Screenwriting guru Field / SUN 2-16-14 / TV actress Graff / Roman ruler before Caesar / Hip-hop artist with 2013 #1 album Born Sinner

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Constructor: Yaakov Bendavid

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Passing Grades" — Fs are changed (raised?) to Ds in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Theme answers:
  • 23A: One who turned Cinderella's pumpkin into pumpkin cheesecake? (DAIRY GODMOTHER)
  • 49A: Snorkeling bargain? (TWO DIVES FOR A TEN)
  • 77A: Transportation company that skimps on safety? (NO-DRILLS AIRLINE)
  • 105A: Stephen Hawking's computer-generated voice? (SCIENCE DICTION)
  • 15D: Two things seen beside James Bond at a casino? (DISH AND CHIPS)
  • 58D: "Oh yeah? Let's see you hold your breath for TWO minutes!," e.g.? (DARE INCREASE)

Word of the Day: SULLA (74A: Roman ruler before Caesar) —
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix[1] (c. 138 BC – 78 BC), known commonly as Sulla, was a Roman general andstatesman. He had the distinction of holding the office of consul twice, as well as reviving the dictatorship. Sulla was awarded a grass crown, the most prestigious and rarest Roman military honor, during the Social War. His life was habitually included in the ancient biographical collections of leading generals and politicians, originating in the biographical compendium of famous Romans, published by Marcus Terentius Varro. In Plutarch's Parallel Lives Sulla is paired with the Spartan general and strategist Lysander.
Sulla's dictatorship came during a high point in the struggle between optimates and populares. The former sought a conservative approach to maintain the traditional oligarchic structure of power in the Republic, while the latter challenged the existing order with the avowed aim of increasing the influence of the plebs. Sulla was a gifted and skilful general and won many victories against barbarians as well as fellow Romans and Italians. One of his rivals, Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, described Sulla as having the cunning of a fox and the courage of a lion.
In a series of constitutional crises, Sulla used his armies to march on Rome twice, and after the second time he revived the office of dictator, which had not been used since the Second Punic War over a century before. He used his powers to enact a series of reforms to the Roman constitution, meant to restore the balance of power between the Senate and the tribunes. Already in poor health, he stunned the world (and posterity) by resigning his near-absolute powers, restoring constitutional government in late 81 BC. After seeking election to and holding a second consulship, he retired to private life and died shortly after. (wikipedia)
• • •

Thin. That's how I'd describe this theme. It's the simplest, most basic change-a-letter concept there is, and when you change just one letter in just six theme answers, and they're all quite long, the impact of the change (on each answer, and on one's overall impression of the puzzle) is slight. Also—major stylistic oversight—there's still a pesky "F" left in TWO DIVES FOR A TEN. As a general rule, you want your core theme concept to be not just consistent, but executed to squeaky clean perfection. If you're changing Fs to Ds, you just can't leave Fs on the table. One can shrug and say "who cares? the puns still work," or whatever, and that's true, but how low are we putting the bar for the alleged best puzzle in America, for the editor who has said out loud that he believes he's "the best in the world at what I do." There are literally infinite (plus or minus) potential theme answers for something like this. Surely there was one more out there that didn't have a stray "F."

So the theme gets a D. But the overall construction is much better, I think. Low word count means lots and lots of interesting long answers, especially in the Downs. I see lots of stuff I don't remember ever seeing before—ordinary phrases like JOB SEARCH to more exotic stuff like ORANGE OIL. The grid is very light on junk, which is nicely spread out and has next-to-no impact on the pleasure of solving (though I'll admit to groaning audibly at the very beginning, when ADES was the first thing I encountered, *and* it was crossed with a plural name: ALDAS). Difficulty-wise, there wasn't much. I think the preponderance of long answers slowed me down some (always hard to tear through lots of open white space), but there were times when I was entering answers lightning-fast. Wasn't anywhere near my record time, but at just over 10 min., I'd say the puzzle tilts a little toward the easy side.

