Wednesday, November 29, 2017

AV Club untimed (Ben) 


LAT 3:57(Gareth) 


NYT 3:26 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Laura) 


Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

Erik Agard is one of my favorite people in the crossword world, although I haven’t yet managed to meet him in person. He comments here from time to time as e. a. and is the proprietor of the Glutton for Pun crossword collection. He’s a young’un, and the future of crosswords is in good hands.

Today’s offering is not especially punstery. It’s bigger than usual – 16x1615 – and it’s smooth and straightforward. I didn’t understand the theme until I got to the revealer at the very end.

NYT 11/29, solution grid

  • 18a [2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, for one] is a SUPREME COURT CASE. Always puts a smile on my face because love wins – and a good friend of mine was on the Lambda Legal team. I had no idea where we were headed thematically.
  • 40a [Product of assorted tones of makeup] is a CONTOUR KIT, and yes, I know what that is. I have a 17 yo daughter who is very interested in makeup. I noticed the TOUR in that answer and the OURT in the first one and wondered if we had an anagram theme.
  • 45a [So-called “self-wringing” cleaning implement] is the MIRACLE MOP. No relevant anagram there.
  • 66a [Early 2000s Fox reality show] was TEMPTATION ISLAND. Hmm.
  • 74a [Record label for the singers starting 18-, 40-, 45- and 66-Across]. Ah. The SUPREMEs, the CONTOURs, the MIRACLEs and the TEMPTATIONs were all groups signed by MOTOWN. Nice!

I like the theme. It’s consistent, and the revealer was necessary to tie it all together (at least for me). It’s also fresh and doesn’t involve circles. For some reason I am growing to hate grids with circles in them.

A few other things:

  • 1a [What you see when you look up?] is ACROSS, which is immediately above the clue in every version of the puzzle. I had to get a couple of crossings to figure that out, and I giggled when I saw it.
  • Good clues for common entries: [Brand name after “Oh! Oh!,” in old ads] for OREO and [Two-tone apex predator] for ORCA.
  • [Japanese noodle type]: RAMEN. No SOBA, as I originally claimed. I was clearly too tired to blog, even though solving went fine.
  • 19d [Otalgia] was a gimme for me. It’s medicalese for EARACHE. Sometimes I think we should just speak English, but we don’t.
  • Lots of African-American culture in this one, including 67d [Director DuVernay] for AVA. Much more relevant than Ms. Gardner.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: I had never heard of the CONTOURs, although I’m familiar with their best-known song.

Jim Peredo’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Giving Directions” — Laura’s write-up

Now you know why Jim and I switched days this week! It’s fun to be a crossword blogger, and it’s especially fun to get to review your friends’ puzzles — and it’s even more so when the constructor is one of the Fiend’s own.

WSJ - 11.29.17 - Peredo - Solution

WSJ – 11.29.17 – Peredo – Solution

  • [18a: *Escalade command: “Take me to my cabin!”]: CADDY SHACK
  • [35a: *Navigator command: “Find a safe place to stop!]: LINCOLN PARK
  • [58a: *Camaro command: “Follow that auto!]: CHEVY CHASE
  • [2d: *1500 command: “Back to my place!”]: RAM HOME
  • [41dR: Former NPR show, or a description of the starred answers]: CAR TALK

Just imagine a comma in between each word of the base phrase — Lincoln, park! — and you’ve got the idea. Hey, I know I’m BIASED [47d: Like one who should be recused] but I thought this theme set was 99% perfect; I was going to say that it IRKS [66a: Bugs] me that RAM is a model and not a make, but I just learned that Ram separated from Dodge a few years ago, so nice job, Jim, and I MEAN IT [27a: “Believe you me!”].

Fill ‘er up with … some driving-related fill, like RAN ON EMPTY [21d: Got by with just fumes] and, arguably, SWING ABOUT [19d: Pivot]. One can’t really argue that KING LEAR [38d: The Duke of Albany has its last line] has AGED WELL [3d: Got on with grace]. Favorite clues: [20a: One who got the third degree?] for PHD and [32a: Ma lugs one around] for CELLO (as in Yo-Yo Ma).

