Saturday, March 31, 2018

LAT 4:55 (Derek) 


Newsday 16:15 (Derek) 


NYT 8:31 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Kevin Der’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 3 31 18, no 0331

I checked crossword Twitter for the early reactions to Kevin’s puzzle, and I’m seeing nothing. Which might mean that everyone else is busy for Passover or Good Friday or clubbing or the the movies. Or that they are still tearing their hair out at this unremittingly bonkers puzzle that is a March 31 puzzle and not an April 1 puzzle, and yet it will mess with you hard.

So I kept filling in an answer and then seeing that it did not work with the crossings. “Myrmica is ants, rubra means red, how on earth is RED ANTS not working here?!” I am pleased with myself for only taking 2-3 minutes longer than my usual Saturday NYT time to finish this puzzle, so apparently I began trying out some backwards stuff after not too long. 12d. [Small coffee cups] actually helped me out, because that answer really can only be DEMITASSES, but it works with crossings only upside down/backwards. Still trying to figure out the rule for which answers are entered backwards in the grid … okay, it’s one of those boustrophedonic puzzles, where the letters plow back and forth from left to right like oxen, only on steroids because the Down answers go up and down, alternating rows, also. (Meaning the answers in the top row are entered from right to left, the second row the standard left to right, then traveling back from right to left in the third row, and so on.) This is the nuttiest crossword I’ve seen in quite a while and I kinda love it. You’ve got some quasi-explanatory theme answers:

  • 19a. [Most crosstown thoroughfares in Manhattan … with a hint to this puzzle’s theme], ONE-WAY STREETS.
  • 35a. [With 41-Across, proceeding willy-nilly], GOING IN ALL spelled backwards, LLANIGNIOG41a. [See 35-Across], SNOITCERID or DIRECTIONS.
  • 52a. [Nightmarish Manhattan traffic situation … or a possible title for this puzzle], TOTAL GRIDLOCK. Suuuper-cool repurposing of a traffic term for a crossword grid.

This gnarly beast is a 72-worder, so it looks like a regular themeless puzzle. It’s got a Thursday-style twist, only way harder, so you really couldn’t run this any day other than Saturday without drawing fire. And even on the toughest day, I’m sure many are crying foul. This one’s for the solvers who have been missing extra-challenging puzzles.

SMOORE TATS! SDAPSOS! IN A SAD! ROTSA! And look at LIEV, but it’s backwards [Bridal wear] rather than actor Schreiber.

The clues are mostly pretty straightforward and the non-theme fill is just solid (but not too exciting) themeless fodder. There are a few question-marked clues in the mix, just to mess with us more thoroughly:

  • 43a. [Back on the job?], TEBA, or ABET. As in a bank job/heist.
  • 37d. [Turkey club?], NATO. The country of Turkey is in NATO, no sandwich here.
  • 32d. [The “I” of Constantine I?], OGE, or EGO. Not the Roman numeral, but the first-person pronoun in Constantine I’s language, Latin.
  • 33a. [Short while?], THO. Many of us in the crossword profession connect that “though” shortening to “tho” with Will Shortz, who uses it in correspondence. It has a quaint vibe.

I predict a lot of disgruntled, infuriated 1-star ratings for Kevin’s TOTAL GRIDLOCK. Me, I’m giving it 5 stars.

Neville Fogarty’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

I didn’t see Neville last weekend! Perhaps I will bump into him at one of the other events this year. This former Fiend blogger has a site that like many other indie sites has not been updated in a while. Which is too bad, because his puzzles are a lot of fun. Perhaps because of familiarity with his puzzle, or perhaps because of still being in tournament mode, I whipped this puzzle in under 5 min. Perhaps I should actually PRACTICE for the ACPT! Neville, get that site updated with some new stuff! 4.4 stars for this one.

