Thursday, 7/5/12

Fireball 5:53 
NYT 5:29 
LAT 3:54 (Neville) 
CS 5:12 (Sam) 
BEQ 4:36 (Matt in 2012); 3:36 (Amy in 2007) 
Tausig untimed 

Ian Livengood’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 7 5 12 0705

Oddly enough, this puzzle took me exactly as long as last Thursday’s Gorski NYT. I relished the theme: Six rebus squares work two ways: the numerals 2 through 6 in the Down dimension and the letters spelling out the special characters that dwell above those numbers on the keyboard and are accessed via SHIFT KEY + [number]. SASQU[at, @]CH crosses 2-PAC Shakur. EX[pound, #]ING crosses 3-D TV. SAND [dollar, $] crosses the Toyota 4-RUNNER. [Percent, %]AGES meets MAROON 5. And [caret, ^]AKERS intersects with MOTEL 6. (That one’s my favorite, where care/takers gets an unexpected split into caret/akers… although Sasqu@ch is a close second.) Completely unforced, natural rebus answers in both directions, with near-symmetry of the theme answers (2-PAC lacks a partner radiating off the SHIFT KEY, and the 3 and 6 answers radiate up/down from a different letter in their Across partners). Really a terrific, creative, and fun theme.

Now, the tradeoff is a touch of hoary crosswordese (AMAH! ESSE!) and some uninspiring shorter fill, but the grid also includes SWEET PEA, RAP MUSIC, NO CONTEST, AMARETTO, HASIDIC ZODIACS (wait, are those a real thing?), the marine IGUANA of the Galapagos, and a word that looks super-hoary, GROATS. There’s something about that word that appeals to me despite its utter lack of relevance to my life. Checking the dictionary… From the Old English grotan—see? Crazy old words that have been in English for so many centuries have a certain charm to them. (See also: my enduring fondness for older English words with Norse roots.)

Although the theme is confined to the numbers 2 through 6, it was distracting to have DOOR ONE and ZERO ON IN parked in the grid. Spelled-out numbers? In a crazy numerals-meet-special-characters double-barreled rebus puzzle? I can’t be the only one who slowed down like this was a Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest puzzle and ZERO and ONE might hold the key to a mental breakthrough.

Despite the mild reservations I had, the theme’s a winner. 4.6 stars.

Peter Collins’ Fireball crossword, “The Joint Is Jumpin’”

Fireball 7 5 12

I like the two levels on which this puzzle’s title work: If the joint is jumpin’, it’s a hip and happening place. And the joint that’s jumpin’ here is the HIP in all those HIP REPLACEMENTS people are having these days. The theme—which reminds me of a brilliant Henry Hook HEART TRANSPLANT puzzle from several years back—moves a HIP from two phrases (let us call them the cadaver donors) and transplants it into new phrases. Wait. Technically, I think hip replacements involve high-tech materials rather than cadaver bone. But I digress.

“Chip off the old block” gets alphabet block action as C OFF THE OLD BLOCK, with that HIP deposited into Dow Jones to make DO WHIP JONES. STARS’ ENTERPRISE drops its Trekkie (s)hip into apple pie to create a Frankenstein monster of an APPLE HIPPIE.

Took a while to figure out what was happening but then the puzzle gave up its secrets and it was all over. Highlights in the fill: PET ROCKS opposite a PET ITMAL, Keira KNIGHTLEY, CHAZ Bono. Favorite clues:

  • 43a. [Oyster crackers] for OTTERS. Love it!
  • 33d. [Where workers unite], the bee HIVE.
  • 15a. [Word pronounced two ways, either of which can follow "hot"], LEAD. “I got a hot lead on who pumped Duffy full of hot lead.”
  • 16a. [1982 Flock of Seagulls hit subtitled "So Far Away"], “I RAN.” The music video for this song was so captivating in its badness. Insane flipped-over hairdo, mirrors everywhere, heavy synthesizer action. This song should really be in the soundtrack of every news story about Iran.
  • 60a. [Numbers on letters], ZIPS. As in ZIP codes on letters in the mail.
  • 44d. [Stand out?], ALIBI. When you want to get out of something on the witness stand.

