Thursday, August 24, 2017

BEQ 7:42 (Ben) 


LAT 4:23 (Gareth) 


NYT 2:39 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Neil Patrick Harris and David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 8.24.17 by Neil Patrick Harris and David Steinberg

A celebrity puzzle? On a Thursday?






In all seriousness, I expected big things from this byline, and I wasn’t disappointed. As the grid image shows at 39a, the main thrust of the theme is a DISAPPEARING ACT [Part of a magic show]. Specifically, a certain 20a, ESCAPE ARTIST [58-Across, notably] vanishes: HARRY HOUDINI (or, should I say,                    …).

That’s right: HARRY HOUDINI has disappeared from 58a. Perhaps the most magical part is that all of the down entries that cross HARRY HOUDINI are legitimate entries regardless of whether the letters are there or not! Like so:

  • 47d, AC(H)ING [Crushing, as a test].
  • 48d, LO(A)NER [One who probably doesn’t get out much].
  • 59d, (R)ARE [“r,” in a text].
  • 36d, TEMPE(R) [Home of Arizona State University].
  • 52d, C(Y)AN [Recyclable item].
  • 53d, O(H)MAN [Country whose national anthem is “Nashid As-Salaam as-Sultani”].
  • 49d, SL(O)OPS [Spills].
  • 60d, (U)RSA [Pretoria’s land: Abbr.].
  • 42d, GRIN(D) [D, in an emoticon].
  • 55d, A(I)DES [Picnic coolers].
  • 56d, S(N)ORE [Needing Bengay, say].
  • 57d, T(I)ARA [Reid of Hollywood].

The real trick is making something reappear.

There’s not much else to say except “Wow.” This is a really, really excellent feat of construction. I’m sure Deb and Jeff have some interesting notes on this puzzle’s origins and construction, but I’m impressed it was possible to do this so cleanly with 78 words and 12 intersecting entries.

Some interesting choices elsewhere in the grid: TAXCO, HE-GOAT, PHREAK, SEX TAPE, EDWINA, “I GOT IT,” ADORBS (a debut), and RED SOX all caught my eye. It’s a high word count for a Thursday, and most of the challenge is in the theme, so the rest of the grid/clues were fairly straightforward, I thought. I will say that it was fairly easy to figure out what was going to happen from ESCAPE ARTIST and DISAPPEARING ACT, but it sort of had to be obvious, given that the letters in HARRY HOUDINI weren’t clued by the down entries. And even so, I still enjoyed the bottom third of the puzzle.

Great puzzle, and very appropriate for a Thursday. Congrats on the debut, NPH! Until next week!

P.S. Lollapuzzoola 10 was this past weekend, and it was superb. You can buy the puzzles here and solve in the At-Home Division, but don’t delay! The puzzles are only on sale until September 3!

Kristian House’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Throw in the Vowel” — Jim’s review

Theme: Certain words in common phrases have a vowel added to become the name of a well-known entertainer.

WSJ – Thu, 8.24.17 – “Throw in the Vowel” by Kristian House

  • 17a [Write a bad review of a “Misery” performance?] TRASH CAAN. Trash can.
  • 25a [Something the “Florence Foster Jenkins” star might clear?] STREEP THROAT. Strep throat.
  • 45a [Covered a “Bridesmaids” co-star in talc?] POWDERED WIIG. Powdered wig.
  • 60a [Spot for the “Love Letters in the Sand” singer to play croquet?] BOONE YARD. Boneyard.

I didn’t get much LOL-humor from this set, but I do appreciate the consistency. Each name is that of an entertainer (3 actors, 1 singer; would’ve been slightly better though if they were all actors). Two have the name at the beginning of the phrase, two at the end. And there probably aren’t that many famous names with double-A’s and even fewer with double-I’s, so it’s a very nice find to get CAAN and WIIG whose names become normal words when a vowel is removed.

The entries are in alphabetical order by added vowel, but of course, there is no “UU” name. So we will just have to be content with being one vowel shy of a full set.

In short, I do like the theme, despite not being on the humor wavelength and despite all vowels not being represented.

I had a rough start and felt like I was getting bogged down in Thursday-level trivia. But things gradually improved, and I came to like the theme and the fill.

