Thursday, December 22, 2016

BEQ 9:04 (Ben) 


CS 12:06 (Ade) 


LAT 5:08 (Gareth) 


NYT 5:20 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Mark MacLachlan’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 22 16, no 1222

The theme is {AL}UMINUM / SIDING, with aluminum’s {AL} chemical symbol appearing outside the grid to complete each Across answer that abuts the edge. The revealer is 45a. [With 42-Down, home construction material … or a hint to this puzzle’s theme]. So we have 1a. [Hitchcock, for one] / {AL}FRED on the left and 25a. [Like some sex] / PREMARIT{AL} on the right, for instance. And the center answer, 34a, looks like BERT EINSTEIN MED, doubly curtailing the {Al}bert Einstein Med{Al}. Kinda cute, right?

Some of the fill’s a bit rough—ENTO, VEES, REMAT, IN L.A., SNERT, NONS, RUHR, not to mention the awkward/contrived-sounding {AL}E-SELLERS. And there’s a duplicated verb where I DID IT crosses DO A DE{AL}. ALE-SELLERS aside, the other {AL} answers are pretty solid.

Three more things:

  • 53a. [Whales like the one in “Moby-Dick”], {AL}BINOS. Apparently albino sperm whales have been noted in real life, though I’m not 100% sure they’re truly albino as opposed to being leucistic. If you’ve never managed to read all of Moby-Dick and you enjoy anagram challenges, check out the OMBY app (for iOS and Android). The entire novel is dispensed in very brief excerpts from which a small chunk has been scrambled. You unscramble the letters to fill in the blanks, and really engage with Melville’s prose. I found the whole enterprise delightful (and perfect for calming one’s thoughts at bedtime), and finished the book after two failed attempts at reading.
  • I like the PREMARIT{AL} sex/PURITANIC{AL} combo.
  • 17d. [Moon of Saturn that’s a French woman’s name], HELENE. I don’t know all my moon names, so the “French woman’s name” hint was helpful to me.

3.9 stars from me.

Daniel Hamm’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Variations on a Christmas Theme” — Jim’s review

Okay. That about does it for me. Four out of four WSJ puzzles this week carry known or suspected Mike Shenk pseudonyms. I don’t know if this has happened before, but to me, that’s excessive. Are there no other constructors submitting puzzles to the WSJ?

I’ve gone back and looked at this month. Of the 19 puzzles published so far in December, 13 are by the editor. That’s a whopping 68%.

I’m not getting the sense that there’s anything sinister behind it, but something sure seems hinky, like there are just not enough high-quality submissions.

I am in no position to make any judgements. I have never met Mr. Shenk (nor any other  constructor for that matter), but from what I hear, he is a very nice person. So I am just at a loss to provide any sort of explanation. But while Will Shortz has more submissions than he can accept at the NYT, is the same not true at the WSJ? I’m certain Mike Shenk doesn’t get nearly as many submissions, but there’s gotta be more than what we’re seeing.

The main reason I mention all this is that it’s frustrating for me, the one person blogging four out of six WSJ puzzles per week when most, if not all, of those puzzles are by the same person. I feel like I’m saying the same things over and over again and the puzzles, while satisfactory in their own right, feel repetitive and rehashed on the whole. I feel I’m doing a disservice to you readers when I’m not saying anything new.

So let me conclude with a plea to any constructors out there. Give the WSJ a try. For all our sake. But especially mine.


Okay. On to the puzzle. I’m going to keep this short and sweet. We have five entries in which the first words are all anagrams of each other.

WSJ – Thu, 12.22.16 – “Variations on a Christmas Theme” by Daniel Hamm (Mike Shenk)

  • 15a [“Fallen Angels” playwright] NOEL COWARD
  • 26a [SpaceX founder] ELON MUSK
  • 31a [Gauze makeup] LENO WEAVE. New to me. Are you sure it’s not a [Hairpiece for a former TV host]?
  • 41a [“Redemption” writer] LEON URIS
  • 54a [Silver owner] LONE RANGER. Nice clue on this one.

I really struggled in the NE because I wanted DST at 9a [It starts in Mar.] instead of SPR. Unknowable (to me) entries of GRECO [Pianist-singer Buddy], FREESIA [Flower with a citrus scent], and RED OAKS [Amazon Prime comedy set at a country club] didn’t help matters.

Unusual entries: The aforementioned FREESIA and 34d ALMSMAN [Poor box beneficiary]. This last one shows up as archaic or obsolete in some dictionaries. It’s bad enough to put labels on those in need; do we have to be sexist about it as well? One more questionable entry: OBLONGS as a noun (21a, [Stretched shapes]).

