Thursday, May 8, 2014

AV Club 7:06 (Amy) 
NYT 3:36 (Amy) 
LAT 4:39 (Gareth) 
BEQ 5:37 (Matt) 
CS 8:38 (Ade) 
Fireball 8:30 (Amy) 

Patrick Blindauer’s American Values Club crossword, “Subtleties”

AV Club crossword solution, 5 8 14 "Subtleties"

AV Club crossword solution, 5 8 14 “Subtleties”

The “subtleties” in this puzzle are that all the answers in the grid have incredibly subtle T’s: Each entry has had one or more T’s removed before it’s placed in the grid. The resulting entries are legitimate crossword fill. Not always great fill (OMB POU AXA ELE SAR RAI!) but not things that have never been seen.

The highlights are the longer words: BELL TOWERS becomes BELLOWERS; TEMPTRESSES are EMPRESSES; a DEDUCTIBLE is DEDUCIBLE; a SALTINE becomes SALINE; BASEMENT turns into BASEMEN; and SLEIGHT of hand (52d. [Handy maneuver?]) becomes SLEIGH.

It didn’t take me long at all to COON (9d. cotton) on to the gimmick, but it still took a while to work through the grid, sussing out the with-a-T-or-two words and getting everything to fit.

You know what? I’m not sure how some of these answers could be clued in their T-less form. POU is French for “louse” and it’s the name of some sort of app. And AXA, Googling didn’t help me much there. OMB = Office of Management and Budget, RAI = Aishwarya Rai’s last name … ELE is an extinction-level event (learned that one from some movie), and SAR … I don’t know. Cruciverb tells me it’s the Sons of the American Revolution or an abbreviation for Sardinia. I’m just glad that we didn’t have to contend with [Louse in Lyons] and [Mediterranean isl.].

Four stars. A nifty gimmick but the resulting fill isn’t particularly fun.

Matthew Lees’ New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 5 8 14, no. 0508

NY Times crossword solution, 5 8 14, no. 0508

Simple, fun theme here:

  • 3d. [Statement #1], NINE-DOWN IS FALSE.
  • 9d. [Statement #2], THREE-DOWN IS TRUE.
  • 34a. [What 3- and 9-Down are an example of], PARADOX. If 9d is false, then 3d must also be false, but if 3d is false, then 9d is true.

With just 37 theme squares, you would expect plenty of sparkle in the fill. We do have UNDERDOG, LOST SOUL, ZORRO, SO-AND-SO, and COWGIRL, but we also have two abbreviations (one plural) in the top row, a couple partials (UP IN, A DEAL), an ERN and a ROUE. The fill is decent but not “wow,” despite the inclusion of four “cheater” squares and not a lot of thematic material.

I’ve just learned that this theme was also done 9 years ago in the NYT, by David Liben-Nowell. PARADOXICAL PAIR supplemented 3d and 9d instead of the shorter PARADOX. (DLN teaches computer science at my alma mater, Carleton College. I Googled to see if he was still there and discovered that at the site academics all hate,, his students all rave about what a great teacher he is.

3.33 stars.

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “What’s In Your Wallet?”—Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 05.08.14: "What's In Your Wallet?"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 05.08.14: “What’s In Your Wallet?”

Hello once again everybody!

It’s time to wake up and make that money, right? Well, this puzzle by Randall J. Hartman is a nice reminder of what will fill up your leather wallet if you put in the time in the office – or with your own business that you might be running at home. The puzzle features four theme answers in which the first word of the answer is also the last name of a U.S. President who appears on American currency. Sorry, Benjamin Franklin! Thomas Jefferson can be overheard saying, “Can’t the $2 bill and its president get some love, too?”

  • LINCOLN, NEBRASKA: (17A: [Home of the Cornhuskers])
  • JACKSON POLLOCK: (28A: [20th century abstract impressionist])
  • WASHINGTON POST: (49A: [Employer of Woodward and Bernstein])
  • HAMILTON, ONTARIO: (64A: [Birthplace of Eugene Levy and Martin Short])

Although GRANT wasn’t an answer (or part of one), he did show up in the clue for GEN (48A: [Ulysses S. Grant or Robert E. Lee (abbr.)]).  The grid was a breeze once I was able to get Lincoln, Nebraska in a cinch and saw the title. Immediately filled in the other three answers immediately after competing 17A. Any time THE BLOB can be part of a grid to increase the fear factor of the grid, I’m all for it (45D: [1958 sci-fi movie remade in 1988]). And when The Blob consumed you, it was hard to BAIL out of its grasp (19D: [Eighth Amendment topic]). Never heard of a shot used as a measure for alcohol as a SNORT (47D: [Shot of liquor]). Snorting other drugs? Absolutely. A snort of liquor? Nope. Who knows how many pants I wore out at the KNEES in my lifetime (33D: [Places where pants are usually worn?]), but let’s just say that it was A LOT!.

