Wednesday, December 10, 2014

AV Club 4:17 (Amy)  
NYT 4:11 (Amy) 
LAT untimed (Gareth) 
CS 9:20 (Ade) 

Tom McCoy’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 10 14, no. 1210

NY Times crossword solution, 12 10 14, no. 1210

McCoy’s recent Sunday NYT won “Crossword of the Month” honors for November over at Gaffney on Crosswords. I did love that colorful puzzle, quite a bit more than his less ambitious offering here. The theme takes writers known by their first and middle initials and their last names, and converts the initials into a chemical symbol and swaps that out for the element’s name:

  • 20a. [“The Sword in the Stone” author, to a chemist?], THORIUM WHITE. T.H., Th.
  • 34a. [“The African Queen” author, to a chemist?], CESIUM FORESTER. C.S.
  • 43a. [“The Children of Men” author, to a chemist?], PALLADIUM JAMES. P.D. James just died a couple weeks ago, at 94. Here’s an interview with her.
  • 58a. [“The Island of Dr. Moreau” author, to a chemist?], MERCURY WELLS. H.G.

Clever theme. I like the SHIH-TZU and model’s JAWLINE in the fill, but found much of the fill to be rather more arid than I like—TRI-, UTE, ZEES, ONE-A, ETE, DAW, STS, OREM, ALII, SOCIO-, and STOA.

Three more things:

  • 36d. [Full of innocent wonder], ROUND-EYED. Sort of an odd term. Not all of the mainstream dictionaries see fit to mention it.
  • 55d. [About whom Obama said “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music”], DYLAN. Said on the occasion of bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Really? I bet many of you can suggest someone who is a bigger giant in American music.
  • 52d. [Something to be rubbed out?], GENIE. Surely I’m not the only one who snickers at such a clue.

3.5 stars from me. I liked the theme but the rest of the puzzle didn’t bring me much of a thrill.

Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Listen to This!”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.10.14: "Listen to This!"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.10.14: “Listen to This!”

Welcome to another Hump Day, people! If music calms the savage beast, then today’s puzzle, brought to us today by Ms. Lynn Lempel, definitely did so with me using today’s theme. In the puzzle, each of the five theme answers are multiple-word entries in which the last word in each is also a type of musical genre.

  • CHRIS ROCK: (18A: [Stand-up comic who voiced Marty the zebra in the “Madagascar” films]) Also, the voice of Li’l Penny, the doll featured in Nike commercials featuring former NBA All-Star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Remember that?
  • BEAT THE RAP: (24A: [Manage to dodge a conviction])
  • IT’S A FREE COUNTRY: (39A: [“This is the US of A, and I’ll say what I want!”])
  • TOOTSIE POP: (52A: [Chewy-centered candy on a stick])
  • BABY BLUES: (61A: [Trait associated with Sinatra])

Which childhood toy did you play with more: POGO (27D: [Kelly’s comic possum]) or LEGO (35A: [Colorful building brick])? As a matter-of-fact, I’ve never been on a pogo stick before. Guess it’s not too old to try, right? We get a couple of references to the Teflon Don with MAFIA (15A: [John Gotti’s group]) and BOSS (28A: [John Gotti, for one]). Speaking of doubling up, here’s hoping you know your enchantresses!! MEDEA was down my alley (3D: [Enchantress who helped get the Golden Fleece]), but not so much with CIRCE (67A: [Enchantress who turned Odysseus’s crew into swine]). Liked that the entire name of TSETSE FLY is in the grid, not so much that it’s such an African scourge (14D: [Dangerous biter]). There’s an interesting intersection with RUST (40D: [Worry for the Tin Man]) and LUST in the grid as well (44A: [Lascivious loving]). So did the Tin Man go lusting for a heart down the Yellow Brick Road?

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: BONY (47D: [Gaunt])– Ivorian soccer player Wilfried BONY is a forward who currently plays professionally in the Barclays Premier League with Welsh side Swansea City. In this past 2014 FIFA World Cup, Bony scored two goals in the three group games, including the game-tying goal in the 74th minute in the final group stage game vs. Greece. That goal looked to be getting the Ivory Coast through to the knockout phase, but Greece scored with the last kick of the game, a 93rd minute penalty which sealed a 2-1 Greek victory and saw Bony’s heroics wasted.

