Wednesday, October 14, 2015

NYT  5:24 (Erin) 
AV Club 10:50 (Ben) 
LAT 4:17 (Gareth) 
CS 3:12 (erik) 
WSJ 10:44 (Jim) 
BuzzFeed 5:21 (Amy) 

Hooray! Team Fiend welcomes another new voice, Erin Milligan-Milburn. Erin’s blogging the Wednesday NYT today. She’ll also be blogging indie puzzles at the new blog, New Grids on the Block. Erin’s a doctor (bringing Team Fiend’s healthcare professional contingent to three!), an enthusiastic crossword tournament attendee, and an all-around swell person.

Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 10 14 15, no 1014

NY Times crossword solution, 10 14 15, no 1014

Hi, everyone! As Amy said so nicely, I’m Erin, and I’ll be blogging the Wednesday NYT. I’m excited to give back a little to the crossword community by posting both here and at the brand new site with the shiny link above! Now let’s get down to business…

Joel Fagliano has really mixed things up by creating a crossword/Hangman hybrid! (CrossMan? HangWord? I think I like HangWord better.) The theme entries are guesses for the letters in the Hangman word, which is all by itself at the bottom of the grid.

24a. [Q: ___ / A: There are two, in the third and seventh squares below] DOES IT HAVE AN N?
26a. [Q: ___ / A: Indeed, in the fourth square] IS THERE A G?
36a. [Q: ___ / A: There’s one in the fifth square] I GUESS M
47a. [Q: ___ / A: Correct! In the first square] HOW ABOUT H?
54a. [Q: ___ / A: Yes, two, in the second and sixth squares] ANY AS?
65a. [-] HANGMAN (created by placing the letter guesses in the appropriate seven lonely bottom squares)

This appears to be a novel concept worthy of a spot in the NYT’s New Ideas Week. The lack of rotational symmetry and high black square count were immediate tip-offs that something strange is going on. The smiley face was a little disturbing…did it grin because it knew there was a fun solve ahead, or was there more sinister intent behind those pixellated eyes? The Face seemed to mock me initially, as the theme clues made no sense. Then the puzzle took on a Wheel of Fortune vibe as several of the down crossings fell. The Hangman component clicked after I filled in a few of the letters below, and it was a neat aha moment. The Face was a friendly one after all.

It must have been difficult to clue “What about this letter?” five different odd-numbered ways and not greatly sacrifice the fill. My two main issues with the remainder of the grid were ANO at 48d [2015, por ejemplo] as the meaning of “ano” is quite different then the meaning of “año,” and the clue for HOOD at 33d [Place with homies]. For the former, the alternative ways to clue it lead to partials, but there are other, more neutral ways to clue the latter.

I really enjoyed NSFW and FRYCOOK, although FRYCOOK crossing MEAT made me want to sneak out to the nearest diner.

Overall, this was a entertaining solve, and it ended with two smiles. 3.75 stars!

Colin Gale’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Open-and-Shut Case”—Jim’s write-up

Things with LOCKS and things with KEYS. That’s our theme for today from Colin Gale (one of Mike Shenk’s “Collegian” aliases). And there’s a trunkful of theme material: Four things with LOCKS, four with KEYS, and the two revealers themselves at 46D and 53D, each crossing one of the themers.

WSJ - Wed, Oct 14, 2015 - "Open-and-Shut Case"

WSJ – Wed, Oct 14, 2015 – “Open-and-Shut Case”

Four entries up top have the clue [Member of Set 1]. These are: 6A SAFE, 16A HEAD OF HAIR, 24A LUGGAGE, and 30A PANAMA CANAL. Two of these have what we normally think of when we hear the word LOCK, i.e. a securing device (SAFE and LUGGAGE). One uses LOCK as in a bit of HAIR, and one uses it as part of a CANAL. So a small demerit for the inconsistency of having two entries with the same meaning of LOCK.

At the bottom of the grid we have four [Member of Set 2] clues. These are: 40A HARPSICHORD, 45A FLORIDA, 56A TYPEWRITER, and 63A CODE. HARPSICHORD and TYPEWRITER are similar in that they have KEYS that are pressed. FLORIDA has island KEYS, and a CODE has a KEY to encrypt or decrypt. None of these uses the KEY that we normally think of when we hear the word (i.e. a tool to unlock a LOCK). For consistency’s sake, I would have liked to have seen either HARPSICHORD or TYPEWRITER dropped in favor of someone or something with actual door-opening KEYS, like JANITOR maybe.

With the revealers going Down in the lower half of the grid (in addition to the Set 2 entries), you would think that bottom portion would be the most strained. But it’s not. We get SHOWTIME and ANTISOVIET (which was really hard for me to come up with given the clue [Like some Reagan rhetoric]; I wanted something akin to “folksy”). The short stuff is nothing to write home about, but it’s generally fine.

