Monday, March 24, 2014

NYT 3:01 (pannonica) 
LAT 3:20 (pannonica) 
BEQ 5:55 (Amy) 
CS 6:17 (still Dave) 

The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten, an avowed crossworder, looks at our world through the eyes of aliens understanding our society via the NYT crossword. If this doesn’t make you giggle at least twice, there’s no helping you.

Tom Pepper’s New York Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

NYT • 3/24/14 • Mon • Pepper • 3 24 14 • solution

NYT • 3/24/14 • Mon • Pepper • 3 24 14 • solution

And they say the NYT puzzles aren’t edgy in their content! Well, this one has a hefty serving of DIRTY WORDS, on a week-starting Monday, no less.

  • 17a. [Not just well-off] FILTHY RICH.
  • 27a. [Low-class diners] GREASY SPOONS. Or as my father (who was an art director in advertising) invariably called them, Greeky spoons.
  • 44a. [Window material in many cathedrals] STAINED GLASS. Some people call DIRTY WORDS colorful language, you know.

And the proceedings are boxed up and wrapped with a bow via 60a: [Curses … or the starts of 17-, 27- and 44-Across?]

I for one hope this trend of fewer theme entries and stronger overall fill continues, especially for early-week puzzles.

Try to solve this one more quickly than usual and took to supply answers without looking at the clues. As a result, had to correct fill such as: 20a ARE TOO from ARETHA; 43d AS NEW from ASNER; 22d CAP’N from OATY; 52a SPLIT PEA from SWEET PEA. On the other hand, I put in all the theme answers correctly with less than half the letters in place—without reading the clues (except for 17a) or knowing the theme itself. Was probably a wash as far as speed of solve was concerned.

  • 21a [Where many digital files are now stored] THE CLOUD; 49d [Electronic storage medium] CD-ROM.
  • Other longish non-theme fill: SPLIT PEA, SHEEPDOG, USHERS IN. Nothing to knock your socks off, but solid.
  • German articles! 6d [German “the”] DER, which is masculine (see also 57a [Male or female] GENDER); the other options are DIE (fem.) und DAS (neut.). 55d [Mozart’s “__ kleine Nachtmusik”] EINE (which is feminine, by the way).
  • 43a [Pimply] ACNED. Not a nice looking thing, per se or logographically. Am thinking “trite” in a Cockney accent.
  • Surprisingly playful (and welcome) clue: 38a [Word after eye or makeup] EXAM. Similar but less so for 23a [“Curse you, __ Baron!”] RED, but it does wink at the theme.

Very solid, well-pitched Monday.

p.s. What would have made this a spectacular puzzle: actual curse words hidden wordsearch-style in the grid!

Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 3/24/14 • Mon • DuGuay-Carpenter • solution

LAT • 3/24/14 • Mon • DuGuay-Carpenter • solution

Let’s just list the theme answers first, then discuss the properties which link them.

  • 20a. [Original Ice Follies slapstick skating duo] FRICK AND FRACK. Nothing to do with natural gas exploration, obviously. Also, a nifty bit of trivia.
  • 28a. [Retaliatory equivalent] TIT FOR TAT. Doesn’t have to be aggressive or negative; reciprocal is a neutral way of describing it.
  • 39a. [Happy heartbeat sound] PITAPAT.
  • 48a. [Knickknacky stuff] BRIC-A-BRAC. From the French … ah … à bric et à brac, meaning “at random.” Also, “knickknacky”!
  • 58a. [Small, irregular amounts] DRIBS AND DRABS. I’d also stipulate that the frequency of the amounts’ appearances is irregular, but that would make for an unwieldy clue.

So, instinctively we can all appreciate what the theme consists of: words and phrases with a repetitive aspect, albeit with an alteration. Technically, what we’re dealing with is a form of reduplication. More specifically, it’s a reduplication involving apophony, called ablaut reduplication. (In case you’re wondering, ablaut and umlaut—both from German—are related terms.) Further, each of the words/phrases incorporates an interior syllable; this is called epenthesis. Even more specifically, it’s the epenthesis of a vowel, anaptyxis.