Have a great day, everyone, and I’ll see you on Thursday!

Take care!


Gareth Bain’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times 141210

LA Times 141210

So, I’m in the awkward position of blogging my own crossword again. This puzzle was inspired by Gail Grabowski and Bruce Venske’s GIRLCRAZY puzzle from a year or so back. As I recall, it used that revealer in a theme with words in phrases matching “___ girl”. I thought CRAZY worked better as implying anagramming, so I made my own puzzle; I got their green light to go ahead. I was happy to get all six permutations of the trigram boy into the puzzle (compare to the SCRAMBLED EGG one where I could only get 3…) As for the entries, I suspect TOKYOBAY will be unknown to some, but hopefully inferrable. Here’s an earworm for TWOBYFOUR.

This is the highest average Scrabble value of any puzzle I’ve had published. I think approximately one person cares about this fact.

There are definitely some compromises here. The existence of JARJAR Binks is not something I’d like to encourage, but with ??RJ?? what are you going to do? ANET is awful, but it stuck enough together that I decided other options with more smaller compromises were worse.

Rich Norris edited the clues heavily. [“Take me! Take me!” at the shelter] is one of my favourite clues of all time; I wish I wrote it.

Caleb Madison’s American Values Club crossword, “A Little Extra”

AV Club crossword solution, 12 10 14 "A Little Extra"

AV Club crossword solution, 12 10 14 “A Little Extra”

The theme answers add -ICLE to the end of familiar phrases to create goofy new phrases:

  • 20a. [Wicked delicious Fla-Vor-Ice, brah?], BOSTON POPSICLE. I didn’t know “brah” had any Boston vibe to it, but “wicked” as an intensifier, yes.
  • 25a. [Ball in development?], BETA TESTICLE.
  • 36a. [“7 Things Only People Who Have Worked at a Restaurant Will Understand,” e.g.?], WAITING LISTICLE. Love this one. (Note to the editor: There’s an extra space before “Restaurant.”)
  • 44a. [Thinkpiece about pumpkin spice drinks?], LATTE ARTICLE. I have never once received a drink with pretty latte art swirled on top. Do you think it’s because the world hates me, or is it because I don’t drink coffee?
  • 54a. [Atom neither high nor low in mass?], MIDDLE PARTICLE.

The five theme entries take up a sizable amount of real estate here. Are there compromises as a result? Perhaps: YRS, EBRO, AS I, AD REM, OTO, AFL, ESSE, TO LET (with an all-too-rare clue that reflects the phrase’s extreme Britishness, [Sign on an open flat]—I hate hate hate TO LET clues that act as if every “For Rent” sign in the U.S. says “To Let”), SASES, and ETES. More blah bits than I like to see, fewer than I see in a great many daily puzzles. On the plus side, we also have THIRD-RATE, PALEO DIET, PRISS, and pop culture’s AVICII and NIALL.

Five more things:

  • 21d. [Ltrs. within ltrs.], SASES. No, no, no. A self-addressed stamped envelope is not a “letter.” It’s an encl. within a ltr., sure, but not a ltr.
  • 27d. [This puzzle’s constructor, e.g., for the next 3-4 months anyway :(], ELI. What? No! Caleb just started college! He can’t be graduating this spring. He must be transferring from Yale, right?
  • 19a. [Like kids, often, or inappropriate for kids], DIRTY. Great clue.
  • 60a. [Program with ancient history courses?], PALEO DIET. I’ll call it the paleo diet when these people start foraging for edible plant bits in the great outdoors. Also, more mammoth and beaver meat, less domesticated-cattle beef.
  • 33d. [Rebellion, to the powers that be], RIOT. Mildly politicized and topical clue.