A good number of crosswordese in the grid, with IRA, AHAS, ADA, and ONO. ONO (66D: Plastic ___ Band]) is rivaling Oreo in terms of the different number of ways to clue it in a puzzle. Even though it looks odd, really like it when SIDE B is an entry, especially when you’re able to reminisce about good music (71A: “God Only Knows,” to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”]), and in this case, that would be The Beach Boys.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: LEAP (13D: [Lambeau ____ (Green Bay Packer celebration])– Probably the most well-known touchdown celebration outside of the good, old-fashioned spike, the Lambeau Leap started in 1993 in Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers football team. The first leap is credited to former Packers safety Leroy Butler, who scored a defensive touchdown on a lateral after future Hall-of-Fame defensive end Reggie White picked up a fumble. Since then, the celebration caught on like wildfire, as almost every player wearing green and gold that scores a touchdown at home vaults into the first row on stands. Here’s visual evidence of Lambeau Leap numero uno.

Thank you so much for your time, and will see you all on Friday! And when Friday comes, hopefully you can jump into the waiting arms of kind strangers to celebrate!

Take care!


Jacob Stulberg’s Fireball crossword, “Same As It Ever Was”

Fireball crossword solution, 5 8 14 "Same As It Ever Was"

Fireball crossword solution, 5 8 14 “Same As It Ever Was”

You might think there’s a Talking Heads angle to the puzzle based on the title, but no. What it is is aphorisms where something is something:

  • 60a. [Pithy sayings (four well-known ones containing the circled word are the keys to unlocking this puzzle’s theme)], APHORISMS with IS circled.
  • 17a. [Complimentary window covering?], FREE BLIND. Love is blind, free love, swap in BLIND for “love.”
  • 24a. [“Memoirs of a Geisha” author Arthur’s farts and burps?], SOUNDS OF GOLDEN. Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” meets “silence is golden” by way of Arthur Golden.
  • 38a. [What the treasurer of the United States and the secretary of the Treasury supply?], MONEY SIGNATURES. Time is money. Time signatures are … something to do with music, yes?
  • 50a. [Trusting one’s horoscope?], BELIEVING STARS. Seeing is believing, seeing stars.

Now, these aphorisms don’t all have a parallel structure. The first two are “[noun] is [adjective]” while the other two are “[noun] is [other noun].” So the swappability isn’t the same in the first two. Saying “I am hungry” doesn’t mean that “hungry” can substitute for “I” in other sentences. “Hungry solved this crossword”? That only works with the noun swaps. “The Queen of All She Surveys solved this crossword.” It is vanishingly rare that I have a bone to pick with the way a theme is executed in a Fireball puzzle.

I got mired in a wrong answer that slowed down my finish. For 41d. [Charcoal seller], I had PET STORE, since I’m pretty sure we’ve bought charcoal for our old aquariums. It’s ART STORE, and that A finally allowed me to get MONEY SIGNATURES. Having —PTURES was in the way for so long. And then I had a DYNE instead of TORR for 43a. [Unit of pressure], based on what I thought was a final E and the likelihood of an initial D coming from the end of a 26d past tense answer. (Yes, I realize pressure ≠ force. Whatever.)

Three likes:

  • 5d. Stake a claim], CALL DIBS. Good fill.
  • 54d. Its first president took office in 2008], NEPAL. I like good trivia clues.
  • 7d, 13d. [Self-titled 1973 rock album] pulls double duty for RINGO and DYLAN. Nice find!

No idea why 63d. [Key, e.g.] is MAR. Oh, the verb key? As in “keying a car,” MARring the surface by scratching the paint with a key?

3.75 stars. The theme’s adjective/noun issue knocks it down a bit in my estimation.

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


Simple but amusing theme from Brendan today: form a cool-sounding phrase from two words that end in -EX. Like so:

18-A [Wing of a two-family house?] = DUPLEX ANNEX.

32-A [Book’s end matter that’s impossible to understand?] = COMPLEX INDEX.

41-A [Gag after having fajitas?] = TEX-MEX REFLEX. We get an extra EX in this one.

58-A [Liner for panties and boxers?] = UNISEX KOTEX.


***With nine X’s in the theme alone, this grid required some careful planning. Note the sweet symmetrically-placed XEROX and XANAX, each connecting two theme entries.

