Wednesday, May 23, 2018

AV Club 9:03 (Ben) 


LAT 3:26 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:55 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

I was surprised that my time was under five minutes. It felt longer – and more challenging than a typical Wednesday.

Each theme answer is “expanded” when the first part of the answer is read as an abbreviation and the full word is inserted instead. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? Let’s look at the answers instead.

NYT 5/23/18, solution grid

  • 16a [Beginning, expanded?] is STREET ART. “Beginning” is START with the ST expanded to STREET.
  • 22a [Forming a crust, expanded?] CAKING —-> CALIFORNIA KING.
  • 47a [Choose in advance, expanded?] PRESELECT —-> PRESIDENT ELECTI presume this grid-spanner was the seed entry, and is the reason we have a 14×15 grid.
  • 57a [Inspiration for something, expanded?] SPARK—-> SOUTH PARK.

This was not immediately obvious for me – the light dawned with CALIFORNIA KING. The fill also made the puzzle less Wednesday-ish than I expected.

  • I made it harder than it would have been when I dropped INTRO in for 1d [Like a course labeled “101”].  Nope. It’s BASIC.
  • I would guess that 6d [“Grow ___!” (“Man up!”)] has not previously appeared in an NYT crossword. The answer is A PAIR. {commentary on the dangers of restrictive ideas of masculinity redacted by author}
  • 9d [Quarter barrel of beer] is a PONY KEG. Wikipedia confirms my thought that the name comes from the small size of the keg compared to its standard cousin.
  • 29d [Superman-like stance] is one letter too short for ARMS AKIMBO. The answer is POWER POSE.
  • That made me wonder if [60a. Buff relative] had something to do with, well, abs. Nope. It’s ECRU.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that NAURU is the world’s third-smallest country, after Vatican City and Monaco.

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Web Pages” — Jim’s review

Our theme features phrases whose first word can be treated as a well-known magazine title. I’m sure this theme has been done before, but in a more modern twist, each one is clued with respect to the online versions of these mags.

WSJ – Wed, 5.23.18 – “Web Pages” by Samuel A. Donaldson

  • 20a [Forthcoming feature of an online celebrity magazine?] PEOPLE WILL TALK. I love the entry, but am having trouble aligning it with the clue. Also, there isn’t anything online-ish about the entry.
  • 29a [Feed from an online multicultural magazine?] JET STREAM. As far as I can tell, this is the only one of the four mags that has abandoned its print format. It made the switch to digital-only in 2014.
  • 39a [Cap on article downloads from an online current events magazine?] TIME LIMIT. Like the PEOPLE entry, there isn’t really an online facet to this one.
  • 51a [Trackers from an online business magazine?FORTUNE COOKIES. Now this is more like it; I’d bet that this was the seed entry for the puzzle.

Despite some of my quibbles above, I like the theme. I wish more online-centric entries could have been found, but maybe there aren’t any. I found LIFE HISTORY [Browsing path through an online general interest magazine?], but of course LIFE is defunct and probably never had an online presence.

The rest of the grid is great. I’m not so sure about NET LEASE, but FACE CREAM, SPITFIRE, VINTNERS, and ESTATE TAX (with its [Passing levy] clue) are all fun. Also good: DEIFIES, CARDIO, and ENIGMA.

Less savory bits include INGE, ESTA, GTOS, and the AMFM/LSAT/MSRP/MT HOOD consonant orgy in the starting corner. I also didn’t know or remember TULLE (15a, [Veil material]); I wanted TOILE.

But on the whole, the fun long fill and fresh cluing more than made up for gunk. Some clues that caught my eye:

  • 55a [Celeb gossip show that looks related to this puzzle’s theme (but isn’t)]. E NEWS. The E is for “Entertainment” I gather, not “Electronic.”
  • 11d [Porch on, er, Maui]. LANAI. I’m guessing the verbal pause in the clue is because LANAI is also one of the Hawaiian islands, and, what? It was pretending it was going to say [Porch on Lanai]? Odd, but somewhat endearing.
  • 13d [They last for days]. WEEKS. I figured there was some misdirection going on, but wasn’t sure what form it would take. I like it.
  • 22d [Hitching hope]. LIFT. As in “hitchhiking.”
  • 30d [Pharmacist Lilly]. ELI. At first I was thinking, “What the heck? There’s a famous pharmacist?” Then, once I figured it out, I was thinking, “What the heck? You can refer to a pharmaceutical company as a ‘pharmacist’?” But it turns out I was right the first time. ELI Lilly was a pharmacist as well as a chemist and colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War. I don’t recall seeing ELI clued this way before.
  • 37d [Port authorities]. VINTNERS. I’ve seen the clue before, but it’s still good.
  • 45d [Tough nut to crack]. ENIGMA. I was thinking the clue was going to be literal, but uh-uh.