The relative newness of the word LISTICLE elevates this theme, if you ask me. PARTICLE and ARTICLE are so ordinary. (If you are aggrieved that people use the word listicle, or that such items exist in the greater journalism/publishing world, your mileage may vary.) 3.75 stars from me.

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42 Responses to Wednesday, December 10, 2014

  1. Gary R says:

    “[Something to be rubbed out?], GENIE. Surely I’m not the only one who snickers at such a clue.”

    Amy – you make me blush!

    Thought the theme was kind of fun, but gosh, that was a lot of three-letter answers!

  2. john farmer says:

    [About whom Obama said “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music”], DYLAN…Really? I bet many of you can suggest someone who is a bigger giant in American music.

    Really? You make it sound like Dylan is second-tier. Not looking to get into a debate, but on the shortest of short lists of American music greats, Dylan belongs. I’m with Obama.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Might he not be in second or third place overall among the giants of American music?

      • john farmer says:


      • john farmer says:

        I thought I might elaborate.

        Music is not a competition. It doesn’t matter who is #1 and who is #2, etc. We’re fortunate to have giants of American music, whoever they are. Armstrong, Parker, Davis, Copland, Gershwin, Williams, Berry, Presley, Sinatra…and a few others…fit the bill. Different talents, different genres, etc., make it hard to compare. I don’t care if someone prefers one of the other greats. You prefer Mozart. I prefer Beethoven. So what? But if you want to look at what makes someone a giant — musical talent (composition and performance), influence on music, and influence on society — I don’t see anyone that ranks above Dylan in the history of American music. I say that with great respect for other greats. Dylan looms larger in my eyes, and to say there’s “not a bigger giant” is hardly hyperbole.

        • I’ll have to agree with John Farmer. Ranking of musicians is obviously subjective, but nobody can seriously question that, at the very least, the Minnesota-born artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman belongs on a short list of the greatest. Moreover, the clue has been carefully worded to not imply that Dylan is #1, and an added layer of deniability has been introduced by ascribing the ranking to our 44th President–or whoever actually writes his pronouncements on such matters.

        • Gareth says:

          I assume Woody Guthrie (Dylan’s hero) is among those few others?

      • Avg Solvr says:

        Dylan is unmatched lyrically and a great singer (singing isn’t just about voice) even if he stole a lot.

        • placematfan says:

          Strongly disagree. Ani DiFranco, Isaac Brock, Kimya Dawson, Joni Mitchell, Conor Oberst: all better lyricists/composers than Dylan. Dylan’s songwriting caliber is somewhat romanticized by his fame, his affect on culture, and the vox populi. As a poet and musician, he’s good–but not great.

          • Bencoe says:

            It is precisely Dylan’s “fame, effect on culture, and the vox populi” which makes him a giant of American music while it leaves the names you’ve mentioned in the dust. It is also what makes him a truly great songwriter of truly great songs. As a poet and musician, I can think of many people whom I consider “better”, though I don’t find your suggestions among them (though I was a very big Modest Mouse fan) which just goes to show how subjective such things are in considering the greatness of an artist.

          • Bencoe says:

            To clarify: popular art by its very nature competes in a different arena than “high art” or “outsider art”. Rather than epitomizing an ideal or the artist themselves it is intended to connect with mass culture in general and have as a big of an impact as possible on that culture. In these terms it is hard to think of a more successful American popular artist than Dylan…only Elvis is a possible candidate.

        • placematfan says:

          I’m not arguing his gianthood, I’m arguing his talent. The dust in which my list of Greatest Songwriters Ever is left is that of popularity and effect on culture, and when that dust settles one is left to judge a songwriter by lyricism, musicianship, and performance. If we’re speaking about social issues or culture, then I can understand an artist’s being judged by Popularity and Effect on Culture; but if we’re talking about great art, then I believe much more, much more, relevant are Lyricism, Musicianship, and Performance. So my list of songwriters are what I consider Great Artists: take any two or three of their best pieces and hold them against the 20 best Dylan works and there’s no comparison. When you strip Dylan’s oeuvre of its legend, it’s good art–but not great art; the oeuvres of the artists I mentioned are great because of the high poetry and high musicianship contained therein. And that quality stands firmly regardless of how many people have heard of them or how many whales were saved because of them or how many screaming teenagers bought their albums. Transmitter, message, receiver=Artist, art, audience. I’m judging greatness by the transmitter and message, the artist and the art; if you want to judge greatness by message/receiver, art/audience, then, yeah, Dylan’s unassailable. Jim Morrison in his heyday affected culture on the level of Dylan, but Morrison is an ultra-overrated poet and lyricist: many people bought his music and society was greatly affected by him (and his band) and his stage presence was sometimes mesmerizing, and all that may make him great, but it doesn’t make him a talented songmaker. Dylan is a good songwriter and musician but he can’t touch Isaac Brock.