Biggest negative: ELKE clued as [German model Krivat who was married to Ben Gazzara]. Who?? Give us a boring clue for ELKE Sommer or get the answer out of the puzzle—I think those are your choices. 800,000 Google hits for Sommer versus fewer than 12,000 hits? Krivat’s gotta go.

4.6 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Hang Around” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, July 5

Each of the 15-letter theme answers starts with HA- and ends with -NG (thus, you get HANG “around” the 11 letters inside):

  • 17-Across: [Vocational school instruction] can be called HANDS-ON TRAINING.
  • 24-Across: To [Possess evidence of an agreement] is to HAVE IT IN WRITING.
  • 42-Across: If [It won't hurt one's feelings] it can be considered HARMLESS TEASING.
  • 56-Across: A statement that is [Cliche, e.g.] is a HACKNEYED SAYING.

There are only 74 answers in the grid, but it’s smoother than creamy peanut butter. The stacked 10′s in the northwest and southeast are an especially nice and attention-grabbing touch. And did you notice that the middle theme entries are connected by five-letter crossings in nine different locations? That’s crazy, but Martin makes it look effortless. (Okay, maybe TOR and ESE show some effort.) We’re even treated to a pair of K’s, a pair of V’s, and a pair of Z’s. Among the notably good fill there’s GO SEE, TEETOTALER, MOCKED, and the POKEY.

There’s a bit of naughtiness here too, what with NUDES, an ORGY, and a reference to porn actress TRACI Lords. It enough to make the VICAR blush. Should we include NO MEN in this list too? After all, there’s usually some reference to that in the titles of lesbian porn movies (No Man’s Land 34 and No Men Allowed 16, for example). So I hear, anyway.

Favorite entry = STOP IT (“Uncle!”). Favorite clue = The evocative [Burdens for some walking motorists] for GAS CANS.

Brendan Quigley’s blog puzzle — Matt’s review + Amy’s retro-review

before you go speed-dating, solve this puzzle
Today’s BEQ comes from his archives, and who can begrudge this guy a day off? It’s an Onion puzzle circa 2007, which is far back enough that I don’t recall solving it.

Brendan imagines a scenario where speed-daters discuss last night’s 5-minute candidates with an adjective (wrong, as Amy points out below; two are nouns) appropriate to their profession. So the dog-catcher was FETCHING, for example. Similarly:

  • The firefighter was a HOTTIE
  • The siren was TEMPTING (is “siren” a job?!)
  • The librarian was STACKED (I think this is an upper-body reference)
  • The baroness was WELL-ENDOWED (why not the male underwear model, to balance out STACKED?)
  • The geometry teacher was SHAPELY
  • The pastry chef was LUSCIOUS
  • The private eye was a real LOOKER
  • The witch was CHARMING

I like this theme idea, though a couple of them feel off; siren, baroness and witch aren’t real jobs, and CHARMING for “witch” doesn’t seem quite right. Still, the concept is smart and the dog-catcher, firefighter, librarian, geometry teacher, pastry chef and private eye ones were all good — and there are so many of them! So thumbs-sideways/up on the theme, if that makes sense.

Lovely grid as ever, wide-open and full of stuff like ENOLA GAY, REDESIGN, SEA GOD, YES YES, PUBLIC TV, MSNBC, LEE JEANS, BAR STOOL and CAKY. I GIVE it four stars, and if you quote this review you’ll need to list me as your CITEE.

Amy Reynaldo will be my citee today, as I quote in full her review of this puzzle from Sept. 11th, 2007. I didn’t read her review until after I’d written mine, BTW, so we’re getting two looks at this BEQ uninfluenced by each other:

