David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Lots of Steinberg-is-a-young-constructor sort of fill, which I tend to enjoy. Highlights: GUY CODE (which doesn’t feel as familiar as bro code but is the name of a 2011-15 MTV show), CHANDLER Bing (Friends : today’s teens :: ’60s shows : my peers as teens—Nick at Nite reruns), CHILLAX, DUBSTEP, BELIEBER (yo, Biebs has white-dude dreads now), and ABSOLUT.
Grid code violation: Well, you’ve got cognates THREE and TRIOS crossing. No, no. LAYETTE and LAY OPEN look related, but actually are not etymological cousins.
Five more things:
- 1a. [Artificial eyelashes, informally], FALSIES. Fake eyelashes are in fashion at the moment, and they do get called “falsies.” Am relieved that this word’s not clued as mammary accessories, because that would make for a really gross 1-Across.
- 13d. [Gotham building-climbing tool], BATROPE. That’s a thing for Batman? Whatever.
- 7d. [In any way], SOEVER? Say what? Is that a thing without an introductory what-? Checking the dictionary … soever is labeled as an archaic or literary word. Would be good to have the clue signal that the answer’s rather obscure.
- I wish HAMBONE had been clued as the rhythmic thigh-slapping performance that derives from West African and slave traditions. Here’s a video to give you a taste if you’re not familiar with it; I learned about it from school classmates back in the day. Here’s a little on the history. Sure, it’s cute to have two [Treat for a dog] clues in a row, but culture and arts!
- 30d. [Kept a watch on?], TIMED / 28d. [Keeps a watch on], TENDS. I hit the question-marked clue and really liked it, and then I hit its near-double. More fun to have paired clues that point in different directions, vs. the CHEW TOY/HAM BONE combo.
Four stars from me.
Michael Wiesenberg’s Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, “Grid School”
Hi, everyone. PuzzleGirl here with your CHE for this week. This will probably be a brief write-up. I had some minor surgery on my foot on Wednesday and when I volunteered to do this blog post, the nerve block hadn’t worn off yet. I was all, “Sure! Bring it on! I feel great! I’ve got all the time in the world!” Now, on the other hand, I’m sort of wishing I would just die already but frantically counting my Percocet to see if it might be worth it to hold on for a while. It’s not pretty. So let’s take my mind off it for a bit, shall we?
Today’s puzzle features a simple change-a-letter theme. The resulting phrases aren’t all hilarious, but the cluing is good, so I definitely chuckled a couple times.
- 18A: DOGNIPPER [Recording-industry mascot listening to His Master’s Voice?]
- 27A: SEND PICKING [Dispatch to the orchard?]
- 45A: THE MOD SQUID [Cephalopod-about-town in Swinging London?]
- 60A: LITER, DUDE [“Is that a quart, bro?” rejoinder?]
The problem I have with many change-a-letter themes is that I always think the pronunciation changes are going to be consistent too. But, like here, that’s not always the case. In this puzzle, the first two theme answers do, in fact, have matching pronunciation changes (short A to short I). So I thought I totally understood what was going on and then bam! In the third theme answer, the changed letter requires going from and “ah” sound to a short I. And then the last one goes from a long A to a long E sound. The theme is still completely legit. It’s changing the letter A to the letter I. And yet, I want it to be … better.
I will say, though, that THE MOD SQUID might just make up for any negative feelings I have about this puzzle. I mean, that answer is fantastic!
- 15A: Pie-eyed [DRUNK]. I didn’t know that pie-eyed meant DRUNK. I would have guessed that it means optimistic.
- 32A: Frugivorous race of H.G. Wells [ELOI]. I don’t know what “frugivorous” means, but luckily I know the answer for any clue with “race” and “H.G. Wells” in it.
- 43A: Jason Schwartzman, to Talia Shire [SON]. PuzzleSon and I watched the first Rocky movie back in December as a prelude to seeing “Creed” in the theater. I think it holds up pretty well. I had forgotten about the scene where Rocky bullies Adrian into coming into his apartment and then won’t let her leave. That was kind of horrifying.
