Monday, 7/2/12

NYT 3:33 (pannonica) 
LAT 3:26 (pannonica) 
CS 5:36 (Sam, paper) 
BEQ untimed 

Heads up! Patrick Blindauer’s monthly website puzzle for July has been posted. PDF only (“yay!” for everyone with a printer who likes convention-bending puzzles, “aww, sorry” for those without printer access) once again. Matt Gaffney’s ready to blog this puzzle, but we wanted to give you a chance to do the puzzle before running into the answers here.

Bernice Gordon’s New York Times crossword — pannonica’s review

NYT • 7/2/12 • Mon • Gordon • solution

This puzzle’s theme plays like a Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, either a low-rent version or a slumming one, depending on your estimation of said puzzles. Anyway, it goes like this: six-letter French author’s surname + anagram thereof, connected with a possessive apostrophe s. Why French authors? No idea. Can’t find any reason relating to the date (2 July), so I’ll be content with the cohesiveness it provides.

  • 20a. [French writer's apprehension by the police?] SARTRE’S ARREST. See? No need to be apprehensive about the theme, it’s easy to apprehend.
  • 25a. [French writer's state of drunkenness?] PROUST’S STUPOR. Last seen demanding he be served the finest madeleines available to humanity, no doubt.
  • 43a. [French writer's two-under-par holes?] LESAGE’S EAGLES. Least recognizable author requires the most specific anagram. That’s responsible cluing
  • 49a. [French writer's boardwalk booth operator?] RACINE’S CARNIE. No, I do not like that spelling. Not at all. “Carny” is by far the most mainstream, with “carney” a distant second and then “carnie.”

The thirteen-letter themers are most, but not entirely responsible for the eight cheater squares in the grid, contributing to the large number of blocks (46); the meagre pair of three-letter answers separating (they indeed separate more than they connect) each of the upper and lower themers is also a factor. Oh, and it’s a pangram. I’d say the crossing of 23a [1970s TV's "__ Ramsey"] HEC and 5d [Ovid's book of love poetry] AMORES will prove the most difficult for new solvers. Least expected fill for a Monday puzzle: the older spelling variant PHIAL for a [Small lab container] at 25d.

Other:

  • Double-duty clue [Backside] at 19a and 49d, for HIND and REAR.
  • 14a [Famous __ cookies] AMOS, 60a [ __ of Sandwich] EARL, 57a [Creme-filled cookies] OREOS. Sandwich … cookies! What? I’m trying here.
  • Row Eight: OINK / HAZES / EAVE. Sounds like the skeleton of a disturbing story. Speaking of which, nice longer fill at 9d NARRATES [Gives an account]. Hmm, perhaps Row Nine’s story is even more disturbing.
  • I’ll do my best to end this run-down on a HIGH NOTE by evoking 37-down.

Verdict: decent but far from great Monday offering, the most detrimental aspects being a relatively obscure themer, an unpopular spelling variant in another theme entry, and a lot of black squares. J’accuse?

Jeff Chen’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s review

LAT • 7/2/12 • Mon • Chen • solution

What a tidy little puzzle! Plus, an incredibly smooth solve. A real gem of an early-week offering. 44-across, in the center of Row 9, serves as the revealer: [Jettas and Beetles, or an apt title for this puzzle] VWS. It sits nestled at the bottom of a big black V in this grid with left-right symmetry. That symmetry also allows for none of the other theme entries having the same overall length: 13, 4+4, 5+5, and 15. And those four are all famous women with the initials VW.

  • 20a. [Venerable woman of literature] VIRGINIA WOOLF.
  • 23a… [With 24-Across, voguish woman of bridal fashion] VERA | WANG.
  • 49a… [With 51-Across, vivacious woman of game show fame] VANNA | WHITE.
  • 59a. [Voluptuous woman of stage and screen] VANESSA WILLIAMS. And of record, I seem to recall.

Cute flourish, each of the clues incorporating a “v[adjective] woman,” emphasizing the supposed v-woman title. Other potential players: Virginia Wade (12, repeats VIRGINIA), Vivienne Westwood (16, too long), Victoria Woodhull (16, ditto).

As for ballast, topdeck are two oceangoing clues: 17a [Ocean motion] TIDE and 9d [Ocean makeup] SEAWATER, the latter complemented (physically, anyway) with 5d REDIRECT. The nearby 15a [Disappear slowly but surely] ERODE also evokes the maritime. Appealing longfill at 27d with the good SNAKE VENOM and the very good 29d HIT THE WALL [Reach one's endurance limit, in a marathon]. Cruciverbal veterans might appreciate the knowing nod (veritable wink?) of TEE-HEE and TEEPEE in what would be paired positions in a gird with normal rotational symmetry; it’s also nice to see them in their more standard forms rather than the somewhat bastardized versions (bigraphic first syllables) that more commonly populate crosswords.

Also in the non-theme department are a bunch of other female celebrities: DEBRA [Winger of "Black Widow], GISELE [Supermodel Bündchen], ["SNL" alum Cheri] OTERI, [Tuesday, and others] WELDS. ["Fame" star Cara] IRENE. There are men in the puzzle, but for the most part they’re clued indirectly (STOOGES) or appear as initials (TSE) or nicknames (IKE); the exceptions are the biblical ENOS, and PHIL [Rizzuto of the Yankees]. My sense is that this aspect of the puzzle is accidental, but why should that stop me from bringing it up?