Some highlights:

    • 5A [Space Invaders genre] SHOOT ‘EM UP – This is not a SHOOT ‘EM UP game to me; Doom to me was the original kill-everything-you-see game. Space Invaders seems extremely tame by today’s standards.
    • 15A [Quintet that won a Grammy for their a cappella version of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”] PENTATONIX – This group is my middle son’s favorite. They are pretty good. Have a listen:

  • 18A [1996 McDonald’s offering] ARCH DELUXE – I remember this vividly. It was over 20 years ago. I am getting old …
  • 26A [Anthony of “black-ish”] ANDERSON – I have never seen this show. School has made life that busy. I hear it is hilarious. I don’t watch Empire either. Haven’t seen Black Lightning. What does this say about me??
  • 60A [Really easy to use] IDIOT PROOF – I need everything I use to be this way!
  • 7D [Rarely] ONCE IN A BLUE MOON – I had LIFETIME in at first, and still got done quickly!
  • 27D [State bordering Arizona and New Mexico] SONORA – I see what you did there!!
  • 45D [Last word of two James Bond film titles] KILL – A View to a Kill and Licence to Kill, I believe.
  • 47D [Twisted Sister frontman Dee] SNIDER – This is also a slightly dated reference, which I also knew immediately.
  • 50D [Billy Joel hit with the line “I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home] MY LIFE – Also dated! Isn’t this the name of the Billy Joel musical as well? Oh wait, that’s Movin’ Out!

Have a wonderful weekend, and when is spring going to start … ?

Andrew Bell Lewis’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up

Usually Brad and Matt’s co-creations give me massive fits. This puzzle was no different. I had to pause it and come back, but once I did, I rolled through the rest. There is a feeling, the “zone” perhaps, that you get into when solving these hard puzzles. I wasn’t in it for the first half; heck, I wasn’t in it last Saturday either! But I felt if for the latter half of my solving time for this one. I have said many times my favorite part of solving: it means I have had ten minutes of quiet! Being able to block out all of the noise and focus on something is a skill, and I am not so sure it doesn’t release endorphins or something. There is some sort of pleasure derived from that, don’t you agree? Once I felt that feeling, the puzzle toppled. So the key is, how do you get there? Plenty of sleep? Caffeine? Exercise? Positive thinking? Meditation? Massage therapy? Chiropractor? If I only knew. I strive to do everything I just mentioned!

I ramble. This was a hard but fun one. And I learned a new word (see below). 4.6 stars.

Some high points:

  • 18A [Source of ancient spun fibers] HEMP – Or modern spun fibers …
  • 47A [Offer long, flower descriptions] WAX POETIC – I actually got this quickly, but nothing was working and I though something was wrong.
  • 61A [Designer with feathers] PLUMASSIER – This is that new word! ‘One that deals with ornamental plumes or feathers’ according to MW. Not my designers. Perhaps Rupaul’s!
  • 67A [Ersatz poster adhesive] TOOTH PASTE – What is this saying??
  • 1D [Seat whose sitters sit back-to-back] DOS-Á-DOS – Like this chair, perhaps?
  • 8D [“Food, __” (agribusiness documentary)] INC. – This is on Netflix, and has played a role in my striving to attain to vegan/vegetarian eating. I recommend.
  • 33D [Tennis center?] SWEET SPOT – Tennis racquet center!
  • 54D [Old recorder of beastly behavior] AESOP – Awesome! Best clue in the puzzle

See you in April!

Julian Thorne’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Way to Go!” — Jim’s re-cap

Theme: Phrases where the last word can be a vehicle have been re-purposed.

