Wednesday, February 1, 2017

AV Club 6:39 (Ben) 


CS 8:22 (Ade) 


LAT 4:16 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:41 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Matthew Sewell and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

This is a really nice Wednesday puzzle. It has a little more bite to it than most mid-week puzzles; I had to really think about the theme after I’d finished the puzzle. Let’s get right to that, shall we?

  • NYT 2/1 puzzle, solution grid

    19a [Friends who go to White Castle in a 2004 film] are HAROLD AND KUMAR. I have never seen this movie. I have eaten at White Castle, but not since high school. I am not a fan.

  • 25a [Romans who protected the emperor] are the PRAETORIAN GUARD.  I dropped GUARD  in right away and had to rely on crossings to get started on PRAETORIAN. Somewhere, my high school Latin teacher is shaking her fist at me.
  • 43a [Countrymen who met in Philadelphia in 1787] are not the Constituional Convention. They are the FOUNDING FATHERS. I suspect that this clue has 1787 rather than 1776 to make it a smidgen more difficult.

I tried to find something these three answers had in common – anagrams? Hidden words? Something that could precede or follow one part of the clue? I couldn’t think of any phrase that included KUMAR, or HAROLD, for that matter. The information we need is in 51a [51a. Shakespearean entreaty appropriate for 19-, 25- and 43-Across?] which is LEND ME YOUR EARS. I went back and looked for EARS in the theme answers. Nope. I finally remembered the advice I was given years ago: if you can’t make sense of the theme in the answers, look at the clues – in this case the first word of each theme clue. That gives us “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” the line preceding LEND ME YOUR EARS in the speech Marc Antony makes at Caesar’s funeral. I really liked this theme. The clue phrases are not tortured in any way, and the answers are all solid and in-the-language. Subtle, enjoyable, and well-made. An excellent Wednesday puzzle.

A few other things:

  • Am I the only person who dropped in SHELL for [Exoskeleton, e.g.] at 1a?
  • I appreciated the shout-out to Lucretia MOTT. Better than applesauce.
  • If BAE shows up in a puzzle, does that mean the teenagers will stop using it? Kids these days, I tell you.
  • 46d [What doctors recommend that sick people get a lot of] is FLUIDS. That’s true if you have an acute viral illness. If you have congestive heart failure or kidney disease, we will not recommend lots of fluids. Quite the contrary.

That’s only four, but I’m tired.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that ALTAIR is a star in the Eagle constellation. I didn’t know there was an Eagle constellation at all, to be honest.

Paul Coulter’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Turn Signals” — Jim’s review

Good bit of wordplay today. Our theme clues are cryptic single words in all caps. The answers are actual phrases that consist of the clue in reverse followed by a word that could roughly mean “reversed.” In essence, the second word is a “turn signal” indicating that the first word is the reverse of the clue. Got that? That’s a nice “turn of phrase” (heh heh) to use as a gimmick.

WSJ – Wed, 2.1.17 – “Turn Signals” by Paul Coulter

  • 17a [WONKKNOW ABOUT. Is “wonk” an actual word? Oh yeah. It is.
  • 61a [TAB] BAT AROUND. Good one.
  • 11d [DIAL] LAID BACK. Good also.
  • 25d [SWARD] DRAWS UP. This one comes with a *wink wink* since it will only work in the Down direction.
  • 39d [PETS] STEP OVER. STEP BACK would make more sense, but BACK is already taken. I don’t think OVER works as well. I should think STEP OVER would really look like this: ᴤ⊥Eb

I cottoned on to the theme with the first one, so that made the rest pretty simple, at least the first half of each anyway. In other words, getting the rest of the themers didn’t involve much brain power, for better or worse.

As for the rest, we have a morbid mini-theme in 53a PERISHES and 5d EMBALMS. I love the word WINSOME, and SWINDLED and HARBOR make for good fill as well.

What are your feelings on 20a HEGIRA [Muhammad’s flight]? At first, I was irked at this completely unknown (to me) word. But once I read up on it, I found it so timely. Per Merriam-Webster, it means “a journey especially when undertaken to escape from a dangerous or undesirable situation.” It made me think of all those fleeing danger and seeking HARBOR in friendlier countries. And yet here we are, the richest, most powerful nation, slamming the door in their faces. It is utterly, utterly shameful.

But I don’t want to end this on a down note. Let’s look at some…

Clues of note:

  • 69a. [Bow’s husband on “Black-ish”]. DRE. New clue for that name as far as I can tell.
  • 41a. [Ranger’s ruses]. DEKES. We’re talkin’ hockey here.
  • 49d. [Equivalent of two fins]. TENNER. Who says these?
  • 34a. [Affirmative action]. NOD. Lovely clue, right there.

And that’s all I have. Nice puzzle.

And now for something completely different.