***Nice clues: [Sprint relay?] for TEXT and [Bolts together] for ELOPES.

***Your standard BEQ fill: NEXT UP, CAMARO, ROMCOM, BE A PAL, TOURISM, SCOOB, LES MIS, HOP ON and LLANERO. And so little to complain about in the fill. Compare this to yesterday’s NYT, which had SUER, ETUI, COHOE, EELER, E-MAG, and OCS. By comparison, the five worst entries in this puzzle are EIN, ANAT, STS, RES, and…I don’t even know what the fifth would be. A stark contrast.

3.75 stars from me.

David Poole’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140508

LA Times

This looks to me like another case of a clever theme concept that suffers because of stretching for too many answers: 5 answers and 67 squares. The theme concept is very tight and unusual – two-word names/phrases which should be alliterative, but aren’t because the second word starts with a silent letter! Each silent letter is different too! Four of the answers are very nice: [“Atonement” actress], KEIRAKNIGHTLEY, [Aviation pioneer], WILBURWRIGHT, [Dr. Phil, e.g.], POPPSYCHOLOGIST (the clue’s suggestion that Mr. Phil is a psychologist is tenuous though…), and [Kitschy lawn decorations], GARDENGNOMES.

The last one is a big sticking point for me though: [Captains of industry], CORPORATECZARS is not a phrase I’ve heard. It’s easy enough to envisage, as the meaning of czar as an industry kingpin is well-established. I’ve just never heard it paired with corporate. Google is similarly skeptical, and most of the hits that are returned are Indian… Where it gets sticky though – to ditch that answer, David would have to lose KEIRAKNIGHTLEY unless he had another 14-letter answer lined up. I don’t think this puzzle theme has a lot of potential answers. That said, I’d have greatly preferred this with only the middle 3! I recognize in myself the urge to cling to KEIRAKNIGHTLEY – a very nice entry, but the downside more than cancels it out.

For a dense theme, this is nicely filled in the main – the interest is always going to be directed at the theme with 67 squares, but the longer answers like SWEETPEA, ALTEREGO, CREOLE and RHYTHM are solid. INIGO Jones is someone whose less famous outside of the UK than perhaps he should be – I consider him a positive in the grid, even though many won’t know him! I learnt about him first from an Eddie Izzard skit where he is mentioned as a name that UK history teachers like to drop into lessons as a random fact? Something like that anyway… I looked him up and realised what a major architect he was! Architectural history is a lacuna in my knowledge (and a lot of people’s!)

There will always be compromises; this puzzle had relatively few, given its constraints, but there were a couple of biggies for me:

  • AMIR is a var. I’d fight like hell to avoid in a puzzle. It’d be pretty hard to excise where it is though!
  • Even a taxonomy nerd (though one nowhere near is extreme as Pannonica!) can’t love OTA, especially crossing OTRA – again dictated by the constrained grid.

Outside of the one very weak entry an enjoyable theme & puzzle – that entry’s a big negative for me though, so…
2 1/2 Stars

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40 Responses to Thursday, May 8, 2014

  1. Avg Solvr says:

    The NYT played like a Monday, and while it was only released about a half-hour ago I see 42 ratings for it.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Whoops! I replaced the dates from last Wednesday night’s codes with May 1 instead of May 7. Hopefully not too many people rated the puzzle before I fixed it one hour after the puzzle came out.

  2. Martin says:

    Amy, I know it’s your review and not mine, so please take my comments in the spirit of friendly debate…

    But, when a 15×15 daily has only two partials (and both of them familiar ones to boot), I’m seriously wondering if they’re worth singling out as flaws. Especially when a small number of partials (like two) are allowed in the NYT.

    I agree that too many partials in a puzzle tend to make for a not so hot solving experience, but a small number (say, one or two) in a 15 are fine my books. Especially when they can provide less experienced solvers with toeholds into a potentially tough puzzle.


    • Sarah says:

      It’s quite embarrassing to say, but I thought the 2005 version of this NYT theme was better. The fill and longest entries were of higher quality in the 2005 edition, with the fill being significantly better.

      Very sad.

    • john farmer says:

      Interesting discussion here and if I may, a few thoughts of my own. I do agree with Martin — to a point.

      First, my reaction when solving was something like, How cool is that! A simple theme — a PARADOX (the kind of thing I tend to enjoy) — and rather well executed, imo. I had no recollection of the 2005 puzzle, and the idea seemed quite fresh to me. (Dupes should be avoided, of course, but I imagine this, as sometimes happens, was inadvertent.) Anyway, I came away with a very positive feeling. I can’t imagine the low ratings here (so far, 7 of 10 are below 3, and 4 give it a 1) are for the quality of the puzzle but for the repeat of the theme.

