Wednesday, December 16, 2015

NYT 5:14 (Erin) 


WSJ 9:39 (Jim) 


BuzzFeed 4:37 (Amy) 


LAT 3:19 (Gareth) 


CS 6:48 (Ade) 


AV Club 14:36 (Ben) 


Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 16 15, no 1216

NY Times crossword solution, 12 16 15, no 1216

Hope you didn’t meet any DEAD ENDs in today’s puzzle! That’s our revealer, front and center: [Cul-de-sac … or what either part of the answer to each starred clue is?]. So what are the starred clues?

  • 17a. [*Colorful North American waterfowl] WOOD DUCK
  • 21a. [*Fleet operator] AIRLINE
  • 22a. [*Class determinant in boxing] BODY WEIGHT
  • 48a. [*Top on official stationery] LETTERHEAD
  • 50a. [*Observe closely] EYEBALL
  • 54a. [*Swimmer with a prehensile tail] SEAHORSE

Both parts of each theme entry can follow “DEAD” to form a common word or phrase: DEADWOOD, DEAD DUCK, DEAD AIR, DEADLINE, etc. This is a pretty common theme concept so the novelty factor is low, but for Paula’s 100th NYT puzzle (congrats!), she found six entries that produce solid, common results when combined with “dead.”

Wood-duck-maI have to admit that I didn’t know what a WOOD DUCK was, and BODY WEIGHT seemed a little contrived to me at first as opposed to just saying “weight,” but it grew on me. Also, look at that wood duck. It’s gorgeous. The brilliant color combination, and the crest, and that red eye demanding that you acknowledge it? Beautiful.

As for the fill, I loved seeing EARTHA Kitt, and enjoyed learning that there are more than two universities bearing the name LOYOLA (I knew of Chicago and Baltimore). For some reason ON THE MAKE was a new phrase to me. Other things that were new to me and tripped me up were SAUTERNES (and sweet white wine is the only kind I drink), DO YA by ELO (I don’t recall seeing this in a crossword before, and this is only its second appearance in the NYT) and the LOEB Boathouse. I wasn’t a fan of FFF for “fortississimo” or LIENOR (for which a Google search brought up “lienorenal ligament” before “lienor.” Finally, GOOD FAT and CABIT were nice new entries. 

Overall, a somewhat tired theme concept, but executed well. 3.25 stars. Time to get back to cleaning for my parents’ arrival from Florida on Thursday. Let’s end with some Eartha Kitt — I’m already Christmas song-ed out, so here’s her version of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in that amazing voice of hers.

John Lampkin’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Mind the Gap” — Jim’s review

Today’s puzzle comes from John Lampkin. The title had me thinking London Underground, but ’twasn’t to be. We are given the revealer at 58A [Hardly in agreement, or a feature of 17-, 24-, 35-, and 49-Across]. That is, MILES APART. The theme answers have the word MILES split APART from beginning to end.

WSJ - Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - "Mind the Gap"

WSJ – Wed, Dec 16, 2015 – “Mind the Gap”

  • 17A [Garden heaps] MULCH PILES. M___ILES. This one made me grumble. It’s kind of “green painty”. Sure, a MULCH PILE is a thing that exists, but the phrase is not a common one. The rest are accepted phrases or names, this one’s just a PILE of something. I can have a LEGO PILE, but does that make it valid crossword fill? In quotation marks, it earned 41.7k hits on Google. Compare it to “wood pile” (445k) and “rock pile” (395k). “Lego pile” gets 7k, so MULCH PILE is much closer to Lego pile than rock pile.
  • 24A [They’re rarely billed] MINOR ROLES. MI___LES. “Billed” as in listed in the credits.
  • 35A [Dairy devices] MILKING MACHINES. MIL___ES. Yet another plural.
  • 49A [“Wrecking Ball” singer] MILEY CYRUS. MILE___S. Best theme entry of the lot. No plurals involved here.