The very low CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials) also adds to the enjoyment of the solve.

My favorite part? 30d [Accustom (to)] with the initial E already in place, so there was no angsty delay in learning if it was INURE or ENURE.

Excellent Monday.

Updated Monday morning:

Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Pretty Corny” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, July 2

The last word in each of the four theme entries can precede “corn:”

  • 17-Across: A [Certain Ohio baseballer] is a CLEVELAND INDIAN (Indian corn).
  • 27-Across: The [Roaring Twenties hit tune] is AIN’T SHE SWEET (sweet corn).
  • 49-Across: To [Choose not to go steady] is to PLAY THE FIELD (field corn).
  • 65-Across: The [Confection that's often cane-shaped] is PEPPERMINT CANDY (candy corn). Makes me wish there was a “patty corn.”

I won’t spend too much time parsing this one, lest I be accused of stalking the crossword. I’ll just say there were a number of entries that were pleasing to my ear, like ALL CLEAR, TEN-SPEED, YEAH YEAH, TIMEX watches, and I LIED. (No, it’s true. I liked them. I swear.)

It was a little weird to see INDIA in the grid when CLEVELAND INDIAN sits just five rows above. I’ll share this kernel of truth: it feels like a duplication. Otherwise, however, the grid was smooth as silk.

Favorite entry = MAH JONGG, the [Game played in "The Joy Luck Club"]. Favorite clue = [Place to put bags?] for TEAPOT.

Brendan “The Emmett” Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

BEQ 7 2 12

Last day to make a deposit into the BEQ tip jar and receive that 21×21 themeless puzzle that plays the part of the art museum tote bag or public radio mug. Support the cruciverbal arts!

There is sparkle in this 72-worder, yes, but also a bunch of answers that really didn’t do much for me. The likes: portmanteau BREASTAURANT, the WORLD BANK with a current clue, SAUSAGE PIZZA (no Snausage pizza?), the Hutchless STARSKY, “HUT TWO,” SCREEN CAP (see image at right) and UBERGEEK (hang on, is this answer the real reason that Joon’s photo is in Brendan’s post? Because physics + trivia overlord = ubergeek). Also delighted by LOBSTER clued as [Sunburn shade]—I got a little sunburned at a parade the weekend before last, but it was that tomato burn that really hurt. Tomatoes: they’re dangerous, people. Especially fresh from the pizza oven.

ALPACAS reminds me: Someone posted a picture of a shaved llama on Facebook the other day. Did you know there’s an entire website for that? But they’re open to non-llama animals in awkwardly shaved incarnations. This cat is funnier.

In the “meh” box, we have the INVADER, SPARRER, and NEGATOR, who EASELED up some NON-ART (actually, I like the NON-ART). Plus RST, TRA, UTA, RAI, OLAN, AMAT, and UPSA.

3.25 stars.

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60 Responses to Monday, 7/2/12

  1. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Am I counting right? Forty-six blocks?

  2. Martin says:

    Man, you people are cold.

  3. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Meaning what, Martin? Anagramming LESAGE should excuse any number of black squares?

  4. arthur118 says:

    I think Martin’s comment is a reminder that Bernice Gordon is 98 years old and has been constructing crosswords for 60 years.

  5. Martin says:

    No, but making allowances for a 98-year-old constructor could excuse 46 blocks. My mom is ten years younger than Bernice and I would be thrilled if she could solve this puzzle.

    Don’t get me wrong — as critics you owe your readers an honest and critical review. And yes, there are a couple of flaws. But double-teaming it — taking what seemed like outrage beyond the blog post to the comments just seemed a little harsh. But again, I don’t deny you the right to point out the flaws. Honestly. I just thought that this sweet little old lady deserved a champion too.

  6. John E says:

    I am just happy that reading Phedre actually helped me with something in life….

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    Bernice Gordon constructed the first-ever rebus puzzle — the keyword was & for AND.

  8. As a solver, I care only if I enjoy the puzzle. With today’s NYT, I didn’t. And I’m supposed to all of a sudden like the puzzle (or worse, make allowances for) because of the constructor’s age? I can appreciate Ms. Gordon’s contributions to constructing for her many decades of work, and I’m sure she’s a marvelous person. But to alter our mode of commentary and critique based on the constructor’s age? I think that’d be a major disservice to the readers of this blog. We’re talking about the *puzzles* here, and I think pannonica was dead-on with her review of the puzzle.

  9. john farmer says:

    The thirteen-letter themers are most, but not entirely responsible for the eight cheater squares in the grid, contributing to the large number of blocks (46)

    I have no idea what “are most, but not entirely responsible for” is supposed to mean. The only reason the eight so-called cheater squares are in the grid is because the theme is four 13-letter answers. I don’t call them “cheater squares,” btw. They’re necessary. There’s no cheating going on. With 13-letter theme answers, you typically have two choices, either big honking blocks (Utahs) or T’s. Bernice chose T’s. I think that’s a more elegant way to do it. You might not like the black squares, but the way to avoid them is to not use 13s for the theme. My guess, because of the anagram theme, 13s probably worked best. So, if you have a theme of all 13s — which offers an extra level of theme symmetry, for what it’s worth — you will wind up with more black squares than normal. How big a deal is that? I can think of half a dozen things more important.

