Wednesday, September 3, 2014

AV Club 59 minutes (Amy) 
NYT 4:19 (Amy) 
Blindauer untimed (Matt) 
LAT 5:05 (Gareth) 
CS 13:18 (Ade) 

Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 9 3 14, no. 0903

NY Times crossword solution, 9 3 14, no. 0903

Great theme, all about the potty:

  • 17a. [Metaphorical mess], CAN OF WORMS. Gotta go to the can.
  • 23a. [Monarch’s advisers], PRIVY COUNCIL. Entirely unfamiliar phrase, but “privy” is one of those quaint synonyms for “toilet” I wish we heard more.
  • 38a. [“St. Louis Blues” composer], W.C. HANDY. British term. Not a broadly famous musician, I don’t think—he has vexed people the previous times we’ve seen him in the puzzle.
  • 49a. [Only president to win a Pulitzer], JOHN F. KENNEDY.
  • 59a. [Race advantages … or a hint to 17-, 23-, 38- and 49-Across], HEAD STARTS. HEAD also doubles as a “toilet” synonym.

PAYDAYS, ISAAC STERN, MAGENTA, EAST SIDE, and KAZAKHSTAN are all zippy fill. I also like LANTANA (42d. [Showy flower]), because that’s is one gorgeous flower. A single flower head can have two or three entirely different colors, arranged in concentric rings.

Much of the time I was working this puzzle, though, I was frowning. OCULO, partials AS AN and FOR A, OCTA, ITALO, SRTA, SOYA, EVAC, PENH, OARED, IROC, NEAPS, SDS, TROI? The inclusion of over 20 proper nouns will slay many a solver.

Three more things:

  • 9d. [Mobster’s gun], ROSCOE. Rather dated slang.
  • 26a. [1960s TV show featuring the cross-eyed lion Clarence], DAKTARI. Barely have heard of it, never saw it.
  • 25d. [French spa locale], VICHY. Fact! The town’s inhabitants are the Vichyssois. Fact two! The seat of government for Vichy France, the Nazi collaborators.

4 stars for the theme, 2.5 for the fill.

Patrick Blindauer’s September website puzzle, “Initial Public Offering”—Matt’s review


[Get the puzzle here if you haven’t solved it yet; click on “Play” and then “Free Monthly Puzzle”]

I’m a little pressed for time this month, so was glad when September’s Blindauer revealed itself to be straightforward instead of brain-crushing (though a Blindauer brain crusher is an elegant thing to behold).

Patrick takes three-letter, all-consonant initialisms, then fleshes them out with vowels to make a full word. Put those two together in a nonsense phrase, and hilarity must ensue:

  • 17-A [No-nos on a Time Warner channel?] = TBS TABOOS.
  • 21-A [Beverage for a Civil Rights leader?] = MLK MILK.
  • 29-A [Prank performed by an EMT?] = CPR CAPER. About the last person you’d want to get pranked by.
  • 40-A [Young Mormon men?] = LDS LADS. We’ve got two of these living in the apartment below us, on their mission. One’s from Nevada and one’s from Utah. Staunton’s a nice town, but we know a Mormon guy who got to do his two years all over Italy. I’d convert for that.
  • 43-A [Powder for pampering?] = TLC TALC.
  • 51-A [One who scrounges in a dumpster for a TiVo?] = DVR DIVER.
  • 60-A [Area of the country where certain sandwiches are made?] = BLT BELT.
  • 64-A [Goal of a VH1 rival?] = MTV MOTIVE.

So that’s amusing and, to my knowledge, original. And yes, since it’s a Blindauer I double-checked that the added vowels don’t spell out a secret message when popped into a ROT-13 decoder, cut in half and repasted at 90-degree angles, or baked into a lasagna and then defrosted. He’s allowed to make a crossword once in a while without a dozen layers of crazy to it.


