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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
A Crossword Blog...
by Rex Parker, published: Thu 24 Jul 2014 06:00:00 AM CEST.
Helmet part / THU-24-JUL / Outwit, in a way / Big bang maker
Constructor: David PhillipsRelative difficulty: toughish for a Thursday, until you get the trickTHEME: "Paint It, Black"
— put the word IT into four different pairs of black squaresWord of the Day: PETER TOSH (32D: One of the Wailers of Bob Marley and the Wailers)
Peter Tosh, OM (born Winston Hubert McIntosh; 19 October 1944 – 11 September 1987) was a Jamaican reggae musician. Along with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer he was one of the core members of the band The Wailers (1963–1974). After which he established himself as a successful solo artist and a promoter of Rastafari. He was murdered in 1987 during a home invasion. --Wikipedia
• • •
Should I know the name David Phillips? I don't, but this is a very polished piece of work, especially impressive if he's a new constructor. Theme answers:
- (4D: Hit 2012 Disney film) WRECK IT RALPH
- (20A: "Looky here!") CHECK IT OUT
- (59A: Not worry about something annoying) LET IT SLIDE
- (22D: 1966 Rolling Stones hit ... or an instruction to be followed four times in this puzzle) PAINT IT BLACK
Crossing your IT's yields eight long entries the other way: ENCIRCLED
, CUTS INTO
, PETER TOSH
. Essentially what we have is this (excellent) grid with eight black squares added:
Two elegant touches: 1) the letters IT are used as the word "it" uniformly in all four entries and 2) the ITs are symmetrically placed in the grid. A third elegant touch is that no stray ITs appear anywhere in the grid, which would've been slightly unsightly. Not sure if this was by luck or design but if the author is reading this I'd be interested to know in comments.
Two dings on the theme clues:
1) The clue for LET IT SLIDE sounds off. "Not worry about something annoying" is more like "let it go," while "let it slide" means "decide not to punish a minor infraction." This is a minor infraction, though, so I'll let it go.
2) This one rankles a bit, though: I think the revealer clue at 22D should have read "1966 Rolling Stones hit ... or what the constructor did four times in this puzzle." I can't find a way to interpret the clue where the solver is painting IT black. I put IT in white letters in the solution grid, for example, but I didn't paint anything black. If I'm missing a reading of this then let me know in comments, but it doesn't seem as on-target as a visual aspect-revealer should be.
But still, a good use of the letters-in-black-squares idea. And check out that grid: at 72 words, it's wide-open (and clean) enough to be an above-average themeless. Don't miss those internal 4x4 blocks in green in the solution grid above; it's one thing to do a 4x4 box in a corner or edge, but quite another to do it in the center like this with long words beaming out of it in all directions. Bravo.
Lovely week of puzzles thus far, isn't it? A-, C+, A, B, and I'm giving today's puzzle a grade of A
-. Hoping for a B on Friday so we have all the letters of "Abacab."
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for one more day of CrossWorld
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Talkative bird / WED-23-JUL /Tater tots maker / Mekong Valley native
Constructor: Howard BarkinRelative difficulty: pretty easy for a WednesdayTHEME: "___ check"
— Each of the six words used in the theme entries precedes "check" in a phraseWord of the Day: TOCCATA
(38A: Bach work) — (from Italian toccare, "to touch") is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers. Less frequently, the name is applied to works for multiple instruments (the opening of Claudio Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo being a notable example). -- Wikipedia
• • •
This is one of those "both words can precede (or follow) word X" themes, which we've seen a lot of in recent years. They're not terribly exciting since the reveal is always a slight letdown; you'd hoped there was something mysterious and intriguing going on with those starred clues, but then not really.
OK, so accepting the limitations of the theme type, let's see if super-solver (three-time finalist at the ACPT
) and super-nice guy Howard Barkin can jazz things up a little for us. The three theme entries themselves are a good start, with nice phrases BODY DOUBLE
, BACKGROUND SOUND
("background noise" Googles rather better, but this phrase is also legit and has the cool -ound/-ound echo) and the excellent PERSONAL BAGGAGE
. How Howard must've delighted at seeing both PERSONAL and BAGGAGE on his list of check-preceding words, and then hitting a 15-letter phrase with them to boot. Euphoric boost for a constructor when you score a nice 15.