    Oh, and it’s a pangram.

    Because that comes in the middle of a list of negatives, I take it that you don’t approve. I know it’s become fashionable to dis pangrams lately, but if you think there is something inherently bad about pangrams, then you’ve gone too far. No, you don’t automatically get extra points for making a pangram. But you don’t automatically lose points either. All things being equal — i.e., no compromise in the fill — a pangram means a puzzle includes the lesser-used letters, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.

    the meagre pair of three-letter answers
    the older spelling variant PHIAL

    I would have guessed that people who use a spelling like “meagre” might appreciate a spelling like “phial.”

    I enjoyed the puzzle more than the review. I’m not making any compensations for age, either. I have no idea how old pannonica is.

  10. Anoa Bob says:

    I thought anagramming French writers’ names was pretty cool, especially for a Monday. The CARNIE spelling was a bit of a clunker. I think this puzzle would have worked with just the first three theme entries. Then the number of black squares could have been cut way back and more emphasis put on the supporting fill.

  11. Andrew, I’d like to alter the mode of critique here but not based on the constructor’s age. I’d like to alter it based on the dignity of creative expression. I don’t do early in the week puzzles but after being alerted that a constructor was being reprimanded here for slovenly work I solved the puzzle and found it a well-executed worthy theme. Bernice created a diversion that worked for Will, who has a finite amount of diversions to choose from for any particular day. Show me a Monday puzzle you enjoy, Andrew, and I can tell you how lame I found the theme. Or something. That would be consonant with the mode of critique here. I’m not suggesting that the critiques be watered down to nicey-nicey, but much of the negative spin sounds like self-parody, like an SNL sketch on crossword reviews.

  12. I was more responding to the notion that standards can be lowered and inelegancies can be forgiven if if the constructor reaches a certain age. Every puzzle will strike solvers differently; and this puzzle didn’t either amuse or anger me in any memorable way. What compelled me to respond is the idea that certain constructors are beyond criticism. If crosswords are an artform, its artists will have to endure positive and negative criticisms of all their creations. And in her review, pannonica never once evoked Ms. Gordon’s age, and was merely doing the task at hand — giving an objective review of a crossword puzzle.

    For the record, I’ve done many Bernice Gordon puzzles over the years and have consistently enjoyed her work. I just didn’t care for this one, but that’s not to say the puzzle was unpublishable. I love Woody Allen’s films, but I think it’s ok to say I haven’t enjoyed a few of them.

  13. Jared says:

    Are we experiencing technical difficulties? If I read down from the top everything’s OK but if I click on the link for the LAT review I’m ported about 9 months into the past.

  14. pannonica says:

    Jared: Fixed the coding. At least I didn’t do something idiotic like, ohh, review the wrong puzzle entirely (as I did two weeks ago).

    The reactions in the comments remind me of the time (times?) I’ve written up a puzzle by teenage constructor(s). I do my best to critique puzzles in the abstract, although I take into consideration the publication in which they appear. I don’t put on “kid gloves” based on the constructor’s age, whether or not English is their first language, wondering if they had enough potassium in their diet that week, and so on. I also don’t assume a puzzle is going to be great just because it has a marquee name in the byline.

    The New York Times is ostensibly the premier outlet for mainstream weekday American puzzles. Editor Will Shortz is among the most respected people in the business, and part of his responsibility is to maintain quality of product—both in selection and in preparation for publication. That doesn’t mean the crosswords should have a cookie-cutter quality and he shouldn’t allow constructors’ personalities to show.

    I ask that you please indulge me while I respond specifically to a few comments:

    Martin: I suspect Amy’s first comment, which sounded excessively cruel to you, was more a result of her skimming the write-up. I mentioned “and a lot of black squares” at the end of the write-up and she may simply have counted them for herself and was rhetorically asking for confirmation, not seeing that I’d enumerated them earlier.
    john farmer: Yes, I agree that the cheater squares (an objective term) are a result of all four of the theme answers being 13 letters long, which was in turn a conscious decision by the constructor. I was merely pointing out that such a design contributed to (but was not entirely responsible for) the larger-than-usual amount of black squares in this grid.
    john farmer: Pangram. I neither approve nor disapprove of pangrams in the abstract and simply tossed it in to the mix because I noticed it. It is trendy to mention them, just as it may be to employ them. You’re correct that it has more of negative tinge than it should because of the company it’s keeping. My feeling about them is exactly consistent with what you expressed.
    john farmer: Meagre/phial. I often alter my spelling and locution based on context (as well as indulge in other. more subtle things), mostly to amuse myself. It hardly ever affects the overall impression of the write-up, and if someone happens to notice, I hope they’re also amused by it, or at least not offended. Befuddlement is ok. In this case, subsequent editing pushed the two words farther apart, which weakened any perceptible connection. Incidentally, I do prefer the -re spelling (but it isn’t an affectation that carries over to centre, theatre, and many others), but that doesn’t in any way alter my observation regarding PHIAL’s presence in an early-week puzzle.

    Last, I’d like to emphasize that in my final estimation I called the puzzle “decent, but far from great.” I didn’t even say it was below average or anything like that.

