Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NYT 3:30 (Amy) 
Jonesin' 3:19 (joon—paper) 
LAT 4:19 (Matt) 
CS 11:28 (Ade) 
Xword Nation untimed (Janie) 

Bruce Haight’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 4 14 15, no 0414

NY Times crossword solution, 4 14 15, no 0414

The gimmick here is that all of the puzzle’s answers are drawn from a letter bank of just 8 letters: AEI and GHTRS. The previous record for an NYT puzzle was 10 letters. Now, the upshot of such a constraint is that you get a lot of clunky fill that you don’t normally see such a concentration of, particularly this early in the week. HIES, SIEG, SIGHER, SETHS, ART I, AGRI-, RAREE, SSGTS, TITI, ATRA, STETS, AGHA, TERRI, AST, TERA-, RAES, IRREG, REES, TARSI, ATHS, ASTR, and ERTE? With access to the full alphabet, I wouldn’t expect to see more than a handful of these in a single puzzle. You know what? I like the whole alphabet. It gives us all sorts of interesting words to play with. I would like a refund for the 18 letters missing from this grid.

Now, the 10-letter anchors are solid, particularly “THAT’S GREAT” and EASTER EGGS. But there’s also a duplication with GET SET and STARTER SET. Granted, the noun “set” in 53-Across has a different etymology than the verb-based “set” in 43a, but those two SETs are pretty close together in the grid.

I kinda feel like the main fun here is the constructor’s enjoyment of tackling the letter-bank challenge rather than the solver’s fun in wrestling with the puzzle. RAES RAREE ATHS just leaves me cold. 2.5 stars from me. Use all the letters next time, Bruce! We like them.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle (Week 202), “Fleet of Foot”—Janie’s review

Crossword Nation 4/14 (No. 202) Graphic by Gorski

Crossword Nation 4/14 (No. 202) Graphic by Gorski

“YES! YES!” (47D). With seven themers plus a high-voltage, theme-related graphic element, this most successful (18D) TRIBUTE puzzle TIDILY (45D) packs a cruciverbal WALLOP (2D). It UTILIZES (10D) all the tools of creative puzzle-making our constructor is known for and ATTESTS (39D) to her on-going ability to re-imagine the limits of the “early-week” puzzle. This puzzle is as medal-worthy as its subject, imho… And that would be:

  • 6A, 37A and 66A. THE / WORLD’S FASTEST / MAN, moniker of the “fleet of foot”
  • These are from 2012. They match the trio from 2008.
    These are from 2012. They match the trio from 2008.
  • 57A. USAIN BOLT, whose last name (and running feet feats) surely led to his being symbolically associated with
  • 9A. PUMA running shoes are on his feet and
  • 65A. GOLD medals (six from the Olympics so far) complement his official team ATTIRE (3D).

Then, by connecting the dots (circled letters) alphabetically from the first “A” in TATAS (13A) to the “B” in BUYERS (36A) to the “C” in SPEC (29A) to the “D” in ERUDITE (51A) to the “E” in FETA (43A) to the “F” in ROLFE (64A), lo and behold, we’re rewarded with that lightning bolt, symbolic of his signature “pose”—and a dynamic graphic touch cutting diagonally through the puzzle.

I’ve already highlighted some of the lively non-thematic fill that makes this puzzle so strong, but let me not fail to mention as well OPEN CALL, ALADDIN, STUMPS, FEDORA, PORSCHE, TYPE A’S, B SHARP and SLEEVES. I especially love that this last one is clued as [Record holders?]. Now, Usain Bolt is one kind of record holder, but as the answer confirms, the clue is, in fact, talking about vinyl records. Good one.

I also very much like the image that [Portions of a mini-pizza, say] gives us for THIRDS; that [It might get shadowed by a makeup artist?] has nothing to do with sleuthing and all to do with the application of color to the EYELID; and the way [Bad back?] has nothing to do with body ache and all to do with wordplay: ASS can follow the word “bad” to give us the snarky bad-ass. Now that’s “bad” in the best possible way!

Finally on the plus-side, and this may be total serendipity, but who cares? Do note how MORAL [Lesson from Aesop] crosses the philosophically-associated ETHOS [Underlying values].

My only concern is that perhaps some of the cluing was a tad more difficult than I’d been anticipating. The very specific, almost niche-centered [Tennis sweaters, e.g.] for ATTIRE and [Carravagio’s “The Sacrifice of ___”] for ISAAC right there at the puzzle’s start had me scratching my head for a while. This didn’t seem “early week” to me. Even the beautiful [Felt for Indiana Jones?] for FEDORA. Clearly, I eventually got everything, but I’m wondering how the newbies fared.

