Monday, December 17, 2018

BEQ 14:33 (Vic) 


LAT 4:27 (Nate) 


NYT 2:58 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


The New Yorker 4:35 (Amy) 


Brian Thomas & Andrea Carla Michael’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

I like this puzzle a lot, although it does make me wonder about the infamous “breakfast test.” More on that later.

We have four theme answers and a central revealer.

NYT 12/17, solution grid

  • 18a [Small bird of prey] is a SPARROW HAWK.
  • 24a [Something falling down, in a children’s song] is the LONDON BRIDGE.
  • 51a [Dorothy’s footwear in “The Wizard of Oz”] are the RUBY SLIPPERS.
  • 62a [What follows Thanksgiving] is BLACK FRIDAY. Follows, precedes, intrudes upon…

What ties these all together? 39a [Commandeers … or a friendly hello to the people starting 18-, 24-, 51-, and 62-Across?] is HIJACKS. We are hailing JACK SPARROWJACK LONDONJACK RUBY and JACK BLACKJACK RUBY? I thought the breakfast test was supposed to eliminate names or topics that would cause people distress while they were eating. JACK RUBY famously shot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television two days after Oswald killed President Kennedy. That’s not the sort of thing I’d care to be reminded of over breakfast. This is not a knock on the puzzle – the theme is consistent and accessible without being predictable, a nice trick on a Monday. I just wonder about the universality (or actual existence) of the breakfast test.

The fill is good, especially considering the volume of theme material for an early-week puzzle. A few things I noticed:

  • 7d [Pinker in the middle, say] is RARER. Or, if you’re like my father, “redder in the middle” would be rare enough.
  • 30d [Start of a newsboy’s cry] is EXTRA EXTRA. Ah, the good old days, when information in the newspaper was actually new.
  • 33a [Put the kibosh on] is a nice clue for SCOTCH.
  • 36a [Actor Efron of “High School Musical”] is ZAC. Anyone with a daughter my kid’s age (born in 2000) knows Zac Efron. I was startled the first time I saw him in a grown-up movie and realized my kid and I might be crushing on the same guy.
  • Culinary education in the crosswords: 47d [Like thumped watermelons making a deep sound] is RIPE.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the SURREY is named after the English county. My knowledge of that type of carriage can be summed up in one song.

Lewis Porter’s (Mike Shenk’s) Wall Street Journal crossword, “Nothing Doing” — Jim P’s review

First off, the byline for this puzzle is, I believe, one of the many pseudonyms of editor Mike Shenk. Lately, Team Fiend has been having some discussions (amongst ourselves) regarding the use of female-sounding pseudonyms by male constructors and how we feel it’s detrimental to the crossword community at large. While today’s pseudonym isn’t female-sounding, Fiendster Laura is blogging “Marie Kelly’s” contest puzzle here, and she makes some excellent points about the issue. If you have any interest in this topic, I suggest you take a look, regardless of whether you solved that puzzle or not.

Back to the business at hand. We have a simple synonym theme in which we find phrases whose first word can mean “nothing.”

WSJ – Mon, 12.17.18 – “Nothing Doing” by Lewis Porter (Mike Shenk)

  • 17a [Tony winner for “Fiddler on the Roof”] ZERO MOSTEL. I always wondered about his name. Per IMDB, his real name is Sam, but he was given the nickname Zero by a nightclub press agent who said, “Here’s a guy who started from nothing.”
  • 26a [Jacket closure, in Britain] ZIP FASTENER. I don’t know this term.
  • 43a [Exercise also called a “burpee”] SQUAT THRUST. I love the word “burpee.” When you belch, you’re the burper, but who is the burpee?
  • 55a [Spot to jot] SCRATCH PAD

A fine theme set even though the name Zero comes directly from its meaning of nothingness.

Plenty of strong fill to like in this grid, especially “AM I RIGHT?,” BULLPEN, and IQ TEST. Other goodies include ORATORY, PESETAS, and BRIGADE.

A solid puzzle with good fill. But..

There were a couple clues that turned me off. OGLE gets the clue [Look at longingly], which makes it feel like innocent behavior, not sexual objectification. And IVANA gets the clue [Mother of Eric and Donald Jr.]. Why do we need these people in our grid, people who performed questionable acts of re-directing charitable donations and meeting with Russians all so their father could steal an election and undermine our democracy every day of his presidency? Doesn’t pass the Breakfast Test in my book. Life would be so much better without a Trump Presidency…

Gail Grabowski & Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Nate’s write-up

Get on your feet for today’s LAT puzzle!

LAT 12.17.18

LAT 12.17.18

20A: SITTING PRETTY [Well-to-do]
25A: STANDING ORDER [Instruction to a bank to make periodic payments]
45A: WALKING PAPERS [Pink slip]
51A: RUNNING LIGHTS [Ship’s required nighttime illuminators]

I enjoyed the progression throughout this puzzle’s themers – from SITTING to STANDING to WALKING to RUNNING – all the way down the puzzle’s grid. The fill was largely smooth (which is impressive considering that the grid is a pangram!), aside from UNCA, TOG up (which I’d never heard of), and my ?!?!?!? moment at ROZ/ZESTA. I was pleased to see women like Tina FEY, Paula DEEN (though she’s quite problematic for her past racist statements), ROZ from “Frasier” and JESS from “New Girl” – though they are still quite outnumbered by the men throughout the grid.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday crossword #495—Judge Vic’s review.

