Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword, “Adding Insult”—Amy’s write-up
The theme adds DIS to the start of a word in each familiar phrase, cluing the resulting negation whimsy accordingly:
- 22a. [Damage a St. Louis team’s reputation?], DISCREDIT CARDS.
- 29a. [Ones giving the waiter a hard time?], TABLE OF DISCONTENTS.
- 48a. [Harlequin exhibitions?], DISPLAYS FOR A FOOL.
- 63a. [Flee in separate directions?], DISBAND ON THE RUN.
- 86a. [Result of the Queen of Scat’s backup group messing up?], ELLA DISENCHANTED. Louis Armstrong probably wasn’t the one messing up there.
- 101a. [Jewel heist outcome?], CAMEO DISAPPEARANCE.
- 113a. [Question harshly after not allowing to practice?], DISBAR AND GRILL.
I like the theme well enough. It’s mildly amusing, which is better than a lot of added-letters themes, and the base phrases are all rock-solid.
In the fill, however, I encountered too many 44a: HURTERS (is that a word you have ever used in that -ERS form??). Lots and lots of names that I learned from the crosswords of 30 years ago, like MESTA and ABOU, that seldom pop up in today’s puzzles. Plural FMS, meaning radio stations on the FM dial? Seems awkward. Crosswordese, and lots of names, period—lots of intersecting proper nouns that probably are vexing any number of solvers. They even tripped me up—I’m never quite certain if the moon goddess is SELENE (yes) or SELENA (no), and I misremembered the Italian director as Vittorio DA SICA (nope) instead of DE SICA, so I had one wrong square.
I do like MIXED MEDIA, HOTHOUSE, TAILFIN, and PROBOSCIS, but the 10-letter BE IN NEED OF lost me.
The theme worked much better for me than the fill, so between a 4-star theme and the 2-star fill, we end up with a 15d: THREE-STAR rating.
Donna S. Levin’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everyone! Whether it’s because that it’s Super Bowl Sunday or the eve of the Chinese New Year, I know you’re all excited, right?!
Our challenge for today was brought to us by Ms. Donna S. Levin, and it had a fair bit of 15-letter entries (three to be exact) for me to sink my teeth into. Unfortunately, one of those 15-letter entries almost made me chip all of my teeth: THE AGE OF ADALINE (11D: [2015 Blake Lively fantasy]). Not only was I totally unfamiliar with that, the entry also happened to abut another entry that gave me fits, RAFFI (32D: [Canadian maestro of children’s song]). Throw in taking longer than I should have to get ADITS, and I was taking stabs in that area of the grid for a while (48D: [Miners’ portals]). It’s very fitting that DOWAGER COUNTESS is in today’s grid, given that the success and overwhelming popularity of the show that the character is featured in is in part because of the many people who tuned into watch the show a few years ago, in its first season, during the Super Bowl, allowing viewers an entertaining alternative to football (4D: [Title for Maggie Smith’s “Downton Abbey” character]). Sure enough, there’s a new episode of Downton Abbey airing at 9 PM Eastern, competing with the big game…and probably winning a whole lot of eyeballs in the process! This grid was trying to be hip in the worst way, with both I DIG (25A: [“Understood, daddy-o”]) and NEATO making appearances (40D: [“Cool!”]). Not only was the grid trying to be hip, the grid also has HIPS in it to boot (12D: [Fruit of the rose]). Ms. Levin made it tough of me with today’s grid in trying to find a clue for the “sports…smarter” moment, especially since I don’t want to use A-ROD because of its prevalence in grids, as well as having used that clue previously (3D: [Certain pin-striped infielder, to his fans]). But, at the last second, I found a good one!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SAGE (56D: [Poultry seasoning]) – Television journalist SAGE Steele is currently an on-air personality at ESPN, and is the current studio host for NBA Countdown, ESPN’s NBA pre-game show which features former NBA players Jalen Rose and Doug Collins. Steele is one of the few (if not only) women who are hosts of a flagship studio show for one of the four major American professional sports.
