Wednesday, July 31, 2019

LAT 4:24 (GRAB) 


NYT 4:11 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (Vic) 


AVCX 5:00 (Ben) 


Gary Larson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Comment Section”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Common phrases get a punctuation makeover. The first word is roughly synonymous with “verbalize” and the second word becomes something that is spoken.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Comment Section” · Gary Larson · Wed., 7.31.19

  • 17a [How horse whisperers might calm their subjects?] SPEAK, “EASY
  • 23a [How bygone British lords might show their approval?] STATE, “CAPITAL!”
  • 35a [How UPS workers might announce their arrival?] EXPRESS, “DELIVERY!”
  • 47a [How schoolteachers might quiet a classroom?] UTTER, “SILENCE!”
  • 58a [How radio operators might indicate they’re done talking?] VOICE, “OVER

At first I wasn’t too sure if I liked this theme, but once I realized the second word should be in quotation marks, I liked it a whole lot better. At that point, each entry felt a lot more lively and fresh and fun.

Not a whole lot of sparkly fill besides, but I do like ROOT ROT, VOTE NO, and ON ACID. I don’t get tired of seeing LOOFAH either. But I am oh so tired of SST.

Clues of note

  • 14a [Hoppy happy hour order]. Who else put in IPA here? I’ve been trained such that when I see “hops” in a clue, I figure it’s gotta be an IPA. Well, not today. We just need a more generic ALE in there.
  • 16a [Pro with programs]. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t get USHER out of my head for this one. Finally realized it was meant to be a CODER.
  • 40a [Skid row woe]. DTS. Wow, that’s a depressing clue.
  • 65a [Head for a pub?]. LOO. Cute. I like it. And I don’t have a problem with LOO and LOOIE being in the same grid.
  • 6d [Platonic]. CHASTE. I don’t normally equate those two words.
  • 27d [Dismissive call]. NEXT. I guess it’s dismissive if you’re the one who just had your turn even though you feel your turn isn’t over. But this isn’t always the case, so I’m not so keen on this clue.

I quite enjoyed the theme on this one. 3.7 stars.

Dan Caprera’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 7 31 19, no. 0731

Well, you’d think the mighty New York Times might have a way to tell us right on the puzzle page that the puzzle contains something visual that doesn’t display in the .puz file, but no, they let you just download the puzzle and be perplexed. The theme entries fill in the blanks in a pirate tale of instructions to find buried treasure, starting with 16a. [“Arr, matey! So ye seek buried treasure to fill yer ship’s hull? Well, the first clue is easy. Just ___”], START AT THE SKULL. The .puz has no skull, of course, but the puzzle notes say “In the print version of this puzzle, the first black square in the top row contains an image of a skull.” (I only found the notepad after finishing the puzzle and going to the kitchen for a snack.) The subsequent instructions are to go EAST TWELVE PACES, then SOUTH SEVEN STEPS (why not stick with one word, either PACES or STEPS?), then WEST FIVE, THEN DIG. Those moves take you to the X in the center of the grid, where AXE crosses OXI. I’ll bet the payoff is disappointing when you dig in the middle of a crossword grid and expect to find buried treasure. (Shorter version: “Look for the X and dig there.”) The theme played like a big nothing for those of us using the .puz format.

Three more things:

  • 10d. [Officer’s baton], TRUNCHEON. Not a word we see much in the U.S., but it’s one of those cool-looking words from Middle English. (See also: dungeon, surgeon.)
  • 31d. [French noblemen or noblewomen], MARQUISES. I think this means the plural of marquis and the plural of marquise come out the same.
  • 42d. [Things hurled at the Olympics], DISCI. Whoa. Not sure I’ve ever seen that plural of discus. I’ve got bad news—I checked three different good dictionaries and they all list only discuses for the plural. Constructors, if you were about to add this entry to your word list, please don’t. (And yes, I’m sure there is some unabridged dictionary out there that includes DISCI, so simmer down, defenders.)

3.25 stars from me. I’d have liked a theme that doesn’t require an added visual gimmick, and less fill in the MOTO ECASH IRAE SSS vein.

Catilin Reid’s Universal Crossword, “Unplugging”—Judge Vic’s write-up

Caitlin Reid’s Universal Crossword, “Unplugging,” July 31, 2019, solution

THEME: … Well, here is the reveal:

54a Eschew a modern lifestyle, or a hint to the starred entries GO OFF THE GRID. What’s off the grid? (Say it with me: “GO!”]
8a *Hard time ROUGH [GO]. As in, I had a rough go in court today.
19a *Be completely wasted [GO] DOWN THE DRAIN. Literally. Something goes down the drain, you’re probably not getting it back.
24a *Onset GET-[GO]. Hyphenated.
34a *Lose it [GO] BANANAS.
38a *”Gotta Catch ‘Em All” app POKEMON [GO].
50a *Spoil [GO] BAD.
64a *Split the bill [GO] DUTCH.
4d *Match game? [GO] FISH.
55d *Tries HAS A GO.