And the entire center span from the NE down to the SW is mostly good, as wide open as it is. We get HERE AND NOW with the aforementioned ANTISOVIET. Not bad.

No, the real problem is in the center north where we have a tiny but brutal section. The placement of themer SAFE two rows about HAIR makes for an unfortunate pattern of letters that gives the constructor no good options. If this was the best that could be done up there, I’d say rip it out and find something else. SCHUL next to the bastardized massage sound AAAH next to the abbreviated FRI all crossing a proper name (CARR) that only football fans will know?!? SCHUL has appeared four times in a major publication since 1993 and is usually marked as a variant. And AAAH has appeared exactly zero times. I prefer AHH to AAH, so AAAH to me is just horrific. It makes me want to say AAAAAGH! That section is a mess (and I can’t stop looking at it).

It makes me think that I’m missing something because it’s so unusual for Mike Shenk to leave such sub-par fill in a grid. Am I?

So I like the idea behind the theme just fine, but the execution is just a little off. I would say get rid of SAFE and CODE (they’re not really needed and SAFE is just causing too many problems) and, to make the letter counts match up, replace PANAMA CANAL with ERIE CANAL and HARPSICHORD with CUSTODIAN, and there ya go. Open and shut.

Byron Walden’s AVCX crossword, “One for the Road” — Ben’s Review


I’m not entirely sure why, but this week’s quote-based AVCX puzzle stumped me longer than it should have.  My baseball quote knowledge isn’t the best, but the person the puzzle in tribute to wasn’t just known for their skills on the field, but for being a bit of a quipster as well:

  • 17A: 59A/60A‘s comment about a nice hotel, part 1 — THE TOWELS WERE SO
  • 31A: PART 2 — THICK THERE I 
  • 54A: End of the comment — CLOSE MY SUITCASE
  • 59A/60A: Noted wordsmith who died 9/22/15 — YOGI BERRA

Elsewhere in the grid, there was some nice fill this week, with SNOOZE BAR (20A) and GUAVA SEED (49A) making for some fresh entries in the across clues.  I got a little tripped up by the proper names in the down clues this week, struggling to remember either current Yankees coach JOE GIRARDI (11D) or Kipling’s Kim OHARA (25D).

There wasn’t much stale fill in the puzzle, and although I tend to dislike quote puzzles, this one was a nice tribute and had a nice bit of wordplay.

4/5 stars.

Sam Trabucco’s BuzzFeed crossword, “Pick Me Up”—Amy’s write-up

BuzzFeed crossword solution, 10 14 15 "Pick Me Up"

BuzzFeed crossword solution, 10 14 15 “Pick Me Up”

Today’s theme from newbie Sam Trabucco is about caffeinated pick-me-ups from STARBUCKS. 24a. [With 49-Across, how 36-Across is taking over America and also this puzzle] clues A CORNER / AT A TIME. Is this something that is frequently said about Starbucks’ business model? Google says a resounding “nope.” So that’s a highly contrived two-part theme answer that winks at the Sbux drink sizes (VENTI, TALL, TRENTA, GRANDE) in the circled squares in the grid’s corners.

The fill overall is decent. Highlights include NEW GIRL, THE REDS, RON ARTEST, and EPIC FAILS (though the latter’s clue is terrible—[Subject of many a hilarious, painful YouTube complilation] would work better without the misspelled final word and with “subject” pluralized). The debit column contains French REINE, plural NOES, crosswordese entr’ACTE, ARG clued as an exclamation (I insist in including an H—though I did see an “arg” from a smart person on Facebook today), semi-crosswordese NEE, plural NOAHS, and boring af abbrev STA. I won’t ding the puzzle for the slang YOLO, HELLA, STEP OFF, MY BAD (though not keen on duplicative [“My b!”] cluing OOPS here), and DAPS.

Least favorite clue: 44d. [Asian capital that’s home to the Dalongdong Baoan Temple and I’m sorry but that first word is hilarious], TAIPEI. The clue says “this puzzle is for juvenile white people who really don’t pay attention to what might offend POC.”

I learned some French here. 53d. [14-across, before finding her Mssr.] clues MLLE, and I hadn’t known that singular Mssr. was a legit abbrev for “monsieur.” I’d only seen M. before. Have there been French queens sans husband?

3.6 stars from me.

P.S. Meant to mention a factual error: 12d. [Country that was the focus of Sarah Palin’s 2012 foreign policy experience because of its proximity to her porch], RUSSIA. It was the focus of a Tina Fey/SNL impression of Palin. And Fey said “house,” not “porch.” (Palin referred to Alaskan islands that are near Russian islands.) Also, I learned today that Miley Cyrus’s sister, not brother, is named Noah, so the 48d: NOAHS clue also has an error. Hey, BuzzFeed: All the other crosswords are getting fact-checked before publication.

