Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Jonesin' 4:15 (Derek) 


LAT 2:46 (Derek) 


NYT 3:26 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Xword Nation untimed (Janie) 


Bruce Haight’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution • 4 18 17 • no. 0418

Oh, dear. Bruce, you oughtn’t have chided me for critiquing a handful of entries in your Monday LAT puzzle, not when you knew this puppy was coming out the very next day. We’ve got a theme revealer near the top: 20a. [Practical sort … or anagram #1 of the only seven letters used to make this puzzle], REALIST. The other 7-letter Acrosses are anagrams A-LISTER, RETAILS, and SALTIER. Do you see what else these have in common besides the AEILRST letter bank? -IST, -ER, RE-, -IER endings that make the entries inherently less interesting. And then there’s the entire rest of the grid, which can’t really have good fill with such a limited letter bank. So many of the short words that contain these super-common letters are super-common in crosswords, despite their obscurity outside of crosswords—ETTE ASSAI ETES ASEA ALTAIR ELLS ESAI RIIS IRAE R.E.LEE -STER SSTS in the Acrosses, EIRE IRES ELEA ESTES ARAL REES in the Downs. These aren’t easy fill and if you want your Tuesday puzzle to be accessible to newbies, well, this is gonna send them screaming in the opposite direction.

1.5 stars. The entire solve was dull. The puzzle’s more of a challenge for the constructor to make than a challenge for solvers to work through. Just a slog.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle (Week 307), “You’re Getting a Dressing Down!”—Janie’s take

Crossword Nation 4/18 (No. 307)

No, no—no one’s IRATE. You’re not being scolded! But you will find a type of salad dressing at the end of the four, downward-directed, two-word theme phrases. The theme set, if a bit of a mixed bag, is so good when it’s good, that I can forgive some aspects of the weaker entries. And it’s not like we’re in sub-par territory either—far from it! Not with:

  • 14D. “PARDON MY FRENCH!” [Words that may follow “@#$%!”]. French dressing. Love this (the clue, too), and love that “FRENCH” here has all to do with euphemism and nothing, really, to do with France. Nice serendipity, as well, that SNAFU crosses this phrase, because it can be a SNAFU that triggers the impulse to say things like “@#$%!” in the first place. And then there’s
  • 3D. WHITE RUSSIAN [Vodka, Kahlúa and cream over ice]. Russian dressing. More great fill. And utterly happy-making that it gives us the opportunity to ponder the delights of The Big Lebowski. Once again, “RUSSIAN” in this context is not about Russia per se. Yes, there’s the vodka component, but sez here that although Russians have been making it for centuries, the Poles have been doing it somewhat longer. Now the BERING SEA… There we get a geographic connection to Russia. And more crossword serendipity. I’ll take it! I have mixed feelings, though, about
  • 21D. “THAT’S ITALIAN!” [Classic Ragú slogan]. Italian dressing. That’s a great, peppy phrase, but it’s the first one in which the descriptor and the theme word really represent the country of origin. So this one works a little differently than its theme-mates, but does conform by concluding with a language/nationality that’s also a salad dressing. The last one breaks the language/nationality mold but is still a valid member of the theme set, and that’s
  • 9D. APARTMENT HOUSE [Residential high-rise]. House dressing. How many of you kept wondering what the fourth language/nationality was going to be? That’s where my head was, at any rate. APARTMENT HOUSE is “perfectly fine” fill, but not nearly as zesty as its predecessors or even, for my money, a well-seasoned vinegar and oil-based house dressing

The remainder of the fill, like the themers, has its own highs ‘n’ lows. On the one hand, I genuinely like BERING SEA, “BE PATIENT…,” PAPER HATS and UP AGAINST. But some of the air goes out for me when I also see UPS in the grid and then [Trips up?] (no matter how clever) cluing ASCENTS (a beauty of a word). As always, ymmv. Me, I feel like we’ve been seeing dupes on a very regular basis of late. And so it goes.

NEWBIE delights; ditto SCONES and TATTOO, MOOGS and HARPO. Oh, and GYMNAST, especially for its shout out to [Rio Olympics phenom Simone Biles, for one]. While ACETONE isn’t my favorite fill, I like that this [Paint remover component], also found in nail polish remover, ties into the idea of that [Mani-PEDI (nail salon combo)].

Now… if I were a crossword NEWBIE—and no matter how well the crosses worked—I think I’d be pretty flummoxed by the [Command, old style] HEST combo. To the best of my knowledge, have never heard the word applied. Never seen it in print either. Of course that’s why “old style” is in the clue. Still, am familiar with the word BEHEST, and in parsing that, eventually came around to understanding HEST. But this was scarcely a highlight of my solve. Ditto INCOG… Gimme a rhyming [Bear lair] for CAVE or even the tricky [Double back?] for DATE and I’m a much happier camper.