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Onion A.V. Club puzzle has a theme that starts out, “Speed Dating went really well last night, but I can’t make up my mind,” and continues with seven adjectives and two nouns that might be used to jokingly describe people in certain occupations. Fun puzzle! Each of the nine theme entries has its own “aha” moment. The dog catcher was FETCHING and the firefighter was a HOTTIE, but wait, the siren was TEMPTING? Sirens are tempting, but how many sirens are going to Speed Dating? [Potato chips, to Brits] are CRISPS, yes, but there are brands sold as potato chips there. (The best damn salt-free potato chip I ever had was from a chip-maker in England who hand-stirred kettle chips and used “potato chips” on the label, and it’s a small company that isn’t exporting its chips to the U.S., alas.) Great grid, with those corners of 6×6 words and the stacked 8-letter entries. Favorite clues: [Some generalists, initially] for PCPS (primary care practictioners); ["We've already gone over this"] for YES YES; and [Belt holder] for CHAMP. There’s no reason to use “comedienne” rather than “comedian” in [Comedienne Margaret] CHO, though; it’s not as if there’s another comedian who’s a man named Margaret and the puzzle needs to keep the clues easier. I’ve never heard of CLERC watches; these people must not advertise in Esquire. [Depilatory brand] is NEET; see above. Near-fatal crossing: [Sebadoh's Barlow], _OU, and [___ Soundsystem], _CD. Figured it had to be LOU, and it is. I don’t like CITEE, but I like all the entries it crosses.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 7 5 12

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 7 5 12

Five words: Ed Sessa does not disappoint! I don’t think I can rewrite that in the style of this puzzle’s theme.

  • 20a. [Travels far and wide?] - SAILS THE CCCCCCC = SAILS THE SEVEN Cs = SAILS THE SEVEN SEAS
  • 40a. [Makes U-turns?] - DOES ONE EEEEEEEE = DOES ONE EIGHT Es = DOES ONE-EIGHTIES
  • 55a. [Era referred to in the United Kingdom as "naughty"] - THE GAY TTTTTTTTT = THE GAY NINE Ts = THE GAY NINETIES

If you weren’t expecting such a crazy theme from a puzzle in the LA Times, shame on you. There’s a fun curve ball like this every now and then. It makes the weird ones (like this puzzle) stand out more.

(A small) bone of contention: the E in ONE in the second theme entry makes parsing it a real beast. DOES ON 9 Es? I think not. I’m glad I knew what was going on.

I had a hard but educational time figuring out SALAAM for [Low bow]. Yes, that’s salaam as in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. But salaam is the Arabic equivalent of Hebrew’s shalom. It functions as a word for peace and a greeting. And what do you do when you greet someone in Arabic? That’s right, you give a low bow, also called a salaam.

So BIRCH BEER is like root beer in that it’s not actually a beer. It’s a [Soda containing a bark extract]. Who names these things? I have an angry letter to write to this person. Also, I thought escargot was its own plural, not ESCARGOTS. French pluralizations confuse me. How about escargeaux? (I kid. You don’t need to send me letters on that one.)

Looking back, I’m seeing some ugliness I hadn’t noticed when solving the puzzle. (I guess that’s the way to do it – make the puzzle easy enough for nasty bits to be glossed over.) RKOS, I’M IT!, ELIA and TEO… who? [Racer] TEO [Fabi] is a retired Italian racecar driver. Now it makes sense. Really, four entries isn’t bad, and I didn’t even notice them while solving.

Don’t be ERIQ [La Salle of "ER"] just to get a Q in there. I don’t think Ed Sessa did that – this is a warning to budding constructors. Here I think it’s just what worked for that corner.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Vision Quest”

Ink Well crossword solution, 7 5 12 "Vision Quest" - Ben Tausig

When you go on a “Vision Quest,” you hope to SEE something. In this puzzle, you need to see the word SEE at the beginning of selected incomplete theme answers in order to make them work as clues for other answers in the puzzle. To get there, you need to wander through a lot of cross-referencing in the clues. Do you see what I see? Those cross-references are knowingly, purposefully using the word “see.”

  • 1a. [See 35-Across], TRAVEL.
  • 35a. [-] THE WORLD. 35a is THE WORLD, so to “see the world” is to TRAVEL.
  • 11a. [See 17-Across], PEE.
  • 17a. See A MAN ABOUT A HORSE.
  • 43a. [See 7-Across], MAKE SURE.
  • 7a. See TO IT.
  • 70a. [See 69-Across], RAGE.
  • 69a. See RED.
  • 71a. ["See 59-Across"], “G’NIGHT.”
  • 59a. “See YOU IN THE MORNING.”

The first pass through this puzzle, I completely missed the whole “hey, cross-referenced clues start with the word ‘see,’ so let’s play with that convention” point of the puzzle. I took the cross-references at face value and the theme seemed convoluted. I like it much better as a riff on [See 887-Down] clues and a warping of expectations.