Let's look at a few folks from today's cast of characters, since proper nouns are often the thorniest part of any given solve. Here are a few of the noteworthy names:
  • ELISHA (22A: Actress Cuthbert of "24") — memorize this one, because you will see it again and again. Or at least again. I've seen it many times. She played Jack Bauer's daughter.
  • J COLE (52A: Hip-hop artist with the 2013 #1 album "Born Sinner") — that #1 album thing, plus the attractive letter combo, means you're assured of seeing this name again. I think this is the second time I've seen him this year.
  • BIG E (5D: Former 6'9" N.B.A.'er Hayes, to fans) — Elgin? No, that's Elgin Baylor. Who is Hayes? Well I was close: it's Elvin. Hall-of-Famer. I really should know him.
  • SYD (20D: Screenwriting guru Field) — never heard of him. Never seen this SYD clue (I'm used to Barrett or Hoff). The clue appears to be yet another Wikipedia-lift. Constructors: come on. At least give the phrasing your own twist. Wikipedia is a great resource, but it's not an excuse to be lazy in your cluing. I have no idea how this guy is famous enough to be in the NYT puzzle, as I can't see as he's actually written any screenplays (though he has written books about writing them … but then I'm not doing any research beyond Wikipedia. See: lazy. It's annoying, right?)
  • ILENE (91D: TV actress Graff) — sometimes hard to keep the IRENEs, ILENEs, IRINAs, ILONAs, and ELENAs straight. She was the mom on "Mr. Belvedere." 

[Try not to cringe at the "pinball fairies" joke]

Puzzle of the Week this week was a pretty easy decision. It was kind of a slow week, and then Thursday rolled around and I did a very good puzzle by Ben Tausig (his Inkwell/Chicago Reader puzzle) called "Outsourcing" (get it here free) followed immediately by a Great puzzle by Byron Walden (this week's American Values Club puzzle) called "For ABBA Fans" (get it here for a buck, though you should really already be a subscriber). No idea how Byron got so much hilarity and fun out of such a seemingly simple concept, but he did. Aces. He wins the week.

For information on the upcoming ACPT (Mar. 7-9), see the program at the tournament website, here. For information on the "Cru" dinner at the Marriott on that Friday night (Mar. 7), please visit "Diary of a Crossword Fiend."
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Evan 12:05 AM  

    Fairly easy puzzle, probably easy-medium for a Sunday. I'm with both Rex and Jeff Chen on what I liked and didn't like, though. Jeff notes that this is one of the few Sunday puzzles in recent memory to have just 134 words, and with only six theme entries, that leaves room for some real interesting long fill like JOB SEARCH, J. COLE, LOVE NEST, BED OF ROSES, RED ARMY, COMO ESTA, and BLONDE ALE. So that’s good. Also good is that Yaakov kept the three-letter entry count so low (just 12 of them).

    But, I wasn’t crazy about the unchanged F in TWO DIVES FOR A TEN since that’s inconsistent with the other themers. The other D’s in DAIRY GODMOTHER and DISH AND CHIPS (the ones that weren’t changed from F) also felt a little strange, though not as much as the extra F.

    So, an interesting approach to a Sunday puzzle, even though the theme idea has been done many times before, but it may have been better without that stray F in 49-Across.


    Oh, and I have a new crossword puzzle up at my indie puzzle site Devil Cross. This one’s called "Take It Off!" Yeah, it’s a little hot ‘n steamy, maybe sorta a post-Valentines Day crossword? Fair Warning: there may be some less-than-savory language in the puzzle.

    konberg 12:12 AM  

    I'm very proud because this is the second Sunday puzzle I've completed, and it took about 90 minutes. Admittedly, I made two mistakes, but when your bar is actually completing the puzzle, well, I'm pretty pleased. Just wanted to say. And while I realized that might have meant it was on the easy side, it doesn't matter to me one bit.

    Plus as a Jew-turned-athiest, I just won't self-penalize for struggling with CENSER, PATEN and LAIC. :)

    retired_chemist 12:18 AM  

    Easy-medium here as well. I'm not as upset by the offending F as Rex, Evan, et al., and there will be others.

    I enjoyed the theme. Got it by slogging through enough of the crosses for 105A to see the answer and connect it to the title of the puzzle.

    A few writeovers: sonARS => RADARS, peeve => ANNOY, various upstate NY names before OTSEGO (cayuga, OswegO, etc.), and more. Liked the cluing for 32A VARIANTS - was thinking of a common language origin at first.