In sum: top-notch theme, theme execution, overall fill (so much good, juicy longer vocab!), and cluing. No weak links here.

If you, too, like this kind of connect-the-dots/graphic puzzle in the Crossword Nation rotation (or if you feel otherwise!), don’t be shy about voicing an opinion. I have it on good authority that Liz would love to know how you feel about this! ;-)

Inspiration for a quilt perhaps...

Inspiration for a quilt perhaps…


Gary Cee’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Matt’s review

Highly professional work in the L.A. Times today from Gary Cee: the theme makes sense, the fill is outstanding, and the clues are far-ranging and interesting.


Theme entries are:

18-A [Superfluous individual] = FIFTH WHEEL. I’ve always thought this should be “third wheel.” It’s useful to have a fifth wheel (spare) in a car, and since you’re going for the “three’s a crowd” idea, why have the metaphor take a 5 instead of a 3? But still, good entry.

24-A [Compilation of wacky outtakes] = BLOOPER REEL. I can watch these endlessly, even from shows I’m not familiar with.

39-A [Summer blouse] = HALTER TOP.

55-A [Olympian’s achievement] = WORLD RECORD.

All good theme entries, so what’s the connection? Revealer to the rescue:

63-A [Ride around … or what the ends of 18-, 24-, 39- and 55-Across can do] = GO FOR A SPIN. They all spin, that’s the connection.

A plethora of good fill, which made the solve very pleasant: GOD NO, WING IT, HOPEFUL, LOOK OUT, TELEX, CLAM BAR and BED REST.

There aren’t many undiscovered entries in the 3-5 letter range, but it’s still nice to see the most evocative and interesting ones used: WII, EURO, YALE, RABBI, DAKAR, SIRI, KIT, LIMO, NOVA, LAP UP.

In fact, let’s give this one the five-worst-entries test, since I think it’ll do great: hmm, there’s really nothing. ORE, IRE…grasping at straws here. That’s stellar fill, and in a grid with five theme entries.

4.25 stars. Frame this one, as it’s a perfect easy-level crossword. The NYT should contract Gary for some Mondays!

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

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 04.14.15: "A Prickly Situation"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 04.14.15: “A Prickly Situation”

Good morning, everyone! Got all of your taxes done and avoiding prickly situations with the IRS? Hope so! I also hope you’re not afraid of needles, though I guess there might be a couple on here that do have that fear. Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Ms. Donna S. Levin, is all about needles, and the people (real and fictional) and things that employ the use of a needle.

  • SEWING MACHINE (20A: [Manufacturing equipment that uses needles]) – Thanks to my mom, I’m competent – albeit far from efficient – in using a swing machine.
  • RECORD PLAYER (31A: [Sound device that uses needles])
  • TATTOO ARTIST (39A: [Parlor worker who uses needles]) – Unlike the first two answers, I have yet to employ this needle user for any of my needs and wants in my life.
  • MADAME DEFARGE (51A: [Dickens character who uses needles])

Couldn’t help but think about a possible vacation destination when I saw PALERMO, as I’m really starting to think which places I should head to unwind for a few days (4D: [Largest city in Sicily]). The answer adjacent to that was good fill as well, ARMS RACE (3D: [Cold War competition]). The intersection of ERROL (43A: [The Weasleys’ owl, in the “Harry Potter” series]) and EMMETT could have proved to be a real tricky one for solvers – unless you’re up on your famous clowns (43D: [Legendary clown Kelly]). There are a couple of answers in the puzzle that can be described as very similar: MEET UP (48A: [Rendezvous]) and RUN-INS (11D: [Confrontations]). To this day, I still haven’t employed the services of an UBER driver, though I recently covered a college basketball player during March Madness, Xavier University’s (Ohio) Matt Stainbrook, who also moonlights as an Uber driver (24D: [Controversial app-based car service]). It’s actually a real fascinating story, and there’s an awesome short video about it that accompanies a feature story on Stainbrook on ESPN.com. There aren’t too many Uber drivers are 6-10 and have legitimate NBA aspirations.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SEC (27A: [Cos’s reciprocal]) – In college sports, SEC refers to the Southeastern Conference, an athletic conference that currently is made up of 14 institutions. The league consisted of 12 schools between 1991 (when South Carolina and Arkansas joined the league) and 2012 before the University of Missouri and Texas A&M University were admitted. The league was founded in 1932 and, at the time, consisted of 13 institutions. Ten of those schools have remained in the league, while three of the founding members – Georgia Tech, Tulane and Sewanee (The University of the South) – no longer are in the league.