      Like Martin, I didn’t find the partials to be big flaws detracting from the enjoyment of solving. I’m not a fan of partials and try to avoid them myself. But not every puzzle can have the sparkling fill you hope to see in the best themeless grids. For a moderately open 74-word puzzle with a very cool theme, one or two I can let slide. (To Sarah’s point about the fill in the earlier puzzle, that included IMETA, which to my eye is more objectionable than anything in today’s grid.)

      In regard to abbreviations, I don’t find anything bad about NCO. “Non-commissioned officer” is a mouthful, so it’s no surprise people tend to say “NCO” (or “non-com”) when speaking. CTRS, otoh, is not so good.

      Re ROUE: I’m not sure why it’s called out. I like the word, actually, and it has an interesting etymology, deriving from the medieval torture device called the wheel.

      So as I said, my first reaction was very positive. Putting my critical hat on, I can see a few things that would have been nice to do without. The question is, are those things (reasonably) necessary or (reasonably) fixable? Often, you don’t know unless you reconstruct the grid. In this case, eyeballing it, I can see CTRS could have been CTRL. That’s a change I would have made. The corner in the NW has a little more to it. You could sub WINE and IMAX for 1- and 2-Down, which would get rid of one partial. That’s probably what I’d have done, but I think you could debate whether that’s all for the good or needed. To get rid of ADEAL is a bigger effort, and I’ll pass.

      To sum up, I’d say the “flaws” were pretty minor — probably not an issue for most solvers (inc. many who do not visit here) — though mostly fixable. Overall, it was a really enjoyable solve for me (theme dupe, notwithstanding).

      • James says:

        I was one of those one-star reviewers, and I’d say I was at a 2.5 star rating until I found the puzzle was a duplicate theme. Solving it, it was a very thin theme, and the fill was weak when considering the small amount of theme, so it wasn’t a real enjoyable experience, and the theme wasn’t much more than “cute.” Then to find that the theme had been done before, with 2/3 the exact same theme answers, made me change my rating to 1-star. The constructor’s intentions aside, the editor takes as much responsibility for the finished product (in fact, his name is larger than the constructor’s on the Times printed page, which is a subject deserving of its own thread). It’s been mentioned here before that 1-star ratings should be reserved for those that should not be worthy of publication, which I believe is the case here: a theme repeat, and a less-than-stellar repeat of that theme. It really makes me wonder how the NYT can be considered the top game in town, if it has to resort to rerunning themes. You don’t see Fireball or AVC do that, ever, and though they’re only weekly compared to the NYT daily, Thursday usually is reserved for the most inventive theme of the week, and let’s face it – the NYT has been lagging in inventiveness in themes for quite some time now.

        • ِِEthan says:

          I think I’ve often heard it said from people who are in a position to know that Will is constantly running short of Thursday non-rebus puzzles. I wonder if this wasn’t originally slated for earlier in the week and then pressed into service as a Thursday. There’s nothing very tricky about it. As for the duplication issue, I don’t think it’s fair to expect novice constructors to have access to subscription-based databases. The editor should be responsible for avoiding duplication. I don’t mind duplication of, say, a dropped letter wordplay theme when the answers are mostly new. This was maybe a little more repetition than is ideal. Although, heck, I never would have known had it not been pointed out on this blog and The Other Guy’s blog.

          • (other) Ethan says:

            I hardly call the same theme nine years apart “duplication.” Sure, it’s the same but in nine years’ time? That’s approximately 3,285 puzzles in between. I had no recollection of the 2005 puzzle, and remember that lots of Times solvers weren’t solving the puzzle in 2005 (I’d hazard that most under-30 solvers and a decent chunk of the 30-40 demographic probably weren’t solving then). So as far as I’m concerned — big deal on the duplication. A clean, fun puzzle, maybe a tad easy for a Thursday.

            It’s been over 20 years now that Will’s been editing the NYT. So that’s north of 7K puzzles. If you don’t want ANY duplication in that time, you’ve got what I think are unreasonably high standards.

        • john farmer says:

          Hi, James. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It’s nice to get your thinking about the 1-star rating. As I suspected, the dupe theme was a factor.

          As I had said over at David Steinberg’s place recently, one purpose of crossword databases is to show what’s already been done so puzzle-makers can then find something else to do. That actually works pretty well with words and clues. With themes, it’s not always easy to detect if one has been done before or not. This is one theme that likely could have been found, but it appears no one looked. Always a good practice to check, but I suspect many (even most?) puzzles go through the mill without anyone searching for the theme. Most times, I’d guess, if it doesn’t feel familiar to (a) the constructor, (b) the editor, and (c) the team of test solvers, it has a chance of getting through. Not to make excuses for anyone — I agree, it should have been caught — but the earlier puzzle was more than 9 years and 3,000 puzzles ago at the Times. (Or, about 60 years worth of puzzles for a weekly.) I’m not entirely surprised no one remembered. Same for solvers, who for the most part know it’s a dupe only because they have read that on a blog.

