Amy’s in transit from Chicago to a secret sunny destination for spring break, so it’s me, Sam Donaldson, sitting in for the weekend puzzles. Wait, that means I have to go public with my solving times on the Saturday puzzles? Eek! Well, let’s make the best of it. I just hope I can find the constructor’s wavelength….
Sam Donaldson’s New York Times Crossword
Amy will vouch for me on this: I agreed to blog today’s puzzles a few days before I learned that my own puzzle would appear in the NY Times. I am unsure whether it’s bad form to blog about one’s own construction. (Note: BEQ is exempt from allegations of bad form since: (a) he blogs about the puzzles he makes for his own freakin’ website; and (b) if he’s not a Crossword Jesus he’s at least a Crossword Apostle.) I like to read “behind the grid” tales from constructors, but at the same time I don’t want to discourage critical comments. Seriously, some of the negative remarks from bloggers and commenters about my (few) published puzzles have been very instructive. Because I’m still pretty green at construction, feedback in all forms is enormously helpful. So I asked Amy whether I should find someone else to blog this puzzle, and she said it was my call. Ultimately it was just easier to do it myself than to recruit someone else to blog about it and then have that person feel forced into saying nice things. What follows, then, is my best attempt at an unbiased review of the puzzle, along with some insight into its construction:
What a beautiful puzzle! As you may have guessed, GINORMOUS [Massive] at 1-Across was the “seed entry” for this freestyle (what some call a “themeless”) puzzle. Ever since I submitted the puzzle to Will Shortz I have been using the word in my conversations, as if doing so would somehow keep the word fresh until this puzzle saw the light of day. I think now the word is so ingrained in my daily vocabulary that it will be hard to drop it.
This was the first freestyle puzzle I ever submitted to Will, and only the second one I ever made. (I submitted the puzzle in December of 2008 and received Will’s acceptance by email on March 28, 2009–almost exactly one year ago!) Since then, I’ve had a trunk full of freestyle submissions rejected (and three or four more that have been accepted) from a variety of editors. I think maybe this one made the cut because it features relatively few three-letter entries, no partials, some interesting nine- and ten-letter entries, and only two abbreviations.
I like that SUCKS appears smack-dab in the middle (and yes, other clues came to mind before I chose [Leeches]), but to make that work I had to be content with DACCA, the [Capital on the Buriganga River, old-style], and TAMLA, [Motown's original name]. I don’t know that anyone would be proud of fill like SEERS, [Some card readers], or FALSER, [Less natural], but they helped facilitate the stacking of longer answers nearby.
I am guessing that the southwest will be the most challenging section for most solvers. It contains a Roman numeral, CCCLI, with the clue [Last full year of St. Julius I's papacy]. Unlike clues using math problems for Roman numerals, these “Pope-ical” clues can be frustrating for solvers who don’t like to deduce the number using a combination of historical knowledge and the crossings. Here, though, the crossings aren’t exactly easy. CCCLI is tucked next to the common answer RARER, but it’s clued with the more challenging [Not so easy to get one's hands on] (a wonderful clue with which I had nothing to do, as explained more fully below). Then there’s ["Pinky" Best Actress nominee Jeanne] CRAIN, an entry that may not be easy to suss out even with two or three crossings. Oh, and there’s the cross-referenced entry at 53-Across, [With 31-Down, its products are often squeezed]. That’s LEMON and TREE. That’s a lot of work for one corner.
Speaking of the southwest corner, I spent a fair amount of time deliberating between IRENE/ROSANNE and IRENA/ROSANNA. Ultimately I decided the latter would pose a little more of a challenge, so that’s why I went with it. Both are clued fairly conventionally, however, with ["The Faerie Queene" character] for IRENA and [1982 Grammy-winning song by Toto] for ROSANNA.
Enough about the fill. It’s the clues that make a Saturday puzzle, and here is where most of the credit has to be given to Will and company. To prove how much better a puzzle becomes after editing, here are some of the original clues I submitted compared to those in the final puzzle:
- My clue for NOOSE was [Western "necktie"]. The clue you saw was [One to hang with]. That’s easily five times better.
