Sunday, March 6, 2016

CS tk (Ade) 


Hex/Quigley untimed (pannonica) 


LAT 6:21 (Andy) 


NYT 9:24 (Amy) 


WaPo 8:31 (Jenni) 


David Kahn’s New York Times Crossword, “In Character”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 3 6 16 "In Character"

NY Times crossword solution, 3 6 16 “In Character”

In each of these eight theme answers, a Shakespearean character’s name appears in the circled letters, and the full answer essentially serves as a clue for the name. The clue given is [See blurb], and if you’re like me, you didn’t read the blurb/notepad entry. (It basically says what I said in sentence 1.)

  • 23a. [See blurb], COMRADE OF MERCUTIO, Romeo. Not typically called a “comrade,” but we’ll go with it.
  • 31a. BANQUET GHOST, Banquo.  It’s been decades since I read Macbeth. There’s a banquet involving Banquo? Is this key to the plot?
  • 45a. ELDERLY MONARCH, Lear.
  • 90a. EVIL ANTAGONIST, Iago. This answer/clue phrase is awfully nonspecific.
  • 103a. MACABRE THANE, Macbeth.
  • 115a. UNHAPPY MALCONTENT, Hamlet. I’m sorry, is it possible to be a happy malcontent?

I give the theme about 3.6 stars. Is 126 theme squares pretty heavy for a 21x puzzle? Feels like the long theme answers crowd the grid. There are some nice bits in there—ORRIN HATCH, GO ROGUE, RAMONES, AUTOSTRADA, VOICE ACTOR—but for me, they were overshadowed by the blah bits throughout. Your EMOTER, AHEMS, ELOI, EELED, that sort of fill.

Three more things:

  • 103d. [Some electrical plugs], MALES. Please show me an electrical plug that is “female” (i.e., has holes rather than prongs). Shouldn’t the clue be [Some electrical connectors]?
  • 9a. [Snap], FOTO. I don’t know anyone who uses foto in English. In German, a photo is das Foto, but not in English. Why not clue it as a foreign word if you simply must include it in the grid?
  • 1d. [Rude thing to drop], F-BOMB. It’s not always rude. Sometimes it’s entirely warranted, or cathartic. There’s a good group blog called Strong Language, with posts written by a range of contributors including linguist/puzzler Ben Zimmer, naming consultant Nancy Friedman, dictionary people, etc. Check it out.

3.4 stars overall from me.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Bull Session”—Andy’s review

LAT Puzzle 3.6.16, "Bull Session," by Ed Sessa

LAT Puzzle 3.6.16, “Bull Session,” by Ed Sessa

First of all, thanks very much to Jenni for filling in for me last week!

Now, a warning: I don’t think I can quite be impartial about this puzzle. It’s got the same theme as my very first published puzzle (co-authored with Will Nediger)–a puzzle that ran in the LAT about 3.5 years ago–and it shares a couple of theme entries with both that puzzle and the puzzle that ran in the NYT a month later with the same theme. Impressively, most of these theme answers are original (but of course I like my puzzle way better).

I think the theme is intended to be phrases with a “bull” sound, usually represented as “ble,” added:

  • 11a, HUMBLE BUG [Lowly glowworm?]. Humbug.
  • 23a, GOBBLE SMACK [Turkey’s affectionate peck?]. Gobsmack. This one (as well as the others that have double-b’s) I take issue with, since phonetically it’s just the “ull” sound that’s added, rather than the whole “bull” sound. In my and Will’s puzzle, we got around that by simply making the theme “adding the letters BLE each time.” There’s one theme entry that doesn’t do that in this puzzle–namely, 112-Across. Kyle Dolan’s NYT puzzle worked the same way as ours.
  • 36a, MALIBU RUMBLE [Beach brawl?]. Malibu® Rum. Will and I chose RUMBLE RUNNER; Kyle Dolan chose RUMBLE PUNCH.
  • 41a, HUBBLE CAP [Lens cover for a low-earth orbiter?]. Hubcap. This is the theme entry all three puzzles shared.
  • 65a, AY, THERE’S THE RUBBLE [“Those are stone fragments, all right”?]. Ay, there’s the rub. Kyle Dolan had THERE’S THE RUBBLE also.
  • 88a, SKI BUMBLE [Mogul mishap?]. Ski bum. Kyle Dolan had BUMBLE RAP.
  • 91a, SPONGE BOBBLE [Slip while washing dishes?]. Spongebob (Squarepants).
  • 112a, STABLE ALERT [Warning about an escaped horse?]. Stay alert. This base phrase doesn’t feel quite as strong as the rest, and as I said above, if the theme was spelling-based rather than phonetic then this entry breaks the theme constraint.
  • 119a, NOBLE EXIT [Henry VI’s “O, God forgive my sings, and pardon thee!”?]. No Exit. Kyle went with NOBLE NONSENSE, while Will and I favored NOBLE MAN’S LAND.