*** 16-A [“Raiders of the Lost 27-Down” producer] is five letters, and you probably guessed that 27-D is ARK. Did George LUCAS produce that? I couldn’t come up with the name, but got a nostalgic grin when ATARI emerged as the answer. I don’t want to know how many hours I spent on that one game as a kid.

*** 54-A [Arsenic sulfide, to a chemist] = AsS. Now there’s an original clue. Another one is SST at 32-D; not sure when the last time I smiled at an SST clue was, but this one did the trick: [Former flyer I recently said it’s hard to come up with an original clue for].

*** I’ll ding the Missouri Magician (just made that nickname up) .10 for a dupe: MTV MOTIVE is too close to TVS (31-A) for comfort. “Even Homer nods.”

*** Great to see YANKOVIC in the grid at 8-D [He had his first #1 hit almost 30 years into his career]. Usually we just get EAT IT.

Minor but entertaining theme, fill only slightly ragged in places even with the many theme entries, and TLC given to each clue, even the words you’ve seen 100 times in puzzles. 4.20 stars.

Patrick Blindauer’s American Values Club crossword, “Bi-Curious”

AV Club crossword solution, 9 3 14 "Bi-Curious" by Patrick Blindauer

AV Club crossword solution, 9 3 14 “Bi-Curious” by Patrick Blindauer

Well! Matt wondered why Patrick’s monthly puzzle (review above) lacked a byzantine angle. Apparently it’s because he went the full monty on his AV Club crossword.

In this variety puzzle, no answer is allotted more than 6 squares in the grid, but the clue enumerations tell us answers can be as long as, say, A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS. The instructions at the top say “In this grid, you will only enter two different characters, which represent a certain code.” As I went through the clue list, jotting down my answers in the margin, I noticed that the answers all had O’s in them.

The theme revealer clue, 91a: [Computer character set (5) … and what the grid can be converted to for a final message (reading row-by-row and using 8-character chunks)] led me to ASCII, which involves a binary code using zeroes and ones. The 0 looks like an O … and ASCII’s grid space had room for two characters, the II that (sans serif) can pass for 11. So I filled in just the O’s and I’s in each answer, working back and forth as needed between Acrosses and Downs to clear discrepancies and fill unknown spots.

Then I began to crack the binary code. The chart in Wikipedia’s ASCII article proved useless, as it had 7-digit codes for the characters. Say what?? I Googled my way to a better resource with the 8-digit codes I needed, and set to work decoding. The first three letters were SHA (really lowercase letters, per the distinct binary codes), leading me to suspect that the “two bits” of binary were taking us to “shave and a haircut, two bits.” And indeed, that is the secret message, complete with the 0010 0000 code for each space between words.

Well done, Patrick! This was at first infuriatingly opaque and then as it began to yield, I had a good time working through it. I hadn’t checked the Down crossings for the chunks of grid I’d filled in completely via the Acrosses, but luckily the binary code provided another layer of checking, and when a code was implausible, I corrected my fill via the Downs (I had relIgIOn instead of pOlItIcs for the [Contentious topic among friends, perhaps]).

No idea what 69d: [Common solvent substance (9,7)] is. IOOOO? Oh! IsOprOpyl alcOhOl?

I knew what the hidden answer phrase was going to be, so I didn’t really need to break out all the 8-digit chunks once shave_ was out there. That may have taken up 10 minutes of my solving time.

Interesting and clear clues, a wealth of interesting answer phrases, a brilliant concept for a variety puzzle, and an entirely apt hidden message. Five stars! A very rare rating from me.