Since we’ve started a new month, I wanted to look back at January especially as compared to December. I don’t know that I’ll do this every month, but I think the stats are pretty telling this time around.

Back around the 22nd of December I had a little bit of a meltdown and ranted about the prevalence of editor-created puzzles in the WSJ that seemed below par. Just because I think stats are interesting, I started keeping track of constructors and puzzles and their ratings on this site. I know the ratings here are entirely subjective and prone to inaccuracy and inflation or deflation as the case may be. But overall, I think they do an okay job of getting a feel for a puzzle (or at least the reception thereof).

In the parlance of “Marketplace” on NPR, “let’s do the numbers.” {Cue “We’re in the Money.”}

You can see that the average for all puzzles for the month went up significantly (3.27 to 3.58). On the whole, the puzzles for January were very, very good.

The average for the Friday contest puzzles went up moderately, but the daily ones improved markedly. While the average of all non-editor puzzles remained about the same, those of the editor, showed a significant boost from 3.25 to 3.68. That means that, while we got fewer puzzles directly from Mr. Shenk, they were definitely of a higher quality.

Whether this is all related to my  little outburst or is just coincidental I’ve no idea. But the end result was a banner month for WSJ puzzles, and one that will be tough to top, I think.

Anyone want to go back and do the NYT and LAT and compare? Anyone? Bueller?

Patti Varol’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “Hues There” —Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 02.01.17: “Hues There”

Good morning, everyone! You might have come across the news a few weeks ago, but CrosSynergy will cease to publish puzzles at the end of this month. So, starting today, we have only 28 days to enjoy these great, enjoyable easy-level crosswords put out by this amazing organization and their great group of crossword constructors. So let’s enjoy this last month while we can, shall we?

Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Ms. Patti Varol, has theme answers in which the final word in each of the themes is a synonym of the final word in the other theme entries, with all of the words describing a hue.

  • MADE IN THE SHADE (20A: [Sitting pretty])
  • LOCAL COLOR (34A: [Distinguishing qualities of a region])
  • MUSCLE TONE (42A: [Fitness buff’s concern])
  • SUPPORTING CAST (54A: [Actors without top billing])

It was interesting seeing ESTONIA in the grid because, just about a week ago, I met someone who was from that country for the first time on the subway here in New York (43D: [Baltic country]). She was unbelievably nice, and thank goodness that she didn’t mind having a conversation on a fairly crowded train to boot. (Being scrunched like sardines in a sardine can together was mainly how the conversation started.) Here’s an earworm out of nowhere that’s crawling in now: ALYSSA has made me remember the theme song to Who’s the Boss? (29A: [Actress Milano]). Seeing the snow fall yesterday definitely made me think that, one of these winters, I should spend a few days in MIAMI (25D: [City with Heat and Hurricanes]). But I’ll GO EASY ON New York for not being a tropical paradise in the winter, since it’s just as amazing to be here in the cold than it is when it’s baking outside (9D: [Show leniency toward]). Trust me, I’m not one of those people who complains when it’s too cold and when it’s too hot! You know anybody who’s like that?!

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SERENA (4D: [Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for 2015]) – Yes, she’s been a subject on here before and yes, I try to avoid repeats, but this is an exception. Congratulations to SERENA Williams for winning the 2017 Australian Open over her sister, Venus, last Saturday, Serena’s 23rd major singles title. She’s now one major away from tying the all-time record, held by Australian Margaret Court, who was in attendance in Melbourne to watch Serena during her run to No. 23. Speaking of Court, here’s a New York Times profile on Court from this past Monday, the great tennis champion who revolutionized the sport of women’s tennis with her winning and strength training, but remains somewhat of a pariah on the tennis scene these days, mainly because of some of her social views.

Thank you, everyone! Time to skedaddle and catch a bus to DC in the next couple of hours.

Take care!


Patrick Blindauer’s AVCX crossword, “Greek Squad” — Ben’s Review

After last week’s more political note (which raised $6000 for a worthy cause!), this week’s AVCX puzzle is back to basics with a puzzle by Patrick Blindauer.  If not for the cluing, the trick on this one felt like something you’d see on an NYT Thursday:

  • 19A:With 4D, label for Katy Perry– CAPITOL/ RECORDS
  • 21A:With 9D, 1981 Rod Stewart album — TONIGHT/I’M YOURS
  • 40A:With 29D, word before “applesauce” — CRISS/CROSS
  • 57A:With 44D, in the face of great adversity — AGAINST/ALL ODDS
  • 61A:With 48D, where you’re supposed to keep six times your monthly expenses (I wish!) — SAVINGS/ACCOUNT
  • 67D: “Semper ___” (homonym of the Marine Corps motto, or a rule for what goes in any of this puzzle’s special squares) — PHI

I thought this theme was cute, if a bit simple.  Overlaying the I and the O to make a phi symbol (Φ) is clever in these two-part phrases (though a little frustrating if you’re a mostly-digital solver who likes his grids to match the actual puzzle rather than having a substitute symbol, since AcrossLite doesn’t play nicely with Greek symbols).  I felt a little underwhelmed with this one overall.

