Wednesday, May 30, 2018

AV Club 8:22 (Ben) 


LAT 3:37 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:24 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Sande Milton and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

An unusual grid for an unusual puzzle with a layered, complex theme. I spent some time looking it over after I solved it and then checked Wordplay to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

There are five obvious theme answers and one that looks like a revealer.

NYT 5/30, solution grid

  • 20a [Rack #1: AELPRSY] is PLAYERS. They’re not trying to hide the theme.
  • 25d [Rack #2: AAEGNRR] is ARRANGE.
  • 56a [Rack #3: BDEJLMU] is JUMBLED.
  • 23d [Rack #4: EELRSTT] is LETTERS. That’s exactly what they do.
  • 31d [Game described by this puzzle’s four racks] is, of course, SCRABBLE.

Then we have 35d [Assortment … or a description of 32-, 39- and 42-Across] is MIXED BAG. Wait. The theme entries aren’t 32-, 39-, and 42-Across. What’s going on?

  • 32a [Key] is ISLET.
  • 39a [Subway entry] is STILE
  • 42a [Game pieces in 31-Down] are TILES.

That’s the game board surrounded by the racks. It’s an actual Scrabble game in the grid. Wow.

The fill is very constrained by the amount of theme material and the shape of the grid. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the puzzle; I wonder if the same would be true for a younger solver. I know the saying “Loose LIPS sink ships,” I remember TEENA Marie, I’ve read about ABIE‘s Irish Rose, and I’ve actually seen a TELEX machine. And I’ve actually driven the entire Nevada stretch of US ROUTE 50, once dubbed “the loneliest road in America.”

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Oklahoma State’s mascot is Pistol PETE.

He’s a fearsome looking dude.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Inner Nerd” — Jim’s review

You know where this is going based on the title. Yup, phrases with NERD spanning multiple words.

WSJ – Wed, 5.30.18 – “Inner Nerd” by Zhouqin Burnikel

  • 17a [Red carpet wearDESIGNER DRESSES
  • 26a [Result of an eHarmony match, perhapsDINNER DATE
  • 43a [Dachshunds, casuallyWIENER DOGS
  • 55a [Neighborhood pharmacyCORNER DRUGSTORE

While the theme is familiar, Zhouqin executes it pretty much perfectly. The phrases are well-chosen and even include a couple of grid spanners. I was going to ding the grid for the use of three words in the final entry (where STORE might be considered extraneous), but then I realized DRUGSTORE is often (usually?) written as one word. So there’s not even that.

And for consistency’s sake, each themer breaks up NERD in exactly the same way. It’s always more elegant if each answer does things the same way or if they each do it differently. As an example of a hidden word theme, this is pretty much a poster child (poster puzzle?).

As usual, our constructor gives us plenty of fun fill to discover. I like the pairing in the northwest, even if the two entries are in the wrong order: “IS IT TIME?” “YES, INDEED“. In the southeast there’s a MAGNETIC HOUSE VOTE going on, whatever that might mean.

Clues of note:

  • 48a [Decreased?] is not FADED but IRONED.
  • 60a [Diamonds in the sky] is not STARS but KITES.
  • 62a [GI on the run]. AWOL. This always sounds wrong to me as a noun. I’ve never heard it used that way except in crosswords.
  • 19d [Starfleet Command setting]. EARTH. SAN FRANCISCO didn’t fit.
  • 27d [MapQuest line]. ROUTE. Is MapQuest still around?
  • 41d [Book with Numbers]. BIBLE. The capital letter gave it away. A much trickier clue would have been [Numbers book].

That’s about all I got. A straight-over-the-plate but smooth-as-silk puzzle. 3.5 stars.

Rebecca Falcon’s AVCX, “Going Viral” — Ben’s Review

This week’s AVCX features a guest puzzle from Rebecca Falcon, who had her debut puzzle published by the AVCX a few weeks ago as a Friday bonus.  Let’s take a look at what’s going on with “Going Viral”:

  • 19A: Place for paddles or Solo cups (late ’80s, infected floppy disks) — PING PONG TABLE
  • 32A: “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” star (late ’90s, hit Windows machines) — MELISSA JOAN HART
  • 44A: Place where firs are raised (mid-’80s, affected mainframes) — CHRISTMAS TREE FARM
  • 56A: Hulu series for Sarah Silverman (early ’00s, spread through Microsoft Outlook) — I LOVE YOU AMERICA
  • 72A: 2018 Janelle Monáe album, or what you may have if you acquired any of the circled malware in this puzzle — DIRTY COMPUTER

Each of the theme answers starts with the name of a notable computer virus.  I love the timeliness of this theme (DIRTY COMPUTER came out last month and is a solid bop all the way through), but as a whole the grid’s lacking a little of the inventiveness/pizazz I associate with the AV Club’s puzzles.  With a few cluing changes, I’m pretty sure this could have run in the NYT without issue.

Other thoughts:

  • The problem with solving a puzzle right before lunch is that you see a clue like “South Asian wrap” and enter DOSA into the grid instead of SARI.
  • We nominated GREG Kinnear for an Oscar.  That happened.
  • okay, so re: my earlier point on this appearing in the NYT, maybe BALL GAG wouldn’t fly there, but plenty of the rest of this would without too much issue.

Solid construction, if lacking in some of the usual AVCX pizazz.