Ned White’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140903

LA Times 140903

This puzzle has an obvious and well-worn theme choice: PRNDL gives you a complete five word set to build from. It hasn’t been done in a couple of years though, and the theme set itself is well-chosen:

  • [Canadian natural resource manager], PARKWARDEN. The American term is forest ranger? Here we use game ranger.
  • [Dramatic backwards hoops move], REVERSEDUNK
  • [Photon, e.g.], NEUTRALPARTICLE
  • [Push one’s buttons, and then some], DRIVEINSANE
  • [Like many diets], LOWCALORIE

Other bits:

  • Biggest pothole in the puzzle – [Nevada county or its seat], ELKO. Four letters + Nevada = RENO, right? And then after confirmation with the O it’s lodged in there good!
  • Weirdest clue – [Sweet tweet], ILUVU. Is that tweet as in twitter message? I can’t see anyone actually tweeting this, but I’m not on Twitter so I’m not a hundred percent sure.
  • On the other hand, I liked the simple clueing angle for [Party amenity], FAVOR.
  • [“Carmina Burana” composer], ORFF is not to be confused with the viral (zoonotic) skin disease of sheep and goats, which has one F.
  • [Photographer Pattie who was married to George Harrison and Eric Clapton], BOYD inspired a lot of great music.

 3 Stars

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “ICKthyology”—Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 09.03.14: "ICKthyology"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 09.03.14: “ICKthyology”

Good morning everybody! I hope your hump day ends up going very well today.

While most times, I wake up to the breeze that enters my room from the window that I leave open most of the time, today was a day where I woke up smelling fish…kind of. Today’s puzzle, brought to us by Ms. Donna S. Levin, has a little fun with fish, as we have to figure out what the riddle is in the grid, as well as its answer. I’m more than fine with this particular riddle since, as I said before, I’m not a fish eater by any means…especially the kind of “fish” mentioned in this one!

  • WHY DON’T YOU FIND CLOWN FISH ON A SUSHI BAR MENU: ([20A: With 31- and 42-Across, an ichthyological question])
  • THEY TASTE FUNNY: ([56A: Answer to the ichthyological question at 20-, 31-, and 42-Across])

Had a tougher than usual time in getting started, and highlighting that was getting hung up longer than I should have on BRAVO (15A: [TV home of the “Real Housewives” franchise]).  For some reason, I thought it was a home in terms of a city, and, after I had correctly put down HAS TO in the intersecting entry (7D: [Must]), I put in Miami instead of Bravo.  As you can tell, I’m not into the whole “Real Housewives” deal.  There’s a good chance that you’ll see BORAT on television again, now that the show in which the character made its debut is currently airing on FXX (61A: [Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh persona]). If everything goes to plan, I’ll be in New Orleans just after Thanksgiving, and that will give me a chance to possibly see that statue of AL HIRT (46D: [Jazz trumpet legend with a statue in New Orleans’s French Quarter]).  I know he passed not too long after I made my one and only trip to New Orleans back in February of 2002, but I’m not sure if the statue of him was already erected.  Favorite entry of the day for me was CHEWABLE, though I’ve never had a Flintstone Kids tablet in my life despite seeing the advertisements on television a million times (2D: [Like a vitamin in the shape of Wilma Flintstone]).

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: MAO (23A: [Former world leader with a suit style named for him]) – Japanese figure skater MAO Asada recently set the world record for the highest score in a short program when she tallied a 78.66 score at the World Figure Skating Championships this past March in Saitama, Japan. Mao is a three-time world champion (2008, 2010, 2014) and also won the silver medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, though she did finish only sixth at the Sochi Games earlier this year.

Thank you so much for your time! See you on Thursday!

Take care!


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25 Responses to Wednesday, September 3, 2014

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    The book JFK won the Pulitzer for was ghostwritten. Fun fact.

  2. Gareth says:

    Lantana may be gorgeous, but it’s highly invasive and toxic to cattle! Love the British subtheme of PRIVY and WC. Just need loo and karzie to top it off!

    One of the biggest mysteries in crosswords for me, is why EDEMA is typically clued wrt botany. It’s surely much more familiar to most in terms of their own bodies? It’s a general pathophysiological mechanism, and although it does occur in scary illnesses like congestive heart failure, it is part and parcel of, for example, any inflammation…

    • Huda says:

      Exactly… re Edema
      (writing this from the EAST SIDE)

      PS. Natick at DAKTARI/IROC intersection

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        I’m now contemplating making a theme in which a pair of words are identical save for the second letter. EDEMA ENEMA will be the cornerstone of this theme.