So, the theme is: words and phrases featuring ablaut reduplication and anaptyxis. Now you see why I didn’t lead off this write-up with that characterization. Also, I was hoping to phrase it in a more condensed way, but I couldn’t confirm an adjectival form of anaptyxis.

It’s a fun theme. However, the inclusion of a fifth, shorter themer in the center creates the need for a five-letter entry to span three of them. At 29-down there is IPANA, a brand of toothpaste that hasn’t been marketed in the United States in decades and which is, in ESSE (71d) hoary crosswordese with no place in a Monday crossword. My feeling is that TIT FOR TAT and BRIC-A-BRAC could have their places switched, and IPANA replaced with the significantly less recondite ABACI. Or simply drop the PITAPAT and go with an eminently respectable four theme answers.


  • Other evidence of ballast fill compromise includes relatively familiar stuff that is nevertheless inelegant for a crossword ostensibly geared to newer solvers: BESO, Thom MCAN (crossing ANN, incidentally), RARA, ESSE, ELIE, EXOD., PARA-, PRE-, ATRA. and perhaps ESTÉE Lauder. Oh, and ADAR, which is definitely not Monday-level.
  • 50d [Bloodhound or boxer]. Though it’s acceptable usage, I’m not a fan of CANINE as a noun synonymous with dog. In my book, that’s canid. Canine is fine for referring to the tooth between the last incisor and the first premolar. Unless you’re very familiar with the systematics and taxonomy of the family Canidae and are being quite specific, it’s better to avoid the use demonstrated in the clue. </philippic>
  • Appreciated longer fill such as ATM CARD stacked with ROCK STAR and—symmetrical to those—RAIN DATE with SCARLET.

A nicely themed cross-a-word that’s overextended itself with too many resultant concessions in fill. 

Updated Monday morning:

Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “An Addled Puzzle” – Dave Sullivan’s review

It’s not often I can guess what wordplay will be afoot in a puzzle just from the title, but today I did guess correctly, parsing “Addled” in the title as “Add-led”:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 03/24/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 03/24/14

  • [Perturbed putterer?] clued RANKLED AMATEUR – are you in the amateur or amature camp? Was it ever aperteur? Anyway, the “rank” has meaning 4b here, probably more from the strong smell sense than a position. Speaking of ranks-as-position, how are your NCAA brackets doing? Can’t be much worse than mine.
  • [Crushed clam?] was a TRAMPLED STEAMER – a tramp steamer contrasts with an ocean liner in that it has no set schedule.
  • The group The Foo Fighters gets the addled treatment with [Hoodwinked heavyweights?] or FOOLED FIGHTERShere’s a clip.

Lots of nice mid-length fill holds the theme entries in place: SNEEZED AT (did you have SNEERED as I did at first?), EMBRYONIC, STALAG and YO HO HO. I’m curious about the phrase I AM OZ; unlikely that’s in many constructor’s databases, but I like it in its quirkiness. Had to get into the Way Back Machine for [Setting for Burma-Shave rhymes] or ROADSIDE. The one pictured to the left dates back to 1950.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

BEQ 3 24 14 "Themeless Monday"

BEQ 3 24 14 “Themeless Monday”

Brendan constructed this puzzle with an eye towards seeing it in the NY Times, but apparently FRANK OCEAN (1a. [“Channel Orange” Grammy winner]) was deemed not broadly familiar enough for the puzzle. Now, he was famous first for coming out and being the first openly gay hip-hop artist, and then he went to the Grammys last year with a whopping six nominations to his name, won two Grammys, and performed on the award telecast. So he’s pretty famous.