Favorite clue: 41a [Scientist who was a resistance leader?], OHM. Nerd humor! Second place: 14a [Ginger's partner, in takeout], WASABI. I was thinking Fred and Ginger. Also like the trivia approach in the clue for 41d: OREM, [City that's 85% Mormon].

Least familiar answer: 10d ["Godzilla" studio], TOHO. Not many other choices to fit the T*H* pattern the theme answers give. The goatlike animal called the TAHR is no more familiar to most Americans than TOHO.

Shortest answer with five consonants: 45a [CIA antagonist during the Cold War], KGB SPY.

4.25 stars.

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61 Responses to Thursday, 7/5/12

  1. Speaking of Mr. Gaffney, one of his contest puzzles a year or two ago had a “meta” that involved the numbers 2 through 7 and the SHIFT KEY. That experience was admittedly helpful tonight in solving Ian’s NYT puzzle, which I also thoroughly enjoyed.

  2. Martin says:

    What, you’ve never had a kasha knish? Kasha is buckwheat groats.

  3. Howard B says:

    NY Times: Brilliant. This is the stuff of puzzly joy.
    Hope those of you in the U.S. all had a nice $th …er… 4th!

  4. Huda says:

    I stared at that # for the longest time. Does it stand for Hash? No! Does it stand for Number? Makes no sense… But I was sure it was the 3 and let it stand. Pound!! Of course! This is one of the many virtues of blogs … You have an idiot moment and they hand you the obvious answer. Thanks!

    I agree, very clever puzzle. Got it at SAND$, which happened way ahead of the SASQU@CH- a word which does not roll off my tongue. Thank goodness for ANAEROBIC which opened the whole middle for me. Love the clue for CRANIA!

    Doesn’t BORO need a hint of abbreviation? Or are we not standing on ceremony with abbreviations these days?

  5. pannonica says:

    Huda: I think the nickname “Big Apple” in the clue is enough to indicate a casual spelling for the answer. That’s how I read it.

  6. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Once I warmed up to it, a very cool puzzle. A totally original idea, I thought, though someone pointed out a similarity to a previous puzzle. Here’s one where the keyboard solvers (unlike me) have an edge, but I saw that 9a had to be ‘expounding’, remembered that pound sign was above the 3, then that the dollar sign was above the 4, and was able to put the rest together. It gets better the more I think about it. Kudos to Ian.

  7. joon says:

    i loved the fact that the down answers in the rebus are all written with actual numerals. that made ZERO IN ON and DOOR ONE decidedly non-thematic for me, but a nice lagniappe.

  8. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Martin: Nope, keine kasha für mich.

  9. I thought the theme was a CH rebus at first—SASQUATCH didn’t fit, and the ח in חסידות (Hasidic) can be transliterated as CH, so I had a CH in that square for a while. It wasn’t until I uncovered the revealer at 68A that I figured out what was really going on, at which point I dropped in MOTEL6/(CARET)AKERS, since I initially wanted MOTEL6.

  10. Kristin says:

    Anybody else trying to solve on the magmic iPad app? It won’t accept the answer with the numerals and I can’t seem to find the error.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Kristin: You might try using the first letter of the number’s name, or the first letter of the special character. E.g., T for 2 or A for @.

  12. Ceejay says:

    9 across had me tearing my hair out. I had the correct letters and numbers but in Australia we call the # symbol hash. I’ve never heard it called a pound key before. Needless to say, exhashing made zero sense to me but the app said my puzzle was successfully solved so I was happy but bewildered. So glad I found your explanation!

  13. pannonica says:

    It would all be so much better if everyone just called it an octothorpe. Possibly even world peace.

  14. Martin says:

    Ceejay,

    “Pound sign,” not “key.” It’s the symbol for the weight unit. Before metrification, might it have been used in Australia as it is here: “2# minced lamb.”

  15. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Ceejay–That’s interesting, because it is only recently that I have been hearing the expression “hash tag”, in things like account numbers, and I had no idea what they were talking about. I finally decided that they were just referring to the pound sign. I do like Pan’s prescription for world peace, though.

    I wonder if having the word “one” written out in “door one” is a small flaw. I also felt self-congratulatory at being able to “reverse engineer” the assumption that there must be a rock band called “Maroon 5″, backwards from the rebus square “percent.”