    • Martin says:

      Lantana has a very poor reputation in Australia as well as RSA. The Australian murder mystery “Lantana” uses the weed (in which the body is found) as a metaphor for messy webs.

      It’s not very invasive in the Americas. Even here in California, the creeping forms can spread enough to make a generous ground cover, but are easy to restrain with yearly pruning. Most of the more dramatic varieties, like the orange-red “Radiation” that appears in many of Amy’s pictures, are shrubs that spread fairly slowly here. Butterflies love lantana, which is a nice extra.

      Their weediness in Australia and Africa is another example of what can happen when species are introduced without care.

  3. pauer says:

    Thanks for the write-up, Matt. Good catch on TVS, and thanks to the magic of e-publishing it is now fixed. :) I had a few options, but avoided adding another initialism (like I did with the rest of the puz).

  4. pannonica says:

    Blindauer: “54-A [Arsenic sulfide, to a chemist] = AsS. Now there’s an original clue. Another one is SST at 32-D; not sure when the last time I smiled at an SST clue was, but this one did the trick: [Former flyer I recently said it’s hard to come up with an original clue for].”

    Add to those two 62d [Anagram of a canned meat product] for AMPS.

    addendum: Also, what does arsenic sulfide smell like?

  5. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Okay, I gotta know: Within moments of my AVX review being posted, someone gave it 1 star. Did they mean to give it a perfect 5-star rating, or were they so stymied by the puzzle that they lashed out to punish it?

    • Brucenm says:

      Twasn’t me. (feeling unnecessarily defensive). I knew the expression “ASCII Code”, but I had already started entering + and – signs, though of course I also know 1 and 0 as binary notation. So I don’t know why I went with my symbols. It was easy enough to fill them in, but I lost interest in trying to figure out what was going on, so I abandoned it and decided not to enter any rating at all. I agree, it’s pretty neat.

    • Francis says:

      Though I often find someone’s choice to give a 1-star vote to a puzzle inexplicable, in this case … well, I didn’t care for this at all, personally. Got the gimmick, found it a grind to solve, thought the extreme lack of answer cross-checking was very inelegant. Good punchline, but I wished it had been used in a less laborious way. Sorry, Patrick! You still rock, most of the time. (I am glad other people liked it more than me, though.)

      • Francis says:

        (P.S., I don’t mean to say that I can’t imagine why people would like this puzzle, or anything like that. I was mostly intending to rebut the idea that the only reason someone might not like it is because they were stumped by it.)

  6. Michael says:

    Re: the Blindauer AV puzzle: I agree that it’s stunning. Jaw-dropping. And the aha moment (when you figure out how the grid’s supposed to be filled in) is priceless. That said, I couldn’t hope to fill in parts of this grid using clues alone w/o google. After some initial hacking around up top, using the answers I could get, I just started in on figuring out the code, and after the first four letters I knew the whole message (very clever, by the way). I feel like my inability to fill the grid w/o using outside resources, coupled with my ability to jump to end w/o even having to encounter majority of clues/answers, meant the solve was oddly disappointing … which is not the right word, given how intricate and beautiful the whole thing is.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I did Google Arthur Ashe’s birthplace, “Into the Woods” characters, Irving Berlin holiday songs, [“Love It or List It” skill] (still don’t know what that one is—InterIOr renOvatIOn fits but doesn’t sound like a “thing”), and [Time before hatching] (which I should’ve figured out myself). I haven’t figured out all the Downs where the Acrosses were easy enough … and that’s okay.

  7. john farmer says:

    My two cents (not even two bits) on the AVCX: madness!

    Take that in a good way, and also a not-so-good way.

    I caught onto the ASCII angle and could see where things were going, but at some point I abandoned the effort. Had to turn off the enigma machine, other things to do. It took a long time to see that PROHIBITION was reduced to OIIIO in the grid. At least in that case all vowels were used. But something like the 3,4,4,3,7,4 ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST seemed like a long way to go to put OOOO in the grid. A lot of chaff there, and when you’re ignoring 24 letters of the alphabet, checking crossings ain’t so easy. Not for me, anyway. I’m glad others could persevere to the end.

