Wednesday, April 25, 2018

AV Club 5:15 (Ben) 


LAT 3:56 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:50 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Adam G. Perl’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

As I may have mentioned, I don’t usually care for crosswords with circles. This time the circles didn’t bother me overly much, but the theme didn’t really engage me, either. Maybe I’m just cranky. Whatever the reason, the theme seemed too easy for a Wednesday and the fill did not redeem the puzzle.

NYT 4/25, solution grid

The circles tell us that there are theme answers in each corner of the grid, and there’s a grid-spanning revealer that ties it all together: 36a [Is an expert on this puzzle’s theme?] is KNOWS EVERY ANGLE. In my head, the idiom is “knows all the angles,” but that’s a minor quibble.

Each set of circles is arranged at an (you guessed it) angle, and continues the word that identifies the type of angle. We have OBTUSE, RIGHT, ACUTE, and REFLEX.  I had no memory of REFLEX angles from geometry class, and my husband (who works with math teachers doing professional development) couldn’t immediately define it either. His comment: “Now THAT’S obscure.” If you have to rely on a math term that a STEM geek doesn’t recognize, your theme has issues. We get an extra math clue at 52a with [Decimal system]; it’s BASE TEN.

The fill has issues, too. NATANT (for [Swimming]), ELON, XENOA CUP (clued as a bra size), ALIENEEORU, OGEE, EOS. Partials [Young ___] UNS and I GET [ “____ that a lot”]. Not very much fun.

A few things I did like:

  • 24d [Family guy?] for MADE MAN, although I suppose it trades in a nasty stereotype.
  • I’m always happy to see [Plaza girl in kid-lit] ELOISE because I loved those books.
  • 37d [One unlikely to order ham and eggs] for VEGAN.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: REFLEX angle.

Daniel Hamm’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Sure Think” — Jim’s review

Theme: Words with the bigram NG are changed to NK.

WSJ – Wed, 4.25.18 – “Sure Think” by Daniel Hamm (Mike Shenk)

  • 17a [Lockup that never changes?] STATIC CLINK
  • 22a [Section of a flirting etiquette book?] WINK TIPS
  • 24a [Group of judges at a male beauty pageant?] HUNK JURY
  • 29a [Financial institution catering to geniuses?] WHIZ BANK
  • 46a [Sci-fi zap that leaves victims reeking?] STINK RAY
  • 53a [Site for a chilly reception?] WEDDING RINK

I didn’t get a lot of enjoyment out of this theme. It doesn’t feel very fresh, there’s no consistency with how the changes are applied (first word vs. second word), and there’s one —ANK, 4 —INKs, one —UNK, and no —ENKs or —ONKs. Plus, the last entry has an unchanged —ING in it.

I did like HUNK JURY as an entry, and STINK RAY has merit, but “zap” as a noun sounds weird.

As you’d expect, I found multiple examples of this theme in the cruciverb database. One, by Alison Donald in the LAT in 2007, had the nicely consistent set of STATIC CLINK, BURGER KINK, BUFFALO WINK, and SWAMP THINK. Other puzzles had entries like MINK DYNASTY, THE LORD OF THE RINKS, SINK FOR ONE’S SUPPER, etc.

In other words, I think today’s grid needs some other constraint to tighten it up. Unless I’m missing something, it just feels too loose.

Fill-wise though, it’s as solid as ever with HOLE PUNCH, INFIELDER (with the great clue [Base fellow?] — though not all infielders are men), SHRIEKS, COLGATE, CRIMEA, and ENIGMA. I did not know the French word for “year” (ANNEE) which doesn’t make for very good fill, nor the Mongolian mountain range (ALTAI) which is only slightly better.

Nice to see a timely clue for NRA: [Target of many March for Our Lives signs], though.

