Wednesday, April 18, 2018

AV Club 6:55 (Ben) 


LAT 4:31 (Gareth) 


NYT  untimed (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Morton J. Mendelson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Cross the Line” — Jim’s review

MJM is back after only a few days. This time he’s brought us a theme-ful of grid-spanners, each of which is a verbal phrase (of the form {verb THE noun(s)}) familiar to those who tell little white lies. Further, the first word of each entry is occupationally related to the clued dissemblers.

WSJ – Wed, 4.18.18 – “Cross the Line” by Morton J. Mendelson

  • 17a [Dishonest candy store owners ___] FUDGE THE DETAILS. I think you normally “fudge the numbers.” Why this wasn’t used, I don’t know, because it fits in the grid.
  • 27a [Dishonest yoga teachers ___] STRETCH THE TRUTH. This one’s right on target.
  • 46a [Dishonest spa owners ___] MASSAGE THE BOOKS. You normally “massage the data,” and you “cook the books.”
  • 61a [Dishonest pretzel vendors ___] TWIST THE MEANING. You usually “twist one’s words” or “twist the truth.” I did find one dictionary (The Free Dictionary) that had this phrase, but that’s it.

So, in order to get everything to be a tidy package of grid-spanners, some fudging and stretching had to be done, which, I guess, is appropriate in a way.  But still it would’ve been nicer if each phrase was as recognizably in-the-language as STRETCH THE TRUTH. Still, the phrases felt close enough that, during the solve, I didn’t really have a problem with it.

I did have a problem with RENEGES crossing GIBRAN. Normally I wouldn’t, but RENEGES is clued [Plays the wrong suit], which is not a use for that word that I’ve ever heard, and Kahlil GIBRAN is hardly a household name. Still, the G made the most sense.

And there seemed to be more than the usual amount of crosswordese with things like ASI, ERNO, EATON, LBO, EDD, STEN, and weird plurals PIS and SOYS. And that RANAT/RABE/ANSE section was not pleasant to work through.

Everything else was good if not too sparkly since four 15-letter themers require a certain amount of separation. Standouts include HEDGEHOG, “I BEEN HAD,” “ZOWIE,” IBIZA, and ICE BAGS.

A few things:

Mannekin PIS multitasking in Brussels

  • 5a [Ceska Republika capital]. PRAHA. I don’t recall seeing the native spelling of Prague in a grid before, but that was a nice little tidbit to store in the memory banks.
  • 23a [Frat letters]. PIS. Wow. Sixty-nine entries for this word in the database, but not one of them is clued [Mannekin ___].
  • 25a [Cube creator Rubik]. ERNO. Why can’t I remember this name no matter how many times I’ve seen it? Hmm. I’ll try this: “Wait, swapping the decals is not a valid way to solve a Rubik’s cube!?” “Er, no.”
  • 54a [“Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” airer]. NPR. Minutes before I solved this puzzle, I learned that longtime NPR newsman and WWDTM scorekeeper emeritus Carl Kassel passed away. Bill Curtis replaced him on the show some years ago, but he’s too slick and smooth for me. I preferred Carl’s tough, gravelly tones. His voice on your answering machine was the prize for winning a game on the show, even after he officially left it.

Okay, that’s all I have. I liked the theme even though it felt a little off. There was more gunk than usual in the fill, but still it was an enjoyable solve. 3.2 stars from me.

Peter A Collins and Bruce Haight’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

This theme was not at all obvious, although I did notice a pattern in the theme answers. I didn’t know what was going on until I got to the revealer.

NYT 4/18, solution grid

The theme answers I noticed:

  • 6a [It creates an opening at the dentist’s office] is TOOTH EXTRACTION.
  • 33a [It might involve x, y and z] is MATH EXAM.
  • 58a [Part of party mix, often] is CORN CHEX.

I expected the other grid-spanning answer to follow the same pattern (something with an X) but nope. It’s [Much-covered 1956 Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song … hinting at what happens three times in this puzzle’s solution] and the answer is I PUT A SPELL ON YOU. And sure enough, each of the theme answers I noticed contains the word HEX, and underneath each HEX is YOU (EMPTY OUT, JOYOUSLY, and the revealer itself). It’s not my favorite kind of theme, but I enjoyed it – the aha! moment was fun and there was something about having the revealer be part of the theme pattern that I found very satisfying.

