Wednesday, August 30, 2017

AV Club 11:21 (Kameron) & 6:43 (Paolo) (Ben) 


LAT 4:11 (Gareth) 


NYT  5:14 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


David J. Kahn’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

I usually love David J. Kahn’s puzzles, especially his themelesses. This is, of course, a themed puzzle, and it’s a word ladder, which is tied with a “quip” puzzle as my least favorite kind of theme. Sigh.

The ladder:

NYT 8/30/17, solution grid

  • 1a [*Not pointed … and the start of an eight-step word ladder] is BLUNT.
  • 15a [*Say impetuously] is BLURT.
  • 20a [*”Paul ___: Mall Cop” (2009 comedy)] is BLART.
  • 29a [*Announce with great fanfare] is BLARE. That one is a bit off to my ear. I know trumpets BLARE and are used in fanfares, but to me BLARE is most often an unpleasant sound, and not a good thing.
  •  39a [*Feature of a 24- and 36-Down] is BLADE, which adds unnecessary cross-referencing to the word-ladder. Double sigh. 24- and 36-down are RAZOR and KNIFE, respectively.
  • 47a [*Rock band with six #1 British hits in the 1970s] is SLADE. They were much more successful in the UK than in the US, but I remember this one quite clearly.
  • 56a [*Throwing ___ (dissing someone publicly)] is SHADE. My understanding is that “throwing shade” is more subtle than directly dissing someone, but I think the meaning has broadened.
  • 66a [*Not be a pig] is SHARE.
  • 70a [*Pointed … and the end of the word ladder] is SHARP. So we went from BLUNT to SHARP. Oh, goody.

Wednesday puzzles don’t usually feel like a slog to me. This one did. It was not very much fun.

Other things:

  • 17a [He said “What Washington needs is adult supervision”] and he was prescient. That was President OBAMA.
  • Yet more cross-referencing at 19a [With 45-Down, some drawing rooms]. We’re looking for ART STUDIOS.
  • 10d [Flight attendant] is the quaint-sounding STEWARD.
  • 54a [Sea creature with eight arms] is a CUTTLE. If that sounds a bit truncated to you ,you are not alone. The definition of CUTTLE, according to Merriam-Webster, is CUTTLEFISH. So yeah, it’s in the dictionary, but come on.
  • 55a [Cabbage or kale] is actually cute. We’re looking for money slang, not veggies; the answer is DO RE MI.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: how vigorously I could dislike a puzzle by David J. Kahn. I also didn’t know that Grandpa Walton’s first name was ZEB.

Herre Schouwerwou Wall Street Journal crossword, “Living on the Edge” — Jim’s review

I love the title for this puzzle, as all the edge words can be followed by the word “Town” to make a common phrase. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, the revealer at 16d, BORDER TOWNS, makes it abundantly clear with its clue [Mexicali and Calexico, and a hint to this puzzle’s perimeter answers]. (The clue is somewhat distracting in that it made me think we’d be mashing together state or country names, but that turns out not to be the case.)

Proceeding clockwise:

WSJ – Wed, 8.30.17 – “Living on the Edge” by Herre Schouwerwou

  • 1a [Crude abodeSHANTY. Colorful, evocative phrase. The clue, though, is too close to the theme (where the other clues try to use alternative meanings of the word). Why not clue this with respect to a sea shanty?
  • 7a [Sorting through data] MINING. Meh.
  • 12d [He might make himself clear] GHOST. Nice clue.
  • 36d [Plural possessive] OUR. Our Town, the Thornton Wilder play.
  • 58d [Be a real poser?] MODEL. Surprisingly, there is a Model Town in Pakistan, but I don’t think that’s what this entry is citing. Frankly, I don’t know what this entry is citing. Googling the phrase results in no significant hits other than the ones in Pakistan and India. Is it referring to scale models? I’m more familiar with the phrase “model citizen” than I am with “model town.”
  • 71a [Holiday trimmings] TINSEL. The nickname for Hollywood.
  • 70a [Strategy in a difficult situation] RESORT. Another meh. Strange clue.
  • 50d [Mississippi or Missouri] RIVER. Meh number three. Again, the entry has the same meaning in the clue as it does in the final phrase. Why not clue this with respect to River Phoenix?
  • 30d [Mama moose] COW. Good.
  • 1d [Drink order] SMALL. This might seem like an arbitrary adjective, but I think it works well for the theme, especially in its hyphenated adjectival form (as in “small-town girl”). Also, it’s the title of a John Mellencamp song.