          I made my points earlier about the fill yet I wouldn’t call it “weak,” and I thought the theme was simple but strong, not exactly “thin.” I also disagree that the Times is “lagging in inventiveness in themes.” Early-week themes may not be especially engaging for expert solvers, but later in the week I find the variety of themes at the Times to be excellent.

          Last point. I’m a big fan of PB2, one of the great inventive minds in the xword biz. His AVCX today is definitely an achievement. But compare the fill in that puzzle (Amy’s list could have gone on) and the fill in the Times. Different puzzles and all that, I realize, but if Pat’s 90-word puzzle had run in the Times, I suspect the reaction would be loud and not entirely kind. Right now, early, the ratings here are 4.13 to 2.15. A lot of it is subjective, of course, but I think one reason why the Times gets complaints in comparison to other puzzles is that people have different expectations and different standards.

  3. David Liben-Nowell is a friend of mine, who draws a good balance between his academic interests in computing methods and logic and his hobby constructing crosswords. I don’t know anything about Matthew Lees beyond what any of us could learn from his comments posted at But it’s certainly plausible that two bright individuals could independently come up with the same theme, and I can think of any number of other cases of such, e.g., my friend Michael Shteyman and the much admired Joel Fagliano both creating Sunday-sized pool table puzzles that Will Shortz published seven years apart. For the puzzle under discussion today, once a constructor hits on the paradox theme, NINEDOWNISFALSE and THREEDOWNISTRUE are practically forced, as are the seemingly inelegant cheater squares which are absolutely necessary to get the numbering right.

    • James says:

      A guy that really wants to write a book about whaling better be aware of something called “Moby Dick.” That’s all well and good, but when he duplicates two-thirds of the heart of the work at hand, it’s a bit off-putting. I’m not claiming the author did this on purpose, but nowadays I think you need to do your due diligence before submitting, and more importantly, editors need to recognize blatant duplicate themes like this. It could encourage new constructors to pore the archives and redo a theme from a decade ago, for the chance of prestige.

      • pannonica says:

        Are you seriously comparing a 15×15 daily crossword puzzle to a monumental masterpiece of literature?

    • placematfan says:

      George, that’s an interesting point. Those aren’t cheater squares; the theme necessitates them.

  4. Martin says:

    I agree with you James. However there is a difference: I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that Moby Dick is a widely known book, and the 2005 puzzle not so much. It’s not a good comparison IMO.

    For example, how many solvers would have been unaware of the theme dupe today if it hadn’t been pointed out (trumpeted?) in the blogs… furthermore how many of the bloggers and commenters here (and “the other” site) would also have not known, had it not been for the Crossword Info site indicating (in blue) that the themers were part of an earlier puzzle? I’m thinking, not that many. Including me who has been a hard-core solver (and constructor) for over 20 years.

    Now, was this dupe a good thing? No, IMO it’s unfortunate. But the general implication that many a solver’s day was ruined, I think is a bit much.

    – MAS

  5. Pamela Kelly says:

    Help! I just accidentally rated the AV puzzle 1.5 stars because it was on top where the NYT usually is. Can you fix that? I meant to give the NYT’s puzzle that rating! Haven’t even done AV yet!

    • Evad says:

      Sure, I can take care of it. I wonder if the other two low ratings for the AV are for the same reason?

      • pauer says:

        I’m going to pretend that they are, whether it’s true or not!

      • Pamela Kelly says:

        Thanks! My guess is that they are prob. for the same reason. This is actually the second time I’ve made this mistake when the Times isn’t on top. I will be more careful!

  6. Michael says:

    John’s comparison of NYT to AV is absurd, as it neglects an entire thematic level to PB’s puzzle that the NYT simply (very simply) doesn’t have. That said, *I* was one of the ones who gave PB’s AVC puzzle 1.5 stars. He is my good friend and a master puzzle constructor, but I found solving that puzzle completely unenjoyable. That said, it’s a helluva a lot more creative and ambitious than the NYT. Amy is probably unfair to single out the two partials in the NYT, but with so little theme material, she is Not wrong to single out the fill as a whole, which has virtually no standout answers and an overall level of quality that is at best average. Further, in 2014, your minimum due diligence is to run your themers through cruciverb’s database. Minimum. Why is so much ink spent here defending (to the tooth) the NYT when it has so manifestly run ashore on the ground of mediocrity? I get that people like and admire Will and are annoyed at carping bloggers etc etc, but standards for NYT *should* be higher … shouldn’t they? I mean, mine aren’t, as I now expect AVC, Fireball, etc., to kill every time out (hence my 1.5 rating of PB’s puzzle—those 5s are ridiculous, imho). But I think it’s fair to expect the self-professed Greatest to be the Greatest, at least much of the time. That hasn’t been true for a while, and on Thursdays we see that fact most clearly.