Good puzzle. 3.5 from me.

Kameron Austin Collins’ AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #27” — Ben’s Review

Between this week’s New Yorker puzzle and today’s AVCX, it’s been a very good week for themelesses.  Like that one, KAC’s latest themeless for AVCX wasn’t quite as chewy/tricky as I’d have liked, but there was a solid selection of fill throughout:

  • 1A‘s WHATTA MAN fell pretty quickly for me, having just seen Salt N Pepa rejoin En Vogue at this weekend’s Billboard Music Awards for a medley 
  • Lots of nice multi-word phrases placed throughout this grid – I’M IN FOR IT, GETS A GRIP, I’M HOME, UNHEARD OF, NO PROB BOB, ALPHA MALE, DAWNING ON
  • A little global flavor throughout the fill was nice too – BEAU MONDE, MONT BLANC, and the new to me SOI DISANT

4/5 stars.

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

LA Times

The theme is interesting enough: LIGHTHEADED means that four other answers begin with synonyms for light as in weak – >SHAKY<GROUND, >DIZZY<DEAN, >FAINT<HOPE, and >ROCKY<II.

The puzzle uses rare letters especially poorly. The first instance I encountered is the exception to this rule. KUDZU and ZENITH are both interesting words, and the collateral damage of KOR, USD and ARI is not too bad. After that though – TAXO/XKE is pretty terrible. I’m not sure TAXO can be called a prefix when it occurs in just one set of related words. It’s really pretty bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. HAZIER/ZOD wouldn’t have been too bad – ZOD is a Superman villain; except it’s clued as an abbreviation for Zodiac, which is hardly something people regularly abbreviate. AZERA/ZAHN is a nastily uninferrable cross; a K (as in AKIRA Kurosawa) or a C (as in the ACURA) will end up in a number of people’s grids.

Add to this, with ALTEAM making, from what I can see, its ignominious newspaper crossword debut (NLTEAM is still unused – don’t everyone rush and put it in their wordlists), and I would have probably, as an editor, only used this puzzle with a completely reworked grid (possibly with ROCKYII ditched if it was really creating that much strain on the rest of the puzzle.)


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30 Responses to Wednesday, May 23, 2018

  1. Michael Tong says:

    I like the nyt — pretty clean and the theme is nice, though I didn’t get the theme (why the first parts were shortened as they were) until after solving. Either this means the theme is not as snappy as it needs to be, or I wasn’t as snappy as I needed to be.

    • Scott says:

      Agreed. But at least you figured it out on your own. I had to come here to fully understand the theme.

  2. Jim Hale says:

    An odd puzzle for a Wednesday. I also didn’t get the theme until it was done. I had researched Nauru before but needed a few letters to get it because I only had a foggy memory of it.

  3. Huda says:

    NYT: I thought it was great fun! I liked the theme, and it really helped me to have it in mind– plopped down PRESIDENT ELECT based on the clue. Made me feel smart, for a change.

    I had no idea re PONY KEG, had PONgKEG at one point, just based on the loosest association with beer pong. Speaking of which, did you know that Harry and Meghan’s post wedding private guests played beer pong? It gives me hope for the monarchy, especially that it wasn’t champagne pong…

    • Matthew G. says:

      Never heard of a PONY KEG before. And I froze when I saw the clue for A PAIR — not because I’m a prude, but because I tend to assume Will Shortz is, and I couldn’t believe he was using that clue.

      CALIFORNIA KING is not a term that I know. It’s a … bed size?

      I tend to like David Steinberg’s puzzles a lot, but I have to say I didn’t love this one. I thought there was going to be a tighter theme and when I realized there wasn’t, it felt disappointing, especially because of the baffling answer CALIFORNIA KING.

      • Scott says:

        Yes…it is a bed size.

      • Howard B says:

        Had no idea what CALIFORNIA KING was. Thanks!