Enjoy the Super Bowl…or the Puppy Bowl…or Downton Abbey!
Alan Olschwang’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Presidential Firsts”—Andy’s review
Three-word phrases that share their initials with some of our more famously three-initialed U.S. Presidents. Helpfully, the president’s number is included parenthetically in each theme clue:
- 23a, HIGH SPEED TRAIN [Austria’s Railjet, for one (#33)]. Harry S. Truman.
- 45a, CALLS AN AUDIBLE [Changes the play at the line of scrimmage (#21)]. Chester A. Arthur.
- 74a, GUESS WHO’S BACK? [Words from a returning traveler (#43)]. George W. Bush.
- 102a, WHITE HOUSE TOUR [D.C. trip highlight (#27)]. William Howard Taft.
- 130a, LITTLE BROWN JUG [Drinking song popularized by the Glenn Miller Orchestra (#36)]. LBJ. The Little Brown Jug is also the trophy awarded to the winner of the annual college football game between Michigan and Minnesota.
- 17d, JUST FOR KICKS [On a lark (#35)]. JFK.
- 67d, DON’T DO ENOUGH [Could be more productive (#34)]. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Probably my least favorite of the theme answers (with no judgment w/r/t Eisenhower’s presidency).
Honestly, the highlights of this solve for me were (a) solving in 4:37, which is close to a Sunday record for me, and (b) MOOSE JAW! Both a [Saskatchewan city] and an outdoorsy retailer. Sad to see AEREO in the grid; reminds me of the tech company that almost was. Strange to have TVA in the grid with no FDR themer. Put your best FDR phrases in the comments!
Not my favorite theme, but the execution was fine. Fill was roughly average for a Sunday LAT, which you’d expect given the (relatively) high word count (144) with seven theme answers.
Until next time!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Super Bowl Shuffle”
I’ve got some work to do before heading to my sister’s for the Super Bowl, so I didn’t spend much time on the meta—instead, I glanced at a thumbnail picture from Evan’s own WaPo write-up that highlighted the key parts in green, and that gave me a big boost. The title suggested anagramming, so I eyeballed the green letters in a couple entries and anagrammed them. Each long (8+ letters) Across answer contains a scrambled name of an NFL team (that has won the big game) in its midst:
- 23a. [Kicker who became Green Bay’s all-time leading scorer in 2015 (XXXIII, 7)], MASON CROSBY. The BRONCOS are hidden within masONCROSBy. Don’t ask me what the significance of the parenthetical numbers is—the Roman numerals presumably match up with Super Bowl iterations, don’t know (or care) what the smaller Arabic numbers mean. Number of S.B. victories, maybe? Not the sort of sports info I take an interest in. Also? The name Mason Crosby was not at all familiar to me.
- 25a. [Andy Warhol, for one (XLIX, 1)], POP ARTIST. Patriots.
- 33a. [Touches on some sore subject (XLVII, 4)], HITS A NERVE. Ravens.
- 43a. [Lady of “Lady and the Tramp,” e.g. (XLV, 3)], COCKER SPANIEL. Packers.
- 55a. [Arctic angling (IV, 3)], ICE FISHING. The Fiches … no, wait, the Chiefs.
- 59a. [“No problem!” (XLIV, 2)], IT’S A SNAP. Saints.
- 72a. [Toys on tracks (XLI, 3)], SLOT CARS. Colts.
- 76a. [Sly fox in “Pinocchio” (III, 3)], HONEST JOHN. Jets.
- 90a. [Fashion magazine founded in 1867 (XX, 2)], HARPER’S BAZAAR. The, uh, Pazbers? Oh, wait. The Bears. Of course Evan would not omit his beloved Bears, who are hibernating for the winter.
- 96a. [Stumping site, often (XLVI, 3)], SWING STATE. Giants.
- 109a. [The Little Dipper’s location (XXXIV, 3)], URSA MINOR. Rams.
