Puzzle #19 Solution and Puzzle #20, “Stand-Ins”

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

P

A

C

E

Last week’s puzzle, titled “Go With Plan B,” asked for a five-letter category and featured five long across theme entries:

HAND GRENADE
LOUSY CAR
COMPUTER MAKER
FIVE-HOLE
QWERTY PHONE

Some of these evoked a certain category fairly readily: a lousy car is a LEMON, a leading QWERTY phone is a BLACKBERRY, and (going back to the well) a top computer maker is APPLE. With a little extra thought (maybe) you could land on either PINEAPPLE or POMEGRANATE for hand grenade, and NUTMEG for five-hole. (And yes, while it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, nutmeg is a fruit! Most of us are familiar with consuming the ground-up seed, or [I didn’t know this] the red seed-covering aril, which is what makes the spice mace – but the internet tells me there are those who make jams and candies and whatnot with the fruit itself.)

The twist was that instead of extracting one letter from each theme entry as one might have expected, it turned out that when you put these in grid order their first letters spelled out PLAN B as mentioned in the title. So the answer was just FRUIT, which is five letters by happenstance, and is the unifying category for how to “go with plan B” in terms of what you call the five themers.

39 people submitted the correct answer. Next up, Puzzle #20, called “Stand-Ins.”

020_standins.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a common surname. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 29 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles: Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.

Puzzle #18 Solution and Puzzle #19, “Go With Plan B”

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

P

A

C

E

Last week’s puzzle featured kind of a red herring: I asked for a kind of sandwich, and gave you a puzzle titled “Triple Deckers” with nine three-entry stacks in which the middle entry was clued only as “see grid.” Surely the theme must be built around these visual “sandwiches,” right?

Wrong. The bottom bit of each triple decker was irrelevant, actually. Instead, all that was going on was that each entry lacking a clue could be clued by a word formed by adding the prefix “sub” to the entry above it – so, e.g., 14-across BOW could be clued as “submit” – and it sits in the grid under (or SUB) the entry MIT. And so on:

So the meta answer was just SUB, which happens to be a kind of sandwich, but sandwiches didn’t otherwise have anything to do with the meta.

21 solvers submitted (ha!) the correct answer. Now we move on to Puzzle #19, “Go With Plan B.” Will this puzzle yet again be about sandwiches? You’ll have to solve it to find out ….

019_planb.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a five-letter category. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 22 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles: Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.

Puzzle #17 Solution and Puzzle #18, “Triple Deckers”

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

P

A

C

E

This cramped grid had three symmetrically-placed, longish food/drink answers with starred clues. With a nudge from the title you might have noticed that each of these types of food/drink has an example of the form “X&Y”:

40-across CANDY PIECES: m&m
15-down ROOT BEER: A&W
36-down SANDWICH: PB&J

A healthy, balanced meal …

Next, you can find entries around the grid that correspond to the letters of the “combos” above:

M = 16-across THOUSAND; M = 60-down MASS
A = 9-down ACE; W = 67-across TUNGSTEN
Pb = 25-across LEAD; J = 51-down JOULE

The last step is to treat the “&” of each combo as an arithmetic operation and add the clue numbers of each pair together, which it turns out gives you the same answer all three times: 16+60 = 9+67 = 25+51 = 76, which confirms itself as the meta answer by being the clue number for the entry SUM.

Next up is puzzle #18, “Triple Deckers.”

018_tripledeckers.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a kind of sandwich. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 15 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles: Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.

Puzzle #16 Solution and Puzzle #17, “Combo Platter”

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

P

A

C

E

Three initial things to notice about last week’s puzzle: (1) the prompt asked for a phrase consisting of two eight-letter words; (2) the grid had eight seven-letter entries (and nothing longer); and (3) the title was “Cut Out the Middle, Man.” The middle letters of those seven-letter entries appropriately spelled out S-A-N-D-W-I-C-H. So far so good … but you need another eight-letter word. To get it you had to look to the clues, which contained eight six-letter words/phrases formed from the letters left over from the theme entries after you took out their middle letters. So, for example, the clue for 9-across, FBI, was “U.S. agency concerned with the law,” corresponding to 53-across THE CLAW. The first letters of the entries whose clues contained those six-letter words/phrases, in the order in which they appear in the grid, spell out F-I-L-L-I-N-G-S, so your meta answer was SANDWICH FILLINGS.

Though it was several steps, most of you found this one on the easier side. I don’t have final numbers as I write this – I will be on the road by the time this posts – but at least 47 people solved it.

Next up is #17, “Combo Platter.”

017_comboplatter.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a two-digit number appearing in the grid. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 8 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll be returning from vacation that day – maybe late – so I can’t guarantee the solution and next puzzle will be up as usual on Tuesday morning. We’ll see what happens.

To keep up with the puzzles:
Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.