  7. Martin says:

    OK, have the standards of the NYT really gone down? Or are we going over the more recent ones with a supercritical eye that largely didn’t exist half a decade ago? Since Thursday puzzles have been brought up, how many mediocre (in your opinion) Thursday puzzles were published, say from 2003-06? Has the fill on average improved since, say ’06? Or have we become ever more critical over the recent years?

    As a constructor (of mainly themeless puzzles), I can confirm from personal experience that Will has become a lot more demanding when if comes to fill (and especially obscurity).

    Maybe some other constructors would like to chime in?


  8. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Of course we should have higher standards for the NYT. We are told that 75-100 submissions come in each week, and while some of those are terrible, unpublishable amateur efforts, there are many talented constructors whose get plenty of rejections from Will. For AV Club, one person is charged with making a puzzle for a given week. There are not 10 rejects for every 1 that makes it.

    I would be interested to hear a breakdown from Will on what a batch of submissions looks like. What percent of puzzles go in the “definite no” pile? (And do they all get told a reason why their puzzle isn’t suitable?) How many are in the “probably no” stack? How many are “definite yeses”? If the “definite yes” pile is less than 7-10% of the total (assuming 70-100 submissions per week), then Will has his work cut out for him in assessing the remainder of the possibles.

    And perhaps we would see more juicy puzzles from our favorite constructors if the NYT process were more congenial to creators. Up-front theme approval (instead of having to submit a completed, clued puzzle), emailed submissions of Crossword Compiler files (instead of printing the puzzle out in a weird format that the other publishers don’t ask for, and then snail-mailing it), and less chance of waiting two years for publication and a paycheck would probably go a long way toward encouraging the field’s best and brightest to be enthusiastic NYT submitters again.

    • Hawkins says:

      Almost every rejection letter that I’ve received from Will states that “the theme doesn’t excite him.” I can think of only one very early submission where Will pointed out flaws in a couple of the theme answers. L.A. Times rejection letters from Rich Norris provide specific analysis of why the theme or theme entry doesn’t work, and sometimes pointers for how it could be fixed.

      I don’t mind the snail mail submission process so much; I just wait until two or three of my puzzles pile up and send them together. But I think Rich Norris-style rejection letters would be appreciated, if time permitted, in order to cultivate better future submissions.

  9. CY Hollander says:

    I rated the NYT two stars, and I didn’t even know it was a duplicate theme. Honestly, I don’t think this theme was worth doing once, let alone twice. It’s based on one of the canonical examples of a paradox, a concept that is not new to most people and gains nothing from being put into a crossword. The theme affects only three answers in the crossword. The rest of the fill is bland and easy.

    There was no challenge, there was no excitement, and the “aha moment” was more of an “oh moment”. I expect more out of Thursday.

  10. ArtLvr says:

    Something’s wrong on the Quigley site? Puzzle appears & then disappears…

  11. David Liben-Nowell says:

    What a weird way to find yourself “in the blogs” — but perhaps the best thing to say is that I loved this theme 10 years ago and I still love it, and I’m always glad to see something a little mathematical/logical and mind-bending in the Times or wherever. And regarding the precise duplication: as George said, there’s really no choice in construction once you’ve decided on a pair of contradictory entries (… has to be DOWN; has to be [n+1 letters] IS TRUE and [n letters] IS FALSE; …).

    (Unrelated to any of that: thanks, Amy, for the kind words. And, everyone: after you’ve sent your best themes to the Times, or wherever you send your best themes, send your best 18-year-olds to Carleton. And when you drop them off in Northfield, drop me a line and we’ll have coffee.)

    — dln

  12. Clay says:

    I loved the ACV puzzle this week – I figured out that a letter was missing pretty quick, took me a while to determine it was always a T. amazing that it could have been a puzzle on its own – and due to the theme, I have no issues with the fill – I had so much fun just solving it – and I fell prey to some of the pretty (haha – had to have one t-less pun in the post) hard clues – primarily where more than one T was missing – VEERS from VEttERS, and the whole square with REtUNE was a challenge.

    5 stars from me – just from pure enjoyment, and an amazement at the effort that must have gone into creating the puzzle.

  13. bananarchy says:

    I don’t like the idea of holding the NYT to a higher standard than other publications. Different, sure, but not necessarily higher. The Times puzzle has a certain cachet and a long and significant history, but on what are we basing this claim that it should be the best? I can’t recall Will or the NYT ever professing that their puzzle was The Greatest, contrary to what Rex is claiming above.