Excellent entries: 7d FIREFLIES with the lovely clue [They have tail lights] and 29d SOLID GOLD with the functional clue [Like the Kentucky Derby trophy]. Runners-up include TIE CLIP, MEMO PAD, and SEXES UP.

That’s it for me for this week. I will be back on Boxing Day. If you celebrate Christmas, please have a joyful one.

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “I Herd That!” —Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.22.16: “I Herd That!”

Good day, everybody. We have some onomatopoeia fun in today’s grid, brought to us by Ms. Donna S. Levin. In it, puns are derived when the first syllable of a common phrase is replaced by a similar-sounding syllable, which also happens to be the sound of a farm animal that’s mentioned in the corresponding clue. Or something like that.

  • MOOVING VAN (18A: [Method a cow uses to relocate from pasture to pasture?])
  • NEIGHKED TRUTH (28A: [Harsh reality of a horse’s life?])
  • BAATOM FEEDER (47A: [Opportunist that takes advantage of the other sheep?])
  • MAAFIA BOSS (61A: [Goat that makes offers the others can’t refuse?])

Pretty nice grid with nice fill, though I sauntered through this grid more than I sped through it. Probably my favorite fill of the day was IN ABSENTIA (3D: [How someone who jumps bail might be tried]). Had a little hangup on the left side of the grid when I put in “Bin” instead of IBN, something I do regularly when seeing that clue (32A: [“Son of,” in Arabic names]). Also typed in “property” at first instead of PREMISES as well, also slowing me up a bit (40D: [Land and buildings thereon]). Oh, and please tell me that you thought of the amazing Geico commercial when filling in ICE-T, as I did (19D: [Odafin Tutuola’s portrayer on “Law & Order: SVU”]). Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, here it is. You’re welcome.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SMOOT (52A: [Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist George who cameoed on “The Big Bang Theory”]) – Known as one of the best trash talkers while on the football field, Fred SMOOT played as a cornerback in the National Football League from 2001 to 2009, mostly with the Washington (D.C.) football club. Smoot was chosen as a consensus All-America during his senior year at Mississippi State and, in 2001, was selected by Washington in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft. One of his most famous trash talking lines was, while at Miss. State, he went up against tight end Todd Yoder of Vanderbilt University, a school widely known for its excellence in academia. Reportedly, Smoot, lined up across from Yoder before a play started and said to him, “I’ll let you catch a pass if you do my homework.” Now that’s some trash talk, instead of insults that people say is trash talk.

TGIF tomorrow! I hope you have a great rest of your Thursday.

Take care!


Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Knight Moves” — Ben’s Review

BEQ’s pre-Christmas puzzle today has a theme that took me a second to fully parse it:

  • 20A: Uprising over a tax on dark beers? —
  • 25A: Glance from “Rocky Horror” actor Tim? — CURSORY LOOK
  • 37A: Best costume at a Halloween party? — OCTOBER SURPRISE
  • 45A: Actress Hathaway with not enough money? — SHORT ANSWER
  • 50A: Those who know everything about philosopher Immanuel? — CONCERT MASTERS
  • 61D: Knight’s title…or what must be silent to understand the theme — SIR

It’s that last piece that helped unlock why the clues for the theme entries didn’t quite line up with the answers in the grid.  Removing the phonetic “sir” from those entries and treating the rest in a similar fashion, you get BOCKS REBELLION, CURRY LOOK, OCTOBER PRIZE, SHORT ANNE, and KANT MASTERS.  This almost felt like a usual theme done in reverse, and I liked it a lot.

Safe travels and happy holidays, all!  See you next week for the last BEQ Thursday of the year!

4.25/5 stars

Bill Zagozewski’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

Today, four boxers seem to be doing a WWE-style tag team match for a vague TITLE/FIGHT / CHAMPIONSHIP. Using both in the puzzle is unnecessary. I think it’s because INTHISCORNER wouldn’t work centrally, but then ditch TITLEFIGHT. Grids with corner answers already end up under too much strain. Anyway, three heavyweights – Liston, Baer and Ali; are mixing it with a single welterweight (I think?) Duran.

You saw the plural names, the foreign answers, the partials and all the rest as did I. KENTS could’ve done with a cigarette clue IMO.

2 Stars

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26 Responses to Thursday, December 22, 2016

  1. Jacksain says:

    It’s always good to see a puzzle that makes you think outside the box

    And another 5 stars for my awesome penguins icon

    • huda says:

      Your icon is cool (haha), and I agree with yesterday’s comments that something happened to the site as I also suddenly had the same problem of being redirected in Chrome to the older blog spot, even when using a bookmark that has worked daily for quite a while.
      Pannonica’s suggestion of deleting that cache and bookmarking a new one works. It’s just the goblins of the chrome doing mischief in the night…

      • Hibob says:

        I’ve cleared my cache back to the beginning of time (chrome). It still wants to stick the /blog/ on the end and send me to the Not Found page. Any other ideas?

