Wednesday, May 31, 2017

AV Club 11:40 (Ben) 


LAT 4:24 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:30 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Jacob Stulberg’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

Jacob serves up a visual theme today (and “serves up” is relevant. Stay tuned).

We have six starred clues:

NYT 5/31, solution grid

  • 4a [*Complain] is CARP.
  • 24a [*Extract with heat, in a way] is SMELT and then I knew something fishy was going on.
  • 32a [*Weapon with a point] is PIKE.
  • 44a [*The Mikado in “The Mikado,” e.g.] is BASS (the voice part required for the role).
  • 53a [*Birdcage feature] is PERCH.
  • 69a [*Shoe part] is SOLE.

So we’ve got six fish, all swimming across. We also have two grid-spanning down clues.

  • 3d [Warning for easily provoked types … or for the answers to the six starred clues?} is DON’T TAKE THE BAIT. If that had been the whole theme, dayenu! It would have been enough. But there’s more!
  • 9d [What might tempt the answers to the six starred clues?] does not look like a word: IIIIIIIIIIIIIIJ.  But it’s down, so it actually looks like this:It’s a line with a hook at the end. I really like this. It’s a straightforward mid-week theme with two really clever and eminently solvable additions. Lots of fun. I realized early on that 9d would be a string of I’s, and when I filled in the J, it made me laugh. Excellent puzzle.

A few other things:

  • 1d [Solid orange ball] is the FIVE ball on a pool table.
  • I’m from New York, and I like it when sarcasm shows up in my puzzles. 15d [“Oh really?”] is THAT SO and 37a [“A likely story!”] is I BET. You wanna make something out of it?
  • 36d [Ash, e.g.] is GRAY. Color, not embers.
  • 22d [Short notice?] is  GLIMPSE. A little tricky for a Wednesday. This is not a complaint.
  • 61a [Hazel eyes, e.g.] is a TRAIT, one I share with my daughter, even though we are not biologically related. Life is interesting.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that BEBOP came after swing. My education was sadly lacking.

I leave you with an updated version of one of the great songs of swing.

Kurt Krauss’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “All in Vane” — Jim’s review

Words ending in -AIN are changed to -ANE (one exception: CAINE simply has its I removed) resulting in wackiness…or groaniness depending on your tolerance for puns.

WSJ – Wed, 5.31.17 – “All in Vane” by Kurt Krauss

  • 17a [Result of a lion’s covering his ears?] MANE SQUEEZE. This one was hard for me to see since I was missing two key letters which caused it to look like this: MANES_UE_ZE. And those crossings…were not nice.
  • 24a [Air conditioner prototype?] MODEL TRANE. Meh. Not a new pun. The company’s slogan uses the same one, i.e. “Nothing stops a Trane.”
  • 39a [Strike at a sugar plantation?] THE CANE MUTINY. The definite article feels out of place given that clue.
  • 54a [What you do when you put your hand through a broken window?] FEEL NO PANE. I liked this one best. It was slightly unexpected.
  • 64a [Like flight attendant safety announcements?] PLANE-SPOKEN

For me, these mostly felt tired and re-hashed. Nothing new here.

But does the fill make up for it? In my opinion, no. The puzzle is beset by fun-sapping fill of the worst kind: EMS, AMS, ERBE, QOM, and CIE. If the theme was stellar enough to warrant this kind of fill, I’d be more willing to look past it, but it’s not.

I think the whole grid needs restructuring. Why set up your grid such that you are required to use the name QOM [City of central Iran] (at 18d)? That is completely within the constructor’s control, and, frankly, a ridiculously avoidable situation. Trade your outer theme answers or better yet, do some restructuring so that you don’t have a three-letter word starting with Q and ending with M.

There are some highlights in DILEMMA, PIT STOP, STUPOR, and HAVE A COW, but that’s nowhere near enough to make up for the killjoy fill mentioned above.

Thankfully, it’s been a long time since a WSJ puzzle gave me such a negative vibe, so I expect that this is a rare occurrence.

