Thursday, September 29, 2016

BEQ 6:55 (Derek) 


CS 7:56 (Ade) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


LAT 3:54 (Gareth) 


NYT 6:04 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Frank Longo’s Fireball crossword, “Vwllss Crsswrd”—Jenni’s write-up

I enjoy the Vwllss Crsswrds. (Hey, autocorrect, I left the vowels out on purpose! Stop!) They make my mind work in a different way. I solve them in stages – work for a while, get frustrated, leave it be, go back – so I didn’t bother with the timer.

There’s no theme to review; the point is that there are no vowels, and you already knew that. There were some gimmes that helped me get a foothold:

  • 9a [What a wick is embedded in] = CNDLWX (candlewax.) Hmm, that means


    FB 9/29 crsswrd, sltn grd

  • 14d [University city on the Thames] starts with an X and must be XRFDNGLND (Oxford, England.)
  • 23a [Being fidgety in bed] is obviously TSSNGNDTRNNG (tossing and turning.)
  • 34a [Discounted by 50%] = HLFFF (half off). I love the way these crosswords create utterly wacky strings of letters.
  • 46a [Like the communication pioneered by Alexander Graham Bell] = TLPHNC (telephonic.)

The cluing is straightforward, for the most part, although we do get one of those clues where “put” is used as past tense. 35a [Put one’s hands together for] = PPLDD (applauded.) That threw me off a little bit.

The NW was the last place I filled in, since I don’t watch Family Guy and I don’t know anything about helicopters. I finally realized that 7d [Brief period in the limelight] was  FFTNMNTSFFM (fifteen minutes of fame) and the corner finally fell.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that STWGRFFN (Stewie Griffin) said  “When I’m done with you, you’re going to hate me more than the other vowels hate Y.” That’s pretty funny. Maybe I should watch Family Guy.

Jonathan Kaye’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 29 16, no 0929

NY Times crossword solution, 9 29 16, no 0929

Neat theme! Take the letters B and Y and slice them in half horizontally, and you get a little-bitty D on a D and a V on an I. So where the Down answers include DD and VI (stacked vertically, though unfortunately my grid displays those letters side by side), those letters combine vertically to make a BY in each Across theme answer:

  • 17a. [Carbon dioxide or water vis-à-vis cellular respiration], BY-PRODUCT. Crossing BU{DD}IES and IN {VI}TRO.
  • 29a. [Artisanal, maybe], MADE BY HAND. WE{DD}INGS, {VI}SES.
  • 46a. [Staples of Indiana Jones films], BOO{BY} TRAPS. M.{D. D}EGREE, TRE{VI}.
  • 61a. [÷ … or a literal hint to interpreting eight squares in this puzzle], DIVIDED BY. FRE{DD}IE, WEE{VI}LS.

Clever concept, executed smoothly. I like crossword themes that toy with the physical shapes of letters.

Eight more things:

  • 16a. [Word after New or tax], HAVEN. As a gift to solvers, the capital N wasn’t disguised in a [New or tax follower] fashion.
  • 34a. [Lawful ends?], ELS. Meh. Some dictionaries only list the ell spelling for the name of the letter L. (Also, letter names are generally pathetic fill because almost nobody spells out the names of letters other than crossword constructors.)
  • I like the chatty “IT’S A DEAL” and “LET ME SEE” answers.
  • 64a. [Buzz preceder, famously], NEIL. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.
  • 3d. [Gently bites], NIPS AT. I’d like to kill off NIP(S) AT, DAB(S) AT, RUN(S)/RAN AT, and the other verb-AT entries that appear in crosswords far more than in day-to-day language.
  • 8d. [Is written on papyrus?], EST. That’s Latin for “is.” Did the Romans use papyrus? Yes.
  • 24d. [Tear down, in real-estate lingo], DEMO. Yep, demolition. You can thank HGTV for bringing such lingo into the mainstream.
  • 15a AGES, 36d STONE AGE? No, no, no. All you had to do is make that WISP/AGEE crossing PET, two letter changes and you eliminate the repeated word (and replace a Latin word with an English one).

4.25 stars from me. (And 5 stars for Longo’s Fireball vowelless!)

Bruce Venzke and Gail Grabowski’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times 160929

LA Times

Bruce Venzke and Gail Grabowski have SPILLEDTHEBEANS in a very specific, arclike manner – not once, but six times! The types of beans featured are PINTO, BUTTER, GREEN, WHITE, SOYA, and BLACK. It’s an above average theme concept, tied to a colourful revealer. We also get a bonus theme answer in PROTEIN – of which beans are a good source.

Diagonal answers place a lot of strain on the grid. Although the themes answers aren’t precisely diagonal, the effect is similar. There is some sticky moments in the shorter answers, BSMT/MASC is probably the nadir, but at least there is a payoff here.

