Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NYT 2:57 (joon—paper) 
AV Club 7:58 (Matt)  
LAT 3:54 (Gareth) 
CS 11:58 (Ade) 

Andy Kravis’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 9 24 14, no 0924

NY Times crossword solution, 9 24 14, no 0924

hello friends, joon here with the review of the NYT puzzle. i’m filling in for amy, who’s indisposed this evening. get well soon, amy!

anyway, the puzzle is by somebody named andy kravis. i don’t recognize the name. has he constructed before? hmm, googling seems to turn up a frightfully clever sunday NYT with victor barocas from last fall, a self-published weekly indie crossword, a $2.6 million game show payday, a 13th-place finish at ACPT this year, and … hey! he blogs the saturday LAT every week here at crossword fiend. i’m starting to get a little surprised that i’ve never heard of this guy before.

all right, all right—kidding aside, i’m honored to be blogging andy’s puzzle because he is one of my favorite people on the planet. let’s see what’s in the puzzle, shall we? andy’s theme is movie titles in which a letter has been replaced by X, with wacky results:

  • {Film about a Communist invasion? (1996)} is MARX ATTACKS!, from MARS ATTACKS!.
  • {Film about the woman most likely to catch men’s attention? (2001)} is A BEAUTIFUL MINX (best picture winner A BEAUTIFUL MIND).
  • {Film about an elegantly made crossword? (2009)} is THE LOVELY BOXES. ha! (THE LOVELY BONES, which i actually didn’t know was a movie but it was a best-selling book from a few years before)
  • {Film about a romantic dentist’s daily routine? (2010)} is EAT X-RAY LOVE (EAT PRAY LOVE).

so those were all fairly amusing. if this were a meta, i’d be looking at which letters got subbed out for X’s, but it seems to be SDNP which doesn’t spell anything. as it is, it’s “just” a nice and snappy mid-week crossword. the theme could have been tighter—there would be something more elegant about Xing out the same letter every time, or a sequence of letters that spelled out something relevant with a snappy reveal. but none of this bothered me while i was solving.

scrabbliness abounds: in addition to the four theme X’s, we’ve got a couple Z’s and what seems like an unusual agglomeration of W’s and V’s. that said, i don’t see any awkward fill compromises made to work these in, so it all holds together rather well. the one section of the grid where the fill looks a little strained is the top middle, where partial ON A abuts unlovely abbr RECT. but everything else looks awfully clean. i liked PLAYBOY, WET CELL, BETTE DAVIS, and MAKE SURE quite a bit, plural proper name BRANDTS rather less. but andy says he made this puzzle two and a half years ago, which is 0.1 lifetimes ago if you are andy’s age. if you take a look at his blog, you’ll see more polish on the stuff he is putting out now. incidentally, this week he’s got a terribly nifty contest metapuzzle going on right now. you have 66 more hours to enter, so get cracking!

clues that caught my eye:

  • {Bellini opera} NORMA. andy is a trivia champ, yes, but he especially knows his fine arts—see also the interesting clues for {The statue “David” on open-air display in Florence, e.g.} REPLICA and {Collaborator with Disney on the film “Destino”} DALI. i did not know either of those facts.
  • {Genie’s home} LAMP. not canadian tennis star genie bouchard, although andy is a big tennis fan, and in fact he and i watched bouchard’s 4th round match together at this year’s US open.
  • {Like a bass voice or a hairy chest} UNFEMININE. i’d be surprised if this were andy’s clue. it sounds rather like a value judgment, and that is very much not how he rolls. this clue kind of gives me the creeps, but i’d be interested to hear how andy wanted it to be clued, because it’s a potential powderkeg of an entry.

that’s all from me. i’ll give the puzzle 4 stars if that is still a thing we are supposed to do here.

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “It’s No Picnic”—Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 09.24.14: "It'S No Picnic"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 09.24.14: “It’S No Picnic”

Let’s all begin that climb on the hill on this Hump Day!