  16. cyberdiva says:

    I was having a lot of trouble until I filled in SHIFTKEY and realized that the word for NURSES didn’t have to start 6 or SIX. But at the end, I still had a couple of blank squares, since I had ENESCU rather than ENESCO, which screwed up everything around it. It was only after coming here that I saw it could be spelled with an O. I then turned to Google and searched on “romanian rhapsodies”: the first page of hits all spelled the name with a U (except for an ad). But it turns out that there are thousands of hits for both spellings. Oh well . . .

  17. Bruce N. Morton says:

    cyberdiva–My understanding is that George Enescu is the spelling in his native Romania, but that he lived and worked most of his life in Paris, where he morphed into Georges Enesco.

  18. cyberdiva says:

    Thanks, Bruce, for the explanation of the different spellings.

  19. Jeffrey says:

    What a great day of crosswords! Just check out the ratings across the board.

  20. Loren Smith says:

    Pannonica – Of course I had to go and google octothorpe. You know the coolest things.

  21. Gareth says:

    Add my name to the long list that thought was a fabulous idea for a puzzle. Also: SASQUATCH, TUPAC, MAROON5 and the CARETAKERS split Amy mentioned are just fabulous answers! Never heard # called a pound sign, only a hash sign so that one was a puzzler… Seems like quite few have only encountered the former? Weird.

  22. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Yes to great day of puzzles.

    Amy, Russian saying:

    Kasha y schi, nashi pischi. (Kasha and cabbage, our foods.)

    (Difficult to transliterate, and I don’t know how to get the Cyrillic, and would only be showing off anyhow.

  23. cyberdiva says:

    So is “pound sign” for # a U.S. thing? It’s certainly very widely used in the States, especially on the phone. Instructions often say something like “put in the number [of the product, ID, parking meter, or whatever] followed by the pound sign.” I’ve also seen # referred to as a hash, but mostly in computer programming rather than in the real (?) world.

  24. ArtLvr says:

    In the Fireball, I think the clues for 44D and 45D are reversed — ALIBI being the “easy out”, etc.

  25. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Art, an interesting observation, since they could almost work both ways. But a pop up is an easy out in baseball, and an alibi is an “out” one might use while testifying on the stand in a trial. (I think Amy mentioned this as well.) Or were you kidding?

  26. larry says:

    Call me old-fashioned but I HATE pop songs/band names, such as “maroon 5″ in the grid.
    Because I NEVER listen to pop music.

  27. Gareth says:

    @Larry: I think you’re being selfish. Should the puzzle only have genres and topics you personally enjoy?

  28. Huda says:

    Is the hash/pound option breaking along British Commonwealth vs. American usage? Even though I’ve lived in the US for decades, I’m starting to wonder whether my early education in English is continuously lurking in the background, wanting to spell judgement with an e, and thinking of Hash over Pound for #. if I wanted to buy two pounds of meat, I’d say 2 lb. I don’t think I’d ever put #. Octothorpe is cool, though it sounds like some sort of creepy crawly.

  29. Jason F says:

    I’m curious whether such a theme could be expanded to include 1 (!) and 8 (*).

    In computer-ese, these keys are often referred to as “bang” (!) and “splat” (*). My guess is that this lingo is too obscure – any opinions?

  30. Martin says:

    * would be “star” in a puzzle. Yes, the computer terms wouldn’t fly in a puzzle for general audiences.

    Bruce, of course каша doesn’t have the same meaning exactly in Russian as in Yiddish. (Sorry, Amy, but your excellent German rendition is a bit of a mixed metaphor). If I understand my Russian friends (who never want to see kasha again), it means any kind of groats boiled into a porridge. The Ashkenazic Jews’ buckwheat kasha is Гречневая каша.

  31. granbaer says:

    Solving on the Magmic iPad app was really confusing. I tried doing a rebus approach and putting in both the symbol and number, but my keyboard did not show a “caret” to correspond with the 6. And the app would not accept the puzzle with the rebus squares. So I had to resort to reading Amy’s blog to see how she did it. Clever idea, and fun to solve. Never heard of Maroon 5 and Tupac is not on my radar. I am, however, of the generation which recognizes # as a pound sign and has only recently learned what a hash tag is!

