Wednesday, January 17, 2018

AV Club 7:15 (Ben) 


LAT 4:37 (Gareth) 


NYT  4:33 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Jules P. Markey’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

I finished the puzzle correctly and then went back to figure out the theme. Even with the revealer, it took me a little while. This is not a complaint; a slightly trick theme on a Wednesday is a good thing.

The revealer is at 11d: [Warm winter coat contents … or what is present in the answer to each starred clue?] Answer: DOWN FEATHERS. I tried to match words in the theme answers (which all go down) to kinds of feathers. Nope. Turns out that the theme is the things with feathers (I know Emily Dickinson said hope was the thing with feathers. Not today).

1/17 NYT, solution grid

  • 25d [*Sports legend who was an M.V.P. for eight consecutive seasons] is WAYNE GRETZY. See the EGRET?
  • 5d [*Baseball, according to some] is A GAME OF INCHES. This time it’s a FINCH.
  • 7d [*”A likely story!”] is TELL ME ANOTHER ONE. I spy a HERON.
  • 22d [*Dystopian novel set in the year 2540] is BRAVE NEW WORLD. The non-football sort of RAVEN.

{consider and discard a line about birdbrains} As I said, I like this theme. It’s consistent – each bird has a wingspan of two words. The theme answers are all solidly in the language. The revealer is helpful without being too obvious. A Wednesday winner. Thanks, Jules and Will!

A few other things:

  • 14a [Close-fitting head covering] is a DO-RAG, clued without reference to skin color. Thank you.
  • On the other hand, 39d [Unlikeliest to be bought] is LAMEST, an ableist slur that is not allowed in my house.
  • I was really not happy to see 56d [Retards] but it turns out that the answer is SLOWS, a perfectly reasonable use of the term. Phew.
  • 59a [Website with step-by-step tutorials] is E-HOW. This is the second time in two days I’ve seen this in a puzzle. The third one must be coming up soon.
  • 63a [Bad-mouth] is RIP ON. No, it’s not. It’s just RIP. I’ve never heard anyone use RIP ON in this sense. As one word, it’s a river or a college. I admit that both of those are obscure, but at least they’re correct.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that “whelp” could be a noun, meaning PUP. I only knew it as a verb.

David Poole’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Grifters Meet” — Jim’s review

Our theme today brings us four crossing CONs as spelled out by the clue at 53a: [Linking words, or, parsed differently, configuration found four times in this puzzle]. The answer, CONJUNCTIONS, is meant to be re-parsed as CON JUNCTIONS.

WSJ – Wed, 1.17.18 – “Grifters Meet” by David Poole

  • 20a [British philosopher who said “knowledge itself is power”FRANCIS BACON crossing 9d [Spy mission, for short] RECON
  • 34a [Anti-establishment types] ICONOCLASTS crossing 29d [“Lord Jim” writer] CONRAD
  • 43a [Repair marker] TRAFFIC CONE crossing 24d [One who’s moved from left to right] NEO-CON
  • 53a CONJUNCTIONS crossing 50d [Meat-topped hot dog] CONEY

Solid, if somewhat unexciting, theme. Very nice choice of Across theme entries, but the Downs aren’t quite as fun. During the solve I couldn’t help but be distracted by the wonderful but non-thematic entries COSMIC DUST and ORGAN DONOR. It sure felt like they would be part of the theme, but…no. I’m wondering if the grid could have been restructured such that the Down theme entries were also long(ish), fun entries, possibly at the expense of any other long non-theme fill. Maybe not. Probably not. With CONJUNCTIONS being 12-letters long, it needed to go in the 12th row (i.e. it couldn’t go in the 13th) thereby limiting the placement of all the other theme entries. Of course, singular CONJUNCTION may also have worked.

Aside from the the previously-mentioned pair of non-theme fill, other goodies include IRON MAN, OLD NAG, and the hilariously-named BARFY (31d, [“The Family Circus” dog]). This entry reminded me of a sign outside a pet supply store I used to drive by advertising a “BARF Diet.” I always wondered what that meant until now; apparently it’s a movement (ha!) to feed your dog Bones And Raw Food (or, alternatively, Biologically Appropriate Raw Food). Anyone have experience with doing this?