  15. klew archer says:

    Nice to see the correct spelling of EWW in the center of the LAT.

  16. Bruce N. Morton says:

    WOW. Things sure have gotten shaken up around here of late. Not necessarily bad.

    I agree with those who say that the age, and other personal circumstances of the constructor are not relevant to the evaluation of the puzzle. However, just as we sometimes note with interest when a constructor of a good puzzle is very young, e.g. teenaged, it does strike me that a near centenarian constructor is worthy of note.

    Having said that, I can state unequivocally that this is my favorite of all the Monday NYT’s I have ever done, and I even venture to say the best. I confess that I often do not do Monday puzzles, precisely because they tend to be so totally devoid of interest and creativity in the pursuit of gimme clues. So once again I am baffled by the reaction to this one. Here you have a puzzle which is genuinely creative, imaginative, which actually engages the thought processes, yields ‘aha’ moments, pretty much unheard of among Mondays.

    To the question “Why French authors?”, I respond (again with bafflement) “Why ask the question ‘Why French authors?’? It’s the theme of the puzzle for crying out loud. (I’m tempted to start screaming with all caps to express greater intensity of feeling.) When a puzzle is chock full of also ran finishers on American Idol or Star Search or Dancing, or Survivor, no one seems to question it or complain about it. (Well. . .I do, but that’s different.) Of course personal preference is involved here, but I might even venture to go beyond that. Members of the former group (the French authors) have actually made a somewhat significant, meritorious contribution to the annals of human history (or as a student of mine once said “anals of history”), whereas the members of the latter group have not. Some may consider *that* irrelevant to the merits of the puzzle but I don’t–derisive references to the Chronicle of Higher Education notwithstanding.

    I will always remember John Agar as the human lead in that greatest pair of all 50′s scary “monster” movies *The Creature from the Black Lagoon* and *The Revenge of the Creature.* Fantastic stuff, if you haven’t seen them. I confess to wondering for a moment who the hell Meff Bridges was.

    Again, I commend Ms Gordon, and WS for the best and most enjoyable Monday puzzle I have ever done.

  17. pannonica says:

    I don’t intend to be petty and reactionary, to squabble with every comment, but…

    Bruce N. Morton: The most essential and relevant part of what you’ve written is the long(ish) paragraph about “why French authors?” Was I in any way disparaging of that element? Truth be told, I tend to favor highbrow content in crosswords, as you seemingly do. All I did was attempt to find a topical aspect, then conclude that I was “content with the cohesiveness.”

    edit: Also, I was decidedly nonjudgmental regarding the CHE puzzles, which I generally enjoy a lot.

  18. Daniel Myers says:

    I truly did not understand to what newer word pannonica might be referring in her write-up by “the older spelling variant PHIAL” for quite some time. Vial, could it be? Yes! But, to me, odd. The words have such different connotations for me. She is, however, correct. The words are of shared etymology, but the alteration of the initial letter goes back quite some time, to the 14th Century. It seems this transition of the initial letter – “f” or “ph” to “v” or, less often, vice versa – was down to English writers’ exposure to Latin and other Romance languages. Initially, they were both pronounced as having the “f” sound. The evolution to the “v” sound we speak and hear today was evidently just that, a slow evolution.

    Class dismissed! :-)

  19. Gareth says:

    Peculiar… Both theme and some of the other words felt hard for a Monday, yet when I looked up at the end the time said 2:52… I don’t dip below 3 all that often, even on a Monday! Also surprised that “decent” is deemed overly critical of a puzzle… Oh well. @John Farmer: You left out the third, and by far hardest, option with 13′s: leave only 2 black squares and have long answers in rows 3 & 13. I don’t think that would be possible with 4 13′s and I’m guessing that’s why you left it out…

    Also, thought all the different layers in Jeff’s LAT made for a great Monday! Bravo!

  20. Jeffrey says:

    @Sam: Having INDIA and INDIAN is weird in CS; also having INDO turns it into a mini-theme.

  21. Sam Donaldson says:

    INDEED.

  22. Abashed says:

    Pannonica, I think what confuses people was that neither you in your tepid review nor Amy in her snarky comment even bothered to mention that this was the work of an esteemed crossword legend. Surely her longevity was worth a quick remark at least.

  23. Martin says:

    Daniel,

    How are “phial” and “vial” used differently in your experience? In American usage, I think they’re synonyms. Like sulphur/sulfur, American usage prefers the simplified spelling but recognizes the “ph” as correct. American dictionaries tend to confirm that view.

    How about in Canada? Does “phial” look odd in the land of the zeds and colours on our own border?

  24. Daniel Myers says:

    Martin,

    It’s merely a personal idiosyncrasy. But also, I might add, the words are listed as two separate entries in the OED rather than one as the orthographic variant of the other. Be that as it may, I associate phials with, I don’t know, women on palfreys, Tolkien’s “phial of Galadriel” etc. rather than laboratory containers. Thus, pannonica and I are concurrent in sensing a bit of connotational oddity, if I may so take her mentioning of it. But I didn’t take it amiss. I mean, it’s a crossword puzzle, after all, and the meanings of words are meant to be streetched. twisted, misdirected etc. It was her phrase “spelling variant” that set me off. To me, although defined as almost precisely the same, the two words – for so they have become now – conjure up for me the following images:

    PHIAL- ladies on palfreys, with these amulets hung about their necks etc. etc.

    vial – boffins in laboratories pondering over steaming beakers etc. etc.

