David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword, “Change of Heart”—Nate’s write-up
Today’s “Change of Heart” puzzle has a prompt that hints to a meta answer: “The middle letter of the answer to each starred clue can be replaced by a different letter to form two new words across and down. Read the new letters, in order, for a bonus.” Let’s dig in and see what’s going on!
23A: UNLIKABLE [Opposite of endearing]
UNLIKABLE / WOKEN –> UNLIVABLE / WOVEN (V)
24A: UNINHIBITED [Freely expressive]
UNINHIBITED / AMISS –> UNINHABITED / AMASS (A)
46A: INTERFACING [Communicating (with)]
INTERFACING / SAFES –> INTERLACING / SALES (L)
49A: SHRINKING [Contracting]
SHRINKING / TENTH –> SHRIEKING / TEETH (E)
69A: INVECTIVE [Harsh language]
INVECTIVE / MACES –> INVENTIVE / MANES (N)
87A: IRRIGATED [Watered artificially]
IRRIGATED / RAGED –> IRRITATED / RATED (T)
89A: COMPLEMENTS [Goes well with]
COMPLEMENTS / FLECK –> COMPLIMENTS / FLICK (I)
113A: ALTERCATION [Noisy disagreement]
ALTERCATION / LICKS –> ALTERNATION / LINKS (N)
116A: COMMANDED [Ordered]
COMMANDED / INAPT –> COMMENDED / INEPT (E)
It seems that this puzzle is our secret VALENTINE! <3 Wow! If you’ve ever tried to construct a Sunday-sized puzzle with a solid theme, you know how hard that is without the meta aspect. To have this degree of flexibility in the entries to allow for such a fun twist shows true skill, and the fill / CLUEING are also super clean. Bravo to the constructor! What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
Drew Schmenner’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Art Acquistion”—Jim P’s review
We’re going on on ART-buying spree today. The trigram ART has been added to familiar phrases in each theme entry.
- 23a. [Basic suggestion for fixing a laptop?] GIVE IT A RESTART. Rest. Reminiscent of The I.T. Crowd as well as the Daddy Pig method of computer repair.
- 37a. [Anthem for many a “Fast & Furious” character?] HAIL TO THE CAR THIEF. Chief. Nice one. “Chief” to “car thief” is a wonderful find worth the price of admission.
- 49a. [Textile seen in the Scottish countryside?] FARMER’S TARTAN. Tan.
- 68a. [Successfully lifting a shot glass with your palm, tying a cherry stem with your tongue, etc.?] HITTING THE BAR TRICKS. Bricks. It’s a little odd to say you’re “hitting” tricks, but okay.
- 87a. [Tiny gin/vermouth cocktails?] MICRO MARTINIS. Minis. Never heard the phrase “micro mini,” and it doesn’t google well. Can’t tell if it’s referring to kids’ scooters, toy cars, or skirts. MARTINI SERIES would’ve fit here and seems clueable.
- 97a. [Start of a a bulletin to Michigan State students?] “ATTENTION, SPARTANS!” Spans. Another nice find.
- 117a. [Celebrations with carving contests?] PUMPKIN PARTIES. Pies.
A fun set (mostly) with a few surprising finds. It kept me engaged throughout the solve.
The long fill is very chatty today with “YOU’RE IN LUCK,” “I MEANT TO SAY…,” and “I’M STUNNED.” Other goodies include PERCOLATE, LOCKS IN, and SMITTEN. Nothing overly kludgy either.
Clues of note:
- 123a. [Dancer Adele]. ASTAIRE. Today I Learned: Adele spent many years touring Broadway and the West End with younger brother Fred to much acclaim and success. Eventually she tired of it all and proposed marriage to one Lord Charles Cavendish, son of the Duke of Devonshire, who accepted the proposal. Thus she married and retired from the stage.