Nine theme entries is a ton, and they’re all really nice, except for the minor theme inconsistencies I mentioned above. The triple-stacks of nine-letter entries in the NE and SW were fun, and I also really liked CO-WINNER and THE SAME as fill. By contrast, there were a few unpleasant short entries; the one that stuck out most to me was A MOI crossing ROB’T and the singular PAGO in the NW. The rhyming MERES, BRER, AIR, and ETAGERE all in the NE made me laugh.

Something feels wrong about calling TAHITI [Gauguin’s island retreat]. Reductive, maybe, like Tahiti was simply Gauguin’s playplace rather than a place with native inhabitants and culture. Also, referencing the film version of DR. LAO without comment is a risky proposition, given the film’s use of yellowface (Tony Randall, the star of the film mentioned in the clue, plays Dr. Lao, a Chinese man). The politics of the film are obviously very complicated; I might’ve just stuck with the book reference, even if it made the clue harder.

Until next time!

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post, “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” — Jenni’s writeup

Good morning! I’m glad I started my Sunday with this puzzle. It was easy and fun with lots of entries that made me smile and nothing much to register on the scowl-o-meter.Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 6.51.52 AM

“Captain Obvious” takes well-known sayings literally, with very amusing results.

  • “___, it will be nighttime” – AT THE END OF THE DAY
  • “___: You can see it in slow motion right when the wide receiver grabs that football” – HERE’S THE CATCH (Evan has been studying at the Peter Gordon school of  long clues)
  • “___, you will not have shown any sign of embarrassment before” – AT FIRST BLUSH
  • “___, remove all but the last five pages of ‘Les Miserables’ ” – TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT
  • “___, and then I won’t have that object in my possession” – TAKE IT FROM ME
  • “___, there is physical space separating you and me” – JUST BETWEEN US
  • “___, I recommend sobbing noisily” – FOR CRYING OUT LOUD

All the theme phrases are in the language. It’s a fresh theme idea (at least I don’t remember seeing it before, and it’s well-executed). As I said, fun!

A few other things:

  • 1A and 1D set us up to relax with “Lounge in the hot tub” and “Hot tub setting” for SOAK and SPA. Sounds good to me. Let’s go.
  • “Chef’s cover” are LIDS and “Chef’s cover” is APRON at 7D and 31A. I was looking for TOQUE.
  • While I didn’t find a toque, I thought of taking a TOKE when I saw REEFER at 101D, clued as “Pot stick?”.
  • “Pablo Neruda’s ‘__ to the Onion’ ” is a fresh (!) clue for ODE. I like the poem, too.
  • “Bomb built in the ’50s” isn’t a nuclear weapon but an EDSEL.
  • I love the word EVENSONG (“Vespers prayer” at 57A). I’ve never attended a vespers service and I don’t know the prayer. The word is peaceful and evocative. It makes me think of this poem by Jane Kenyon; I often use the Kenyon poem in place of the asher bidvaro prayer when I lead Friday night services. Looks like someone else does, too.
  • Any day I have a reason to link to a Tom LEHRER song is a good day. Here’s the Masochism Tango (see 10D).