That’s a lot of theme.  And it’s clever.  Let’s see if it was worth it. Other stuff, good and not-so-much (imho, of course):

15 Pay for play? AD FEE
16 Rebuke to Brutus ETTU
22 It covers most of Canada TAIGA
29 Food label amt. RDA
45 Anti-traffic org.? DEA
46 Completely cover ENROBE
51 Peter and Catherine were great ones TSARS
53 Like Cantonese TONAL
66 ___ school MED
1 Perform with precision DO TO A T
2 Defeat in a mental battle OUTWIT
3 Nirvana, e.g. GRUNGE BAND
6 Beefy happy hour orders SLIDERS
7 Began to cry TEARED UP
9 Use in excess, informally OD ON
11 Test for a dropout: Abbr. GED
13 Gave, as kibble FED TO
20 Egerton of the “Kingsman” films (RAN TO anagram) TARON
21 Pie order option A LA MODE
28 Old what’s-his-name SO AND SO
30 Code in advance PRE-PROGRAM
35 Audio equipment brand AIWA
36 Want’s relative NEED
37 Attend to SEE AFTER
42 Armed conflict WARFARE
47 How food from a wok may be served ON RICE

I’m awarding 3 stars.

Steve Faiella’s AVCX, “Diving Spots” — Ben’s Review

AVCX 7/31 – “Diving Spots”

Today’s AVCX is a constructing debut by Steve Faiella – congrats, Steve!  It’s a healthy 15×15 grid with a 3/5 difficulty rating.  Let’s dive into the theme going on in “Diving Spots”:

  • 2D: Darwin’s ship — HMS BEAGLE
  • 4D: Pugilist-in-training, perhaps — SHADOWBOXER
  • 26D: Influencer, e.g. — TRENDSETTER
  • 36D: Swimmer whose Olympic gold medal record total was broken by Michael Phelps — MARK SPITZ
  • 19D: Yoga pose, and what’s found four times in this puzzle’s grid — DOWNWARD DOG

So, this is a fine theme, and in another venue I’d rate it more highly, but it lacks the usual extra level of creativity I associate with the AVCX’s puzzles.  This feels oddly standard and like something I could see running in the NYT (which is good news for Steve – keep constructing!), which isn’t what I expect from Ben Tausig and co.

There’s some great choice of fill running across the grid – I particularly liked APRICOT, ART DIRECTOR, CAREWORN, OAXACAN, DAISHIKI, COSMOLOGIST, and KNEAD IN.

I love the rise of pop star and (former) America’s Next Top Model host Rita ORA as crossword fill. She has some catchy songs!

May the rest of your Wednesday be as smooth as solving this puzzle was for me.

Zachary David Levy’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

TURNTABLES is a nifty piece of word play; here, words that go with “___ table” – CARD, POOL, TRAY and END – are hidden backwards in four long across phrases. I do wish the way they were hidden was more consistent, some span the two words, some are only in the second word, it makes the impact of the theme rather less. That said, SPEEDRACER and FROOTLOOPS are good choices, though CONTEMPORARYART and MYGOODNESS felt more run of the mill. Is Kelloggs also hyping unicorn Froot Loops in the US? Some terrifying pinky colour. I guess I am not in the target demographic though.

MIDLIFE/LEST make a perfectly good pair, but I would’ve gone for MIDWIFE in that square? Personal choice? Otherwise, I did enjoy some of the choices in the medium-range fill particularly BAFTA, PIPETTE and stacked pop hits MMMBOP and YOUARE (which is the full title).

My big unknown of the day? GUNNAR Nelson. I saw [One of the Nelson brothers of 90’s pop] and thought “I know Ricky of 50’s pop, but it’s not him…” Turns out Matthew and Gunnar Nelson are his twin sons. They had a short string of hits in the early 90’s that seem to form a lacuna in my 90’s music knowledge. It seems like pretty standard pop formula, not unlike their father was…

2,75 Stars

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18 Responses to Wednesday, July 31, 2019

  1. CC says:

    99% certain I’ve seen this theme in NYT sometime in the Shortz era (maybe in the last 10-15 years?) as a Sunday puzzle–as in, all themers were steps in which you had to count the number of “paces” in various directions. At least in that puzzle, you found a “treasure box,” which was the word GOLD arranged clockwise in a 2×2 set of squares.