    Overall a winner. Thanks, Mr. Bendavid.

    jae 12:26 AM  

    Easy medium for me too.  Got to agree with Rex on the meh theme but there is some nice fill.  So, over all a pleasant Sun. solve.

    Anonymous 12:29 AM  

    Man, did I ever make a mistake with this puzzle. See, last night (Valentine's day) was a disaster, so my wife and I tried to make up for it this evening, if ya know what I mean. The mistake I made was doing this puzzle just before we hit the sheets. So, I'm down there, doing my thing, when I just start laughing, DISH AND CHIPS, man what a riot. SCIENCE DICTION, you'll be getting the SCIENCE DICTION in just a few minutes.

    It turns out that non-puzzlers have no sense of humor.

    Z 1:09 AM  

    I'm with @retired_chemist - I don't give an F about the F.

    I think @Rex said the same thing about Ms. Cuthbert the last time ELISHA appeared. I'm pretty sure she was the model for the dancing baby on Ally McBeal.

    @anon12:29 - It's time for the BIG E.

    Numinous 1:17 AM  

    Not sure how I feel about the spurious "F". After all, it makes the pun but then, I hated that pun. FISH AND CHIPS in a casino? Yeah, I get it but it doesn't ring true. SCIENCE DICTION, worked well THO. NO DRILLS AIRLINE? What airline does safety drills? They give speeches, but DRILLS? While I've been thrown out of a Carvel for bringing a bag that may or may not have contained a sandwich with meat in it, I just don't think of cheesecake as DAIRY. DARE INCREASE? This puzzle could have been busness class if it had more than one decent pun. As it is, one out of six ain't good.

    Now there were some pretty good long solutions, JOB SEARCH, LOVE NEST, and so on there were a lot of lame short ones too. I did like SULLA which was a gimme with a single crossing letter, having waded through most of Colleen McCulloch's Roman opus.

    I'm not terribly critical but while y'all call this easy-medium, I'm gonna call it lame-medium.

    Numinous 1:27 AM  

    I'm missing a comma and a "but" after "and so on." Teach me to proof read.

    Anonymous 1:54 AM  

    Dear blogger man:

    Okay, I did the Ben Tausig puzzle as you suggested, because it was free, and I thought it was funny and an entertaining solve all around, but let's be real. If that had run in the NYT there is NO WAY you would have overlooked a lot of the obscure and contrived entries. Especially the crossing of 2D and 13A was ridiculous. How was I supposed to finish that. I had Will Shortz object to my use of 44D in a puzzle, with him saying that he probably wouldn't allow it on any day.

    So when you slam the NYT for fill problems and say things like "if you have to use {insert bad entry} tear it up and start over" or "people need to stop cramming in too many theme entries because it's messing up the fill" and then call this puzzle, which employed 44 black squares and still had a ton of bad fill, "very good," well, it creates quite a bit of dissonance for me, and I imagine other readers. I hope at some point you explain why you rail at the declining standards at the NYT when you give an enthusiastic thumbs up to a puzzle that has indisputably bad entries in the double digits. If you say that you hold the NYT to a higher standard, I respect that, but don't then dance on the NYT's grave as it's supposedly "overtaken" by puzzles which you hold to a lesser standard.

    *For the record, I liked the Tausig puzzle because I don't generally side with the "war on fill" people and I think that the puzzle should be judged based on its overall effect, not the dozen or so weakest 3 and 4-letter words it contains. This puzzle was pretty amusing and I liked that it had a lot of theme entries. I did get Naticked by that crossing, though, and I would have appreciated an anagram in the clue for 13A or something.

    chefwen 2:29 AM  

    23A across was my favorite. Being born and raised a proud Cheesehead AND the Queen of all Cheesecakes, how could DAIRY GODMOTHER not be my favorite.

    Still don't quite get 15D DISH AND CHIPS. @Numinous kinda sorta referred to it. I get the CHIPS/casino part, but James Bond tied into casino with DISH/FISH is alluding me. Of course it's late, maybe in the A.M. When I'm a little brighter.

    I'm on the fence with this one.

    Mark 2:57 AM  

    James Bond's dish is a Bond girl and his chips of course are for gambling. He doesn't take a greasy meal into a casino.