- 55A: Cellist on the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” soundtrack [YO-YO MA]. Me in my head: “Please be Yo-Yo Ma. Please be Yo-Yo Ma.”
- 4D: Couples with a driver [FRED]. Ha! You can’t fool me with that trickery, but nice try!
- 8D: Dracula portrayer of 1931 [LUGOSI]. With the L, U and O in place, I tried LUPONE, proving once again that the all I know about old-timey actors are their names.
- 27D: Layer of ore [SEAM]. Tried VEIN here first, which slowed me down a little.
- 62D: Coneheads et al. [ETS]. Have you seen the State Farm commercial with the Coneheads? I laughed.
Well, that ended up not being all that brief, did it?? And typing it up was a great distraction for me. Hope you got a little something out of it too! Till next time ….
Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
The basics of this theme is very bare bones – the last word of each of five theme phrase is originally four letters, but has lost an R, each time in the third position, to make wacky phrases. Four of the five are R[consonant] words, but MORE becomes MOE and is very definitely sticking out like a sore thumb. Pretty vanilla as themes go, all in all.
- [Oath sworn in a kosher kitchen?], ABOVEALLDONOHA(R)M. Never heard of the phrase as formed. FIRSTDONOHARM, sure, it’s a common medical and veterinary maxim. FIRST out-googles ABOVEALL by 10x, but the latter does seem to exist, at least.
- [Double-dealing in Delhi?], INDIANCO(R)N. With phrases like Indian giver, it was wise to clue this re Delhi Indians.
- [Cutthroat entrepeneur?], BUSINESSCA(R)D.
- [Demand from a Stooge fan?], SHOWMEMO(R)E.
- [“Stir-frying is an option, too”?], ICOULDUSETHEWO(R)K.
There are a number of egregiously bad answers in the grid today. I’d have expected any one of them to be close to deal-breaking. A lot of the problems come from the structure of the grid, which has very large swathes of white with theme answers already locked-in. That, in turn, is from the choice of theme answers, both number (5, although one feels obliged to go for at least 5 without some sort of revealer, often), and length, with a central 11 the chief problem. I can’t believe with such a wide array (I assume) of potential theme choices that a more accommodating theme/grid arrangement wasn’t possible. Then again, if this one was accepted…
Let’s look at some of those entries: MYDUST and INROME are both six-letter partials, no matter how they are clued. ONAANDE is doubly awful: contrived – what does ON + any TVCHANNEL now make acceptable phrases? Plus the more established artificially spelt-out AND. TRIESIT, ASSAYER and the also somewhat arbitrary BADLEAD are other long, iffy answers. When 6+ letters answers wobble, it puts a much larger pall over the entire crossword… Oh, RALL/LOI is not a fair cross, not even close to one – rare surname crossing foreign vocab? Nope, nope, nope.
- [Cabbage family member], BROCCOLI. I had BRASSICA, which is more precisely correct. BROCCOLI is actually one of the many varied cultivars of cabbage, which shows nearly as much phenotypic variability as the domestic dog!
Not a publishable crossword.
My powers of ESP are slowly improving–I was thinking we were due for a Steinberg Friday!
looks like you were right to be concerned about a different clue for 1A. good news is the older, wiser David of today agrees with you (and Will and Joel). from David’s constructor notes at the wordplay blog:
“Looking through the clues, the 17-year-old within me was sorely disappointed that FALSIES was changed to refer to fake eyelashes instead of fake breasts! I was so proud of the clue “They fill their cups”; also, I’ve never even heard of falsie eyelashes. Now that I’m almost 20, though, I have more of an appreciation for why Will/Joel made this change. 1-Across tends to set the tone for a whole crossword, as well as its constructor; I wouldn’t want anyone to view me as misogynistic (definitely not true!) or immature (well, that one has some grounding, but hey, I’m still a teenager for eight more months!).”
there is an answer in the la times puzzle that is so egregious that it circled around bad all the way to great. it is my favorite answer of the year i want to shout it from the mountaintops. i stopped mid-speed-solve to write this comment. thanks for your time
Make sure you really stretch out those As so your voice resonates down the valley.
