Mary Lou Guizzo’s and Jeff Chen’s Thursday, 4/17/14 *DEBUT* (for Mary Lou) NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)


April 17, 2014 by manvspuzzle

mary lou retton

Theme: THINK/THROUGH.  4 pairs of intersecting theme answers riff on common phrases that follow a “___ through ___” pattern.  Then there’s the revealer.

Theme Answers:

  • WENT / THE(N)ROOF (THE_ROOF intersects WENT at the N, making WENT visually go “through” THE_ROOF.  Hence, “WENT through THE_ROOF.”  Get it?)
  • 45A — With 61-Across, carefully consider … or a clue to this puzzle’s theme : THINK
  • 61A — See 45-Across : THROUGH

Something Good: Theme Consistency seems worth mentioning.  Each theme answer follows these rules: 1) Across answers are 4 letters, 2) Down answers have symmetrical partners, 3) Down answers all begin with the word ‘THE,’ 4) the intersection square is the 4th letter of the down answer; symmetrically partnered in the acrosses.  Love it or hate it, it’s a *tight* theme, beautifully executed.  And because that theme involves trickiness and some non-word answers, consistency is extremely important for making the whole thing work for the solver.  Even one outlier would ruin it.

4 17 14

Ok, this is the 7th Jeff Chen puzzle I’ve blogged about, and it’s the 3rd with left-right mirror symmetry.  Nothing more to say about that, just thought you’d be interested to note it.

I liked this one a lot.  Purely as a solver, vegged out solving on my phone without another care in the world, I had absolutely zero issues with this puzzle.  I picked up on the theme quite early, which probably helped the whole thing feel pretty easy.  And when I don’t struggle I tend not to notice anything gross-looking.  Although, as you’ll see below, I did struggle in the end.

On some level, you have to open your heart to the wackiness that is those down answers.  This may be where some solvers get cranky.  THEOHEART, for example, is weird to look at.  It’s not really a word or words, so people who need to see common words in their puzzle to be happy may be inclined to whine.  This is a case where I feel confident saying that that’s *their* problem.

And now the fill.  Again, the solver in me didn’t notice or care.  If anything, I mostly liked the long downs and a lot of the longer across stuff.  I guess I recall not liking ELHI, which I never like, mostly because I’ve never, ever seen it outside of puzzles.  And I’m actually a teacher!  I want so badly to see ELHI somewhere, anywhere in my real life.  It would make it feel so much better in my fake crossword life.

STINK AT is borderline not real.  It’s real in the sense that someone could say “I STINK AT bowling,” or “you STINK AT math,” but it’s not something you ever see as a stand-alone.  It always comes with those other words.  At 7 letters, it’s a big stretch; it mostly feels like a 7-letter partial.  I don’t think we would allow DONT DO WELL AT, right?  But in my life, that’s nearly equivalent to STINK AT.  I would use it almost the exact same way, probably at about the same rate.  So there’s a complaint.

And then there was AYESHA (26D — Wife of Muhammad) crossing OKE (36A — “Fine and dandy,” in old slang).  I’m no expert, but I studied Islam for a semester in college and the spelling was always ‘Aisha.’  That’s also her main Wikipedia spelling, though many variations are offered, including AYESHA.  But crossing with OKE was a big bite of naticky puzzlesadness.  I had AYISHA and OKI, which seemed reasonable.  But it wasn’t.  So this was actually a DNF for me.  Frowny-face.  But I was able to fix my own mistake, so it wasn’t too bad.

All this negativity would make you think I don’t like this puzzle, but I have to return to my 2nd paragraph: as a solver, I had a great time here.  “Even though you DNFed?”, you ask.  “Yes,” I reply.  I’ve made the golf analogy before, but I’ll do it again: I don’t always have to shoot par to recognize that I’ve had a good round of golf.  Today was a good round.

Nice theme, cool grid pattern, good fill, something to complain about.  Is there anything more I could ask for?

Oh, and this is half debut.  Great job, Mary Lou!  You too, Jeff.






4 thoughts on “Mary Lou Guizzo’s and Jeff Chen’s Thursday, 4/17/14 *DEBUT* (for Mary Lou) NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

  1. Z says:

    I’m not sure I understand, “it’s not something you ever see as a stand-alone.” “STINK AT” is a different concept than “stink.” The “at” gets dropped sometimes, but is definitely still implied. Most words aren’t seen “alone,” they are always in phrases, so… HUH?

    Totally agree at the Whack-a-Vowel problem. I worked at a school whose students are 90% Muslim, I’m pretty familiar with Arabic names as a result. Aisha isn’t all that common of a name to begin with, and I’ve never seen it spelled AYESHA.

  2. tom pepper says:

    Great puzzle. Really enjoyed it. Definitely had an aha! moment, luckily early on for me. I like that Jeff’s puzzles kind of push the envelope on fill. (For all I know, it could all be Mary Lou’s doing here–and congrats ML on your debut!) I see your point about STINK AT, but the answer wouldn’t have bothered me if the clue had ended with a preposition (e.g., “Can’t do well in”). Clue and answer are both kind of ugly partials that way, but at least parallel.

    I used to think this whole L-R symmetry thing was cheating–seems like nothing more than a workaround to allow asymmetrical or odd-length theme entries/revealers. But now I think I’m missing the boat as a constructor if I don’t get out of that diagonal symmetry box. (Sorry, I’m not as good at metaphors as you. 🙂 ) THINK THROUGH, with the other themers, is simply not going to work in a diagonally symmetric grid. It works beautifully here. All the genious constructors seem to be using it more and more. And you can draw happy faces or make gas gauges and diamonds and guitars and other pretty pictures with L-R symmetry, so why wouldn’t you *start* with that for each idea instead of diagonal?

    Makes me wonder how many of my myriad throwaway puzzle ideas could be redeemed with L-R symmetry. Time to start digging through File 86.

  3. manvspuzzle says:

    1) Thanks to twitter follower @FeldmanAdam for shattering my heart into pieces by pointing out my they’re/their mishap. I swear I was just admiring my own grammar this morning. Kinda wanna die.

    2) @Z: I’ve been tossing this around all day (just now got to a computer). I think you’ve touched on one of the grayest areas of the fill spectrum.

    In crosswords, the only thing we’ve generally agreed on is that single English 3+-letter words found in dictionaries are fair game (though they range in palatability from common nouns to rarely used tenses and inflections), which is why I think STINK can and should be regarded differently than STINK AT. But after that it’s a war zone, where common casualties are verb phrases and prepositional phrases. STINK AT doesn’t fall into *any* of those categories.

    What is STINK AT? I guess it’s just a verb combined with a dependent preposition. And it’s metaphorical to boot. Its polar opposite might be ROCK AT. Would I accept ROCK AT? I don’t think so. Even though I could conceivably say “I rock at ping pong.”

    This is all half-baked nonsense, but I think the verb + dependent preposition combination is one of those gut-feeling divisive puzzle issues. One of those things that has no right answer. I can think of a few off the top of my head that I think are good and puzzleworthy (ASK FOR, BELIEVE IN, RELY ON), but I can also think of many that seem too weird for puzzles (ROCK AT, SHOW TO, SING FOR, etc.).

    Not really an explanation, but hopefully that illuminates my writeup a bit. Just didn’t feel good in my gut. Your gut may vary.

    • Z says:

      Hmm, “stink at” is a single meme distinct from the normal verb/noun meme related to smell, something that “stink at” shares with “rock at” but does not share with “show to.” Is that a fair distinction?

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