Wednesday, January 16, 2019

LAT 3:52 (Gareth) 


NYT 5:11 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P.) 


AV Club 7:49 (Ben) 


Bruce Haight’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 1 16 19, no 0116

Okay, how do I explain the theme? Let’s lay out the theme clues and answers, and take a look:

  • 17a. [“___, do these jeans make me look fat?”], BUTT WEIGHT. I don’t get it. You might say, in very limited circumstances, “but wait, do these jeans make me look fat?” but you would never, ever begin your question with the words “butt weight” followed by a comma.
  • 25a. [“___! The flight attendant just swatted a bug!”], AISLE BEE. “I’ll be.”
  • 36a. [“___, would you like to purchase some religious music?”], BUY CHANTS. “By chance,” not an exclamation like “but wait!” and “I’ll be!”
  • 53a. [“___ and those crazy sheep costumes!”], EWE GUISE. “You guys.” This one is terrible.
  • 62a. [“___! Petr, I’m begging you again to let me get this!”], CZECH PLEAS. “Check, please.” Oof.

I actually don’t think there is a crisp way to describe what the theme is doing, and I’m not a big fan of it.

Also not a fan of early- to mid-week puzzles with such open corners, those stacked 7s. They tend to push towards more junky fill (ROUE TOAT SEEIN SOAMI EELY ITTY OPAH). I did like LAB TECH, HOT SEAT, EYE-ROLL, and DO LUNCH, though.

[“Obviously, Sherlock!”], DUH. This would be out of place in the BBC’s Sherlock but I would not be surprised if DUH appears in the (apparently dreadful) Holmes & Watson movie. (And yes, I know the clue isn’t actually referring to a work of fiction.)

2.9 stars from me. Perhaps you enjoyed the theme more than I did.

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Civil Rights” — Jim P’s review

Well, now. I do believe I have the distinct honor of blogging the very first Mike Shenk crossword puzzle in the Wall Street Journal. If you’re new around here, Mr. Shenk is a longtime and very highly-regarded constructor, and he’s also been the puzzle editor for the paper for a good many years. The truth is, he’s had many (many, many) of his own crosswords run in the paper, but always under one of numerous pseudonyms (both male and female). He also constructs wonderful variety puzzles, but those have always been in his own name.

In recent months and years, with the spotlight on the lack of diversity in the constructing field, especially with regards to women, we here at Fiend have been hoping for an end to editorial pseudonyms. We feel they muddy the waters and make it more difficult to get a true assessment of the state of things. And they make us as solvers suspicious whenever there’s a new byline. We’d rather be congratulating and promoting a new constructor instead of guessing if they’re a real person or not.

Whether the presence of a “Mike Shenk” byline is here to stay or if we had anything to do with it, I can’t say. But it is welcome, and I hope we’ll see more of it.

On to the puzzle! In honor of Martin Luther King Day coming up. Our theme adds -KING to the ends (or to the “rights”) of four well-known words and phrases. Further, though not actually part of the theme, there are numerous FITB clues with quotes from the Reverend.

WSJ – Wed, 1.16.19 – “Civil Rights” by Mike Shenk (He Kinks Me)

  • 17a [Black bird pretending to be a dog?] CROW BARKING. Crowbar. I’m sure this is meant to be taken superficially, but I really wonder if this was the best entry to have in a Martin Luther King puzzle, given the history of Jim Crow.
  • 25a [Withdrawing cash from a hotel ATM, say?] TRAVEL BANKING. Travel ban.
  • 45a [Danger of stepping in quicksand?] DEADLY SINKING. Deadly sin. Followed immediately by SAVE ME [Distress call].
  • 57a [The quest for the Grail?] HOLY SEEKING. Holy See.

The repetition of a four-letter string made getting the last two entries a lot easier than it would have been. I mostly filled in the answers based on the theme; it wasn’t until afterward that I went back and saw the base phrases. I especially liked the modification of “travel ban” and “deadly sin.”

Here are the quotes in the clues, only two of which I immediately knew, but the rest were fairly straightforward.

  • 11a [“The soft-minded ___ always fears change”: MLK]. MAN. Don’t know why, but I went with WIT at first.
  • 16a [“Thank God Almighty, we ___ free at last”: MLK]. ARE. This was a welcome gimme in that tough NE corner.
  • 44a [“…not be judged by the color of their ___, but by the content of their character”: MLK]. SKIN.
  • 56a [“We may have ___ come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now”: MLK]. ALL.
  • 13d [“___ succumb to the temptation of bitterness”: MLK]. NEVER.

Fill-wise, ALAN ALDA makes crossword appearance number 265,338 though this time he’s fully named. I liked seeing the word SKULKED, the Blondie reference for NEW WAVE, YAMAHAS, DESOTO, APACHE, and LLAMAS, TURTLES, and NOOBS (oh my!).

MAITRE D’S looks weird in the grid as a plural, but the head-scratchiest entry goes to MAXIM GORKI at 11d [“Summerfolk” writer]. I didn’t know the name, nor the book, nor how to parse what I eventually came up with. I know the title Gorky Park, could they be related? Yes, in fact, the Moscow park is named after MAXIM GORKY (how most of the Internet spells the name). Ironic plot twist: MAXIM GORKI (or GORKY) is a pseudonym of Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov.

Not a challenging theme, and I wish one of the entries was replaced, but the fill and cluing are both good. 3.5 stars.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that the grid is not quite symmetrical, and I can’t really see a reason for it. One block was moved (either in the upper middle section or the lower middle section), probably to allow for cleaner fill. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done before.