  25. Martin says:

    Daniel,

    Thanks.

    What about more contemporary usage? Say a chic woman with a tiny bottle of expensive perfume in her purse? Or a secret agent with a dose of knock-out drops to be surreptitiously poured into a drink?

  26. Daniel Myers says:

    Martin,

    I suppose “vial” comes more to mind in those examples when I think on them. Perhaps I need to read more modern literature! :-)

  27. Martin says:

    Compared with the classics, most of it is vile.

  28. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Pan,

    Perhaps I erred when I interpreted your reference to the CHE as derisive.

  29. Daniel Myers says:

    Ah well, nothing for it but to remain a paleophile then.

  30. Jeff Chen says:

    Thanks for the nice comments, pannonica! Rich and I worked on this one for four or five rounds. He gave great input.

  31. Bruce N. Morton says:

    OOPS–Not John Agar. Richard Carlson. I confuse the two.

  32. Amy Reynaldo says:

    For Pete’s sake! There is so much attribution of ill will here. @Abashed, whoever you are, calls a mere question about whether there are indeed 46 blocks “snarky.”

    But since you think I’m being snarky, let me clarify. In the “Basic Rules” page on cruciverb.com, it says “In the old days of puzzles, black squares were not allowed to occupy more than 16% of a grid.” That would be 36 squares in a 15×15 grid. It doesn’t attract much attention if the block count goes to 40 or 42, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an NYT or LAT (etc.) with 46 blocks. (So clearly Bernice Gordon learned the craft when 36 was the firm limit, and has taken advantage of the new era’s freedoms.)

    I also was under the impression that Monday theme entries were supposed to be actual phrases rather than ones made up with wordplay—which would make this anagram theme seem to shoot for Tuesday/Wednesday except that the cluing was keyed to the Monday level. This doesn’t bother me—it’s just that I thought this sort of theme wasn’t kosher for Mondays.

    Michael Sharp (aka Rex Parker) has been very clear about his unwillingness to cut slack to puzzles by new constructors, old constructors, or teenaged constructors, and I no longer disagree with his approach. What every NYT puzzle has in common is that Will Shortz has selected it, right? And everything is to be edited to his standards. If Rex or I or pannonica or any other solver or reviewer feels a puzzle falls short of the mark, what is to be gained by whitewashing that? Just let the NYT crossword retain its reputation as the creme de la creme (insert your own diacriticals) of American crosswords, no matter how often it simply is not? Critics don’t want to bring the puzzles down. We want to elevate them. We want to be entertained and impressed by all of them.

    There is far more biographical info about NYT constructors over at Wordplay, where Deb Amlen gets the puzzles in advance and can get their contact info readily. Diary of a Crossword Fiend seldom focuses on that because it’s too damn hard. All I knew is that Ms. Gordon’s in her 90s, but I couldn’t have told you her exact age (without heading to Wordplay and tracking down all the posts about her puzzles there to peruse them for that fact).

  33. Martin says:

    Amy,

    I think both views — that biographical information is irrelevant to a review and that certain outliers (98-year old lady who invented the rebus) are important enough to be mentioned if not considered — were expressed here with conviction and respect.

    I was going to (and probably should have) let your last post go without comment except for one thing. As long as you mention it, I too find it unlikely that your first comment was a “mere” question as opposed to a rhetorical one. I have confidence that you are fully capable of counting black squares and that you are comfortable that you can do so. I bet you even exploit symmetry: count the squares in the top 7 rows, multiply by two and add the squares in the central row. If you want to be really certain, you might do it twice. You probably also know that xwordinfo gives the number with computer-generated accuracy.

    If I thought the point of that first comment was really “I get 46 but I’m not sure. Can someone help?” I wouldn’t have posted my comment (which I explained was based on a feeling that you were ganging up — in effect taking a second dip in the snark well).

    If Abashed and I misinterpreted that first post, I apologize. It certainly is a different side of Amy than I’m used to. I like the strong Amy who doesn’t need help counting black squares.

    But I do want to close with a reiteration that I thought today’s discussion was interesting and respectful.

  34. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Actually, Martin, I divide the grid diagonally and count, but I’ve been known to muck it up even when I count twice. (Eyes going fast.) I did not see the parenthetical “46″ in pannonica’s post, either. Might have been skimming.

    And yes, also I meant to obliquely express amazement that a puzzle would’ve been both submitted and accepted with a count of 46 when there was no crazy theme action or gimmick to astound. That ain’t snark. That’s wondering why the puzzle went so far past the historical 16% limit. If one expects the block count to go no higher than 42 and usually stay below 40, how on earth is it snarky to comment on a 46?

    I use XWord Info much less than I used to now that there’s a paywall for much of it, and I have never taken much of an interest in the numerical stats that the site offers.

  35. Jeffrey says:

    Switching gears, I liked Jeff’s LAT as well, but did no one else notice the INK repetition in the answer to 42A and the clue to 43D?

  36. Martin says:

    “46 blocks is four more than the usual absolute limit.” Not snark.

