Wednesday, February 7, 2018

AV Club 6:43 (Ben) 


LAT 4:07 (Gareth) 


NYT 5:06 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Stu Ockman’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 7 18, no 0207

Jenni’s out of town with sketchy wi-fi, so I’m doing Wednesday duty. The diagonal words in the circled squares are ROPE, LACE, WIRE, and CORD, and these link to the 15s, MAKE CONNECTIONS (clued without explicit link to the theme as [Network]) and THE TIES THAT BIND (clued as the revealer, [Shared beliefs … like this puzzle’s circled four-letter words?]). I have no explanation for why the center of the grid is entirely cut off from the rest of the grid except for the scantly clued circled words. Why can’t these ties bind a regular grid? I welcome an explanation.

The rest of the puzzle is basically unthemed, with those wide-open corners and the matrix of 7s in the center ring. (Are rings things that are often tied with wires, ropes, laces, or cords??) With the open corners intersected by those thematic 15s and the diagonal words, the fill’s flexibility is savagely limited. I mean, 16a. [Voiceless consonant like “b” or “p”], LENE?! No. This is a word that 99.5% of solvers will never have seen before. I know my crosswordese and I’ve read some linguistics stuff, and I’d never seen it. (And unlike yesterday’s wildly unfamiliar word, ORONYMS, I’m not at all happy to’ve learned LENE.)

Maybe the middle is a bagel. Or a weight plate. Gotta strap your bagel down.

Six more things:

  • 3d. [Sans clothing], NAKEDLY. Nah. NAKEDLY is used more to modify things like ambitious, isn’t it? Who uses a nudity adverb? “They ran nakedly through the street”? No.
  • 31a. [“Tarzan” actor Ron], ELY. Hey! This dude used to appear in crosswords a lot more often. It’s been nice seeing the name much less.
  • Besides LENE and ELY, there’s WIS DYS RATA ESSO ORI PULLA ALTAI and plural YOS. Meh, I say. There’s also the woeful PRIER and STORERS. I dare you to go to any warehouse and find some employees who tell you that they’re STORERS.
  • 53a. [Very different thing (from)], FAR CRY. I don’t think this word combo can run around without an “a” at the beginning.
  • 9d. [How a lot of music got sold in the 1990s and early 2000s], ON CD. Terrible entry; I await its removal from constructors’ word lists. Did you hear that Best Buy will stop selling CDs this summer? (ONITUNES, ONPANDORA, and ONTIDAL would all be terrible entries, too.)
  • 4d. [Whitfield of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”], SHEREE. I don’t watch any of the Real Housewives shows, but RHOA certainly spawns a ton of entertaining GIFs. I didn’t know Sheree Whitfield’s name, but there are absolutely GIFs of her!

I don’t quite get the point of this theme, why the grid and theme are laid out the way they are. The cluing vibe eluded me as well, and this one took me longer than many a Friday puzzle. (Just me? I did have an early start to the day. Maybe I’m tired.) 2.25 stars from me.

David Alfred Bywaters’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Vegging Out” — Jim’s review

Riffing on a recent WSJ puzzle titled “Inner Peace,” this one has us looking for INNER PEAS. Each theme answer has PEA spanning two words in common-ish phrases. The central revealer is clued [State of gustatory satisfaction exhibited by the starred answers].

WSJ – Wed, 2.7.18 – “Vegging Out” by David Alfred Bywaters

  • 17a [*Like beagles and bloodhounds] FLOP-EARED. I would normally say “floppy-eared,” but this checks out.
  • 26a [*Diner offering] CHEAP EATS. Fun, lively entry.
  • 50a [*Clayton Kershaw among MLB players in 2017] TOP EARNER. This was hard for me to parse because I had CONTEST at 29d [Arena event] instead of CONCERT.
  • 60a [*Have a worry-free night] SLEEP EASY. Also good.

Bonus: Two more theme answers in the Down direction crossing other themers:

  • 3d [*Feel blindly toward] GROPE AT. Meh. Not so good.
  • 43d [*Gloucester’s setting] CAPE ANN. Nice.

I would normally like a punny theme like this, but a couple things ate at me. First, I feel the joke needs to be signaled in the revealer clue by adding “jokey” to the beginning or “jocularly” to the end of it. I don’t think that doing so would detract from the theme in any way.

