Mark Bickham’s Tuesday, 1/7/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)


January 7, 2014 by manvspuzzle

pigshaveTheme: Ironic Slang for ‘Good’.  Five theme answers are common phrases beginning with a word that basically has a negative connotation, but in other contexts can mean ‘good.’  Then, as a bonus, there’s a revealer at 62A.

Theme Answers:

  • 18A — Aggressive swarms : KILLER BEES
  • 24A — Facilities with padded walls : INSANE ASYLUMS
  • 33A — Square root symbol : RADICAL SIGN
  • 43A — One of two figures in “The Wizard of Oz” : WICKED WITCH
  • 50A — 1969 platinum record for Creedence Clearwater Revival : BAD MOON RISING
  • 62A — Question posed while pulling leftovers from the fridge … or a query about the initial words of 18-, 24-, 33-, 43- or 50-Across? : IS THIS GOOD

What’s Good: Theme Consistency*, Theme Density (see glossary for explanation)

© The New York Times

© The New York Times

*The fact that there are two plurals and three singulars isn’t “consistent” in my brainworld, but what *is* consistent is that all of the ‘good’ words are used in their more literal senses throughout the theme.  Niiiiice.


Bickham?  I don’t even know him!

I’m fine with this Tuesday offering.  It’s probably the Tuesday-est Tuesday puzzle I’ve solved in a few weeks.  It has everything a Tuesday should have: relative easiness, crosswordese (STET, EFT, ARNO, OLIO, NTEST, IRINA etc.), awkward partials (IT RIP), forced, barely-in-the-language stuff (NO OIL), and so on.  Tuesday-rific!

Keep in mind that, while I’m sort of ragging on poor old Mork Stickem, I really don’t have a problem with any of this.  None of what I mentioned above breaks any crossword rules.  I’m proud to know things like STET and EFT while my mortal contemporaries just drool in ignorance.  It makes me *special.*  And in my world, any 5-letter partial is fair game if the constructor needs it.  So I guess the question is: did he need it?  Check it out:

bickhamfixA big issue with this corner is that it needs a 9-letter down answer that crosses 3 theme answers (meaning that 1/3 of the 9 letters are fixed and unchangeable).  This doesn’t leave the constructor with many options.  DRESS SIZE, DEER SKINS, KEEP STILL, OPENS FIRE, OPEN SHIRT, and possibly CHEW STICK will all work to varying degrees, but there are lots of other concessions to be made with each of them.  If you go with DRESS SIZE (which itself is kinda sparkly), as Mark did, the concessions are minimal, in my opinion.  The only big one is IT RIP at 16-Across.  So, in the end, I’m happy with IT RIP.

But what do you think?  Could you do better?  Let me know in the comments.

Thanks, Mark and Will, for a good puzzle!

5 thoughts on “Mark Bickham’s Tuesday, 1/7/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

  1. manvspuzzle says:

    Over at, Jeff Chen makes a good argument for adding two more black squares to this puzzle, breaking up the words VIRTUAL and ENDWISE. Check it out.

    • Jeff Chen says:

      Nice post, I appreciate the balanced commentary, and I liked seeing your analysis of the fill. I wonder if adding cheater squares in the very NE/SW would have been worth the visual disruption?

      Jeffs are running away with your comments. RADICAL JEFFS!

      • manvspuzzle says:

        Thanks, Jeff. From my perspective, there are a few “visual disruptions” in this puzzle (I probably would have hoped to avoid the 4-in-a-horizontal-row black squares, for example). I’m thinking the best way to “save” this puzzle from the “bad” fill would be to start fresh, limit the puzzle to 4 or 5 theme answers, and redo the grid entirely.

        Then, of course, you have “better” fill but less theme, which kinda sucks in its own way. I guess it’s all a matter of what you’d rather have in your puzzle.

        Of course, the *best* of the best (not me) would find a way to have 6 theme answers *and* great fill.

  2. The term “INSANE ASYLUMS” is dated and unfortunate. Not sure why derogatory terms for the mentally ill still remain acceptable in crosswords.

    • manvspuzzle says:

      I basically agree.

      I’ve seen issues like this come up with other terms in the past, and there are always arguers on either side. For some people, it seems silly that a Times solver would get bothered so easily by seemingly harmless uses of words like TRAMP or HUSSY or TRASH or, in this case, INSANE.

      It’s not that these terms offend me, personally, really – but I’m offended by the idea that something I love and care about very much (the NYT puzzle) would be offending anyone, anywhere.

      At the same time, the word INSANE (and others) is very much in use out there in the real world by real people who mean no harm. I absolutely believe that I could hear almost any of these words in a G-rated kids movie.

      So what’s the NYT’s role in the evolution of the status of words that have grown offensive over time? Personally, I think that due to the Times’ status as one of the most important English-language publications in the world, it would play a major role in phasing such words out (or at least certain contexts). But then, isn’t that a weird sort of censorship or overbearing nanny-ism? Should the Times reflect the language, or control it?

      Oh god, this thought is edging closer and closer to some serious and fundamental human issues. I guess what I’m saying is: it’s complicated.

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