Paulo Pasco’s AVCX crossword, “Power Signs” — Ben’s Review

Maybe it’s because I’m on the younger end of the solver range for crosswords, but I love puzzle’s like today’s AV Club from Paulo Pasco.  There’s always a good mix of so-called “high” and “low” culture references, and to mix all that in with a supersized grid and a fun play on an important practice these days?  They’re hitting all my sweet spots.  More on that in a sec, but first, some clues and answers:

  • 30A: Went about something honestly —  PLAYED IT S(TRAIGHT)
  • 49A: Sweet cocktail with vodka — (WHIT)E RUSSIAN
  • 69A: Magic Mike, e.g. — (MAL)E STRIPPER
  • 17A/83A: Admonishment for self-awareness … and a hint to this puzzle’s theme — CHECK YOUR/PRIVILEGE

Playing off of the notion of checking one’s privilege, each of the theme answers features a type of privilege (straight, white, male) that’s literally been “checked” in the grid.  I thought this was really cleverly done, and didn’t even notice it at first – trying to explain how WHITE got transformed into an E made me realize there may have been something going on with the “CHECK” part of the revealer and the rest fell into place

For those unfamiliar with what checking your privilege means, I’ll explain it this way:  I’m a straight white dude.  Simply by being born with those three boxes checked the way they are, I’ve essentially hit the jackpot when it comes to certain advantages in society.  It’s important to consider when making a broad statement (something like, “No one ever handed me anything on a plate growing up”), that just due to my (straight, white, male) privilege, I’ve had opportunities that others may not have had.  This comic by Toby Morris explains it even better.

Other things I liked: ABBA, TOSCA clued with a description that Paolo noted could “describe every opera ever, sorry”, GRUDGE clued as “Aged beef?”, calling out the Borowitz report as being STALER than a piece of old bread most of the time, racking my brain trying to remember that Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer impression called him “Bazooka Phylicia AHMAD Rashad” in a recent sketch, and BAHAMA MAMA.

4.5/5 stars.  Say hi if you’re at The Indie 500 this weekend!

Samuel A. Donaldson’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

Sorry for the late post. Between work and moving house, I had one of those days where one basically collapses after work. I didn’t even mean to go to sleep, I just did.

This puzzle is fittingly timed, with a US president threatening to trample on these rights, we get a reminder of things guaranteed in the FIRSTAMENDMENT to the constitution: thekingsSPEECH, getRELIGION, generalASSEMBLY, and vanityPRESS.

Dense theme, so some strain is expected and noted. Still, there were two full names: SUSANDEY and JOHNCENA. I’m surprised we don’t see CENA on its own more in puzzles; GNC is also surprisingly uncommon given its notability and letters. FACETIME is another nice au courant touch. On the other hand, I could do without both RETASTES and REAIR in the same puzzle!

3.75 Stars

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43 Responses to Wednesday, May 31, 2017

  1. pannonica says:

    NYT: I wonder if any solvers “took the bait” and filled in Is all the way down column 13, including that last square. Another nice touch: SOLE, a flatfish and denizen of the ocean’s demersal zone, is in the bottom row.

  2. JohnH says:

    WS: went down badly for me, too. (For the fill, I was also put off by being asked the oldest son on “Empire.”) The theme entries mostly had me shrugging.

    I’d never heard of Trane, so I held off entering the obviously correct answer forever. I don’t think of covering one’s ears as squeezing them. (Could have asked for a lion on the subway at rush hour or, for those who like an older usage known to the living pretty much through crosswords, a lion lover.) And while “feel no pain” is perfectly idiomatic, I wouldn’t call it an idiom in the way that, say, “feel the pain” is, so not so great for crossword fill. Oh, and I know it’s the title of the book and movie, including THE almost never feels right.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      “He’s feeling no pain” is more idiomatic to me than “feel the pain,” but as a verb phrase, FEEL NO PAIN is less fun.