- 38d. [Kelly Marie of “The Last Jedi”]. TRAN. She plays Rose in the Star Wars films and was the first woman of color in a major role in the franchise. As such, she famously received an onslaught of hate from online trolls. But she also famously withstood it and is now starring in the animated Raya and the Last Dragon. Here’s a good read about her experience.
A strong puzzle with a solid theme and clean, smooth fill. Four stars.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Clam Up”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: Each of the themers include CLAM in reverse order, moving up the Down answers.
- 3d [“Legally binding agreement”] FORMAL CONTRACT
- 17d [“Human rights barrister who has represented Nadia Murad”] AMAL CLOONEY
- 13d [“Video game in which players are indebted to Tom Nook”] ANIMAL CROSSING
This was a really diverse and great batch of themers. FORMAL CONTRACT and ANIMAL CROSSING fell right into place for me, but I also enjoyed the more political inclusion of AMAL CLOONEY. This answer is one of those great examples in which I was more easily able to fill the other two, making the theme really apparent where I was able to fill in AMAL CLOONEY without too much trouble and leading me to learn more about her work with Nadia Murad.
I loved the peppering of squares in the center of this grid. My pace picked up as I moved through the shorter three-, four- and two six-letter (ESCAPE and DRY RUN) answers. In contrast to these shorter answers, it was nice to see the two 14-letter themers nearly spanning the grid. Plus, it also drew attention to AMAL CLOONEY right down the middle, as if being like “go look this person up if you don’t know.” To make it easy, here’s the basic rundown: Nadia Murad is activist fighting against the genocide of Yazidis in Syria and Iraq by ISIS. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Clooney has worked with Murad to hold perpetrators accountable for these crimes.
That’s all from me for today! There were plenty of interesting facts with this puzzle as well, so I definitely recommend taking a deep dive to learn more about folks like 48a [“Hong Kong singer Samuel”] TAI or South Korean rapper RM (aka Kim NAM-joon). Have a great week!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Code Words”— Jim Q’s write-up
This is a byte sized puzzle :)
THEME: Meta… but surely something to do with binary code!
- VOTING BOOTH / COMMOTION. 01000010
- OIL COLOR / BIOLOGIST. 01001001
- OPIOIDS / ROBIN HOOD. 01010100
- ONION ROLL / OCOTILLO. 01000010
- HOMINOID / PINOT NOIR. 01011001
- SONIC BOOM / ROOIBOS. 01000010
- COMIC BOOK / ISOTONIC. 01001001.
- POISONING / CHOIR SCHOOL 01010100
- (nudge) [Code whose digits can be translated into letters, eight digits at a time] BINARY.
Google around for your favorite binary to text translator (I used this one ) and plug in the numbers for our meta answer: BIT BY BIT.
A fun meta with a wonderfully apt final answer.
The BINARY nudge in the corner would probably make this the equivalent of a week 1 Gaffney, so I hope this was accessible to most solvers, though there may be a bit of confusion as to how to translate the final message. I simply googled “Binary to text” and found a website that worked just fine.
For me, I noticed the abundance of O’s and I’s before I was halfway through the grid. That coupled with the title was enough for me to suspect what was going on. Plugging in the numbers into the translating site made me feel like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, though I was thankful the answer was more interesting than a commercial for Ovaltine.