I hope everybody is doing well and also had a good first full day of autumn yesterday!  Today’s puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Raymond Hamel, definitely does not call for an easy time of things, as each of the four theme answers either are actual physical ordeals or metaphors that describe arduous activities.  I’m usually a softie, so if I had to go through these things, I probably would be more likely to cry home to my parents than anything else!

  • ENDURANCE TEST: (20A: [It determines fatigue limits])
  • BASIC TRAINING: (27A: [Parris Island activity])
  • TOUGH ROW TO HOE: (43A: [Heavy burden]) – Has anyone, at any point, mistaken this phrase as “tough road to hoe?” I know I had done that for a while before getting that straightened out.
  • BAPTISM BY FIRE: (51A: [Initiation into battle]) – No holy water necessary.

I’m not much of a watcher of The OFFICE, so it was a total guess at the top, and guessed correctly because it was the only sitcom I could think of on the fly that starts with “The” and has six letters afterwards (1A: [Sitcom at Dunder Mifflin, with “The”]). The crosses definitely helped me to remember EXEUNT, as I haven’t come across that word since high school Shakespeare reading (6D: [Old stage directive]).  A couple of very nice entries in the grid that stood out for me were CRETIN (10D: [Stupid person]) and WE FIVE, especially since I had listened to the song mentioned in the clue a good number of times when my father would play oldies tunes on his reel-to-reel tape deck on full blast in our apartment growing up (46D: [“You Were on My Mind” group]).  Finally, you’re going to see a lot of PUCK action from now until June on your television, as the season on ice just got underway this week with preseason action (34A: [Hockey need]).  Anyone have a favorite hockey team?  I’m ok if you are a fan of any team in the NHL except the Philadelphia Flyers.  Boo, Flyers!! (I’m a New Jersey Devils supporter.)

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ATHLETIC (38D: Oakland player]) – Before an ATHLETIC was an Oakland player, he was a Kansas City player, and before that, a Philadelphia player. The Athletics, or A’s, franchise started in Philadelphia in 1901 as one of the eight original franchises in the American League. In 1955, the team moved to Kansas City and in 1968, the team moved to Oakland. The team’s unofficial mascot is a white elephant, which traces back to 1902, when John McGraw, manager of the then New York (baseball) Giants, referred to the Philadelphia A’s team as a white elephant as an insult to A’s manager Connie Mack and the organization. Not only did the team not mind the barb, but they soon after adopted a white elephant as the team’s main logo. As of today, an elephant is the Oakland A’s secondary logo.

The team's main logo in the 1920s, as the Philadelphia A's

The team’s main logo in the 1920s, as the Philadelphia A’s

The Oakland A's current secondary logo.

The Oakland A’s current secondary logo.

Thank you so much for your time, everyone!  See you all on Thursday!

Take care!


Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140924

LA Times

[Unswerving…] is not the meaning of FOURSQUARE I know. In my world, it’s a playground game involving chalk lines and a tennis (or similar) ball. It’s used here to signify four answers’ first word can complete the pattern “square ___”, a common enough crossword theme trope. The best answer was the central 13, ROOTOFALLEVIL and its Bible reference. The other three are more work-a-day: MEALTICKET, DEALBREAKER and FOOTSOLDIER.

That central 13 shapes the design of the grid, leading the four biggish corners. Again, the answers are all good, but without too much pizzazz: long downs are OPENDOOR, ORATORIO, INSULATE, LETTERED, REDEEMER, DISTRUST.

BOSUN looks funny all written out! It’s like seeing forecastle! Of the two clueing angles for ERNE [Bird along the coast] is the poorer one for me. The lough in Northern Ireland is quite well-known, whereas the bird is foreign and usually goes by another name: white-tailed (sea-)eagle. I did in fact bird along the coast today (it’s a public holiday here). Wind was awful, but I’m now living on the West Coast, and there are lots of new ones to see: found my first bank cormornats, e.g. One outright new abbr. for me today NASD. Was a little unsure where that abbr. crossed Ms. Mitchell!