- 113a. [Epidemiologist’s focus, at times (XV, 7)], RARE DISEASE. Raiders, I think.
Solid theme and a neat and timely meta, particularly for football fans.
Three more things:
- 36d. [Clamping securely], VISING. The first dictionary I checked has vise only as a noun, but MWCD-11 also includes it as a verb.
- 64a. [Like a low-key bar atmosphere], LOUNGY. *ahem* Most dictionaries, if onelook.com is to be believed, don’t include this form of the word. I don’t know that I’ve encountered it before.
- 35d. [“Ant” on the treat “ants on a log”], RAISIN. Actually my favorite clue here. Ants on a log = a celery stalk filled with peanut butter and adorned with bug-looking raisins. I’ll pass. Raw celery is gross.
Overall assessment: Smooth fill and crisp clues throughout, good meta theme execution. Four stars from me.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Gag Gifts” — pannonica’s write-up
A collection of seemingly impractical, nonsensical, and/or self-negating items.
- 23a. [Gag gift for a videophile?] DVD REWINDER.
- 34a. [Gag gift for a kid?] CORDLESS YO-YO.
- 50a. [Gag gift for a cook?] FIREPROOF GRILL.
- 69a. [Gag gift for a pub owner?] INFLATABLE DARTBOARD.
- 87a. [Gag gift appliance?] WIND-POWERED FAN.
- 103a. [Gag gift for a meteorologist?] MESH UMBRELLA.
- 119a. [Gag party gift?] STEEL PIÑATA.
Now, some of these aren’t as far-fetched as others, and arguments of varying degrees of tortuosity can be made for a few, but, sure, superficially these all hit the mark. They remind me a little of Katerina Kamprani’s series of “Uncomfortable” objects. Also, consider the notion of ‘oxymoronic machines‘.
Anyway, these are kind of fun.
- 55a [Indian territory] DELHI. Knew the trick, but I was inclined to finish it as DECCA.
- 47a [Ray’s partner] BOB Elliott, very recently deceased.
- 59a [Thames, to Oxford rowers] ISIS. New information for me, and a non-terrorist, not-directly mythological clue for this crosswordy staple.
- Speaking of which, however: 15d [Any of the Furies] ERINYS. Oh, and 92d [Persephone’s mother] DEMETER.
- 63a, 65a [ … some wistful words] I WISH | I HAD. I’d have gone with ‘rueful’, but that’s obviated by the nearby 79a [Not happy about] RUING.
- 20a [Folk songwriter John] PRINE.
- 46d [Valli of “The Third Man”] ALIDA. “Who”, you may ask? Why, ALIDA Maria Laura Altenburger von Marckenstein und Frauenberg, that’s who!
- 98d [“Into the Wild” setting] for ALASKA dupes 72d [Acted like animals] RAN WILD. Why not write a clue paralleling 37d [Canton’s state] OHIO and 80d [Sioux City’s state] IOWA?
- Refreshing to see WOE IS ME complete and not as a partial. As a bonus, ALAS and ALACK—in the clue—are relegated to non-grid duty. In a similar inversion ECO is recruited for 93d UMBERTO.
- 8d [South of France] MIDI. Huh? … Oh, le Midi.
Cute theme, decent fill, good cluing. Some of the answers may be obscure, but the crossings are always fair. Okay, over and out.
I’d rate the NYT higher! Loved the theme phrases – especially the last one DISBAR AND GRILL… I was tricked for a moment as I had URDU for an _R___ ALE, and tried GREEN before IRISH… That was DIStracting, but otherwise all was DIStinctly terrific.
To me, Amy’s write-up is overly kind to this puzzle. The fill was a mix of terrible and bland, with no sparkle at all. Which would all be forgivable for a brilliant theme that puts a lot of strain on the grid, but this was not a brilliant theme, merely a pretty good one. (And it’s not clear to me that this theme puts a lot of strain on the grid.)