There is also a playfulness in the clues: [Ashtray array], BUTTS – even though it evokes something disgusting; [Where a retriever may be retrieved: Abbr.], SPCA – please fetch your lost dogs promptly (or is it just here that people know their dog is at the pound, but still take days before bothering to come and collect them. The mind boggles;) [Copper that’s mostly zinc], CENT; [Grime-fighting org.], EPA.

3.25 Stars

Alice Long’s (Mike Shenk’s) Wall Street Journal crossword, “Cross Dressing” — Jim’s review

Happy Blog-o-versary to me! It was a year ago that I set up shop here with Amy’s permission and guidance to review the daily WSJ puzzles. In that time, I’ve had _1_ puzzle published. I wonder where all the time went that I allot to crosswords…

Since I missed the 1st anniversary of the start of the WSJ dailies which took place back on Sep. 14, let’s take a few moments to take stock of the situation. Whether you’ve done these puzzles religiously or only occasionally, what do you think of the past year? Any insights on how they’ve impacted the crosswording world?

For me, they’ve seemed very consistently of a high quality. Sure, there have been a few hiccups here and there, but on the whole, they’ve been very, very good. Perhaps this is due to the fact that a large percentage of the puzzles are by one person.

If you’ve been following along, you know that editor Mike Shenk uses numerous pseudonyms under which he publishes his puzzles. How many of the WSJ puzzles are by him? What’s your guess? 20%? 30%? 60%? I think I would guess around 50%, but let’s take a sample.

I went back and looked at this past August. A total of 27 WSJ puzzles were published Monday-Saturday. Of those, 5 can solidly be attributed to one of Mr. Shenk’s pseudonyms (Alice Long, Marie Kelly, and Damien Peterson). Six more I strongly suspect are his as well (Harold Jones, C. J. Ciehanski, Julian Thorne, Gabriel Stone, and Mae Woodard). That’s 11 out of 27 or 40.7%. (If I’m wrong about any of these names, please let me know.)

That seems about right, I guess, though I thought it was higher. But why is this? Is he receiving so few submissions from constructors that he is forced to run his own? Or are submissions just not high enough quality? Or is he just brimming with ideas that needed to find an outlet? Maybe it’s a little of all of these?

I don’t have any particular insights, just questions. Either way, we’re the ones benefitting because we get more good daily puzzles in which to sink our teeth. They may not be as adventurous or edgy as other venues’ puzzles, but they also tend to have higher quality fill than some others. What’s your take?

Anyway, on to today’s puzzle!

Guess who our constructor is. Yup, Alice Long, one of Mike Shenk’s pseudonyms.

With a title like “Cross Dressing” you might expect some gender issues in the puzzle. But no, this is more about the clothing. (I’m guessing/hoping 5a is coincidence.) Various articles of clothing are teased out from their main phrases and separated by a block.

WSJ - Thu, 9.29.16 - "Cross Dressing" by Alice Long (Mike Shenk)

WSJ – Thu, 9.29.16 – “Cross Dressing” by Alice Long (Mike Shenk)

  • 17a/19a [Game played on a six-spoke board]/[Attire for the boardroom] TRIVIAL PUR/SUIT
  • 27a/30a [Many co-op residents]/[Attire for just about everywhere] OWNER-OCCU/PANTS
  • 45a/47a [Attire for the slopes]/[One might be next to a train station] PARK-A/ND-RIDE LOT
  • 57a/58a [Attire for the courtroom]/[“Porphyria’s Lover” poet] ROBE/RT BROWNING

The first and last ones are solid. OWNER-OCCUPANTS is okay I guess, but for the life of me I was stuck for those first three letters. The whole west side was blank for me for a long time and the theme didn’t help.

I don’t care for PARK AND RIDE LOT though. Seems too “green paint”-ish. It’s a thing that exists, sure. But is it a standalone phrase? It’s nowhere near as strong a phrase as the others.

I wanted to like this, I did. We get some nice highlights in DUAL ROLES, STRIP DOWN, BEER NUT, and SKI TEAM.

But on the whole there seemed like far more gluey, crutchy bits in the fill than we’re used to in a WSJ puzzle. The theme essentially has four grid-spanners, but does that justify ECLAT, USE ME, EQUI, ULNA, OBIE, SOLER, A VIEW, TVA and the -ER triplets ICER/PRUNER/UNITER? Maybe it does, but it felt like too much for me.

And the clues felt dominated by trivia rather than trickiness. Take for example [IJsselmeer sights] for DIKES. [“Those Magic Changes” musical] for GREASE, [“The Last Ship” network] for TNT, [Cubs outfielder Jorge] for SOLER, [Worshiper of the creator Viracocha] for INCA, and [Arthur Miller’s “___ From the Bridge”] for A VIEW. And that’s just in the Acrosses.

