Wednesday, March 21, 2018

AV Club 16:49 (Ben) 


LAT 3:59 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:42 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Laura Braunstein’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 3 21 18, no 0321

It’s Amy subbing for Jenni to talk about a puzzle by Team Fiend’s own Laura! The theme entries look like verb phrases, but they’re reimagined as phrases beginning with nouns—plural animals, to be specific.

  • 20a. [Why the hunter couldn’t shoot the mallards?] DUCKS OUT OF VIEW. #teamelusiveducks
  • 25a. [Reason a cow swatted herself?], FLIES IN THE FACE. Hmm, this phrase is incomplete without an “of” at the end.
  • 42a. [Circus animals enjoying some chocolate?], SEALS WITH A KISS. Listen, people, we can all do better than Hershey’s milk chocolate. (For example, 59a LINDT chocolate is a solid choice.) Also, these seals are far happier in the ocean than in captivity, even if it sometimes means being eaten by orcas.
  • 47a. [Whose conversation might be about shaggy hair and Himalayan peaks?], YAKS ON THE PHONE. This one feels less idiomatic as a phrase whose words belong together.

A couple dings on the theme but overall, I liked it.

Five more things:

  • 6a. [Where a person in charge is making the rounds?], BAR. Nice clue! Was this one yours, Laura?
  • 24a. [The “she” in the lyric “She’s a good old worker and a good old pal”], SAL. I … have never encountered this before.
  • 39a. [Marathon marking], MILE. Any of you crossworders running in Boston next month? My husband will be running his second Boston Marathon.
  • 3d. [Wedding dress shade], ECRU. Really? Google results suggest … yes. And there’s also an Ecru Style fashion retailer now. Never heard of them before, and I don’t care for their styles. Are we really not done with the cut-out shoulders look by now?
  • 25d. [Many a single-gear bicycle], FIXIE. Short for fixed-gear bicycle, I believe. It’s quite possible I learned this word from a BEQ or AV Club crossword several years back. Time for a little ten-speed bike nostalgia!

3.9 stars from me. Over and out!

Freddie Cheng’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Bees Do It” — Jim’s review

The title had me thinking about the birds and the bees, but that’s not where we’re going. Bees “buzz” of course, and that’s the leading word to the beginnings of our theme entries.

WSJ – Wed, 3.21.18 – “Bees Do It” by Freddie Cheng

  • 17a [*”Yeesh! I don’t believe this!”KILL ME NOW. Buzzkill. Ha! Love the entry.
  • 24a [*”Way ahead of you!”SAW THAT COMING. Buzzsaw. Hmm. The clue doesn’t feel as in-the-language to me without the leading “I.”
  • 40a [*”For the last time, stop!”CUT IT OUT ALREADY. Buzz cut. The entry could’ve been anything given the clue, but this works.
  • 52a [*”Full steam ahead!”OFF TO THE RACES. “Buzz off!” Nice.
  • And the revealer: 64a [Snazzy jargon, and a hint to the starts of the starred answers] BUZZWORDS

Fun entries, and I like the consistent choice to give each clue a lively verbal phrase.

I’m surprised there’s no “FEED” entry. But maybe there aren’t that many FEED possibilities. One does come to mind, and, whaddya know, it’s 13 letters and could replace the second entry (see video below, though they misspelled the name). But then you’d lose that nice consistency in the cluing.


NO BIG DEAL, though it’s not thematic, continues the liveliness from the theme. STYROFOAM isn’t quite as nice, but I’m loving the clue [Cooler stuff]. In fact, there were some real gems in the cluing today:

  • 9a [The ultimate hand-me-downs?]. GENES. Science fun!
  • 73a [Intelligence seeker]. SPY. Good misdirection. I was thinking of aliens for some reason.
  • 7d [Not easily moved]. STOIC. More good misdirection, especially since STUCK shares the first two letters.
  • 26d [Focus on the road]. AUTO. Even more good misdirection. The Ford Focus is indeed an AUTO.
  • 28d [Starkers]. NUDE. Fun, Britspeaky clue. See also 48d [Dessert, to a Brit] which is AFTERS. I think I may have heard this on occasion, but more commonly I would hear “pudding” for any generic dessert or “pud” (rhyming with “good”), for short.
  • 37d [Spoiler: The Planet of the Apes]. EARTH. Ha! Sorry if this ruined it for you. But if you really didn’t know this by now, damn you. Damn you all to hell.
  • 58d [Basic floater]. RAFT. This clue could’ve gone in a different direction. Thankfully, it’s just about seafaring vessels.