(Full disclosure: I was hoisted on my own petard, so to speak, trying to make sense of that last pairing. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what DATE had to do with “doubling back.” Didn’t DATE [or maybe not-to-DATE…] have more to do with, say, swiping LEFT on Tinder? Of course, it finally dawned on me. NEWBIEs: what do we always talk about here with question-marked clues? How there’s something tricky going on. How some words are marker words, to be read literally. And there it is. “Back,” in the clue, is a marker telling us that DATE is a word that can follow—is in back of—”double.” Double DATE. D’oh!)

Feel free to post what worked/didn’t work for you in the puzz, since it’s always interesting to get a variety of points of view. As spring steals in, hope you’ll have a great week. Keep solving—and see you back here next week!

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Follow Instructions” — Jim’s review

It’s always nice to see Zhouqin’s byline. You know you’re in for a solid theme and clean grid when you do. No exception to that rule today!

We’re given four entries with the clue [Go to X-{Across/Down}]. In each case, the cross-referenced entry is actually a word that can finish the phrase “Go to X.” The original entry then is a definition of what it means to “go to X.” Got all that? It’s easier to see than explain, but I think this is really quite clever.

WSJ – Tue, 4.18.17 – “Follow Instructions” by Zhouqin Burnikel

  • 18a [Go to 13-DownCARRY TOO FAR crossing 13d [Polar opposites] EXTREMES. Ergo, to “Go to EXTREMES” is to CARRY (things) TOO FAR. This one feels a little clunky as “CARRY TOO FAR” doesn’t feel as stand-alone as the others, but it’s technically correct.
  • 9d [Go to 27-Across] HIT THE HAY crossing 27a [Oyster’s home] BED. HIT THE HAY = “Go to BED.” Lovely entry.
  • 31d [Go to 40-Across] BREAK DOWN crossing 40a [Jigsaw puzzle makeup] PIECES. BREAK DOWN = “Go to PIECES.” Another good one.
  • 56a [Go to 53-Down] DETERIORATE crossing 53d [Ranked tournament player] SEED. DETERIORATE = “Go to SEED.” DETERIORATE is not as fun an entry as the others, but it works.

As I said, I think this is really clever, the cross-referencing clues are doing two things: Giving you instructions on where to go to find the hint you need, and telling you that you will find there the last word in the phrase “go to ___.” It’s a bit self-referential and meta, if you like, and that makes it nicely cheeky.

I don’t see any thematic need for the cross-referenced entries to cross the main entries, but it’s a nice touch and it keeps each pair confined to a geographical area in the grid. And it bothers me not one whit that the “Go to” entries are not symmetrical in the grid. I’m sure it was hard enough to put this together without that constraint.

This really feels like it would have made a nice Thursday, given tougher clues.

There are some other “Go to” phrases that I’m sure Zhouqin looked at. I came up with town, pot, hell, work, and ground. Any others I missed?

Let’s move on to the fill which has Zhouqin’s fingerprints all over it—by that I mean fun, colloquial phrases: “GET REAL,” “AFTER YOU,” “I HOPE NOT,” and “NO WONDER.” That’s just brilliant. Plus WETSUITS, NEWSWIRE, GREEN TEA, and NOBLEMEN.

The worst entries are SSA, ORIG, INS, and ESTE. But these didn’t distract from the fun.

And one other little nit: Since cross references are necessary for the theme, I would have preferred not to see the clue [41-Down’s network] for CBS (referring to CSI). Sure the two are closely related and even symmetrical in the grid, but it’s not strictly necessary and it’s ultimately distracting.

But other than those minor foibles, this is a really nice puzzle. She’s able to pull it all off with the help of a high block count. I counted 42 (constructors usually aim for about 38 or less). She certainly uses the “cheater” square without reservation, but when it improves the fill, it is definitely worth it. And all these blocks don’t segment the grid too badly; it still feels fairly open, and the word count is still quite low (74).

What was your experience? Did you feel the cross references worked or were they annoying? Let us know in the comments.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

A puzzle by my good friend Jeffrey Wechsler, who I don’t think I have had the privilege of blogging a puzzle for previously! From what I can tell, his puzzles more often appear later in the week, say on a Thursday or Friday, if they are in the LAT. I do Tuesdays and Saturdays, so I don’t often get to solve a lot of the other days. I should start: they are an excellent source to perhaps print out and hone my pencil-and-paper solving skills!

But I digress: the puzzles I have done of Jeffrey’s do usually have very clever themes, and this one is no exception. A simple yet well executed theme of “less than regular size” things!

  • 17A [Mom-and-pop stores] SMALL BUSINESSES
  • 29A [Alfalfa, Darla, and friends, with “the”] LITTLE RASCALS – I am old enough to remember watching them in syndication. Ah, what they showed on TV before cable!
  • 39A [“God bless us, every one!” Dickens character] TINY TIM – I am not well read; I am a little more familiar with the “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” singer!
  • 47A [Game with windmills, ramps and such] MINIATURE GOLF
  • 62A [Waterspout climber of song] ITSY BITSY SPIDER – My son Chase would know this one!

I told you it was well executed! For an example of Jeffrey’s excellent pun-theming skills, check out the LAT puzzle from this past April 7. Jeff has real talent. 4.4 stars for this one.

