Friday, September 25, 2015

NYT 4:40 (Amy) 
LAT 7:10 (Gareth) 
CS 9:51 (Ade) 
CHE 5:13 (with keyboard problems)(pannonica) 
Fireball 5:52 (Amy) 

The WSJ puzzle for Friday is a meta contest puzzle by Mike Shenk’s alter ego, Marie Kelly. It will be reviewed on this site after the contest closes Sunday evening.

James Mulhern’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 25 15, no 0925

NY Times crossword solution, 9 25 15, no 0925

The marquee answer here is the one at the top of the staggered center stack: 32a. [So-called (but not really)], “QUOTE UNQUOTE.” Have you ever seen someone use that term in writing, in lieu of just putting the phrase in quotes? I swear I have. This is a phrase that should be limited to oral use.

Did you notice that three of the uppermost four answers use the same letter bank? 1a, 10a, and 16a contain nothing but INOPRT.

Nice to see O SOLE MIO in its totality (as opposed to O SOLE or MIO in the grid), and cross-referenced with PAVAROTTI.


I originally made a typo when entering 13d: INUNDATE: INUNDATA. That should be a word! Who among us has not suffered the slings and arrows of an inundation of data?

Least favorite fill: AMINES, ODO-, ANODIC (ANODE is blah enough, but this adjectival form?), CEES, plural AYS and plural ARTURS.

Never heard of: 3d. [Civil War historian Allan], NEVINS. Much prefer NIVENS for the Betty White character Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Also didn’t know the BAER clued as 45a: [Old newspaper humorist Arthur “Bugs” ___] or the IONE clued as 11d. [“The Last Days of Pompeii” heroine]. Just me?

Clue quibble: 54d. [___ marriage], GAY. Uh, yeah, that’s just called marriage now.

Not much else I want to say here. Three stars from me.

Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “From Zero to Hero”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 09.25.15: "From Zero to Hero"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 09.25.15: “From Zero to Hero”

Good afternoon, everyone!! Here’s hoping you have some great plans for the last weekend in September. Honestly, it’s going to be October next week! Weren’t we just in the middle of summer? Well, I’m sure a lot of people on here would prefer the fall more than any other season, and I totally can understand that!

Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Doug Peterson, is a clever theme in which puns are created when the first letter, which would usually start with the letter Z, is dropped and replaced with letter, H, with the clues to those entries creating those puns. Now, I did say that the puzzle was brought to us by Doug, but is there a chance that it was really inspired by…Vanilla Ice????

  • HEN BUDDHISTS (20A: [Meditative coop group?]) – From “Zen Buddhists.”
  • HIP DRIVE (34A: [Rodeo in Beverly Hills, for example?]) – From “zip drive.”
  • HOOT SUIT (44A: [Woodsy Owl costume?]) – From “zoot suit.”
  • HIPPO LIGHTER (53A: [Headline about a zoo animal on a successful diet?]) – From “zippo lighter.”

This is a pretty sweet puzzle, and that’s not just because there are entries like ROLO (14A: [Caramel-filled candy]) and COCOA in the grid (16A: [Word with bean or Beach]). There’s also TRIX in there to complete the goodness of treats, though I never was enamored with those fruity-like cereals (56D: [Its flavors include wildberry blue]). Love the fill of BOY BAND, but have never been a fan of boy bands, or at least the ones that have become popular in the past quarter century (4D: [One Direction, for one]). OK, I can’t say that: I was all about New Edition back in the 1980s. They were the Massachusetts boy band that I was really into, as opposed to New Kids on the Block. When I had the honor of covering the U.S. Open tennis tournament earlier this month, as well as a tennis tournament in Montréal in August, part of my blog posts about the goings-on at these events centered around what was happening in the media room, and the one thing that was so sweet about covering international tennis tournaments as a member of the media: free beer. So, at the U.S. Open one day, I had the choice of either Heineken Light or Miller LITE (15A: [Miller ____]). I’m not sure having both was a wise decision, but it definitely took the edge off while running around the grounds in 90-degree heat to talk tennis…


“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: PLEAT (64D: [Kilt fold])  – Former soccer player David Pleat is an Englishman who played for 10 years in the Football League in England, playing mostly for Luton Town. Today, he is most known as one of the color commentators for Sky Sports on English Premier League soccer games.

Have a good weekend, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

Take care!


Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 88″—Amy’s write-up

Fireball crossword solution, "Themeless 88" 9 25 15

Fireball crossword solution, “Themeless 88” 9 25 15

Why is there another Fireball puzzle 48 hours after the last one, when there will be another one next week on the regular schedule? Why is Peter Gordon mucking with my blogging schedule? Vexatious! (And yes, I know there was a time when an “extra” puzzle would have brought me delight. That was before crosswords became my day job.)

Unusual grid, with the more typical corner stacks broken up with some black squares, a couple 14s near the middle, assorted 6s and 7s binding the long Acrosses together. This is one way to make use of 14s that seldom find a home in 15x grids. SNAKES ON A PLANE is permanently fun, and the Fireball citing Fireball brand booze in the CINNAMON WHISKY clue is fun. Didn’t realize that Fireball booze was a whiskey (I spell Irish) product. Gross.


Three more things:

  • 15d. [Painful prick source], NEEDLE. I don’t think this clue is meant to evoke “he’s a real prick” or penis = prick—but then, I get stuck with a needle at least twice a week, so my mind went straight to blood draws.
  • 60a. [Bad guy to go to bed with?], PROCRUSTES. My mythology is rusty. To the Wikipedia for an explanation! “In Greek mythology, Procrustes or ‘the stretcher [who hammers out the metal]’ was a rogue smith and bandit from Attica who physically attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, so as to force them to fit the size of an iron bed. In general, when something is Procrustean, different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard.” I should have known that—both the myth and the adjective in broader use.
  • 34d. [Rock alternative], SCISSORS. In Rock, Paper, Scissors—not musical genres or minerals or the verb.

Commenter Ethan thinks I have a double standard and ignore lousy fill in the FB while pouncing on it in the NYT. ESSO, Roman DCL, an unfamiliar ARON, and plural OMS are all I can find to take issue with in this grid. Not terrible in a 70-worder, and this handful is offset by 23 solid to great answers that are 7 to 14 letters long. 4.25 stars from me.

Amy Johnson’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 150925

LA Times

Today’s theme is cute(sy). Four phrases are clued as though they’re describing negative reactions to jokes. Each one is clued as though it were told at a specific profession’s convention. So, audiology / FELLONDEAFEARS; chemist / GOTNOREACTION; firefighter / WENTUPINSMOKE; cashier / DIDNOTREGISTER.

The theme is 14/13/13/14, and those 13’s do play havoc with grid design. I feel this puzzle falls on the wrong side of the “usage of difficult and contrived answers within moderation” in too many places. This is partly due to grid constraints, but it also feels like clean fill was actually not a big priority in this construction.

Consider the area around FULLYGROWN. The GROWN is a fairly constricted area, yet it has SMEW/EBW/OED, largely because of the ‘W’. One of a couple of ???L?GREEN answers would make that corner much cleaner. It’s not like the top part doesn’t already feature two not-at-all well-known names: ARNEL Pineda (not the fibre; I’m skeptical this is an improvement, but I consulted a second opinion who thinks it is…), and biographer EDEL.

Further along is a good old random Roman numeral, MMCI. I feel contrived/arbitrary answers are way more desperate than any difficult, but real answer. Coupled with ORNE and the in-the-dictionary-but-that’s-about-it abbr PREF makes for a lot of issues here too.

Below that is a constricted area that still has contrived NTHS, and awkward suffix NIK. Below that are difficult names KAREL and ALANA and plural abbr. that isn’t really used like that SYSTS. It does just go on; with all that, the most exasperating is ERSE. It’s an indented 4×4 corner, so there are hundreds of other options. Why go for that AND CLE too?

I did enjoy the trivia clue for ROBYN, [Singer Rihanna’s first name] and the evocative, yet initially perplexing [Where a love story may be written], INTHESTARS.

2 Stars. Theme works, but this should have been sent back, as is.

Michael Wiesenberg’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Insect Bytes” — pannonica’s write-up

CHE • 9/24/15 • "Insect Bytes" • Wiesenberg • solution

CHE • 9/24/15 • “Insect Bytes” • Wiesenberg • solution

Couldn’t help noticing Paul Coulter‘s early comment regarding one of the theme answers vis-à-vis the puzzle’s title, and I agree. Also, I would definitely have made the same observation—which, incidentally, is not nitpicking. This despite giving a similar inaccuracy a pass at 1-across in the LAT crossword of Monday, 31 August: [Tiny insect] MITE; for that I claim as an excuse my very minimalist attitude in the write-ups that day, and a jaded unwillingness to bring up a common bugbear of mine – gross taxonomic imprecision.