WSJ – Sat, 3.31.18 – “Way to Go!” by Julian Thorne (Mike Shenk)

  • 22a [Harley for the honcho?] BUSINESS CYCLE. Seems reasonable.
  • 33a [Helicopter made of hickory?] WOOD CHOPPER. Sounds like it would be pretty heavy.
  • 45a [Sailing ship offering discounts on fares?] COUPON CLIPPER. I bet this would get a lot of business with the retiree crowd. (Is that ageist?)
  • 60a [Cruise ship during spring break? ] PARTY LINER. Hmm. I’ve heard of someone who “toes the party line,” but I’ve never heard that person called a PARTY LINER.
  • 63a [Subway equipped with bathrooms?POTTY TRAIN. My favorite entry, though the vehicle in this set that I would want to ride the least. Just having bathrooms on your train shouldn’t earn you the moniker “POTTY TRAIN.” If it does, I think you have an odor and/or plumbing problem.
  • 77a [Horse-drawn carriage oscillating in motion?PITCHING COACH. This also sounds like an un-fun ride.
  • 89a [Patrol boat towed by a thick rope?CABLE CUTTER. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? How can you patrol if you need another boat to tow you?
  • 100a [Jet while it’s banking?INCLINED PLANE. Meh. A little too matter-of-fact.

So that’s one motorcycle, one helicopter, one train, one carriage, one plane, and three ships. Most of these were fun enough that I enjoyed the theme.

The long fill was sparse but nice: RISING SUN, EYE COLOR, PART-TIME, and VACCINATE. There’s also plenty of nice mid-length fill: GIMLET, PISCES, I’M OKAY, TARHEEL, TROIKA, etc. In short, the fill is really quite solid.

I didn’t know MR NOON [Unfinished novel by D.H. Lawrence]. Nor had I ever heard the term WAITRON [Server, gender-neutrally], but I love it. Works for both human and non-human servers. Can this be used in other occupations? Stewardron? Actron?

Toughest crossing was OZICK [Author Cynthia] and INSULA [Small interior lobe of the cerebral cortex]. That felt a bit unfair.

But all in all, a good Saturday outing. I suspect people might find it a bit of a letdown after today’s NYT by Kevin Der which was brilliant. That’s not a fair way to compare puzzles, but I suppose that’s the way it goes.

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44 Responses to Saturday, March 31, 2018

  1. Penguins says:


  2. Zulema says:

    I decided to stop tearing my hair out and came here for help. Amy, thank you. I was sure that thoroughfares could not be ONE WAY STREETS. My GRIDLOCK entry did not work with AGORA, etc. I am moving to the LAT Saturday puzzle.

  3. Penguins says:

    “It’s got a Thursday-style twist, only way harder, so you really couldn’t run this any day other than Saturday without drawing fire….I predict a lot of disgruntled, infuriated 1-star ratings…”

    Yet running it on a Saturday rather than a Thursday will probably be the basis for much of the confusion and frustration, a bit like getting thrown a knuckleball during batting practice.

    • Burak says:

      Exactly this. Run this on a Thursday, and dumb down a couple of clues in key places to help the solver. You have a masterpiece.

      Right now, tho, you have an insufferable puzzle. Kevin G. Der’s previous Saturday offering was also insufferable with very obscure trivia. Yes, no harm in throwing a very challenging puzzle at the reader once in a while, but please package it correctly.

  4. Candice says:

    This was amazing – I haven’t had this much fun in a while! The AGORA/GRANOLA section tipped me off that something was amiss, but took me another hot second to figure out that they weren’t all backwards, but alternating. Also learning that I’m very bad at spelling words backwards slowed me down a ton. :/

    • janie says:

      also caught on at AGORA/GRANOLA. added arrows to the west and south sides of the grid and, after initially thinking i’d never figure this one out/that kevin knew words i’d never heard of, had a great time solving this one. and, ultimately, in a reasonable amount of time.

      **terrific** puzz!! (imho…)


  5. Derek Allen says:

    I was at a full on 20 minutes for this one. Got stuck in the PHOEBE/LARGOS area because, yes, I don’t recognize words as quickly when they are backwards! And you mentioned TEBA and THO, which tripped me up as well. THIS would have made an awesome ACPT Puzzle 5!

