# 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:

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:

# Puzzle #14 Solution and Puzzle #15, “Étrange Échange”

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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:

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

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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:

# Puzzle #12 Solution and Puzzle #13, “Look – Behind You”

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Last week’s 16×16 grid didn’t have obvious theme entries.  It was titled “Connect Five” and asked for a phrase formed by connecting two grid entries, and astute solvers noticed that connecting five pairs of grid entries yielded five two-word cities:

Those ten entries were arranged asymmetrically and mostly toward the top of the grid; what was going on? It turned out that the entries making up the city names were placed such that their grid numbers formed the AREA CODES used to call (or, ahem, connect to) those cities:

2d NEW + 12d YORK = NEW YORK (212)
33d WINSTON + 6a SALEM = WINSTON-SALEM (336)
41d SAN + 5d FRANCISCO = SAN FRANCISCO (415)
6d SAINT + 51a PAUL = SAINT PAUL (651)
7d ANN + 34d ARBOR = ANN ARBOR (734)

For the second week in a row I ran out of time to tally results – this time because I needed all weekend to solve Matt Gaffney’s strange and fiendish week 5. Next up here is puzzle #13, “Look – Behind You.” This week I’m including easy and hard versions from the outset. (Protip for those who start with the hard version and decide to switch to the easy: the only changes are in the clues, so no need to re-solve the grid.) As always, you can either download the .pdf below, or click on the link for the .puz file which is shared from Google Drive.

Hard version:

013_lookbehindyou_hard.puz

Easy version:

013_lookbehindyou_easy.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a seven-letter plural. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, June 10 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles:

# Puzzle #11 and #11a solutions, and Puzzle #12, “Connect Five”

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In last week’s full-sized puzzle, “Do Like I Do,” I asked for a farm animal. The grid had six ten-letter entries, each an example of a thing that’s part of a familiar phrase of the form “[verb] like a [thing].” Hidden elsewhere in the grid were words that were one letter off from the verbs:

SALK -> WALK (like an Egyptian, such as OMAR SHARIF)
QAT -> EAT (like a bird, such as a KINGFISHER)
WOUK -> WORK (like a dog, such as a BLOODHOUND)
DEINK -> DRINK (like a fish, such as a RED SNAPPER)
LAVE -> LIVE (like a king, such as RICHARD III)
SLAKE -> SHAKE (like a leaf, such as a PINE NEEDLE)

The letters you need to change to make the phrases, in bold above, spell out (in grid order) SQUEAL, suggesting the phrase “squeal like a pig” – so the answer was PIG.

Puzzle #11a was simpler. It featured six entries with starred clues:

*Fish found in Louisiana bayous = GAR
*Cat found in India = TIGER
*King who founded a West African dynasty = KAYA
*City that’s the seat of Ecuador’s Napo Province = TENA
*Stone used to make arrowheads = FLINT
*Horn with a reed = SAX

The key here is that each thing can form a compound word or phrase if you add the kind of thing it is (which was also the first word of each clue), and as the puzzle’s title suggests, the compound word is not the same thing as the original word (nor does the newly formed compound word/phrase fit the clue). So, a garfish, while it is still a fish, is not the same thing as a gar and is not found in Louisiana bayous; a Tigercat is not a tiger at all but a fighter jet (or: a tiger cat is a much smaller cat than a tiger, not found in India); kayaking is a totally different thing from the obscure Ghanaian dynast Kaya Magan Cissé; tenacity is a totally different thing from Tena, Ecuador; a Flintstone is a cartoon character, not a kind of stone; and a saxhorn is still a brass instrument, but it’s not the same thing as a sax, and it’s played with a trumpet-style mouthpiece, not a reed.

So to what fruit can you add “fruit” and get a new and different thing? That would be the GRAPE, which is of course much smaller than a baseball – but a grapefruit sure isn’t.

I had a lot going on for the holiday weekend and haven’t run the numbers yet, but puzzle #11 in its original form was quite hard. The mid-week hint unlocked it for a lot of folks. #11a, meanwhile, vexed a lot more solvers than I would have predicted. Of those who clearly saw the first theme idea (make a new word with [thing] + [category]), quite a few apparently didn’t see the theme’s defining feature (new word ≠ original word); probably the most popular incorrect entry was KIWI. This surprised me a little, not least because while I’m no stranger to kiwis (I live in the heart of the main region for growing kiwis in the U.S.), and I’ve heard them called “kiwifruits,” it’s not (in my experience) a very common term vs. just kiwi itself; I’d have thought the first “[fruit]fruit” thing that would come to anyone’s mind would be grape anyhow. Another common pitfall was that solvers interpreted the prompt backwards, submitting e.g. grapefruit instead of grape (or kiwifruit, breadfruit, etc.) I’m not sure where my instructions went wrong but clearly this one was not presented in as straightforward a manner as I’d intended.

Next up is Puzzle #12, “Connect Five.” As always, you can either download the .pdf below, or click on the link for the .puz file which is shared from Google Drive.