Wyna Liu’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #35” — Ben’s Review

It’s a themeless debut in today’s AVCX!  I’ve chatted with Wyna Liu between puzzles at a few crossword tournaments in the last year, and it was an absolute delight to see her byline on today’s puzzle.

  • 1A: Repeated several times, an iconic movie line from 1931 — IT’S ALIVE (realizing this was the line took me far longer than it should have.)
  • 17A: Some of them are Pauline — EPISTLES (loved this clue – just odd enough to give me a minute of pause to figure out how it was supposed to be parsed, followed by a nice AHA)
  • Loved the trio of conversational entries in KINDA SORTA, I’M ALL OUT OF IDEAS, and SO THAT’S IT
  • 35A: What’s needed to address the UN? — NY, NY (that’d be the address on a postcard – this was another clue I found very clever)
  • 24D: Overexposed item — KIMYE (YESSSSSS.  This is the couple name for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, for those unfamiliar)
  • 32D: Like Zooey Deschanel and assembling flat pack furniture with a Hello Kitty screwdriver (h/t the Guardian) — ADORKABLE (I almost don’t need the “and” in this clue – it reads like a New Girl episode synopsis without it.  That said, I love to see a cited source in a clue)

This had a good sense of personality to it, which is what I look for in a themeless puzzle.  A splendid debut, and hopefully not the last puzzle we see from Wyna!

4/5 stars.

Susan Gelfand’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

The puzzle uses the “members of category x” theme type, but spans them across two answers, except for the short bonus (I guess?) RIO in ORION. The revealer is a little bland as a stand alone answer – CARINTERIORS, but does describe the theme aptly. The interiors are all car models, belonging to a variety of marques – Chrysler NEON, Chevy IMPALA, Kia RIO, Toyota ECHO apparently (had to look that one up). There are a near infinite number of such models, but these are mostly pretty familiar to me, despite the fact many models have different names here.

Longer themers mean less emphasis on splashy fill surrounding. The themer BLENHEIMPALACE may trip some less Brit-savvy solvers. My last letter was EOM/OMB. I still wasn’t sure what EOM was supposed to mean (end of month, allegedly) but I guess at OMB being ombudsman. At the very least, those two abbreviations intersecting was inelegant.

3 Stars

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16 Responses to Wednesday, January 16, 2019

  1. Dr Fancypants says:

    Wow, the NYT theme was a hot mess, and the fill was no treat either. SCREAMO supposedly came into existence back when I actually knew more about music (and listened to some punk), yet none of the bands listed on the Wiki page under the genre are names I’ve ever heard. Huh.

    At least it was easy for me, and this over quickly.

  2. Ethan says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever been so out of step with a review as today. This theme struck me as being pretty original and occasionally amusing. And EWE GUISE was a *highlight* for me!

    As for the fill, I’m not so old, but old enough to remember when a stack of the caliber of TRESTLE/HOWTRUE/EYEROLL or TOOLBAR/CHATEAU/HOTSEAT was not something we were treated to Wednesdays on the regular. EELY is not really a bad price to pay, and I’m not even convinced that it isn’t *good*. If I had a student describe something as “eely” in a piece of creative writing, I would think that was a pretty cool description, actually. I mean, did we need to instead see ESPY for the zillionth time?

  3. JohnH says:

    On the WSJ, let me hurry to agree that it’s so nice to see Mike Shenk rather than yet another pseudonym. Hope the change holds.

    I’ve misgivings about the puzzle. On the one hand, the theme was a fun challenge, and it was good to have the dual tribute to King in his name and his words, for a theme-dense grid. The rest of the fill was pretty smooth, too, even if I didn’t know Stupar. (I do think of a maitre d’ as just having a different job from the server, greeting visitors rather than waiting tables, not supervising, but strictly speaking I’m wrong.)

    OTOH, is anyone else a little queasy about invoking King only as a source for puns like this? I could understand if someone were offended.

    FWIW, I hadn’t heard of (or at least remembered) “Summerfolk” either. (I know I’ve read “The Lower Depths.”) But Gorki is preferred in RHUD while Gorky is preferred in MW11, Wiki, and most other places, while it’s only a transliteration from a whole other alphabet anyhow (what looks like a backward N), so I’m fine with either one as a fill. (It was actually a pen name, from the Russian for bitter.)

  4. David Glasser says:

    AVX: What a clean and delightful grid with great cluing. I hope this is the first of many!

  5. RunawayPancake says:

    WSJ – I liked today’s puzzle much more than the reviewer. Very enjoyable yet challenging for a Wednesday. Also learned some new (to me) quotes from MLK.

    On another note (and I know this will sound heretical to a lot of you), but is there a compelling reason why grids have to be symmetrical?

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I think symmetrical puzzles are more visually pleasing. Further, in themed puzzles, symmetry helps the solver identify where the theme answers lie (usually, but not always). In that way, it can be an added help in filling the grid.

      The fact that the WSJ is not symmetrical by just one square and for no apparent thematic reason is highly unusual.

      • RunawayPancake says:

        Thanks for the response. And I agree that a symmetrical grid is useful for themed puzzles. Other than that, I guess it’s just a matter of longstanding tradition and visual esthetics.

  6. Dave S says:

    Gareth – re: LAT, OMB is the acronym for Office of Management and Budget.

  7. Noam D. Elkies says:

    I was all set to kvetch about SEE(KING), but instead learned that “see” and “seek” are unrelated — indeed “seek” seems to be “from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sagire ‘perceive by scent’.”!


  8. Mike Miller says:

    Greetings from the WSJ. We do have a new policy on bylines. (in case the link doesn’t show up properly here, you can find it at We appreciate the interest in this subject on this blog!

Comments are closed.