  32. Pete says:

    As I used to buy my hash by the pound, the whole #=(hash,pound) discussion is lost on me. For more reasons than one.

  33. Winnie says:

    I always solve in the paper so was at a distinct disadvantage today. Even tho I wasn’t able to complete the grid I thought this was a good puzzle.

  34. Alan D. says:

    Re: the pluralization of “escargot”

    I’m not sure there are hard, fast rules in crossword-dom when it comes to plurals. I once asked Rich Norris if “asparaguses” would be okay in a puzzle I was submitting and he thought it looked okay, even though the technical plural of asparagus is asparagus or even asparagi. So maybe plurals can be fudged if the need is there.

  35. larry says:

    Gareth – As a matter of personal preference, Yes! But seriously, I don’t believe BEQ could compose a crossword without references to rap and pop music, whereas plenty of puzzlemakers manage to do so.
    If my preference makes me selfish, sobeit.

  36. Gareth says:

    I could care less about well all four of the big four US sports for example, but I recognize I’m in the minority, so I’m quite willing to ignore these answers knowing that there were many who enjoyed their appearance…

  37. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @larry, Gareth: Well, if I had my druthers, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament would consist of all Saturday-level themeless puzzles and beyond-Thursday-level crazy themes. I’d like to do without most of the baseball, poker, and nautical references in all of the other puzzles, and see pop-culture names drawn from the shows/movies/music I consume. But there can be no selfishness in crosswords unless you’re able to convince all the providers of crosswords to cater to your preferences. Larry’s not selfish—he’s just not going to enjoy Brendan’s puzzles as much as Brendan’s fellow mid-30s oddball music fans are going to. But he’ll probably appreciate a standard newspaper crossword more than those mid-30s BEQesque solvers will.

  38. Noam D. Elkies says:

    I count not six, only five rebus squares, 2 through 6 (or @ through ^), plus the theme-revealing final Across entry. Still plenty.

  39. Bruce N. Morton says:

    larry,

    As a co-conspirator who has expressed almost identical thoughts about *some* of BEQ’s puzzles, the problem is that he is a fantastically talented constructor who is absolutely capable of constructing superb puzzles without all that BS, as I unabashedly call it. He did a puzzle a few weeks ago — I won’t spoil it, in case you want to do it — I’ll just say it was a rebus with different up and down entries. I thought it was one of the great puzzles of the past couple years. And many others that place him in the realm of one of the great constructing talents around. To me he’s sort of the Franz Liszt of puzzledom. For every Vallee d’Obermann, or Mephisto Waltz, or F minor Transcendental Etude, you get 2 Mazeppa Etudes, and worse stuff not even fit to grace a respectable waste basket. But his greatest stuff is sublime. I sometimes wonder if anyone has actually heard of Maroon 5 and its ilk, or if it’s all a hoax. :-)

  40. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Bruce: Not “2 Mazeppa Etudes”!! (Never heard of those. Must be a hoax!)

    Maroon 5 is a very popular pop band whose music I could not identify if I heard it. Lead Singer Adam Levine is the white dude in one of the giant judge chairs on the talent show “The Voice.” (Cee Lo Green is the black dude. I think Christina Aguilera is on it too, and I think there are four chairs but I can’t think of who occupies it.) So he has reality TV fame as well as top 40 fame.

  41. Evad says:

    The fourth is country singer Blake Shelton. Adam and Blake seem to have an “aw shucks” kind of bromance banter on the show, which, between that and Christina’s and Cee Lo’s diva moments, detracts from who should really be the stars of the show, the singers being judged.

  42. john farmer says:

    As a regular reader of this blog, I’m a little surprised to see pushback for somebody expressing his personal preferences when it comes to pop culture in a puzzle.

    Seems to me that’s a lot of what people respond to. Pop music, Pixar movies, French authors, etc. When a puzzle caters to our particular tastes, we like. Otherwise, maybe not so much.

  43. pannonica says:

    john farmer: Didn’t you get the memo? It’s the mad season.

  44. pannonica says:

    If he had sung a white song for every white feather
    That wicked old magpie had sinned for every black
    But clear he carolled on the gum-tree behind the shack
    For it was a mad season of black-and-white weather
    When sunshowers swept the mountains in dazzling waves
    And shadow and shine seemed mixed in one tower of joy;
    aznd loud he sang, then like some larrikin boy
    Magpie and sunshower, splashing on the wet bright leaves,
    Toboganned down the old green tree together.