Puzzle #15 Solution and Puzzle #16, “Cut Out the Middle, Man”

After the previous week’s puzzle that required a bit of Spanish, this week I gave you a puzzle in which it was pretty clear from the title (French for “strange exchange”) that there was going to be French involved. The meta instructions asked for a plural that’s five letters in English. Here’s how to get there:

I wanted 50-down to be NO BOAT, a humorous way in which I was once goaded into ordering fries at an In-N-Out (“just write ‘fries no boat’ on the ticket, please” … [fry cook looks at ticket, shrugs, dumps fries into bag on top of burger]) – but whereas other “secret menu” items have hundreds of thousands of google hits, “fries no boat” has … six. So I don’t really think it’s much of a thing.

Depending on whether you solved the hard or easier version, you either got a subtle hint, or explicit instructions, that the CORNERS were important. How that worked was that each corner of the grid began or ended one entry that you could turn into a French word by removing one letter. Scattered throughout the rest of the grid were partners for those entries that, by taking on the discarded letters, could become an English synonym for the French word. So for example, 1-across LYCHEE loses the H to become lycee, which translates to school, which is 52-down ‘SCOOL with an H inserted into it. Similarly:
B(O)ON -> G(O)OD
AMI(N)E -> FRIE(N)D
MAIL (S)LOT -> (S)HIRT

In grid order, those four “exchanged” letters spell out HONS, which is neither a five-letter English plural nor is it a French word (unless you want to translate it as “sounds repeated by stereotypical laughing Frenchmen like Maurice Chevalier“). What next? If you did the easier version you had a hint to go back to 39-across and consider it as another theme entry, and if you did that you saw that if we take the second R out of CORNERS, we are left with cornes, which in French means horns, which of course is HONS with an R inserted into it, so HORNS is the meta answer. If instead you did the hard version, you just had to see that the most natural thing for HONS to take on to make it a five-letter plural is an R, and oh hey, if you take an R out of that central entry that was already important to the meta, that gives you the French word for horns; plus, the “exchanged” letters spell out HORNS in grid order. While a few solvers expressed uncertainty about this step, it seems to me it would have been astoundingly unlikely for all of that to be a coincidence, so while the motivation for trying it might not have felt intuitive, the confirmation once you did try it ought to have been solid. But as always, your mileage may have varied …

I hope the French language knowledge required for this solve wasn’t too high a hurdle for too many people. I felt like most of the French words involved in the solve were pretty accessible. AMIE has appeared in the NYT crossword 134 times in the Will Shortz era; BON, 38 times; and LYCEE, 14 times. MAILLOT only has 2 appearances but it ought to be known to even casual observers of the Tour de France as part of the phrase maillot jaune, the yellow jersey worn by the race’s leader. (Anyway, I was too excited to find MAIL (S)LOT -> (S)HIRT to pass it up.) The most obscure pair was the final one – CORNE has only been in the NYT crossword once, pre-Shortz in 1977. (It was clued as “French horn.”) But at that point, you had H-O-N-S and there aren’t a ton of ways to make that into a 5-letter plural; plus if you know some etymology you may be familiar with the word part “corn” meaning horn as in unicorn, cornucopia, cornet, etc. …

28 solvers submitted the correct answer, and even some of you whose limited French vocabulary made it especially difficult told me you particularly liked this one. Merci beaucoup!

Okay, enough Romance languages! This week’s puzzle, “Cut Out the Middle, Man,” has a few foreign entries (including one pretty obscure Slavic orthography term … sorry for that) but the meta should not be easier or harder depending on what language you studied in high school – promise.

016_cutmiddle.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a phrase consisting of two eight-letter words. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 1 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll be traveling next week, so the solution, and a new puzzle, will be auto-posted next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles:
Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.

Puzzle #14 Solution and Puzzle #15, “Étrange Ă‰change”

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

P

A

C

E

Last week was a visual meta. The 19-letter entry at the top, OFFSITE DATA STORAGES, was clued as “Clouds,” and six lengthy down entries contained the trigram HHO, representing raindrops falling from those clouds. That was easy enough to see, but how did that yield a familar rhyme? It didn’t really – at least, not without some extra theme material running across the bottom of the puzzle:

Those three Spanish-language entries, all clued with fill-in-the-blank geographical names, were no coincidence; instead they represented the terrain on which the raindrops will fall – SIERRA (mountains) to the west; ARROYO (literally “creekbed,” often used to refer to a valley, draw or canyon in placenames) to the east; and in the center, LLANO.

At this point in the solve having some knowledge of Spanish, and/or having lived in the part of the U.S. that was once Mexican territory, was certainly an advantage. LLANO, which literally means “flat,” is used in some placenames to mean “plain.” Most notably, the example used in the clue – the Llano Estacado or “Staked Plain” of Texas. Near me, there is an old Spanish land grant called the Llano Seco – dry plain – which lives on in the name of a ranch known locally for pork, and beans, and now I’m hungry …

Anyhow, the rainfall is toward the center of the grid – only one drop each is going to hit the mountains and the valley, two drops will land on the borders, and two will land squarely on the plain itself. So the answer to this visual puzzle, which called for a familiar rhyme, was THE RAIN IN SPAIN STAYS (or falls) MAINLY IN (on) THE PLAIN, the rhyme made most famous as a pronunciation drill in “My Fair Lady.”