The revealer is a cut above as well: BLANK CHECK
is the answer, and the clue is (Complete freedom ... and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue)
. So you fill in that blank with the six theme words.
The solve was just under five minutes for me and the grid was a mixed bag. Liked seeing those wide-open NW and SE corners, though my Scowl-o-Meter went off some with ARTE
and the contrived RESEEKS
right off the bat in that NW. But BARTAB
was a nice stack up there, with good crossers like TIME-OUT
. OUGHT TO
are elegantly connected sevens in the middle, and ASKANCE
, AGA KHAN
are good sevens elsewhere. It gets ragged/crosswordy in the tight parts (ANS
), but maybe those sevens are worth it.
|Americans are everywhere! |
- (19A: Got away from one's roots?) = DYED — That's a good one.
- (52A: Love letters letters) = SWAK — sealed with a kiss. And hopefully some other kind of adhesive.
- (35A: Palindromic girl's name) = AVA — lots of girls named Ava these days. How long before one of them becomes famous so we can give Ms. Gardner a well-earned break?
- Speaking of OUGHT TO: I dig this entry in part because of its trippy (and solver-vexing) vowel/consonant pattern of VVCCCCV. Wordplay trivia: can you think of a common, 7-letter word that uses the same pattern? I can only think of one. Put it in comments if you've got it (or a different one).
A grade of "B" is the natural limit for this kind of theme in my book; something really crazy would have to happen to lift it any higher. And with its slightly above average revealer, above average phrases, and lots of nice longish fill, I think we can say that this one comes close to maximizing the concept, so: B it is. B for Barkin! Crossword-powered Howard.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for two more days of CrossWorld
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Screenwriter Sorkin / TUE-22-JUL / Making a bundle / Many Snapchat users
Constructor: Joel FaglianoRelative difficulty: on point for a TuesdayTHEME:
— "either way, it makes sense" -- seven pairs of words cross in the grid and are clued to the two words/phrases they form Word of the Day: STOA (44D: Ancient Greek colonnade) Stoa is a term defining, in ancient Greek architecture, covered walkways or porticos, commonly for public usage. Early stoas were open at the entrance with columns, usually of the Doric order, lining the side of the building; they created a safe, enveloping, protective atmosphere.
The name of the Stoic school of philosophy derives from "stoa". -- Wikipedia
Took me until almost the very end to catch this snappy and original theme. Seven pairs of words cross in the grid, and form a familiar word or phrase no matter which word you start with. They are:(6D: With 8-Down, lime shade)
= LIGHT GREEN
; (8D: With 6-Across, approve)
= GREENLIGHT(16A: With 12-Down, not natural)
; (12D: With 16-Across, mob inductee)
= MADE MAN(23A: With 33-Across, fan of the N.F.L.'s Packers)
; (33A: With 23-Down, deli product)
= HEAD CHEESE
(disgusting phrase and thing)(38A: With 38-Down, place to drop a coin)
= WISHING WELL
; (38D: With 38-Across, desiring happiness for someone
= WELL WISHING(40A: With 31-Down, jazz legend)
; (31D: With 40-Across, coerce)
= STRONGARM(58A: With 54-Down, waffle alternative)
; (54D: With 58-Across, bakery container
= CAKE PAN(59A: With 57-Down, part of a morning routine)
; (57A: With 59-Across, basketball tactic
) = FAST BREAK
About halfway through the grid I got an eerie "it's too quiet in here" feeling, like in a horror movie: where were this puzzle's theme entries?
I'd noticed a large number of cross-referenced clues but it wasn't until about 80% of the way through that it all clicked.
Notice the elegant touches: there are seven word pairs in the grid, which is a lot, and they're placed as close to symmetrically as could be hoped; they're all well-chosen and familiar; all the word pairs cross each other, logically since they're "cross-referenced," and aesthetically because it tightens the theme (and doesn't make you hunt all over the grid for a cross-ref answer).