3 Stars

Byron Walden’s AVCX puzzle, “Mismatched Socks” — Matt’s review


If the byline had been left blank, I still could’ve told you with about 60% confidence who the author of this puzzle was. Byron Walden has one of the most distinct styles of any crossword constructor, and today’s AVCX is a prime example of it: original and surprising theme, lots of theme entries, and creative fill in a wide-open grid despite those constraints. TORCH JOB casually crossing three theme entries in the middle of a wide-open section? Those are some sick gridding skills right there.

The theme is phrases that both begin and end with a word meaning “to strike with a fist.” The seven (!) theme entries are:

15-A [*Lead pellet-filled item used to weigh down scuba divers] = SHOT BELT.

19-A [*Start one’s workday, perhaps] = PUNCH THE CLOCK.

23-A [*Imitate Doug E. Fresh] = BEAT BOX.

35-A [*Mixture with equal parts flour, butter, eggs, and sugar] = POUND CAKE BATTER.

44-A [*Candy with a gum center] = BLOW POP.

58-A [*Action-packed] = SLAM-BANG.

And then the revealer at 48-A: [Tone-Loc and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, e.g. … or how this puzzle’s theme entries might be described?] = TWO-HIT WONDERS.

So that’s an ambitious and novel theme with a nice revealer. A few dings that bring it down from the stratosphere: 1) some of the words are only verbs that mean “strike with a fist” (beat, batter, clock, pound, box) while some are only nouns that carry this meaning (blow, shot, bang) and others are both (punch, pop, belt, slam). This isn’t a blot per se, but it loosens the theme. But since the theme is so ambitious, that’s understandable. 2) SHOT BELT isn’t familiar. But again, ambitious theme.

Star fill: the aforementioned TORCH JOB, COHIBA, CANNIBAL, GO DEAF, ST. ELMO, HEP C, GOSH NO, AIR LIBYA, TORE OPEN, MET UP, and HMM. And that’s with 71 theme squares, kids. Let’s give it the “5 Worst Entries” test: ALEK, IS THY, SERT, MTN and OJO. That’s not bad.

If I could only take five constructors’ work with me to a desert island, Byron’s would be one of them. 4.40 stars.

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32 Responses to Wednesday, September 24, 2014

  1. HH says:

    “{Like a bass voice or a hairy chest} UNFEMININE. … it sounds rather like a value judgment …. this clue kind of gives me the creeps …”

    Just playing devil’s advocate — what would you suggest as a non-creepy, Wednesday-level clue?

    • joon says:

      it’s not an easy word to clue, but how about a clue that wouldn’t be upsetting to a woman who has one or both of these traits but can do nothing about it? andy says his original clue was {Like burping loudly or sitting with one’s legs splayed, stereotypically}. that makes it about behavior, rather than physical characteristics. seems far preferable to me.

      • Andy says:

        Yeah, as a transgender rights advocate, I was distressed to say the least when I saw the new clue. I thought it was important to point out in the clue that femininity is a set of cultural assumptions or stereotypes about what it means to be a woman. This is an editing choice that would dissuade me from ever submitting to the Times again. If I want to share this puzzle with my coworkers and friends, I now have to explain this wasn’t my clue, and that I do not share these assumptions about women. If I do ever submit to the Times again, my puzzle certainly won’t contain any words that I suspect might be clued this way.

        • Hawkins says:

          The constructor is at fault for including the word in the first place, not the editor. You can’t be upset that Will edited the clue more toward the dictionary definition and away from general descriptions of bad manners that are irrespective of gender.

          • joon says:

            really, we can’t be upset that will edited the clue from something neutral to something that will make people feel bad about their bodies, completely unnecessarily?

          • Hawkins says:

            Again, that’s why I fault the constructor for including a charged word in the first place. He included it because he wanted a debut, and the editor clued it as well as he could toward the actual definition. It isn’t an enlightened word and it’s disingenuous to pretend that it is.