Hit and miss for me, but on the whole, the theme works fine.

Other potential entries I found that didn’t make it into the grid: Bean, boom, Cape, China, college, cross, down, Funky, George, home. Plenty of choices. But of course the corner entries have to share common letters. No surprise that this constriction resulted in some so-so entries.

Perimeter themes like this make a lot of demands on the grid, but we do get a goodly number of nice entries: STAGE ACTS, BUCKAROO, VICE COPS, MENORAH (crossing MECCA), and NOGGIN. I also like CHEAPO and WHAMMY though I’m not familiar with the latter’s clue [Evil spell]. I only know whammies from some old game show (Press Your Luck, apparently) and of course, the “whammy bar.” Interesting. Looks like the word was popularized in the ’50s by Li’l Abner.

With only a few crosswordese entries (YAH, ET TU, LA RAM, TEPEE), I’d say the fill is definitely in the net positive range.

One final note: 62d‘s clue is [Trump, for one]. After getting the crossings, I was left with S*IT. I know what letter I wanted to put in there, but the solving app was not accepting HPLOAD for 66a. Go figure.

AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #19 & #20” — Ben’s Review

It’s another double dose of themeless fun from the AVCX this week, which is more than welcome on the grey, chilly August day we’ve got here in Boston.  Making this doubly awesome (or is it quadruply, what with already getting two themeless puzzles) are that these two are from Paolo Pasco and Kameron Collins, who I think are two of the best themeless writers constructing out there ATM.

Let’s start with Paolo’s puzzle, since that’s the one I started with and completed in 6:43.  The grid on this one is lovely and this definitely felt like the easier of the two puzzles for me.  Despite no real knowledge of Les Miz, I managed to put ONE DAY MORE in with no crossings just guessing on a lyric rhyme sort of a thing.  Modern usage of the term DRAGS (“Roasts, in slang”) was some nice contemporary fill, as were IOS UPDATES and DROPS A BEAT.  Other things I liked: ARGONAUT, TRIVAGO (which is a travel booking site and not a sugar substitute – that’s truvia), ANDREA Martin, EXHAUST FAN, PANKO (the best of all breadcrumbs), and OAXACAN.

One point of contention: TEN AM is far too early a “Time to meet your white friends for brunch and kale salads or whatever”.  That’s still breakfast time.  Brunch starts at like ELEVEN AM.  Please fight me on this in the comments, this is the hill I have chosen to die on.

Other than this, a lovely themeless, 4.25/5 stars.

A quick, relevant-to-one-of-the-crosswords (I promise!) musical interlude as I switch gears to Kameron’s puzzle:

“I hear you’re buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a YAZ record.”

Okay, KAC Themeless time.  This one took me a little under double the time of Paolo’s at 11:21.  KAC’s grid structure is beautiful as always – reading that part of his process starts with the actual pattern of black squares has helped me appreciate that more when evaluating a crossword that doesn’t have a theme.  Lots of great fill and cluing spans the grid, with great long entries like AM I TOO LATE, LAPIS LAZULI, SOUNDS LEGIT, KISSED BUTT, and ATE KOSHER.

That last one got a legit chuckle out of me when I finally cracked it – I had been trying to figure out what it’s called when a sports game is blacked out from broadcast in an area based on the clue “Avoided certain game, at the behest of certain laws”, only to get played with this clue about actual game.  Well done, Kam.

Other things to like here: ENGINE PURR, E NEWS (where Seacrest got his broadcast start), INDIE CRED, KIDS TABLE (which I tried to have be CAFETERIA given the clue “Where tots might have their taters”, only to be proven wrong by crossings), and SCALLIONS as an ingredient for pancakes.  Mmmmm, scallion pancakes.

5/5 stars here – a nice wide span of fill knowledge areas, great cluing, and plenty of good footholds to keep any one area from being too tricky.

Truly spoiled by this week’s AVCX smorgasbord.