3.5/5 stars.

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

LA Times

The theme is revealed at EXTREMEMEASURES, only the theme is actually more precise than that. I count that as a minor demerit – the revealer doesn’t relate to the fact that all the measures are weights, which seems off. On the plus side, it has the three major English weights, in order – TON, POUND, OUNCE. Less used weights, like grain and stone, are ignored, making things neater. POUND and OUNCE must have been tricky to find appropriate answers for, as PUTTERAROUND and OUTOFBALANCE are both pretty stolid as theme answers go. THEBOOKOFMORMON is an excellent 15, no matter how you feel about the contents.


  • [The bubbles in bubble tea, usually], TAPIOCA. Haven’t tried that, but recently discovered the joys of falooda. Here the “bubbles” are vermicelli and gelatin and not tapioca. Been trying to find some of the dishes I’ve learnt about in crosswords; General Tso’s chicken is actually incredible! The new Indian restaurant here serves palak paneer, so that’s next up!
  • [Youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate __ Yousafzai], MALALA. Definitely the most difficult name here, although winning the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize means her name has been in lights. MALALA as a surname is South African journalist Justice.
  • [How, to José], COMO. Spanish speakers, is that accurate? I know it’s quite a versatile word, can it be stretched to “how”?
  • [Pinch hitter, say], SUB. In baseball. In cricket (which borrowed the term from baseball), the player is merely promoted.
  • [Kid-friendly card game], UNO. Not always so friendly – it can be quite kid-rowdy too…
  • [Divided island north of Australia], TIMOR. Hands up for trying PAPUA first.
  • I liked how [Canine neighbor], MOLAR abutted [Eye wolfishly], OGLE.
  • [Thurman of “Kill Bill”], UMA. A role that has been in the press lately for all the wrong reasons.

3.25 Stars

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20 Responses to Wednesday, May 30, 2018

  1. Brian says:

    I don’t get it? I see the four racks around ISLET/STILE/TILES, they’re are anagrams, but how do those three connect to MIXED BAG/SCRABBLE?

    • Martin says:

      TILES are drawn from a bag in Scrabble.

      • Brian says:

        True, the center “board” part is what’s throwing me. Why are they anagrams? Aren’t all crossword puzzles essentially Scrabble boards (propers, partials etc. excluded)?

        • Martin says:

          You may be overthinking this. The center stack represents drawing TILES from the mixed bag and three ways to arrange those tiles if they truly were T-I-L-E-S. It’s just a little add-on to the theme, which is comprised of the full (7-letter) jumbled tile draws, which are all anagrams of words relevant to a Scrabble player.

          I see the center as more of a meta-Scrabble board than an actual one.

    • GLR says:

      I don’t think the black squares in the middle of the grid are supposed to be racks. I think they’re supposed to look like a cloth bag with a drawstring top, from which the players draw their tiles. (So the bag contains TILES, jumbled.)

  2. Jim Hale says:

    Really liked the puzzle theme. I figured it out fairly quickly so the puzzle was a snap.

  3. Michael Tong says:

    I don’t find the description of the game given in the puzzle very satisfying, but it might be my own nit to pick. I think in my head the bigger part of scrabble is how you arrange those words relative to the board given (and the various bonuses) so even when I got the four “racks” I wasn’t very satisfied because I Knew they mean scrabble but it felt a little off. Something like text twist seems to be more about arranging your given letters in a vacuum, which is more fitting.

    I found the top block nearly impossible since I didn’t know acetate, morales (though I do know ESAI of the same name!), nor the crosswordese downs: P&G detergent, Scotland river, and nail polish.

    As a younger solver I didn’t find the “old” stuff too bad since the letters are pretty inferrable. I knew the word Telex thanks to Radiohead (song on “The Bends” called Planet Telex)

  4. Penguins says:

    love the creativity of Jeff Chen and partners

  5. Lise says:

    Great NYT. So creative, and plenty of theme. As far as the names go, I know ABIE only from crosswords; it was nice to have a new clue for MORALES, I have memorized Tommie AGEE now, don’t know ESSIE (who?), and I do remember TEENA Marie.

    I was a little slow at the top of the puzzle. Scotland’s got a lotta rivers. I’m just saying.

    • Huda says:

      Lise, I’m totally with you. Great creativity. Some challenges with a bunch of names. But many points for doing something so distinctive.

    • Papa John says:

      I thought it was a spot-on puzzle for a Wednesday. Good one.

  6. Scott says:

    Typo in the write-up for rack 2. ARRANGE rather than REARRANGE.

  7. Burak says:

    I didn’t love the theme, but that doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate the creativity and effort behind it. If you’re doing a gimmicky puzzle, you have to make sure you went all the way. This one did: The design, the racks, the tile bag in the middle… Nice, clever touches. If I hadn’t realized what was going on way too early, I probably would have enjoyed it even more. But yeah, thanks Sande Milton and Jeff Chen for not just throwing a cheap gimmick at us and actually working on it to perfect it.

    The design led to some inevitable problems with the fill, and the clues could have been better; but overall, a very fine puzzle on my least favorite day of the week. 3.5 stars.

  8. Zulema says:

    NYT: very creative and fun indeed.

  9. Nikki says:

    Big day for Malala and Uma – both making appearences in AVCX & La Times!

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