Friday, March 13, 2015

NYT 4:41 (Amy) 
LAT 9:33 (Gareth, paper) 
CS tk (Ade) 
CHE 5:11 (pannonica) 
WSJ (Friday) untimed (pannonica) 

Vic Fleming’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 3 13 15, no 0313

NY Times crossword solution, 3 13 15, no 0313

The last word I filled in here was YLEM, 47a. [Matter in the Big Bang theory]. I misread the clue as being about the TV show The Big Bang Theory, which I have only seen once, but reading the clue as about science didn’t help me any. Plants have xylem and phloem, but I don’t think my high school and college physics classes covered this YLEM (which is apparently the cosmic primordial ooze). Learned something from the puzzle.

Whereas TARBOOSH, 15a. [Tasseled topper], was one of my first answers in the grid. This is the word from Arabic, while fez is the Turkish equivalent.

Seven things:

  • 9a. [Apollo setting], HARLEM. The Apollo Theater. Nice clue—if you thought of Greek mythology, you fell into the trap.
  • 20a. [Unenlightened stretch], DARK AGES. Tell me about the Dark Ages of crosswords, Grandma.
  • 34a. [“Tell me what you know!”], “SPILL IT!” Casual, fresh fill. The same clue’s reused for 54d: TALK.
  • 43a. [2008 crossover hit for the country duo Sugarland], ALL I WANT TO DO. The probably-more-famous Sheryl Crow song is “All I Wanna Do.”
  • 52a. [Indy front-runners?], PACE CARS. I’ve seen two of these over the years, in parking lots in Chicago.
  • 57a. [Room in back, say], REAR AREA. Is that actually a familiar phrase? Seems awkward to me.
  • 21d. [Japanese zithers], KOTOS. More familiar to me (mainly from crosswords, and maybe from Memoirs of a Geisha) than YLEM.


A RAG, APSES, ITALO-, YLEM—not all the fill sparkles, but there wasn’t enough “meh” stuff to bug me while solving. Four stars from me.

Wren Schultz’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Pi Row Technics” — pannonica’s write-up

CHE • 3/13/15 • "Pi Row Technics" • Schultz • solution

CHE • 3/13/15 • “Pi Row Technics” • Schultz • solution

Everyone seems to get excited about Pi Day (March 14th), even those in places where the date isn’t customarily written as month-day. (Pi Approximation day takes place on 22 July, but it’s a lesser occasion.)

Impressively, every row in the grid has a place in the theme. The circled letters spell out the beginning of the familiar recitation THREE POINT ONE FOUR ONE FIVE ad infintum.

With the integer and the spoken decimal point occupying the first two rows, the crossword takes π’s mantissa (curse you, Learned League!) to 13 digits, which is apt for today, the thirteenth of the month. Wait, wait! Stop the presses! After actually examining the bottom of the grid, I recognize that the circled letters in rows 14 and 15 spell ETC ETC, which is also a fine approach. So let me refocus my declaration of aptness by emphasizing that the use of circles is apt. Yes, that’s it!


Would I say that these cruciverbal ‘Pi Row Technics’ are 57a EXPLOSIVE? Not sure, but I certainly can manage a sotto voce ooh and aah or two.

  • 42a [Pi’s boatmate, in “Life of Pi”] TIGER. Though the titular Pi is short for Piscine Molitor, a famous swimming pool in Paris, which is in turn eponymous to the protagonist.
  • 2d [Algonquin Round Table members, often] HUMORISTS. Alongside 3d [Focus of seismic activity] EPICENTER. See? More circular reasoning.
  • 23a [Calculus pioneer] EULER.
  • 38a. [Dot follower, at times] NET.
  • 7d [Origin] ROOT. Sure, I’ll include this one. Why not?

