David Kwong’s Tuesday, 3/18/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)


March 18, 2014 by manvspuzzle


Theme: A FAREWELL TO ARMS.  4 theme answers are common terms/phrases with the letters A-R-M removed.  Then there’s the revealer.

Theme Answers:

  • 17A — Home-invading Gore? : BURGLAR AL (BURGLAR ALARM)
  • 24A — Area for aristocrats? : GENT DISTRICT (GARMENT DISTRICT) 
  • 38A — W.W. I novel … hinted at by 17-, 24-, 52- and 64-Across : A FAREWELL TO ARMS
  • 52A — Exchange of vows again for the Grim Reaper? : DEATH WED OVER (DEATH WARMED OVER) 
  • 64A — Emmy, Oscar and Grammy-winning reptile? : SNAKE CHER (SNAKE CHARMER) 


Something Good: The Revealer.  A FAREWELL TO ARMS.  At 15 letters long and with an opportunity for a hilarious appendage joke, I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before.  Oh, wait, it has: Doug Peterson did it for the LA Times 8 years ago.  He even had a very similar Al Gore reference.  Ahh, well.  8 years is more than enough of a grace period before recycling a theme.  And it’s never been done in the NYT, so whatever.  This one’s (themewise) a little better, anyway.


3 18 14

Youch.  Not only was this wicked hard, but it was also wicked weird.  It’s Tuesday, of course, so “wicked weird” often applies on any number of levels.

This one just didn’t feel fun to me.  First, DEATH WED OVER took me *forever* to get.  I had to Google (which feels bad any day, but especially early in the week) to get TORV.  Once that fell, I got the phrase, which gave me the W in BWI.  But I really just had BW- (for all of you wondering, BWI stands for British West Indies.  Didn’t know that while solving).  ISA was a straight-up guess.  So that ‘I’…didn’t feel good going in.  Not sure why the choice was made for ISA to be clued the way it was (57A — Old Testament prophecy book: Abbr.).  If I have to choose between a weird abbreviation or a pretty standard partial (IS A), I go for the latter every time.  Would have made that section feel a little more palatable to *this* solver.

The themers: they’re funny, sure, I guess, to someone, but they don’t flow well in my brain.  SNAKE CHER, for example.  It’s just weird.  A SNAKE CHER is just a bizarro concept, even more so than normal for a theme of this type.  Does that make sense?  I’m not explaining myself well, but this one just didn’t feel good on a gut-level.  The theme answers are just *weird* — but not elegant, and not really consistent, and with no underlying logic to the answers we end up with when the ARMs are removed.

To me it actually felt like some of my early puzzles, which were rejected for good reason.  Do seasoned constructors see that?  These felt like the types of theme answers I would have allowed as a total newbie, but that I probably wouldn’t even entertain these days.

And then the fill.  The long downs, RATTED ON and MOTOROLA, are pretty cool.  They’re going to stand out and David made sure they were good.  Everything else is average to boring.  No matter where you look, every section, there’s something not to like.  Taken individually, nothing you (or anyone) can’t handle.  But taken together: kinda bleh.  NORW is a good example of what I’m talking about.

This feels like an especially strange puzzle coming from David, who notably constructed one of the best NYT puzzles last year, and who I also generally think of as a puzzle super-genius (if you haven’t seen his mind-blowing magic trick, click here and thank me later).  I dunno.  Am I missing something?

Not my flavorite.

5 thoughts on “David Kwong’s Tuesday, 3/18/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

  1. Z says:

    I don’t think you are missing anything. Reverting to my favorite metaphor, North Peak put out an “American Wheat IPA.” Huh? People who like wheat beer tend not to like the bitter IPA style. I actually like it quite a bit, but it was a weird marriage. This puzzle generates the same sort of cognitive dissonance. The three letter fill tends toward the tired and we get that “only famous in crosswords” suburb EDINA, but it is not especially noteworthy. The theme, though, requires some mental gymnastics that are different from our usual tricks. So I get why people may not have liked this. Personally, I enjoyed the struggle.

    • manvspuzzle says:

      True true. Even though I didn’t particularly care for the end result (of the theme), the “mental gymnastics” were, at the very least, probably character-building. Or something like that.

  2. manvspuzzle says:

    People on other blogs are beginning to notice that there’s more to this puzzle than meets the eye. Check out the first letters of each of the clues. Then let us know if you figure out what it all means! (I don’t — yet).

  3. manvspuzzle says:

    Just to bring everyone *here* up to speed, the first letter of all the clues spells out “cobalt horse, amber owl, silver ox, red donkey, emerald rooster, oh by the way, the sheep can be left _.

    Take the first letters of the first part (before “oh, by the way”), and you get CHAOS / ORDER.

    I’m wondering if “oh, by the way, the sheep can be left (blank)) is trying to convey BS (Blank Sheep)?


  4. The puzzle is nonsensical …but on purpose. Watch David at TED (no, it’s not the live crossword trick again). Then look at the puzzle. If you aren’t blown away, there’s something terrible about you.

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