    “Am I counting right? 46 blocks?” Snark.

    “I was just asking a question.” Snark.

    At least as perceived by two of us.

  37. Mickey says:

    According to XWordInfo.com, there have been:

    1 56-block puzzle (Krozel)
    1 53-block puzzle (Gordon)
    2 50-block puzzles (Santora, Schmalzbach)
    3 48-block puzzles (Krozel, Krozel, Johnston)
    2 47-block puzzles (Santora, White)
    and Bernice Gordon’s is the 10th 46-block puzzle to date.

  38. Evad says:

    Martin, methinks you just jumped the snark.

  39. Martin says:

    Jeffrey,

    I noticed, but it didn’t bother me. I know that irks some solvers and constructors, but duplicating a fill word in a clue is not verboten. Will Shortz has said he avoids it only if he thinks the clue word will spoil the entry. Admitedly it’s hard to predict but I think you either associate INK with tats right away or not. If not, seeing the word “ink” in a clue probably wouldn’t be the “aha.”

    Also, it was a really nice Monday puzzle.

    BTW, can you comment on whether “phial” is used for “vial” in Canada?

  40. Mickey says:

    Sorry, also –

    Whence these rules of crossword-making? Why is 16% the rule? Why can’t Mondays have anagrammed 13-letter theme entries? How are Mondays “supposed to be” anything in particular? They’re supposed to be easy, that’s about the only standard I’ve ever gleaned.

    Then again, I am no expert on puzzles. It’ll take me the better part of three days to finish a Saturday puzzle.

  41. Brian says:

    This seems to be a popular post… Would this be a good time to mention Lollapuzzoola, coming up on August 4th?

  42. Jeffrey says:

    Never heard the term “phial”

  43. Martin says:

    BTW, if you looked at the high block-count list and saw number two at 53 was “Gordon” and assumed Bernice, you’d be wrong. It was Peter.

    And here’s #1.

    (Yes, these probably have more justification for the very high block counts.)

  44. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Brian, yes! I’ll post a link up top in the Tuesday post.

    http://www.bemoresmarter.com/Lollapuzzoola_5.html

  45. placematfan says:

    I thought Jeff Chen’s LAT was super-impressive, on so many levels. Doing a puzzle this tight is like hearing a great song for the first time. Did anyone else notice the V in the top two-thirds and the W in the lower two-thirds, formed by the white space? If it’s not really there, don’t tell me. Thank you, Jeff and Rich, for a maximally groovy puzzle.

    Imho, one of the glorious aspects of cruciverbalism is the simple, unadulterated fact/premise that it is quality-based, more so perhaps than any other art. Pretty much anyone, anywhere, of any age, race, sex, or creed, can make a puzzle and send it to Will, and if it’s got the quality, it’ll be published. Right? Success (which is, of course, subjective) in most, if not all, other modes of art (even many sciences) involves marketing, economics, timing, tactics, etc.; regardless of how many times I hear the sentiment “It’s just a crossword, man” (common after rants), I will with my dying breath extol crosswordsmithing as a rara avis ’mong so many arts that relegate quality behind profit, behind personae, behind mass appeal, behind politics.

    There are, well-deservedly, big names in puzzle making; clout exists; fine, okay. Despite my aforementioned feelings on the puristry and veracity of cruciverbalism, I am not so naïve as to believe in an absence of clout-based (or something-based) preference among editors. But I am so naïve as to believe that such favoritism is, again, minimal in the world of crosswords. That same naivete demands that were a one to speak to me of the blight of capitalistic market monopolism that has appeared upon the Helen of Troy face of cruciverbalism over the past decade or so, I should dutifully stick an index finger into each naïve ear of mine and begin humming whatever melody my Huck Finn heart desires, off key, and go about loving being a crosswordsmith and submitting puzzles to Will and Rich and Patrick, and not worry about anything else; however, said naivete does not permit me to view with unraised eyebrows 46 black squares in a New York Times crossword whose theme ostensibly does not necessitate that amount, and, yeah, wonder if maybe Will is letting Bernice cut a corner.

    The grid maker on cruciverb.com offers–based upon the criterion of four 13-letter themers–eighteen potential patterns: one grid with 48 blocks and seventeen grids with 42 blocks or less. Four 13s can assuredly make for difficult theme-entry placement, but it remains, in general, very doable with, say, 38 to 42 blocks. And though 52 squares is a lot of themeage, in this puzzle only eight of those squares–two P’s, two G’s, two C’s, and two U‘s–contain the less common of letters, which are the usual interlopers in a quest for viable long Down fill.

    And I think that’s why this is an untight puzzle, regardless of who made it. Saying so is, I believe, not a matter of snobbery, but of puristry. As has been intimated today, this is the New York Times, not PennyPress; this is MoMA, not Cousin Bob’s Neighborhood Art Show; this is Broadway.

    Were Pavarotti to have flubbed a few arpeggios at the Met, crowd nor critic would have responded, “Oh, it’s Luciano, so it’s okay.”

    So, yeah, as a constructor, I’m left with a mild case of wtf.

    But what I’m gonna do? Whine about it?

    Damn right. But now that I’ve done so, back to fights worth fighting and puzzles worth smithing.

    And anyway, it’s just a crossword.