Second, in my view, the theme is really weakened by the inclusion of a roll-your-own entry like GROPE AT — especially if it’s in the Down direction and you already have four solid-ish Across entries. (Even “GROPE AROUND” sounds more in-the-language.) I’d rather see that entry dropped and have the other entries shuffled around. With CAPE ANN being 7-letters long, it might work better in the central location. Since all the other entries are 9 letters long, my suggestion would be to drop GROPE AT and TOP EARNER and go with FLOP-EARED, CHEAP EATS, CAPE ANN (center), SLEEP EASY, and the revealer INNER PEAS at 60a. Not only do you get rid of two of the weaker entries, but you change the central entry from nine letters to seven (much easier to build around), and you don’t have the constraints in the corners where theme entries are crossing.

To be fair, those constraints are handled well in this grid, but they do result in things like DEY, IN RE, and SRI. I also had to dig around in the memory banks for SEPALS [Bud protectors], but it was in there thankfully. The most inscrutable entry however goes to 41d‘s REPINED [Complained, quaintly]. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word before nor do I care to again.

Another quaint entry: COOING with its clue [Billing accompaniment]. Apparently “bill and coo” means to kiss and cuddle and talk lovingly. That phrase is new to me, but based on some dictionaries, it looks as though it’s pretty old-fashioned.

The rest of the fill is okay, but there’s nothing flashier than ATM CARD and IRON ORE.

This wasn’t a bad puzzle, and I would have enjoyed it more, but too many theme entries, including at least one sub-par one, meant there was not enough room for fun fill. And the fact that the revealer didn’t identify we were looking for a pun, confused me to the point that once I realized the joke, it just wasn’t as humorous.

Erin Rhode’ AVCX, “Turn-Based Game” — Ben’s Review

This week’s AVCX puzzle is a grid by Erin Rhode that seems perfectly timed for this weekend’s upcoming start of the Winter Olympics.  There’s not the usual strict theme structure in this one, but some (relatively) symmetrical sections of circled letters in the grid:

  • Along the top, there’s JOSS in the left, SHARON in the middle, and EMMA curving around the right corner
  • In the bottom half of the grid, SLY fills the left corner, with OLIVER nearby and MATT on the right.
  • All of these are, of course, CURLING STONES, which also satisfies 38A’s clue, “Equipment used in my favorite Winter Olympic sport”.

I’ve met Erin tangentially through various National Puzzlers’ League and Mystery Hunt things, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that she likes curling.  That made 38A pretty easy, but your mileage definitely might have varied there.  Knowing that middle thing helped fit some of the circled letters more quickly.  Not sure if it was on purpose, but it’s nice that all the top STONEs are women, and the bottom STONEs are men.

Here’s what else is going on, fill-wise:

  • CASBAH was a fun bit of fill right at 4A
  • OPOSSUMs!  Sometimes they’re dead, sometimes they’re not, sometimes they scream at own ass.
  • As it turns out, both GRAPEs and OLIVEs are “Vineyard fruit”.
  • Lutz and Salchow are both EPONYMs.  Lots of olympic-themed fill in the puzzle, which was nice.
  • Reminder: HE/SHE is a “relatively gender-inclusive pronoun”, but there are still better, more inclusive ones out there that you should probably use first.
  • Meredith VIEIRA‘s last name has one more vowel in it than I would have expected!

3.5/5 stars.

Roland Huget’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

Today we have a B?NG vowel progression theme. BENGALCUB is pretty contrived as answers go, and is the obvious weak spot. I would have preferred BENGALCAT (which is a domestic cat hybridised with an Asian Leopard Cat – they don’t make easy pets, FWIW) or BENGALTIGER itself, though that requires a longer BONG… entry – BONGOPLAYER?? Though that’s similarly a little arbitrary. The rest of the set are lively, particularly the central BINGEWATCHING with its [Cramming three seasons…] misdirection.


  • OLDDEAR – “a patronizing term”… ageism. Yay!
  • PRECOOL, [Remove field heat from…] that is super technical; I mean, I’ve studied pasture science, but yeesh. And it crosses TOC; a weird abbr. for table of contents. That was my last square.
  • BROWN, [“Iron Chef Showdown”…]. That would be way down on my list of clues for BROWN…

2.5 Stars

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35 Responses to Wednesday, February 7, 2018

  1. Jeff says:

    The other problem with that LENE clue is that “b” is not a voiceless consonant. “p” is, but not “b.”