    I think it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that we are a small but vocal minority of solvers. The NYT puzzle is published for the masses, which includes a lot of casual solvers. That’s the standard to which it should be held. To this end, criticisms about obscure or tough fill in early week puzzles are fair, imo. Poorly-designed early week NYT grids miss the mark because new or less experienced solvers will be put off and discouraged. By the same standards, though, I think most of the criticisms of this puzzle are unfair. There is simply nothing inherently problematic with this puzzle itself, if you ask me. The fill may not be jaw-dropping, but it’s fine; a few really nice entries, very few sub-par entries, nothing atrocious, and nice and open. Ignoring the dupe issue, the theme is also just fine. Sure, not as wacky as some might like for a Thursday, but it’s consistent, intelligent, and well executed. Most solvers aren’t going to remember or won’t have seen (and certainly won’t go searching databases for) a theme from nearly 10 years ago. The duplication issue simply not an issue if the enjoyment of the average solver is your metric. Overall maybe a little easy for a Thursday, but if that’s the only legitimate complaint about this puzzle then I fail to see a real problem here.

    • James says:

      Well, Shortz is on record saying, and I quote, “I think I am the best in the world at what I do.” (at the approx 7 minute mark of video doc titled “Double Happiness”, He’s good at a lot of things — crossword editing among them, verily — but being humble is not one of them.

      • bananarchy says:

        Yes, I do recall that now. I don’t think that invalidates my point whatsoever. Whether or not he’s the best in the world, I think Will knows his audience and is very good at keeping most solvers happy most of the time. That’s the best that an editor can do. I don’t think he loses any sleep over a few of us carping about a particular puzzle, nor should he; we’re but a small fraction of his audience, and any good editor would take that into account.

        I’ve noticed that there are a lot of comparisons being made to the Fireball and AV puzzles. I think both Peter Gordon and Ben Tausig are top-notch editors, and both have been wonderful to work with. I’m not going to weigh in on who I think the “best in the world” is. However, I think these comparisons are unfair in this discussion, since both of those editors have it a bit easier than WS in some ways. Shortz has to please a much larger and far more diverse group of solvers with the NYT puzzle than do the other two with their FB and AV puzzles respectively. The latter (especially the FB) are aimed at serious solvers only. Like many of you, I enjoy many of the FB and AV puzzles more than any given NYT, and they’re often arguably more clever and better constructed. However, I don’t think this is because Will’s doing a bad job. If anything, it’s because he’s doing a good job. I like very difficult and weird-as-hell puzzles, but the general public would be perplexed by them.

  14. Bencoe says:

    It’s true that people often say the Times is “the self-proclaimed greatest” or “the self-proclaimed gold standard”, and I have yet to see the Times proclaim these things about itself.
    To Martin’s points above: I have done many of the Times puzzles from ten years or so ago within the last two years, as I was out of the country then and not keeping up. The fill is invariably worse in those puzzles, and the solving experience seems stilted in comparison with the smooth solving experience of most present-day puzzles. So I can testify that the Times has definitely kept improving. People are far more critical of crossword puzzles now, and the indie puzzles have raised the bar as well.

  15. Bencoe says:

    Hamilton wasn’t a president either.

  16. James says:

    This brings up a good idea for the NYT: just print reruns unabashedly. For today, just run the Liben-Nowell puzzle from ’05. You wouldn’t have to pay the constructor again (which falls in line with the current policy of paying constructors peanuts), and apparently no one will notice or care that it ran years ago. Hey, I still get a kick of out old M*A*S*H re-runs.

    Seriously, I’m thinking of going back in the NYT archive and taking an old theme and plugging new fill and submitting it. I’ll just claim ignorance, and rely on the fact that there’s plenty of Shortz apologists willing and able to defend him on anything. Just for fun, I’ll be sure to insert some drecky fill and clue ATONAL as “Lacking harmony.” We know that Shortz is hard up for non-rebus Thursdays, so that’s a good place to look. 20o4 was a decent year, let’s see what some of those Thursdays look like…

    • Martin says:


      As long as this is going into its second day, I disagree that “Lacking harmony” is a PGA-level blunder. It’s not my favorite way to clue ATONAL, and I’ve discussed it with Will in the past, but it’s not without some basis. Rather than get into discussions of diatonic vs. chromatic harmony, a clue can make reasonable edits to a complex topic.

      The Encylopedia Britanica defines “atonality” as the absence of functional harmony as a primary structural element. This is coming at the problem from the perspective of goal, not tactics, and strikes me as a reasonable place to start the discussion. It’s a complicated topic but I don’t think Will’s clue is as ignorant as is now accepted here.