Dan Margolis’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

lat151014There are 190+ countries and thus a 190+ capitals. I’ll admit Bandar Seri Begawan is difficult to use in a pun. Still, these puns on capitals felt a little uneven. We get DUBLIN (doubling) DOWN; the unparseable PRAGUE(PROG)NOSIS; TUNIS(TUNA)SALADS which is odd to randomly pluralise; and finally SEOUL(SOUL)MATES. That second one particularly seemed an iffy entry.

In general, the rest of the puzzle emphasized quiet cleanliness over splashy answers. GOGOL is about the most difficult answer here…

Random remarks? [Home ec alternative], SHOP is I assume similar to our Woodwork class. I would’ve been happier in home ec the six months I was in a school that had those, but it wasn’t allowed. [Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, e.g.], ARENA is designed to irk those who hate branded stadium names.

2.5 Stars

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Driving Gear”—erik’s write-up

hi again! or hi for the first time, if you’re reading in chronological order (i’m working backwards here).

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 10.14.15: “Driving Gear”

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 10.14.15: “Driving Gear”

this is a really ingenious theme – a WITT (wish i’d thought of that), as jeff chen calls ’em – articles of clothing that begin with parts of a car (tied together with the equally brilliant “Driving Gear” title/revealer):

  • TRUNK BRIEFS (20A: [Swimming shorts]) – seems kinda redundant
  • SHIFT DRESSES (27A: [Short, unwaisted togs])
  • PEDAL PUSHERS (49A: [Clam diggers’ kin]) – i’d never heard of these. they’re pants. sheb wooley did a song about them.
  • STARTER BRAS (60A: [Undergarments for an adolescent]) – doesn’t google too well, as compared to, say, “training bras”

some other assorted notes:

  • HOOF (5A: [Dance, informally]) – new to me. had you folks heard this before?
  • IMED (14A: [Texted]) – not a technology expert but this seems to me like not at all the same thing
  • IOS (28D: [Cyclades island]) – are you allowed to use an android phone there?
  • cool clues for ARGO (59D: [Affleck flick]) and RYE (23A: [Top-seeded bread?])
  • FAKE ID (8D: [Flashed card from an underage moviegoer, perhaps]) – LOOOOOOOOOL. yes. kids out here buying fake IDs so they can go see paranormal activity: the ghost dimension.
  • your sporps thing of the day: SHOCK (37A: [Thick mass, as of hair]) – the tulsa shock of the WNBA are 59-145 in their last 6 seasons. they won 3 games in 2011. and now they’re relocating to the dallas-fort worth area. womp womp.

thanks for reading, and be well!


This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Wednesday, October 14, 2015

  1. Michael says:

    Welcome, Erin! Perhaps as a physician you will comment on this in your write-up, but re: 10A [Target of a blood thinner] CLOT – technically, it’s the clot-busting drugs like Alteplase/tPA that target blood clots. True blood thinners (i.e., anticoagulants like Heparin, Warfarin) only prevent further clot formation/extension without targeting existing clots.

    • Thanks, Michael! That is correct — blood thinners (anticoagulants) reduce the formation of factors involved in clotting, but they do not break up existing clots. In a sense, preventing the extension of an existing clot could be considered “targeting” a clot. With blood thinners being more commonly known than alteplase, I can see why they went the way they did with it.

  2. Hi Erin, Congratulations on your new gig! I enjoyed your critique very much, but would like to suggest one correction. While it is true that Joel Fagliano’s puzzle does not have conventional crossword symmetry, it does have left-right symmetry, which is becoming increasingly popular in the constructing community for the implementation of some trickier themes.

  3. ArtLvr says:

    Nice debut, Erin! But please explain why 20A isn’t ON THE Q.T.? What’s the D.L.? Down low? Thanks…

  4. @ George, thank you! Corrected the post to indicate lack of rotational symmetry.

    @ Art Lvr, thank you! I initially had ON THE QT and later realized it was wrong. DL does stand for the down low. The more general definition is “secret.”–low?&o=100074&s=t

    • Martin says:

      “On the down-low” is originally black slang used for secret trysts between married men. African-American culture has always been especially disapproving of homosexuality, so keeping it on the DL was serious business.

      As with much other black slang, it got cleaned up on the way to the Times.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Martin, I believe you’re wrong on several fronts. “Between married men” is not an angle I’ve encountered in my reading on the topic. It originally had to do with any secretive behavior, including straight infidelity.