Aside from the iffiness of MULCH PILES and the prevalence of plurals in the theme answers, they do have a certain elegance. The “gap” between the two groups of letters shifts sequentially as the themers are revealed. That is, the gap moves from between the M and I in the first themer to the E and S in the last one. That is a very nice touch. To make this happen and to have them all be symmetric cancels out any of the negativity I raised above.

I really like the non-theme long Downs today despite being only 8 letters each. 38D NOAH’S ARK is great, but 3D COLOSSAL made me think of the old text-adventure game “COLOSSAL Cave“, the very first interactive fiction game from way back in the 70s. I spent many hours playing that one as a kid. (Oooh, there’s an iPad version!) Rounding out the long Downs are GRISHAM, FRIDAYS, SPIRIT, and LUDENS. Good stuff.

The NE and SW corners are segmented off, but mostly really nice, especially the NE. Up there, we get RIBALD, CRATER, and HERESY going Down with only a T-BAR as a price to pay. Lovely. The SW pays a higher price (ILE and ERTES) in order to get IMPALA, LIE LOW, and ELAINE to work.

You can also add OH SURE and LESS FAT to the “PLUS” column. Some things in the “minus” column are ERDE, NTHS, AME, A DARE, IS A, and RAHS. Maybe that’s more than usual, but it didn’t feel too bad while solving.

Clues I didn’t know:

  • 10A [Roguish] for ARCH. As seen in this quote from Jonathan Swift “She…was ARCH enough to inform the queen whenever I committed any folly that she thought would be diverting to her majesty.”
  • 32A [Allegheny’s name after 1979] for US AIR. I’m sorry, but US AIR is a stupid name for a river. (Please forward all complaints about bad jokes to Amy Reynaldo.)
  • 7D [“Magic in the Moonlight” director] for ALLEN. Didn’t know this movie title. Sounds roughly like a title in the Magic Treehouse series of books which my daughter enjoys.

Another finely-constructed WSJ puzzle. One theme answer is a bit iffy, but on the whole, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Not my cup of tea, but I must go where the puzzle leads. Here’s MILEY CYRUSEdit: Scratch that. Just watched a portion of the “Wrecking Ball” video and it’s truly horrendous. We’ll go without a closing video today.

Kameron Austin Collins’s AVCX crossword, “AV Themeless #4” — Ben’s Review

AV Themeless #4

AV Themeless #4

It’s another themeless this week on the AV Club, this time from Kameron Austin Collins.  I tend to not be a huge fan of themeless crosswords, since I’m at a place in solving where I still like some hook for fill I don’t know, but I ended up really liking some of what popped up in this week’s puzzle:

  • 17A: Response to a killer wave — GNARLY DUDE
  • 26A: Harlem Renaissance writer Nella — LARSEN (Thanks, re-reading “Passing” in the last year!)
  • 32A: Streamed illegally — TPED
  • 51A: Flock recitation — LITANY
  • 1D: [******SPOILER ALERT FOR KIDS] Like the myth of Santa Claus — PAGAN
  • 5D: B or C of pop music — MEL
  • 28D: “Serial” genre — TRUE CRIME
  • 56D: Hookup letters — DSL

This was definitely the full 4.5/5 in difficulty promised, but little by little I kept filling in parts of the grid until everything was correct.  With a themeless puzzle, it’s all about the fill, so it was nice to see common stuff like ENO getting what felt like a relatively fresh clue to me with a shoutout to his work on the Windows 95 music.

The construction here is impeccable.  4.5/5 stars.

Craig Stowe’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times 151216

LA Times

We have a clever, yet simple theme today. Four answers begin with PIANOPIECES, or more precisely, PIANOPARTS. These parts are multiple, but occur singly at the starts of four phrases: HAMMERTHROW, KEYDECISIONS, PEDALTOTHEMETAL, STRINGTHEORY. Simple enough.