- This may not sound like a big change, but my clue for PINPRICKS was [Minor annoyances]. The final clue, [Tiny irritations], strikes me as both livelier and more accurate. As 24-Across would say, SPOT ON [Perfect]!
- My clue for STOCKS was the snore-fest [Carries]. [Old means of public humiliation] is much more interesting.
- Speaking of dull, how about my [Folds] for CREASES? [They're made by origami artists] is clever and more Saturday-appropriate.
- I kind of liked my clue for CAST A SPELL, [Do a wizard's task]. But I have to concede that [Be the charming type?] is better.
- Is it just me or is [Massive star] a great clue for IDOL? I’m pretty sure I would have been thinking astronomy. In any case, it sure as hell beats my original submission, [Fan's obsession].
- I went the football route with [Some NFLers] for RTS (meaning “right tackles”), but [They're listed in a bill: Abbr.] is a fun clue for “rights.”
- [Key with an arrow] was my clue for BACKSPACE, but [Move to your previous place] makes my clue look all kinds of bad. I think if I was solving this without knowledge of the answer, I would have written RE in the first two squares and hoped that the rest would come from crossings.
- I had [Ancient password] for OPEN SESAME, but [Getting in line?] is probably my favorite clue in the whole puzzle.
Honestly, this is just a sample of the many clues made much better from the editing process. About one-third of my clues made it through to the end, including ["It's anybody's guess"] for NO ONE KNOWS, ["Reach"] for END UP AT, and [The Pink Panther, e.g.] for JEWEL. Another ten or so clues stayed more or less intact but were given a little bit of helpful polish. Ginormous thanks (see?) to Will and everyone else behind the scenes who played a role in making this puzzle a lot more lively fun. I think I’m better at writing clues now than I was 15 months ago, so hopefully my future submissions will need a little less TLC.
Hope you enjoyed the (long) backstory. If you came to this blog looking to rip the puzzle to shreds, feel free to do so in the comments! (Nice comments are also welcome, and depending on both the amount and tone of the negative feedback they may prove to be quite therapeutic.)
Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times Crossword
Lots of fun stuff in Brad’s Saturday freestyle puzzle, a lively 70-word tour d’freshness! The entire northwest corner is chock full o’ good entries: EGOSURF, GAG REEL, ONE TO GO, and even REGIFT are all modern and familiar. Elsewhere in the grid sit JOB BANK, FULL RIDES, WINGED IT, ERSATZ, JFK JR., UV INDEX, and even UNIBROW! That last entry was the answer to my favorite clue, [Bert has one, but not Ernie]. I’m pretty sure if it read “Bert has two…,” the answer would be FLOPPY ARMS.
A little knowledge from the comics page goes a long way here, with both MR. DITHERS, [Dagwood's boss], and ZONKER, the ["Doonesbury" hippie] in the puzzle. Those I could handle. Harder to me were the musical entries, E FLAT, the [Key of Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand"] and RIT, [Slowing, in mus.] (short for “ritardando,” says Google). I know the “key of” clues always call for flat (5 letters) or sharp (6 letters), but after that I have to play guess-a-letter with A through G. Here it was made easy because the E crossed ETON, [Hugh Laurie's alma mater].
There were few serious stumbling blocks in this puzzle. Besides RIT, here were the spots that slowed me down:
- To [Produce greenery] is to FOLIATE. I kept reading “produce” as “PRO-duce,” the fruits and veggies section at the grocery store. So I was looking for something like LETTUCE. It didn’t help that TEARIER, [Less stoic], really put up a fight.
- [Anne of Green Gables, for one] is an ADOPTEE. You mean “RESIDENT OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND” doesn’t fit?
- Anyone else try ALTITUDE for the [Cockpit reading]? Turns out it’s AIRSPEED.
- The [MGM co-founder] is Marcus LOEW, and he sits atop NERO, the ["Star Trek" (2009) villain]. I saw the 2009 re-boot of Star Trek, so I tried Eric BANA first, since he played Nero. I might be the only solver out there who fell into that trap. It probably wasn’t even intended as a trap.
- I was sure that [Half a sleeping pair] was some reference to a nursery rhyme character, but no, it was just the simple TWIN BED. It crossed [Crawling with creepers], a knotty little clue for IVIED. Ivy is a creeping plant, and an ivied building is crawling with the stuff.