    Anoa Bob 2:57 AM  

    Chefwen, I'm guessing that the DISH is slang for an attractive woman and CHIPS refer to the gambling tokens and so these are "Two things seen besides James Bond at a casino". Yeah, bit of a stretch.

    The other themers didn't light it up for me either, but as others have said, the fill had some nice stuff, certainly enough to make it an enjoyable solve.

    For 68A "Nappy fabric" thought of MOHAIR. Not enough letters. Turns out it's MOLE SKIN. But then the former pops up a couple notches above (58A) to give me one of those "How about that!" moments.

    chefwen 4:08 AM  

    Thanks @Mark and @Anoa Bob, you are right "a bit of a stretch" but the fog is clearing, somewhat.

    George Barany 5:34 AM  

    Off-topic, a shout-out to @Evan's Devil's Cross puzzle, as linked to in his 12:05 a.m. post, which I was able to complete without resorting to either Google or the Urban Dictionary. It includes answer words/phrases that will never ever appear in the Gray Lady. I particularly enjoyed the incredibly fresh/timely page-turner of a clue for 33-Down.

    Nickyboy 6:30 AM  

    I don't know why, but I buzzed right through this puzzle without pausing once. First time that's happened. The whole thing felt like it was constructed by a novice, perhaps a school-aged kid, because the clues were easy and the theme was weak. I prefer to have to put some thought into my Sunday puzzle!

    Bob Kerfuffle 6:40 AM  

    OK puzzle, even though some might be tempted to say it gave us a rather full grid.

    chefbea 7:51 AM  

    Fun puzzle which I almost finished last night. Got the theme at Dairy Godmother…who don't like a good pumpkin cheese cake. Finnished the puzzle this morning when My head was well rested.

    Unknown 7:52 AM  

    Easy. One comment - SYD Field is obscure, but ALANMOORE gets plaudits in yesterday's puzzle? They are both meaningless and obscure.

    Buckyblue 8:29 AM  

    You should know Elvin Hayes. Big game against UCLA and Lew Alcindor in the Astrodome that broke the Bruins however many game winning streak. Pretty great NBA career too, back when the NBA was a real league with real teams and not just a collection of star players. Medium for me, but after last weeks record finish it felt like a trudge.

    Anonymous 8:46 AM  

    PAT?N/C?NSER cross did me in.

    Will Shortz 9:26 AM  

    For the record, I don't give a hoot about the second F in 49A.

    Does the theme answer read naturally? Does it make sense? Is it funny? That's what I care about.

    --Will Shortz

    Carola 9:55 AM  
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    Carola 10:01 AM  
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    Carola 10:03 AM  

    Amusing theme - I'm with @chefwen on loving the DAIRY GODMOTHER (perhaps the godmother of our "Alice in Dairyland"). Also liked DISH AND CHIPS - once I caught on (saw that the clue read "beside" - not "besides" - James Bond).

    I liked LOVE NEST together with BED OF ROSES (from Marlowe's "And I will make thee beds of roses/ And a thousand fragrant posies,/ A cap of flowers, and a kirtle/ Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle...").
    Also the pair from the ancient world CLEO(patra) next to SULLA, and the STACKed pair of "show girls" MANON and LOLA.
    And in the physical decline area, ASHIER and BALDER.

    Unknown 10:16 AM  

    2:44. No googles, but one wife, who contributed essential insights. Also one error, at the corner of hip-hop and French: JCOLa/MaRS, which was detected after submission. Still. No complaints on how I spent these 3 hours. Perhaps I get a passing grade? Just kidding. D-to-F is still a DNF, but a happy one.

    BIGE Elvin Hayes was my boyhood hero. He, Wes Unseld, Phil Chenier, Kevin Porter, Mike Riordan, et al., were the 1978 Bullets only NBA championship team DC ever had, and it had a permanent effect on popular culture. Do you remember how?

    Coach Dick Motta was dogged by sports reporters during the playoffs as the Bullets fell behind in the series scores. "Is it over, coach?" the reporters queried of the exhausted coach. Motta responded with a meme-before-memes-were-cool: "The opera isn't over until the fat lady sings." WTOP's mild mannered Frank Herzog called the final game of the championship series. His authoritative demeanor dissolved as the clock ticked to zero: THE FAT LADY IS SINGING. THE FAT LADY IS SINGING.

