Wednesday, May 2, 2018

AV Club 16:34 (Ben) 


LAT 3:30 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:55 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Bryant White’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

Now this is a good reason to have circles in a puzzle. It’s a fun, original theme with lots of pieces to discover. A very nice Wednesday. I thought it was a debut, since the constructor didn’t show up in our list of tags. Turns out it’s his first NYT puzzle since the 1990s.

Take a look at the grid and you will see that the circles form a specific shape:

NYT 5/2, solution grid

The circles form a HIDDEN STAIRCASE, nestled in the center of this unusual grid. There are several other theme answers scattered around.

  • 9d is [Something you might secretly push in a 24-D]. 24d is 24d [Where you might adjust the volume?], which is a fun clue for BOOKCASE. The answer to 9d is FALSE PANEL. That allows you access to the HIDDEN STAIRCASE since the BOOKCASE is right next to it.  And yes, there’s a dupe with BOOKCASE  and STAIRCASE, and I think that’s part of the fun.
  • 28d is [Something you might secretly push in a 19-Across]. 19a is 20d [Secret spot] or HIDEAWAY (and yes, another dupe, and still part of the fun). 28d is WALL SCONCE. A sconce is another classic place to find a switch for a hidden staircase, but I think all SCONCEs are on the WALL, aren’t they? It’s a tiny little nit and it didn’t stop me from enjoying the theme. The SCONCE  is slightly removed from the staircase, as it would be.
  • The staircase takes you from the TROPHY ROOM at 19s to the WINE CELLAR at 59a.

I really enjoyed this theme. I love hidden staircases and secret doors. We have a door from the dining room to the garage that’s disguised as a cabinet and it’s sometimes a surprise to guests. That’s always fun. I also like the graphic nature of the theme and the unusual grid. Fun all around.

A few other things:

  • 4d [Not be a dinosaur] is ADAPT. Not sure it was the fault of the dinosaurs…
  • 7d [Quartets after some infighting?] would be TRIOS. My boss made a comment today about someone who “took their ball and went home.” Our non-US-born colleague had no idea what he was talking about.
  • I filled in 14d without looking at the clue and assumed SUMAC was clued with reference to Yma. Nope. It’s [Poison _____]
  • 32d [Extraordinary thing, in slang] is ONER. Addition to the clue: “slang extinct in the wild but preserved in crossword puzzles.”
  • 68a [Elicit a slug with a pillow, maybe] is SNORE. I’ve never done that. I just poke him till he rolls over.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that JAVA is near Christmas Island.

Rich Proulx’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Key Figures” — Jim’s review

I started solving this but didn’t finish before I had to get on the road. I had most of it done, but hadn’t sussed out the theme yet. When I returned to it, the theme jumped out at me in a lovely aha moment.

Theme entries are common phrases, but something’s missing. Each one should start with a number, but it’s not to be found…until you look closer at each entry’s starting square. There you’ll find the clue number which should be incorporated into the phrase. Cleverly done!

The revealer is at 33d with the clue [What might end the year, and a hint to five answers in this puzzle]. The answer is COUNTDOWN.

WSJ – Wed, 5.2.18 – “Key Figures” by Rich Proulx

  • 3d [Well-known round] BLIND MICE
  • 9d [Band with the Grammy-winning “Wish”] INCH NAILS
  • 20d [Deduction game] QUESTIONS
  • 21d [Military tribute] GUN SALUTE
  • 30d [Hit drama about aging baby boomers] SOMETHING

This is really impressive construction, to get symmetrical phrases placed just so in the grid where their clue numbers can be incorporated into their phrases. From a construction standpoint, it must have helped tremendously to use left-right symmetry vs. the traditional diagonal symmetry, but still, it must have taken some doing to get things just right. Very well done!

That said, I’m not sure about the revealer. I don’t know that it really adds much to the affair; I sussed it out without it. INCH NAILS and GUN SALUTE are pretty clearly missing something, so it makes sense to look at the clue number.

And COUNTDOWN doesn’t really say to me, “Incorporate the clue number into the phrase.” I think the puzzle would have done fine without the revealer. Maybe move it to Thursday, but it would still be gettable. Of course, you’d have to come up with another theme answer for 33d.

And maybe also eliminate fill entries that are the same length as theme entries. Of course, I love YES MASTER and OPERA BUFF, but you better believe I checked and made sure that 31 YES MASTER and 32 OPERA BUFF weren’t things.

There’s also a preponderance of tough proper names: QUEEG [Captain in “The Caine Mutiny”], UHURU [Current Kenyan president Kenyatta], ISSEL [Basketball Hall of Famer Dan], and OSRIC [One of the few survivors in “Hamlet”]. Plus, other more common names but with challenging clues. Mostly these are gettable with the crossings, but ISSEL crosses SED [But, to Brutus], and that S might trip some people up.

But on the whole this is a really lovely puzzle. There’s more to like in ONCE OVER, RESISTED, HOME RUN, ON A DATE, HOISIN and “TOO CUTE!” I’m not sure how I feel about “OH, MISS!” [Summons to a waitress]. It feels a little arbitrary, and I would never use it in real life (I prefer the more neutral “Excuse me”), but I’m sure I’ve heard the phrase in numerous films or on TV.

Clues of note:

  • 8a [Parasitic pest]. MITE. We just found out that our dog is very allergic to dust mites and nearly every single grass known to dog. Thankfully, after numerous vet visits and several hundred dollars later, we’re starting to get a handle on all her issues.
  • 28a [Curry is popular here: Abbr.]. NBA. A little awkwardly worded perhaps, but it successfully disguises the capital letter in Steph Curry’s name.
  • 46a [Org. with a MonsterMind program]. NSA. Didn’t know what this is, so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, it’s a “program which creates an automated response to a foreign cyber-attack.” Its existence was revealed by Edward Snowden.
  • 58d [Parseltongue sound]. SSS. For those of you who don’t recognize this, it’s the language Harry Potter uses to talk to snakes.