Fun, lively theme entries, solid fill, and some durn fine cluing. That’s what I like to see!

Mark McClain’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

I was feeling more culturally alienated today than most. The revealer is CHECKPLEASE, which is something we’d call a bill not a check (and if we did it’d be spelt cheque). The theme consists of things one commonly checks: a COAT at a COATCHECK is another American thing I know only from cultural immersion; checking oil in a car is the second; the third is checking, or ticking, a box on a form. Which brings me to the last entry, SWINGMUSIC. I’m not sure what swing we’re checking here, a baseball swing?? A golf swing?? Google says there’s a doohickey called a swing check valve, but it’s awfully technical for my little brain.


  • [Popcorn brand whose logo resembles a movie marquee], ACTII. Provided this is a familar brand, it seems like the best way to clue this, rather than those tortured play clues…
  • [Roger Federer’s org.], ATP. Glad to see this getting more play. I had it flagged as too obscure for crosswords once upon a time…
  • [Very serious, as a water shortage], ACUTE. No comment.
  • [Much of the Sunday paper], ADPAGES. A newspaper crossword deprecating newspapers?

  • [“Wanna go out?” response], ARF.
    Brilliant misdirection, even if ARF is such an implausible dog sound…
  • [Kansas City cuisine], BARBECUE. No idea why that city in particular.
  • [Struggle with sisters?], LISP. Clever, though I fear mocking of speech impediments went out with Tex Avery…

Rating withheld due to cultural insecurity.

Max Carpenter’s AVCX, “Empty Vessels Make the Most Noise” — Ben’s Review

Everyone getting ready for the ACPT this weekend?  I’m hoping whatever snowstorm Boston’s getting blows over fast so that getting out of the city Friday night isn’t too bad, but I’m looking forward to this year’s constructor lineup.

This week’s AVCX is a massive 21×21 grid by Max Carpenter, clocking in at an accurately gauged 4/5 on the difficulty scale.  This week’s puzzle feels more grid-based than fill-based — multiple spots in the grid (including a few that weren’t circled in my .PUZ file) have empty squares surrounded by some form of “noise”, as aptly suggested by 70A’s revealer, “MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING“.  We’ve got HURLY BURLY up in the left, HULLABALOO, BROUHAHA, and BALLYHOO filling in the grid.  Fill choices aside, this theme didn’t feel particularly novel – I’ve seen plenty of empty square themes in the past few years, and the small amount of themers in this big a grid also felt like a little bit of a letdown.

Since the fill on this puzzle felt a little closer to a themeless than your standard AVCX, I’m going to switch up my usual fill notes: what’s something you learned in the process of solving this week’s puzzle?  I found out about the pizza preferences of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – turns out they prefer PIZZA HUT.


3.25/5 stars.

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24 Responses to Wednesday, March 21, 2018

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Seems easier than yesterday. Except for FIXIE– I needed all the crosses.

    There’s a website called FixYa. I found it one time after taking out my then new Subzero ice cube container and discovering that I had no idea how to put it back. I looked all over the manual, at the company website, etc. to no avail. Then after some poking around, I stumbled onto an answer on FixYa that was barely this side of comprehensible– it was enough to help me. So, I fixed my problem and then translated the advice into terms that mere mortals can follow. And now FixYa sends me updates about the thousands of people I’ve helped and asks for my expertise. It’s hilarious because I hate figuring out stuff like that, but now I lord it over the whole family. I love it.

    • Gareth says:

      Stared at FIXIE after it appeared with crossers. I wasn’t sure I hadn’t goofed somewhere. Considered DIXIE might be some US brand of bike…

    • jim hale says:

      Fixie was also one that stumped me and I needed the crossings. Cool thing though, and I think I’m going to buy one.

