Hebrew letter before samekh / SUN 9-27-15 / "I Am Not ___" (1975 show business autobiography) / Site of the "crown of palaces" / Author ___-Rene Lesage / Beezus's sister in children's literature / Charge of the Light Brigade event / Site of the U.S.'s only royal palace / Royale carmaker of old / Wahoos of the A.C.C. / Romanian currency / Tax amount per $1,000 / Greek portico
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Constructor: Tom McCoy
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (and I imagine it's even tougher if you don't see the Note at the top of the puzzle)
THEME: Mark My Words — A sort-of double-rebus puzzle in which six quotes have quotation marks (" ") at their starts and ends in the Across direction. The quotation marks should be interpreted as ditto marks (″ ″) in the Down direction, which means that the letters in those squares in the Down direction are the same as the squares directly above them. Did you get that? If not, let me try again with the puzzle Note: "When this puzzle is completed, 12 squares will be filled with a certain keyboard symbol — which will have a different signification in the Across answers than it does in the Downs."
- 29A: Magical phrase in an old tale ("OPEN SESAME"). First ditto mark represents a D in the Down direction and crosses the double-D in CHEDDAR (4D: Money, in modern slang). Second ditto mark represents an L in the Down direction and crosses the double-L in PULL-TAB (21D: Soda can feature).
- 50A: Schwarzenegger film catchphrase ("I'LL BE BACK"). Crossing Down answer: 33D: Art critic, stereotypically (SNOOT).
- 58A: Comment after a betrayal ("ET TU, BRUTE?"). Crossing Down answer: 34D: Not seemly (UNMEET).
- 74A: Catchphrase for one of the Avengers ("HULK SMASH!"). Crossing Down answer: 70D: How one person might resemble another (EERILY).
- 84A: Repeated bird call? ("NEVERMORE"). Crossing Down answer: 77D: Wool source (LLAMA).
- 103A: What the ring in "The Lord of the Rings" is called ("MY PRECIOUS"). Crossing Down answers: 85D: ___ rate (tax amount per $1,000) (MILLAGE) and 95D: Be a gentleman to at the end of a date, say (SEE HOME).
- 31D: Assistant number cruncher (SUBBOOKKEEPER). Runs through all quotes.
Word of the Day: UNMEET (34D: Not seemly) —
Not fitting or proper; unseemly. (The Free Dictionary)
• • •
Hey there, this is Evan Birnholz. I'm holding down the fort here in Philadelphia during Popestravaganza 2015 -- it's supposed to be a madhouse when the Pope holds Mass on Sunday. Francis might not have time to solve one of my Devil Cross puzzles while he's here -- the name of my site probably doesn't do it for him either -- but lately I've been publishing some Sunday-sized crosswords just like today's, so check 'em out on this fine day.
I've been a fan of Tom McCoy's previous puzzles, and I'm all for crosswords that force you to think outside of the box. But unfortunately, this puzzle (ahem) missed the mark with me. It's a bizarre theme, to say the least. I get that each of the six long Across answers are well-known quotes and that quotation marks can sorta approximate ditto marks in appearance, but I can't shake the feeling that the puzzle is missing something. It could be because I've been solving a lot of meta puzzles recently, but I really, really wanted the "trick" letters in the Down direction to spell something relevant when you read them in order -- some phrase that might help unify the theme, like maybe QUOTE UNQUOTE or MIXED DOUBLES. Even another famous 12-letter quotation would be something. Instead, those gimmick letters are just the same letters as the ones right above them and otherwise have no extra layer to them. That felt like a missed opportunity.
"HULK SMASH!" especially -- but for something this different, it just wasn't a tight enough theme concept to really grab me. It's basically: six relatively random quotes, quote marks look like ditto marks, you get some double letter pairs .... I just wanted more out of it, and the marquee answer in the grid that (literally) ties everything together (SUBBOOKKEEPER) doesn't strike me as a strong enough hook. It's a linguistic curiosity in that it's apparently the only one-word term that has four consecutive repeated letter pairs, and that can help you grok the theme. But if you don't know that, then it just appears like an otherwise dull term that got jammed into the grid for some unknown reason. It doesn't get much play in dictionaries; the sub- prefix makes it look like someone just made that job title up. SUBBOOKKEEPER! INTERPOSTMASTER! MICROSECRETARY! There's a theme in there somewhere.
In addition, something about the puzzle's presentation seems off. The puzzle Note (if you chose to read it beforehand) gives away a major piece of information about the theme in that several squares work differently in both directions. Generally I think it's better to let solvers discover that bit of trickiness on their own, and of course you could ignore the Note while solving. But even with the Note, I still had a tough time making sense of the theme when I was done. I never saw the quotation marks as ditto marks; I just assumed that the trick was that the quote marks could be replaced with whatever letter fit the crossing Down answer, not the same letter as the one in the square directly above it. So it felt like I had to solve the corresponding Down answers with no help from the Across letters (for instance, I had UNME_T at 34D and got completely stuck, not least because UNMEET is a word that no one ever uses). Maybe others had similar confusion? At the very least, that bit of trouble gave me the fun chance to interpret some of the Across theme entries as though the quote/ditto marks were never there, so "OPEN SESAME" and "I'LL BE BACK" became DOPEN SESAMEL and BILL BE BACKO. There's probably not a theme in there anywhere.