BEQ Monday Themeless #495 Solution, 12-17-18

Wowsers! Fourteen and a half minutes (14:33, to be exact) seems like a world record for me. Either it’s too easy, or I just found myself in BEQ’s mind while solving–a scary thought!

I liked the puzzle even though it’s not difficult, thrilling or exciting. It’s well-made, adeptly clued, and just really okay in a positive way. Sometimes that’s what you get and that’s all you need. It has a lot going for it. For the statistically-minded, it’s 68 answers, only six of which are 3-letter words. There are 30 blocks, 13.33% of the grid.

The seed entries appear to be SPIDER MONKEY and CAPITOL STEPS, each of which I got quickly after only a few crossers provided  a toehold. Other nice ILSAs include SCARFACE, DOGEARED, and EN MASSE in one corner; PEERED AT and SALES REP in another; WIRETAPS and ON CREDIT  in a third.

Brendan’s cluing was up to his normal standards, which is a compliment:

  • TERRORS are [The stuff of nightmares].
  • FAR AWAY is [Not in the neighborhood].
  • UNARMED is [Not carrying anything].
  • CAST is a [Group on a play date].
  • TOPSOIL is a [Spot to put your roots down].
  • SALES REP is [One handing out demos, say].
  • OPEN AREA is a [Place to kick a ball around].

And there is more where those came from. Including some stuff that made me look the other way: DEPTS, NAWS, LINOS, LDL, CEIL. It’s the price to be paid for the good stuff.

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. 3 stars.

Liz Gorski’s New Yorker crossword—Amy’s write-up

New Yorker crossword solution, 12 17 18

Ooh, the first time I’ve gone under 5 minutes when solving a New Yorker themeless. I think the puzzle crew’s been working on easing up the clues a bit for the sake of enticing solvers who are not tough-themeless-puzzle junkies like me.

Top fill: JUICE FASTS (I would never), PHENOMENON, HAND MIXERS (cute clue: [They might cause a stir?]), CHRISTMAS COOKIE and the HOT OVEN it was baked in, the new DUCHESS OF SUSSEX Meghan Markle, and “OKAY, SHOOT.”

Unexcited by ENSHEATHES. Isn’t sheathes more common?

Another good clue: [Inspector of hives, perhaps] for an ALLERGIST and not a beekeeper. Great mislead for a 9-letter space.

I actually had one wrong square to hunt down and fix: I had male OSO instead of female OSA for [Spanish bear], since most of the man-edited crossword venues have trained me to assume the male version is intended unless something in the clue specifically signals femaleness. But that is bullshit, and I’m 110% fine with the ungendered clue leading to female OSA. (Really should have noticed along the way that OLLS is nonsense and needed to be ALL’S, of course!)

4.1 stars from me.

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24 Responses to Monday, December 17, 2018

  1. JohnH says:

    Maybe no place for it in Crossword Fiend, but you no doubt all know that the NYT packed in a whole huge section of bonus puzzles this weekend, enough that few will tackle them all. I just finished its Puns and Anagrams. May I ask for help in parsing two clues. In the first, the quotes are part of the clue:

    “Trio” answer: ELMO
    . . . E F G H I J K . . . answer: SHEEPISH

    • JoelF says:

      Hi John! This is Joel, I made that puzzle. An elm is a type of tree, so “Trio” leads to “Elmo” (in the Puns and Anagrams mindset, which is admittedly warped). For SHEEPISH, if you look closely you’ll see that a picture of a sheep has replaced the letter H. So, SHEEP IS H is how to parse that one. Hope you’re enjoying the section!

      • JohnH says:

        Ah, thanks! My eyesight may just be lousy. I’m in fact wishing that the section had larger type for clues. (Well, it is unusually small type.) And I did enjoy the puzzle. Nice job.

        But then the puzzles aren’t all that well served by the graphics, I think. It might just be print quality. Say, I’d never have imagined the intent of two views of the corpse on which the detective story turns. And I puzzled over a bright red fruit or veggie, when neither APPLE nor TOMATO seemed to work for “Halfsies,” only to find it was supposed to be, well, I shouldn’t say. (I didn’t even try the close-up views of another image puzzle.)

  2. GLR says:

    Nothing to do with the puzzle, but some might be interested to see Huda’s research cited in yesterday’s NYT:

  3. Bob says:

    RE: WSJ – I didn’t think twice about the clues that you found so offensive. It’s clear you have a chip on your shoulder and are looking for reasons to rant. What I can definitely do without is political and other editorializing in a crossword commentary. I didn’t realize this site had an agenda. I actually agree with some of what you said, but just don’t need to see that here.