Translating binary to text is not a random process, though it might look it on the surface. As Evan pointed out to me:
So I used the same rapidtables URL when I was first building it to confirm the letters. But then I (re)learned that you can convert the binary codes to letters without looking anything up, just using simple math. Here’s how:
You have eight-digit codes, each representing a letter. You can disregard the first three digits for each one (010) since that just tells you they’re uppercase letters (lowercase would be 011). The last five digits tell you the letter’s position in the alphabet. Working left to right, you multiply the fourth digit by 16, the fifth digit by 8, the sixth digit by 4, the seventh digit by 2, and the eighth digit by 1, then calculate the sum of the products (normally I’d work right to left so I could multiply up, but I think it’s easier to illustrate this way). For the first code 01000010, toss out the first three digits and you’re left with 00010. Your equation is:
16(0) + 8(0) + 4(0) + 2(1) + 1(0) = 2 –> letter no. 2 of the alphabet is B
For the second code 01001001, toss out the first three digits and you have 01001:16(0) + 8(1) + 4(0) + 2(0) + 1(1) = 9 –> letter no. 9 of the alphabet is I
For the third code 01010100, toss out the first three digits and get 10100:
16(1) + 8(0) + 4(1) + 2(0) + 1(0) = 20 –> letter no. 20 of the alphabet is T
The fill did not feel as smooth as usual for me, which is clearly due to the constraints imposed by all those O’s and I’s. I was lucky enough to know ROOIBOS from the many times I accompanied The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee but I balked on ISOTONIC, OCOTILLO, and HOMINOID. I’d be lying if I didn’t give serious side-eye to CHOIR SCHOOL. Hehe. Some new names for me tripped me up too (ISAO and NOMO to name two).
That said… seventeen theme answers. That’s nuts. Especially with each answer containing exactly four of the digits for the code. Impressive.
Coincidence of the day for me: I am currently teaching Man in the Black Suit to my seniors alongside Young Goodman Brown. It’s a great pairing. The title character is referred to as “the devil.” For some reason I have difficulty perfectly equating “the devil” with “Satan” as the latter seems more like a specific figure and the former seems vaguely metaphorical, but I’m pretty sure that’s just me. So it still took me a while to get that entry right.
Thought on this one?
NYT: Thought the theme was a bit “meh,” but it was well-executed. Fill was smooth as silk, which I’ve come to expect from David Steinberg.
Liked the clues for CPU, STAPLE and ENAMEL.
New to me: YES AND.
Got AVOGADRO off the first A, but I started out as a chemistry major in college – I’m guessing this might be tough for a lot of solvers.
I don’t think I’ve encountered CRAP without an “s” or “out” in the dice context before. For someone more knowledgeable – is that common usage?
I’ve heard the expression, “It’s a crap shoot.” (In response to Gary R).
The stickman will often call ‘2 crap’, ‘3 crap’, ’12 crap’ when rolled. But the game is ‘craps’.
Pretty disappointed in the NYT honestly. Maybe the easiest puzzle I’ve ever done for this day of the week in this publication. I found myself filling in the answers without even reading the clues a majority of the time with zero resistance. I also didn’t even go back and figure out the Meta…since it wasn’t really a Meta to solve (the instructions were given) and I could simply read about it here without the tedium.
Bottom line (for me): please give me a LOT more resistance on my Sunday NYT, at least 2 cups of coffee-worth.
I agree. I bailed after two theme entries.
I like the two cups standard.
Yeah, what they said
I thought the first comment at Rex’s place nailed it:
Steinberg (this puzzle’s constructor) said, “If one of my puzzles ends up feeling more like a construction stunt than an enjoyable solve, I haven’t done my job quite right.” I do think he sums up the problem with today’s effort right there.
NYT: echoing what others have said, a very impressive feat, and also essentially a large, tuesday level themeless
WaPo: It fell a bit flat for me as a meta, because the final across answer pretty much told you what to do, so then you google for a translator, plug in the binary combos, and out pops the answer. It doesn’t really require any insight or intuition on the solver’s part.
On the other hand, without the final across answer, it would have been totally mystifying to many solvers, quite possibly including myself, and then we would be griping that you need special knowledge to solve it. I’m not sure there’s any good middle ground here.
Even Evan’s “explanation” was beyond me. This was a total fail, IMHO. YMMV.
Norm the Totally Good Opinion-Haver has logged on.
I actually loved your “Dropping the Ball” puzzle back on the 23rd. It’s true that I have a tendency to post negative comments rather than positive ones, because the good points in a puzzle have generally been pointed out by the time I get to them. I’ll try to do better [be more positive on occasion] in the future, but I’ll still let you know when I find a puzzle disappointing.