Back to the puzzle. Unfortunately, the shorter stuff is beset with crosswordese: SOMA, SARI, SOU, EPS, INANER, A AND W, A SAFE, TGI, and SSTS. This kinda sapped the strength from some of the stronger, longer fill.

In the end, the theme works, but didn’t thrill me, and the good fill was countered by the crosswordese putting this grid right down the middle for me.

Of course, I couldn’t blog this puzzle without this video:

Patrick Blindauer’s AVCX, “Turning Right” — Ben’s Review

Oh boy, you’re gonna need to click on the image at right to zoom in and see grid details today, thanks to this week’s AVCX’s unusual dimensions.  As soon as this puzzle from Patrick Blindauer dropped on Monday instead of today, I immediately knew it was MLK Jr. related.  I was not proven wrong:

  • 1A: Figure who popularized the Theodore Parker quote visually represented in this puzzle, briefly — MLK
  • 23A: President who often used this puzzle’s Theodore Parker quote, briefly — BHO
  • 73/75A: President who was rhetorically inspired by Theodore Parker — ABRAHAM/LINCOLN
  • 87A: What the arc of the thing spelled by this puzzle’s circled squares bends toward — JUSTICE

I didn’t catch it in the PUZ file (since not all of the circled letters showed up in the tool I used to solve), but had I looked at the PDF I would have immediately known this puzzle was about Theodore Parker’s quote about the arc of THE MORAL UNIVERSE (spelled out in the shaded/circled squares) bending towards justice.

Aside from the unusual size, I was a little underwhelmed by this theme – MLK JR is the one who popularized it, I don’t immediately think BHO when for president Obama (I initially guessed JFK, since we have a limited number of presidents who are generally referred to by their initials), and aside from the unusual size, I felt like this is something I could have just as easily have seen in the NYT.  I hold the AVCX to a higher standard than that.

The rest of this puzzle’s fill felt oddly pedestrian, even though the grid didn’t feel particularly constrained – I liked seeing DEB Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen blog get a shout out (especially since I’m planning on making the meatball thing currently at the top of it for dinner tonight), as well as the clarification that it’s easier to crush a BEER CAN on your head when it’s empty.

3.25/5 stars.

David Poole’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Today’s 16×15 bumper puzzle features a whimsical maths theme by mathematician David Poole. It smooshes together two-part maths phrases with other two-part phrases that have the same first word as the first phrase’s last. Wackiness ensues. Thus: (TIMES-TABLE) TENNIS, (SQUARE ROOT)BEER, (PIE CHART)-TOPPER (changes the meaning of the base phrase, to refer to hats, which the others don’t), and (PERFECT CUBE) STEAK. An interesting, and varied collection.


  • [Fiat fuel], GAS. Mine runs on petrol, which is a liquid…
  • [1869-’77…], USG. Not a common monogram, though inferrable. Ole Ulysses…
  • [Hog caller’s call], SOOEY. Only personally encountered this in the PG Wodehouse story, but that’s Hooey, although the function is identical. Never once heard it when I worked on a pig farm…
  • [Gamer’s game face], AVATAR. Simply [Game face?] is a more elegant clue, but difficult for a Wednesday. This is a compromise for the day of the week.
  • [Downy amount], CAPFUL. This meant nothing to me, but apparently it’s the American Sta-Soft.

3.5 Stars

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37 Responses to Wednesday, January 17, 2018

  1. CSC says:

    RIP vs RIP ON may be a regional dialect / colloquial thing, but from my neck of the woods (Pacific Northwest), to “rip on” someone is a phrase I feel like I’ve heard my whole life. (With simply “ripping” someone coming in a distant second in frequency. I mean, “ripping someone a new one” is its own thing, but still.)

  2. Manhattan Bob says:

    As we learned today from Rex Parker column: Down feathers is redundant. Definition of down: soft, fine, fluffy feathers…etc.

    • Lise says:

      But down feathers are one of several types, and thus a subset of the term “feathers”. Vaned feathers, pennaceous feathers, flight feathers: those are not down feathers.

      I think it was fair and not redundant.

  3. jim hale says:

    Good Wednesday puzzle, and like Jenny, I wasn’t able to figure out the theme until after it was done. To her comment, I have never personally heard of “do-rag” associated in a racial context, it is commonly used by cyclists in lieu of a helmet or hat in my world.

    • Lise says:

      My husband wears a do-rag under his welding helmet. It’s a good sweat-catcher.

