Fireball’s a contest; write-up after the deadline.
Alex Bajcz’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
I don’t know, people. Was this puzzle uncommonly hard or weird for a Thursday, or am I just distracted and out of sorts? Took me forever, and I found the whole venture not very fun. (Puzzles that are easier than I’m expecting feel more fun, while those that are harder than expected feel less fun.) Took me till the third theme answer to see what the theme was, took me even longer to realize some of the 7-letter Downs were theme answers (despite there also being 9-letter Downs and 8-letter Acrosses), grr.
The theme takes two-word phrases whose first word ends with an S or Z sound and whose second word starts with ST-, and changes the second word to a D-word (because the new fake phrases sound very roughly the same):
- 19a. [Romantic night in Kentucky?], BLUEGRASS DATE. From Bluegrass State, this works.
- 34a. [“Come on, Doris”?], “PLEASE, DAY.” “Please stay,” doesn’t work as well because you might say “pleez stay” with distinct Z and S sounds, or maybe “pleez tay,” whereas in “Bluegrass State,” the adjacent S’s blend.
- 41a. [Counterfeit Dodge?], FALSE DART. False start. Eh. I’m not hearing this one, either.
- 57a. [Fishing boat at summer camp?], CHILDREN’S DORY. Children’s story. No, no. It might sound like “children’s Tory” but I’m not hearing DORY.
- 4d. [Failure to sneeze?], NOSE DUD. Nose stud. Nah.
- 45d. [Student housing in Fairbanks?], ICE DORM. Ice storm. Again, nah.
Yeah, so this theme did not work for me. Maybe if some of the made-up phrases were funny, but none of them hit the spot for me. Your mileage may vary.
Having six theme entries instead of four limits the breathing room in the grid, and we end up with SKYEY (which dictionaries actually include as an adjective derived from sky), SYSTS, T. BOONE, EL-HI, and sport UTE (who uses that? anyone?). And if you weren’t watching The Walking Dead during HERSHEL’s seasons, you were probably looking askance at every crossing and wondering if the answer was right. (Don’t shout at me about spoilers: a zillion characters are killed off on that show! And if you’re more than two years behind, well, it’s on you to stop caring about spoilers for the show.) Also not keen on IN STORES or SEE HOME.
Three more things:
- 33d. [David or Charles Koch], OIL TYCOON. Given that they are much better known for their political spending, and given that their dad was more of an oil man and their business is quite diversified, I call foul on this clue.
- 23a. [Savory and sage], HERBS. We had pumpkin tortellini tonight, and I browned fresh sage and pine nuts in a half stick of butter for a sauce. So good!
- 64a. [Alternative to Wi-Fi], ETHERNET. My husband disputes their equivalence. Also, he says the sage brown butter sauce was just okay. So you can feel free to disagree with him.
Three irked stars from me. I’m sure many of you enjoyed it more than I did.
Mark McClain’s and Victor Fleming’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Missing Masterpiece” — Jim’s review
Happy Birthday to QEII! It’s the big 9-0! What will you be doing when you’re 90? Probably not reigning over your own Queendom.
What’s this have to do with today’s puzzle? Not a thing.
It’s two-fer Thursday—two constructors for the price of one! Let’s check out the central revealer at 39a: [Apt alternative title for this puzzle] which turns out to be LOST ART.
So that means we get phrases in which the letter string ART has been removed.
- 17a [Those in-flight Stoli bottles?] VODKA MINIS. Vodka martinis. Great clue and answer!
- 57a [High-quality paving goo?] CREAM OF TAR. Cream of Tartar. This was the first themer I uncovered, so I thought it was just that one of the TARs had been lopped off. Nope.
- 11d [Bake sale items showing signs of damage?] INJURED PIES. Injured parties. I liked this one the least. Injured parties just doesn’t seem as strong a lexical phrase as the others.
- 25d [How poets drive onto interstates?] O’ER THE RAMPS. O’er the ramparts… Cute. Though normally people drive on or off the ramps. “O’ER” makes it sound like they’re somehow flying above the ramps. Still, though, I like this entry best for its wackiness.
Lovely theme, well executed. It strikes me that because that letter string is so common, this theme might have numerous more possibilities.
To test this, I tried the first word with ART in it that popped into my head to see if I could remove it and have something plausible left over. This turned out to be the name “Slartibartfast” which has the pleasure of enjoying not one, but two ARTs.