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Fabrication” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 3/6/16 • "Fabrication" • Cox, Rathvon • solution

CRooked • 3/6/16 • “Fabrication” • Cox, Rathvon • solution

An apocryphal [Accident report …] in four convenient 21-letter segments. DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE GUY | WHO FELL IN THE MACHINERY | AT AN UPHOLSTERY FACTORY ? | HE IS NOW IN FULL RECOVERY. (27a, 49a, 78a, 98a)

If you aren’t the type who cottons to puns, I would doubt you’ll be swayed by what Hex tilled here. Whether they nailed it or not is the solver’s to determine in the final analysis.

  • Was nice to have what was a gimmeforme right off the bat with 1a [Noted subject of Andrew Wyeth] HELGA.
  • In the same corner, I was only moderately acquainted with the [Mountain ash] ROWAN tree, which seems to be quite popular in folk tales and folk art. (23a)
  • Fantasy race twofer with Wells’ ELOI and Tolkien’s ENTS. Eesh. (2d, 87a)
  • 46a [In-the-bathtub noise] SLOSH. Strange, aside from inebriate connotations I think of it exclusively as a verb (motion) rather than a noun (sound), but can easily appreciate how it can be both.
  • 84a [George who was really Mary Ann] ELIOT. Evans.
  • 117a [Disco singer Leo] SAYER. His heyday was undoubtedly the late 1970s and early ’80s, but is he best known as a disco artist? I’m a bit reluctant to investigate that.
  • 5d [Not once] AT NO TIME, 77a [At any point] EVER, and sure-why-not-let’s-add-even-though-it-isn’t-necessarily-chronological 28d [To the point that] UNTIL.
  • bothropslanceolatusFortunate partial at 72d [ -lance (pit viper)] FER-DE. I say fortunate because, despite the general undesirability of partials (not to mention hyphenated ones), it offers the opportunity to mention so many cruciverbal staples. Both PIT and VIPER are common, it’s the title of of the first REX Stout NERO WOLFE novel, and then of course there’s American composer FERDE GROFÉ. Fer-de-lance  translates literally from the French to ‘iron of the spear’ (i.e.,, spearhead). Finally, there’s the the genus name, BOTHROPS; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that one in crosswords, over and over again.
  • Kinda dupey with 68d [Insult-a-thon] ROAST after 8d [Opposites of dashes] MARATHONS in the grid.
  • Some nice midlength fill among the downs: MARATHONS, SOTTO VOCE, WHITEWASH, ART CARNEY.

Overall, this one was underwhelming. So-so theme accompanied by merely average ballast fill, with dry cluing.

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29 Responses to Sunday, March 6, 2016

  1. Martin says:


    From wikipedia:

    “Generally the plug is the movable connector attached to an electrically operated device’s mains cable…”

    Most laptop power supply connectors, for instance, are female for safety (the hot part is recessed and the socket has a pin to accept the power) but are plugs by the accepted definition. It would be very confusing to call the female bit that you connect to the laptop the “socket.”

    • Martin says:

      Another example is the old 115V computer and monitor power cable. Both ends are plugs, but the computer end is female. The socket is male.

    • Papa John says:

      Informally, the female receptacles in your walls are called “plugs”.

      I’m not sure I follow Amy’s gripe. Plugs are certainly male connectors, which the clue calls for, so what’s the beef?

      As usual, David Kahn has given us another winner, with just the right amount of resistance for a Sunday and very clever theme. I’m so happy I’m not as sensitive to the “blah bits” as Amy is. On the other hand, I’m not as elated by the fills she cites as “nice bits”. What makes ORRIN HATCH and RAMONES “nice”? Hatch simply isn’t and I don’t think the Ramones would cotton to that adjective applied to them.

      • David L says:

        I call the things on the wall ‘outlets,’ and, if I remember correctly, in the UK they are called sockets (into which one plugs plugs, naturally).

        The power cord that connects to my laptop is hermaphrodite, I would say. It’s male in the sense that it goes into a hole in the side of the laptop, but it’s female in the sense that it has holes into which the prongs in the laptop insert.

        I thought it was a nice theme. A couple were a bit dubious or imprecise, as Amy says, but overall they were cute.

        • Papa John says:

          Okay, but others do call them plugs, as in, “Is there a plug behind the sofa?”