    “Sunshower,” Douglas Stewart

  45. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @farmer john: You talking to me? Because I thought I was giving pushback to Gareth’s reply and empathizing with Larry.

  46. Howard B says:

    I’m going to make a puzzle with a mess of hockey and baseball references, one-hit wonders of 80s-90s rock music that don’t even show up on iTunes playlists or Wikipedia, and some weak attempts at wordplay. And when done, I’d be the only person that would have any interest in solving it, because it would be patently awful :).

    We definitely all prefer styles and topics, we have our sweet spots and weaknesses, but it helps to know that somehow these odd grid thingies help us expand our worlds just a little bit beyond our comfort zones.

  47. john farmer says:

    Gareth was doing the pushback. I was just adding a general point that culture (and to certain degree, other language) that we find in a puzzle has a lot to do with how much we like or don’t like it. We have our own tastes, our own triggers, and our reaction is often personal.

    That’s not a bad thing. But sometimes we get into debates about the good and bad in puzzles and there may be no single right answer. It’s subjective.

    A lack of theme consistency is a flaw. That’s more or less an objective thing.

    Old time pop culture vs. the new new thing, for example, seems to have an effect on how people respond. I imagine it drives some of the ratings too. But one or the other is not necessarily a positive or negative. Somebody may love MAROON 5, somebody else is neutral, someboday else can’t stand it. It’s subjective.

    Uh-oh. I see I grouped French authors in with pop culture up above. Better run before Bruce gets back.

  48. john farmer says:

    I really do need to run, but let me add the obvious point that different puzzles are targeted for different audiences. An Onion puzzle might be a home run for Onion solvers. The same puzzle might bomb badly in the NYT.

    Some might appreciate it anyway. Many might not.

  49. Howard — make sure to include Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri or any other Finnish NHLer with treacherous spelling. And also a Pseudo Echo reference. I’d love that!

  50. Bruce N. Morton says:

    John–No need to run lest I be back. I took you as making a broader point, with which I agree–broader than my preferences or someone else’s preferences. One might almost say Different strokes for different folks, or Vive la Difference. . .What a phrase maker, me. :-)

  51. Howard B says:

    @Brent: As if HENRIK LUNDQVIST in a Fireball wasn’t enough to twist people up, although he’s Swedish. Also, FUNKYTOWN would be fun(ky) fill.
    You might be interested to know that the Anaheim Ducks had a Finnish goalie named IIRO TARKKI play in one game last season. Even better than Eero Saarinen, I think. Hmmm.

  52. granbaer says:

    I’m wondering, was there ever a rule that crosswords should not use proper nouns and names as fill? It seems to me that the idea is wordplay, not Trivial Pursuit type of knowledge. Just sayin’.

  53. joon says:

    can we get some more proper names from world soccer into the puzzle, please? PELE and MIA HAMM are all well and good, and there’s the occasional MESSI, but i’d give my left arm to be able to use NANI, ELANO, NASRI, ETO’O, DANI ALVES (both names! he could be the soccer CHERI OTERI!), and the various other mega-famous players with friendly letters. plus it would be awesome to occasionally toss in a SOLSKJAER or something just to mess with people. and if you’re desperate for that scrabbly corner, i’d much rather you reach for the fabulous real madrid/germany midfielder mesut ÖZIL than tired old ERIQ lasalle.

    (only half-joking)

  54. ‘Tis a pity, Joon, that Bastian SCHWEINSTEIGER is one letter short of 15. On the other hand, Martin Tyler’s May 13 recitation of Sergio “AGUERO(OOOOOOOOO)” would fit the entire row…

  55. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Joon, We’re all e(i)nured to the ubiquitous ‘ado’, why not Freddie ADU? Also, I like the spelling of JOZY Altidore

  56. daniel says:

    SCHWEINSTEIGER may not be an great fit but METTAWORLDPEACE would work great. I would be so happy to see that in a Friday or Saturday nyt.