- The [Vanishing slope sight] is a T-BAR. I was thinking of the “slope” of a line on a graph, not a ski “slope.”
- An [Expert] is a DAB HAND. That’s a completely new term to me. Clearly, I am not a dab hand at vocabulary.
Some of the other fun clues included [Start to dominate?] for PRE (playing off “predominate”), [Tip for an exam taker?] cluing both ERASER and NIB, [Database with openings] for JOB BANK (unfilled jobs are openings), and my local [Puget Sound, e.g.] for ESTUARY.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Newsday Crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
There’s nothing like the pressure of blogging for a worldwide crossword audience to make you focus like never before. I’m pleased to report that this may well be the first Saturday Stumper I have ever finished. I think I psych myself out on the Stumper. I only try it about once a month, and I usually get about half or two-thirds of the way through before I look for help–usually (gulp) from this blog. This time it was up to me. It was comforting to know that I could access a pdf version of the solution if needed, but I wanted to see if I could tackly Jeffrey Wechsler’s offering without it.
Here’s how the solve went down. I just knew [Made an impression] couldn’t be ETCHED, especially for 1-Across. Sure enough, it’s COPIED. Once I figured that out, the rest of the northwest corner fell pretty quickly, especially after I realized that [It's all about him] clued EGOTIST. I got some traction in the northeast when one of the puzzle’s three gimmes, ["Much ___ About Nothing" (1996 "Simpsons" episode)], yielded APU. I don’t know why, but I then got SNAG, the [Hindrance], which gave me the GOAT as the [Zodiac beast] (I figured it was either a goat or a lion). XTS and then BOTOX came next, and that was enough to make me feel okay about TAPAS BAR as the [Place for "croquetas"]. Soon came the [Party line?], RSVP NOTE, although that entry feels forced to me. Finally, I guessed TRAUM as German for “dream,” making sense of the clue [Freud's dream].
My break into the grid’s center came from [Unenlightening], or AS CLEAR AS MUD. A lucky guess that [Small unit] was SQUAD (thanks to the nearby gimme partial SO TO [Speak]) and the inference that [Women, quaintly] was something ending in SEX gave me the [North American rodents], FOX SQUIRRELS. With the two long downs now completed, I could figure out that [PSA, e.g.], or “public service announcement,” was a RADIO SPOT. From there came RAZES, and the helpful Z led quickly to JOAN BAEZ, the [Singer at Woodstock]. Joan crossed the partial A NOD, and that was enough to tell me that the answer to [Like most bananas] was SEEDLESS. Yes, “slippery” would seem to fit there, too, but I knew it had to end with the double-S.
So with two from the triple-stack in place, the southwest should have fallen quickly. And yet it didn’t. I finally took a flyer on JUJUS as the [Magic charms], and that gave me UNDOABLE, clued as [Like most Stumpers]. No, wait, it was clued as [Only theoretical]. Pretty soon I had ULLA as ["The Producers" secretary]. I figured that had to be right (and it turned out it was), but I didn’t exactly have the greatest confidence in the answer.
Now it was back to the southeast, where only RADIO SPOT sat. Once I got CORRUPT as [Stain], I nailed APIECE. And then…nothing. So let’s look up at the east. After thinking the [Recycling candidate] started with STRAW, I realized it was SCRAP IRON. I figured the [Point of origin] was NODE, and after plunking down NIGHT as the Elie [Wiesel memoir] (the third gimme), I figured AHMED is the [Name meaning "highly praised"]. The rest of the east fell soon thereafter, and that told me the [Combo component] was an ALTO SAX. Now we’re back in the southeast, and it looks like the [Word on some euro coins] is ESPANA. That means [Weight] is ONUS and [Plot size, e.g.] is probably SPEC. After entering EXCESS as [Fat], I’m pretty sure that the [Colon neighbor: Var.] is CAECUM. (It is!) But that’s completely foreign to me–I don’t even know what that’s a variant spelling of–so I’m thinking it’s wrong. (But it turns out it’s right. It’s a variant of cecum, the “pouch connecting the ileum with the ascending colon of the large intestine,” according to Wkipedia. Happy Breakfast Test, one and all.)