The answer to the metapuzzle is a phrase formed by connecting two entries in the grid. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, June 3 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles:

# Puzzle #10 Solution; Puzzle #11, “Do Like I Do;” and Puzzle #11a

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Last week we had a series of eight mini-puzzles, the answer to which was a heading you might see on an artist’s portfolio. And indeed there was a heavy art theme; with two exceptions (well, one if you solved the original version – more on that below), the grids represented famous paintings:

The original version of the puzzle had a grid depicting Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With here. It, like the painting, contained a highly offensive term (I censored it, Rockwell did not). You can read more about that here; mid-week I replaced it with something different – a very famous photo, also featuring an icon of the Civil Rights era:

Once you found all those artworks, the series title was your clue to focus on the first names of the artists (Claude, Andy, René, Vincent, Ieoh, Neil/Norman, Grant, and [keeping it casual] Sandro); in order, their first letters spell out the artistic form CARVINGS.

Once again, I stretched the limits of reasonable crossword fill in a few places to make these little bits of grid art – I hope you’ll forgive me for weird entries like ILASH, KOLOA, and MIVI. But be thankful that I took another shot at the Van Gogh, my first draft for that grid was just hideous.

One regret, once I got to the end, is that I managed to choose eight – no, make that nine – works of art all by men, only one of whom isn’t a white guy.

43 solvers submitted the right answer. Next up is Puzzle #11, a 15×15 called “Do Like I Do,” and also Puzzle #11a, a little 9×9 called “The More Things Stay the Same, the More They Change.” puz and pdf options below.

The answer to metapuzzle #11 is a farm animal.

The answer to metapuzzle #11a is a fruit smaller than a baseball that could have been a seventh theme entry.

Update, Friday 5/24/19: having received very few solutions to #11, and some incorrect solutions to #11a, I’m providing updated versions of the puzzles below. The new #11 is meant to be a bit easier, with the help of some new clues (they’ll stand out if you get the pdf version); the new #11a is the same, but the meta prompt has been rewritten as follows: The answer to the metapuzzle is a word that could have been in this grid with the clue “*Fruit smaller than a baseball.” (This doesn’t change the prompt’s meaning but might help you avoid a trap a few people have fallen into.)

011_dolikeido_hint.puz

011_staysame_v2.puz

Submit your answers using the contact form by Monday, May 27 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles:

# Puzzle #9 Solution and Puzzle #10, “First Name Basis”

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Last week’s grid had the look of a themeless, but there was a theme if you could figure out what to look for.  The key was in the clues; the puzzle’s title was “Place Your Order,” and there were five across clues that contained words indicating an order:

18. First words of Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” = YOU’RE AS
19. Unit of distance over 176 million times shorter than a light-second = SMOOT
40. Common third-person singular conjugation = HAS
48. A great tragedy happened there on April fourth, 1968 = TENNESSEE
62. It might come in a pint, a fifth, or a handle = WHISKEY

Put these all in order, and make one small tweak to the parsing, and you get “You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey,” which is the first line of the chorus of a Country music standard. The prompt asked for a sweet (not smooth!) drink you might like to order after completing the puzzle, and the song’s next line provides the answer: “You’re as sweet as strawberry wine.”

As a little thematic bonus, and to make things more symmetrical, the grid also contained the names of the performers of the song’s two most popular versions (though clued differently): Chris STAPLETON, who recorded it for a 2015 album but also did it as a duet with, somehow, Justin Timberlake at that year’s Country Music Awards in a version that caused a sensation and made the previously-released single shoot to number one on the country chart within a couple of days; and George JONES, whose 1983 version hit number two without the need for any pop-star coattails or online virality. (Sadly I did not manage to work in the song’s original performer, David Allan Coe.)

27 solvers submitted the right answer. But a number of folks just seemed to solve it with brute force, noticing Tennessee and Whiskey and scouring the grid to find the rest of the theme material, and the result was a bit of uncertainty about the answer. I think the intended mechanism (with the ordinal words in the clues) was a little too well hidden, and/or the stuff that appeared in the grid, including the two artist names, was not well hidden enough. Maybe the lyric should have been in random order, and the artist names left out, forcing you to find those “ordering” words in the clues.

Next up is something a little different – metapuzzle #10, entitled “First Name Basis,” which is not a single puzzle but a series of eight small crosswords. You can download one of two .pdf files below – “small” for the three-page version that eliminates white space, saves paper, but requires pretty good eyesight to read the resultant small-print clues; “large” for one puzzle per page – or click on the link below it, which is not for a single .puz file as usual but instead will get you a .zip folder containing eight individual .puz files.

Update, Thursday morning, in the wee hours: the original version of this puzzle contained a highly offensive entry. I knew about that, did it for a reason and warned solvers in the clue, but many found it unacceptable. You can read my thoughts in defense of the puzzle as originally conceived here, though doing so will spoil the puzzle – but after several discussions I’ve decided to take down the puzzle. It will be replaced Thursday in the less-wee hours with an alternative version.

Further update, Thursday morning, hours still kinda wee: here are the links to the new version. The only changes are a completely new minipuzzle six, correction of a couple minor errors in the clues of minipuzzle eight, and the font on the .pdfs is different for technical reasons that aren’t at all interesting.