Wednesday, May 16, 2018

LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT 4:10 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


This week’s AVCX has a meta! We’ll write it up once the associated contest deadline has closed.

Jonathan Schmalzbach and Bill Albright’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

I didn’t recognize either constructor’s name. Deb over at Wordplay informs me that Jonathan Schmalzbach last published a puzzle in 1998, and Bill Albright is making his debut. Welcome (back), gentlemen!

We have an amusing, unpretentious theme, with a bit of piquancy and a crisp finish. It would go well with seafood.

Four of the theme entries have pun-ified someone’s first name. Wackiness ensues:

NYT 5/15, solution grid

  • 17a [Nickname for a glitzy author?] is JEWELS VERNE (Jules Verne).
  • 25a [Nickname for a clumsy composer?] is CLOD DEBUSSY (Claude Debussy).
  • 39a [Nickname for a sloppy painter?] is TOOLOOSE LAUTREC (Toulouse Lautrec). I would bet this was the seed entry.
  • 51a [Nickname for a fiery philosopher?] is BLAZE PASCAL (Blaise Pascal).

If they had only given us those four, dayenu! But we get a revealer, too. 62a [Classic hairstyle … or a hint to the puns in 17-, 25-, 39-, and 51-Across] is FRENCH TWIST. All the theme names are Frenchmen. An elegant, satisfying theme.

A few other things:

  • 3d [Jigsaw, e.g.] is not a puzzle. It’s a POWER TOOL.
  • 9d [Kind of bike or kayak] is TANDEM. I married into a family of white-water racers, and it took me a while to realize that when they said “K-2,” they weren’t talking about a mountain.
  • 19a [It contains M.S.G.] is NYC. The M.S.G. in question is Madison Square Garden.
  • 23a [ [Don’t touch my bone!] ] is GRR. I love this.
  • 36d [Rush-hour] is DRIVE TIME, a term I learned from WKRP in Cincinnati.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Prime Minister NEHRU was called “Pandit.”

Julian Thorne’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Startups” — Jim’s review

Another day, another pseudonym, another Mike Shenk grid. This makes five of the last six WSJ puzzles going back to last week. The only non-Shenk grid was the Friday contest puzzle which happened to be a Gaffney (it typically alternates between Gaffney and Shenk, er, excuse me, “Marie Kelly”).

This feels excessive to me. One of the ideals we hope to see in crosswords is a variety of voices that represents the solving public. We’re not getting that at the WSJ where there is a very high editor-to-everyone-else constructor ratio. I don’t think it’s usually quite as high as it has been in the last seven days, but it’s still up there.

For the month of May, not counting the Friday contest puzzles, I tallied 8 out of 12 that were under a Shenk pseudonym. That’s 67%, slightly better than the current week’s example, but still.

I’ve commented on this before, where I counted 68%, but most people seemed to shrug it off or defend this practice. More recently though, much of the crossword community (at least on the constructor side) has been focused on getting more involvement from under-represented groups. Well, at the Journal, when 66% of the puzzles come from one individual, everyone else is an under-represented group.

It would be one thing if pseudonyms were not involved, then everyone would know who the constructor really is. But with all the pseudonyms, it feels like deception — a ruse that the Journal maintains a healthy relationship with a vibrant community of constructors.

I admit I don’t know the facts behind this. I don’t know the working situation at the Journal. I don’t know how many submissions they receive or what quality they are. But I know what it looks like from the outside. What it looks like is that the editor is choosing to publish his own work (at $200 a grid) over other constructors 66% of the time. Now, I’ve met Mike Shenk and he is absolutely very nice, and his stature in the community is legendary as is his constructing ability, so I have difficulty squaring how this looks with my impression of him and what others have told me of him. If there’s a practical explanation for this, it sure would be great to hear it.

As editor, it’s Mike Shenk’s prerogative to put forth any grid he feels is up to the Journal’s standards. But as one of only three daily newspapers accepting freelance puzzles, it sure seems odd if the Journal isn’t getting enough quality submissions, given the number of constructors and wannabe-constructors that we know to be out there. I’m just hopeful that in the future he can find more of a balance and allow other voices with fresh ideas to be heard.

WSJ – Wed, 5.16.18 – “Startups” by Julian Thorne (Mike Shenk)

Here’s your puzzle. UPS has made a delivery to your front porch.