And there’s a lot of fun fill starting with PINCH HIT and FREAKISH (which, for a time, looked like it was going to be FREE KISS). Also, “I GOT YOU,” FOTOMAT, RACCOON, COCKLES, MONIKER, and VOLTRON. That’s fun stuff.


Clues of note:

  • 12d [Crescent formed by two intersecting arcs]. LUNE. Did not know there was a name for that shape.
  • 63a [Second or fifth]. UNIT. Nice misdirection. Of course the second is a UNIT of time, and the fifth is a UNIT of volume (typically for alcohol), though it’s been superseded these days.
  • 47a [Music may come out of it]. It’s not a musical instrument, but an EARBUD.
  • 67a [Software license reader, supposedly]. USER. 34a HAH! [“Yeah, right!”].
  • 61d [Strawberry Fields sponsor]. Yoko ONO invited over 100 countries to donate trees, shrubs, and stones to a “peace garden” in New York’s Central Park. According to, “ONO has played a crucial role in the history of Central Park since Strawberry Fields was dedicated on Oct. 9, 1985…Strawberry Fields was ‘the Park’s first major landscape to be planned, designed, and constructed with Conservancy funding, and it was sponsored by the Conservancy’s first million dollar donor, Yoko ONO.'”
  • 21a [Some of Molly Malone’s wares]. COCKLES. Per Wikipedia, “Molly Malone” is the unofficial anthem of Dublin, Ireland. Here is Sinead O’connor’s version of the traditional song.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Retail Therapy” — Ben’s Review

This week’s BEQ feels a little more straightforward than some other themes I’ve seen run there – it’s some puns based on the idea of “Retail Therapy”:

  • 1A/69A: Advice for the sad undergoing retail therapy? — BUY LOW
  • 17A: Come-ons for the anxious in retail therapy? — DISTRESSED SALES
  • 39A:Transaction discussed during Freudian retail therapy? — IMPULSE PURCHASE
  • 61A:Depressing number in retail therapy? — ROCK BOTTOM PRICE

Not sure how this one felt for you, but it was Just OK for me.  BEQ’s usually a little more clever than this (and these puns didn’t feel so great), so this was a little bit of a let down on that front.

Theme was SO-SO, but there was some fill I liked:  UHURA, ZIMA defined as “Retro alcopop”, Googly EYES (which IMO should have been the official name for Google Glass back when that was a thing), HANOI (described as the capital of “French Indochina”!  Took some mental work to remember that French Indochina –> Vietnam –> Hanoi), Gregor SAMSA, BEHEMOTHS, and MOJO.

This one was alright, but could’ve been better.

3/5 stars

Peg Slay’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

I started in the top-left, and when I found ALOE/ALEE in such a small corner I was surprised. Turns out this is one of those themes where all the answers on the edges can be completed by one word, in this case DOOR. It’s not a theme type that lends itself to interesting answers, and the corners tend to look pretty desperate as well; the opposite corner to ALOE/ALEE has SAMI/EMER

All the DOORs are pretty straightforward I’d say, except POCKETdoor, which I’ve never heard of. Apparently, the door directly behind me is one, but I’d have just called it a sliding door… If you need to find the rest, they are highlighted in the grid.

New foreign vocab of the day: MASA is [Tamale dough] because it’s the Spanish word for dough… I think this its debut.

2 Stars

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26 Responses to Thursday, August 24, 2017

  1. B. Cross says:

    Loved this puzzle. I’ve always been a NPH fan, and the theme was APT.
    I solved it in exactly 2X Andy’s time, which I may never come close to doing again.
    By the way, great win at Lollapuzzoola 10, Andy! The finals was fun to watch.

  2. F. Hugh Mann says:

    Very nice NYT. No surprise since it comes from David Steinberg.

  3. placematfan says:

    “Dr. Horrible” is a singular, odd, masterful piece. If you’ve ever had a Joss Whedon fan take you captive and force you to watch the three greatest episodes of “Buffy”, this is a great enterprise through which to further grasp the unobtainable genius of the Whedon, on your own.

