Thursday, September 3, 2015

NYT 4:40 (Amy) 
Fireball 5:49 (Amy) 
LAT 5:38 (Gareth) 
CS tk (Ade) 
BEQ 7:13 (Ben) 

Merl Reagle’s ACPT/New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 3 15, no 0903

NY Times crossword solution, 9 3 15, no 0903

This 17×17 puzzle, “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” has this annotation: “In honor of the late, beloved crossword constructor Merl Reagle, today we present a classic puzzle of his from the 1991 1999 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.” I almost certainly did this puzzle in one of the two out-of-print book collections of ACPT puzzles (and if Will is ever able to reprint these volumes, I’d encourage you all to buy them—the older puzzles are a bit dated by now, but there are so many nifty themes, and the puzzles are great prep for competing at ACPT) but don’t remember it. Fun theme! Words that look like they could be Greek gods if you changed the pronunciation get the Merl-whimsy treatment. As the revealer explains, 39a: REPRONUNCIATION is the [Key to understanding the theme of this puzzle].

14a: [Greek god of bondage?] clues MANACLES, which you could make rhyme with Pericles and Heracles if you wanted to play Merl’s game. (And you do, of course.) ERUDITE evokes Aphrodite; TELEPHONE, Persephone; GAMETES, not sure what three-syllable god or goddess has a similar sound; ENVELOPE, maybe Penelope; ANTI-BIAS, not sure; AMPERES, Ceres; FOLLICLES, see MANACLES; SPARE US, maybe Nereus; and LIMEADES, maybe Hades or the Pleiades.

There’s a bonus actual Greek-derived word, NEMESIS, that feels right at home in this puzzle.

As you’d expect in a puzzle made almost 25 years ago, even by a “New Wave” constructor like Merl, some of the fill is a little blah—plural OTTS, partial A DAMN, JAI alai, EXILER and IRONERS, NENE, and TSE were all unexceptional fill back then, while the Hawaiian goose and T.S. Eliot’s initials seldom find their way into puzzles now (or they’re clued differently). What’s impressive is that Merl stacks theme answers in the SW and NE corners and includes a whopping 93 theme squares in a 17×17 grid, and the fill I don’t care for doesn’t at all dominate the grid. He’s got lively bits like COURT TV, HOME RUNS, and MANHATTAN squeezed in there, along with lots of familiar words and names—despite the 11 theme entries appearing in more than half of the puzzle’s rows. And Merl didn’t use brute-force computing and database management to make it happen.

I was surprised to finish the puzzle this quickly, given that it’s a plus-sized Thursday puzzle. Was I coasting on Merl’s wavelength, or was it easier than expected for you, too?

Merl was an exceptional constructor and wordsmith, but no less remarkable as a human being and friend. A hundred stars for Merl—no, make it a million. 4.75 stars for the puzzle.

Postscript: Pulled out Will Shortz’s Tournament Crosswords, Volume 2, 1998-2004, and see that my original on-paper solving time for Merl’s puzzle was 8:11, but I was drowsy at the time.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 87″—Amy’s write-up

Fireball crossword solution, 9 3 15 "Themeless 87"

Fireball crossword solution, 9 3 15 “Themeless 87”

Solid themeless, not too easy and not too hard. Highlights in the fill include the novel BEE SEASON (which I have yet to read, though a friend lent it to me years ago), the MGM LION ([Movie icon with a big mouth], great clue), OUT-BOX, FLAMENCO, STEAMED MILK in latte art, IGNEOUS ROCK (which sounds like a music genre, perhaps hard rock with lots of pyrotechnics on stage?), and WHEELIES.

Did you pick up on the mini-theme of a sort? BEE SEASON and its symmetry partner SEE REASON differ only in the initial letters.