Mind you, there’s also an oddball answer opposite FRANK OCEAN that stopped me cold. Where 62a. [Silver, e.g.] meets 57d. [“Big Moment. Be Sure” brand], I had to run the alphabet. Silver means not the metal but statistician Nate Silver, and I have not seen STATMASTER before. The brand at 57d is EPT, formerly called the Early Pregnancy Test. I would not have looked askance at FRANK OCEAN at all, but STATMASTER gives me pause.


Favorite clues: 33d. [Some cable channels?], ROPE LINES. Not cable TV.

Do not care for: 43d. [Some office equipment], IBM PCS. IBM sold its desktop/laptop hardware line to Lenovo in 2005. If your office is using computers that are 9+ years old, you have my condolences. Also: ATHROB, ATRA, OVER A.

Did not know: 32a. [Jazz saxophonist Krakowsky], ARNIE.

3.75 stars.

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17 Responses to Monday, March 24, 2014

  1. musicguy595 says:

    Three cheers for an enjoyable and stress-free Monday puzzle! I remembered YERTLE the Turtle as mERTLE, knew the m had to be wrong and settled with GREASeSPOONS crossing eERTLE (???) Whoops!

  2. Huda says:

    NYT: Loved it… easy, breezy, smooth and peppery.

  3. Avg Solvr says:

    Thanks for the WaPo link. Made me laugh. Everyone should read it.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I like the Weingarten piece because he’s pointing out how sorely overused the fill is, rather than just playing the insider game of using crosswordese words and expecting the reader to know them.

  4. Gareth says:

    LAT: Very nice theme, but broadly agree with Pannonica on the compromises. Had never heard of FRICKANDFRACK, but those are essentially triple-checked squares.

    NYT: Clever theme, and appreciated that it was limited to just four answers! Actually my fastest ever digital solve of crossword (as if anyone cares), I don’t know why, everything just clicked!

    • Bencoe says:

      This was also one of my fastest solves–if my index fingers hadn’t gotten so tangled up trying to peck into my iPad, I would have been well under two minutes.
      Maybe because the cluing was so on target?

  5. Gareth says:

    Bonus puzzle, a rejected themeless: Read the reason it was rejected before deciding if’n you want to solve or not.

    • ahimsa says:

      I enjoyed your puzzle, Gareth. Thanks for posting it.

      No trouble with 23 Across! And it made me smile.

      But 44 across was new to me. I got most of it, and almost finished the puzzle, but finally gave up with two letters unfilled.

      • ArtLvr says:

        Ditto, Gareth, many thanks for sharing your bonus puzzle! It was very tough, but I got all except two letters as well. I’m hoping you have a few more in store for us…

  6. placematfan says:

    I’m ambivalent about the blogospheric “Fewer themers, better fill!” call.

    Having four, five, six theme entries is a selling point that may sway an on-the-fence editor into acceptance. As a constructor, I find the Monday/Tuesday market baffling: the number of emails I’ve gotten telling me my theme was uninteresting or didn’t “excite” the editor has nearly squashed any desire I have to attempt making an early-week puzzle; and the differentia of puzzles I see published and mine that get rejected eludes me–but that’s okay, maybe it’s just not my thing. But when I do (and I wish I wouldn’t) target this market, my leeriness of the editor’s dreaded “meh” tempts me to stuff theme, an actually-sensible business tactic that could be the one thing that makes a meh a maybe. So I’m hesitant to throw away the themestuffer tool, especially because:

    I’m not convinced that the voice of Solvers Who Do Five Puzzles Daily (i.e., bloggers) is the same voice as that of Average Solvers, who do one a day or a few a week or whatever. And unless I’m wrong, the Average Solvers comprise the vast majority of the consumer base, especially in mainstream venues. And it seems reasonable to assume that an editor with any business savvy is going to concern him- or herself chiefly with maintaining/satisfying that largest group of solvers. And while the hoots and hollers at the vanguard of the War on Fill are easy enough to hear, do the ranks upon ranks of solver force echo the same “Fewer themers, better fill!” battle cry?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunch proponent of the War on Fill. I didn’t enlist, admittedly, but I found myself drafted: nowadays I can’t finish a grid without scanning the damn thing and wondering what entries are gonna show up on one of you blogger people’s list of crosswordese. But all told, I do dig that because it makes me a better constructor.