Beyond the theme, though…there was some unpleasant fill. AIT is flat-out crosswordese. EOUS is ridiculous (clued as [Suffix with right]). That’s the sort of thing Timothy Parker gets ridiculed for. ‘ENRY is not actually a name, even if you clue it using “My Fair Lady” and invoke Cockneys again with NON-U (which is also a lousy entry). I was relieved that STU was clued as a name rather than an alphabet run, and then I saw 55a [Alphabet run] right next door for CDE. I mean, come on.

I also have a pet peeve (sorry) about using ADOPTEE to refer to animals. I don’t expect anyone else to share this and I don’t expect the usage to change. I can’t suggest a better alternative. But it makes me cringe, and I know my daughter despises it because it makes her feel as if her adoption was the equivalent of bringing a dog home from a shelter.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that a TACHYON is hypothesized to travel faster than light. I knew the word from Star Trek.

I leave you with Nina Simone.

Brendan Emmet Quigley’s AVCX, “Can You Digit?” — Ben’s Review

I forgot to look at the title of this week’s AVCX puzzle before I dug in, and it would’ve saved me some time looking at some of the circled squares in this week’s grid with confusion at the letter patterns when read top-to-bottom.  Here’s a hint to what’s going on:


That’s an example of a FINGER ROLL in BASKETBALL.  We’ve got five FINGER ROLLs in the grid, with THUMB showing up in THUR (as in Thursday, a day basketball games can occur) and IBM, INDEX split between AXEMEN and IND (as in Indiana), MIDDLE sourced from MIDI and WELD, RING found in RETRIM (not REEDIT as I first thought) and GNU, and PINKY derived from CMYK and A PIN (as in “Let’s put A PIN in this discussion for now and go practice our FINGER ROLLs before the game on Thursday.”)

Running through the fingers in order from top to bottom is a nice touch (and really the only way to go with this), but sticking five of these in one grid makes for some tricky constraints for the rest of the fill.  I’m not a fan of the plural OLAS (it doesn’t read right without the context of needing to suffix both “pay” and “crap”), WE ATE, SSRS clued merely as “outdated map abbrs.”, and MEDICO.  I did like the fake out of seeing KND at the end of 38D’s answer for “‘Call Out My Name’ singer), knowing I was looking for a name, only to realize that THE WEEKND is fair game.


3.75/5 stars.

Agnes Davidson & C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review


A subtler, and tighter, “words that go with” theme than most, today we celebrate COLLECTOR people; each of four long across answers ends in a thing – toll, bill, ticket, and trash – that can be combined with COLLECTOR to make a job. TAX is the obviously missing job, but TAX isn’t really an item. My favourite theme answer was the compound adjective BIGTICKET, although the goofy mythological PECOSBILL always makes me smile too.

Both of FAKESMILE and TENDERAGE, the two long downs, are a welcome bonus in an already dense puzzle.

I feel compelled to comment on NOTIP (again), but I’ve never received this mythological “poor service” at restaurants, but I have watched ridiculously needy customers umpteen times. It feels mostly like some people go on a power trip at restaurants…

[Indian city on the Yamuna River], DELHI. I bet that second part was real helpful…

3.75 Stars

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22 Responses to Wednesday, April 18, 2018

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I agree that some of the crosswordese was annoying. But the theme was really fun and quite demanding if one thinks of all the constraints… And there were some very good non-theme entries – SYNOPSIS, BASEHITS, ASTROPOPS, APERTURE, etc.. That’s a lot if you consider 6 theme-related entries.

    So, I forgave “ENRY and STU for making an appearance.

    And thanks for the Nina Simone link… The song freaks me out a bit, but when she sings it, I get it…

    • Jenni Levy says:

      I understand the construction challenge. I don’t appreciate construction challenges unless they make for a really fun puzzle, and the icky fill meant this one wasn’t all that much fun for me. I agree about the theme.