Clues of note:

  • 17a. [His Secret Service code names were Sawhorse and Sundance], AL GORE. I was trying to think of a president or recent presidential candidate with a 6-letter surname ending in RE and was coming up blank. Six letters is pretty short for a full name (though I know a Ray Lo too).
  • 58a. [Call number?], RINGTONE. Here, number = song, ≠ numerals.
  • 3d. [Foreigner hit with the lyric “I know what I need and I need it fast”], URGENT. I don’t recognize the lyric (I am terrible with lyrics) but the words do connote urgency so it’s a neat clue.
  • 11d. [Things that can be popped on hogs], WHEELIES. Man, I hope somebody tried PUSTULES here.
  • 41d. [Only county name shared by the four most populous states (California, Texas, Florida, and New York), ORANGE. Only knew of FL and CA.
  • 52d. [Skeevy looks], LEERS. I appreciate a judgment call on leering as skeevy and not merely amorous.
  • 7a. [Phoenix suburb], MESA. It’s a rare suburb that’s approaching a population of a half million. This suburb is larger than the biggest city in many a state.

APSE and NNW don’t excite, but overall, really smooth grid. Not super-showy, but smooth. 4.25 stars.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Expired Links” — Ben’s Review


Based on the ratings alone, last week’s BEQ Thursday was, to put it lightly, divisive.  Hopefully those of you that were a little confused by all the swiping left and right are sated a little more by this week’s puzzle, which features past-tense versions of some websites that aren’t Tinder:

  • 17A: Spilled some Cheerios, say? — DROPPED BOX
  • 24A: Proposed to put a split in the road? — PITCHED FORK
  • 34A: Gave a member of the A-Team the boot? — KICKED STARTER
  • 47A: Chose to play some Courtney Love on Spotify? — CLICKED HOLE
  • 55A: Comestibles after a night of drinking? — BUZZED FEED

A quick rundown of what all these sites do: Dropbox is where you can upload and send large files, Pitchfork is a music review site focusing mostly on the type of indie bands BEQ and I like, KickStarter is where you can give BEQ a bunch of your money for some awesome diagramlesses, Buzzfeed is that site with the lists your friend posts on Facebook, and Clickhole is the Onion’s parody of that site with the lists your other friend posts on Facebook.

Elsewhere in the puzzle, I found it amazingly rewarding that my decision to put POOPS in the grid for 14A‘s “Does a number two” was rewarded with that BEING THE CORRECT ANSWER instead of being something I immediately erased once I had the down clues figured out.  Also nice to find is that you can now use “Singer Pia ___ ” as a clue (as in 40A) where the answer is not ZADORA (and the clue is not sarcastic.  See above for Ms. Zadora’s “talents”).  The correct answer, by the way, is Pia MIA, who it turns out is semi-decent at singing.

Other things I liked in this puzzle: learning that my hunch EL GRECO was born Domenikos Theotokopoulos (27A) was correct (a nice substitute while Learned League’s on Labor Day break), a shout-out to ?uestlove’s AFRO at 53D, and 38A‘s “Point of math” being DECIMAL.  I refuse to believe that a FOOZLE is not a character from children’s literature and not a golf thing, but 43D managed to trip me up.

It doesn’t quite beat out last week’s puzzle, but this was a pretty nice follow-up.  4/5 stars

C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times 150903

LA Times

This puzzle is a more interesting variation on the clue/answer reversal theme trope. Four answers are strongly associated with hoods. They are clued as [Hood site(s)] . This clue felt clunky at times, but I can’t think of a better clue that works for all 4. KINGCOBRAS have anatomical hoods. SHERWOODFOREST was the home of apocryphal Robin HOOD. GANGSTERMOVIES feature HOODs as in criminals. A SWEATSHIRT has a HOOD that goes over the head.

There are good selections of down answers today: PLEASERISE, LEGPRESS, HITANDMISS and SPICYHOT. Except for the latter, they do mostly rely on “easy” letters, but that’s no crime if the answers pop. I find HITANDMISS an odd phrase – surely hitting and missing are mutually exclusive?