    And now you know the rest of the story.

    art mugalian 10:24 AM  

    Love Nest is a really old expression, dating back to at least the 1920s when Ring Lardner wrote a short story by that title (and a collection of stories with the same title).

    David L. 10:26 AM  

    What - no Lola or Bennie and the Jets videos imbedded in the write-up?

    art mugalian 10:27 AM  

    This "Lola" wasn't a show girl, "she" was a transvestite.

    Unknown 10:38 AM  

    I never even noticed the second F until Rex mentioned it, so not a big deal for me. Puzzle in general was more on the medium side in my book. Kinda fun, but nothing extra special. How about a puzzle full of sunny places and summery-ness? I sure could go for that!

    AliasZ 10:39 AM  

    Light and airy theme, if a bit dull. However I did like much of the long fill, like JOB SEARCH, MUSCLE CELL, and the BED OF ROSES in my LOVE NEST.

    I appreciated the reminder of some happy days in Rio de Janeiro, where chopping open a coconut with a MACHETE was an everyday sight and yielded the most refreshing drink on earth.

    MANON Lescaut (L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut) is a short novel by French author Abbé Prévost (1697-1763) about the Chevalier des Grieux and his lover MANON, who ends up leaving him for a richer man after he goes through some difficult times and loses his fortune. The work was rather controversial for the time and it was banned in France, but pirated copies were widely distributed. It became so popular that three operas, two ballets, a lyric drama, movies, etc. were based on it.

    The opera by Puccini is perhaps the best known of all, but there is also MANON Lescaut by Daniel Auber (1782-1871) and of course, MANON by Jules Massenet (1842-1912), whose music was the basis of a 1974 production, L'histoire de Manon by The Royal Ballet of London, choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan.

    More than you wanted to know I'm sure, but here it is. I strongly urge you to listen to the light-hearted Auber aria with Dame Joan Sutherland above. I guarantee you'll love it.

    Enjoy your Sunday.

    Matt Gaffney 11:14 AM  

    @Will Shortz:

    If one specific letter changes to another specific letter then there should certainly and obviously not be unchanged instances of the first letter in theme entries.

    It's plainly inelegant, especially in a case such as here, where it was easily avoidable since there were so many candidate entries.

    Tita 11:34 AM  

    JILTERS above LOVENEST, and crossing CENSER and PATENS.

    @Sue McC- LATEEN hints at warmer, gentler climes...

    DISHANDCHIPS was hilarious enough to offset all the 'meh' that I learned about when I got here.

    Thought MOLESKIN was a hide, not a fabric. Really...
    I guess I never thought it through... It would take an awful lot of moles to make a pair of moleskin jeans!!

    When my brother was little, he was mesmerized by the fur coat of the woman in the pew in front of him. (Yes, this is going a LONG way back, when both brother and mother went to church...)
    With wide eyes, he asked "Is that a Mink Coat??!" My mom, perhaps not in one of her most "Christian" moments, said "No - by the looks of it, it's probably squirrel..."
    Brother's eyes grew even wider, wondering where they grew such big squirrels.

    Also liked:

    Thanks Mr. Bendavid.

    Tita 11:40 AM  

    For anyone wanting to attempt their own MOLESKIN accessories, I offer up our two cats.
    Through the course of a season, they bring home enough MOLES and vOLES to supply all of Rexville.

    Matt Gaffney 11:50 AM  

    Here's an example of another NYT puzzle with a change-a-specific-letter-to-another-specific-letter theme. The B's in the theme entries are changes to A's and there are no unchanged B's in the theme entries.

    It would obviously have been less elegant if there had been.

    Kristin Hall 11:53 AM  

    Syd Field is more than just a Wikipedia lift. After his death in Nov., Grantland did a nice piece on his life & work:

    No, he's not Paddy Chayefsky, but has been influential in his own right.

    Numinous 11:59 AM  

    MOLESKIN is a dense napped ecru fabric that was/is popular in Australia. Trousers made from MOLESKIN are what "cowboys" there wear. They are very durable.

    Mohair Sam 12:13 PM  

    Totally agreed with Rex's comments on this one.