Other bits:

  • Symmetric suffixes! 12d [Pun add-on?] -STER, 52d [Slug’s tail?] -FEST.
  • Along with the long verticals mentioned above, we get STEVEDORE, SORE LOSER, BELONGINGS [Effects], ENTRAPMENT, SEMESTER [Term for Brown], IN STEREO [Like many Beatles remasters]. Solid stuff, even if the letters aren’t particularly Scrabbly.
  • ARGUER, TAXERvar. EMEER, lesser-known FERLIN Husky, US-TEN are among the lesser fill that some may take issue with.
  • 1a [Adjective applied to apples?] THEM. How do you like that? 48a [Beginning and end of a famous Gertrude Stein quote] THERE; “There is no there there.” There being Oakland.
  • You thought I was going to include a reproduction of Eyck’s (the Eyckses’?) Ghent Altarpiece, didn’t you?

Good puzzle, which only goes so far.

Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Soft Rock” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 3/13/15 • "Soft Rock" Fri • Kelly, Shenk • solution

WSJ • 3/13/15 • “Soft Rock” Fri • Kelly, Shenk • solution

A perennial crossword bit player (I won’t say ‘supporting’ here) gets a star turn in this offering. 109a [Soft rock found in the eight longest Across answers] TALC.

  • 22a. [Grounds for divorce] MENTAL CRUELTY. ANIMAL CRUELTY would have fit here as well. Is it less palatable? The Google Ngram of the two phrases reveals interesting chronologies.
  • 31a. [Treatment for preemies] NEONATAL CARE. At this point in the solve, since I was working roughly top to bottom (and hadn’t consulted the title), the working theory was that the theme had something to do with nuclear families.
  • 49a. [They involve precise tucks] HOSPITAL CORNERS. There went that idea, to be replaced, inchoately, by healthcare … or something.
  • 64a. [M5V 2T6, for Toronto’s CN tower] POSTAL CODE. Hands thrown up in the air.
  • 67a. [The chaos of life] MORTAL COIL. To be shuffled off, as per Shakespeare via Hamlet.
  • 85a. [They may have designs on your floor] ORIENTAL CARPETS. Nice clue, and one of the still-inoffensive ways to employ “Oriental”.
  • 98a. [Unambiguous] CRYSTAL CLEAR. In addition to the more common forms, TALC occurs in rarer crystal varieties. How convenient that Wikipedia has a photograph of a specimen right at the top of its article!
  • 113a. [Innovation that practically stopped development] DIGITAL CAMERA. Clever clue, too clever?

TALC is famously the reference for 1 on the crossword-favorite MOHS scale, which doesn’t appear here. Nor does OHMS or MHOS, but there is an HMO in the grid at 96a. It neatly crosses 96d [Make better] HEAL. And though I’d prefer to SKIP IT (74a) I’m contractually obligated to mention that one across is [1982 soft rock hit for Toto] AFRICA. If that isn’t MENTAL CRUELTY I don’t know what is.

  • 54a [Diode-inventing Japanese Nobelist] ESAKI. 93a [Chief Standing Bear’s tribe] PONCA. Both completely unknown to me.
  • Not-a-dupe: 102a [Where you might catch some rays] SEA (in more ways than one); 122a [Site of Northwestern touchdowns] SEATAC. However, 85d [Block] OCCLUDE and 36d [Coalition] BLOC … ? Not so hot.
  • 14d [Little rascal] IMP;
  • 18d [Nash of the NBA] STEVE. Thanks to crosswords, I’m getting the idea that he’s kind of famous.
  • 42d, 107d [Dead on one’s feet] SPENT, BEAT.
  • Favorite clue: [Appealing results?] RETRIALS. Also, [Stage craft] for SET DESIGN.
  • Least favorite fill: the related 99d [Help a forgetful actor] RECUE.
  • 64d [Olive Garden fare] PASTA. Alas, SWILL didn’t work. Gladly I see their menu doesn’t offer a salad NIÇOISE (31d).
  • One last bit of themeana: 115d [Mineral suffix] -ITE.