          • Avg Solvr says:

            From ’62 to ’69 Dylan is unmatched as a recording artist. He hasn’t been romanticized; he’s been greatly admired for his genius. From the writers you mentioned, perhaps you have that indie attitude where popularity rules out great art. That’s often true, but not in the cases of the truly great ones.

      • Alex B. says:

        I would personally put Louis Armstrong at #1 (because I would value the influence on music above the influence on culture) but Dylan is certainly in the discussion.

  3. sbmanion says:

    Bob Dylan was mentioned on NBC news last night. He is releasing a tribute album of 10 Frank Sinatra songs. Brian Williams had a wry smile as he announced this, suggesting that Dylan had the talent but not the voice for such an undertaking.

    I thought the theme was superb.


  4. pannonica says:

    LAT: My song choice for 2×4 would be XTC’s “Boarded Up“, which has the clever refrain: “Cos we’re boarded up / Yeah, we’re nailed up shut / Two-by-fourded up / Yeah, we’re boarded up”

  5. Avg Solvr says:

    NYT may get my vote for worst puzzle ever being I didn’t know any of the authors or elements.

  6. Brucenm says:

    The question has been asked before. Why does your not knowing something that many people do know, make it a bad puzzle? I would go so far as to say that *most* people (at least most of those here) know *either* (most of) the authors and their initials, *or* the symbols for the chemical elements, and many more people would get the point that chemical elements were involved whether they knew the chemical abbreviations or not. Thus there were a couple ways of reasoning to the answers, even if one’s literary or scientific knowledge was a bit thin. And of course some people will draw a total blank, (which happens to me sometimes, e.g. a recent puzzle focussing obsessively on some TV show I had never watched, and others that focus similarly on rock songs.) But I try to remember that that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad puzzle.

    I second the musical comments made above by John and George.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      H.G. Wells is pretty damned familiar. Perhaps Avg Solvr only knows of the existence of his works that show up in more crossword clues and not “Moreau”?

      I had to stretch for Forester but the other three authors were familiar to me, even though I haven’t read them. Also, Hg = mercury is pretty damned familiar, too, more so than the other elements in the theme.

      • Avg Solvr says:

        I’ve heard some of the titles and some of the authors but didn’t know the connections and I have no knowledge of the elements. Hg for mercury is not familiar to most people on this planet.

    • Papa John says:

      I’ve said it before — rating a puzzle is mostly subjective. If Avg Solvr can’t complete the puzzle, it’s a “bad” puzzle, for him. It certainly isn’t as enjoyable as a finished one, no?

      I would have to agree with Avg Solvr, if he does, indeed, speak for the average solver. Having to know both the litarary names and the scientific terms may be a bit much for an average solver.

  7. Art Shapiro says:

    I don’t usually visibly grin once a gimmick becomes apparent. Today merited that reaction. 4.5 from me, very enthusiastically.


  8. lemonade714 says:

    I applaud Gareth’s LAT offering and his making all 6 variations fit in the grid. JARJAR may not have been a respected charachter, but his name is very strongly tied to the Star Wars reboot if only because it seems it is impossible to discuss Episodes 1-3 without mention of how much JarJar is hated.
    Bob Dylan is an ICON. His songwriting skills alone merit his position.

  9. pannonica says:

    NYT: Seems that lip service should be paid to the other chemical elements invoked. 64a [Like radon], 44d [What gallium will do at about 86 degrees F]. Rn, Ga. Probably could have included a few more without stretching absurdly.