          Martin, I fail to see the female implication in the clue. Then again, I tend to take things quite literally; SOME plugs ARE male. As you can read in my post above, I’m not surprised that some plugs are female.

      • Martin says:

        The clue implies that some plugs are female, which is correct. It’s surprising to some (maybe to you as well, Papa John) but a cable end with recessed connectors that mate with pins on a fixed socket is a female plug. Lots of people never stop to consider why male/female and plug/socket are not synonymous.

        My father used to call plugs “jacks,” which of course is a synonym for “sockets.” When I told him he had it backwards he said if jacks were sockets they’d be called “jills.” As with many things with my father, I gave up.

        • David L says:

          Why is jack “of course” a synonym for socket? MW11 agrees with you, but then again the first definition it gives for ‘jack’ is ‘man.’ I’m very familiar with audio and video plugs being called jacks, and your father’s explanation makes good sense.

          Lots of people never stop to consider why male/female and plug/socket are not synonymous. I’m sure that is very true.

  2. mnemonica says:

    I know “foto” from newspaper editing. It’s in the same category as “lede” instead of “lead” and “hed” instead of “headline” (and “sted” sted “instead of”). I don’t know that it’s in the general language.

  3. It’s no secret that I’m a long-time fan of David Kahn, and today’s offering fits well in his remarkable canon. This link takes you to Verdi’s opera Macbeth; the famous banquet scene starts at 1:09:30, and Banquo’s ghost first appears at 1:13:30, right after Lady Macbeth’s spirited drinking song.

  4. Christopher Smith says:

    I guess I enjoyed this more than Amy, particularly the care involved in constructing the theme answers so the hidden names appeared in order instead of as anagrams. The theme does create a pretty lopsided long-theme/short-fill situation, but the trade-off seems fair enough. Also in the SE enjoyed turning the tables on the overused Lhasa “apso” fill by instead building two clues around it. My nit to pick was IONE, which had an almost vanishingly remote clue. Might have gone with Skye or switched to Iona with spica as the cross.

  5. Evan says:

    Thanks, Jenni.

    It’s funny you mention that you hadn’t seen the theme of my Post crossword before, because as it happens, it’s actually an expansion of an old Devil Cross puzzle of mine. (SPOILER ALERTS about that previous Devil Cross puzzle to follow.)

    In light of the Gridgate scandal, I thought it was important to disclose that today’s “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” crossword shares a couple of theme answers with the old one (one with the same clue, I think) and has the same title, but everything else is different. The Devil Cross puzzle was 16×15 in size, whereas today’s was 21×21, and most importantly, both puzzles are my own original work.

    Basically, my motivation for reusing the theme idea was that I just liked the character of Captain Obvious enough to do it again, and Devil Cross was (and still is) a fairly niche website compared to the Post. Still, the timing really could not have been worse for the second “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” puzzle to come out.

    • Norm says:

      Evan, I don’t think I’ve smiled and chuckled this much over a Sunday puzzle since Merl left us. Thank you for recycling the theme to a broader audience. I would hate to have missed out on the fun. Cheers!

      • Jenni Levy says:

        Evan, you posted that puzzle before I started following Devil Cross. As someone might say, there’s a YUUUGE difference between mining your own previous work for ideas and plagiarizing someone else’s. I agree with Norm – I’m glad you brought Captain Obvious back so more of us could enjoy your ingenuity. You’re not the only one who likes the character. Obviously :)

    • Bruce N. Morton says:


      I doubt if there is anything you can do about this, but I am not able to print out a paper copy of your puzzles (which is the only form in which I can solve puzzles.) I won’t go into the astounding amount of frustration and wasted time trying to solve online causes me. I usually start screaming within the first 30 seconds and quit.

      I can download your puzzles, and choose print, but it won’t print the puzzle with all the clues just that one Screen Shot (if that’s the right term) of the puzzle with a small number of across clues on that same page. So far I have given up at trying to figure out how to get your full puzzle with all the clues. But perhaps this is just my well known computer illiteracy. Is there something obvious I am missing?

      I would love to have the opportunity to solve your puzzles.