A few notes:

  • 8A [Find incredibly funny] ROAR AT – This is not very common, but doesn’t read as weird as it sounds. An odd partial I am surprised does not appear more. Only 8 NYT appearances according to xwordinfo.com
  • 20A [Vietnam’s capital] HANOI – According to one source, Vietnam is the 14th most populous country in the world. I would not have guessed that high!
  • 67A [California’s San __: Hearst Castle locale] SIMEON – Fun tie-in (at least for me with 2D.
  • 69A [401(k) kin] IRA – I moved my 401(k) into an IRA. It now actually makes money!
  • 2D [2016 Best Actress Stone of “La La Land”] EMMA – My maternal grandparents were named Emaline and Simeon! (I told you the tie-in only affected me!)
  • 24D [Classic grape soda] NEHI – They made more than grape. Are you old enough (like me) to remember Radar from M*A*S*H drinking this all the time?
  • 31D [College freshman’s comment about why his parents call so often] THEY MISS ME – Or how I believe UPS thinks now that I am gone! OK, maybe not. But the best entry in the grid. Zero NYT occurrences in the past! Nicely done.

That is all for today. Jeff, make more Tuesday puzzles!

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Hm…” – Derek’s write-up

Jammed through this one pretty quickly, and then I took the time to see what in the world the theme was, since it played like a themeless. It turns out there are 4 phrases that have two words, the first one ending in H, and the second starting with M, so there is HM, or “hm”,  “stuck in the middle” as the flavor text suggests. What seems to make this seem like a Friday or Saturday puzzle is the fact that, while there are 4 10-letter theme entries, there are EIGHT 9-letter answer in this grid! Nothing at all that is 7- or 8-letters in length. Before I forget, here are the HM answers:

  • 18A [Current host of “Late Night”] SETH MEYERS
  • 59A [“Way to botch that one”] SMOOTH MOVE
  • 3D [Trap on the floor, slangily] ROACH MOTEL
  • 31D [Genre for Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel] DEATH METAL – I am comforted in the fact I have never heard of either of these groups!

Word count is at 74, so only slightly more than a typical themeless. (70-72 is pretty common in my experience.) In Jonesin’ fashion, lots of interesting words contained herein, including a couple that are new to me! A solid 4.1 stars this week.

Some mentionables:

    • 28A [“Kilroy Was Here” rock group] STYX – This group has a member from Niles, MI, which is literally down the street from where I grew up. Kilroy Was Here was the album with “Mr. Roboto” on it, but I think Eric Cartman helped make “Come Sail Away” more famous!

    • 41A [Emo band behind 2003’s “The Saddest Song”] THE ATARIS – I think I will just realize now that music in Portland is verrrrrry different than music in Indiana! Who are these people??

  • 4D [“Tik Tok” singer] KESHA – Isn’t it really Ke$ha??  ;-)
  • 25D [ __ out a living (just gets by)] EKES – An unfortunate example of crosswordese, but I think people actually do use this word more than I think.
  • 39D [Actor Oka of “Heroes”] MASI – Never saw this show!!
  • 57D [Kroll of “Kroll Show”] NICK – A fixture on Parks and Recreation as “The Douche,” a radio personality. I think I read he actually dated Amy Poehler for a bit. Yes, I do read some gossip!

I’ll stop here. By Saturday, I should be done moving! Have a great week!

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17 Responses to Tuesday, April 18, 2017

  1. Nene says:

    I give it an ‘A’ for effort and a ‘D’ for solve experience. Ironic that LAST is the only word that is omitted.

  2. PhilR says:

    And here I thought that Bruce’s “look, I only used 8 letters” puzzle of two or three years ago was an unpleasant solve.

  3. e.a. says:

    the puzzle is good actually

  4. MattF says:

    Not much fun. STALEST I’ve seen in a while.

  5. pannonica says:

    NYT: [“He’d fly through the air with greatest of __” (old song lyric}] EASE. Despite the inherent duplication, it made me wistful to see a more interesting longer entry, AERIALIST. Alas, I wasn’t being a REALIST.

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    Today’s WSJ was excellent. I loved how the design allowed the theme entries to actually be CROSS-referenced. None of these were the tiniest bit forced. Great job, C.C.

  7. Ethan Friedman says:

    NYT: not a huge fan. HOWEVER, a relatively gentle introduction to a lot of crosswordese (ESAI, IRAE, IRES etc) for a newbie I’d think, since knowing the limited set of letters makes it easier. Even if you don’t know “Dies Irae” at least there’s only 7 choices for each square in the latter word.

    And like it or not (or not, of course), new solvers do eventually need to learn those words. They don’t show up with the frequency they did in the old days, but they’re still needed to hold that grid together here or there.

  8. janie says:

    re: nyt — not my fave of bruce’s puzzles (am a fan of his more “graphic”-style grids), but given the constraints this letter group put him under, it’s as others have said, “not all that bad.”

    still… no fun at all encountering roger AILES.

    no, thank you.


  9. Roy says:

    Just when you think the NYT puzzle can’t get any worse… today’s offering shows up.

  10. artlvr says:

    more “go to”: go to bat (for); go to the dogs; go to confession….

Comments are closed.