      Please wear a bike helmet. I used to volunteer to help with occupational therapy in a brain injury center. Even a seemingly minor brain injury can cause a person to lose a lot of skills.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        And then there are the motorcyclists who skip helmets. Given that they travel at higher speeds and closer to car traffic than many cyclists, yes, they end up donating a lot of organs.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      I don’t have time to consult the various indexes of past clues, but most of the time when I’ve seen “do-rag” the clue has referenced African-Americans. Since that makes me cringe, it’s entirely possible that I remember those more clearly than other clues that are not racially charged.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I don’t expect newspaper crosswords to pick up on this anytime soon, but the “durag” spelling has caught on. Dictionaries aren’t reflecting this yet, but I see “durag” way more on Twitter than “do rag.”

  4. Jan O says:

    Is it just me, or are the links on the Today’s Puzzles page of this site not working correctly? I refreshed several times, and instead of getting puzzles for 1/17/18, I’m getting 11/28/17. I suspect the wrong digits were moved forward. Thanks!

    • pannonica says:

      They’ve worked for me. Standard suggestion: try clearing your browser’s cache and then restarting the browser.

  5. David L says:

    The hidden birds are clever but the theme doesn’t really work, to my mind. As said above, DOWNFEATHERS is not a phrase that makes any sense: FEATHERS typically means the full-grown thing, and you certainly don’t want those in your coat (or pillow, or comforter), whereas DOWN is the understory, so to speak, and consists of smaller feathers without the hard spines.

    Not only that, but the things hidden in the long downs are birds, not feathers.

    Also, FEATHERS is one of those words that the more I type it, the stranger it looks…

    • Jenni Levy says:

      The revealer suggests the theme answers are “full” of feathers. Birds are full of feathers. I agree that “down feathers” isn’t really in the language; I found the theme so delightful otherwise that I didn’t notice. And “down” is a subset of “feathers,” so it’s not actually wrong.

      • David L says:

        I dunno. To me, “down feathers” is like saying “leaf foliage.” The revealer says that down feathers are “present” in the starred answers. Well, yeah, sorta.

        My disagreement is not so much with the puzzle as with the wording of the revealer, both clue and answer.

  6. Noam D. Elkies says:

    More nice features of today’s NYT: all the theme birds are five letters long, and there’s a subsidiary mini-theme of duplicated clues, all parallel (Sense = 10D:INTUIT and 34D:FEEL; Solidify = 49A:CLOT and 61A:SET; and on opposite sides of the grid though not quite symmetric, One side of a debate = 2D:CON and 69D:PRO).


    • Jenni Levy says:

      Yes! I noticed the pairs while I was solving and was too exhausted to find them again when I wrote the post.

  7. JakaB says:

    RETARD is a great word. Ask any Scientist, or if all your science is liberally convenient, ask a Doctor about the word.

    This reagent will RETARD the rate of the chemical reaction.
    This medicine will RETARD the growth of the tumour.
    Reducing carbons will RETARD the, wait, no. haha

    I first guessed that LIP ON instead of RIP ON was a dialect I didn’t know.

    Never heard of DO RAG as a cycling term, I thought it was primarily associated with the Rap Culture. So I did a little Interweb research, most references of do rag mention A-A cultures. It is reportedly a revival of the scarves worn by A-A women worn during slavery. They are also used to keep a hairDO in place when sleeping. Used in prisons to differentiate sex. Banned in the NFL except for (Get this -) MEDICAL reasons. Apparently a do rag is worn under a motorcycle helmet to prevent helmet hair, reprising the protect the DO element. You can even buy them at Wal-Mart and Amazon.

    Check the ‘history’ at boomphillycom, Philly ought to know.

    Back to topic: The amount of unsightly crosswordese and ugly fill made the NYT a lesser puzzle than it should/could have been today. Had real promise not realized.

    • pannonica says:

      … if all your science is liberally convenient …

      That’s a rather nonsensical thing to say.

      (Am hoping this is rather self-evident and doesn’t need to be discussed at length; will check back later to see.)

      • Papa John says:

        I don’t understand the phrase “…liberally convenient”. Is that why you say it’s “nonsensical”? What’s “self-evident”? Why do you hope that discussion should be minimal? Aren’t you here to talk to folks?