      • Evan says:

        Where are you printing from? If it’s from the Post’s website, I’m aware of the PDF problems there. I’ve been trying to get the development team that works with the Post to update their online browser solver so that the printout looks more-or-less exactly as it appears in the print edition, which would be one single page. They will make that switch eventually, but I don’t know when.

        Alternatively, if you don’t want to solve online, what you could do is still download Across Lite and print out the puzzle from there. I just did a test for today’s puzzle and it printed the grid and all the clues on one page.

    • placematfan says:

      Captain Obvious rocks my face off. Nice work.

  6. Pauer says:

    Yep, the banquet scene in The Scottish Play is a pivotal one. It’s bad luck to quote or name the play in a theatre, but I don’t say the name of that play anywhere, since all the world’s a stage. :)

    As for the theme square count, around 100 is typical so yeah, this is a lot. That might also explain why 142 words were allowed, since 140 is the usual limit.

  7. roger says:

    Maybe Donny J. was talking about his electrical plugs.

  8. john farmer says:

    With apologies to the great Cox & Rathvon, my take on a 4×21 theme for a puzzle titled “FABRICATION.”


    CRooked Crosswords indeed!

    P.S. I thought the theme in the NY Times was first rate, and it brought to mind one of the all-time great themes, in my opinion, David Kahn, with his daughter Hillary, mixing Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss in “Green Eggs and Hamlet.”

  9. JohnH says:

    I liked the puzzle for how it left so gaping a hole in the fill until you caught on to the theme. I disliked UNHAPPY MALCONTENT, too, in part because of the seemingly unnecessary first word, but also because it’s so unspecific. It could apply to any number of characters in any number of works.

    No doubt everyone has a least favorite bit of crosswordese, but I’ll go public with mine. Has anyone ever used the verb “emote” outside of a crossword? (No cheating by checking the OED for citations.) And EMOTER only makes it worse. “Plug” is idiomatic in the sense of wall outlet for me.

    • Norm says:

      Not the OED (so I didn’t violate your limits), but I could find only a single instance in the California Official [Law] Reports — and that was a footnote with a quote from the defense attorney’s closing argument. “This impression that you got of him sitting up there on the stand, my God, he’s rigid. And I struggled, and I just knew that that was going to be disastrous because you can’t get next to him, you can’t talk to him, you can’t get any feeling for him when he sits up on the stand and he doesn’t have these tools to emote. He doesn’t have the background, the environment that it took to let him come out to you.” There are a couple of federal cases as well, but it would support the proposition that it’s very stilted and is used far too often.

      I will, however, stand in defense of ARETE and ERSE and many others that I learned at my Nana’s knee. ;)

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      My best friend’s a clinical psychologist. I’ve heard her use “emote,” in contexts like “she never emotes, she’s really uncomfortable expressing her feelings.” Not sure if she picked it up from psychology classes or from drama classes, though. I’ll ask!

      Regardless, EMOTER seems terrible, with the -er noun formation.

    • Zulema says:

      A day late, but agree with all your comments and also Papa John’s re “nice” entries, but mainly want to thank the NYT for a very enjoyable Sunday puzzle that a lot of people, including me, don’t usually bother with or pass it on to someone who just solves the Sunday NYT. This one was FUN. I did not read the “blurb” either. Wasn’t needed.

  10. pannonica says:

    Regarding UNHAPPY MALCONTENT, can we give the alleged redundancy a pass if instead of parsing ‘malcontent’ strictly to its etymological sources, we consider a gleeful rebel, the sort who might derive joy in effecting anarchy?

    • Norm says:

      Alex of Clockwork Orange?

      • JohnH says:

        Shakespeare could be said to have happy malcontents, but with qualifications. Edmund repents. Richard III comes to serious grief. But details aside, it still seems like it’d be a lousy clue for Hamlet.

        • JohnH says:

          Actually, while the play has had notorious debates over interpretation and many productions, one could even quarrel over whether and when Hamlet is unhappy and so how the phrase holds up. Arguably, he’s most depressed (oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt) when his discontent is least clear, while he gains in not just stature but also calm and purpose as he becomes a malcontent.

  11. Papa John says:

    “… the sort who might derive joy in effecting anarchy?”

    You talkin’ about me?

Comments are closed.