    • Dr. Fancypants says:

      You beat me to it, I came here exactly to say this.

      If you’re going to go with a hyper-obscure linguistics term (I took a slate of linguistics courses in college, and LENE never once came up), then you really, really need to get the basics right in your cluing.

  2. jim hale says:

    Good write up, you nailed it!

  3. Ethan says:

    B.A. in Linguistics here. I’ve never heard of LENE either, although I imagine it has something to do with lenition. But lenition doesn’t have anything to do with voicelessness. Moreover, “b” is a voiced consonant so the clue doesn’t make any sense. Maybe Will Nediger can explain it.

    • Will Nediger says:

      Despite my PhD in linguistics, I’ve never once heard the word “lene” – “lenis,” yes, but not that one.

    • David L says:

      I looked up the definition of lenition and came across this enlightening remark:

      Most phonological textbooks and treatises do not define lenition or weakening, as it is also called. Instead they provide a list of examples of processes which they wish to term ‘lenitions’ or ‘weakenings’. It is then hoped that the reader will deduce a correct definition.


  4. Bob says:

    Re LENE, as in “lene consonants,” see David Connell’s comment at

    The use of “lene” at 16A is really problematic.

    It is borrowed from the phonetic and orthographic theoretical framework for Greek, particularly ancient Greek. Consonants in Greek have a simple, easy, unaspirated pronunciation (b/p/t) and a complex, strong, aspirated pronunciation (bh = v / ph = f / th = th, except none of these “means what you think it means.”) Compare Hebrew consonants beth / pe / tau with and without dagesh.

    Lene refers to the softer (lenis = soft) as opposed to the stronger (fortis = strong) embodiment of the consonant. This is key in Greek as in Hebrew because adjacent consonants affect one another. For example, “ichthus” (fish) has the forte consonant ch (like the last sound in “Bach”) followed by the forte consonant th (as in “thin”) – but the ch is softened to the lene “k” because it is immediately followed by an aspirate (producing ikthus rather than *ikhthus). Chthulhu, Lovecraft’s creation, is pronounced k-thulhu rather than kh-thulhu for the same reason.

    b and p are respectively voiced and unvoiced versions of the same consonant; b is the lene of bh and p the lene of ph.

    • Lise says:

      I have wondered how “Chthulhu” should be pronounced – thanks!

      Good explanation. I didn’t care for LENE but enjoyed the comments that its use has generated so I guess it is useful for that reason. Thanks to all who explained.

    • Alan D. says:

      Looks like the lead singer of the Danish band Aqua goes by the name of Lene. They’ve sold 33 million albums and singles worldwide making them the biggest Danish band ever. I would have preferred the word clued this way. At least I would have learned something interesting!

      • Dr. Fancypants says:

        And that Lene googles much, much better than the one clued. I wasn’t able to find anything close to a satisfying definition of LENE.

    • Will Shortz says:

      Lots of complaints about the answer LENE (16-Across — “Voiceless consonant like “b” or “p”) in today’s crossword.

      In short, the writers are right: It’s a poor answer, and the clue is wrong to boot. Here’s what happened:

      In the late stages of editing we noticed that the grid contained both CRIERS (5D) and FAR CRY (53A). While this doesn’t officially break my rule about duplications, which I can discuss sometime, it seemed inelegant. The simplest “fix” was to change CRIERS to PLIERS, making PLAY and LENE reading across. LENE is an old bit of crosswordese, used 90 times in the Times crossword before I became the editor, usually clued as “Unaspirated” or “Unaspirated consonant.”

      Because I figured few solvers today know what LENE means (the last dictionary it seems to have appeared in is Webster’s Second New International, in 1934, where it was already labeled “rare”), I decided to spell it out with examples. Unfortunately, the example “b” is wrong. That is a voiced consonant, not a voiceless one.

      In retrospect, as Byron suggests below, I should have left the semi-duplication FAR CRY/CRIERS as it was. That would have been preferable to the obscure and ugly LENE.

      The online version of the puzzle has now been restored to CRIERS/CLAY/RENE, which all future solvers will see. Of course, nothing can be done now about the print version of the puzzle. A correction on the clue error should appear shortly.

  5. Sarah says:

    PLIERS -> CRIERS, problem solved. Lazy editing?