So while I cottoned on to the theme early on, having seen this sort of thing from Mike Shenk several times before, I felt bogged down by trivial clues that gave me less-than-thrilling answers.

As I said above, taken in its entirety, the past year of WSJ puzzles have been mostly high-quality, well-executed, nicely-filled puzzles. But this one is more of an exception than the rule.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Themeless Thursday” — Derek’s Review

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-9-40-25-amI get to review my good buddy BEQ’s Thursday crossword. His website says this is puzzle number 889! I am always amazed by the level of creativity these top constructors have. My brain just doesn’t seem to be wired that way! As an independent constructor, there are usually a few things in his puzzles that perhaps may not fly in a NYT, and that is the case here, but all-in-all a solid themeless by a seasoned pro. The two long crossers in the middle: one is used a fair amount, while the other is a term totally unfamiliar to me. I looked it up, and it is quite interesting once you figure out what it is! My guess is BEQ came across this phrase and though, “That would make a great entry in a puzzle!” And being fortunate enough to have built a website with a fair amount of traffic, voila! Must be nice! A solid 4 star effort.

Some favorites:

  • 27A [Wolf down] SNARF – I always thought this was a word my wife made up! She uses it more than most!
  • 29A [Saint’s miracles?: Abbr.] TDS – Especially this season. They are almost as horrid as my Chicago Bears!
  • 33A [Total flubs] BONERS – This entry could kill a puzzle sale in certain markets!
  • 34A [Level of realism in robots in which the human observer has a negative reaction] UNCANNY VALLEY – See link above. Is this term new to you too, reader?
  • 50A [They don’t go standing up] FEMALES – The other entry that, while really good, may not be totally PC. For what it’s worth, I think it’s quite clever!
  • 53A [DHL inquiry] TRACER – Or [UPS inquiry]! I have certainly seem my share of tracers over the years. Usually right when I return from a vacation and the replacement driver delivered stuff all over the place in the wrong spots!
  • 55A [Spurs star Manu] GINOBILI – He is near retirement, I think. It seems like he has been around forever!
  • 2D [Soccer star Donovan] LANDON – Did I hear he was going to play again? Totally blown away by an appearance I saw he had on Univision. Yes, the Spanish channel. They were interviewing him during a pregame show before an MLS soccer match. Yes, in Spanish. I had no idea he spoke fluent Spanish! He has never played for a team in a Spanish speaking country!
  • 8D [Panthers tight end Greg] OLSEN – Another sports reference that may stump quite a few, but is a gimme for me. He was on my fantasy team more than once!
  • 15D [Present year] THIS DAY AND AGE – The other central entry that is fairly common. I say this, which means I am getting old!
  • 40D [Nautilus’s home] GYM – Maybe the best clue. Stumped me for a good minute!
  • 47D [“Spectre” star] DENCH – Raise you hand if you wrote in CRAIG like I did!

Always fun doing a puzzle by one of the masters. Back this weekend for the stumper puzzle posts!

Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “In Tweak Mode” —Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 09.29.16: "In Tweak Mode"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 09.29.16: “In Tweak Mode”

Good morning, everybody! Today’s crossword solution, brought to us by Mr. Bruce Venzke, deals with synonyms. The last words in each of the three multiple-word theme entries are all synonyms, dealing with words used when describing a tweak – and I don’t mean a “tweak” of a body part causing an injury, like what I’m dealing with right now with my ankle!

  • RAILWAY SWITCH (20A: [Track turnout devide])
  • LOOSE CHANGE (38A: [Miscellaneous leftover coins])
  • JONATHAN ALTER (53A: [“Newsweek” editor from 1983 to 2011])

One of the entries in the grid made it one of the best puzzles of all time, but I’ll mention it as I sign off today. Otherwise, there were some entries that would make you high-five someone next to you in glee, especially the fill of…HIGH FIVE (11D: [Celebratory gesture])! It’s amazing how that’s become one of the most universal gestures we have when communicating with each other, especially in sports. According to sports legend, the “high five” either originated at a baseball game with two teammates of the Los Angeles Dodgers (Dusty Baker, Glenn Burke) performing it in a 1977 game or between two teammates of the University of Louisville basketball team (Wiley Brown, Derek Smith) doing it during a practice in 1978 and carrying it over to when they were playing a competitive game. Shoot, how cool would it be if you were responsible for creating the high five?! OK, I digress. I had heard of Pike’s Peak many times but only recently learned of the actual person where the eponym originates from, PIKE (16A: [Explorer Zebulon]). Not too long after learning it, I see his first name in a puzzle. Isn’t that just how it works sometimes?! Easy, breezy solve going into the weekend.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ROMAN (18A: [Ovid or Caesar]) – Former National League Football player Mark ROMAN played 10 seasons as a defensive back, playing mostly with the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers. Roman started his NFL career as a cornerback before moving to safety, and ended his career with six interceptions.