    "MANON of the Spring" may be the best movie you haven't seen. It's a sequel so you'll need to "jean de Florette" first.

    I'm always ranting about the lack of (var) when you need it. Now comes a VARIANTS clue, good stuff. And from a constructor who's first name might be considered a VARIANT itself. Love it. (or does Smirnoff get the var.?)

    Numinous 12:16 PM  
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    Numinous 12:21 PM  

    Here's an example of MOLESKIN pants and jeans. Just as an afterthought.

    Tita 12:28 PM  

    @Mohair... I agree...wonderful movies!

    wreck 1:02 PM  

    I liked the puzzle. The extra F made absolutely no difference in getting the clue. If that prevented anyone from an enjoyable solve, I pitty them.

    Matt Gaffney 1:08 PM  

    This was an interesting enough question that I blogged it:

    Steve J 1:14 PM  
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    Ben Tausig 1:20 PM  


    Thank you for solving my Ink Well puzzle, and appreciation also for raising the point about the crossing in the NW. You are absolutely correct to do so.

    Editors cannot claim to be able to avoid obscurity and name-heavy crossings altogether. Puzzles are too constrained and common knowledge too subjective for that to be possible.

    What we can promise is due diligence. In cases like this, that means considering all possible options and making a careful decision. The NW corner of "Outsourced" was highly constrained because, in a 3x4 area, 8 of 12 letters were already accounted for by thematic material. That kind of situation leaves few options. Preserving the long non-theme answer at 4-Down, an answer that was itself quite good (for this specific venue) and offered clean fill elsewhere, there was only one remaining decent choice for filling that section, and it would've meant four uninteresting abbreviations in the short down answers. I reviewed both alternatives and decided on the one you solved, with the justifications that 13-Across is a reasonably common name, that 2-Down could be inferable, and also that the other downs in that area could be clued at an easy level to facilitate a smooth solve, which in fact they were. That was how I made my decision. I realized it wasn't perfect but thought that it was the best available.

    I consider it part of my job to be open about my editorial process, so I'm happy to talk about this stuff. I also think it's awesome that you pointed this out, because when solvers spot such details, it means that the craft of construction is relevant, that people care about puzzles, and that by extension our jobs as puzzlemakers are appreciated and probably in OK shape.

    But even beyond that, sincere criticism is the most important mechanism for keeping us honest and improving our work. It's genuinely helpful, and also humbling that you care.

    -Ben Tausig

    Steve J 1:21 PM  

    Agreed with @Numinous' and @AliasZ's takes: The theme's puns just weren't very good - DAIRY GODMOTHER and DISH AND CHIPS were the only ones that gave me a chuckle, and DARE INCREASE is just awful - but much of the long fill helped save this puzzle from being a complete bore.

    As far as the great Stray F Schism of 2014: On the one hand, I didn't notice the stray F as I was solving, so it didn't interfere with the theme inasmuch as it didn't make me consider swapping it out for a D and throwing me off on the wrong track. But when your theme is so rail-thin, any deviation sticks out like a sore thumb.

    If it was a stellar answer that you'd hate to give up, then maybe you're willing to bend the rules and have a little internal consistency. Unfortunately, the answer was not stellar and was the second-weakest pun of the puzzle. It's not worth creating inconsistency when the answer just isn't that good (it failed the "is it funny" part of @Will Shortz's criteria, at least to my sense of humor).

    Short version: I'm ok with small theme inconsistencies if the payoff is worth it. I don't think it was worth it in this case.

    (@Mohair Sam: As a fellow ranter about the absence of (var) indicators, I also got a nice laugh from VARIANT's being an answer.)

    mac 1:22 PM  

    Medium puzzle to me, I had to dance around a bit to get the theme. I did wonder who those Alfa's were.

    Hand up for Oswego first, and I thought of elopers instead of jilters. I think you can not show up together, right?

    At the clue for 73A, Cleo, I thought it should have been Liz Taylor to mark the abbr.

    mac 1:24 PM  

    Nice to read the comments of the pros.

    wreck 1:30 PM  

    The extra "F" was a preposition -- it didn't make a hill of beans. I don't know, the "pros" bitching about this comes across as sour grapes that maybe they haven't got a puzzle published lately.