Agreed. This was a very good theme but didn’t dominate the puzzle grid enough to excuse the strained, old-fashioned fill, eg, the OLAND/ELAND brothers, united here very much not by popular demand.
Agree with Amy about the whole thing: theme was very nice but too much meh fill, except for the exceptions she mentioned: MIXED MEDIA, HOTHOUSE, TAILFIN, and PROBOSCIS.
I attended the Westport Library tournament yesterday. We solved the NYT Mon. Tues. Wed. from next week. I hope these comments are vague enough that no one will consider them spoilers. I thought the puzzles were all excellent, especially Tues. Wed. may have been the easiest of the three; certainly, I thought Tues. and Wed. could have been switched. Andy Kravis won with a terrific showing on the final puzzle.
One problem from my point of view is that there were very few people there whom I knew, or put it this way, very few whom I knew well enough to be able to recognize. So if I appeared to snub anyone, I apologize. It was unintentional.
But look for next week’s Tuesday.
As kindly as this recap remembers me, it was Glen Ryan who won with a terrific showing on the final puzzle. I finished third with one error; Pete Rimkus took second.
oops sorry about that. But all three finalists were great.
Today’s NYT theme seemed no better or worse than any other play on words, so favored by contemporary constructors (and, apparently, solvers). I’d say the same thing about the fill. I counted sixteen proper names, which doesn’t seem inordinate for a 21×21 puzzle, and certainly not “lots and lots” of them “from the crosswords of 30 years ago”, as Amy complained about.
Her vexation about how old some of these entries are – echoed in the comments — seems in stark contrast to the usual staunch objections, so often demonstrated in this blog, to all things prejudicial. Isn’t this bashing of “old”, simply because they’re old, a form of ageism?
I’m, just sayin’…and to make certain my intentions are known — ;-).
I suspect if you ask a lot of your peers who don’t do crosswords, they’d have a hard time coming up with STAEL, ABOU, MESTA, and OLAND. I’m not convinced that what I consider “stale old fill” actually constitutes “words and names that everyone over 65 knows, even if they’ve never done crosswords.”
I do share some of PJ’s views about negative attitudes toward anything that is not hypermodern. It happens that I am familiar with Mme de Stael, Perle Mesta and Warner Oland, but I’m not sure whether that’s age, or just things I happen to have run into. (Of course I’ve had longer to run into them.)
I also am a fan of Sha Na Na, and don’t consider them passé and regret that they are sometimes so characterized. But that may also be idiosyncratic. I became somewhat acquainted with Jon ‘Bowser’ Bauman several decades ago on the upper West Side. Very intelligent, sophisticated guy.
I learned something interesting during WS’s Q and A session at Westport. What constructor has made the most appearances in the NYT during WS’s editorship? (I think that was the implicit time frame.) The way I’m highlighting this question may give a hint as to the answer.
Anyone have any ideas?
Amy, who are you quoting? I didn’t say anything about people over 65 knowing anything about anything.
Might have been a quote from one of the many DIScontented posts at Rex’s place. I, for one, am extremely tired of the criticism of classic crossword-ese and the praise for “modern” crap.
The opposing factions have pretty well established their parameters and you’ll probably just have to learn to live with it. I would like to see the two sides share this space amicably, agreeing to disagree.
FMS, ELAND, ARRAN (crossing OLAND!), MDXC, IWO as a partial, INE, APEAK, SOR, OSE, REB, ADIA are all examples of pretty junky fill that’s not “old”. BE IN NEED OF is also pretty awkward. And aside from PROBOSCIS, there’s not much good non-theme fill balancing the ledger.
Actuay, Glen Ryan was the winner at Westport with a stunning time of 5:48 on the upcoming Thursday puzzle. Peter Rimkus and Andy Kravis took second and third respectively.
First three puzzles were upcoming Mon, Tues and Wed. Will was our host.
Did anyone here notice this article in today’s New York Times?