TGIF tomorrow! Have a great rest of your Thursday!

Take care!

Ade/AOK (24A: [Verbal green light]). Awesome entry, right?!

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Thursday, September 29, 2016

  1. dave glasser says:

    I’m not sure why the NYT needed a “We recommend using the PDF, or alternatively one of the other available electronic versions, for solving this puzzle, as it contains elements that the software cannot reproduce.” notepad warning. Was it just because of the rebus? Normally just having a rebus doesn’t require a notepad warning…

    • Martin says:

      If you solve on paper, you can write a B as two stacked D’s and a Y as a stacked V and I. It just looks cooler. That’s all the note was trying to convey.

      • dave glasser says:

        Sure, but I don’t understand what makes that different from most rebus puzzles, which don’t usually have the note. Usually this sort of note means “if you’re looking at the PUZ file in your puzzle solving software, you’re not seeing something”, not “you might want to consider using your puzzle solving software’s Print feature instead of solving it on your device”. I spent a while staring at the “newspaper version” PDF trying to see where the difference was…

        • Huda says:

          I actually thought that it was too much of a giveaway… It told me that there is a theme that likely had to do with the letters, as soon as I hit a snag, I thought that way and tumbled to the trick way faster than I would ordinarily have.

  2. Jim Hale says:

    Interesting theme and I liked it for the most part. However Operating Requirement is incorrect and threw me. Plenty of DO surgeons, so MD Degree is not a requirement.

  3. ArtLvr says:

    WSJ — I enjoyed the “cross-dressing” a good deal more than the reviewer. It’s snappy!

  4. SEMINOLE SAM says:


  5. Bob says:

    NYT – Clever theme. Well executed. I’d give it a 90 Dick, if I could dance to it.

  6. David L says:

    Well, I had to admit defeat on this one. I could sort of see what was happening — BY in the across clues, [something] and VI in the down clues, but even with the help of the note (which I opened after puzzling fruitlessly for a while) I couldn’t see how this was supposed to work.

    But I didn’t make the connection between VI and Y, and and with B in the across answers making no sense in the downs I was left perplexed.

    I know that dividing letters horizontally is a trick used with some regularity, but for some reason it always eludes me.

  7. JohnH says:

    I’d have sworn we’ve seen the WSJ device only recently before. Was it in the Times instead maybe? That took something of it away for me. (Church key for old-fashioned can opener was new to me, but mildly interesting.)

    And I know I’ve said this before, but I sure don’t share the review’s pleasure in Shenk’s pseudonyms. To me, they’re an annoying affectation or inside joke I don’t find funny. Or hypocritical if they’re meant to get around a prohibition on editing oneself. Amy had added that they leave a bad taste given that female bylines are almost always his.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      Having a lot of trouble today posting comments today, else I would have posted this earlier.

      If I gave the impression that I enjoy the constant pseudonyms, then I was remiss. I would rather hear from a wider variety of voices. And I do feel the female byline for a male constructor is troublesome. I’m sure there are many solvers who think Marie Kelly and Alice Long are real people.

      But I don’t find anything sinister or hypocritical in it. My feeling, and I’ve never met Mike Shenk, is that he is a puzzle professional with a bounty of ideas and impressive capabilities who had no outlet heretofore.

      So I take it for what it is. I would prefer to see the work of more constructors, but if I can’t for whatever reason, the professional puzzles of Mr. Shenk are more than satisfying.

      Oh, and I’ve been here a year now. You don’t have to refer to me as “the reviewer” anymore. :)

      • JohnN says:

        Sorry! (And count me on the side of those who didn’t know without crossings what to add to “park and ride” to make a phrase. But then I’m from New York City.)

      • pannonica says:

        Mike Shenk, as an editor, has always been a bit aloof and with high standards.

        There’s more than one way to look at these female pseudonyms. They could be inspiration for more potential constructors who happen to be women to take up the mantle. This is arguably true whether or not one is aware that they’re pseudonyms.

        Incidentally, my approach here when writing about pseudonymous authors is more subtle: inclusion of the real name (as a post tag and in the caption for the grid image).

  8. Norm says:

    Liked the NYT a lot. Liked the WSJ even more. Yes, a PARK AND RIDE LOT is a real thing. Not green paint at all. That’s what they’re called from California (e.g., to England (e.g., Okay, Oxford calls them “sites”; same diff. :)

Comments are closed.