Onward. 39-across [Cautionary feedback given to programmers … or what test solvers of this puzzle said about 18, 24, 53, and 63 across?WE FOUND A FEW BUGS. See also, 53d [Some software releases] BETAS.

  • 18a. [Home to Deception Island] ANTARCTICA.
  • 24a. [Indignant margarine taster of 1970s TV] MOTHER NATURE. What a curiously dated and specific clue.
  • 53a. [Cubes for oxtail soup, perhaps] BEEF BOUILLON.
  • 63a. [Predecessor of parade confetti] TICKER TAPE.

Not explicit in the revealer is that the ‘bugs’ comprise the first parts of each theme answer: ant, moth, bee, and the problematic tick. Note also that they are all parts of longer words, and unrelated etymologically.

And, as alluded to earlier, three of the four theme answers are related entomologically. Bees and ants belong to the same order, Hymenoptera, and moths are members of Lepidoptera, as I bet many of you knew. To get a little more wonky, these orders are allied at the level of superorder (Endopterygota). One has to go up the phylogenetic TIERs (22a [Echelon]) through division, class, phylum, and clade — not to mention subranks of those — before one can travel down a different branch of the phylogenetic ‘tree’  toward the subclass Acari, which includes ticks.

To reiterate Paul’s criticism: the colloquial ‘bugs’ ~ 5-HOUR PAUSE IN WRITING ~ of the revealer is okay, but the title is beyond the pale.

Uhm. I’ve lost my sense of this puzzle after the unavoidable intrusion and delay, so I guess I’ll just hit a few points to finish up.

  • I doubt most solvers will appreciate it, but I enjoyed seeing a different (and typographical!) clue referent for AGATE, that of a small but still legible font often seen for legal disclaimers and the like.
  • 73a [What a lookout might climb in a western] MESA, 19d [Ibex perch] CRAG.
  • Least fav. abbrevs.: 44a [Pt. of GNP] NATL, 64d [Neighbor of Okla.] KAN, 10d Nobel category for Golding and Grass: Abbr.] LIT.
  • 42d [First name in awe-inspiring jumps] EVEL. Or epic crashes multiple broken bones, am I right? Oh look, it’s right next to 41d [Tumble] FALL. Fun fact: I once successfully convinced someone I consider to be savvy that Evel Knievel’s real name was Evelyn (it’s Robert),
  • Interesting bit of trivia: 57a [Original London Bridge construction material] ELM.
  • 26d [Lew who won three of the four tennis majors in 1956] HOAD. Who?

Good puzzle, despite it all.

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20 Responses to Friday, September 25, 2015

  1. john farmer says:

    As I learned it, QUOTE UNQUOTE derived from “quote, end-quote,” the older, and you could say, more proper wording of the phrase. There’s a certain logic to that. You do end the quote; you don’t un-quote it. But that’s a bygone distinction. The NYT T Magazine used to (maybe still does) run a Quote Unquote section. Safire cites a 1935 E.E. Cummings poem using the word “unquote.” Ngram shows the two-word term started gaining popularity in the ’60s. I agree you don’t need to use it in writing — except when quoting someone who says “quote unquote.”

    In any case, it looks good in a crossword. I thought the puzzle was a good one.

    • Ben Zimmer says:

      The online OED now takes “unquote” back to 1910, but even given that early date it’s still possible that “end-quote” came first. On Google Books you can find examples of “quote…end-quote” from 1901 in the context of newspaper proof-readers reading copy aloud, and 1902 in transcribed telegrams.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    I enjoyed the CHE, which was quite clever and well-executed, but there’s a factual error in it. Ticks are arachnids, not insects, so the title could use a rethink. Both are in the same phylum arthropoda, along with scorpions, crustacea, etc. The central line doesn’t need to change, since few would quibble with the looser terminology of “bugs.”

  3. huda says:

    NY: Awesome NW, much tougher SE, but all doable. My little test is to look at the puzzle after the fact. If it reads like real English for about 90% of it, we’re in great shape. This one clearly passes.

    Re yesterday’s discussion about threshold for crosswordese– I think different types can be differentially annoying. What is more bothersome: an obscure place that’s nevertheless still on the map (Natick) or a vocab word that’s very old and never used in real life? I think I’m more annoyed by the latter… I’m not bothered by partials at all.