    • Jenni says:

      This site has a point of view. It includes the belief that women are actually human beings and not objects and that the current administration’s policies are damaging to women and other human beings. It’s always interesting to me that commenters are aggrieved when “political and other editorializing” invades their crossword space, and don’t realize that we are “editorializing” because misogyny and other toxicity invades our crosswords. In asking us to stop mentioning the impact of that invasion on us, you are saying that our discomfort is irrelevant, but we should cater to yours. You are, in fact, doing to us exactly what you object to us doing to you.

    • Lise says:

      Hi Bob: I’ve been thinking about the expression “didn’t think twice about” and I think that’s where the problem lies. I am not intending to throw you under the bus, but rather postulating that that’s where a lot of us go wrong.

      I was reared by a mother who used the term “gypped” when she felt cheated out of something. When I learned the origin of that term, I was horrified. Both of us had been using the term without knowing how awful and unfair it was to a whole land of people. After I explained it to her, neither one of us ever used it again.

      But the problem is, we had not been thinking twice. We were unwittingly using an expression that objectifies people when we would never have consciously insulted anyone. It’s what we each heard growing up, without understanding that it might have some other meaning, so it was there as an unconscious response.

      It’s hard to bring those habits to the conscious mind and think about the effect that the words we say or write, have on others. It’s one reason that people in the public eye keep saying things for which they need to apologize later.

      I know that thinking carefully about what one says can take time, but is that a bad thing? I like that this blog keeps us thinking about how to be nicer, more fair, more inclusive, and points out when crosswords fail in that respect.

      We’re each here on this site because we love crosswords and we want to see them be the best that they can be. I love how constructors and reviewers are paying attention and changing attitudes and showing that it’s possible to create exciting, fun, and challenging puzzles without objectifying anyone.

      • Bob says:

        Can I just remind you what the issue was that was so offensive: “IVANA gets the clue [Mother of Eric and Donald Jr.]. ” It wasn’t about Donald Trump directly. “Why do we need these people in our grid…?” Seriously? These people?! Ivana and her sons?! Why is that offensive? What did they do that was so awful? Would you be equally offended if there was a clue that involved Chelsea Clinton, who had an equally misogynistic father? Or what about Jackie Onasis? Is she off limits because of her womanizing former husband? And I want to be clear that I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about taking an innocuous clue and using it as an opportunity to carry on an agenda. The thing is that I agree with everything you say about Trump, I just don’t know why his innocent wife and children needed to be attacked. But if this site is going to stretch anything that is remotely offensive into an opportunity to get indignant, then I’ll find another site that just focuses on crossword puzzles. That’s all I was looking for.

        • Jim Peredo says:

          “Innocent wife and children”?! Maybe Ivana. Maybe. But Eric and Don Jr are as dirty as their father. You heard about a little thing called the Trump Tower Meeting with Russians to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton? Yeah, that was Don Jr. And the Eric Trump Foundation is being investigated for mis-use of charitable donations (to cancer-stricken kids no less). That’s pretty awful stuff and maybe even borderline treasonous in the case of Don Jr. I’d say that’s good enough reason to complain about their unnecessary presence in a puzzle.

    • Lois says:

      I think one position is not represented here, the position that it’s fine to include the names whatever you think about the people. I agree that Ivana, apparently still friends with her ex-husband and claiming to often give him advice, is probably not a wonderful person, but I don’t mind seeing her in the puzzle, or even Idi or many others. Also, although many people on Amy’s page agree about a lot of things, there are still many voices and much pleasure to be gained by reading the critics’ views even if one doesn’t always agree. For instance, Jim Peredo wishes that IVANA hadn’t been used, but Jenni generously put up with Jack RUBY.

  4. Lise says:

    LAT: could someone please explain the answer GRAIN for 29D “Not enough salt to taste, perhaps”? I checked the LA Times Crossword Corner and the reviewer there didn’t understand it, either.

  5. Lemonade714 says:

    GLR, thank you for posting the article which included Huda.

    Jenni, is there a reason you never posted a review of yesterdays LAT?

  6. John Verel says:

    Not to jump the gun, but found BEQ surprisingly easy today.

    • M483 says:

      You are so right. Thanks for the heads up. I wasn’t going to start it tonight, but I just whizzed through.

      • David R says:

        I think I set my personal record for both the BEQ and TNY as far as speed this week.

        • Victor Fleming says:

          My time was a personal record for a Monday Themeless. Sorry the review was late. It was done before 1 p.m. CST, but technical difficulties set in, causing a delay.

  7. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Re the SQUAT_THRUST clue:

    If you burp a baby, the baby is the burpee.

  8. Ellen Nichols says:

    I found the reference to Jack Ruby unsettling, though not upsetting. I was watching the live TV broadcast on Sunday morning November 24, 1963. The police were bringing Oswald to another location and Ruby ran in and shot him, then gave himself up. I was ten, and found it quite upsetting to see someone shot in real life (yes, on TV, but not fiction.) I ran upstairs to tell my parents and they didn’t believe me.

    OTOH, the use last week of NAZI didn’t bother me, I guess it got desensitized with Seinfeld’s the Soup Nazi.

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