  • 17a [People who go crazy for improving business trends?] UPSWING NUTS
  • 27a [Parade’s favorable aspects?] UPSIDES OF MARCH
  • 42a [People who hope for a surge?] UPSWELL WISHERS
  • 56a [Titles on newspaper stories about end results?] UPSHOT HEADS

Jared Tamarkin’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

The revealer is rock solid – SILVER (chemical symbol Ag – Argentum) LINING means the first and last letters of three themers are A and G respectively. That’s a pretty broad brushstroke, so we expect choice morsels: ALLNIGHTLONG (his sheer volume of hits meant I flailed a bit with that one; he had a US number one each year from 1981 to 1985, as it happens.); ADMITNOTHING both fit the bill. AMERICANFLAG is unimpeachable.

Four twelves is not an arrangement most constructors would prefer. It puts two theme entries only one line from each other (as 12 letter answers can’t go in the third and thirteenth rows). On top of this has EVERY/CLOUD thrown in as a bonus.

The most unfamiliar thing to me was EBLAST. It Googles a heck of a lot better than things like EMAG, but I’d like to hear from you guys if it’s widely familiar or not before passing judgement. It crosses 3 themers – see above. Also didn’t know CORA-as-a-surname, but contemporary TV is not a strong point, and again she seems to have a decent resume to be a crossword answer.

There’s a vintage music mini-theme with COLE, LES Paul and ELLA and Louis…

SOTU was a first for me as a crossword answer, which is surprising given the useful letters.

2.75-3 Stars depending on which way the EBLAST cookie crumbles…

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32 Responses to Wednesday, May 16, 2018

  1. PJ Ward says:

    Having been too loose on Toulouse Street, I approve of this theme.

    • Ben says:

      You know, it’s funny. I was intending to apologize to matt Gaffney, joon, and Amy Reynaldo. I wanted badly to apologize. But Amy set up a wall specifically against that.
      I’m okay with that isolation. I barely feel human.

  2. Michael Tong says:

    I don’t really get how the phrase “drive time” is used, and googling doesn’t seem to help. Someone fill me in? Why is “rush-hour” the same as “drive time”? Is the idea because during rush hour, this is the time when a lot of people drive?

    • David says:

      Radio programming for rush hour listening is “drive time” programming.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      and yes, it’s because lots of people are listening to the radio as they drive. Back in the day before streaming podcasts/Pandora/Spotify, the radio was what there was.

  3. huda says:

    NYT: I thought it was a cute theme. A couple of the puns are based on the way the names are pronounced in English not FRENCH (e.g. saying the S in Jules) but maybe that’s part of the TWIST?

    One of my prize possessions is a photo of my father sitting and talking with NEHRU. It was part of the “Non-Aligned” movement where certain countries were trying to create a separate presence that was not associated with either the western powers or the Soviet Union. Nehru was an important leader in that early effort and my father represented Syria on several delegations and meetings in many parts of the world. Sadly, it eventually got hijacked and deteriorated but the original effort was really interesting…

  4. JohnH says:

    I totally agree having that all these Shenk puzzles is awful in itself, as well as discouraging gender and other diversity. I still don’t agree the obstacle to cleaning up this mess is that he uses pseudonyms when he does this, although I also already said I too hate them. (This particular puzzle, like yesterday’s, was meh.) I don’t have a clear opinion on what to allow, but surely one per week would be more than enough.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      The pseudonyms are an obstacle because they disguise the facts. If the puzzle actually ran under the title, “The Wall Street Journal Crossword with Mike Shenk” and all his grids had his byline, I probably would not care one whit. But it’s this lack of transparency that causes me to wonder what’s going on.

  5. janie says:

    i have zero inside information, but perhaps the reason mike publishes as many of his own puzzles as he does is because of whatever budget the journal gives him to work with. maybe the paper doesn’t want to pay constructors as well as mike does and this is the best way to proceed w/out cutting back constructor compensation.

    one never know…


    • e.a. says:

      i like this charitable interpretation!

      when the nyt rejects a themeless puzzle, they’ll often say something along the lines of “the puzzle was good, but the competition for these weekend slots is super tight.” if mike can only afford to give out one or two slots a week to outside constructors, it would be nice to hear something similar from him (speaking as someone whose wsj acceptance rate, at 10%, is significantly worse than anywhere else).

      (also, it still wouldn’t excuse the no-girls-allowed friday meta rotation.)

      • Jim Peredo says:

        I, too, like this charitable interpretation. I hadn’t considered the idea that as editor he wouldn’t be paid extra when the Journal runs his own puzzle. But if the advertised rate is $200 per puzzle ($500 for Saturdays), why would they not give him the budget to cover every day of the week (minus Sundays)?

        Oh, I see what you’re saying. Let’s say the Journal is willing to pay $100 a grid, but Mike thinks it really should be $200 in order to be competitive. He puts the higher rate in the spec sheets knowing he will have to supply grids for free once he’s reached the quota. I suppose that’s as reasonable an explanation as any, but as Erik said, it would be nice to know the facts, because that’s certainly not what it looks like.