By the way, Slartibartfast is the name of a character from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Author Douglas Adams chose the name because it was the rudest sounding thing he could come up with that would make it past the BBC censors when the radio dramatization was produced. As such, it is one of the top three family-friendly curse words you’ll find, according to a survey which just took place in my brain mere moments ago. The other two being, of course, “Macchu Picchu” and “Shostakovich”.
Anyway, remove the ARTs from Slartibartfast and you get SLIBFAST which is…nothing, to be honest. But it is just one letter away from SLIMFAST, the dietary brand. Or, if you like, it is SLIMFAST, provided you have a cold.
This test, while not a bonafide success, proved to me that there are indeed probably a great many theme answers one could make using this approach, given the fact that I used such an outlandish starting word and came so close to making an actual thing. So I looked for other ART words. TARTAN becomes TAN, CARTOON becomes COON, RESTART becomes REST, SPARTAN becomes SPAN, and CHARTER becomes CHER. My favorite find was BARTENDER becoming BENDER. There’s something poetic going on there.
So there are probably plenty enough to make a Sunday-sized (er, I mean Saturday-sized—this is the WSJ after all) puzzle.
But be that as it may, we have what we have. And I see that I’ve used up my allotted blogging space rambling on about other things. So let’s wrap this up with a few bullets.
- Lots of great non-theme fill: TAKE ONE, MIATAS, STATURE, STOOD PAT, TORTURE, BUREAU, ECLIPSES, ON A LEAD, RIPOFFS, NO LESS.
- 47a CAROL: Shouldn’t the clue [Present-day music] have a question mark? I guess it doesn’t need one since it’s Thursday? Ah, but now I see its connection with…
- 61a RAP: Clued as [Future music]. Did not know the rapper Future. I think this should have a ? as well.
- PARS as a verb at 31d [Shoots a four on, perhaps] is grumblicious.
- 52a ON A LEAD [Way to walk Rover]. This strikes me as a British phrase. Americans would say “leash” not “LEAD“, right? So wouldn’t it be better if the clue had a particularly British dog’s name? Trouble is, what’s the UK equivalent to Fido, Rover, or Spot? I don’t know, but the most popular dog names in the UK are currently Alfie and Poppy.
That’s it from me. If you have a cold and are dieting, don’t forget your SLIBFAST. Peace!
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Write Your Own Ticket?” —Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everybody. I hope you’re all doing well. Today’s grid, brought to us today by Mr. Bruce Venzke, made me think of the children’s game “red light, green light,” and playing that when I was (much) younger. Anyways, each of the first three theme entries starts with a word that’s a color on a traffic light. The fourth theme entry, STOP LIGHTS, acts as the reveal (62A: [Colloquial term for traffic controls featuring the colors in 18-, 26-, and 50-Across]).
- RED HERRING (18A: [Diversionary tactic])
- YELLOW DOGS (26A: [Contemptible, cowardly persons])
- GREEN THUMB (50A: [Gardening knack])
This grid must also double as a home security system, as there’s ALARM (32D: [Dream spoiler]), ALERT (67A: [Keenly attentive]), SENSORS (58A: [Detection devices]) and, if you get past all of those, ARMS that you have to deal with (69A: [Treaty concern, often]). Breaking into this grid may definitely cost you!! Just a couple letters shy of a pangram I believe (J, Z), but a couple of Xs getting some love in the grid. I always lose track of all of the terms for a group of animals, but FARROW wasn’t too hard to come up with, even without needing any of its crossings (5D: [Litter of pigs]). Again, extra points for an African reference, and we have that with ALGERIAN (39D: [Barbary Coast resident]). They don’t call it the Barbary Coast anymore, do they?! Oh, well. I’ll leave you with the picture of one of my favorite animated characters on one of my favorite animated television shoes, Futurama: the headless body of AGNEW (15A: [Vice president who resigned in 1973]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: IAN (42A: [Golf broadcaster Baker-Finch]) – Aside from being a commentator, former pro golfer IAN Baker-Finch has one of the more interesting playing careers in golf (and sports) history. After being one of the elite golfers in the late 1980s, Baker-Finch had his breakthrough at the 1991 British Open, winning his one and only major by two strokes. Almost immediately after that triumph, Baker-Finch never was the same golfer, as he suffered from an admitted crisis in confidence. Between 1995 and 1996, he missed the cut (or withdrew) in all 29 events he entered. After shooting an opening-round 92 (21 shots over par) at the 1997 British Open, Ian withdrew from the tournament and subsequently retired from the sport altogether.