  6. Dook says:

    The direction of the answers is like the avenues in Manhattan. For example, traffic runs north on First Ave. and south on Second Ave. All the Manhattan thoroughfares are one way – except for a short portions of Third Ave., and 11th Ave. and Broadway, which is two-way above 59th St. Most of the cross streets also alternate one-way (with the exception of the major ones – e.g 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42, 57th), so the down answers work as well. I quickly figured out that some of the answers were backwards, but it took me some time to realize that there was an order to which answers went which way. As I finished, I realized it was actually easy to figure it out as they followed the pattern of the NYC streets. Excellent and fun and so New York centric!

  7. Scott says:

    NYT. 5 stars. 41 munutes!

  8. Amy says:

    Loved this puzzle SO much.

  9. huda says:

    NYT: haha– the most META part of this puzzle is that the TOTAL GRIDLOCK makes you feel exactly like a Manhattan GRIDLOCK- wanting to tear your hair out and looking for possible angles to get out of it, but hitting it at every turn.
    I too thought that the numbering is likely consistent with the actual directionality of the Manhattan streets and aves, but I decided not to worry about it and let the words guide me.

    • Christopher Smith says:

      Yeah I wouldn’t get too bogged down in that stuff. Broadway confounds everything because it runs in a diagonal & is two-way above 59th. It’s just a great design that approximates the real thing.

      Didn’t love a lot of the shorter fill: IDNO SALK (a debating point in this precinct in the past) OTIS (any music clue that doesn’t reference either Redding or Shuggie is just wrong) THO LINE (not a lot of these at banks in 2018; also “banks” was used very cleverly elsewhere). Took forever but appreciated the craft.

  10. Pat says:

    It was very slow going for me, but I really enjoyed the challenge.
    Great puzzle!

  11. Steve Manion. says:

    I am rarely a naysayer, but I did not enjoy this. I got every aspect of the theme absolutely immediately, but found that actually filling it in was a slog. Sorry.


    • David L says:

      Same for me. I finished with a couple of mistakes that were consequences of my not being able to spell backwards — understood the theme, had the right answers, but wrote them in wrong anyway.

      Also, I had URBANGRIDLOCK for a while, which didn’t help (rural gridlock is when you get stuck on a one-lane country road in Somerset because a herd of cows got out of their field and didn’t know where to go).

    • Papa John says:

      That was my experience, too. The only good thing about it was when the gimmick revealed itself to me in the northeast corner. For some reason the middle section was more difficult for me to “see” the backward words.

  12. Winnie says:

    This was really impossible for me. As a dyslexic I should be able to read backwards, since I couldn’t figure out what was going on til I came here it was hopeless. My first smug entry was 8 Across brillos, then 8 down Bsox and I thought oh wow, I might just be able to do a Saturday puzzle. Wrong!!! Happy “Eastover”

  13. Lise says:

    Wow! May I nominate this for a 2018 ACRO award? What Penguins said. Masterpiece.

    I got ONE WAY STREETS immediately, because I remembered that in 1974-ish, I was driving (from Virginia) to a wedding in Long Island when I took a wrong turn and ended up in Manhattan. I think. I’m not exactly sure where I was, but nearly every street was one-way and not ever the way I needed to go to get back on track. I got out somehow (I’m not still there) and made it to the wedding, which was the best wedding I have ever attended, hands down, so I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

    Anyway. After a ton of erasing, I got the idea, starting with SOS PADS. The trouble is, when I write letters in reverse order, I tend to reverse the letters themselves (I’m deeply flawed) but I soon righted everything and was relieved to see that the answers I knew were correct.

    Thanks, Kevin Der! Fan-tastic!

    On a side note: does anyone know if eraser refills are available for Pentel Twist-Erase pencils?

  14. Penguins says:

    “Usually Brad and Matt’s co-creations give me massive fits. This puzzle was no different.”

    I found it challenging as well.

  15. Karen Ralston says:

    Masterpiece! I got one-way streets immediately and thus got the theme right away. When I scanned down to find the other reveals the only surprise was to find a themed puzzle on a Saturday. Once you grok the gimmick the clues are easy and straightforward. It does indeed help when one (me) grew up in the NY metro area and drove in Manhattan a lot but before there was always gridlock. (50 years ago). 5 stars from me! Thank you Kevin!