    The same is true of crosswords as is of fashion, that it’s, as Michael Kors so often tells us, where commerce meets art. Commercially, whether a solver will meh or marvel doesn’t mean anything if you can’t get the editor to accept the puzzle–hence the themestuffing.

    Of course, the real magic happens when you achieve a grid with a lot of theme and great fill. And that’s what you hope for every time you start placing theme entries in an empty grid; and that hope keeps you making puzzles, even when your publish envy of constructors who put out puzzles Monday after Monday after Monday tells you, “Think of a theme with letters outside the grid–that’ll sell.”… Wow, I’m apparently bitter. That old Producer’s song “What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got” is looping in my head. Anyway, I think it bears saying again: Bloggers/solvers, please know that the ESSes and ESSEs and ESSENs in a grid don’t automatically mean that the constructor was lazy or sucks at constructing or didn’t take into account your enjoyment of the puzzle; it’s very possible that he or she might have had to relegate the art of the grid secondary to the commerce of the grid and, say, add a themer that compromised the grid’s sparkle.

    Case in point: Would Rich have accepted the LAT today if it had had only four theme entries? Maybe said reduction, while allowing for a puzzle that would make a solver marvel, would have made the editor meh. IPANA may be the commercial sacrifice that allowed the art to live.

    • Ethan says:

      Great post. I consider myself neither a Fill Warrior nor a theme inflationist. I’ve made posts on this blog that argued that critics can be too picky about fill, but also posts that said that there’s nothing wrong with a simple theme with only three entries, as was common just ten years ago. Personally, I like variety. I like the idea that even knowing the day of the week, I can open the paper (or .puz file) and not know whether I’m getting a puzzle stuffed full of fantastic and novel theme, or a puzzle with a simple theme that has awesome, fresh non-thematic vocabulary, or a puzzle with a pretty grid with lot of open space, or what. I don’t really know that there is an average solver, frankly. Some “average solvers” don’t pay attention to theme, period. Some of them don’t care to see fresh, newly-minted slang or topical pop culture in the grid. Everyone is different.

    • joon says:

      placematfan, thanks for a thoughtful post that deserves a thoughtful reply. my take on it is that the goal, on any day of the week, should be to have a great puzzle. this applies to both constructors and editors, of course. “fewer theme answers” isn’t an end but a means, if it is concomitant with outstanding fill. obviously more theme + great fill is even better, but that isn’t always feasible (and less so by inexperienced constructors—and it seems to me that they are disproportionately represented early in the week. perhaps i’m wrong). i’m not an average solver, but when i was a beginning solver, i know that i was more annoyed by unfamiliar things crossing in a puzzle (and therefore leaving me unable to finish without either guessing or googling) than i was delighted by the presence of an extra theme answer. of course, for a true “wow” theme, i was (and i hope still am) able to make further allowances for the fill.

      for the record, if you switch the placement of those two themers in the LAT you get R_A_A, not A_A_I. that’s probably a bit better because you get REATA/RIATA, but it’s not necessarily an improvement. i happen to think this theme was a little tighter than pannonica gave it credit for, because it’s always i->a in the two halves.

  7. icdogg says:

    “STATMASTER” was actually my favorite entry in the BEQ puzzle. I think because it was so unexpected from the clue.

  8. Joan Macon says:

    I don’t know where I fit in all these descriptions. I do the LAT every day and the NYT from Monday to Friday. I do them in the newspaper, with the NYT five weeks later than the original publication, so I just finished Valentine’s day the other day. I do them in ink and I have to Google sometimes towards the end of the week for NYT. I actually saw Frick and Frack in my Sonja Henie days as a schoolgirl going to the Ice Capades. And I laughed my head off over both Weingarten and Balmain. Amy, keep up the good work!

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