I might have posted a sound file of This Mortal Coil’s “The Jeweller” here, but (1) my go-to site Grooveshark is balking for me lately, and (2) I don’t really like the group or the song. So instead, have this:

Erm, solid puzzle?

Marti DuGuay Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 150313

LA Times

We have a simple formula today: add R, make wacky. No frills. The theme answers all function, though the sound change in the last answer, from ADIOS to RADIOS, was a bit jarring. We have:

  • [Allowance for food, vet visits, etc.?], ROVERBUDGET. I don’t see as many Rovers as Rexes, Brunos and Spotties but the name is out there. It’s sufficiently buried in our collective subconscious that I’m told by my mother that for a couple of weeks at age 3 I wanted to go by the name Rover and be fed dog biscuits. Make of that what you will.
  • [Bedtime for bats?], RAFTERHOURS
  • [Threw a tantrum at ballet school, RAGEDGRACEFULLY
  • [Decisive “Star Wars” victory?], ROUTINSPACE
  • [Answer to “What did people listen to during the Depression, senor?”?], RADIOSAMIGO.

I think the best desciptor for the rest of the puzzle is “safe”. A simple, but dense theme means not a lot of space for big splashy non-theme answers. The more difficult / ugly answers are distributed carefully around the grid – everything felt carefully considered.

OthAllWeNeeder stuff:

  • [PC key], ALT. Macs have a mac key or an option key or somesuch…
  • [Annual New England attraction], FOLIAGE. Deja vu, we discussed this phenomen previously.
  • [You might wake up to one], SNORE… but I’d be very surprised as I’m [Single], UNWED.
  • [Main forest sights], FIRS. This crosses FOLIAGE.
  • [Dinner on the farm, maybe], SLOP. Garbage in, garbage out – a better quality pig ration should be considered!
  • Unknown names for today: [Author who created Zuckermann], ROTH – (Philip); knew Philip Roth was an author, but couldn’t give you any of his creations. Also [“Up in the Air” Oscar nominee Farmiga], VERA – rings a vague bell and seems to be in several films whose names I recognize…

3.5 Stars

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36 Responses to Friday, March 13, 2015

  1. sbmanion says:

    The longer entries were in my wheelhouse, so I solved this one very quickly, even though YLEM was completely new and I very reluctantly entered REAR AREA. I greatly enjoyed everything about the puzzle (especially YLEM) except for REAR AREA, which seems unidiomatic at best.

    Amy, just as Bruce often seems to be at odds with the general view of the solving experience, I often focus on different things than you do. Today, I might have written your review in haec verba.


  2. Brucenm says:

    I too thought the Fri. NYT (which I did first thing yesterday evening) was great, and I too agreed with Amy’s review. Returning to my more contrarian mode, I did yesterday’s March Madness LAT at the same time and loved it, *except* for the awful {Story you might find on, (? whatever that is), briefly} for FANFIC, whatever that is. Fan fiction? What kind of fan? Cricket? What kind of fiction? Children’s literature? I shrugged and left that answer in after glaring at it.

    • Gary R says:

      The same LAT clue stumped me, too. As far as I can tell, doesn’t actually exist (Firefox returns a “Server not found” error) – maybe that’s the “fic” part of it.

      A little Googling uncovered a site,, which appears to be a site for Harry Potter fans. Wikipedia confirms that “fanfic” is “fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work.” And I thought I was the one with too much time on my hands!

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Here, catch yourselves up on fanfic:

        A few notes:

        Slashfic is fanfic written about a pair of same-sex characters, putting them into a romantic/sexual relationship not presented in the original movie/book/TV show. The grown brothers on Supernatural, played by two handsome men whose characters are together almost all the time, apparently are huge in slashfic circles. Incestuous slashfic, why not.

        Fifty Shades of Grey began as Twilight fanfic.

        “Shipping” and “shippers” pertain to assigning relationship status to two characters and writing about that. You could conceivably be a George and Elaine shipper and write stories in which those two Seinfeld characters are a couple. Or Kramer and George, with a slashfic angle.