        • Huda says:

          Haha, the description coincided with the advent of water beds! You have no idea what a chore it was to fill up a California King waterbed with enough water. And if it sprung a leak (as ours did a few times) you were done for.
          Ah, what we did for hippiedom…

      • Richard says:

        I was especially shocked to see A PAIR crossing OPEN relationships!

    • Gareth says:

      Only knew PONYKEG from the song Jackson by June Carter & Johnny Cash. So I knew it was a thing, but not exactly what it was (although beer comes in kegs, so…)

  4. JohnH says:

    I couldn’t make head or tail of the WSJ theme. Online? What? Not sure I’m glad to see from Jim’s review that it’s just lame, so I merely wasted time puzzling it out.

  5. Lise says:

    I have been away and am now catching up on puzzles. Today’s AVCX jumped the line and I am just popping in to give it five stars and some love. I don’t want to put spoilers in here, so I’ll just say I liked so many of the clues; for instance, 52D, “Sound like a real ass”, 20A “Comes back to planet earth”; also the answer to 39D “Rad”. And lots more!

    Great puzzle. I look forward to the rest of the pile ;)

    • David Steere says:

      Not quite as enthusiastic as Lise about this week’s AVCX. Once again, the difficulty rating seems too high. If I could finish it–even though I’d never heard of “Whatta man,” “Joint” as used in the Spike Lee clue, Tyler and “Who Dat Boy,” “Soi Disant,” Maya Rudolph, “No Prob Bob,” and Edd Roush–five stars for toughness seems too many. More like a 3 1/2 or 4. This does make me wish for some difficult themeless puzzles like the best from the past: Patrick Berry’s published in the New York Sun and Trip Payne’s.

      • Matthew G. says:

        Until I got to the SE corner of the AVCX, I was ready to say that the difficulty rating was way too high. I zoomed through the other quadrants faster than any KAC themeless I can recall. But SOI DISANT, standing alone, was so unfamiliar and wrong-looking that I just stared and stared and stared, sure I must have done something wrong. The crosses were seemingly solid (except for NAIR, who I don’t know as clues), but it just seemed like it Couldn’t be correct. And that staring completely tanked my time. I was shocked upon coming here to find that my grid was correct.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Is it possible that you have never seen a Spike Lee movie? He’s famous for including the phrase “a Spike Lee joint” in the credits.

        Note that Kameron is a film critic (currently writing for Vanity Fair magazine), so a clue like that is going to be right up his alley. Bring your film nerd side when you tackle his puzzles!

  6. ahimsa says:

    “{commentary on the dangers of restrictive ideas of masculinity redacted by author}”

    Heh. :-)

    Let me just leave this here, video of a poem by Guante, for anyone who’s interested:

    • Jenni says:

      Thank you. That is brilliant.

    • David says:

      The words are brilliant. They are delivered by a masculine-presenting, black-clothes wearing, tatted, grizzled image of manliness.
      How about if these lines were delivered by somebody who actually got beaten up in school, for looking wrong, talking wrong, wearing wrong, being wrong – for whom “man up” meant “turn into the man you’re supposed to be?” instead of (this is how it hits me), “turn into a manlier man like us other manly men you clearly are one of”?
      This performance hits me as – a performance.

      • Jenni Levy says:

        Hmm. I obviously can’t speak to how this would land on a man. As a woman, I think it’s more powerful coming from a man who looks stereotypically masculine – although the masculinity of men of color is often perceived as dangerous, so there are complex layers to the whole thing.

      • ahimsa says:

        Spoken word poetry is a type of performance. Just like plays, music, movies, operas, etc.

        Perhaps you’d prefer this poet to perform his poem in some different way. Or maybe you’d like his poem better if you read it in one of his books. We all have different tastes in these kinds of things.

        Also, I’m curious – how do you know that this poet was not bullied as a child? People often go through all kinds of things in middle school or high school that we can’t see just by looking at them.

        More info on Guante (Kyle Tran Myhre) here:

  7. Burak says:

    Kudos to those who figured the NYT theme out by themselves. I miraculously finished the puzzle faster my average Wednesday time, but that’s purely because I fill in the long entries purely based on instinct (hmm, SOU–P–K looks like South Park so I’m just gonna put that in; CALIFORNIA-ING/PONY-EG? Let’s play the alphabet game; PRESIDENT—-T, I guess that’s ELECT)

    This puzzle still had some very good answers and some good clues. However, [“Grow ___!” (“Man up!”)] : APAIR is as ridiculous as it gets. “Hey, we have a sexist clue-answer pair here. Wait, did we make it clear enough? Let’s just add (Man up!) to the clue too, just to make sure our voice is heard.” I know that some people don’t want the crosswords to be total PC zones and I can agree with that sentiment to a certain extent, but this is just absurd.