    Don’t know if it was intended, but some clues/answers seem to have subliminal connections. 25s [Notable current researcher] TESLA, 60d [Conduct] WAGE. 9d [BVDs, e.g.] DRAWERS, 6d [Followed up after recon] DEBRIEFED. These seem of a piece with the frequently clever cluing throughout.

    Also, Orson WELLeS’ radio theater company was called the MERCURY. Wasn’t named in honor of HG Wells, though; instead it was a magazine called The American Mercury.

    • Lois says:

      Wow, thanks, Pannonica, what a good tangent (Mercury Theater), and your other observations are good too. I say this despite my solving experience today being with Avg Solvr, the chemistry being tougher than the literature. I won’t vote today.

  10. Brucenm says:

    Reacting to Amy’s comment about “rubbed out”, I’ve always been amused, probably overly so, by the word “debrief”. Analogous to the comment with respect to the woman’s name spelled “Debra” — That’s not a name, it’s a verb. [OK, it’s a slow news day for me.]

  11. cascokid says:

    this was my first actual solve of an AVCXword in about 20 tries. i was ready tomgive up after an hour, but kept pushing as problem areas resolved themselves verrry slooowly. I came in 6 seconds short of 90 minutes.

    I bit on all the misdirects
    * weighs for DOREMI
    * cHeapRATE for THIRDRATE
    * PRude for PRISS
    * wane for LULL
    * pris for IDEE

    I don’t know LISTICLE, and I live on the Internet. I also don’t know Caleb, so his clue about himself was nearly my last entry. AVICII was my last entry. I googled it. It seems to be a 25 year old Swede. DEEP, dude.

    So I renew my criticism: AVC seems to be a set of puzzles written by and for the Ben Tausig kickstarter cabal. Being part of the after-hours social scene where these guys drink and eat pizza together is a huge part of being able to solve the puzzles, and this feeling persists after I’ve managed to solve one. I was just one inside joke away from another DNF. Am I being unfair? Perhaps. But look at Amy’s review. It is the review of one who babysat little Caleb during his diaper years. Amy is in the clique.

    This criticism is an operational hazard associated with being sooooo very trendy. Look at all the clue-solution pairs that haven’t stood the test of time: LISTICLE, AVICII, Hannah Montana ASI am, CARL Grimes, NIALL Horan (age 21), Caleb himself. I mean, how about [Jodie, when John shot Ronnie “for her”] if you want to tie ELI to a (then) active Yale student *we’ve all heard of*. When a puzzle hits a high enough density of flash-in-the-pan transcience, then it really is *only* a puzzle for clique solvers. Where that line lies is the editor’s decision, and he can use that line to preselect a market. I seem to be on or just outside that line. I don’t expect you to care about me, but I just want to make sure just how narrow the solving clique is — Caleb has 306 followers on Twitter. That’s who that clue was for. Or maybe it is a little bit larger. AVCXword has 340 followers who may have known Caleb since his NYT debut. OK? OK.

    So how about an invite to the bar where the cool kids think these things up? C’mon. I bet it is a lot of fun. No? How uncool of me to ask. ;)

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      First off, congrats on muscling through! The easiest AV Club puzzles generally land at Wed/Thurs NYT level, and the cultural references are indeed aimed at people in their teens to 40s (vs. the newspaper puzzles’ target of 30s to 90s).

      Correction: I never babysat Caleb. Instead, I did some test-solving and editing for him in his high-school years. He was one of those precocious constructors who develop their skills early. He made puzzles for his school publication and also for DGA Quarterly (movie themes for the Directors’ Guild of America). I was paid in gratitude and Levain Bakery cookies.