TGIF tomorrow! Have a great rest of your Thursday!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “I’m With The Banned” — Ben’s Review
Given yesterday’s date (and the incessant jokes that were everywhere on the internet because of it), it seems somewhat appropriate that today’s BEQ puzzle feels a little half-baked. A music-heavy theme is usually good to go with me, but something just felt off this week:
- 17A: Unwanted “One Sweet Day” singer? — PARIAH CAREY
- 24A: Unwanted “Whole Wide World” singer? — RECLUSE ERIC
- 30A: Unwanted “Pour Some Sugar On Me” band? — DEF LEPER
- 44A: Unwanted “Working For The Weekend” band? — LONERBOY
- 50A: Unwanted “Minnie the Moocher” singer? — CAB CASTAWAY
- 61A: Unwanted “Laura” big band leader? — WOODY HERMIT
I love the concept behind this theme, but I wish it was a bit more consistent in its application across theme entries. Either all one-letter changes, or all phonetic changes, but having both going on at once made it hard to figure out the correct “banned” names; I had LOSERBOY instead of LONERBOY for most of the puzzle, and that felt equally valid without knowing the down crossing was NEA. A few of the musicians used (Wreckless Eric and bandleader Woody Herman) felt a bit too obscure for my liking as well.
Okay, enough griping (temporarily). Have a mashup of Rihanna’s “Work” and NSYNC’s (13D) “It’s Gonna Be Me”:
More clues/fill of note this week:
- 28A: Cabbage for tacos? — PESO (I want fish tacos now.)
- 56A: Chawbacon — LOUT (I legit thought this was a typo, but it’s an actual word)
- 9D: (a,b) but not [a,b], e.g., in math class — OPEN SET (I have a math minor and knew what this was right away and I still really didn’t like this clue/fill.)
- 11D: Fancy place for a beer and a burger — GASTROPUB (Note to self: don’t solve crosswords before lunch when you’re really hungry…)
- 32D: Daps — FISTBUMPS
- 39D: Movie theater name — LOEW (I have a Loew’s theater near me, but I have no clue how national that chain is, and therefore how accessible this clue is)
Okay, maybe I wasn’t done complaining about this one. This felt okay, but still needed a little more polish/unification in the theme.
Gerry Wildenberg’s LA Times crossword – Gareths write-up
Neat theme: MIXEDFRUIT is the concealed title. You can take the first part of several other answers and unscramble them to make various fruits. So: LUMP (PLUM) OF SUGAR, CHEAP (PEACH) SKATE, MILE (LIME) A MINUTE and WIKI (KIWI) HOW. Stars are used because otherwise the central 7 would be likely overlooked.
[Tour de France, e.g.], BIKERACE – technically correct, but a BIKERACE sounds a lot more humble affair…
[Family with several notable composers], BACHS – contemporaneously, but only one has really retained his level of fame til the present day.
[Fall noisemakers], BLOWERS – in areas where deciduous trees are the norm…
The MFAS/MORAN/AANDE/UNE/IDE/TER corner is dire. It looks innocuous to fill, but the letters in FRUIT are all in the wrong places: ?F?? is limiting, and with 3-letter U?? and I??s in place, it seems that’s what we got. I’d have got with SLOAN, but I don’t think it’s a big improvement. Redoing the entire grid design and refilling would certainly be a consideration here…
Enjoyed the simple theme, fill was mostly fill, with one ugly corner sticking out.
“My husband disputes their equivalence.”
I’m not sure how alternative is equivalent to equivalence. Is he saying that they’re not alternatives? Not sure why that might be. I can get my laptop on the internet by using its WiFi or plugging directly into the router’s wired ethernet port. So I probably don’t understand enough to disagree with him. But the sage butter sounds yummy.
I agree with Martin– the sage butter sounds yummy.
(though pine nuts are trouble makers–they pack a lot of taste and calories under their cute appearance.)
And I agree with you Amy, I couldn’t hear most of these as they were intended to be heard.
re: pronunciation themes, i find that they are very very very very hit and miss. it all comes down to whether one hears it the same way the constructor does, which is very geographically based. usually i hate them for this reason, because i don’t hear them, but today’s was the rare one in which i heard them all perfectly. now, whether or not they were funny or good changes is a different topic, but the changes worked for this solver, at least.
all that said, if i never saw a pronunciation theme again, i’d be ok with that.