Ben Tausig’s AVCX, “Shoddy Construction Material” — Ben’s Review

This week’s AVCX puzzle, from editor Ben Tausig, definitely nails the 2/5 difficulty it promised.  This was an enjoyable breeze of a solve, and I loved the theme:

  • 20A: “Can we stop with the incessant ‘ambient composer Brian’? So frustrating …” — ENO? UGH, ENOUGH!
  • 28A: “I call for a permanent moratorium on ‘Grammatical case: Abbr.,’ ‘mined metal,’ etc.” — NO MORE NOM, ORE
  • 44A: “Just take these out of your puzzle constructing list: ‘Joe Biden’s state: Abbr.,’ ‘French summer’ …” — DELETE DEL, ETE
  • 52A: Obscure or overused puzzle words that are the object of ire in this theme (or, if you don’t mind such things, “___-Magnon; NNE opposite; Chicago airport code; Linguistic suffix”) — CROSSWORDESE (or: CRO, SSW, ORD, ESE)

So good, so meta.  Again, this was easy to figure out what was going on, but a fully pleasurable solve.

Other fill I liked this week: F-BOMB, ENEMA, LIPTON, YAKS, SEQUINED, DEEP DISH

4.5/5 stars.

Gail Grabowski & Bruce Venske’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

If you don’t actively look out for a theme, as I am wont to do, this one may have slipped past you. There is no revealer, and no major impediment to ignoring the theme. It’s a nice little set of synonyms for SPUNK: ENERGY, SPIRIT, FIRE and DRIVE

Rest of the fill was largely unremarkable. [“Worst Cooks in America” judge Burrell], was an unknown ANNE; guessing some kind of “reality”. [Fine cotton fabric], ORGANDY is may favourite word in the puzzle. It has a very nice “mouth feel”, which I guess partly explains its use here… The use of ESALE, which feels largely a nonce word, is bizarre. I’d move a lot of grid to get away from it, yet it’s sitting in a very quiet corner that must surely be able to be filled in a hundred ways, and nothing else in that corner is so unusual that you’d want to hold onto it. Tres weird.

2.75 Stars

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48 Responses to Wednesday, April 25, 2018

  1. andeux says:


    • Mark Simpson says:

      Yeah what the heck was that. Also why is cluing A CUP as a bra size a problem? So much better than some random partial phrase.

      • Sarah says:

        I can understand having an issue with ACUP. But ELON Musk, who is possibly the most well-known and revolutionary entrepreneur of the last five years???????????????????????????????????????????????? Yes, that’s how silly it is.

        • Jenni Levy says:

          He’s also wildly overused in crosswords.

          Part of my issue with A CUP is that I somehow doubt “jockstrap” would pass the NYT “breakfast test.”

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            JOCKSTRAP appears in three puzzles indexed in Cruciverb, none of them from the NYT.

          • Ethan Friedman says:

            JOCKSTRAP is a couple orders of magnitude more difficult to fit into a puzzle than A CUP.

            Now that said: CUP has never appeared as “Part of a jock’s protective equipment” or the like, according to xwordinfo. Which supports your argument that there’s some implicit sexism going on here.

            • Mark Simpson says:

              Sexism? How is cluing via women’s undergarment sexist? You don’t see the same for men because there is no men’s garment that comes in sizes labeled in a way other than S,M, L. If there were and it were a common four letter sequence, I’m sure we would see it all the time in crosswords. Jockstrap is also a ridiculous comparison. It is a 9-letter entry with a J in it. That said, there is no issue with it being in a crossword. I can’t even conceive of why that word or CUP clued as men’s protective athletic equipment is of any concern.

          • Sarah says:

            This is ELON’s first appearance in the NYT this year, and it only showed up 5 times last year. Once every 2+ months does not seem like overuse to me.

            • Jenni Levy says:

              The NYT is not the only puzzle I do, and this is all subjective. I think it’s overused. You do not. Life is full of contradictions. Isn’t it great that we don’t have to agree?

            • Matthew G. says:

              I have to agree with Sarah on this one. As far as Short Fill Using Common Letters In an Odd Order goes, ELON is a better entry than most available options because Mr. Musk’s fame is so current.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Doubting the legitimacy of ALINED probably added at least thirty seconds to my time, if not more. Can we at least get a {Var.} notation on that one?

      It appears to be a tolerated variant according to my dictionary, but I can’t imagine using it outside a crossword without seeming illiterate.

      While we’re talking about things that are obscure even to professionals, the second-biggest slowdown for me was ALIENEE even though I’m a lawyer. Again, it’s technically correct but Nobody would use it. I had ALIE— and stared at it, thinking I must have a crossing wrong because nobody would expect a non-lawyer to know the word they seemed to be going for.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        ALINE is one of those crosswordese verbs I’m glad I almost never encounter anymore. (A-LINE dresses are fine, but you can’t put that in the past tense.)