Overall, a wonderful puzzle with clever construction. Four stars from me.

C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

I’ve never heard the phrase ITTEAM before this puzzle, though it wasn’t uninferrable. It also googles reasonably. Today’s ITTEAM consists of five famous people with I.T. initials. The first two are the more famous. I have my suspicions (perhaps unfounded) that Americans ignore non-American Olympians so IANTHORPE may be difficult. I personally only know IDATARBELL from other crosswords. One additional answer is split in two – ISAIAH/THOMAS. We get an additional hint with him that he is named for crossword favourite ISIAH/THOMAS. Interesting to see if anyone was stumped by at least two names today…

Zhouqin does always make an effort to include some interesting non-theme answers, even today with a fairly jam-packed theme. We have the long down pair of DEARREADERS and SHRIMPTACOS. We also get an ANCHO, which although having crossword-friendly, feels like something I haven’t seen much.

Mystery clue for me was [Luray attraction], CAVERN. Apparently, it’s in Virginia.

Lastly, [Walked all over] TRODON is one left off TROODON, a cool dinosaur I hope to see at least once in a puzzle…

4.25 Stars

Byron Walden’s AVCX, “Misleading the Fifth” — Ben’s Review

Dang!  After last week’s 2/5 difficulty puzzle, the AVCX is back with a vengeance with Byron Walden’s 5/5 difficulty.  Rating puzzle difficulty is tricky business, but it takes a lot of consensus to get the top rating on the hardness scale.  Add in an unusual grid size and this was more of a challenge than recent entries have been for me.  Within all this, there’s a theme behind that “Misleading the Fifth” title:

  • 17A: Movie studio PR people — HOLLYWOOD FLACKS
  • 36A: Drop cloth drips — PAINT FLECKS
  • 38A: “The Notebook” and “The Holiday,” e.g., in the narrow demographic imagination of filmdom — CHICK FLICKS
  • 39A: Hordes of honkers — GOOSE FLOCKS
  • 57A: What this puzzle’s constructor realized he was upon discovering there was no way to complete the theme? — SHIT OUTTA FLUCKS

Save that last entry, this is a pretty standard NYT A-E-I-O-U grid, just at a weird size.  The vowel thing gave me a few footholds on some green paint-ish themers, but this solved a lot like an irregularly-sized themeless.

Other fill I liked this week: FUMIGATOR, RHINELAND, FOLEY, IONE SKYE (or was it PHOEBE CATES?), AP LATIN, BELLY FAT (“spare tire component”), BUTT FLOSS (as in “underwear that’s barely there”), PINK FLOYD, OCALAN

4/5 stars.

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21 Responses to Wednesday, May 2, 2018

  1. RSP64 says:

    That odd…apparently the clue for 32D is different in the app than in whatever format Jenny used to complete the puzzle. I show the clue as “extraordinary thing, in slang” in the NYT Crosswood app on my iPad. Regardless, the answer is a term with which I am not familiar. Of course, I’m in my 50’s and live on the west coast.

    • GLR says:

      Jenni saw the same clue you did. Her “addition” was meant to emphasize the fact that NO ONE, regardless of age or location, is familiar with this word, except from seeing it in crosswords.

  2. Jeff M says:

    Wow, NYT. Just wow. That was really bad.

  3. David Steere says:

    AV CLUB: I’m a bit mystified as to the difficulty rating of 5 for this puzzle. I’d have given it a 3 or 3 1/2 for difficulty. As one who takes forever to finish (or not finish) the tougher AV Club puzzles, this seemed a breeze–even though I had to guess (correctly) on 46 across and (incorrectly) on 47 across (due to never having heard of the person at 43 down). A cute sequence of long across answers culminating in a funny 57 across.

    • anon says:

      In my experience, the editor-supplied difficulty rating for the AVX has zero relation to actual difficulty. Today’s was no exception.

  4. Dave says:

    I was doing a puzzle from the NYT archives recently, maybe 2011-13 in which the words SPIRAL STAIRCASE, were placed in a spiral fashion, in circles like this one, down the center of the puzzle, so the puzzle seemed derivative to me.

    • Richard says:

      I remember that one, but I think this one’s use of pulling secret things to open to the staircase sets it apart pretty well.

    • Ethan Friedman says:

      While it may be overly familiar as a theme idea to you, since you did it recently, calling the puzzle derivative because a theme from roughly 6 years ago shared some aspects with it is a stretch.

  5. Lise says:

    The NYT reminded me of playing Clue; going through a secret passage was so fun. The scene from Young Frankenstein was so apt! Thanks for posting it. The pdf had grey squares for the hidden staircase and I thought that it might have been interesting if it had had a truly hidden staircase not called out by circles or shaded squares. But great puzzle; I hope to see more from the constructor!

  6. Lise says:

    I also loved the WSJ, although I was looking for “33” to be part of COUNTDOWN. (Is it? Did I miss something?) Not disappointed, though. The construction was amazing. I can’t even imagine how to get all the clue numbers right where they should be and keep the puzzle in any way symmetric. Lovely!

  7. Lester says:

    WSJ: Didn’t we just see this theme (at least its sibling) in last Thursday’s NYT?

  8. jj says:

    Can’t tell you how annoying I find parenthetical clues like 43D in today’s AVC, though I’d take a parenthetical in every clue if it means never having to run into 22D ever again. Nearly quit the puzzle full stop right there.

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