The grid is designed conservatively so as to mitigate the effects of 61 theme squares, with a central 15 facilitating things somewhat (13’s, 11’s and 9’s place more constraints on design).

hpm_0000_0003_0_img0128Despite the sizable theme, the fill is mostly smooth, if not particularly full of “Wow” moments. There is an ADIT and a UTA and a few others scattered throughout the grid, but the only things that rankled were ERN and ESO. Why? Because those areas have tens to hundreds of possible fills and both answers are far from necessary glue.

3.25 Stars

Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Let’s Call It a Day”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.16.15: "Let's Call It a Day"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.16.15: “Let’s Call It a Day”

Hello there, everyone! Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Alan Arbesfeld, has four 15-letter multiple-word terms in which the second word is also the name of an actual holiday on the calendar here in the United States. I live in New York, so Election Day is indeed a (civic) holiday.

  • SPECIAL ELECTION (17A: [It may be used to fill an unexpected vacancy])
  • ORGANIZED LABOR (26A: [Voting bloc traditionally aligned with the Democratic party])
  • MERRY CHRISTMAS (45A: [Seasonal greeting]) – Is Christmas coming soon? Can’t tell with all the warm weather lately.
  • VIETNAM VETERANS (58A: [Ones honored by a DC memorial])

Of all of the non Sunday Challenges I’ve done, this may have had the toughest 1-Across of all, with GASPÉ (1A: [Quebec peninsula]). With the crossings, it’s not difficult, but if you’re not a Quebecer or are on the ball with your Canadian geography, that’s near impossible to get without a little assistance. After the first couple of times seeing it, I never got too comfortable seeing the fill of ERIE PA in a grid (5D: [Home of Gannon Univ.]). It’s an abbreviation…but it’s not. But would I say the same if, down the road, there’s a clue that refers to the location of RPI and the answer – and the accompanying fill – happens to be presented as “TROYNY?” I don’t know. Of all the words I remember seeing on flash cards when studying for the SAT eons ago, ANOMIE was one of the words that always stood out (54A: [Breakdown of social norms]). Other thing that I noticed was the Greek intersection of ADONIS (18D: [Male dreamboat]) and APOLO (22A: [Olympic speed skater Ohno]). OK, you have to imagine that second L in Apolo is in there, but you get what I mean.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: RONS (13D: [Former Mets Darling and Swoboda]) – Two RONS. Two World Series heroes. In the 1969 World Series, Ron Swoboda made one of the great diving catches in Series history on a liner off the bat of future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson to prevent the Orioles from possibly taking the lead in the top of the ninth inning of Game 4. (The Mets eventually won the game in 10 innings.) Ron Darling was the best starting pitcher for the Mets during the 1986 World Series, allowing only 13 hits in 17.2 innings pitched in three starts, including winning Game 4. Yes, BoSox fans, I do remember Darling allowing those home runs to Dewey Evans and Rich German in Game 7 in the second inning, but this is my blog! Take up your grievances with someone else!! HA!

See you all tomorrow!

Take care!


Matt Gaffney’s BuzzFeed crossword, “Famous People Are Animals”

BuzzFeed crossword solution, 12 16 15 "Famous People Are Animals"

BuzzFeed crossword solution, 12 16 15 “Famous People Are Animals”

Shoot! I forgot to paste this into Erin’s main post on Wednesday morning. Sorry, Matt and readers!

The puzzle’s title is explaining the theme rather than critiquing celebrities. Four famous people whose surnames are “animal name + E” get swapped into familiar phrases that include the animal name:

  • 16a. [Actor Russell’s quickest route from Sydney to L.A.?], AS THE CROWE FLIES.
  • 21a/49a. [With 49-Across, farm equipment company founder John blinded by your car’s high beams?], DEERE IN THE / HEADLIGHTS.
  • 37a. [Author Tom demanding entry to your home?], A WOLFE AT THE DOOR.
  • 59a. [See only the movies actor Ethan sees?], WATCH LIKE A HAWKE. Anyone else thinking of Shia LaBeouf here? Last month, he livestreamed himself watching all of his movies in a row.