Jacob Stulberg’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

The theme is of a basic type. A vowel progression, with all sounds short, from CRAM to CRUM. With such a simple theme, the entries become important. Three are very good: CRAMSESSION, CREMEBRULEE and CRUMPLEZONE. CRIMINALJUSTICE is functional, as a central 15 in a five part theme allows a more balanced grid design. CROMWELLIAN is the real sticking point, as the only one-word answer, and rather awkward to define punchily to boot.

The beginning of a puzzle is always important, and the top-left gave us both CRAMSESSION and SHAKEONIT. The bottom part was a bit of a CRUMPLEZONE with names IMPEI/KAEL/AIME all giving it a rather shaky end. Still with RAMHOME joining the cramming, crumpling, and shaking, it was a very active puzzle indeed.

3.25 Stars

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26 Responses to Wednesday, August 30, 2017

  1. Martin says:

    In defense of cuttle: all through the Old English years, the Middle English years and the glory days of the Modern English years it was only cuttle. The first citation for cuttlefish is not until 1591, the year of “Henry IV, Part 2.”

    So you can say, “cuttlefish is in the dictionary, but who needs it?” Parakeets love cuttlebones, not cuttlefishbones, right?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Jenni’s comment stands: “So yeah, it’s in the dictionary, but come on.” The argument “It was definitely the more common term back in the 1500s” has exactly no bearing on modern usage.

      Also, one notes that cuttlebones and cuttlefish are both far more commonly used than just cuttle.

  2. Nene says:

    Kudos to Jenni for her honest assessment today.

    I am troubled by the use of two obscure answers of the nine in the word ladder (BLART and SLADE).

    • Jenni Levy says:

      Pop culture, different eras; I think SLADE is more obscure for most solvers than BLART, but then I have a kid who likes the “Mall Cop” movies, so I may be overestimating how well-known that is.

  3. pannonica says:


    “7a [Sorting through data] MINING. Meh.”

    Seemed ok to me. Slightly removed sense of the word, which is a positive.

    “70a [Strategy in a difficult situation] RESORT. Another meh. Strange clue.”

    As in, “as a last resort”. Again, employing a different sense—or at least notably different shade—of the word. Seems hypocritical to complain that some of the themers are essentially the same sense of the + town usage and also be so disparaging when a demonstrable effort is made to avoid that.

    “30d [Mama moose] COW. Good.”

    See and that one felt ‘meh’ to me. À chacun son goût

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I wasn’t clear enough in my comments. My “meh”s were referring to the theme phrases “mining town,” “resort town,” and “river town,” not the clues for those entries.

      As for RESORT, I definitely approve of cluing it with respect to the phrase “last resort,” but to say it’s a [Strategy in a difficult situation] sounds off. Would one say, “What is your RESORT for dealing with hurricane relief?”

      I think it would be better clued as a verb meaning to turn to or adopt (as a strategy). As in, “resort to violence.”

      And I just like the phrase “cow town.” I envision a bovine-run municipality.

  4. Ethan says:

    You know, I totally misremembered the NYT puzzle from when I did it last night. I thought the whole idea of the theme was how a pointed comment is BLUNT but a pointed stick is SHARP, so even though BLUNT and SHARP are opposites they both mean “pointed” and isn’t that neat. But now I see that the clue for BLUNT was “not pointed” so they’re just opposites with no additional commentary. So I don’t exactly see what the larger concept, or the “point”, pun intended, behind the theme is.

  5. Lise says:

    I googled COW town and nothing really definitive or significant came up. Sure, there are a few places called that, and one rodeo in Pilesgrove, NJ – was that what the constructor meant? The residents seem really enthusiastic about it:

    Otherwise, I’m not familiar with the term. If it’s a term, that is, and not a specific place.

  6. Alan D. says:

    I guess I’m in the minority but I like word ladder puzzles and I thought this one was very entertaining. Someone has to defend it!

  7. mooset says:

    LAPISLAZULA is not sky blue. NOT NOT

    • Ben Smith says:

      True, but if one were trying to capture the colors of the sky, you might use LAPIS LAZULI for some of its darker blue tones.

      • No, You probably would not. Lapis Lazuli is the source of ultramarine blue. One of the darkest blues. It is a lovely color but not a “sky blue.”There are other colors that are better. As a crossword clue this is just wrong.

  8. No, You probably would not. Lapis Lazuli is the source of ultramarine blue. One of the darkest blues. It is a lovely color but not a “sky blue.”There are other colors that are better. As a crossword clue this is just wrong.

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