Regards, Norm the Sometimes Good Opinion-Haver :)
“Negative” is not the word I would use to describe a lot of your comments. Nasty, vicious, and cruel … that is how you come off to me. You saying an occasional nice comment about other puzzles doesn’t change that. Not yet.
You don’t have to love every single puzzle you solve. But calling my work “a total fail”? Give me a goddam break.
A bit of personal experience that helped me a lot – I realized that if someone does something that I know they’ll do and I still get mad about it then I probably just wanted to get mad.
That realization has done wonders for my stress levels.
I don’t understand. The meta fell flat for you … because you figured out how to solve it???
You still have to figure out which answers you need and what letters (or numbers in this case) to pull out of them, and you still need to understand that BINARY is a key hint, so there’s still insight involved. And if you miss that clue for BINARY altogether, then yeah, it becomes much harder.
That said … lol, it fell “a bit flat” for you. I see what you did there.
Well, OK, the clue for BINARY doesn’t tell you in so many words how to solve the meta, but it was a pretty big and hard-to-miss hint (he said breezily, having failed to notice just such a clue in a meta some months back).
What I found somewhat unsatisfying was that the ‘solving’ mechanism consisted of googling ‘translate binary to text,’ picking one of the many apps that came up, and typing in the 8-digit numbers from the 8 pairs of answers that had lots of zeros and ones in them. So it felt like using a black box to get the solution, rather than applying brainpower. (Of course, asking solvers to figure out the binary translation by hand, as in the explanation Jim Q quoted, would have been way too much).
I don’t expect solvers to know off-hand how to convert 8-bit binary codes into letters by hand — I didn’t until writing this puzzle — but I also don’t think it’s nearly as hard to understand as you suggest.
To repeat what I told Jim: 01000010 is the first eight-digit code. The first three digits (010) don’t matter for this, so you’re working with the last five digits, 00010. You multiply those last five digits respectively by 16, then 8, then 4, then 2, then 1, and then calculate the sum of the products.
0 × 16 = 0
0 × 8 = 0
0 × 4 = 0
1 × 2 = 2
0 × 1 = 0
Add those five products together and you get 2, so find the second letter in the alphabet = B
Second code is 01001001, or 01001 without the first three digits. Do the same thing as before with those last five digits:
0 × 16 = 0
1 × 8 = 8
0 × 4 = 0
0 × 2 = 0
1 × 1 = 1
Add those five products together and you get 9, so find the ninth letter in the alphabet = I
Rinse and repeat.
In any case, the point is you can solve the meta either way. The math method is just a handy trick for understanding how to convert binary into letters. Solving it with an online translator is perfectly fine in my book; same as with looking up information on Google or Wikipedia to find what you need to solve any other meta.
(p.s. Tried to use a plus-sign in the comment but I don’t think Fiend is letting me.)
I understand that fine, but it would have been very hard, IMO, to construct a meta that would guide unwilling solvers through the method. It’s math! It’s scary!
“fell a bit flat” — brilliant!
I’m with the consensus on the NYT as disappointing. I wanted to love it, because it’s interesting as construction, and you’d have to be mean spirited not to like a reference to Valentine’s Day. I won’t complain either that it’s too easy, since Sunday level varies greatly. Still, there’s no thematic connection to the grid, meaning basically themeless. If you weren’t told which words and letters to change, it could have been a Gaffney puzzle with a particularly hard meta.
Put me on the side of really enjoying the WaPo meta. I’m usually horrible at figuring out metas, so when I saw “binary” in the 137A clue and then all the O’s and I’s in what looked like the “theme” answers, I thought to myself, “Yes!! I’m going to get this one!!”
Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it!
NYT: I know no one will read this since it’s late, but I have to call foul on an incorrect clue. 41A. Indigo and violet are both trisyllabic. I mean ROYGBIV calls it out.
Good point. I’ve heard it pronounced as two syllables – vy-let – but it’s three for me.
Appreciate the vi-o-let support!