OK I was curious before, but now with Mr. Positive’s outburst below, can you please explain you comment?
NYT: pretty awesome…
Mainly registering a complaint about Across Lite. I upgraded my iMac to one with a 5K (hi-res) display and the software couldn’t deal with it– it couldn’t figure out a consistent font size for the current clue display over the grid. So, I’ve switched to Black Ink, a $10 OS X-only app, which, so far, works very nicely.
I like Black Ink. It lets me copy and paste clues or answers for my blog posts, and it makes a nice-looking PDF. Across Lite is largely 1990s software, isn’t it?
I think so– and it’s not at all obvious exactly who would fix OS X-version misbehavior.
Et tu, e.a. :)
Today’s LAT is an embarrassment. Not sure if e.a. (above) is referring to MY DUST or ON A AND E, but both are absolute puzzle-killing terrible horrible answers. Then there’s the completely blind cross at 15A/7D (I correctly guessed “A,” but … who? and “Athens”?). All inside a puzzle with a very very tired theme (remove a letter, get a cornball answer). I never bother commenting on LAT, which occasionally features some nice stuff, but I was stunned at how substandard today’s puzzle was.
Re: NYT constructor’s notes:
If you have to make a public case that you are “not a misogynist,” something has gone very wrong. Saying you’re “not a misogynist” is about as convincing as saying “I’m not a racist.” I mean, who is going to actually say “Yep, I’m a misogynist. You got me”? Just stop making leering bro puzzles and everything will be fine.
Also why on earth is the NYT *still* publishing puzzles in such an untimely fashion? He wrote it at 17 and he’s almost 20 now? I thought things were more streamlined over there now.
Yeah, CHILLAX, DUBSTEP, and BELIEBER all screamed “this puzzle was constructed several years ago” as I was solving.
Sometimes I wonder whether it takes longer to publish a crossword or a scientific paper…my impression has been that puzzles have shorter time to acceptance, but longer publication delay, while science papers can take a long time to get accepted but then are published rather quickly. (Huda, any thoughts on this?)
I do not care for the form but:
Recent occurrences of AANDE:
Chronicle of Higher Education – April 1, 2016
Brendan Emmett Quigley – March 28, 2016
New York Times – Jan. 27, 2016
New York Times – Dec. 20, 2015
American Values Club X – June 3, 2015
New York Times – March 22, 2015
LA Times – Nov. 12, 2014
Washington Post – Sept. 22, 2014
Washington Post – Sept. 14, 2014
New York Times – Sept. 6, 2014
LA Times – Aug. 7, 2014
LA Times Sunday Calendar – July 27, 2014
LA Times – July 27, 2014
LA Times – March 20, 2014
Newsday – Jan. 5, 2014
LA Times – Dec. 30, 2013
LA Times Sunday Calendar – Oct. 13, 2013
LA Times – Oct. 13, 2013
Brendan Emmett Quigley – July 25, 2013
Fireball Crosswords – June 5, 2013
Is it the ON that makes so inadequate? The amusing (EAT) MY DUST, certainly a familiar phrase from westerns, is it a heinous partial? When all you say something is embarrassing it is not a criticism but a snit. If there are rules violated, please explain. Also while the LAT is not the major concern here, the puzzle has many very favorable ratings from this audience…are they all wrong?
ON A AND E combines the blahness of a spelled-out ampersand with the contrived phrasing of “ON channel.” I mean, do you want to open the floodgates to ONCNN, ONNBC, ONTHECW, ONVHONE? No. Those aren’t “in the language” any more than UNDERTHECHAIR or is.
And the newspaper crosswords generally frown on multi-word partials longer than 5 letters, so that’s the MY DUST offense.