While the use of “llano” to mean plain seems more common in the Americas, I did find a couple of small Spanish towns named, e.g., Llano de Brujas. At any rate I felt that if you noticed “hey all these geographical terms at the bottom are in Spanish” it would be enough to get you thinking in the right direction, and if you looked up Llano Estacado you would see the “plain” translation. Maybe the clues should have used the names of places in Spain itself, though that would have required two clues referencing highly obscure places.

Solvers had varied reactions to this one. Some didn’t notice the Spanish terrain at the bottom, and sent in rhymes relating to rainfall; but even some who did submit the right answer commented that the answer didn’t feel like it fully “clicked” from the visual clues. I’m not sure how to account for this; I had expected that, assuming you noticed the Spanish names for kinds of terrain at the bottom, the picture would be clear enough – the plain is in the middle, and most of the rain is in the middle. Certainly different clues (“the mountains, in Spain”; “the plain, in Spain”; “the riverbed, in Spain”) would have helped, but at that point I feel like I would have been hitting you over the head with it.

Others had some nits to pick – is the rain is this grid really mostly falling onto the plain? isn’t water’s molecular structure more like HOH? do they really use “llano” to mean “plain” in Spain, or is that a Latin American thing? – but most of these folks said those issues didn’t detract from the overall solve.

Finally, several people commented that this puzzle’s fill was just a bit too ugly. I’ve always acknowledged that (a) I’m an inexpert constructor and (b) I am bad-fill-tolerant when it serves the meta – but I do see, looking back at this one, that I settled for obscure entries too many times. Noted.

For this week’s offering I’m once again offering two versions, one harder than the other. I don’t think the easy version will be a gimme, though – but we’ll see how it goes:

Not-as-hard:

015_etrangeechange.puz

Hard:

015_etrangeechange_hard.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a plural noun that is five letters in English. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, June 24 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles:
Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.

Puzzle #13 Solution and Puzzle #14, “Dropping Hints”

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

P

A

C

E

For last week’s puzzle “Look – Behind You” we were looking for a seven-letter plural. Solvers had to notice that seven of the grid’s entries could satisfy the clue if you tacked a letter onto the beginning – and not just any letter, but (in keeping with the puzzle title) the letter preceding it (on the other side of a black square) in the grid:

Those single letters appropriately spelled out HYPHENS, which would typically be used in spelling out these expanded versions of the theme entries as shown above.

The easy version made this a lot easier to see by starring the clues for the seven theme entries, and also lightened up on the cluing in several places. Those who solved the hard version had to notice that in a few cases, the answer felt vaguely like it was missing something – BOMB and AXIS were maybe leading candidates for triggering that realization – or else just have the idea to “look behind” the across entries and start seeing the pattern.

One extra note, which I’ll try to keep brief. If you recall the controversy over Puzzle #10, surely you noticed that this week’s theme contained an echo of that which in retrospect I really should have changed – 68-across ought to have been, say, TUPLE (shifted over to 70-across) rather than WORD. How could I have been so dense as to run a theme with a reference to the same super-offensive concept again, just three weeks later? The truth is I just didn’t think about it; this week’s puzzle was constructed months ago, and was never meant as any kind of call-back to #10. And I am honestly dumb enough that – even after week 10 – it didn’t occur to me that the phrase that supplies the penultimate letter of this week’s meta answer, clued neutrally, might be upsetting to encounter in the process of solving.

The whole thing passed mostly without comment, and lots of people told me they liked this puzzle, but after I realized what I’d done and a couple of folks raised an eyebrow I felt no small amount of angst. I also got into a couple conversations on twitter this week about the extent to which it’s appropriate to fill grids with terrible people and things, a question on which my natural inclinations run toward “it’s fine, the world is full of awfulness so why shouldn’t puzzles be?” But I learned from those conversations – and from the experience in week 10 – that others have a different sensibility about that, and if I’m unwilling to be mindful of the experience of you the solvers, there is really no point in publishing these things. If your reaction to what I’m saying here is “you obviously didn’t learn well enough or fast enough,” I’m hard-pressed to argue. I can’t promise not to screw up again – my personal offense threshold is apparently pretty high – but I do promise to try harder to steer clear of stuff that is likely to touch nerves.

Your comments, either to this post or in private, are welcome. Moving on, 52 solvers submitted the correct answer to this one. I also went back and finally ran the numbers on weeks 11 and 12 – 20 people found the answer to Puzzle #11 (PIG, as in squeal like a); 14 people got #11a (GRAPE, as in grapefruit); and 23 people got #12 (AREA CODES). Next up: Puzzle #14, “Dropping Hints.” PDF, .puz, you know the drill:

014_droppinghints.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a familiar rhyme. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, June 17 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles:
Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.