    But yeah, the theme is too clever (or lazy, I don’t know) so this was not a pleasant puzzle. However, David Steinberg did a good job with the fill, so I’m not gonna completely tear this one apart. 2.9 stars.

  8. MattG says:

    I went back and forth both last night and this morning, but GHETTO as “poor area” rankles me. Not as much as APAIR or other things recently, but it seemingly omits the oppressive forces at work in the development and vicious cycles of ghettoes.

    I know clues can’t be too wordy, but I’m sad to consider the possibility that at least the editor, if not more people in the process, don’t consider systemic oppression worth mentioning in cluing GHETTO, especially as it’s indeed a keystone feature and as the term is so widely used in the pejorative.

    • Jenni says:

      Thank you. I had the same thought and wimped out on putting in in my review because I am tired of being slammed in comments. I think it’s wise to choose my battles and at the same time I am aware that I *can* choose my battles because of my privilege.

      Honestly, given the way things have gone at the NYT, I was pathetically grateful that the clue didn’t reference the pejorative adjectival form that I hear from my kid and her friends – and push back against. She has stopped using it in front of me, if only because she knows I will embarrass her in front of her friends.

      • Jenni says:

        and before anyone mentions it: yes, I know that Jews were confined to ghettos in Europe. My parents and grandparents lived in the American suburbs – not in the restricted towns. I grew up with a very clear understanding of the anti-Semitic (and anti-Catholic, and racist) geography of southern Westchester County.

    • john farmer says:

      Reading your comment reminds me of this:

      “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto — you don’t know what it’s like to be poor.”

      Sanders took flak for that remark. It’s not that his overall point wasn’t worthy (putting an end to institutional racism), but there were assumptions packed into his statement that later needed to be unpacked (who is poor, who lives in ghettos, etc.).

      Part of the trouble is that people don’t know what they don’t experience, so we have tensions — white/black, poor/affluent, ghetto/uptown. Stereotypes prevail, and people who are poor or from the ghetto are often treated with scorn or pity, neither of which is helpful. Better if we know them, and know their humanity.

      I looked at their black faces
      And this is what I saw:
      The wind imprisoned in the flesh,
      The sun bound down by law.
      I watched them moving, moving,
      Like water down the street,
      And this is what moved in my heart:
      Their far-too-humble feet.

      — Negro Ghetto (Langston Hughes)

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Oh, I think there’s far more fear and hatred aimed at (poor) POC than “scorn or pity.” And actually, those stereotypes of “poor people in the ghetto” are cast upon affluent black people, too. Not enough effort is put into seeing the humanity of people of color. Meanwhile, the media have breathlessly published a zillion stories aimed at getting to know the humanity of Trump voters.

        • john farmer says:

          Agree about the number of media stories on Trumpworld (NPR, NYT especially), with a corresponding lack of interest in the more numerous blue state voters. The coverage itself has become a joke.
          A: Did you read about the big concern driving Trump voters?
          B: No, what is it?
          A: Economic anxiety.
          B: Ha! That’s a good one.

  9. Penguins says:

    “Elongated” may’ve been a better way to put things though I’m sure David thought of that and elected not to use it. Found it pretty tough, specially for a Wednesday.

    Wow, I lost my penguins! Never knew how I got them and now they’re gone. Wonder if pannonica kidnapped them. Said hello after not seeing her for a while and now my penguins are no more. If you have them, pannonica, take good care of my frosty friends.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      We just upgraded the site to secure https and I think the avatar plugin bit the dust. Certain plugins don’t meet the requirements of the GDPR law from the European Union that is taking effect this week. Sorry about your penguins! Blame the EU and their enviable concern for people’s digital privacy rights.

  10. JB says:

    Very surprised by the reactions to today’s NYT — I thought the theme was probably the best I’ve seen this year. It reminds me a bit of the themes in Cox/Rathvon cryptics, where clue answers are altered in some thematic way when entered in the grid. Of course, those usually have intros that hint at how the alteration works and this puzzle just has “expanded?” tagged onto the clue — hence the frustration from many solvers?

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