Who knew it took so many people to produce this blog? Here at Fiend Headquarters we’d like to acknowledge our staff, including our Comment Moderators Ann Nonna Muss and Suda Nim, our Review Editors Nevah Herda Vitt and Wydid E. Clouseau, and our Review Editor, #MGWCC Division, Deena Getty Mehta.

Claire Muscat & David Steinberg’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

I get what this puzzle is trying to do. I don’t think it quite reaches its goal, on two levels. First, stacking and nesting seem less integral than MATRYOSHKA, which is conspicuously absent. I note Wikipedia says they’re also called NESTING/STACKING DOLLS, but Russian / Matryoshka are key words. Second, the visual element doesn’t quite pan out in two dimensions the way it does it three. Still, a more ambitious LA Times theme is nevertheless welcome.

The puzzle, uses left-right symmetry in place of the normal symmetry to allow decreasing theme answer length: DOESNTFITTHEBILL, DOCTORJEKYLL, DOORSILL (never heard of it, though dictionaries have) and DOLL. It is also 16×15 for similar reasons – for DOLL to be centred the puzzle must have 16 squares.


  • [“Back to the Future” vehicle], DELOREAN. Lively answer, all common letters. Surprised it doesn’t show up more, even being 8 letters.
  • [Former One Direction singer Zayn ___], MALIK. Don’t think I’ve seen him in a puzzle before. It’s worth noting the spelling of his first name.
  • [The Eiffel Tower, aptly], EYEFUL. Ow! Painful pun!
  • [Western outlaw], DESPERADO. Why won’t he come to his senses?
  • [More, in Madrid], MAS. Isn’t it also most? Spanish grammar people?

3.5 Stars

Francis Heaney’s AVCX, “Follow the Write Directions” — Ben’s Review

Howdy, y’all – this review’s going up late, but at least it’s still Wednesday.  It’s been that kind of day, so getting a chance to unwind with a crossword at the end of it is kind of a bonus.  Luckily, it’s a fantastic AVCX puzzle from Francis Heaney.  It’s a 3.5/5 level of difficulty, and the grid definitely felt like that kind of difficulty.  Let’s take a look at that before diving into the third set of clues provided.

  • We’ve got a couple nice long sections towards the top and bottom with GIFT BASKET (“Harry & David purchase”), LOW INCOME, INNUENDOS (which I initially tried to make NINTENDOS because who needs to read clues when you have ENDOS?), and NUCLEAR WAR
  • There’s a nice reference to DISCO diva Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real” at 9D
  • I’m pretty MEH about NEH too, Francis.
  • Does anyone actually abbreviate it ENCYC?  That feels like it’s pushing it.
  • Any mention of the hit* Jenna Maroney single “MUFFIN TOP” is all right by me.

With that out of the way, let’s look at those “Letters” clues.  Any time there’s weird business that gets shifted into the “Notes” section of my solver, I opt to do things on paper, and that paid out BIG time with this week’s puzzle.  There’s an additional “Letters” section here with four clues:

  • 1.   _ + nite
  • 9.   _ + earn
  • 55. _ + urb
  • 61. _ + pill

These are all pretty easily solved (Unite, Learn, Curb, Spill), but there’s no immediate connection to the grid.  UNLESS (unless, unless) you map out the shape of that letter into the grid, starting with that square:

  • 1L: Unite — PUT IN ONE SPOT
  • 9L: Learn — DISCOVER
  • 55L: Curb — KEEP IN CHECK
  • 61L: Spill — TIP INTO ONE’S LAP

See the grid to the right to get a grip on just how this works.  THIS is the sort of construction feat I’m into when it comes to crossword grids.  Keep your “I only used 6 letters!” and “It’s a quadruple pangram!”, this is the sort of thing that’s impressive in terms of constraints AND actually fun to solve.

5/5 stars.  To quote internet teens on this sort of thing:

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23 Responses to Wednesday, November 29, 2017

  1. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I would be remiss if I solved a puzzle with CONTOUR KIT in it and didn’t refer you to Sailor J’s “Contouring 101” video, which is not actually a makeup how-to guide. It’s funny as hell (with some non-G-rated language). “If men find out we can shape-shift, they’ll tell the Church.”