    I realize we can all google up an ASCII chart but personally I find it more satisfying to solve puzzles (inc. bonus messages, metas, etc.) without needing external resources.

    The puzzle reminded me of the Morse code crossword in the Sun some years ago, without a single black square in the grid. Though in that case, IIRC, the code translations were included with the puzzle.

    Anyway, kudos to Pat the madman for a devious and ingenious piece of work.

  8. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I looked at the AV Club puzzle with great puzzlement, saw that the character set called for in 91 A was going to have to be ASCII, and immediately knew I wouldn’t know enough to solve the thing.

    But, as sometimes happens with Matt Gaffney’s metas, I had also already latched onto the (unlikely?) fact that 1 A and 1 D, as fully written words, would start with PRO and CON respectively! A lovely dead end!

    Someday I may try to fill in the grid just to see if I can do it.

  9. jefe says:

    ASCII oversimplified: A byte is eight bits.
    If it begins 010, it’s uppercase.
    If it begins 011, it’s lowercase.
    (They all start with 0, so they’re truncated in the Wikipedia article)
    The last 5 digits are the 16|8|4|2|1’s places. Add the values and index it to the alphabet.
    e.g. 10011 is 16+2+1 = 19, and S is the 19th letter.
    So 01010011 is S, and 01110011 is s.
    00100000 is space, and I’ll leave punctuation and other symbols as an exercise to the reader.
    (Next month: How to read QR codes without a mobile device)

  10. Andrew says:

    AVX: I love the envelope pushing, but like Francis didn’t like the experience too much.No clue how to decode ASCII, which I figured early on was the gimmick, which meant that I could only figure out the message by googling. To me, that’s a let down. What I did love was the opportunity to solve clues for 30 letter entries and such. If I were to give a rating, I’d say 3 is about right…hat tip to the concept and the execution, but lacking in that standalone quality that John mentions above.

  11. pauer says:

    As I suspected, my AVXW puz was one that people either loved or hated. It probably would’ve been more at home as part of a Mystery Hunt, but I thank everybody for giving it a go and for expressing their opinions. If it wasn’t your cup o’ tea, maybe you’ll like my NYT next Thursday better. :)

    • Francis says:

      Oh god, no one should have to win a Mystery Hunt just to use a puzzle idea. I take it all back.

    • Jason T says:

      I, on the other hand, loved it – brilliantly original, ingeniously constructed, a wonderful payoff – and hey, you have to love any puzzle that includes “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!” as an answer. Thanks for pushing the envelope!

      • pauer says:

        Thanks, Jason. I’m getting fan mail/tweets about it today, too, which feels good. One solver got stuck on 6D which I had to figure out for myself since Ben not only changed the clue–he changed the entry, as well!

    • john farmer says:

      A lot more on the love side, based on comments and ratings here.

      I would much much much rather see something like your AVCX puzzle than the great majority of crossword that are variations of themes done before.

      Even though the puzzle bested me, I very much admire the creativity behind it. Please keep them coming. Thanks.

  12. Dan Katz says:

    Count me among the people who though the idea of the AV puzzle was lovely, but in practice it was a bit clunky. My friends Tom and Sarah wrote a lovely similar puzzle for BAPHL 9 (, but a key difference was that in that puzzle, ALL of the vowels in the answers were 1 and 0, so it didn’t feel like you were throwing away so much content when filling in the grid.

    On the other hand, that puzzle didn’t result in the entire grid yielding a message. Having 100% of the squares of the grid be thematic is really saying something.

    On the other other hand, much like Amy, I got the message after a few letters… but due to my puzzlehunter nature, I looked before the grid was filled, which meant I essentially knew the content of the entire grid after that a-ha. Which made solving the rest of the clues feel tedious. (I guess no one was holding me at gunpoint to do so.)

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