David Levinson Wilk’s Wednesday, 4/2/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)


April 2, 2014 by manvspuzzle

face in milk water

Theme: Nonsense terms made from sensible terms by taking common “out of ___” phrases literally.  Clues are apt and hilarious, of course.

Theme Answers:

  • 17A — Weapon part that’s out of this world? : SWORD HILT (get it?  SWORD HILT is literally made “out of” the letters T-H-I-S-W-O-R-L-D)
  • 41A — Attack on a Mideast land that’s out of thin air? : IRAN HIT
  • 66A — Fisherman’s feat that’s out of character? : RARE CATCH
  • 11D — Drenched gangsters who are out of the woods? : WET HOODS
  • 40D — Military laundry that’s out of harm’s way? : ARMY WASH


Something Good: Theme Density.  I know, I know, it’s not really *that* dense (41 letters spread over 5 answers).  But the most interesting thing about a theme like this (in my humblest of opinions) is showing how many different ways the gag can work.  There are compromises in convention (some non-theme answers that are as long or longer than some theme answers) and some compromises in the fill (oh, I’ll probably talk more about that below), but at least there are 5 examples of the theme.  I would actually have preferred 1 or 2 more examples, since we’re already more theme-focused today than fill-focused, and since the answers we have here are relatively short.  To sum up: the good thing I’m seeing here is that there are 5 solid examples of this gag, instead of 4 or 3.


4 2 14

Huh.  I really like this theme.  It had me going for a while, nice aha moment when I finally got it.  It’s hard for me to believe that it hasn’t been done before, but I can’t find any evidence that it has.  So the theme gets a serious thumbs-up from me.

Mixed feelings about the fill, though.  I’m loving such answers as I GOT NEXT, ORIGAMI, and ARMPIT.  And I’m not an EIEIO hater — I honestly believe that casual/new solvers will (and should) get a kick out of something like that.  Veterans should know it and deal with it.  But anyway, there’s a bunch of stuff that stood out to me as sub-par.  I felt like there were a lot of weird partials, although there are only 3 — IT ON, NOW A, TRY A.  So 1/6 of the 4-letter words are weird partials.  And ITA wants to be a partial, but instead it’s the 3rd bit of 3-letter Spanish language (there’s also ESO and DIA).  So 1/6 of the 3-letter words are Spanish.  Then there’s the fact that about 2/3 of all of the short stuff (3- and 4-letters combined) is below sparkly (i.e., I would rate lower than good on my own personal word list).  Nothing inexcusable, but not much to get excited about either.

Mostly average to below-average fill.  So the theme really is what makes this puzzle.  If you like it, if it tickles you, then you’ll probably have a good time today.  If not, have fun complaining.  You deserve it.

Thanks, David.

8 thoughts on “David Levinson Wilk’s Wednesday, 4/2/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

  1. tom pepper says:

    Nice theme idea and I picked up on it at ARMY WASH, but I had a similar feeling of too much ugly short fill along the way. Was surprised at the end when an error surfaced in the SW. Was pretty sure yAHOO was good, but had no idea what NSFy was for a few seconds until it came to me: “No Soup For You!” … so I confidently moved on. Have never seen NSFW in my life.

    • manvspuzzle says:

      Hmm. You have to frequent some edgy web sites to be familiar with NSFW. It’s mostly attached to video clips that include clearly audible foul language — a warning to people in cubicles to put their headphones on.

  2. Z says:

    I have come to the belief that fill reaction is directly related to over-all reaction and personal difficulty with the puzzle. I even have a hypothesis as to why this might be so. The longer your brain works on the puzzle, whether on a difficult quad stack or a theme that just doesn’t click into place, the longer the fill has to niggle at you and become annoying.

    I got the theme immediately, spent most of my mental energy on the anagrams, and barely even noticed the fill (RRNs always leap out at me).

    I don’t know how anyone spends time on the internet and doesn’t run into NSFW. Comics, video, links, even news sites will use it at times. I remember a game from the early days of the internet: Start on any site and see how many clicks it takes to get to porn. The assertion was that it would never take more than six clicks to get to porn. It certainly seemed true then, I wonder if it still is.

    • manvspuzzle says:

      I do an image search every day based on the constructor’s name, and almost every day I get something at least moderately pornographic within the first 100 images.

      Yesterday I was at my desk at work, monitor in full view, looking to order some educational artwork. I was searching for something to do with “feminism” and…whoa. Not the kind of feminism I was talking about.

    • tom pepper says:

      Interesting hypothesis, but my experience today wouldn’t support it. Most of my bad vibes on the fill came early and often with MCLI crossing ITA crossing AGR not long after ITON. My hypothesis is that if you hit three bad ones in a row, it’s enough to taint your impression of the entire fill.

      And btw, I don’t claim to be a prude on the internet, I just don’t ever recall seeing NSFW. I would have remembered, because I always try to figure out what those abbreviations/acronyms mean. Our filter/firewall at work won’t even let me get to most crossword sites–maybe that has something to do with it.

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