        For the more recent usage concerning men in relationships with women who also have sex with men (generally without disclosing that to the female partner), there’s no specificity to “married men,” and the men who the guys on the DL are having sex with could be anyone at a gay bar, not other “married men.”

        And good lord, in the same puzzle where HOOD gets a “homies” clue, you’re going to suggest that the Times “cleans up” black slang rather than, oh, I dunno, just presenting it in a clumsy fashion?

        As Michael Sharp put it in his latest post (

        “Lastly, I really wish the NYT crossword would stop trafficking in ‘homies’ (33D: Place with homies). There’s something so tin-eared and condescending about it. The word you’re cluing is HOOD. There are a jillion ways to clue that. Since the NYT crossword has generally demonstrated little to no awareness of black lives, it’s weird to have ‘homies’ keep coming up—it means that black people are visible in the puzzle, for the most part, only via some street slang that white people picked up 20+ years ago. Maybe if the puzzle were more inclusive, generally, this stuff wouldn’t bug me. But it’s not, so it does.”

        I agree with Michael about the awkward tone-deafness of that one.

        • Martin says:

          Men who are out don’t meet on the down-low. There is an additional nuance that men who have sex with other men on the DL mostly identify as straight. They generally have female partners, although not necessarily wives.

          I’m not sure that I get all the fronts that we disagree on, but closeted gay sex is absolutely the crux.

        • Martin says:

          Also, I didn’t say the Times cleaned up the meaning. I said that usage by the general population naturally gave “DL” a more gentle meaning. In fact, it seems that the edge has disappeared completely as you see the word used.

          I don’t think this clue is tone-deaf with respect to the phrase’s current meaning. Homie is a different story.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Also: Black slang is a delight. I follow a number of black writers on Twitter who freely intersperse contemporary slang with more scholarly and journalistic phrasing. A lot of black slang does get coopted by the American culture at large—not because it needs “cleaning up” but because it offers good additions to the language.

        Also, do not forget that conservative white culture, Catholicism, evangelicalism, and the Republican party have also been “especially disapproving of homosexuality.” You can try to blame things like California propositions passing or losing on homophobic black folks, but the number of homophobic white people who voted the same way outnumbered them.

  5. Shawn P says:

    WSJ: I had the same problem in the north center especially since I have only used the word SHUL in my life and not SCHUL when referring to a synagogue. Ngram agrees.

  6. Noam D. Elkies says:

    While L/R symmetry is still unusual, it’s the isolated unclued word that’s breaks two rules at once.

    It would be poor form to clue 48D:ANO as a partial “an O” because it would repeat the phrasing “an N” from one of the theme entries. There’s really nothing wrong with cluing ANO as if it were “año” (unless you’re also going to complain about 1D:COMO on the same grounds, since “cómo” and “como” are not the same word); I gather that even Spanish-language crosswords ignore the n/ñ distinction. But these days it’s no longer 51D:NSFW to put ARSE in the grid, so ANO could conceivably be clued as the Spanish word for “anus”.


    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      But if ARSE = buttcheeks, that’s altogether a “less dirty” thing than the anus. The anus in any language is not something I expect to see in a newspaper crossword in the next 20 years.

      • Sarah says:

        I’ll give it eight years.

        Since this translation of ANO is not well known at all to English speakers, I don’t expect to see it in crosswords any time soon.

        • Lois says:

          I agree with Sarah today! The replacement ANO would be extremely unusual and unhelpful.

          The bigger issue, rather than having a one-time solution to the diacritcs problem with a weird word, is whether ANO can be used for “año,” where “n” and “ñ” are actually different letters. I am very happy with long-time crossword convention that allows the ordinary letter to be used instead of the letter with diacritics, and that allows the letter with the diacritic mark to cross the letter without one. Since crosswords (almost) never use diacritics, I am not happy with losing a large category of words, and the convention permits both categories and their crossings. Noam Elkies also “gathers” that “Spanish-language crosswords ignore the n/ñ distinction.” If that’s the case, then that should surely be good enough for English-language crosswords.

          That said, welcome, Erin! I enjoyed your review.

  7. Jeff C. says:

    Erin! Erin! ERIN!

  8. Art Shapiro says:

    To me, DL stands for Disabled List – glad to hear the intended (unfamiliar) use of that abbreviation, as I was somewhat addled.

  9. Harry says:

    Loved the LAT today!

  10. WPreader says:

    What a disappointment to have the CS missing for quite a few days from the crossword fiend.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Our apologies for the hit-or-miss CS posting of late. Ade is a sportswriter and the baseball, football, basketball, and hockey seasons are all in full swing! Plus there are various soccer and tennis events he’s covering. He’ll try to catch up on all the puzzles soon, and we appreciate your forebearance.

Comments are closed.