  2. Anne says:

    I’m from Australia and I’ve never heard of contour kit, Miracle Mop or Temptation Island. It’s only Wednesday so I got them from the crossings, but much slower than usual :(

    • ahimsa says:

      Don’t feel too bad – I’m from the USA and I’d also never heard of a contour kit or Temptation Island. And I wasn’t even too sure of Miracle Mop. Luckily I had heard of all the groups.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I only know of the Miracle Mop because of that Jennifer Lawrence movie, “Joy,” about the woman who invented it. (Me, I’m a fan of Joy Mangano’s Huggable Hangers—they’re flocked with velvety stuff so your tops don’t slide off, and they’re skinny so you can cram more stuff in your closet.)

  3. Jimbo says:

    The NYT puzzle: Rows: 15, Columns: 16.

  4. Jim Peredo says:

    WSJ: Thanks, Laura. I wasn’t keen on using RAM for the exact reason you mentioned. Who knew it was not part of Dodge anymore? I didn’t.

    My original grid had GEO LOCATION and MINI MARKET instead, but editor Mike Shenk wasn’t keen on the latter. I have to say that the puzzle is much better than it was originally due to his guiding hand.

    Alas though, my favorite clue apparently didn’t pass the smell test. KING LEAR was originally [Norman, when he’s on the throne?].

    Finally, I have to give a shout out to my two brothers who both work in the field of V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) communications. People, get ready. Driverless connected cars are coming.

  5. Ethan Friedman says:

    NYT: Don’t see SOBA in the grid. Do see UDON though.

    Would’ve have been very noodl-y if SODA had been reworked to SOBA.

  6. JohnH says:

    Of course, your feelings about the WSJ puzzle will depend on whether you live in automobile territory, where the names of cars and that NPR program are second nature. To put it another way, your mileage may vary.

    • Laura B says:

      That reminds me that I neglected to acknowledge the staff from our Department of Second Opinions: U.R. Mylage Mayverry and Notmy Capote.

  7. joon says:

    loved erik’s puzzle. loved jim’s puzzle.

    but i practically dislocated my jaw gaping at francis’s puzzle. whoa.

  8. Craig says:

    Agreed, @joon, I’m in awe of Francis’s puzzle. Man, that’s so cool.

    • Sheik Yerbouti says:

      Can someone explain it to me? I finished the puzzle but don’t understand how the extra letters fit in. I’m sure I’m dense and missing something obvious.

      • Fill in the letter of the blank spaces of the Letters clues to produce a common word (Unite, Learn, Curb, Spill). Then, starting at the appropriate number, follow the letters in the grid in the shape of a U, L, C, and S; so beginning at the 1 box, you can spell PUT IN ONE SPOT by following the letters in that corner in a U-shape. The resulting phrases are valid clues for Unite, Learn, Curb, and Spill.

  9. Paolo P. says:

    as an internet teen myself, i both love and wholeheartedly agree with ben’s abridged review

  10. Seth says:

    AV Club: Very impressive, but it’s completely unnecessary to solve the puzzle. I got through the whole thing like a nice enjoyable themeless, and only when I came here did I find out what those extra clues did. I wonder if there could have been a way to make figuring out those clues integral to solving the puzzle.

    • Francis says:

      This is, in fact, precisely the aspect of the puzzle I was a little unsatisfied with. But I do think there’s a difference between “completing the grid” and “solving the puzzle”, and solving the puzzle entails finding what’s hidden in the grid (akin to a meta). Or that’s how I ended up deciding it still worked, anyway.

      • Howard B says:

        Loved the concept of this puzzle, and its construction floors me :).
        I could not figure out to go from filling in the missing letters to transferring the figures to the grid. That’s always my weakness though, visual themes that are not obvious ;).

        Anyway, well done (belatedly)!

      • Seth says:

        That’s a good way to look at it! Either way, fun puzzle!

Comments are closed.