(exceptions being things like merl’s classic “the gods must be crazy”. that one i’m cool with, because it’s a different type of pronunciation theme.)
NYT didn’t feel too tricky for me, but maybe I was just having an unusually fast solve. I don’t think I even saw what was going on with the theme until I was pretty much finished. Still, I agree that some of them hit and some of them miss.
While I don’t mind UTE as a reference to the Utah Utes, it’s pretty easy to take it out along with SKYEY and ETTE. It’d be worth the two extra black squares (which I wouldn’t have minded at all).
Much better fill. There’s a reason some people (including LA Times crossword editor Rich Norris) prefer to call the extra black squares “helpers” rather than the pejorative “cheaters.” Very, very few solvers prefer junkier fill to smoother fill with another pair of black squares in the grid.
Anything that got rid of SKYEY would be OK with me. Ugh and no. I liked the theme better than you did, Amy, and I agree both that wifi and Ethernet are equivalent and that the sage butter sauce sounds yummy.
NYT 39A: Death Valley was upgraded from National Monument to National Park over 20 years ago. (I think Bill or the abbreviation are better clues here anyway.)
WSJ – Thanks for the great write-up on our “Lost Art” puzzle. Just a comment on O’ER THE RAMPS . . . while we DO go ON or OFF the ramps, that’s not how the poets do it (at least in our feeble minds) – You know, “O’er the fields we go, in a …”. It was a real pleasure to work with Vic on this puzzle – hope everyone gets a kick out of it. My first appearance in WSJ.
Works for me! Nice puzzle, nicely filled!
Loved the puzzle, Mark. I thought all the theme answers were great, including “injured parties.” Maybe it would help to deliver it with a New York accent. . . HEY — whaddayou mad at me for? I’m the injured party here.
Hey all, thanks for the feedback on this puzzle. Yeah, SKYEY wasn’t my favorite either, for what it’s worth, but it enabled some answers that I did like, so I felt it was worth the trade-off. Also, most of the clues that bothered you weren’t mine (ethernet, ute, nye, oil tycoon), so what can you do :). Evan, I like your fill better also–I would love to see the stigma against “cheater squares” vanish, because that definitely influenced my grid design here.
Thanks, Alex. I don’t feel like you have to worry too much about a stigma against cheater squares, though. I realize some prefer the term “helper squares,” but I always kind of treated “cheater squares” like a tongue-in-cheek industry term, rather than something that people would seriously frown upon. Whatever one calls them, if they help the fill, that’s all good. Or, as Patrick Berry once put it: “When choosing between adding dodgy entries and adding cheaters, always go for the cheaters.”
Hello Evan. That’s certainly something I will take to heart in the future. Still, I guess I still don’t A) recognize an innately lousy answer all that quickly when I go to put one into a grid and B) always see the potential for a much better fill by using a cheater square. Any tips or tricks you could pass along? Also, why do you suppose Will approved this with SKYEY? I would have been happy to fix the grid if he had objected…
Well, I can’t speak for Will, other than to say that he obviously didn’t mind it. And you’re right, cheater squares don’t necessarily always make a grid better. I dunno, I think part of why I tend to harp on answers I’m not crazy about is because my first two crossword mentors were really, really strict about fill, so I just fell into the habit.
My rule of thumb with non-trivia-based answers is generally: if it’s a word you would basically never use in speech or writing, and wouldn’t encounter it except in very limited contexts, then a) really consider if it’s worth it, and b) see if there’s a way to change it. (I say non-trivia-based because people’s definitions of which proper nouns are famous enough to be crossword answers are highly variable.)
But anyhow, this is all good discussion. I’d say just keep making puzzles. I look forward to your next one(s).
I just saw the NYT theme as an ST-to-D letter change.
Amy, I was surprised at your time on this one – must be a “wavelength” thing. I had a pretty fast time (for me) for a Thursday, and that was after checking all the crosses on SKYEY a couple of times, looking for my error.
The Koch brothers clue gave me pause, too. With just the “I” in place, my first thought was billionaire, and then libertarian. Had to wait for several more crosses to get it – and then didn’t really like it.
I picked up on the theme – sort of – fairly quickly, but I thought we were just substituting “D” for “ST,” for some unknown reason. Took me longer to pick up on the “pronunciation” aspect of it, which didn’t work very well for the way I hear these phrases in my head. After some playing around with them, I can see how most of them can at least come close.
