BEQ and LAT, and for a rare, rare event, I actually got the NYT them very early which made the solving fun.

    The Fireball on the other hand was a fantastic puzzle but absolutely killed me – I had no chance at a finish, but once I looked back, it was a very clean puzzle and just shows me I have a lot to learn on solving crosswords – I talked myself into not being able to solve rather than stepping back and thinking about it and trying again later without the brain freeze.

  5. Jonesy says:

    Re: Victor’s anecdote, i think it also depends on the particular solver… those more inclined towards metas and/or cryptics may’ve preferred Victor’s clues. It’s hard to say in retrospect but i think i would be among that crowd — the aha moment would be worth the frustration with those four clues, at least for me.

    as written, it felt like one of the easier thursdays in recent past — the trick was pretty transparent…

    re: CS, the orbitals just stand for that letter (kind of like Mr. Truman’s middle initial). though from wikipedia, there is a historical reference: “They are derived from the description by early spectroscopists of certain series of alkali metal spectroscopic lines as sharp, principal, diffuse, and fundamental.” Also worth noting that the letters continue along in alphabetical order (apparently omitting j) but i’m no chemist/physicist… s,p,d,f,g,h,i,k,l…

    • joon says:

      you’ve got it right on ORBITALS. they don’t really stand for anything any more, but that’s what they originally meant to spectroscopists. but i’d quibble with the clue in that it doesn’t really have anything to do with particle physics—replacing that with “atomic physicist’s” or even “chemist’s” would be better.

      i enjoyed today’s offerings. SHAWN CAMP is kind of a random middle reliever, so amy (and everybody else) shouldn’t feel bad for not knowing him.

  6. Tracy B says:

    NYT: Loved it. I quibble with the clue for TOFU, which seems *highly* subjective. TOFU by itself isn’t any more tasteless than pasta, potato, rice or, say, poached chicken by itself. It does, in fact, have its own distinct flavor just like those other foods.

    LAT provided a really nice straight-up, consistent, fun theme.

  7. ethan says:

    very nice thursday but am I the only one bothered that two of the entries (PATEGURNER and ABRIDOOFAR) required you to manipulate the GET in some way, either by reversing the letters or deleting them, while the other two theme entries were unchanged, just written in the grid in different directions?

    I mean, I think for a Thursday it’s ok as you expect extra trickiness, but it does violate my sense of consistency.

    • Lois says:

      I found it consistent, because the manipulations and the changes of direction were all indicated by the phrases. I’m thankful for Will’s change. Hard enough for me!

  8. Jake says:

    36A in the BEQ is NOT an “acceptable” phrase in my opinion.

    • HH says:

      Why? Which are you?

    • Jonesy says:

      but it’s part of the reason many of us enjoy indie puzzles… the edginess / off-color clues & answers

      was easily my favorite answer of the puzzle and why i enjoy BEQ’s offerings

      • Mike D. says:

        I’m with you, Jonesy. I got a great laugh out of the entry and thought it was the best of all the theme entries. Stuff like this, for me, is what makes solving and/or making these indie crosswords so much fun.

    • Howard B says:

      You are correct that it would not likely be acceptable for the NY or LA Times.
      This is why some people also construct and publish independently, because they are free to use their own off-color, less-PC terms, or style the puzzles any way they like.

      Note that BEQ is also an incredibly accomplished (to understate) constructor who can design syndicated puzzles in addition to his own indie stuff – so he’s not just coining neologistic crap for his own enjoyment :).

      So yours is a fine personal opinion, but since it’s a slang phrase that’s gotten lots of use, therefore it’s acceptable fodder for a crossword outside of syndication.

      • john farmer says:

        I don’t understand the double standard. If the NYT would get criticized for using a misogynistic term — and we know it would — why is that term “acceptable” in an indie puzzle?

        I don’t think “lots of people say it” gives anyone a free pass.

        • Jonesy says:

          for the same reason we have G/PG rated movies along with R rated movies… think of the NYT as PG rated and the indie puzzles as PG-13 or R…

          different preferences for different folks… variety as they say…

          • john farmer says:

            You don’t seem to understand the difference between misogyny and R-rated.

            Indie puzzles are colorful in a million ways, but I don’t think they deserve a pass for having fun with HO’S. Would NIGGERS be okay with you?

            Somewhere I read “a puzzle is fundamentally about the solver’s experience.” Sure, there are people who think that BROS BEFORE HO’S is amusing, but is that who you want to appeal to?

      • Jake says:

        I too enjoy BEQ’s edginess and the fact that he can get away with things. Note that my comment was explicitly “in my opinion.” I thought that one was over the line. If he wants to drop an f-bomb, it wouldn’t bother me. That one did. Regards.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          I’m a diehard feminist, and it would bug me to see BROSBEFOREHOS in a puzzle clued as if it were a valid and worthy philosophy. With a clue singling out the misogyny, I could accept it. (Same with, say, COEDS. A neutral or affirmative clue that doesn’t touch on the innate sexism and the contemporary pornification of the word is gross, but a clue that points out the outmoded sexism would work.) I’m OK with Brendan using it as fodder for his HOJOS theme answer.

          Side note: My son’s peers don’t write “ho” anymore. They enclose it in T’s and know that “thot” = ho. Isn’t that troubling?

  9. CY Hollander says:

    I agree with Victor on the question of cluing: the extra difficulty in figuring out the theme would have made the payoff all the more rewarding. As a matter of fact, I dislike cryptics and never feel rewarded after solving one—but I think the key aspect that makes this different is that the difficult elements all follow a theme, and cracking it in one place makes the others easier.

    It would have been entirely fair, IMHO, because the solver should be able to get at least one of the theme entries from crosses (for instance, I got “PATEGURNERS” before cottoning to the theme). At that point, he may not know exactly what’s up, but he knows something is, and comparing the alterations with the clues that suggest them is enough to nudge him towards the “GET” phrases.

    If Will Shortz had left this one alone, I’d have given it 5 stars, for the freshness and the way it forced me to think. As it is, I gave it 4.5 for a nice spin on a theme that we’ve seen before in various forms.

  10. Stan Newman says:

    Re Victor’s commentary: Will’s theme-answer changes were of course the right thing to do. I applaud Victor for owning up to his forgetting:

    “a puzzle is fundamentally about the solver’s experience”

    This is screamingly obvious to Will and at least one other editor of my close personal acquaintance. The two exhibit slightly different manifestations of same, but they share the same benevolent intention.

    • Mark says:

      …as long as the solver was live in attendance at a specific TED talk this past Tuesday?

      Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Will is a great editor, but he does drop the ball from time to time.

  11. Gareth says:

    Great theme in today’s NYT! Very imaginative, and also tough to suss out!

Comments are closed.