I’m not wild about 21a/49a not having an A before DEERE. The other phrases all include a definite or indefinite article. I dunno—maybe “like a deer in the headlights” and “deer in the headlights” are equally in-the-language?

Fairly dense theme—three 15s and a pair of 10s is 65 theme squares. Matt always likes it when I chastise a puzzle with a lot of theme and lousy fill for not having “room for the fill to breathe.” Let’s see how Matt does: Plural EYRES and WISHER are awkward, –ESE is blah … but overall, the fill is solid. Gaffney knows how to wrangle grids.

Five more things:

  • 26d. [“Donald Trump Stares Forlornly At Tiny, Aged Penis In Mirror Before Putting On Clothes, Beginning Day” newspaper, with “The”], ONION. The clue is ridiculously long but it amused me.
  • 9d. [Soccer superstar Thomas with five goals in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups], MULLER. Technically, he’s Müller, which could be presented as Mueller without the umlaut. And Matt knows German. Odd. MULLER/MARA could have replaced the M with a D to avoid that issue, and the two-names crossing.
  • 57a. [Drinks a craft beer, if you’re doing it right. Am I doing it right?], SIPS. Um, is sipping de rigueur? I don’t know.
  • 10d. [Boxer Muhammad or son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad], ALI. Not sure I’ve seen an ALI clue (or half a clue) leaning on early Islam. Certainly it’s not super common in crosswords.
  • 12d. [Analingus site], ASS. First, gross. Second, that word is spelled incorrectly. Believe it or not, it’s anilingus, modeled after cunnilingus. Spelling counts!

3.9 stars from me.

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26 Responses to Wednesday, December 16, 2015

  1. pannonica says:

    NYT: JETBOAT crossed by JDS, VOIT. The hell?

    Dupe of BOAT too, with the Loeb clue.

    And because I can’t resist:

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      My late grandma’s dentist was Dr. Voit. He was embroiled in some terrible scandal involving stolen money and adultery. He should be more famous!

    • Huda says:

      That man, Van Morrison that is, is a genius… Thanks for the reminder, pannonica.

      • pannonica says:

        That’s my favorite album of his, if I had to choose just one. To my mind it’s an unofficial sequel, or companion to, Astral Weeks, but with all the perambulations of that amazing run from Moondance through Saint Dominic’s Preview (plus the lesser but still good Hard Nose the Highway) rolled in.

      • Brucenm says:

        Even I love Van Morrison.

        • john farmer says:

          Hear, hear. Everybody loves VM.

          Sorry to disappoint, but I tried VOIT before I had any crossings, and BODY WEIGHT (per Martin below) is okay by my ear (with one word optional, à la “tuna fish”).

          I didn’t know WOOD DUCK was a real bird. I thought that was a decoy.

    • David L says:

      Puzzle was so-so, but I am glad to be in the company of people who recognize the geniosity of Van Morrison.

  2. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Erin, let’s you and I sit down over Riesling sometime (and not one of those Rieslings described as “dry,” because ain’t nobody got time for that). Or maybe a lovely dessert wine, a Moscato or an ice wine.

  3. Amy, you’re speaking my wine language. Sweet Riesling, Moscato, and ice wine get me every time. There’s also an Italian sparkling wine, Rosa Regale, which claims to be the only wine to pair well with chocolate.

    Mrs. Voit was my sixth grade math teacher. She could be mean sometimes, but no scandals to my knowledge.

  4. ArtLvr says:

    Congrats to Paula on her hundredth! Good thing I had IOTA before the crossing ENTO, or I’d have tried ENDO as the more familiar prefix.

  5. Brucenm says:

    I think we get jaded. I thought the puzzle was fine.

    I was hoping that 49d {Place to kick a habit} would be “nunnery.”