      • huda says:

        I certainly appreciate your perspective, Jenni. It’s interesting to me to think about how different solvers, particularly highly experienced ones, value different features of a puzzle– especially in-between puzzles that are neither terrible nor works of art.
        I like hearing the different rationales and reactions, as well as the back stories on some of the answers and clues. We owe Team Fiend for their time and enabling us to hone our appreciation of crosswords.

    • Richard says:

      I agree that the other long fill was pretty great. Ideally all fill is great, but I’m usually happier with the tradeoff where long fill is good and short fill is weak rather than vice versa. NON-U was new for me (and I still don’t actually know what it means).

      • David L says:

        U (for upper class) and NON-U (for the rabble) were terms that had some currency in Britain in the 1950s. It was all about knowing the ‘proper’ term for various items, the correct form of address when writing to a bishop, where the salad fork goes next to the dinner plate, and so on. A whole lot of nonsense that has mostly been forgotten, thankfully (you can guess which category I belonged to!)

        • Zulema says:

          Nancy Mitford’s “NON-U” referred mainly to middle class and pretentious usage, as in “wealthy” instead of “rich,” and such useage. I do not believe (but it’s been a very long time) that “cockney” useage would have made the NON-U category in Mitford’s book. They were not the people she was after.

  2. Douglas says:

    Wall Street Journal 49 Across clue: “Father in…” Answer: “Anse”. What the????

    • GlennP says:

      I had the same problem. Mr. Google helped me understand that Anse Bundren is the father in “As I Lay Dying” (i.e. 50 Across)

      • Douglas says:

        Thanks. I didn’t even look at the clue for 50 across at all, just had it filled in from the crosses. Probably needed another cup of coffee.

  3. David L says:

    Clever theme but the short fill was pretty dire. I bet if you went to London today and asked a bunch of young people what NON-U meant you would get a lot of blank looks. It’s a very dated term.

    Also, I’m not at all convinced that ASHY is a real word. Someone clearly snuck it into dictionaries to make it legit for crossword purposes. On the exceedingly rare occasions that I need a synonym for ‘wan,’ it would be ASHEN.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      ASHY is absolutely a common word in the US, but not so much among white Americans. When skin with more melanin gets dry, the dry skin flakes are whitish and ASHY. Cocoa butter and shea butter are common components of black skin care, as nobody seems to want to walk around looking ashy.

  4. Newbie says:

    re WSJ: I’m not sure I understand the comment about the use of “renege.”

    You renege in bridge when you don’t follow the suit led when you are able to do so. For example, clubs are led. You hold a club in your hand, but you fail to play it. Very common expression and all-too-frequent occurrence!

    • David L says:

      I find that people almost always used the word ‘revoke’ for failing to follow suit. Probably because no one knows how to pronounce ‘renege.’

      • David says:

        Newbie is correct – renege has only one meaning – not only in bridge but in all card games – failing to follow suit when following suit is required. It usually includes penalties, either in the play or after. To renege is to fail to follow suit. Period.

      • Devilbunny says:

        Never heard that. Everyone I’ve ever played those kinds of games with has been from east of the Mississippi (SE/midwest/NE), and we all called it reneging. “Re-nig” was the pronunciation. I think that there is some impetus to say that the second syllable is intended as a racial slur, but that’s a folk etymology, and it’s wrong. It’s from Latin, ultimately.

    • Steve Manion. says:

      This could all be cleared up if everyone just played one of my all time favorite card games: PITCH. It is the only card game I can think of where it is legal to revoke; in fact it is a strategic move that has to be considered.


  5. Burak says:

    This is what I said about yesterday’s puzzle. “That the NYT puzzle today and yesterday have almost the same rating makes me lose faith in humanity.” And I see that people also thought today’s was above par. I’m gobsmacked.

    I guess if you find the theme cute and the long answers pleasant, your tolerance for the atrocious short fill goes up, but a puzzle that disrespects the solver with stuff like ENRY AIT CDE [Alphabet run] and NONU should not get a passing mark. Oh, and there’s also EOUS. An early contender for the most [Suffix with hid] entry of the year. Made me utterly [Suffix with naus].

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