  4. Allan NEVINS (in the NYT) won a 1933 Pulitzer for his two-volume biography of Grover Cleveland, my favorite president (favorite in that he’s the one I know the most about … and who qualifies as one of a very rare breed: an honest and sincere politician).

    • ArtLvr says:

      No disrespect for Nevins intended, but Shelby Foote, Jr. is likely better known now. He was relatively unknown to the general public for most of his life until he appeared as narrator in Ken Burns’s PBS documentary “The Civil War” in 1990, repeated this year as part of the 150th marking of the death of Lincoln. Foote’s 3-volume epic as filmed by Burns introduced a generation of Americans to a war that he believed was “central to all our lives”. Foote died in 2005, but his image and voice will stay with us.

  5. David L says:

    Nice! The long answers were all good, and the only real obscurities (to me) were BAER and IONE, but neither caused any real problems.

    In the Washington Post the other day, a writer had some local politician saying “quote-on-quote… something or other.” Really. The paper has shed a lot of copy editors in the past few years, and the effects have been predictable.

    AYS seems a bit dodgy for “ship cries” — AYES is by far the more common form. AY is what my Dad said for ‘yes,’ him being a Derbyshire man and all.

    On GAY marriage — yes, it’s all just plain marriage these days, but when people write about the history of this era they will surely refer to the fight for gay marriage and suchlike. There has to be some phrase to explain what’s meant.

  6. Lois says:

    I liked the Times puzzle a lot, but GEL for the verb always annoys me. Both “gel” and “jell” seem to be OK, though, with “jell” a bit better. Variants are certainly OK on a Friday. Someone else did the research:

  7. Gareth says:

    Really neat centre stack!

  8. Doug P says:

    Yes, Ade! Vanilla Ice was the inspiration. I recently watched Cool As Ice with the Mystery Science Theater/Rifftrax treatment:

    Cool as Ice, baby.

    Cool As Ice is still one of the finest looking bad movies of all time. This is because the director of photography went on to do the cinematography for films such as Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Lincoln. That’s right, a mere three years after Janusz Kaminski made sure that Vanilla Ice’s Stussy shirt was properly lit during the construction site frolicking scene, he was finding the right lens to shoot Liam Neeson’s ‘I could have got more’ speech in Schindler’s List.”

  9. bob says:

    Puzzles hit their nadir when, seeing the answers, you still don’t understand the clue. LAT is the apex of nadirism today. Writing understandable clues is certainly NOT Johnson’s forte. Today’s entry is the epitome of esoteric elitism. A solid “1-” rating.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      The problem might not lie within the clues.

      • bob says:

        Hm-m-m, a veiled innuendo? You are to be reminded that I am not remunerated for solving efforts -Johnson is for her cluing efforts, which needs to be aimed at a greater audience.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          The Friday puzzle audience is expected to be more adept than the early-week audience, ergo Friday clues (and Thursday-Saturday NYT clues) are not meant for a greater audience.

          I don’t get paid to solve, either (except when paid for test-solving work), and when I encounter clues I don’t understand, I Google, I ask someone, or I post the question in the blog. This is how I learn those things. You seem averse to encountering things you don’t already know, Bob—are you done with the whole learning thing?

          • Ralph says:

            Gee, is it really necessary to insult the readers?

          • Gareth says:

            When they make tired, repetitive statements, yes.

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            Ralph, I try to be kind and welcoming. But Bob has crapped all over the puzzles and their constructors on pretty much a weekly basis, and he’s irritated the rest of the readers for eons. I want him to stop slagging on the puzzles he isn’t able to solve. The puzzles’ primary audience is the people who enjoy trying to solve them, not the ones who return week after week to plunge into a frustrated rage that they insist on sharing publicly.

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            I just checked Bob’s comments in the database. Of 102 comments since March 2012, only 6 were positive. The other 96 have typically featured these key words: waste, inanity, nadir, abomination, worthless, tedious, silly, elitist. (How insulting to the constructors and editors! And note that many of these comments were aimed at puzzles by Merl Reagle that delighted a great many solvers.) The problem is that he doesn’t understand the clues or recognize the answers—and yet he keeps solving, and complaining, week after week.

    • Sarah says:

      Considering editors have the final say when it comes to what the clues are, you really can’t blame the constructor for bad clues.

Comments are closed.