Amy, I think your husband is correct. From a technical standpoint, I don’t think WiFi and Ethernet are equivalent, nor even alternatives. From a common usage perspective though, as Martin points out above, I think the clue works.
NYT – In fairness to 33D, 60A fell pretty easily – Pickens can be what, TBOONE or SLIM? That made 33D much easier to figure out.
I’m a linguist, and I was very excited to see this theme, and (sadly) not surprised to see blowback. The fact is that, in isolation, the “t” in “bluegrass state” is very very similar to what we think of as a “d” sound, so this theme is a lot more clever and linguistically insightful than most that I’ve ever seen.
If you doubt the claim I just made, put your hand 1/2 inch from your mouth and say the following words: “die” “sty” and “tie”. You can even feel just how different the “t” sound is when it is preceded by “s” and how similar it is to a “d” sound.
That’s true, and also works for FALSEDART. The problem is that in the other two theme answers, the S is voiced so the sound equivalence doesn’t hold. Not to my ear, anyway.
Voicing doesn’t really affect it that much; the main difference is that, when preceded by a fricative, the /t/ as realized is unaspirated, which makes it really hard to differentiate from a /d/, especially since syllable-initial /d/ in (American) English is typically devoiced.
Hello Richard! As someone who thought about becoming a linguist in college, I’m really glad you enjoyed this theme as much as I did. I’m not surprised to see it received a lukewarm reception–pronunciation themes always do–but I’m still happy to see a few people appreciate it, at least.
I’m happy to stick up for a clever, innovative puzzle! What I think is really interesting is that the lukewarm reaction is coming directly from people’s lack of insight into their own pronunciation. Most pronunciation themes are unsatisfyingly loose, but this one is tight and insightful. Good work!
BEQ: How is it that RECLUSE, LONER, CASTAWAY or HERMIT are “banned” or “unwanted”? Three of them voluntarily left society and one, CASTAWAY, had no choice, so none of them were or are banned. I’d guess they all have families, friends, lovers that would like to have them back home — especially the castaway — so they’re not unwanted. Lepers, too, most likely have people who want them. Are lepers still banished? Ben hit the nail on the head calling this puzzle “half-baked”.
I ran into trouble, right off the bat, with 1 Across: “Whole piles” / GOBS. A quick online search came up dry for the phrase “whole piles”. Pile, by itself, can mean a large amount of something, if, in fact, that’s Brendan’s meaning. Who knows? Given that it is a BEQ puzzle, perhaps “gobs” is a trendy slang for hemorrhoids. The modifier, “whole”, then takes on a whole new meaning.
I can’t figure out 7 Down: “Fish with a line” / TRAWL, either. Assuming “fish” to be a verb, trawl would then mean using a net, not a line. Trawl can mean longline, which does use hooks and lines, but that’s a noun, not a verb. Was Brendan thinking of “troll”? That is a method of fishing that does, indeed, use a line.
I agree with you. I first entered “troll” and still believe it is the correct answer for the reasons you gave.
I also started with TROLL. But “trawl” is also a verb. Trawlers trawl, even if they use setlines.
TRAWL=setline, making trawl a noun. I maintain that the clue is asking for a verb, which means fishing with a net, not a line.
Certainly, “trawlers trawl” — are you being patronizing, Martin, or worse, belittling? That’s not like you…
Trawl, vi: to fish with a trawl.
Trawl, n: 2: SETLINE
We’re disagreeing that trawl the verb means fish with a net. I think it means fish with a trawl, which may be a net or a setline.
Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Sorrier if I seemed patronizing. It was not intended.
Agreed – TROLL was the answer I wanted too…
LAT: A total waste of newsprint. “CLUB TIE” …puleeeeeze! First time I’ve seen a themeless theme – a good definition of “stretching it”. I hope Widenberg has a day job.
Despite b’s comment, this was a tricky, but very enjoyable LAT puzzle. All the starred clues were fruits that make other words; i.e. Wikihow, became kiwi. Lump (of sugar) was plum.
NYT: loved the theme! Thought it was clever and cute. I guess some people give fewer stars when they find a puzzle more challenging but I love the challenging ones.
Thank you Dan, I’m glad you liked it!
Enjoyed the puzzle Alex. Funny thing is both my names appeared in it: my nickname seen here which I’ve had since birth and my given name of Herschel. So consider me a fan!
For a minute I thought the theme had something to do with your last name’s pronunciation.