      • CC says:

        That’s it, thanks for the find! And they even both have the word AXE hiding the “X” at the center of the grid! Except I liked the Merrell puzzle more as a) it had you start on X (thus avoiding any special character not visible in some puzzle formats, a la this puzzle’s skull icon) and b) the added elegance of working not only that starting “X” into one of the directional themers (“PROCEEDSIXTOTHELEFT”) but doing the same with the “treasure” word “GOLD” as well (the 1st two letters in “GODOWNSEVENSPACES”

  2. Scott says:

    I don’t usually find fault with the NYT puzzle, but agree that this was a fail when using the puz app.

  3. GlennP says:

    NYT: I’m with Amy. I’ve thought several times in the past few months that the NYT folks aren’t thinking enough about the multiple ways people do their puzzles: on newsprint, in their web app, in AcrossLite, in Android apps that use .puz downloads, and on PDF printouts (judging from the complaint in the Rex Parker blog about those being messed up by the long clues).

    • Ethan Friedman says:

      Actually I think they *are* thinking about it, but are prioritizing the greater flexibility of some formats to do cool things.

      The puzzle was OK not great, but the skull was a nice touch. My totally wild guess is that the Times cares about: print, web app, iOS app. They’re happy to support AcrossLite, PDF, etc. but don’t want to limit themselves to only using things those antiquated formats can handle.

  4. Rebecca F says:

    I loved this NYT puzzle and thought it was a very fun debut. I solved on the NYT site (as I always do, given the increase in number of puzzles that can’t be accommodated by Across Lite) and the payoff was not disappointing.

    Seems like it’s time for programs that run .puz documents to update so they can run puzzles with visual elements. We’re always asking for constructors to do something fresh, and I think that incorporating visual components does just that. Surely a heads up from NYT would help here, too. (Although that’s something to take up with the editor, not the constructor.)

    • Ethan Friedman says:

      ^ This. Frankly, it’s getting close for the Times to end support for the .puz format unless it’s updated to handle funky stuff.

    • JohnH says:

      I don’t generally have access to Wednesday puzzles and didn’t today. Still, I agree and would be delighted to see the puzzle devices take chances like this. It seems a shame to rank it so low for tech reasons not in their control.

      Perhaps, though, they could in the puz version have added “[but see instructions]” to the end of clue 1A.

    • Norm says:

      Seriously, a skull thingie in ANY format would have done zilch for my non-appreciation of this poor excuse for a puzzle.

  5. Lise says:

    AVCX: Loved the dogs. Any puzzle with dogs is more than all right with me ;)

    I wondered, though, about the clue for 9D, GRE: “PhD program application tests”. This seems to be a plural clue for a singular answer. Unless there’s a hidden “Exams” implied. Also, EXAMS is an answer in itself, later.

    Sorry if that’s too much of a nit. I really did enjoy the puzzle, and having a Stephen Hawking clue was wonderful. Also, I laughed out loud at the clue for EURO.

    Nice debut! I hope to see more from Steve Faiella.

  6. Dan Asimov says:

    The NYT buried treasure-themed puzzle *does* have a “yellow notepad” note in the .puz file for those who wish to read it. And though DISCI may not have support in major desk dictionaries, maybe it’s the Roman Olympics that the clue refers to. I was not terribly impressed one way or another by the theme, but it was generally pleasant, somewhat innovative, and I have no complaint about this puzzle.

  7. Philippe says:

    Marquises is only the plural of marquise, feminine for marquis, whose plural is just marquis. So wrong clue. Referring to the Southern Pacific archipelago (where, for instance, the famed Jacques Brel spent the last year’s of his too short life) would have been nicer.

  8. dr. fancypants says:

    Like so many contrived “E-” words, ECASH brings any puzzle down a notch for me. I’d love to see that one get e-rased from constructors’ word lists.

  9. JJ says:

    NYT: The reason they uses paces and then steps is because the clues are rhyming couplets (okay I don’t know my poetry terms well, maybe not couplets. But they rhyme).

  10. Re: Ben’s review of the AVCX:

    So, this is a fine theme, and in another venue I’d rate it more highly, but it lacks the usual extra level of creativity I associate with the AVCX’s puzzles.

    I don’t understand this. If the same exact puzzle ran in the NYT, clues and all …. you’d say it was a better puzzle than it is now? It’d be the same puzzle.

    I get that people form expectations of what kind of puzzle or theme they may get from certain venues or on certain days of the week, and even that people prefer some puzzle venues more than others. But unless you’re comparing two different puzzles with the same theme, I’d really encourage everyone to just look at each puzzle on its own merits — not by comparing it to what you think it’d be like in another outlet. (This also gets to another reason why I think the Fiend ratings are a bad metric for judging a puzzle’s quality, because having different ratings for the same puzzle if it appeared in different outlets just doesn’t make much sense.)

  11. Seth says:

    AVXC: Could someone explain why “Drew challenges?” is CASES? Presumably “drew” is some kind of adjective, but I don’t get it.

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