  2. David and Heather says:

    NYT felt like a Thursday. I didn’t get much out of the angle angle, which is sad considering that I’m a math teacher. At least I knew what a reflex angle is. ALINED is a pretty rare spelling that I know from Scrabble. I appreciated the BANANA / CABANA crossing.

  3. dr. fancypants says:

    Former math professor here–one who’s even taught trig–and I couldn’t define REFLEX angle if my life depended on it (at least not without a serious hint). It’s just not a term that gets used much now, in my experience (maybe it was more common historically?).

    • Mary says:

      I didn’t know it, either. And I currently teach trig!

      • Jenni Levy says:

        Yeah. I felt dumb at first, and then when my husband didn’t know it I felt much better. Now I feel completely vindicated :)

        • Lise says:

          I’m glad you feel vindicated. I have no memory of being taught that, and it never came up while I taught math, and tutored trig, either.

          I was not happy to fill in ALINED; and I am wondering, if we’re going to see whatever-cup, can we clue it as just “bra size” without the adjective?

          There was lots of fun fill, I thought. I also liked CABANA/BANANA. And BASE TEN, GRATUITOUS, ANGIE’S LIST. Good stuff. And what would crosswords do without ELON Musk, and Enya, and good old Ernie Els?

    • Joe Pancake says:

      NYT: Add me to the list of “math people” who had no idea what a REFLEX angle was. It appears to very much be an outlier among the other well-known angles.

    • Steve Manion. says:

      I tutor for the SAT, ACT and math and knew instantly what a reflex angle is–but not because it has ever come up in either a standardized test or a math class. I am always afraid (especially on the last few problems of an ACT test) that my ability to solve the problem will depend on part on some math term that I have not seen in 50 years. As a result, I have memorized dozens of terms that no one cares about. Are you all on top of commutative, transitive and associative?
      Most of the science on the ACT is math graphing with a science context. Occasionally, though a real science term pops up and I have occasionally found myself guessing. It is not as easy for me to memorize a science term as it is a math term. The sum of an angle and its reflex is 360.


  4. Sarah says:

    If the grid fill for this NYT puzzle was accepted, anything should be accepted. Pathetic.

  5. David L says:

    I have a vague memory of learning reflex angle long ago, but like others here I couldn’t have told you what it was. It’s the kind of thing that gives math a bad name — a definition that you’re supposed to commit to memory of something with no particular significance that I know of.

    If I had to come up with a one-word description of this puzzle, it would be musty. Or something less polite.

  6. Scott says:

    Math guy here. And I have no recollection of learning what a reflex angle is. Enjoyed the puzzle nevertheless.

    • Lois says:

      Even though most here, certainly including me, did not know what a reflex angle was, the concept was interesting, the term made sense and the crosses were fine. Why do people prefer to learn slang that they will never use?

  7. Papa John says:

    Am I the only one still not able to download the LAT? Is anyone looking into it?

  8. Howard B says:

    Not a fan of ALINED.
    However, I did remember REFLEX angles from geometry class long ago. Not really common, since once you get to an angle between 180 and 360 degrees, you’re basically dealing with an acute or obtuse angle, in reverse.
    This was just one of those cases where I knew something that I didn’t know I knew, if that makes sense. Crosswords can do that sometimes.
    Anyway, kind of a cool theme.

  9. Mutman says:

    “Reflex” angle is shameful and should have just been omitted.

    The real puzzle does not have circles, but rather shading, which I find a better solve (I often do them on paper).

    Will the developers of Across Lite ever add features that make for a better solving experience???

  10. Lise says:

    The AVCX is brilliant.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Yes. Just noticing that you can take the word CROSSWORDESE and do that with it is a stroke of genius all by itself.

      If ever there was an easy puzzle that warranted five stars, it was this week’s AVCX.

    • hibob says:

      This puzzle is why I subscribe to AVCX. A puzzle that can make me laugh at how ridiculous it is, while throwing in an F-bomb and an enema gets five stars every time. Oh and the clue for 46A, great.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Pretty much. I subscribe to AVCX for two things: puzzles that make me laugh, and the Kameron Austin Collins themelesses.

      • Papa John says:

        Thanks for enlightening me. I didn’t understand why it was getting such high marks. You guys enjoy the “naughty” entries. I don’t. I’m just not in the BEQ clique.