      Note that Jodie Foster is no longer an ELI. I suspect the only people who care that she went to Yale are crossworders. I am so, so tired of crossword clues for ELI that reference people who went to Yale decades ago. This clue was fresh, at least. I’m also so, so tired of crossword fill that has “stood the test of time” but lost the bulk of its relevance decades ago. I’ll take a currently active hitmaker like AVICII over a 1940s actor who was in westerns that my mom is too young to have cared about. That sort of junk is rewarding to (a) older solvers and (b) longtime solvers who want answers they can fill in, regardless of their current irrelevance. It deters so many newer and younger solvers, who might well be welcomed in with an AVICII or NIALL they can answer. I’d like crosswords to be vital when I’m elderly, and that means enticing today’s and tomorrow’s teens with puzzles that don’t repel them.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        P.S. I no longer work for cookies—just cold, hard cash.

        • cascokid says:

          I accept your argument that culture renews itself, and puzzles should refresh with them. Also, if you are telling me that I’ll be glad to know AVICII in 10 days or 10 months or 10 years, then I’m grateful to know it. It not, well, aww, ya got me! As for knowing Hannah Montana, well, if I didn’t know her, how would I have appreciated the whole TWERKING incident? Precisely! (OK, I really don’t think I did appreciate it the way her contemporaries did. Maybe we should ask Rex’s Annabel. Or maybe not. Propriety, you know.)

          No doubt I’ll be happy to Caleb for sometime to come. :)

      • Lois says:

        Amy, maybe your point about ELI is good, but then you’re off on your usual remarks about older movies and older puzzle-solvers. Of course, this is a puzzle blog and you love puzzles, but from my point of view I think it’s more valuable to get young viewers for old movies and young listeners for old music than to get young people to solve or create puzzles (though I’m happy if they do that too). This is only my point of view, of course, since I’m not so skilled in solving puzzles and not at all in creating them, but I find film, literature, music and so on to be the primary arts, and crosswords to be secondary hangers-on. Too bad that my actions don’t match up with my beliefs, since I spend so much time on puzzles and these comments.

        If those movies are too old for your mom to enjoy, I would say that it’s not that the movies are too old, but that you’ve simply picked up the attitudes of your mother.

    • Lorraine says:

      I’m well outside the teens to 40’s demographic Amy posits as the target market for the AV Club puzzles and I find them tremendously enjoyable for the most part; if there are current cultural references I don’t know or can’t find via crossings, i’ll look them up. I find that no different than having used dictionaries and thesauruses (plus the glorious, for its time, NYT Crossword Puzzle Dictionary. that thing was priceless) when i began doing crossword puzzles 30+ years ago. Also, perhaps because of having done the NYT crossword puzzles for so many years, the AV Club puzzles, Fireball puzzles, BEQ’s puzzles and Matt Gaffneys puzzles (not the metas — them i’m still a novice at!) don’t usually faze me too badly — the constructors and/or editors are remarkably good at ferreting out unfair crossings, so many if not most of the gnarly spots are inferable with the crossings. Perhaps if you’re relatively new to crossword puzzles then your struggles with the AV Club puzzles may be due to just lack of experience? I don’t wish to offend — it’s just that after 30+ years of Mon/Tues/Wed NYT puzzles, i fell upon these newer puzzles like I’d been wandering in a desert with no water, so I find them perfectly delightful, even when they don’t hit my personal sweet spot of knowledge.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Lorraine is also far from the only supra-40s solver of the AV Club crosswords. Ben Tausig receives feedback from a number of devoted AVX solvers in their 60s, 70s, and perhaps beyond.

        • Bencoe says:

          Casco, I enjoy reading your posts about puzzles mainly because of your round-eyed, bushy-tailed innocent optimism. But this one went into the realm of cynicism.

      • AaronB says:

        I enjoy the AV (& BEQ) puzzles, and they help me surprise my teenagers with my knowledge of pop music.

  12. Adam Nicolle says:

    Y’know, BEQ uses “listicle” in his puzzle on Monday, Tim Croce uses it on Tuesday, so of course today the AV Club clossword has to take a go at the word. I’m writing a listicle about this…

  13. Jeanie says:

    I’m having trouble lining up the New York Times puzzle so I never have to scroll up and down to see all the clues/boxes. (I’m trying to improve my speed on the puzzle itself.) What do you guys do?

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