    Perhaps my favorite white wines are the bone dry New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs. Delightful.

  6. anon says:

    WSJ: For people with gardens, a MULCH PILE is a familiar thing – much more like rock pile than Lego pile.

  7. lemonade714 says:

    The elegance of the progression of the split of MILES – M to MI to MIL to MILE made Mr. Lampkin’s puzzle a work of art.

  8. pannonica says:

    As long as I’m dispensing music today, I can’t see that weird LIENOR without thinking of the great JB Lenoir.

  9. Bryan Young says:

    A few more of my favorite entries that you didn’t call out:

    6D: Like some otherwise hetero porn actors – GAYFORPAY
    20A: TV Repairman? – FONZIE
    23D: Genesis foe – NES – Great shoutout to my childhood favorite. Spent a bit thinking about the bible until this one dawned on me
    52D: Subsection of the Economist: ASIA – Love any shoutout to the greatest magazine in the world.

    My only negative is that there were a lot of fact-based answers; if you don’t know them, you don’t know them. Lucky for me I was familiar with most, but I’m confident there are a lot of smart people LARSEN, LILA, RINGEDSEAL, DEERSLAYER, or MIKEMYERS. Maybe these are too bad, but they’re definitely binary.

  10. Zulema says:

    The NYT was just an old-fashioned Wednesday, but I appreciated it after the Tuesday, despite VOIT.

    • Papa John says:

      What’s the deal with VOIT? I don’t know what pannonica is talking about in her post and now you bring it up. Ramifications, please.

      • lemonade714 says:

        How about poor LIENOR- what else do you call people who possess a lien?

      • Zulema says:

        The clue asked for a well-known sports brand. Since it is not well-known at all around here, I was not sure it was correct since I had never heard of a JETBOAT. That’s my excuse.

      • pannonica says:

        Conversely, I’m flabbergasted that so many people are unfamiliar with the fairly common and indelible WOOD DUCK. Chacun à son goût, encore.

        • Papa John says:

          I’m flabbergasted that you’re flabbergasted! It’s never surprising to me how unaware many people are of their animal brethren and I would have thought you knew that.

          Before our surroundings became more populated and the beaver dams had been dynamited, I used to be constantly amused by seeing a duck sitting a tree. No longer. Since the ponds have drained, I’ve calculated a loss of 56 bird species in my immediate vicinity.

          To make matters worse, when I tried to have the ponds protected as wetlands by the EPA, they declined because the adjacent land had been logged and so, using their term, developed. We had a private trapper put thirteen beavers back in the pond but, but much to his surprise, none of them stuck around.

  11. Martin says:

    MAS, on Amy patrol here;)
    Or Erin patrol… sorry!

    (Just In a friendly way)

    Seriously though BODY WEIGHT does not seem to be the least bit contrived to me. Sure, in a personal conversation about health/appearance, then it would seem a bit forced. But, IMO, in a more regular less specific conversation/article, then I think the phrase would be perfecy natural (but I do get your point here).

    If I may editorialize briefly here: I think we all seem to move from one general “crossword improvement topic” to another for a few months. Right now I think we (including me) have perhaps our “green paint” detectors set a little high. But, if the general result is to improve the average crossword fiil, then your point is (or points are well taken.


  12. PhilR says:

    You know what I call BODY WEIGHT? Weight. Just as do the IBF, WBO, and WBC. Nowhere in their respective regs could I find reference to “body weight”.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      If you look at anything dosage-related, where the recommended amount varies by the person’s weight—for example, medication dosing, dietary intake of protein, etc.—you will see “per kg of body weight” A LOT. It’s entirely familiar to me (but possibly from my medical editor past).

    • Gareth says:

      Yeah that’s why it sounds so normal to me! Unlike in human medicine, where there is a standard adult dose, I have to work out all my doses according to body weight. An adult 1kg min pin and an adult 70kg boerboel do not get the same amount of medicine!

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