        And no, I have never read any fanfic or slashfic.

        • Brucenm says:

          OK — and even interesting.

          Small survey: Is there anyone here who hung around the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, Columbia University area long enough ago, who remembers the Yumkey Man, (spellings vary), or who has any idea what I’m talking about?

        • Margaret says:

          Huh, the FANFIC answer (and its clue) was my favorite part of the puzzle (see my comment yesterday); I was delighted to see that Gareth agreed with me in his review. I thought both it (and slash, as Amy points out) were both well-known words at this point, but apparently not. Regardless, I like having modern language in the puzzle along with the usual fill.

  3. Avg Solvr says:

    Enjoyed the LAT and NYT. CHE and WSJ seemed easier and less clever than usual though not unfun.

  4. David L says:

    This struck me as an unexciting Friday puzzle with a few nice touches — “addition to the mix” for REVERB is cute.

    In case anyone is wondering, YLEM is a decidedly passe piece of terminology. It was coined by the originators of the Big Bang theory as a word for the content of the very early (seconds to minutes) universe, but was never widely adopted in scientific circles. As physicists began to understand better what actually happened back then, the need for a special word disappeared.

    MW11 doesn’t even list ‘ylem,’ which is fine by me.

    • sbmanion says:


      I wonder what will happen to YLEM if there was no big bang. I saw a show about two months ago that suggested that some cosmologists believe that the universe always was. That theory/hypothesis provides a more elegant solution to some of the intractable problems of physics. Here is one recent site:


      • David L says:


        I’m not familiar with that proposal, but it seems it would still require a phase when the universe was hot and dense enough for nuclear reactions, which is what the ‘ylem’ originally referred to. As cosmologists have pushed back farther in time, they have to consider phases when the universe was a mix of quarks and lighter particles, or more fundamental stuff still.

        What happened at earlier times than that is anyone’s guess, frankly. Lots of ideas, no certainty.

        • bhensley says:

          Big Bang cosmology is pretty much an observational certainty at this point down to about 10^-30 seconds (or so) after the Big Bang. The paper in question (as I understand it) only deals with extrapolating from 10^-30 to 0 (did the Universe start out as an actual point or as some finite volume?) and has little implication on our understanding of what happens afterward.

          Even as an astrophysicist, I had never heard of ylem before today.

          • Bencoe says:

            In the article linked to above, it is claimed that the new theory provides a cosmological constant which eliminates the need for dark energy and dark matter, similar to dark fluid theories. Also that it eliminates the need for a Big Crunch. However, the article didn’t really give any details and I didn’t get much of a sense of how this is all supposed to be achieved. It certainly doesn’t seem like a new idea to say that rather than an actual singularity the Big Bang state of the universe was a sort of quantum flux.

          • Papa John says:

            Why is Big Bang capitalized?

        • bhensley says:

          Aren’t all historical events capitalized, e.g. the Great Fire of London? Though, to be fair, I’ve seen it both ways in the literature.

  5. huda says:

    NYT: Just last night, we had guests for dinner and I showed them a photo of my grandfather wearing a TARBOOSH and explained that we call it that, not Fez… Fez might also be North African.
    The West fell easily, the East seemed harder to me. REAR AREA did not help. ST MARY’S was a total guess.

    • Gary R says:


      I’m sure you’re familiar with Sault Ste. Marie and the Soo Locks. The locks are on the St. Mary’s River, which is part of the US/Canada border and separates Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie Ontario. No idea why both cities get the French spelling and the river gets the English spelling.

      • huda says:

        Gary, right, that was exactly the basis of my guess, but I was hesitant because of the difference in spelling. But come to think of it, there’s also Sault vs. Soo, so I guess they just didn’t care to keep the original French spelling (or pronunciation).
        When I first moved to Michigan, I used to pronounce it “So Ste. Marie”, thinking of the original meaning of leap or falls, until someone laughed and explained it was pronounced Soo. I should have learned that lesson in Iowa (where I first landed when I came to the US)- I got laughed at for saying Des Moines the French way, after they sussed out what I was referring to.