I decided to get my mind off of it and head to the far west, the only empty space left. So what kind of “sex” were [Women, quaintly]? The FAIR SEX? Let’s try it. [I] sure seems like a funny clue, and if FAIR SEX is right, then it begins with an I, making the clue even stranger. And what about the [Org. featured in Carl Sagan's "Contact"]? I think that’s either NASA or SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. NASA seems a little easy, so I tried SETI. Aha! I bet the [I] is IOTA (it is). That means STANDOUTS is the answer to [They shine], RAINY is [Not fair], and a U-BOAT is ["The Enemy Below" attacker]. Yes! The puzzle is complete!
It was a little disconcerting to see RAINY clued as [Not fair]when the word crosses FAIR SEX. In terms of the fill, my only reservations relate to RSVP NOTE and CAECUM. I figure I should know ULLA because “The Producers” is a pretty high-profile musical. Everything else seemed fair and smooth in this 72-word offering.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle,”A Puzzle Full of Errors!”—Janie’s review
- 2D. [Tennis error!] UNFORCED. This is the player’s “oops” and is “not due to the opponent’s skill or effort.”
- 18A. [Errors preceding crashes, one after the other!] PILOT SYSTEM. Scary. Except by a miracle, I suppose, not usually reversible.
- 29A. [Program error!] COMPUTER. This can be scary, too, but usually is either reversible or correctable. Annoying a hell, but manageable. Nice that this fill shares the row with the hardware-complementary (alliteratively clued) [Move with a mouse, maybe] for SCROLL. (And while we’re in computer-land, we see JPEG again today with its alliterative clue [Photo file format]. Nuthin’ BLAH about the clue that precedes that one either [Far from fascinating].)
- 35A. [Flagrant error!] GLARING. Like typos. Apparently more than one has shown up in the Bible… Of course this particular book was anathema to outspoken and tenacious [School-prayer fighter Madalyn Murray ___ ] O’HAIR. While her detractors found her SATANIC [Mephistophelian] or [Fiend...] ISH, she did make an important point about the separation of church and state. (Note that [Devil ray] clues MANTA. Can you say “mini-theme”?)
- 43A. [Office error!] CLERICAL. Generally innocuous. Whew!
- 38D. [Numerical error!] ROUNDING. Correctable…
- 56A. [Unpredictable and terminal errors, one after the other!] RANDOM FATAL. Yeah. Well, this is the kind of computer error you really don’t wanna have… This is the reason for backing up your data.
I hope you manage to avoid all of the errors above!
Yikes. Once again, there are about a zillion mention-worthy clues, non-theme fill words or clue/fill combos, so lemme just list some of ‘em and you feel free to add your own. Will just say first… that what makes the clues so delicious is that they rely on alliteration or rhyme or brain-twistiness, even when they’re cluing a 3-letter word. The devil’s in the details, and as we know, Bob’s got a lotto the devil in ‘im! So, there’s:
- [Chain letters, to geneticists]/RNA
- [Sem. or ser. subj.]/REL. (Translation: [Seminary or sermon subject] / RELIGION…)
- [Verona vino]/SOAVE, which pairs nicely with [Red Bordeaux] / CLARET
- [Louvre oeuvre]/ART
- [Buckin' not backin']/AGIN
- [Bread around two spreads, briefly]/PB AND J (looks great in the grid, doesn’t it, as the apparently unpronounceable PBANDJ)
- [The winning X]/TOE (as in Tic-Tac…) followed by homophone TOWPATH / [Riverside trail]
- [Seats beneath the balcony], though here the star is the word PARTERRE
- [You may have nothing up yours]/SLEEVE
- [One at a loss for words?]/HUMMER (and not HEMMER… as in “hem and haw”…)
- [Flow stopper]/CLOG followed by [Flow controller]/SPIGOT. Gotta wonder if that clog was caused by GOO [Icky stuff]…
- [Polyp pileup]/CORAL (Really.)
- [Morsel that a horse'll like]/OAT
My only nit has to do with the clue [Got into trouble, in kidspeak] for TOLD ON. I feel like there should be an object between the first two words. But as I say, this is nit, “IF THAT” ["Maybe even less"], and not a glaring error by any stretch!