          • Sarah says:

            Constructors who submit to the NYT don’t get to decide the final product. Thus, it is ALWAYS the editor’s fault.

          • pannonica says:

            Hawkins, do you know what that sounds like? It sounds like, “She shouldn’t have been dressed so provocatively/gotten drunk if she wanted to avoid being raped.”

            Yes, it does.

          • Hawkins says:

            Words have meaning. I can’t find a definition for UNFEMININE in any of the five print dictionaries I have at my disposal (only in the mass of UN- words that fills the bottom of the U pages), but presumably it means not feminine. FEMININE, by dictionary definition means: having qualities regarded as characteristic of women and girls, as gentleness, weakness, delicacy, or modesty. (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

            UNFEMININE is a pejorative term, directed at a group of people, concerning traditional gender-based assumptions. To include the term in the puzzle was the choice of the constructor, simply because he was seeking a debut word. He had 120 other ?????I???E options to choose from, and most of them were better choices.

            His original clue [Like burping loudly or sitting with one’s legs splayed, stereotypically] describes UNCOUTH, not UNFEMININE. He clued his poor choice of fill inaccurately, so it was edited to actually describe aspects that do not match with traditional ideas of femininity. By definition.

            That is and has been the entirety of my point.

            PAN-I appreciate that you are attempting to stick up for your friend, but equating me to a rape-sympathizer is despicable.

          • joon says:

            hawkins, it is perfectly okay for you to dislike the inclusion of UNFEMININE in the crossword, but everything you’ve said on top of that has been misguided or downright mean.

            this is the second time you’ve presumed to know why the constructor included the entry in his grid. did andy say that somewhere that i didn’t notice? if he didn’t, how do you know that’s why he included it?

            i don’t know why he included it, but i know that “perpetuating hurtful gender stereotypes” wasn’t the reason. i happen to think inclusion of a “charged” word with the right clue can actually edify solvers and help in some small way to bring down social injustices. will’s clue did the exact opposite. you keep insisting that it was “closer to the definition”, but it is not so—it merely focuses on one aspect of the definition, physical appearance, and crucially fails to even suggest that there may be anything wrong with the traditional gender stereotypes about physical appearance.

            as for andy’s clue: belching may be considered uncouth, but it is not viewed as such in a gender-neutral way. sitting with legs splayed is even more gender-correlated and less generally uncouth (if indeed it is uncouth at all—do people really notice or care if men splay their legs when seated?). most importantly (and this is something i did not clearly convey in my original blog post or in my earlier comments here), andy’s clue acknowledges that these are just stereotypes. will’s clue treats them as facts, thus perpetuating the stereotypes.

          • pannonica says:

            Hawkins– I wasn’t equating you with a rape sympathizer, how strange that you would take that extreme leap.

            My intention was to highlight the warped and blatant victim-blaming that you were engaging in, and the phenomenon invoked is probably the most recognizable—though admittedly charged—contemporary example of such mentality.

          • Hawkins says:

            To restate, *Equating (or comparing) my argument about the usefulness of precision when using language to anything concerning rape is abhorrent. Despicable. Sensationalist. Absurd.

            There is no victim here. You cannot convince me that someone who crosses UNFEMININE with *MINX has nothing but the best of intentions. I’m going to trot out the dictionary one last time: MINX- A woman, particularly of low morals. A loose woman. Derogatory.

            *MINX’s inclusion is glossed over in the review, perhaps because “it’s about behavior” and this is acceptable, or perhaps because it’s cutesy and playful and acceptable in modern usage to label women according to their sexual wiles, but somehow not okay to list masculine traits to describe a synonym of masculine. Language is funny, huh?

          • pannonica says:

            Hawkins— Don’t backpedal. Your original initial comments had little to do with arguing “about the usefulness of precision when using language” and was were much more about blaming the constructor for having the temerity to use such a potentially exploitable word.