  17. pauer says:

    Thanks for all the nice comments on my latest word-baby. She may not be the prettiest one I’ve ever made, but she was one of the more difficult to make (I don’t go over 78 words lightly, you know).

    I was more concerned about the quality of the clued answers, but here’s what I had in mind for the unclued ones Amy singled out:
    RAI [Thor Heyerdahl craft]
    ELE [Spanish letter after ka]

  18. placematfan says:

    I watched a YouTube video wherein two guys, one on guitar and one on keyboards, played and sang the first verse of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’; they then proceeded to play, without changing the chords or basic rhythm pattern, twenty or so other songs, one after the other, and every new set of lyrics fit that one melodic schematic. So the video’s contention was that many newer artists have ripped off Journey. That may be true in some cases, because, you know, artists steal and all that, but nonetheless statistics demands that the mushrooming number of new musicians working with the static number of musical tones is going to result in someone somewhere getting duped, more and more often.

    There’s more constructors every year. More venues. One day there’s gonna be a YouTube video with someone showing how the same crossword theme was published two dozen times, and five of those times the dupe was in the same venue.

    I think it’s cool that theme duplication causes such a stir on the blogs; I love that puzzle people vocally protect the integrity of the art. … But a very pertinent question is: How often does a theme get duped within a venue and no one notices? And unless you’ve actually done the research, I don’t think you can make the claim that a younger venue has never duplicated a theme.

    And there’s echelons to theme duping. Today’s NYT, with nearly four-fifth’s duplication, is pretty severe.

    Gimme another five years, and I’m gonna start the Your Theme’s Been Done Before project. Let me amass all the data I can, and have it easily accessible, and, five years from now, I’ll match the highest-paying 21×21 venue’s fee if you can send me a theme that has never been done before, anywhere.

    I think that there should be a new prerequisite for a crossword blogger’s license: before you can legally blog (or post a comment on) a puzzle you must first research ten theme ideas and answer the following for each one: When has this theme appeared before? Where has this theme appeared before? (And because you’re an integrous constructor, you really don’t want to dupe a theme across venues–so you have to be very thorough about researching every existing venue, for as long as it has existed.) Now you have to find the when and where of similar themes; yup; and this isn’t only a matter of integrity but business–within a venue your puzzle will likely be rejected if your editor feels it’s too similar to one recently published (and for each venue, “recently” is different; good luck).

    Theme history is sometimes very easy to ascertain, but sometimes it’s just not. And the lengths to which one goes to accomplish this research differs from constructor to constructor. I can readily imagine some longtime solver on a whim making a puzzle and sending it to an editor, without having deeply researched its theme history; in the end, if that puzzle meets all the standards of that venue and the editor accepts it, then that new constructor will get paid a little and will have a puzzle out there that people are solving; and if that puzzle duplicates a theme, appellations like “unethical constructor” or “lazy researcher” can be shortsighted.

    Some time back, there was somewhat of an ado about a published themeless that duped the crossing of POPS THE QUESTION and LOVE CONQUERS ALL. I found among my own pile of unfinished themelesses a grid that had that crossing. My grid had innocently begun with my playing with the Compiler software to see what 15-letter entries crossed at a Q. Now, if I’d’ve, against the odds, finished making that puzzle and, more against the odds, got an editor to accept it, and then a blogger called me something like “unethical constructor” or “lazy researcher”, I’d be nigh inclined to post a rant on Fiend that included remarks like “My theme-researching methods aren’t the same as other constructors” and “My theme-researching resources aren’t the same, either” and “The editor accepted my puzzle, I got paid a little, and there’s people out there solving my puzzle”–though that last remark there would likely be edited out as I realized 1) it’s just one of those mantras you tell yourself when your puzzle gets panned, and 2) it would be too tempting to add a “so suck it“ to it. And here’s an important question: If my research revealed that the NYT had published a puzzle with that crossing, would it be unethical for me to submit it to the LAT? (Personally, I think, “Maybe”; but if I’d already finished the grid, who knows.)

    This topic will only get hotter and hotter, because statistics. I support the crossword community’s message to constructors that trolling databases for theme ideas is cheesy, and, collectively, we are trying to forestall the allowance of cheesiness in our art form as long and as much as possible. But not every published theme dupe is automatically an instance of lazy research or ethical shortcoming. I think it fascinating that, above, the constructor whose theme was duplicated was in no way upset or offended, while the owner of what is probably the loudest voice in crossword criticism claimed it sin. Right or wrong, good or bad, I’m glad there’s people out there calling constructors and editors out: it protects the craft.

  19. JFC says:

    Amy, Congratulations! Today’s discourse on your Blog is beyond wonderful. It’s head-spinning. Are you enjoying the sunny 85 degree day?

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