To respond to your questions:
1) Yes (or at least that’s what Michael’s arguing).
Disclaimer that (a) what follows is very long, so apologies, and (b) some of it is Crosswords 101 and, thus, for many readers it might feel… patronizing? Hand-holding? If so, again, apologies. I just do my thinking by working up from the ground floor, and hopefully it will be new to at least one reader.
Crosswords have very few hard and fast rules. These are maxims like “all words must have at least three letters,” “the puzzle must have 180-degree rotational symmetry,” “the black square/word count must be kept below a certain number,” “the grid must have overall interlock,” and so on. Of course, rules are made to be broken, and there have been excellent puzzles that subvert these rules. Usually, a puzzle that does so is great precisely because it is conscious of the rule it is flouting, and the theme operates in such a way that it relies on an asymmetrical grid, or a high word count, or etc. etc.
A softer rule, if it can even be called a rule, is that entries appearing in the grid must have some stand-alone meaning. Single words especially, but also commonly recognized acronyms and abbreviations, usually fall into this category. In the past, constructors pushed at the borders of this rule by including archaic or obsolescent words (e.g., ESNE, ULU, etc.). These entries were clearly within the letter of the law–they have a stand-alone meaning–but solvers were unlikely to have ever seen or heard these words before. The prevailing attitude has shifted away from obscurities like these in favor of people’s names, brand names, and multiword phrases. The latter includes entries like EATAT, RUNBY, and so on. These are phrases that still have unique stand-alone meanings, but would rarely be said without, say, a direct object. For the casual solver, this shift has made crosswords more accessible. For the purist or Maleska-ite, it has opened the floodgates to any old verb+preposition combination (RUNBETWEEN, EATBY, PRINTWITH). The discerning constructor should understand that these kinds of entries are only interesting to the solver insofar as the entry can be reasonably clued, and to the extent that the entry has some stand-alone meaning.
Which brings me, breathlessly, to today’s LAT puzzle. As for MY DUST, it is a phrase that only has meaning when following some form of the verb EAT. I think any argument to the contrary at least has to rely on the savvy reader’s understanding that the phrase EAT MY DUST exists. And so, MY DUST violates this understanding that crossword entries should have stand-alone meaning. The solver’s enjoyment of a puzzle partly relies on this trust that the constructor will play fair in this way. However, the constructor knows he’s violated the trust of the solver by including this entry, and so, he acknowledges it in his clue, [Something to eat in a Western?]. He supplies the gapped “eat,” and by giving it a “?” clue, he’s warming the solver up to the idea that they’re about to have their constructor/solver trust violated. From my standpoint as a solver, MY DUST is now both fairly clued and a clever punchline.
A puzzle full of these kinds of entries would be tiresome and unfun, though. A puzzle with [random color + PAINT] and [size adjective + HOME] and [unusual partial] and MY DUST and [verb + unrelated preposition] destroys the solver’s expectation that this crossword will follow rules, and consequently their understanding that the solve will be a fair fight between solver and setter. I think this is the bigger criticism Michael (and similar commenters) are making. For this reason, we should discourage constructors from relying on these roll-your-own entries–not because it would make constructors’ jobs easier (and believe me, it would… I would give anything to be able to use ON + any TV channel in every crossword), but given the current guidelines of crossword construction, it’s not fair to expect solvers to treat every crossword like a Cuckoo Crossword, where any plausible combination of real words is a legitimate entry.
I do think reasonable minds can differ on this point, and I also think crosswords are, in the long run, going to trend in the direction of what we’re seeing in today’s LAT. As constructors increasingly rely on phrases that don’t stand alone, solvers will increasingly come to expect them, and the “rule” prohibiting such phrases will shift.