        • Hawkins says:

          “His legs splayed out in a somewhat ungentlemanly manner…”

          …elicited a tiny ungentlemanly burp…”

          I’d love to quote books all day, but surely two examples are sufficient to show that his original examples are bad behaviors, regardless of gender lines. If you need more examples, google it yourself.

          The open hostility and contempt toward differing opinions dissuade me from ever submitting a comment to this website again.

      • JFC says:

        It seems to me that “masculine” would have sufficed as a clue for unfeminine. I’m actually more turned off by Andy’s original clue than Will’s edit. I didn’t realize cluing crossword puzzles involved promoting social causes.

        • joon says:

          you call it “promoting social causes”, but to me it’s a simple matter of being sensitive to your audience. any time you write something that other people will read (or say something that others will hear), why offend or injure when you don’t have to?

    • Martin says:

      How about “Den but not die?”

  2. Gareth says:

    Fun theme answers, Andy!

  3. Brucenm says:

    Loved Andy’s puzzle and enjoyed taking to Andy last week. It was my favorite puzzle at the Pleasantville tournament, (though as people have said, the yet to be published final puzzle was also fantastic.)

    Is it *really* tough *row* to hoe, not tough road ??? If so, I just learned that 10 minutes ago, not decades ago. And it was only from a puzzle that I discovered that a road grater (like a cheese grater), was actually a road grader.

  4. Brucenm says:

    Ade, I wonder if you, as a sports historian, know anything about the inside scoop, (i.e. dirt and corruption), about the era when the Kansas City A’s functioned basically as a farm team for the Yankees — (late 50’s and 60’s, I think.) It became commonly understood that if the A’s had someone really good, (e.g. Roger Maris, and many others, if my memory is correct), he would soon become a Yankee one way or another.

    Feel better, Amy.

  5. Jenni Levy says:

    I am really pleased to see Joon’s and Andy’s comments about the clue for UNFEMININE. I was very unhappy with the clue/answer pair. I loved Andy’s original clue, carrying as it does the clear understanding that femininity is a construct. I would have been fine with “macho”, too – that’s also a construct.

    I’m a cis woman and I am not stereotypically feminine. This has been a liability for me professionally and personally. The stereotypes are harmful. Sure, crosswords are entertainment – and I don’t need my entertainment to perpetuate that kind of nonsense.

  6. Linda says:

    I have never heard of the term “cis” before! Learn something new every day. However, just a word about behavior as opposed to traits–burping loudly or sitting with legs apart is the kind of thing that people (either male or female) might do on an evening when they are alone with takeout watching old MASH reruns and are pretty sure no one is watching. When with company or outside their own home, chances are they have their legs crossed attractively and don’t burp or slurp. Traits, though, like bass voices or hairy chests, don’t change with the venue unless purposely altered for the occasion. So they might be associated with what is not feminine re: gender or sexuality, while burping and unattractive posture are just uninhibited behavior when no one else is around.

  7. Dan says:

    I’m sorry, I just don’t get the point of today’s NYT puzzle. I think we’re all clever enough to be able to insert a letter into a movie title and make it funny if there are no restrictions on where to insert it and what letter to substitute it for.

    I was waiting for something that explained why and where the x’s were substituted and it never came. Pretty weak.

    • Brucenm says:

      It’s obvious that other people are familiar with rules that I don’t know, and which would never have occurred to me. I guess I’m drifting in blissful ignorance . . . Is there a rule which says that there must be restrictions on an otherwise amusing letter substitution theme, and that these restrictions must be spelled out, (presumably within the puzzle itself)? ‘X’ is substituted for another letter. I thought that qualified as a theme, but obviously to a more sophisticated solver, it’s either not sufficiently clear, or not sufficiently restrictive.

  8. Kim McW says:

    I too really appreciated Joon and Andy’s comments about FEMININE — this clue was off. Like all crossword clues, no need to go pejorative, ever. Since feminine is all about what a culture decides women and girls should be, why not clue it that way – something like “pink, stereotypically.” And, I just have to say, it is possible to clue feminine without mentioning masculine (see fish, bicycle).

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