        • sandirhodes says:

          And if you mispronounce their way, you get it as well! I.e., never say ‘dez moinz’ — its ‘duh moin’ (first syllable intentional!). I remember saying ‘day muan’ to a fellow who grew up in the city — he didn’t have a clue!

    • Lois says:

      As geography is one of the many things I don’t know well, I was glad to find this answer easy to guess also. Once one had the “y” from YULE LOGS, St. Marys was pretty easy even though I knew nothing much about the Great Lakes area. I’m glad to have Gary R’s explanations, though, with Huda’s comments.

  6. CY Hollander says:

    Re the NYT, I agree with everyone else that REAR AREA is not an idiom. I also was not fond of the equation of a “bout” (IIRC) with a SIEGE. I’d like to see a single phrase where the one is an acceptable substitution for the other.

    • Papa John says:

      I bulked at the “lengthy” part of the clue. While some sieges can, indeed, take some time, not all do. Siege simply means surrounding and cutting off supplies of some military objective. It seems oxymoronic to use it with “bout”, which means some short-lived activity.

      • Papa John says:

        bulked = balked

      • CY Hollander says:

        I mean, “siege” is sometimes used metaphorically to imply a lengthy campaign (sense 2 here) and bouts can be prolonged, so in theory one can imagine that these words might sometimes overlap. In practice, I can’t think of a single case where I’d use one in place of the other.

  7. Brad says:

    “Bout” and “siege” are synonyms if you think of them in terms of illness. An extended bout of flu, long siege with the flu.

  8. Very pleased to see that the current rating of Wren Schultz’s brilliant CHE puzzle is — at this precise moment — exactly a full unit above 3.14 (to two significant digits). Seeing EULER in the grid also reminded me of the ridiculously incorrect pronunciation of the great Swiss mathematician’s name by Keira Knightley in the otherwise mostly wonderful “Imitation Game” Turing biopic, and allows me to sign off with happy thoughts of this amazing formula, as well as this xkcd rendering.

  9. JohnV says:

    I friggin’ hate Pi Day puzzles. So bloody contrived. Stop, already.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      You know what’s worse than Pi Day? “Star Wars Day” on May 4. “May the fourth be with you.” Because yes, that’s how we say dates all the time. “Friday the 13th,” yes, but not “March the 13th.” I say Star Wars Day is more bogus than Pi Day. And Pi Day … when you’ve paid attention to it once, haven’t you had enough of it to last a lifetime?

      • I used to feel the same way about pi day, but let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment: (a) one way or another, this device has unleashed a lot of creativity from many a constructor over the years, including several rather recent; (b) this year is especially special, because with 3.1415926535…, we can observe a pi moment, if you will, on 3/14/15, at 9:26:54 a.m. (rounded up to the nearest second).

        Tangential to this subject, can I put on my chemist hat: there’s this pseudo-event called mole day, inspired by Avogadro’s number = 6.02 x 10(23), so some people celebrate 10/23, while others observe 6/02, probably depending on when in the calendar moles come up in the curriculum.

      • Bencoe says:

        I like May the 4th because it is my wedding anniversary and it made it much easier to remember when I was younger.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          Us too! But we had the anniversary date before internet dorkdom tried to ruin the date forever.

          My mom and my in-laws have variously insisted that our anniversary is the 3rd or 5th. Apparently they could use the Star Wars Day mnemonic.

    • pannonica says:

      I agree. The fuss is so irrational.

  10. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Enjoyed the π ρ teχnics, of course, though I wonder how 1A:THEM is an adjective in “them apples” or anywhere else. Why isn’t it a pronoun as usual?


    • pannonica says:

      adjective \ˈthem\
      Definition of THEM

      : those —used chiefly in nonstandard speech and for humorous effect

      First Known Use of THEM


  11. Avg Solvr says:

    Like the tune, pannonica.

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