I'm also told that, while I solved this one on paper, this puzzle does not work well for solving on a computer or other electronic devices. To get the correct solution, you apparently have to enter the word QUOTE in Across Lite in the relevant squares instead of the appropriate symbols. So for electronic solvers, you may have already lost the two-way quote/ditto mark gimmick, which a few people mentioned to me had been pretty frustrating.
Now, with all that out of the way, let's talk Fill. This puzzle has 132 words -- well below the NYT's generally accepted maximum of 140 for a 21x21 puzzle. That means you can get some nice longer fill answers like OH CRUD, NBA STAR, HIMALAYAS, KARAOKE, NO SERVICE, CUE STICKS, ANGEL HAIR, and FIG LEAVES, the latter of which has a pretty funny clue (27A: Ones doing a decent job in the Bible?). But it also means you might get some rather cringe-worthy answers like:
- 20A: Got up again (REROSE) — I'm fine with RE- answers that you might hear in the wild like REREAD or RESEND or REMIX, but REROSE isn't one of them.
- 24A: Takes out, as some beer bottles (UNCASES) — It makes sense, but do people say this? I think you're more likely to say "Let's take the beer bottles out" than "Let's uncase the beer bottles." There's also UNMAKES at 34A: Takes apart.
- 38A / 30D / 110A (NT WT / ESTS / SCHS) — Strange abbreviations, all of them. There's really no reason the word "net" in NT WT should be abbreviated. Three letters was too long and so we made it two? Seriously?
- 52A: Amazon's industry (E-TAIL) — This probably isn't the worst E-something word you'll find in crosswords, but I still rarely see people use it.
- 81A: Like some storefronts (TO LEASE) — That's a weird one. FOR LEASE and TO LET are much more common to my ear.
- 83A: Farmer, in the spring / 121A: Ones making an effort (SOWER / TRYERS) — Those "add -R or -ER to a verb to get a strange noun" answers, where the definition is just "one who [verb]s." Thus a TRYER is one who tries. You can just hear a coach telling his team, C'mon guys, you gotta be tryers out there if you wanna win!
- 14D: "What ___!" (cry after some spectacular goalie play) / 53D: "Lord, is ___?" (A SAVE / IT I) — I've never been a fan of partial phrases, and while IT I is common enough in puzzles, A SAVE sounds pretty arbitrary to me.
- 17D: @@@ (ATS) — AT SIGNS, yes. ATS, no. It's just not as common.
- The aforementioned, obscure UNMEET. I wish I could unmeet this word.
- 69D: One seeking the philosopher's stone (CHEMIC) — Yikes. I want to unmeet this one too. Surely I wasn't the only one who thought this would be a Harry Potter-related answer.
- 82D: Romanian currency (LEU) — Though it's probably a better currency to use in crosswords than the outdated ECU.
- 92D: Dictation takers (STENOGS) — Is there some industry standard for the shortening of "stenographer"? I know STENO isn't a whole lot better than STENOG, but can't we just stick with one of them? Are we going to start calling them STENS later on?
- 97D: Where many shots are taken (IN A BAR) — This feels arbitrary as a phrase, like IN A STORE or IN A CASINO would.
- 111D: Greek portico (STOA) — A classic piece of crossword-ese that I haven't missed much.
- 112D: 1940s prez (HST) — He's well-known, of course, but Truman's monogram isn't anywhere near as ubiquitous as FDR or JFK.
- 116D: Stand-___ (INS) — This isn't necessarily a terrible answer per se, but it seems strange to have INS as its own entry when you've already got IN HERE and IN A BAR.
That's quite a few sub- and sub-sub-par entries to swallow in spite of the longer, more sparkly answers. All of this is to say: 140 words in a 21x21 grid is tough enough to handle as it is. 132 words can be downright hazardous. In fact, I'd personally be in favor of raising the NYT's maximum number of words on Sunday puzzles to 142 or 144. If it helps clean up the fill, all to the good, I say.
- 12A: Cassio's jealous lover in "Othello" (BIANCA) — I got my "Othello" ladies confused; I originally had EMILIA here.
- 59D: C equivalents (B SHARPS) — Just can't not think of "The Simpsons" here.
- 93A: Travel over seas? (PARASAIL) — Nice clue.
- 95A: Be a gentleman to at the end of a date (SEE HOME) — The clue's a tad awkward for my taste, and the word "gentleman" shares a bit of a duplication with GENTLER at 28A.
- 85D: ___ rate (tax amount per $1,000) (MILLAGE) — I suspect this one could be a stumper for many. I wondered for a while why this word wasn't MILEAGE since that fourth letter was just a quotation mark in the Across direction, but that's where the "ditto mark/letter above it is the same" part of the theme kicks in.
- 109A: Hebrew letter before samekh (NUN) — Uh, alright. Kind of a curveball to throw at us non-Hebrew speakers when many other potential clues are available, but it's fairly crossed.
- 117D: Monopoly token that replaced the iron in 2013 (CAT) — I did not know this. I did, however, know that there was a Cat-Opoly version of the game that one of my friends got for Christmas many years back.
- 122A: Contraction with two apostrophes ('TWASN'T) — I actually have a certain fondness for this word. I can't really explain why; maybe it's just wacky enough that I'd laugh if someone used it ironically in regular conversation.
• • •
Finally, an announcement: if you live in the Tampa area, there's going to be a memorial on Sunday evening (that's tonight) celebrating the life of the late, great crossword legend Merl Reagle, hosted by his wife Marie. It's from 5-8 pm ET at the University of Tampa's Vaughn Center and it's open to the public. There's more information here, if you're interested in attending.
[Follow Evan on Twitter @devilcrosswords].