See you all on Hump Day! Have a great rest of your Tuesday!

Take care!


Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Systems of a Down”

Jonesin' crossword solution, 4 14 15 "Systems of a Down"

Jonesin’ crossword solution, 4 14 15 “Systems of a Down”

hello friends! joon here checking in for the second time today with the jonesin’ puzzle, “Systems of a Down”. (if amy were here blogging, she’d tell you her “proof of a refrigerator” story, but i’m not amy and i don’t remember the rest of the story.) matt riffs on the weird band name system of a down with four down-oriented theme answers, each consisting of two “___ system” words stuck together and clued wackily. to wit:

  • {That little “ding” when you get a treat?} REWARD SOUND.
  • {Where measurement offenders may be sent?} METRIC PRISON. oh my god, don’t you think our prison system is crowded enough already?
  • {Device that utters “Um, step away from the car, maybe?”} NERVOUS ALARM. you know what? that actually seems way less nervous to me than a standard car alarm. here’s jerry seinfeld’s take on the matter.
  • {Someone who thinks exactly the same way you do?} BELIEF BUDDY.

so: cute theme. but with the jonesin’ puzzle, it’s often the fill and clues that really set it apart from standard newspaper offerings. this is not to say that the fill is necessarily better, mind you (although pretty much any puzzle has better fill than today’s nyt): there are plenty of entries i don’t care for, starting with A RIP at 1-across and including also UNWET, A TIP, GARNI, I MET A, RABE, ALAR, IS A, and EDINA. but generally when matt jones uses a sub-optimal fill answer, he’s compensating for it by putting something else good nearby. let’s have a stroll through the puzzle:

  • {Star of the most recent Academy Award winner for Best Picture} KEATON. i guess this is michael KEATON. he was in birdman? (i think that was the most recent best picture, right?) i should probably have known that.
  • {Love sickness?} STD. hoo boy, that is a great clue—and, i need hardly add, one you won’t see in a newspaper crossword!
  • {Molecular matter} ATOM. this one felt slightly off to me. an ATOM is a bit of matter, but “matter” by itself is a collective noun (unless it is used to mean “issue” or “situation”), so it would be used to clue ATOMS.
  • {“Oh, but you must!”} is “I INSIST”. i’ve seen this a few times, but i still love it. perfectly in the language but it starts with that crazy double-i.
  • {Bills, later on} LAWS. no, not the buffalo bills, or invoice bills. here, let schoolhouse rock explain.
  • {Just barely enough signal, on some phones} is ONE BAR, an entry i’ve never seen before. i’m not 100% sold on its crossworthiness, but matt is never afraid to push the envelope, and certainly the clue and answer are evocative. on balance, i think i like it.
  • {“Battlestar Galactica” baddie} CYLON. bsg:cylon::blade runner:replicant.
  • {No-private matter?} AWOL. another great clue for an entry i’ve seen in a zillion crosswords (including two others today, if i’m not mistaken).
  • {“At Seventeen” singer Janis} IAN. i’ve seen this name in puzzles a bunch of times, sometimes to clue IAN and sometimes JANIS. i still don’t know which one is the first name and which is the last name. i’d say the odds are something like 2-to-1 in favor of janis ian as opposed to ian janis.
  • {“Thor” actress Alexander} JAIMIE. never heard of her, but nevertheless i’m pretty sure JAIMIE is her first name.
  • french cinema fans get a double-dip today with {“Amelie” star Audrey} TAUTOU and louis malle’s {“My Dinner with ___”} ANDRE.
  • something about the symmetric pairing of PET ODOR and MAN O’WAR tickles me, but i can’t quite express just what that something is.

fun puzzle. 4 stars, maybe bump it up to 4.3 based on that clue for STD.

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30 Responses to Tuesday, April 14, 2015

  1. Gary R says:

    My dog ate the plastic lid of a yogurt carton this morning and barfed it up this afternoon. When I looked at the pieces on the floor, it seemed to spell out SSGTS/SETTE/TITI. If not for that, I never would have been able to solve Mr. Haight’s puzzle. Wow – lucky for me! (and the dog seemed to be happy that we had used so few letters.)