That's an excellent crossword.
In contrast to Sunday's puzzle, which was elegantly constructed but played somewhat dull, this one is both elegant and a fun solve since finding each pair of words isn't tedious and it's inherently interesting that two phrases comprised of the same two words take on radically different meanings if you reverse the order of those words.
I chided yesterday's puzzle for some weak fill, but if you read closely I actually chided it for "easily avoidable" weak fill. There are some crosswordy words in here -- STOA
especially -- but with a grid this tightly packed and no tough crossings on those two so it's just a small ding.
Best fill: BEATEN DOWN
, SPIED ON
, DIRT BIKES
and DRONE BEE
Clues are a little jazzier than yesterday's. No barn-burners but (45A: Try to improve a Yahtzee turn)
is good for RE-ROLL
and (44D: Watched through binoculars, maybe)
is good for SPIED ON
It's grading week, and this one gets an A. Original and amusing theme, clean grid despite many theme entries, nice aha moment when I finally grokked the theme idea, and the cleverness of crossing cross-referenced entries. No wonder Will Shortz hired the author as his crossword intern.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for three more days of CrossWorld
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New England cookout / MON-JUL-21 / Dumb ox / Delhi dress
Constructor: Matt FuchsRelative difficulty: So EasyTHEME: PRIVATE PARTS -- theme entries begin with a word meaning "private"Word of the Day: CREOLE
(Louisiana language) —
Louisiana Creole (Kréyol La Lwizyàn; French: créole louisianais) is a French-based creole language spoken by some of the Creole people of the state of Louisiana. The language largely consists of elements of French and African languages, with some influence from other sources, notably Native American languages. -- wikipedia
• • •
I'm predisposed to like this crossword because I'm told it's written by someone named Matt who comes from my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland, which he even worked into a clue (48D: Bethesda, Md., is in it)
. So if you sense any rose-colored glasses, that's why. On the other hand I'm 41 and he's 16, so there might be some middle-aged vs. youth bitterness mixed in as well. I guess in the end I'll just have to judge the puzzle on its merits. Where's the fun in that?Theme answers:
- (20A: Big name in ranch dressing) = HIDDEN VALLEY. I thought the brand was "Hidden Valley Ranch," rather than the brand being "Hidden Valley" and the only dressing of theirs you've ever heard of happens to be Ranch? Let me check. OK, this is legit. But Hidden Valley is totally coasting thru life on the strength of their ranch dressing. Looking at their website, they're all in on Ranch. Ride that wave.
- (27A: Classic of English children's literature, with "The") = SECRET GARDEN. I'm pretty hardcore Anglophile but I've never heard of this. I would probably have clued it in reference to this song, released before today's constructor was born.
- (44A: Small paid item in the back of a newspaper) = CLASSIFIED AD. Now known as a "craigslist ad."
- And then the reveal entry: (What unmentionables cover ... or what 20-, 27- and 44-Across all begin with?) = PRIVATE PARTS. "Unmentionables" is a great word.
So this is a decent theme, but we see the Achilles' heel of the NYT over the past few years painfully swollen yet again: easily avoidable lousy fill, early in the week
. A little polishing could surely have relieved this Monday grid of EDUCE
at both extremities,TOILE
(and EIRE crossing RES
clued to the Latin word for "thing"), RIAS
. The last two have unmissable crossings, but still, and for the hundredth time: it's Monday, you're supposed to be the gold standard, somebody spend ten minutes and polish the grid. Or schedule it for Tuesday or Wednesday at least. I write crosswords for a living and still don't know what EDUCE means without looking it up, and neither do solvers.
Good fill: PICASSO
, FIVE AM
, IS IT ME
So I'm looking for a "best clue" candidate, and...well, there's nothing. There isn't a single clue I can say any real effort has been put into. Can you imagine unleashing Bob Klahn or Ben Tausig
on evocative entries like BARHOP, PICASSO, USSR
, CLAMBAKE and CLASSIFIED AD? They'd be punning you into next week, and you'd love every cheesy syllable. Here, nothing at all to sink your teeth into. I can't even award a "best clue" designation since there's nada that stands out. You tell me in comments what the best clue is and the point will be emphasized.