  3. pannonica says:

    NYT: Oh, meant to dispute 23a [Hoof, essentially] TOE. The correct analogue here is NAIL.

    • Philr says:

      The hoof wall, sure, but not the entire hoof

      • pannonica says:

        One phalange does not a digit make.

        • PhilR says:

          Both the coffin and navicular bones are entirely within the hoof proper (below the coronary line), as is a portion of the short pastern. In addition to the bones, there are a variety of ligaments, cartilage and other soft tissue. The majority of the hoof sole is the frog, another non-keratinous tissue.

          I’ve had horses go lame from navicular disease and osteoporosis of the coffin bone, know others to go lame from damaged cartilage between the short pastern and coffin bone, strained ligaments within the hoof, and severe bruising of the soft tissues within the hoof. To say a hoof is just the keratinous tissues is just wrong.

  4. Tim in NYC says:

    As a bonus to the NYT theme, you EXTORT CAVIAR from a fish.

  5. Ethan Friedman says:

    5* for the NYT. I laughed, too. That was a perfect midweek solve.

  6. David says:

    AVX: Totally amazing the number of pop culture references here. I suppose if you watch a lot of television (MTV, etc) which I don’t and listen to certain types of popular music which I don’t, you might have an easier time completing this puzzle. I counted over 20 references to such things I’ve never heard of. One reference to a George Eliot novel and one to a famous opera doesn’t balance the scales, however. DNF–not a chance.

    • Beth says:

      AVX: One of the reasons I subscribe to the AVX puzzles is because I don’t know pop culture. If a group or song or name is in the puzzle, it’s a piece of it I can learn. I look lots of things up during and after completing these puzzles. Some of them I even remember so when I hear them in conversations I don’t get that glassy blank look on my face!

      • Lise says:

        Exactly! I no longer teach high school students or work with college students so I need crossword puzzles to add these references to my wheelhouse. I am so pleased when I am able to remember them.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I never watched “Pimp My Ride,” but it combined two highly popular things (rappers and cool cars), was popular worldwide, and ran for several years (2004-07). I don’t watch a lot of television, but I like pop culture and Paolo’s fill didn’t stymie me.

  7. Jessica Nadel says:

    Thank you for the NYT puzzle visual explanation! I realized the theme was types of fish but could not, for the life of me, figure out the line and hook. I’ll chalk it up to lack of coffee and the fact I wrote all the I’s in caps. ?✌?

  8. Papa John says:

    I approach each AVX, and other Indie puzzles, knowing I’ll be running into stuff totally out of my wheelhouse. Unlike Beth, I don’t much care if I “learn” this stuff. That’s why it’s not in my wheelhouse, don’t you see?

    Although they’re often stretched too far for my liking, I enjoy some of the tricky cluing in these puzzles, so it’s still worth the solving. Looking at it this way, my ego remains intact, even if I don’t finish.

    • Lise says:

      But… but… Papa John, why not open that wheelhouse door and let those new things in! Crosswords are a great way to do that, mainly because they save me the time I would otherwise have to spend watching TV (I don’t have time to do very much of that).

      Meaning no offense or snarkiness at all, just wondering what the downside is, to learning what’s new in pop culture. It’s kind of exciting, really. And it’s okay not to want to – please forgive me if I’ve overstepped my bounds.

  9. Armagh says:

    AVX: Does race and gender politics have to infuse every facet of life these days? Rhetorical question, but for God’s sake, puzzles are supposed to be a form of relaxed distraction, not a tour through political zeitgeist/angst. And yes, this felt like a stroll through high schooler’s pop culture dictionary.

    • e.a. says:

      if you can remember a “those days” in which race and gender politics did not infuse every facet of life, please tell us what it is like being several hundred years old

    • Leaving this AVCX puzzle aside for now, why are puzzles “supposed to be” a form of distraction, free of politics? They can be, sure, but they can also make political statements if the creators want them to. By contrast, a puzzle that’s seemingly “neutral” sometimes makes political statements even if that’s not the intent.