        • pannonica says:

          Have you tried deleting it from the auto-completed suggestions in the drop-down of the location bar (I think they call it the “omnibox”)? As I mentioned yesterday.

        • mmespeer says:

          I’ll chime in, as the same thing happened to me once again. The last time, I cleared my cache, causing some other disruptions. This time, on Chrome, I deleted the original bookmark and added the new bookmark “”. Seems to be working.

  2. Gail says:

    Loved the NYT theme, but was frustrated filling in the grid. Used the “AL” in each square and at the end was told there was an error. Finally took out the extra letters when I couldn’t find an error elsewhere and my solution was finally accepted. Took lots of extra time. Why couldn’t this one accept the multiple letters in one square solution?

    • Norm says:

      Because then the downs made no sense. I actually tried entering a rebus in the first two squares — e.g., AL FR — and then saw that the second column had the proper answers for 1D and 2D and realized that the AL had to go outside.

  3. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Re: the WSJ theme: When I was a kid, we had a set of porcelain letters spelling out NOEL. So of course we anagrammed them! LEON was a perennial favorite.

  4. David says:

    re: Gail’s comment – I did the same thing – multiple letters in single grid squares along the sides. Oddly, Across lite accepted this on all the right-side answers, and only one on the left side. When I corrected the entire left side to contain only single letters, the solution was accepted as correct.

  5. jack says:

    WSJ: Is it I Lord? Goggles are worn over your eyes. Ogle is gawking. Am I missing something?

    • John Daviso says:

      From the Net:


      1. look with wide open eyes, typically in amazement or wonder:
      ““What in the world are you goggling at?””


      1. (goggles)
      close-fitting eyeglasses with side shields, for protecting the eyes from glare, dust, water, etc.
      2. a stare with protruding eyes.

  6. Triggerfinger says:

    Re BEQ
    Liked the puzzle a lot also. Appreciate Ben’s review.
    When you remove the phonetic “sir”, you get Bock Rebellion.

  7. Francis says:

    Oh noes it is such a burden to solve Mike Shenk puzzles

  8. Glenn says:

    ” I don’t know if this has happened before, but to me, that’s excessive. Are there no other constructors submitting puzzles to the WSJ?”

    WSJ has always been the Mike Shenk Show from what I can tell. There’s always speculation, but I think for a lot of people who find a certain ability in a task that it can often be a lot harder for them to delegate and guide (what an editor does), than to simply do it themselves. For the cases I’ve seen (including within myself), the environment almost has to be there to push the individual into delegating when possible instead of taking on the job themselves. Again it’s speculation since I know nothing of Mike Shenk and the working conditions he has been hired under, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t any incentives for him to publish submissions over doing grids by himself.

    I’ll have to look into how easy it would be, but I wonder how possible it would be to gather more stats past December of this year. I’ll post back with some data if I do…

    Speaking of which, a question off-hand to the comment (but a bit the same): Does Will Shortz do grids from time to time for the NYT? I can’t say I even know his pseudonyms to recognize them.

    • Gareth says:

      Will Shortz does not. Rich Norris does, as Lila Cherry and several others, but not nearly as frequently as 5 or so years ago…

    • Glenn says:

      “I wonder how possible it would be to gather more stats past December of this year. I’ll post back with some data if I do…”

      Turns out to be very possible. I have a listing from 09-14-2015 (*) to 12-22-2016 here, both aggregate and broken down by month of constructors and the number of puzzles published. It would be very longish to post, so I’ll just say if someone wants to see it, let me know.

      (*) – this is the day when the WSJ started publishing daily grids.

  9. aries says:

    I think what Mike Shenk has done this year at the WSJ is nothing short of incredible. Sure, the overlap of constructor and editor might be a little jarring, but the sheer volume of quality work from Mike this year deservedly puts him in the conversation for best active constructor. He’s not pushing boundaries nearly as often as he once did, but he’s been producing a very good 15×15 puzzle multiple times a week for quite some time. I’m more amazed at how little he’s slowed down his own output than disappointed that he isn’t running more puzzles from outside contributors .

    • Norm says:

      I’m a latecomer to the WSJ after years of doing only NYT (and the LAT in my daily paper) but this site (thank you!) opened my eyes to some of the other options, and I agree that the WSJ tends to be very nice day in and day out. Very impressive.

      • PJ Ward says:

        Norm, you’ve pretty much told my story. I pay more attention to the constructor than I once did but pseudonyms and anagrams of constructor names don’t make up much of my solving experience. The WSJ has become my favorite weekday puzzle. The metas on Friday are a big bonus.

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