      I saw yaks when I was driving in the Himalayas which helped with that clue.

      A pretty good Wednesday.

  2. Jenni says:

    What Huda said about FIXIE. What I didn’t know before doing this puzzle…

    the “Sal” who is a “good old worker” is a mule pulling boats on the Erie Canal. American folk classic.

  3. artlvr says:

    I love the Science section of the NYT every Tuesday… Yesterday it was full of human gene lines traced through the ages, showing maps of what ancient humans mixed with others. Some of us even have traces of Neanderthal DNA!

    • Dr. Fancypants says:

      If you get sequenced with 23andMe, one piece of data they give you is the percentage of your genome that’s Neanderthal DNA.

  4. Ktd says:

    Nice NYT puzzle today. I appreciated that the theme didn’t need a revealer to feel satisfying; the lively entries and clues were excellent on their own. Less can still be more.

  5. Howard B says:

    Fun puzzle, nice debut!
    FIXIE had me stumped for a while.

    • Art Shapiro says:

      For those of you not into cycling, a FIXIE is a rather unique sort of machine. It’s a single-speed bicycle with no freewheel, meaning one can’t coast; the pedals (really the crank arms) are always moving. And typically it has no brakes. One brakes by resisting the movement of the pedals. So on a steep downhill, where one’s legs might be rotating at god-awful speed, slowing down is extremely difficult.

      A little too suicidal for my blood, but riders love them. With no brakes, derailleurs, or freewheel, they can be very, very light bicycles and consequently accelerate and move much quicker than traditional bikes.


      • GlennG says:

        Interestingly, two words I’m surprised haven’t been used in the last three years for all the puzzles I’ve done: DERAILLEUR and FREEWHEEL. Especially since they’re relatively cross-word friendly words.

      • Dr. Fancypants says:

        One of my rides is a FIXIE, but not brakeless—living in a hilly city, that’s suicidal (as well as being a quick way to wear out your tires, as relying on the pedals to stop often results in skidding).

  6. Brian says:

    :( to the LAT 44D clue

    • Alan D. says:

      The LA Times Crossword Corner says “great clue” for 44D. To each his own. I thought it was a good clue (at least at the time).

      • Brian says:

        It’s cute, but feels like the kind of entry you shouldn’t get cute with – like cluing LAME along the [Not one of the cool kids] route.

  7. Ethan says:

    Terrific NYT effort today. The theme reminded me of a classic Cathy Millhauser puzzle in all the best ways. More Wednesdays like this, please.

  8. Gareth says:

    Rather vague theme, but all the images are so strong, and so the end result “pops”! Which is the main thing, I think.

  9. NonnieL says:

    AVCX: New terms I enjoyed learning from this puzzle: belletrist, scratchiti. My favorite clue: 60A. Yes! Let’s plug our public libraries!

  10. Lorraine says:

    Does anyone know if there’s a way to get yesterday’s Jonesin’ puzzle?

    Thank you!

  11. Chris Wooding says:

    I’m surprised that none of the sporty folks have appeared to explain “checked swing” to Gareth, so I’ll try. In baseball, the batter can only swing and miss three times before he is “out”. Therefore, one might try very hard to check your swing when you realize you are going to miss. The umpires at the corners decide whether this maneuver was successful.

    • Martin says:

      As a remedial baseball student, Gareth needs a bit more I think. To “check” your swing means to abort it after you’ve begun it. You have committed to hitting the ball but, midway, you decide that not only will you not hit it, but it is officially not hittable (out of the “strike zone” that makes you responsible for hitting it or getting one of your three strikes called). Should your swing be ruled complete, even though the pitch was not in the strike zone, your miss counts as a strike.

      The trick is to stop the swing before the rather complex rules say it was a committed swing. Checking the swing is a split-second decision, but often the way you check will determine whether it’s ruled a successful check. A nonchalant stop that actually goes a bit further than a determined, less-than-confident, stop of the swing that really ends sooner probably gets the call.

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