      Why put limits on art?

    • Ben Smith says:

      If you’re looking for a source of relaxed distraction that doesn’t mention race, gender, or politics, might I suggest a book of connect-the-dots or one of those adult coloring books?

      • Jenni Levy says:

        I can understand that desire to keep puzzles free of references to things that make people uncomfortable. I presume, then, that Armagh agrees that sexist and racist language should be eliminated in crosswords, and called out when it appears. Right? Armagh would want *me* to have the chance for “relaxed distraction,” too, right?

        If not, well, then I think we’ve learned something.

        For the record, I agree that puzzles can serve many purposes, of which “relaxed distraction” is only one, and the constructor and editor get to decide what the appropriate purpose is. The AVCX is explicitly a pop-culture friendly outlet. I disliked the reference to “Pimp My Ride” because I deeply dislike that use of the word “pimp,” but if I explained why, we’d be back to gender politics.

      • PhilR says:

        My wife was toying with an idea for a coloring book for a while, thinking it would be for kids. It struck me that it should be an adult coloring book, so I told her so and that adult coloring books were a big thing these days. She was oddly stern as she inquired how I knew about such things, why would I know that, etc. I was quite perplexed until I realized she thought adult coloring books were ‘adult’ coloring books, about which I know nothing. I swear.

  10. Lise says:

    AVCX: could someone please clarify the clue to 31D HSweet sides? I agree that YAMS are sweet sides but googling “HSweet” (I try to look things up before I ask questions) got me nowhere.

    That aside, I enjoyed the puzzle very much. Although it seems to me that women could be getaway drivers too. :-)

    • Ben Smith says:

      Hi Lise! I’m not seeing that extraneous H in my (.PUZ) version of the puzzle – that’s likely to be a typo.

      • Lise says:

        Yay! I’ll stop worrying about it now. Love learning new things, as long as they’re Things.


  11. Andy says:

    Paolo’s AV xword should be a POTY candidate this year. Executed beautifully.

  12. Ethan says:

    No CIS privilege? The Sesame Street song C IS FOR COOKIE is right there, c’mon.

  13. Norm says:

    NYT: Silly. Should have been a Monday or a Tuesday.
    WSJ: Funny. Liked it a lot.
    LAT: Felt like I’d seen this theme before.
    AVCX: Liked the theme [although the revealer felt incomplete to me without “at the door”] and the “check” construction. Did not like a lot of the fill. Solved the interesting parts; didn’t bother with the rest.

  14. Sarah says:

    The NYT theme kinda makes sense, but I feel there’s not enough cohesion between the theme entries.

  15. Tim in NYC says:

    So I imagine that every constructor in the country right now is figuring out how to make COVFEFE into a theme, or at the very least a seed answer.

  16. Kerry S says:

    Kurt’s WSJ negative vibe gave me a negative vibe. A collection of arrogant nits (especially the complaint about Qom).

  17. Seth Cohen says:

    RE: AVCX (which I loved): This is such a tiny thing, but it bugged me. The clue on 66D is bothersome. The clue reads “Like many magnets” and the answer is BIPOLAR. But ALL magnets are bipolar. It’s one of the great mysterious of our universe: why are there no magnetic monopoles (i.e., just a north pole by itself, or just a south pole by itself)? Technically, they’re not forbidden by mathematics, but we have found absolutely no magnetic monopoles anywhere in the universe.

    Sure, you can arrange magnets together so that the resulting magnetic moment is quadrupolar, or something else. But this isn’t really making a new quadrupolar magnet. All magnets are bipolar: one north pole, and one south pole.

    So the clue should be, in my opinion (even leaving room for some brevity, as AVCX likes to do with its cluing): “Like all magnets, as far as we know.”

  18. Joan Macon says:

    So where is the LAT?????

  19. Gareth says:

    Loved the NYT visual. Reminded me, superficially at least, of the WHOGREASEDTHEVIIIIIIINE puzzle of yore.

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