I saw where [Docs using cones] was going immediately, but refused to believe it. Didn’t know it was a commonly used term outside of the veterinary profession. I guess Up! has popularised the particular colloquialism. I still mostly get requests for a HOOD, though. Occasionally a lampshade. Another noteworthy clue was [Bone involved in Tommy John surgery], ULNA. It’s an OLAF, you only need [Bone…] to get there. I had no idea what Tommy John surgery was; it looks like a typo! Apparently an elbow surgery that was first done on someone with that name!

4 Stars

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14 Responses to Thursday, September 3, 2015

  1. Steve J says:

    An absolutely delightful puzzle from Merl Reagle. It’s not often that puzzles make me laugh, and this one did many times. Great reminder of his brilliance.

  2. Ephraim says:

    Merl’s NYT puzzle is classic in every sense. It’s a great theme, a fun puzzle, it’s wearing well, and it’s him all over.

  3. cyberdiva says:

    A delightful NYT puzzle. I often wind up moving from the bottom to the top, and so my first “god” was FOLLICULA, as in CALIGULA. It took me a while to realize that all the other gods were repronunciations of relevant words, but even then, I was loathe to abandon FOLLICULA until the very end.

    R.I.P. Merl, you’re much missed.

  4. huda says:

    NYT: Wow, I had no idea this was such an old puzzle, I thought it was something that was waiting to be published. And I too found it really funny, a fun solve– perfect. And it’s wonderful to hear someone’s “voice” after they’ve passed away.

    • anon says:

      I too liked the puzzle, but a few of the dated clues/answers pointed to its age: COURTTV (renamed tru TV in 2008), DALE Bumpers, Italian LIRE – although, technically not the “Outside the Lines” clue for ESPN (the program is still running, but afternoons, so it doesn’t get the exposure it once did).

      Very nice theme.

  5. John from Chicago says:

    Amy, for GAMETES, try Curetes or, more likely, Ganymede and for ANTIBIAS, try Prophasis.

    • Papa John says:

      Is it necessary to find a specific god to represent each zany fill in the theme? Just re-pronouncing the words with a Greek twist produces words that could be gods, without reference to any actual deities of the Greek pantheon. Thinking of MANACLES as Manakles, the god of bondage, is humor enough for me.

      I actually remember this puzzle, probably because the movie, “The Gods Must Be Crazy” was such a hit with me, despite its preponderance of madcap humor. The gap between the release date of the movie and Merl’s puzzle – a decade — surprised me.

      • John from Chicago says:

        Papa John, you make an interesting point. After I finished, I went back and tried to associate each with an actual Greek deity, as Amy did. Eventually, perhaps out of frustration, I gave that up and started looking at them for what they were with the Greek-sounding endings and that’s when I found them funny. Then I was able to picture the zaniness of Reagle’s mind and how it worked.

        But, I still think it’s an interesting exercise to see if Reagle was thinking of a particular god or goddess when he came up with the theme entry. And I suspect he did have someone in mind, just to tie it all together.

  6. Art Shapiro says:

    If I’ve ever done a Merl puzzle before, I have no recollection, as I would never see his creations in an AcrossLite format. (I find the Java applet tediously unusable.)

    Were they always THIS good?


  7. Papa John says:

    Amy, you might get a kick out of this. Whenever Pia Zadora appeared in a puzzle, I thought she was a WWII Parisian chanteuse. It wasn’t until Ben posted his link to the pop star, today, that I realized I’ve been wrong this whole time. Oh my…

  8. DJ says:

    Growing up we used to joke about the Greek god of reproduction – Testicles. I’m sure Merl thought about it, but maybe deemed it a little risque.

  9. Dude says:

    Really enjoyed the Reagle puzzle and BEQ’s as well. It’s unfortunate that more crosswords aren’t infused with wit and humor.

  10. Pamela Kelly says:

    Can’t believe that there are 5 people out there that would not give Merl 5 stars for this puzzle. It’s about respect people.

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