  2. Huda says:

    Janie, I always read your reviews, even though I only do the NYT (trying to avoid mission creep given my time limitations… Otherwise I’d be tempted to do lots of puzzles and I’m not that good, so it would take all day). Anyhow, you often make me feel like I missed out on a go one, and today was no exception! This one really looked like fun! Thanks for the colorful write-up and illustration.
    Of course, many thanks to Amy and the whole team for doing this day in and day out. I can now predict Amy’s star rating for the NYT within a half a star accuracy. So, learning something!

    • janie says:

      great to get this kind of feedback, huda — thank you for reading! ;-) i fully understand about not opting to solve every puzzle out there — or subscribe to every indie — but hold on to this link. it’ll give you access to a few free samples when you need a well-made early-week puzz!

      is every puzzle “flawless”? nah. they’re puzzles, and sometimes there are compromises in the fill. but there are no fatal flaws. more to the point, faaaar more often than not, the puzzles are fresh and/or take on a known gimmick in a fresh way. or, like today, shine all over. this, on a weekly basis. that’s what never fails to impress!


  3. Avg Solvr says:

    Impressive feat by Mr. Haight I’d say. I wonder how constructors feel about it.

    • AV says:

      Not impressed. If he had used just eight letters and had a theme to match, I would not mind the clunky fill Amy mentions. Without anything else happening in the grid, this is a stunt that fails. (My first low low rating in a long time, sorry Bruce).

  4. tom says:

    Very impressive puzzle. Thank you Mr. Haight.

  5. Andy says:

    Here’s the gist: I get that Haight’s EIGHT gag hits the heights. Is it great? Eh. I stare aghast at RAREE, SSGTS, TITI, RAES, ATHS… Gah, that tears it! I seethe. I gather that Haight regrets that these heresies are here, right? I reiterate: Reassess the trash, sir. I rate this a straight three stars.

  6. Gareth says:

    Another crossword for those who don’t think the words in crosswords matter…

  7. pauer says:

    I think the real Easter egg is that we’re meant to write in HT below the central column.

  8. David L says:

    I can make a crossword using just one letter. The clue would be “sound heard at a fireworks display (depending on degree of astonishment)”

    • Zulema says:

      Didn’t Manny Nosowsky construct an April Fool’s crossword about 15 years ago with just one letter, a T? It absolutely drove me nuts and I got quite upset with him. It was a Saturday NYT puzzle. Brilliant!

  9. Sarah says:

    The disparity between the NYT and LAT today is huge. The NYT is pretty bad – the theme is bad unless you can find a way to fill the grid reasonably well – lots of poor entries.

    LAT, on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic. FIFTHWHEEL is its only significant flaw – THIRDWHEEL is far more common, and there are ways to fill that section with THIRDWHEEL instead that don’t rely on obscure entries.

    Of all the NYT crosswords and LAT puzzles so far this year, I like today’s LAT the most.

    • pannonica says:

      More rigorous (but less well-known) definition of a fifth wheel. Perhaps if it weren’t the ‘first’ theme answer to appear …

      • Papa John says:

        In truth, this is the only way I’ve ever understood the phrase. I don’t get how it works, even. Why is a fifth person superfluous? What are the other four guys doing that would make the fifth get in the way? I can see why two people might want to be alone, but… I just don’t get it.

  10. Gareth says:

    LAT: What Matt said in the first paragraph…

  11. ahimsa says:

    I have not yet done the Tuesday NYT or LAT but I had to come here to praise this week’s Crossword Nation puzzle. It’s great! I’m so glad I subscribed.

  12. Jeffrey K says:

    Amy: “Use all the letters next time, Bruce! We like them.”

    A-ha! You are a pangram lover after all!

  13. Jenni Levy says:

    The NYT and CN today provide a perfect constrast. I don’t much care about the feat of using only eight letters, and it detracted from what I do care about – good fill and a smooth solve. I don’t much like connect-the-dots puzzles, either, and in this case the fill and theme were wonderful. In both cases I can appreciate the accomplishment. I really enjoyed Liz’s puzzle in addition to appreciating it.

    I appreciated Stanley Kubrick’s accomplishment when I saw “A Clockwork Orange”. It’s a tour-de-force of film-making. It was a thoroughly unpleasant experience to actually watch it.

    Andy’s comment, on the other hand, was a delight to read :)

  14. So, nobody else remembers that Matt Gaffney did about the same thing 4 years ago back in MGWCC #149? (And apparently also a 9-letter bank back in MGWCC #72, too)

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