    Unknown 1:51 PM  
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    Mohair Sam 2:12 PM  

    Attended a wedding at a hotel on the shores of OTSEGO lake last June. Spent a few days there. A beautiful part of the world.

    Evan 2:28 PM  


    Seeing as how Matt Gaffney publishes puzzles regularly at his own website and edits others, you can't hang that charge on him. And he is every bit a pro as advertised, so no scare quotes are necessary.

    And while I'm not as much of a pro as he is, I do have a few puzzles coming up soon, so you can't hang that charge on me either.

    I'll just never understand the idea that expressing criticism of a puzzle's merits -- its theme entries, its consistency, its clues, whatever -- somehow reflects poorly on the people who do it. It shows that they take the craft of constructing crosswords seriously.

    chefbea 2:31 PM  

    @Evan enjoying your Take it off puzzle. Where can I find the completed puzzle?

    wreck 2:57 PM  


    Fair enough, but you are not the one calling out the NYT puzzle editor specifically. The criticism here goes beyond displeasure of clue. Anyway, that's my own opinion and I don't expect everyone/anyone to agree with me.

    Z 3:27 PM  

    @wreck - OFL indicated some time ago that he was no longer submitting puzzles to the NYT. I don't recall that he gave a reason, but it can't be sour grapes about not getting published if he's not submitting puzzles.

    As to the F'ing debate... I like Two-Hearted Ale far more than I like Oberon. I still love Oberon, especially on a warm summer evening. Likewise,@Matt Gaffney's comparisons are essentially moot in my opinion. Would no F have made the puzzle better? Maybe. Does it presence ruin this puzzle? No.

    RnRGhost57 5:26 PM  

    @Z, well stated

    OISK 5:49 PM  

    Didn't notice the offending "F" and wouldn't have cared if I did. Generally liked the puns, and generally disliked the Cuthbart, Jcole, and Graff and Syd Field clues. It might also have been better not to have placed the two "Church" clues, Censer and Paten, (I've never heard of the latter) crossing each other. Rex seems to think we will get stuck with "JCole" again. I hope that any constructor forced to stoop to hip-hop will remember to make the "J" very evident, as it was here.
    Still, a pretty solid Sunday puzzle, as far as I am concerned.

    Anonymous 6:29 PM  

    @BenTausig, now that I've had the chance to look up OMARR in the database I see that it's been used lots of times, and for some reason I never absorbed that bit of knowledge. Ah well. I assume the alternate fill that you rejected was changing 13A to ADARN (not give ___) and changing 20A to SOME. Your audience probably wouldn't have liked EDA, though. Well, as I said, I did enjoy the puzzle and my target was Rex, who snipes at the NYT for every little detail.

    Speaking of which, the theme never claimed to be "every single F in a theme entry is changed to D", the theme is "exactly one critical F in the entry is changed to D." So I'm not sure how that one unchanged F ruins the theme or is inconsistent.

    Nancy 6:52 PM  

    Will S.-- I don't care about the F, either. Some people just like to carp. A cute puzzle. But the diagramless was more challenging and involving, It's gotten to be my favorite Variety puzzle, but only when I can solve it. A big "if". But this one I could.

    jberg 8:48 PM  

    First of all, at the beginning of the blog we are invited to go download and solve Ben Tausig's puzzle; then in the comments people start discussing specific answers in that puzzle. This is really not right -- at least get @Rex to put in the Spoiler Kitty first if you are going to do that; better yet, wait until tomorrow, or next week, or something.

    Now, as for today's puzzle, it was kind of a slow slog for me, but that's OK - that's Sunday, after all. Some good, answers, some strained clues, at least for those of us who don't think "reference" (26A) is a verb. But OK.

    As for the F question. I didn't like it personally; but if it's OK for @Rex to be snarky on his blog, if that's what he wants to do (and it is), then maybe it's OK for Will Shortz to announce (as he has, right here), that he doesn't care about such things. It's not so important what his rules are, as long as he makes them clear.

    Now I guess I'll go get "Outsourcing" before anybody gives more of it away.

    retired_chemist 9:16 PM  

    OK - do we know it is actually Will Shortz writing, or is someone taking that as a pseudonym?