        And I don’t want to believe that there’s a no-girls-allowed rule for the meta. There have only been a handful of metas by people not named Shenk or Gaffney (Patrick Berry and Todd Gross, I believe). So I tend to think that it’s just a lack of submissions from other people in general.

        • From what I recall, I don’t think Mike Shenk accepts outside submissions for the meta. He has run metas by Patrick Berry and Peter Gordon on rare occasion, sure, but I’d guess he’s probably known both of them for a long time and he’s willing to overlook that no-submissions rule for them.

          The problem is that whatever the intent, when you limit your meta submissions to only a few guys and don’t ever publish any metas by women, it has the same effect as a no-women-allowed rule. Does anyone doubt that, say, Zhouqin Burnikel could write a solid meta for the WSJ? I don’t.

  6. Gareth says:

    NYT: Shoo, but there are some difficult banks of answers: AUDRA/DULUTH/MEL was a death trap!

  7. bonekrusher says:

    How do people recognize that a constructor’s name is a Mike Shenk pseudonym?

    • GlennG says:

      Usually by regular frequency, reputation, and their presence in other media outside of the WSJ. For instance, Nancy Cole Stuart shows up frequently in the WSJ. But other than a few crossword books, this name has no cites in any of the other media. Both tend to the idea that this is likely a Shenk pseudonym.

      Also, the last time Jim editorialized about the frequency of Mike Shenk submissions, I ran an author-counting program against a list of WSJ PUZ files dating back to when they started daily grids (data set offered back then too, with no one taking me up on it *). I found out that known Shenk pseudonyms comprise about 66% of the total with Gaffney taking up the majority of the slack.

      This means roughly 10-15% of the puzzles that are run at the WSJ are from people other than Shenk (he of the 1-hour ACPT puzzle) and Gaffney. While I have no trouble with either constructor as a solver, the sheer number of the total number of puzzles taken by these two constructors definitely raises questions.

      (* if I feel up to it, I may re-run the analysis and post it to my own blog, which I didn’t have back then)

      • Jim Peredo says:

        Glenn, I will definitely take you up on that data set, especially if you re-run it.

        bonekrusher, often, but not always, the name anagrams to something else. Marie Kelly = Really Mike, Celia Smith = It’s Michael, Natalia Shore = Another Alias, etc.

        • GlennG says:

          I have the raw data sets done for “all daily puzzles” to 05-17-2018 and each year from 15-18 (the ones with PUZ files available on the usual source posted on the downloads page) – to see if Mike slacked off on providing puzzles. I almost hesitate to do analysis and group things since I’m not entirely versed on all of Mike Shenk’s aliases, but I’ll have something written up with data files posted shortly.

          I’m also half-tempted to do a dataset with all the PUZ files listed to see if there’s certain streaks where Mike stays as editor and not constructor (this would reveal if he was short of submissions), but this will probably do for now.

        • e.a. says:

          Nancy Cole Stuart ~ Lancaster County

        • GlennG says:

          Here you go. You will find the data files as XLS files on this page.

          I went ahead and did an analysis of the data and determined that Shenk did 40% of the puzzles, and that with other “closed” space (Friday grids) it goes up to 50%. I’m welcome to a second set of eyes as I’m sure I could have missed something somewhere in identifying Mike Shenk’s aliases. Anyhow, hope it proves interesting.

          • Jim Peredo says:

            Yikes! I didn’t expect to be quoted in an article!

            Nice work. Give me some time to sort through it and I’ll get back to you.

  8. Celeste Kelly says:

    I wasn’t aware of the pseudonym thing. I just wanted to say I got a kick out of WSJ today. Will pay more attention in the future. Thanks!

  9. David says:

    Fanny Crosby, prolific hymn writer of the 19th c., was responsible for so large an output that publishers were reluctant to put everything in print under her real name. There is a list of her pseudonyms cited here:
    Publishers had – and still have – an interest in seeming to have an array of authorial voices, even if a large percentage is really the output of a single person. In her case, upwards of 4/5 of the contents of some hymnals of the age were her own writings, under a huge range of pseudonyms.

    A female composer of my acquaintance does not publish under pseudonyms, and the major music publisher that has accepted her works for publication has a backlog that will take some years to put out, since they don’t want to flood the market with it. At least (I believe) they have worked with her about the publication dates and order.

  10. Nietsnerem says:

    So besides me, how many others picked up on “Dayenu”? Day-dayenu, day-dayenu, day-dayenu…

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