  57. Howard B says:

    @granbaer: There was never a rule, I’d say, but in days long before Will Shortz’s tenure as editor, if it was in a dictionary or world atlas (still proper name), it was deemed grid-worthy. Now granting that constructors in those days did not have the constructing tools available today, this was still a tradeoff here. Instead of famous names and pop culture, in order to fill grids by necessity, you would instead see fill such as 4-letter world villages, rivers, etc., and a profusion of very bland but dictionary valid words such as SILAGE, ONENESSES, COIR, etc. (I’ve solved a small book of these Maleksa-era puzzles, so I’m not guesstimating here). Very few proper names.

    Most grids require some compromises somewhere, so common filler is used. It’s a matter of what’s permitted, and what ‘flavor’ the resulting content takes on.

    That said, when some puzzles lean too heavily on celebrity and film/TV trivia, I want to pull my remaining hair out. But that’s just me, and *not* usually the fault of the constructor or editor. It’s important to distinguish personal preferences from the puzzle itself.

  58. John Haber says:

    I got the theme almost immediately but then couldn’t proceed, since most theme answers were just out of my realm. Didn’t recognize the band or the car; didn’t remember the rapper or which number appears in the hotel chain; didn’t know that you could simulate 3D movies on a home TV. Don’t really care.

    Can I make a small comment on trivia? I know others are split as to when pop culture becomes excessive. Just bear in mind that there are some of us for whom pop culture means something different. The movies I rent because they got good reviews in the Times or TimeOut or the Onion AV Club don’t necessarily match up with names here. New Yorkers don’t own cars. I don’t have kids. There’s no motel chain anywhere near here. I was a college DJ when the split between FM radio and Grammy winners meant no one listened to stuff in the other camp. It’s just a cultural boundary, and I’m not boasting of it or conversely deriding myself as a narrow-minded snob. Just sometimes wish crossword puzzles allowed that urban types exist.

  59. joon says:

    the “pop” in culture is short for popular. that means that it’s not determined by the opinion of one person or a few people. (“oligoculture” would be an interesting notion.) so yes, there are some people who don’t know about sports, music on the radio, reality shows, movies, or whatever… but by and large, the proper names that get into the grid are the ones that have pervaded the popular consciousness. MAROON 5, for example, is huge. i don’t listen to the radio and i can’t identify any of their songs, but i’ve heard of them because … they are megafamous. recently francis heaney clued TRIO in an onion puzzle as {Maroon 5, if two members were crushed by a piano (hey, a guy can dream)}. that literally made me laugh out loud while solving even though i don’t know the first thing about the band (although i could infer that they have 5 members).

    it happens, though rarely, that something sneaks into a grid that i can’t really understand as being crossworthy. but rather than trying to get other people to acknowledge that you yourself don’t have a frame of reference for some entry or even an entire genre, perhaps it would be simpler to default to acknowledging that there are things that plenty of other people know—and that are legitimate things worth knowing—that you don’t. popular culture, by its very nature, tends to be broader than the cultural interests of any one person.

  60. Lois says:

    The correspondence here is pretty amusing. Because the puzzle was so admirable and I was on a tennis-on-TV schedule, I refrained from letting off steam, and then John Haber said almost EXACTLY what I wanted to say, because I hardly knew any of the theme answers in this puzzle. I also never heard of the Maroon 5, the car or the hotel chain, etc. But it was even worse for me, because I worked on the puzzle on paper on a long subway journey, and I couldn’t check what was going on with the shift key, so I was one of the very few here who didn’t get the theme, or I was the only one. Most of those squares were empty for me, although I had done the rest. So on top of the cultural lacunae, I also don’t know the keyboard. Anyway, I agree that all the cultural mavens should have their day, no matter what their specialties are, even if I have to tolerate a soccer day. I also belatedly assert that a complaint about pop culture, cars and products and sports clues and answers does not always mean that we think that those shouldn’t be used in the puzzles. We just feel bad and want to express that.

  61. Howard B says:

    I empathize, because my lacunae (I like that term!) are especially in musical theater and opera; I attempted solving quite some time ago a themed puzzle by David Kahn devoted to Beverly Sills, and I can tell you that it was a rough experience. The puzzle itself was fine, but I still remember it as being so far out of my wheelhouse that at that time, being a Wednesday puzzle that I could barely solve it.

    When a puzzle especially touches upon those areas, I understand that feeling.

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