  46. john farmer says:

    I saw Tony Bennett a year or so ago. He’d been performing more than 60 years and still had some of that old magic. No doubt there were things he could have done in his prime that he couldn’t do that night. But the pleasures of the evening were sublime. The crowd loved the show. It was a visit with an old friend.

    Around here though, we have critics unwilling to cut anyone slack. Thank god for that. We wouldn’t want anyone to lower her standards.

  47. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I’m thinking that the clue at 6d of PB II’s “Quarter Master” was supposed to be “PX Shopper” not “BX Shopper.” I hope this isn’t construed as a Spoiler.

  48. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @john farmer: I am not sure if the “her” you’re alluding to is me, pannonica, or a gender-neutral generic human. It feels rather like an ad feminem attack, though. Listen, the one I am not cutting slack for is Will Shortz. He gets, what, 75 or 100 puzzles a week, and chooses what should be the very best 7 for publication. With more to choose from than any other venue, wouldn’t you think the puzzles would be of the very highest quality, objectively? And yet there have been some decidedly middling puzzles of late. I expect better. So should every Times solver, especially the ones who are now being asked to pony up more money for the puzzle.

    If today’s constructor were 38 or 58 instead of 98, would you be more willing to acknowledge shortcomings? What are the age limits for being excused from the prevailing standards? Is it under 19 and over 80?

  49. pannonica says:

    Why am I now thinking of non-existent phitrines?

    I certainly didn’t intend to play the provocateur with my less-than-enthusiastic write up. Despite some impassioned opinations (e.g. Abashed‘s “…even bothered to mention that this was the work of an esteemed crossword legend. Surely her longevity was worth a quick remark at least.”), I honestly cannot see any reason why such information would be de rigueur (as is insinuated) in this context, except as a measure of excuse. Does anyone appreciate being patronized?

    Ms Gordon’s introduction of the rebus, while a milestone in the annals of crosswordom, is even less relevant to this puzzle and this write-up. Please understand that this isn’t a case of “what have you done for me lately?” or “have some respect for your elders.”

    As for john farmer‘s Tony Bennett analogy, it doesn’t work very well. A studio recording—with the advantages of time, post-production, and so on—would be a less tenuous comparison than a live performance, but still doesn’t really pass muster, apart from a deceptive sentimentality. But that’s going even farther afield.

    Amy, I apologize if I’ve inadvertently created unwanted dissent and animosity here with the write-up, but reiterate that it isn’t nearly as withering as the commentary fallout suggests it is.

  50. pannonica says:

    Daniel Myers: Don’t think I didn’t notice the Martin/amiss bit in your comment (even if the latter was technically an indirect reference to something I’d done)!

    Jeff Chen: You’re welcome! I just, erm, call them as I see them. By the way, how old are you?
     
     
    (placematfan: I don’t think the W is really there.)

  51. Lois says:

    Pannonica, I agree that it was not a harsh review, although it seems that I liked the NYT puzzle more than you did. In addition, I think that Amy has a right to say anything in response, just as the rest of us do. But I believe that you were going a little far in defending the spelling “meagre,” unless you are not writing from the United States. John Farmer made an amusing point there, one with which I agreed.

  52. Daniel Myers says:

    Pannonica,

    I’d be rather shocked if you HADN’T noticed it! :-)

    Amy,

    Minor corrigendum: ad feminam not ad feminem, first declension accusative; ad hominem is third declension accusative.

  53. pannonica says:

    Lois: So you’re saying my explanation* was meagre? No problem.

    * not an excuse, of course
    p.s. This comment brought to you by the color ochre.

  54. Pauer says:

    PX is used by Army. Here’s more than you ever wanted to know about them: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_exchange

  55. Lois says:

    Pannonica, I enjoyed your answer. Just did Jeff Chen’s enjoyable puzzle, and saw your comment about “enure.” I have only lately become almost inured to the variety of spellings allowed in puzzles.

  56. Erik says:

    i’ll be lucky to be alive when i’m 98. bernice gordon is celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of her NYT debut. what an amazing woman.

    the reviewer, of course, is also an amazing woman, and well within her rights to criticize any puzzle that she likes.

    and of course there are few better ways to start the week than with a jeff chen puzzle.

  57. john farmer says:

    An item or two that I didn’t have a chance to respond to last night:

    I brought up Tony Bennett not to say you should lower your standards because of someone’s age. My point was that there are things besides your standards that might be worth noting. The Bernice Gordon story is an interesting one and might have added some flavor and context for anyone reading. There are people who’ve solved many of the hundreds of puzzles she’s made over the decades who might take some pleasure in seeing her again. None of that was mentioned, which is your prerogative, but it seemed to me a noticeable omission.

    Not to belabor the Tony Bennett reference, but pannonica, he is still recording in the studio. He does not have the chops he once had, and he would tell you that himself. (The crossword corollary for his limited range, to stretch the analogy, might just be having a few extra blocks in a grid.) Nevertheless, the Recording Academy did award him two Grammys this year. Sentimental fools, I don’t think so, but maybe they heard something else besides his failure to reach a few notes.

    I was reading comments here yesterday before going out for the evening. There was a lot said, more than I had or have time to respond to, and more than you likely care to hear about now, but I did want to make a point about standards.