    • Brian says:

      Fourthing the praise, in addition to what was already mentioned, I dug the 39A/D crossing.

  11. David says:

    I’m amazed at the hate for reflex angles.
    If I turn from north to northwest, the angle of my turn is acute; if north to west, it is a right angle _though_I_have turned left. If I turn from north to southwest, the angle is obtuse, and if I turn from north to south, the angle is straight _though_I_am “going backwards.” If I turn from north to southeast by turning left as in every previous example, the angle of my turn is reflex (folded on its back). Why the hate? Mystifying.

    • David L says:

      Because (IMO) it’s a word and a concept whose only purpose is to bamboozle schoolchildren. I can’t think of any occasion in physics or math when it’s important to have a name for this. If need be, you can simply say “I turned through 215 degrees.”

    • Dr. Fancypants says:

      Because it’s a word that’s so obscure/unused that even a bunch of math specialists/teachers aren’t familiar with it.

      • Jenni Levy says:

        My husband’s comment: “No one says ‘that’s a reflex angle.’ They say ‘that’s a 270 degree angle.’ It’s not useful.”

        • David says:

          We use words for things instead of numbers. All acute angles are acute because they are less than 90 degrees. We could put the actual number of degrees (or measurement in radians) for each such angle, or we could recognize that the class of angles that are smaller than right angles have common properties, with common consequences in the real and ideal worlds of math and engineering. So we call them as a group “acute.” Reflex angles have real consequences in both ideal and real worlds; they mean something: angles greater than 180 degrees. As a group, they are reflex angles. Sorry their existence offends you guys.

          • David says:

            Example: Here is the plot of a standard bastion fort, common throughout Europe:


            Go along either the insides or outsides of the walls of this fort, marking down the angles at each vertex. You can’t go far without a reflex angle. So either you jump over the wall back and forth or you deal with the reality of “some angles bend back on themselves, too bad there isn’t a word for such strange oddities.”

  12. Lester says:

    WSJ: When I came to the themer about the male beauty pageant, I wondered if they would dare use JUNK.

  13. MattG says:

    Count me in on the AVC praise. “Back-up strategy?” is just great

  14. Gareth says:

    Funny, it would have bugged me if REFLEX wasn’t. As it is, it bugged me that STRAIGHT was then omitted. Pretty sure it’s taught pretty early in geometry, but possibly not used a lot further on… Of course, if STRAIGHT was also there, the puzzle’s fill would have been woefuller…

    Aside, had an [Eyelid ailment] today, but it is, I believe, a CHALAZION. Can someone work that into a puzzle, STAT. [Second aside, I think CHALAZIONs can actually start as STYEs?]

  15. Burak says:

    This is a rare week where my grades are consistently higher than the Crosswordfiend averages. Interesting.

    Just like the NYT puzzle yesterday, very interesting and fresh long fill is mired by very bad shorter fill. Today’s grid was also a bit claustrophobic, which didn’t help its case in terms of pleasurability. That being said, the solving experience was relatively smooth for me, so I’ll give it a pass.

    While solving puzzles with a questionable fill and theme like this one, I enjoy a set of clues that make you think and try to get a couple of ahas out of you. ERGO, 3.25 stars from me.

  16. scrivener says:

    NYT: I taught high-school math and only vaguely remembered REFLEX, but its inclusion didn’t bother me, and understanding the theme helped me in the NE corner, where PARAS, SILICA, and ALINED were making things difficult. Once I could add the HT at a RIGHT angle to RIGG, I got the thing to tumble. I thought it was a fair puzzle. 12:52 for me, a bit on the slow-average end for Wednesday.

    LAT: EPOS crossing PONTE killed me. I was an English major and still don’t think I get EPOS. I had to guess on the O in EPOS and the S in GIST, because while I was fairly certain of GIST, I couldn’t bet on anything in EP_S and went with EPIC and GICT, which I knew had to be wrong but whatever. I felt like screaming although I guess I blame myself. 8:16 for me, about average for a Wednesday LAT, but with two bad squares. *sigh* I’ll never get it! Never! *banging head on piano keys*

  17. NonnieL says:

    More AVCX praise here. It was a thoroughly enjoyable solve. My favorite clue was 16A.

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