    • Byron says:

      That produces a dupe with FAR CRY. In this case, I’d prefer the dupe to LENE, but I suspect the editors made the opposite choice.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Or if you want to clear out a FAR CRY/CRIERS dupe, you could opt to refill the southwest corner since FAR CRY is already iffy without its indefinite article. (CRIERS isn’t great, no, but it’s not as bad as STORERS, which is down there with FAR CRY.)

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          P.S. I just tried to play STORER in Boggle With Friends and it wasn’t accepted as a word.

        • Gareth says:

          Wikipedia claims Far Cry the video game franchise has sold 20 million copies… But I don’t think this crossword needed more niche answers.

      • Penguins says:


  6. Emma says:

    I felt that the grid had a cut-off bit in the centre so that the ties would be binding the two grids together. In other words, the ties are binding the grids in the sense that they are the only letter connections between the middle bit and the outside bit. (Not sure if I’ve expressed that well!)

    • Paul Coulter says:

      You got it exactly right. Well said. I liked this puzzle a lot more than the prevailing trend. Always glad to see something innovative. For me, Stu nailed it. The symmetry of the four 4-letter ties that tie into the central island is a thing of beauty, and the two grid-spanning entries both are very apt.

    • Patricia Eliason says:

      I also wondered if the “ring” in the middle is another statement about “ties that bind,” as in a wedding ring…?

  7. Penguins says:

    too much trivia and crosswordese for me – not enjoyable

  8. David L says:

    I like the idea of STORER as a job. Just give me a box and pay me to keep an eye on it all day. Yeah, I’m storing it. Making sure it stays where I put it.

    I agree with the negative reviews of this one. An additional hiccup was “fun, for one” cluing RHYME doesn’t quite work for me. Close but not exactly the same. But that’s a minority position, probably.

    • Penguins says:

      How do you pronounce fun and one? They sound the same to me.

      • David L says:

        I’m originally British, and although I grew up in the south of England my parents were both from the north and I acquired a couple of northern English inflections that have stuck with me.

        Fun rhymes with pun, done etc

        In Yorkshire, one and gone rhyme. That’s not true for me but my ‘one’ is somewhere between done and gone.

  9. Burak says:

    I don’t think we’ll have a worse fill than this in NYT. Ever.

    The theme is cute, the cluing tries (sometimes too hard but still tries), but wow, what a horrible mess. Just horrible.

  10. errhode says:

    Fun fact: This is where I finished writing today’s AVCX puzzle (spoiler warning, I guess?):

    In addition to all of the Olympic words/clues I threw in there, there are four actual curling terms hiding in the grid, which I would expect no one but people that actually curl to pick up on: TEE (the center of the house/the target), ICE{age} (should be self-explanatory), TAP (IN) (a type of curling shot, with or without the IN), and ENDS{it} (segments of a curling match).

    Also, did not notice that I had gender segregated the Stones. Good job, self? An alternative idea was to do a similar thing with MICK, KEITH, BRIAN, BILL, CHARLIE, etc. (Rolling Stones is an overused “clever” team name in curling.)

    Finally, if you want another curling puzzle that actually involves knowing the rules of the sport, I wrote this one for the 2014 MIT Mystery Hunt:

  11. Garrett says:

    Ockman’s New York Times crossword took me a bit over 16 minutes. On Wednesdays I usually get them done in 8 or nine minutes. I’ve never seen LENE before, and the cluing seemed unusually hard for hump day. I also do not like the theme. It feels awkward to me. Gave it the same.

  12. john farmer says:

    Somebody needs to say it. I will.

    I prefer this LENE.

    Pronounced LAY-nuh LOVE-itch (by me, at least).

    Theme idea seemed OK to me.

  13. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Ha. The puzzle has been changed online, back to CRIERS/FARCRY.

  14. Mike Hodson says:

    Fie on Jim’s pan of “Bill and Coo” as old-fashioned. I suppose it is, but that’s the beauty of puzzles: young whippersnapper creators (and solvers) become steeped in these wonderful old phrases, keeping love alive. I nominate “Billing accompaniment – Cooing,” with its terrific mis-direction, as clue of the fortnight.

  15. Joan Macon says:

    I am a grandmother, and if someone called me an “old dear” I would like to hit that person alongside the head.

Comments are closed.