    You have a blog, and it’s a good one — one of the few about crosswords, and thank you for that — but that doesn’t give you a monopoly on defining what makes a high-quality crossword. Your standards are your standards. They didn’t come down from the mountain on stone tablets. If, say, we were to convene a standards committee for crosswords, I would guess there is much we would agree on, yet also a lot we would not.

    Case in point is the Monday puzzle and the discussion about the acceptable number of blocks. Were there a lot of black squares in the puzzle? Yes. Was it worth noting? Sure. Was Bernice taking “advantage” of lax standards at the Times? C’mon. Saying the limit should be 36 because it used to be, though isn’t now (and isn’t mentioned on the current Times spec sheet), is an argument I don’t understand. The Times published the puzzle, so by definition I would say the number of blocks was within the Times’s “acceptable” limit, at least in the discretion of the editor, Will Shortz, for this puzzle. If that’s more than you like, feel free to say so, but the appeal to a nonexistent authority doesn’t work. If you want to add some context, you might want to note that of the past eight Monday puzzles, all had more than 36 blocks, including another (a 15×16) with 46; another puzzle last week had 60; the average for all Mondays is above 36; same for Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays. Yes, 46 is a lot, but let’s be fair.

    What’s the standard for a joke? Is it funny? Likewise, for me, the standard for a puzzle is, Does it work? Technique is hardly unimportant, but I find a lot of puzzles work fine even if the technique may be a rough in a spot or two because of constraints inherent in the nature of crosswords. Merl’s puzzle on Sunday, e.g. Merl wouldn’t put EGY or CHM in a grid for no good reason. No one like to see that, but I still thought it was one helluva puzzle. Opinions vary, of course, and we’re all entitled to our own, but I will say I’m more tired of reading “meh” on the blog than I am of seeing OREO in a puzzle.

    The quality of NY Times puzzles is mentioned above. For what it’s worth, not long ago I was listing some recent puzzles that I thought were outstanding and most of them happened to be from the same venue, the New York Times. There’s that too.

    P.S.

    My use of “her” was not an ad feminem attack on Amy or pannonica. Sorry if it came out that way. It was my attempt to avoid “his” or “his or her” or their,” none of which seemed right to my ear. Ah, pronouns.

    P.P.S.

    We all say things we regret. Maybe I’ll regret some things I’ve said here. But there is one comment that I made here ages ago that I have long wished I never said. It was something like, Who cares whether a crossword is made by a man or a woman? My point might have been that the quality of a puzzle is more imporant than who made it. But it probably sounded like, It’s OK if men make most or all the puzzles. Fact is, it does matter, and more puzzles from women would be welcome. I’m sorry about the comment.

  58. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Thanks, John, especially for the P.P.S. It bears noting that pannonica hasn’t been a Cru member for 10+ years like so many others–and I’ve been a Cru person for eight years and still have no personal experience with decades of memorable B. Gordon puzzles. So I’m not sure where the knowledge of Ms. Gordon’s cruciverbal career is supposed to come from. The rebus thing? Never heard that before Matt mentioned it yesterday. Bloggers may seem omniscient but we are merely human.

    As for Merl’s puzzle, with minimal familiarity with musicals, I had no way of knowing that 110 cornets were a thing; yes, there was a Notepad entry, but Black Ink solving software doesn’t make it obvious that there’s a Notepad item. Had to quit Across Lite on the Mac when I upgraded to Lion, as Litsoft’s port to Lion is absolute garbage.

    In reference to your last pre-P.S. paragraph, it is interesting to note how very many of the top-rated puzzles at this site have come from the smaller venues (the independent puzzlemakers like Matt Gaffney, Brendan Quigley, Peter Gordon, et al., as well as edited/curated venues other than the NYT. Yes, some of the coolest puzzles are NYT puzzles, but the NYT also accounts for some surprisingly low average star ratings. This website’s readers don’t seem to concur that the Times has the best crossword in America.

  59. Erik says:

    @amy – that’s because this website’s readers are smarter than the average bear; as such, they have an insatiable thirst for crossed words which can’t always be filled by a mere monday puzzle. these readers (what do we call them? fiends with benefits?) eat up crunchy themelesses and end-of-the-month metas.

    the independent puzzlemakers have an advantage in the star ratings, because they have creative control and a smaller audience – they know what we like, and they have the power to give it to us. the NYT doesn’t have that intimate connection with its solvers. it’s like the difference between tutoring one-on-one and teaching a class of 30 students. the more diverse your audience, the more you have to broaden your message.

    this is not to suggest that the indie constructors aren’t the best at what they do, because they are. and i’m not saying they should be judged on a different scale. but i think the times puzzles are far better than their star ratings often imply, given the massive crowd they have to please.

  60. pannonica says:

    Erik: True, but they don’t want to be the Budweiser of crosswords. I think they’d rather be the Samuel Adams (if I may lift an entry from the Wednesday (4 July) CS. Obviously they can’t be Smuttynose Vunderbar or Dogfish Head Raison d’Etre, but that’s what the spunkyindies are for.

    As for Tony Bennett (attn: john farmer), I don’t want to belabor the flawed analogy either. I hope it counts for something if I say that I’ve always preferred him to Frank Sinatra (as a musician and a personality), and agree that he is still making very good music.

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