    • Ben Smith says:

      Recent allegations about his treatment of women while proclaiming himself a “feminist” have soured me a bit on his so-called “genius”.

  4. placematfan says:

    This is a crossword puzzle. Crossword. Puzzle. Entries have clues, remedial Crossword Puzzle constructor need-to-know info. … Where are the clues for the Down entries that include the reveal? Answer: they don’t exist; so, remedially, this crossword is flawed and should require some back-to-the-drawing-board editorship. THERE ARE DOWN ENTRIES IN THIS PUZZLE THAT DO NOT HAVE CLUES AND JUST SIT THERE LIKE YINLESS YANGS. THE SOLVER IS “SUPPOSED” TO SEE THESE AND RECOGNIZE THEM AS ENTRIES, WITHOUT CLUES, AND GO “OH, THOSE COULD HAVE CLUES IF THEY WANTED, I GUESS”. NO!!!! BAD CRAFTMANSHIP!!! COME ON, DAVID. COME ON, WILL. I mean, I scarcerly recall seeing a crossword in which the theme involved unclued entries; and I scan three to four crossword blogs a day. Am I missing something? “URSA”, “ADES”, just sitting there, as the result of the gimmick, unclued. No, no, no. Inferior craftsmanship, inferior editing.

    • AV says:

      Totally agree with this guy! How dare they! These newbies to the crossword construction trade – giving us incomplete puzzles! Bad!

    • Ben Smith says:

      The print edition included clues written in invisible ink for the altered downs.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      It’s a Thursday puzzle, with a tricky gimmick. That makes this puzzle entirely fair. Not sure why you felt compelled to go all shouty with the all-caps, but to each their own.

    • Norm says:

      To clue the “disappearing” entries would have made the puzzle too easy.

  5. Jason Mueller says:

    Any chance David Steinberg will do a celebrity puzzle with director David Steinberg or fellow Stanfordian Katie Ledecky?

  6. Lise says:

    Excellent NYT for Anything-Can-Happen-Thursday!

  7. Paul Coulter says:

    Loved the NYT. This was a triumph, both as an enjoyable challenge for the solver, and as a feat of crossword craftsmanship. Way to pull a rabbit from the hat, Neil and David! It was a now you see it, now you don’t that we’ve never seen before.

  8. David L says:

    Very nice! The only trouble spot for me was the SW, where EDWINA was a complete unknown and EYE and WWI (I was thinking it would be a country, not a time) took a while to figure out.

    Also, why would extra-terrestrials be taking an AP exam?

  9. Ethan Friedman says:

    Bravo! This is by far the best of the celebrity puzzles to date, and a tour-de-force. I would love to know exactly how much of the grid is Neil and how much David, but it really doesn’t matter.

    I think this is the Puzzle of the Year so far (or at least a candidate) for me.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Agree that it’s the most impressive of the celeb-coauthor puzzles we’ve seen. Really enjoyed the struggle followed by the “aha” moment.

  10. huda says:

    NYT: Excellent! I solved it leaving Harry Houdini completely out, having figured out the trick. Then plopped that entry in and got a big surprise when all the downs made new sense. For a minute I thought they were tangentially clued elsewhere in the puzzle– AC(H)ING and SORE, YAWNER and SNORE… But I guess that was just coincidence…

    The “Like, cute” ADORBS combo was uncomfortably reminiscent of the recent condescending Instagram rant by a rich socialite about someone being “adorably naive” and going back to her “cute life”. I now need time to recover the positive connotations of words such as cute and adorable…

  11. Ethan says:

    I really just skimmed the clue for THEM, saw “band… Morrison” and had THE_ so I assumed that a “DOORS” rebus was part of the theme. They use doors in magic, right? Trap doors?

  12. Gareth says:

    I think I saw an episode of Tanked with NPH where the aquarium makers made him a Harry Houdini tank for his magic society… So yes, very apt theme!

  13. Rick Narad says:

    I agree with Puzzle of the Year (at least so far). I realized where the clue was going when I took a shot at YEMAN for the the national anthem and it didn’t work.

  14. Penguin Madness says:

    Clever puzzle but the trick, which I figured quickly, felt underwhelming for some reason.

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