        • Jenni Levy says:

          The discussion should be minimal because the ableist, insulting use of “retard” should not be acceptable to anyone and thus should not need to be discussed. “Liberally convenient” is nonsensical; I suspect it’s designed to be an insult to people who believe it’s appropriate to use language thoughtfully and avoid harming people as much as we can. I always hope that won’t require much discussion, and I am always disappointed.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      See, I know that “retard” has an uncontroversial meaning as a verb. HOWEVER, many people see it far more often as a noun used to dehumanize people, and there are so many other clue angles one could use for SLOWS. No reason at all to drop “the R word” into a clue. Especially when LAMEST is also in the puzzle, clued as a negative. Not a fan of blithe ableism.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      I am a doctor (only in lower-case, though). I acknowledge in the review that this is a perfectly reasonable use of the word. There is also a different use (with emphasis on the first rather than the second syllable) that is unacceptable. Ask any caring human being, or, if you don’t know any, then read a little.

  8. Burak says:

    Am I the only one who’s been unsatisfied with the NYT’s fill for the past three days? They’re filled with stale entries from Crosswordistan, and there aren’t zippy answers to account for those sacrifices. All those high grades feel weird to me (3.8 for both Mon and Tue!). Am I just having a bad week?

    • JakaB says:

      No, it’s been lame.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        JakaB, I wish you hadn’t used “lame” as an insult here. There are alternatives. (That’s a hard word to get out of the habit of using that way, though, I know. I’m continuing to work on removing that and “spaz” from my negative vocabulary.)

        • JakaB says:

          Failed Irony attempt. Sorry. Twice. I’m generally not a fan of crosswordese and jump on the bandwagon too easily. Genuinely sorry. Truly nice blog that I enjoy daily.

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            Thanks for the clarification. I tend to use words like musty, fusty, dusty, and crusty to describe crosswordese.

  9. Vega says:

    Funny to see SARI listed as crosswordese, as it’s a piece of clothing that lots of people I know wear every day (i.e., common as dirt, boring as an entry, maybe, but not “constructor is using a not-thing/shows-up-way-too-often-given-reality thing for expediency”). In my head, it’s more in the category of DORAG than SSTS.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Crosswordese for white people! (That should be an entire category unto itself: words that white Americans are less likely to be familiar with.)

      How about RANI, Vega? Does that skew into crosswordese at all for you, given that South Asian nations aren’t monarchies? Or does it have plenty of usage beyond the literal meaning?

  10. Steve Manion. says:

    When I read about a word like do-rag, I really do not see it as offensive in any way. If you see a black person wearing one, should you call it a skull-cap, bandana, scarf, do-rag or something else? I understand the distinction between calling attention to what a “do-rag” is and calling attention to a group of people who wear it, but the word itself is not racist and I do not see how a reference to blacks in the context of a clue is offensive. To me, it is offensive, possibly racist, and at a minimum racially divisive to fear calling attention to something that is closely associated with a particular group. The origin, according to one urban dictionary internet post, is from male prison culture where males available to fill a female role wore doo-rags. I don’t see it as carrying any racial symbolism such as a confederate flag might. The word is sometimes spelled dew rag, reflecting its non-prison function of keeping sweat out of one’s eyes. It is to some a fashion choice, but not in my opinion, a racially charged one. I see it worn by bald men, bikers and inner city blacks in about equal measure.


    • Lise says:

      If I ever lose my hair I plan to wear one. Especially if it has owls in the pattern.

      Also, I see people of many cultures and skin colors wearing them. Perhaps it would be best to clue it by its function?

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Brilliant observation, Lise. Yes. Clue it neutrally by its function and avoid defining it ethnically.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      It is worn by lots of people of all skin types, and therefore should not be clued as attire for black men, which is how I’ve seen it clued before. You are actually making my point for me, Steve. Thanks.

    • Mr Ochie says:

      I wear do-rags quite often – and always when hiking, as a “head gasket” for my hiking cap. I’ve never thought there’s a racial element there.

      As an aside fans of the popular webcomic Girls with Slingshots will recall that Jameson wears one, and is revealed to be in the same company as I am, which is, well, top of mind challenged.

  11. Lise says:

    Hey Martin: Thank you for the link to the puzzle by Patrick Merrell, from Tuesday’s comments. And for pointing out the cleverness in the clues, which I might not have noticed. He did a great job, given the constraints.

Comments are closed.