If we're doing grades this week, I'll go C+ on this one. Adequate but not much more. Did dig the chunky NW and SE corners, though -- that shows some nice flash.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for four more days of CrossWorld
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SUN 7-20-14 / Most hip / Low numero / Swaddles, e.g.
Constructor: Eric Berlin (whose amusing blog is here
Relative difficulty: a little tougher than average for a Sunday
THEME: "A LITTLE GIVE AND TAKE" -- bigrams spelling that central theme entry are given to certain grid entries and taken from othersWord of the Day: ST. LUCIA (105D: One of the Windward Islands)
The island, with its fine natural harbor at Castries, was contested between England and France throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries (changing possession 14 times); it was finally ceded to the UK in 1814. Even after the abolition of slavery on its plantations in 1834, Saint Lucia remained an agricultural island, dedicated to producing tropical commodity crops. Self-government was granted in 1967 and independence in 1979. -- CIA World Factbook
• • •Matt Gaffney
here, filling in for Rex until his triumphant return on Saturday. I write a weekly crossword contest here
and a daily themed mini-crossword here
. I also write a weekly current events crossword for The Week
which you can find here
, a bi-weekly contest crossword for New York
which you can find here
, and a monthly 21x21 for Washingtonian
which isn't online. I've been a professional crossword writer for 17 years, during which my puzzles have appeared in Slate
, The Daily Beast
, Wine Spectator
, The Washington Post
, The Wall Street Journal
-- and even, on 57 occasions, in The New York Times
. My next book
comes out in October.
This is intricate: the 18-letter central entry A LITTLE GIVE AND TAKE
is divided (in the .pdf, apparently not in the .puz) into nine bigrams. Each of these is added to an entry somewhere in the grid (indicated by circles) and removed from another (indicated by an asterisked clue).
Rex doesn't pay enough for me to type them all out, but here are a few so you get the idea: the AL at the beginning of 72-A is added to 51-A (Openly defy)
, where correct answer "flout" has the AL inserted to make FALLOUT
. This same AL is also removed from 53-A (Royal messenger)
, where grid entry HERD
was "herald" before the theme trick.
Let's do another one, from the other end of 72-A: the KE that ends that entry has been added to 138-A (Asparagus unit)
, which was "spear" but in the grid becomes SPEAKER
. That same KE has been removed from 8-D, where (Upbraids)
clues not grid entry REBUS
but rather "rebukes."
The other seven work just the same. If you can't figure them all out then I'm sure someone will help in comments below.
Do we judge a crossword as art or as entertainment? Let's do both.
Artistically this one is quite nice. First the constructor had to come up with eighteen words that successfully gain/lose these nine bigrams, then he had to fit them into the grid around that long central theme entry. This is probably what necessitated the odd 20x23 grid size; the columns across had to be an even number to keep symmetry while accommodating the (necessarily, because bigrams) even-numbered central revealer, and I'm betting the reason he did 23 rows instead of 21 is because 18 theme words to fit in. So let's call it an A on artistry.
I should also mention that the idea of swapping certain letters between two entries is already known (as in this puzzle
), but not on such a large scale as it's done here. And having the taken/given letters spell out an appropriate message is also novel to my knowledge.
As entertainment, it was good but not great. Once the central revealer falls and you figure out the trick it's a bit of a slog to finish; I just ignored asterisked clues as long as I could. It's not really a rush to figure out the remaining bigram added/lost pairs. So on the entertainment scale I'd give this one a B, and we'll average the puzzle out to an A-.
Which is good. Bullets:
- Many good entries in the 6-, 7- and 8-letter range: ROUNDUP, BABYSAT, BURRITO, SIT ON IT!, HAVANA, THE MAGI, SMORES, Don KNOTTS, AIRPARK, SPAMALOT, UP TO IT, and the always amusing OWN GOAL.
- Best clue: (97D: Shortening in recipes?) which wasn't OLEO but rather TSPS.
So that's a very good start to the week. I'll see you back here tomorrow night for a look at Monday's puzzle.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for five more days
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