That said, given the current state of affairs, ON A AND E has no redeeming qualities other than shock/humor value and a convenient letter pattern. And when it’s in the same puzzle as MY DUST and IN ROME, the puzzle starts to take on an absurd quality. These entries, along with TAVERNA crossing RALL, and SNEES, and CEY, etc. etc. are all in service of the low word count which is the trademark of this constructor, and I strongly suspect this whole conversation could have been avoided with a 78-word grid instead of a 68-word one.
Thank you and Amy so much; this is the explanation I wanted to have to confirm what I thought was going on with the puzzle weaknesses. My conflict is that I found EAT MY DUST very funny. I still like being amused while I solve, but I better understand other reactions to the puzzles. It fun for me both to solve and to learn.
Is “eat my dust” a western reference? It seems more like a car racing reference.
I originally wrote A AND E TV which is another thing that bothers me in television station related fill.
Why is it a no-no to cross THREE and TRIOS? I understand that the words are related, although distantly (three is germanic, trio is latin), but they are different words and the clues are entirely unrelated.
I was more bothered by the repeat of LAYetee and LAYopen, even though there is no etymological connection. Once you’ve seen LAY in one answer, those three letters are in your head, so they pop up more easily for another. That seems like an infelicity to me.
I have to disagree with all the criticism of the LAT puzzle. It was probably the best of the day. I see no bad fill except for ONAANDE. That was bad, but not fatal. EAT was in the clue for MYDUST. If that upsets you, I think you need to CHILLAX [oops, wrong puzzle]. No love for ICOULDUSETHEWO[R]K? ABOVEALLDONOHA[R]M? Come on … those were brilliant! And, what’s this crap about a puzzle has to have 180 degrees rotational symmetry. I have seen jillions of good puzzles with simple bilateral symmetry (fold across the middle) that didnot need any justification.
Oh, and if the reviewer is going to criticize a puzzle, perhaps it would help to post a shot of the ACTUAL puzzle rather than yesterday’s … Sheesh.
The crossword “rules” I described in my comment, including the one about symmetry, were laid out in the early 1940s by Margaret Farrar during her 27-year term as the New York Times’ first crossword editor. It might surprise you to learn that the Times didn’t run a puzzle with bilateral symmetry until 1998! But even though now you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks bilateral symmetry is worse than 180-degree rotational symmetry, 180-degree is still the standard and mirror symmetry is still the exception, in large part due to Margaret Farrar’s longstanding “rules.”
And while bilaterally symmetrical puzzles certainly don’t need justification for being so, generally, constructors don’t turn to it unless they have a set of theme answers that are all an even number of letters but not top-to-bottom symmetrical, or a visual theme that would benefit from it. Two of my all-time favorite puzzles, Peter Broda’s “Cross Hatching” and Tom McCoy’s “Colorful Characters,” used mirror symmetry to great effect and were duly smothered in Orca nominations. I can’t say for certain, but I believe Peter used bilateral symmetry as a way to sneak in a visual easter egg (a bird and an egg in black and white squares, respectively), and Tom used bilateral symmetry because it made his incredibly ambitious theme slightly easier to execute cleanly.
I certainly didn’t mean to imply that constructors who use bilateral symmetry ought to justify doing so. That would be silly–the kind of symmetry you use doesn’t per se affect the quality of the puzzle. I just meant to point out that usually, constructors don’t begin with bilateral symmetry; if they do use it, they’re usually consciously breaking a “rule” of crosswords in order to make their puzzle better. In fact, it’s often excellent constructors who think this way. C.C. Burnikel, Jeff Chen, Liz Gorski, and the aforementioned Tom McCoy come to mind as a few constructors who use mirror symmetry relatively often, and these are constructors whose puzzles are almost always visually interesting. Weirdly enough, in doing this research I discovered that David Kwong’s famous “mirror” puzzle from Halloween 2013 didn’t have mirror symmetry, as I’d previously thought.
I hope any part of this comment was new and/or interesting to you, Norm! I learned some of the historical details I mentioned from Ben Tausig’s book The Curious History of the Crossword, which I highly recommend if you’re looking for a good crossword book to lighten your mood.