The author, a sociology professor, has made study of Times crosswords since 1942 which shows a diminishing percentage of foreign words; he claims that this in turn shows that the American public has grown more parochial.
Mightn’t it prove just as well that crossword tastes have changed, or even simply that crossword-constructing software has made the avoidance of foreign words easier?
Although I believe DB is correct to summarize the article in that way, it is a nuanced article with several angles to think about. I do think that some criticism of foreign language clues is overdone. Some people think that English language puzzles should only have English in them (not Amy, of course). Foreign languages are a field just as legitimate as any other for crosswords. Of course, we always like fair crossings.
I thought it was even lamer than that. Is it any surprise that different people named Ito are in the news now that 60 years ago, and who was that Japanese diplomat anyhow? Does anyone care. Is it any surprise that fewer students at a handful of elite schools are obliged to learn Latin than a modern language? I had only a few months myself, in the 1960s, and that was at one of New York City’s half dozen most selective schools. I like to think of myself as literate, with an easier time than most solvers on books and less on TV stars, but so what?
And then he seems to think that this is all a sign of the closing of the American mind. Give it up. It doesn’t help that his own puzzle is so easy and lame, with its share of pop culture names. For that matter, its foreign words occur, contrary to his thesis, as mostly parts of phrases that have entered English. Shortz could be taking pride.
The criticism of the puzzle accompanying Charles Kurzman and Josh Katz’s article is unfair. It’s not supposed to be a great puzzle or a hard puzzle. It’s just supposed to be an illustration of the theme of the article. If you have so much foreign language stuff all together in a puzzle, almost exclusively, even parts of phrases that have entered English, it’s just a bit of intentional fun with crosswordese, and I got a kick out of it. I liked the article too, even though one could discuss and argue various aspects of it.
It’s daring of JohnH seemingly to deny that Americans are narrowing their knowledge of other languages, in comparison with the rest of the developed world. An example of this can be seen in a look at some of very intelligent late night TV talk show hosts. Stephen Colbert bungled a French skit with Marion Cotillard, in which he had to read a little French. Seth Meyers told a French comedian that he had as a guest that Meyers’s mother was a French teacher but that Meyers didn’t know any French, and the guest said that was very American. In contrast, Trevor Noah, from South Africa, has demonstrated casually a familiarity with German, French and other languages.
Support for a bit of other languages in crosswords, especially phrases that have been accepted into English dictionaries, is congruent with the efforts recently noted and promoted on this page to widen the cultural references in puzzles to include other regions of the world in the subject matter used.
Regarding other content issues referred to in today’s comments, maybe Amy was thinking of me when she said 65, because I’m 65 and maybe I said so recently. I am sympathetic to today’s commenters who defended the fill in today’s NYT, such as OLAND and MESTA, on the basis of age.
My guess is using fewer foreign words is partly a business decision. The NYT would like to sell more crossword subscriptions. That means the puzzles need to appeal to a broader audience. I’m guessing the American public was just as parochial 50, 60 years ago as it is today. Now it may be even a little less so. The NYT just wants more people’s money.
You’re missing Evan’s meta entirely. The arabic numeral in the theme entry clues is the key.
Duh, I figured that out. I’m not stupid. Just didn’t spell it out. I don’t have all day to write these blog posts! Certainly the specific Roman numerals for Super Bowl games mean very little to me in terms of who won. I know III was the Jets, I know this year’s is L. Everything in between is random numbers and teams I don’t really care about. It’s football nerd trivia that doesn’t resonate with everyone.
This year’s is 50. The Roman numerals return in 2017. And III is the only one I remember as well.
I don’t understand your response at all and suspect you don’t understand mine. The Roman numerals aren’t at issue. Since you said, “don’t know (or care) what the smaller Arabic numbers mean” and didn’t mention the SPECIAL TEAMS meta, I thought you hadn’t completed that part. But I guess I misunderstood.
I have no idea what you mean by SPECIAL TEAMS in all caps. The unanagrammed parts of the theme answers? Or some other layer altogether? The meta instructions were so nonspecific, there’s no hint of there being complex multiple layers.