    Z 9:54 PM  

    Someone will have to ask him at ACPT and report back. I nominate Evil.

    Anonymous 11:23 PM  

    I liked the theme answers, but also admit to being easily amused.

    The clue for SULLA is quite poorly edited, though. An equivalent clue could be: American president before Truman = Taft, or any other pair with a 30+ year gap. Fine, Caesar was the next "dictator" after Sulla, an office only instated irregularly, but "ruler" is definitely misleading.

    Anonymous 2:34 PM  

    Syd Field didn't just write a few books - he wrote the definitive guide to writing a screenplay. I got the clue immediately.

    Steve J 2:41 PM  

    @retired_chemist: My money is on Will Shortz being the real deal - when the posts are made using that Google account. He posted a month or two back with details that seemed quite unlikely to be offered without the info coming from the horse's mouth (the key one being mentioning that he was working on increasing pay for puzzles, which to my knowledge was not public news yet and came to be reality a few weeks later).

    Anonymous 11:26 PM  

    Comfortable state - BED OF ROSES? Doesn't seem like the right clue for that answer. It's more a comfortable place than a comfortable state, no?

    Jason 3:02 PM  

    CENSER, PATEN and LAIC gave this post-reformation puzzle noob a huge headache. nice puzzle overall though.

    Acme 1:34 AM  

    In my years in Hollywood, circa 1986-1993, SYD Fields was all the rage, his screenplay books the bivle, and his writing courses were like ESt seminars for the devoted.

    Of course that was the real Will writing in.
    One always debates whether the preposition counts.
    Ideally you have no other Fs but it's usually only one letter that is changed in a change a letter puzzle.
    Surface sense is the main criteria.

    Acme 1:37 AM  

    Typos: his screenplay book was the biBle

    Unknown 8:02 AM  

    @Matt Gaffney: You keep using that word ("obviously"). I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Anonymous 2:22 AM  

    I wish constructors would stop using "abler"--the correct grammar is "more able".

    spacecraft 12:49 PM  

    IMHO, to pick on an F buried in an ultra-common preposition like FOR or OF is really picking at nits. It's not as if "FOR" is the key word in this phrase. You guys need to lighten up. TWODIVESFORATEN is a great theme entry, THO I suppose Tatum O'Neal would've asked for two tens for a...well, you know.

    I also enjoyed SCIENCEDICTION immensely. I am constantly amazed by what Dr. Hawking has been able to achieve despite the most severely debilitating condition one can have and still live. Dark matter be damned; gray matter will win out in the end.

    Maybe the theme is a bit thinnish, but at least it yields a cool title: "Passing Grades."

    As for 15d, compare M*A*S*H's Lt. Dish, played by the dishy JoAnn Pflug. That's enough to wake up anybody's "equipment."

    Two crappy pair. I think I need to rebuy, dealer.

    Roxy 2:14 PM  

    So how tall is elvin Hayes now?!! (5 down clue)

    Dirigonzo 3:51 PM  

    Every time the clue is for JAPES I enter JokeS. Every. Single. Time. You'd think I would learn, but no.

    SLIER still looks wrong to me, even if it is right.

    @Roxy - that's a very good question. If he's shrinking at the same rate I am he must be down to around 6'6" by now.

    Full boat, 8s/4s.

    SharonAK 8:29 PM  

    I agree completely wiith Will Shortz @ 9:26

    Sorry if it's not "elegant " enough for Matt Gaffney, but so what ? The pun worked and the "f" in "for" was not a confusing element.

    The "dare increase" was bad. The rest amusing.

    Bananafish 12:36 PM  

    Theme: Change a single 'F' in a common word/phrase to a 'D' to reveal a funny/clever pun.

    This puzzle completely met that perfectly valid theme, and is therefore not at all "inelegant." Period.

    Any opinion otherwise is crybaby whining and, more importantly, dangerously chilling to the creativity of puzzlemakers - we have enough "rules" infiltrating the modern crossword puzzle world without having an artificial one that impinges creativity.

    Had one or more theme answers flipped multiple 'F's to 'D's, there might have been cause for someone to cavil that they were TICKED ODD, but as it is, the complainers are simply ODD THEIR ROCKERS.

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