  16. Mark says:

    WSJ — I really wanted 53A — load-bearing item — to be Pamper, not Hamper.

  17. Robert says:

    Right away knew “red ants” but then thought “uh oh” when it didn’t work writing it forwards. Got the gimmick not long after and this ended up being my favorite Saturday NY Times puzzle so far in 2018.

  18. Karen S says:

    NYT: I loved the puzzle. It took me a bit to get the theme. I started the puzzle right before bed and must have dreamed about it because I finished the puzzle fast (for me) in the morning. Remembering PHOEBE finally unlocked it. Well done!

  19. Lise says:

    WSJ: Aeaea! Could have used a consonant or two. I have listened to The Odyssey twice but somehow didn’t remember that was the name of Circe’s island. What I also didn’t know: that FARCES involve a lot of door-slamming.

    I wanted to give the WSJ and the LAT a little love. They were both fine crosswords, and very enjoyable.

  20. Lise says:

    Derek, I loved your Stumper writeup. I liked what you said about the focus or maybe flow, that happens while concentrating. I get it by running or doing tai chi – in fact, it was after tai chi class today that I was able to get what was happening in the NYT. Good luck to you!

  21. Brenda Rose says:

    Johnny Otis certainly deserved his title as Godfather of R &B. I was a fan, saw him live many times up here in NoCal & strongly suggest anyone who isn’t familiar with yet another musical Otis to check him out. PS: that’s how I got the gimmick when it crossed with an obvious plural. Absolutely loved Der’s puzzle.

  22. Mac says:

    The NYT was awesome. Absolutely five stars.

    • m says:

      Ditto on the awesome… a 5 from me too!

      My first hint at the reversals was pretty early, seeing as how my fave actor is Mr. McGregor.

  23. Rob says:

    This puzzle was a classic. Early on I knew something was up. Then it came to me. Then I enjoyed the ride. I do not time my puzzles. I started it on Friday night and finished up Sunday morning. Thanks for a great solving experience!

  24. JohnH says:

    Truly great, both with the idea and, in retrospect, the construction. Also a real treat for those of us who like challenging theme puzzles. Always seems cruel that the Times is easy early in the week and unthemed late in the week.

    Also great because it revealed itself in steps. I was lucky, since I work in pen, that I could see quickly that somehow things weren’t working, so I was wary about fills. The certain PHOEBE and the likelihood of SPAS (reinforced by THO and then DEMITASSES) clued me in that maybe occasional reversals would work. But just where? Filling in a likely first theme entry and reversing some more where necessary led to the neatness of the whole. And then I still had some more theme clues to get along with the remaining fill.

    One thing tripped me up, no doubt once again because I’m too much a New Yorker. To me (with some dictionary support), “thoroughfares” are main roads, so thinking of crosstown streets I thought of the like of 34th and 42nd, which (like Park Avenue, a small stretch of Third, and uptown Broadway) are unusual in being two-way. So I more or less confidently entered “two-way streets.” Hey, it fit with the idea of entries running both ways. Besides, those cross streets have by far the most “nightmarish traffic,” because of the two-way traffic, the reserved bus lanes, and the proximity to tourist traps like Times Squares and Macy’s. I even considered for a moment entering the whole in reverse. In due course I remembered EWAN from past puzzles and straightened it out. Maybe not ideal, but I do realize that it’s hard to find a synonym for “streets,” which was part of the answer.

  25. Ethan Friedman says:

    Solving this late, but had to comment. Put me in the ***** brigade. Wow that was fun

  26. Ed says:

    Just over 19 minutes, of which most was trying to figure out what was going on. Once I got that, it was pretty straightforward but slowed slightly by having to work backwards. The clues were easier than a typical Saturday or it would have been near impossible for me.

  27. beqfan says:

    So everyone is OK with LAT? 18A answer vs. 39D clue?

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