Time to head out now. Cheers!
The 7th letter of BRONCOS is S. The 1st letter of PATRIOTS is P. The meta is SPECIAL TEAMS, determined that way, using all the theme entries, in order, with the Arabic numerals as keys.
As is discussed below, it’s a pun with two meanings that satisfy the note.
Enjoy your Super Bowl party.
“I’m not stupid.”
I’m glad we cleared that up.
WaPo – The Roman numerals reference a particular Super Bowl, with the winner being hidden in the entry. The Arabic number indicates which letter in the winner’s name to include in the meta answer. The 7th letter of the winner of Super Bowl XXXIII (BRONCOS) is S. Carrying this through we end up with SPECIAL TEAMS. An important part of any football game.
“Special teams” is a pun, I think. Not only is it the kicking unit but it’s also a description of who makes it to the Super Bowl. The wording of the note, “The answer is an important aspect of the Super Bowl,” leads me to that conclusion since the kicking unit special teams is an important aspect of all football games.
All told, a pretty clever puzzle.
I intended it as a double meaning: first as the kicking unit because that’s the literal definition, and as a loose descriptor of the winning Super Bowl teams. I could have made the instructions “important aspect of football,” but I wanted to keep solvers thinking about the Super Bowl specifically.
It was an enjoyable puzzle even without the meta, which I didn’t bother to solve. Unlike others around here, I am a bit stupid, as well as lazy, and metas simply don’t engage me. However, reading about this one has me convinced that it’s well above average.
Well done, Evan.
Enjoyable and much needed palate cleanser after today’s NYT. I might suggest that the mechanism would’ve been improved if the Arabic number referenced the letter position in the anagram of the team. As it stands, the meta is entirely solvable without filling in a single square.
Thanks. I considered doing that, but I didn’t want to ask solvers to go an extra step of unscrambling the team names and then re-scrambling them back into the theme entries. Even some very good meta solvers got tripped up trying to figure out what to do when they realized they had to look up the specific Super Bowls. So I was okay giving people the shortcut from picking out the winners and taking the enumerated letters.
I also think that would have been a bit messy because it’s ambiguous. Is it the position of the letter in the entry, or the position of the letter in the string comprised of the anagram fodder removed from the entry?
I think this is plenty of challenge as it is. (Remember these solvers were doing Merl Reagle crosswords.)
I wonder how those Washington Post readers will be responding to the challenge?
I’m a day late, but I still wanted to say I very much enjoyed your puzzle, both the crossword itself and the meta-puzzle. I thought both were fantastic!
I’m even later to show up, but I came here looking for an explanation of the meta, so I’m appreciative of those who took the time to comment. I skipped a step with the arabic numbers, so got gibberish.
Refuse to watch Super Bash – but disappointed by LAT. SW corner impossible! TEEHEE misspelled to fit, still don’t get TONG def., dislike stretch in cuddles=SPOONS. It’s not “clever” to be misleading!
p.s.:took me 3 hrs. to solve – does that mean blog solver is 30 times smarter than I???
Andy is incredibly knowledgeable. You don’t win $2.4 million on a trivia game show without an amazing knack for learning things and being able to recall them quickly. What’s bonkers is that his best showing at the ACPT is 13th place—there are people who are even faster solvers than Andy.
Did anyone else receive the LAT puzzle titled as “Bringing Your ‘A’ Game?” It may have just been the Denver Post, which is famous for not printing all the clues in crosswords, messing up the spacing of words in the Cryptoquip, and even putting wrong letters in the Jumble. In any case, with that title, I had no clue to the presidential initials theme. I wonder what the “A Game” puzzle was—maybe it’ll show up next week with the presidential initials title.
Pancho, that’s the title of the Sunday 10/11/15 LAT: http://www.crosswordfiend.com/blog/2015/10/10/sunday-october-11-2015/#la. The Denver Post is a little out of whack.