A few other quick notes:

  • 14A:Marx brother who never appeared in a movie — GUMMO (I’m more familiar with the Harmony Korine film of the same name than this particular Marx brother, but they may be at the same level of obscurity)
  • 55A:Baldwin who played a callous businessman in “Glengarry Glen Ross” — ALEC (no mention of his frequent guest appearances on this season of SNL, or his upcoming record-breaking 17th instance as guest host?)
  • 69A: Good name for a guy who works in a paper fastener factory — BRAD
  • 73A:”___ Is Us” (NBC show that seems determined to make me cry every episode) — THIS (I’ve heard good things about this one, and both it and the spectacular The Good Place just got season 2 renewals)
  • 10D:A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife ___ — DAWG (their latest album is really good.  Highly recommended)
  • 63D:One of many genres that could be accurately applied to the music of David Bowie — GLAM

3/5 stars

Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

I would call this a puzzle theme that almost works. PAYORPLAY, PUBLISHORPERISH and PAPERORPLASTIC are colourful, in the language phrases. PLAINORPEANUTS is contrived. The revealer, POPTASTIC, is punchy as entry, but felt off as a revealer, especially as it ignores the consistent “ors”.

The best moments elsewhere were the clues [They’re hard to sit for], IMPS and [Providers of senior moments?] for PROMS.

There is a presumably deliberate Deep Purple mini-theme. With both Frank ZAPPA and some stupid(s) with (a) FLAREGUNS


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23 Responses to Wednesday, February 1, 2017

  1. ArtLvr says:

    The eagle constellation is Aquila, Latin for eagle. Altair is its brightest star. In myth, the eagle carried thunderbolts for Zeus/Jupiter. And if someone is described as having an aquiline nose you will realize it means possession of a prominent beak!

  2. David L says:

    Nice puzzle but an unusual theme — which I had to come here to understand. Never thought about looking at the clues.

    ALTAIR was also the name of the one of the first — maybe the very first — computer made for hobbyists’ use, on which Bill Gates and Paul Allen learned about programming. Or something like that.

    • sharkicicles says:

      The BASIC programming language for the Altair was Microsoft’s first product, which Gates and Allen wrote and licensed to MITS, maker of the Altair.

  3. Bruce N Morton says:

    I must be unusually dense this morning, but I still don’t get the point of the theme. Of course I know the “lend me your ears” quote and I saw the words friends, Romans Countrymen in the clues, but why is that a theme? I assumed I had to do something more with those words by way of “lending”. I guess I’m totally confused.

    • Ethan says:

      I can’t tell whether I absolutely love the concept of this puzzle or absolutely hate it.

      • Jenni Levy says:

        The entire quote is “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” so the theme is that the quote is completed by the words in the clues. I don’t think you’re confused, Bruce. I can understand if it’s not your cup of tea, though.

  4. Scott says:

    Jenni – I put SHELL in right away too.

  5. Old mike says:

    Thanks Amy, I could not figure out the theme either. Makes sense now

  6. Duane says:

    Couldn’t quite get the theme.

  7. JOHN VEREL says:

    AVCX on AcrossLite was not a happy experience.

    • pauer says:

      Until AL gets its sh!t together (which will probably be never), I recommend solving all of my stuff on paper. Maybe your experience will be happier that way.

      • JOHN VEREL says:

        Agreed. However, when traveling on business, as this week, the options are limited. I am othewise always a paper solver.

        • Nina says:

          I like solving on paper, but I always use the printed version of Across Lite. It has larger boxes than the newspaper version and is more pleasant to work with. If I’m out of town, I wait till I get back. I usually have some unsolved printed puzzle backlog to take with me anyway.

  8. Zulema says:

    The crossing of PAPA and SPADER was my last entry in the NYT and I just guessed (correctly). Never heard of an actor SPADER. And for a fleeting moment I thought of looking at the clues to work out the theme but didn’t. Now I know.

  9. Tom Cassutt says:

    Gareth, I think that the “ors” in the LAT puzzle are not ignored. Each of the three word phrases begin with the letters “P,O,P”, thus are deemed “POPTASTIC.”

  10. Papa John says:

    I disagree with Ben’s review of the AV puzzle. It was neither “cute” nor “clever” but, rather, simply wrong. There is no way that Φ is the letter I over the letter O. It is what it is, the Greek letter phi. The correct entries should be IO, as a multi-letter rebus. In the Across Lite version, substituting PHI was simply ridiculous, making an inane concept even sillier.

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