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Puzzle Solution #5: Go for the Gustav

El ___ album coverIf you have not yet had a chance to work my fifth puzzle, by all means give it a try! (For those of you new to the Internet, there is a clickable link hidden in that last sentence.) It might not be the best crossword puzzle you have ever solved, but I promise it is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I try to not set the bar too high.

As always, I will provide some “spoiler space” to keep from revealing the puzzle’s solution to those of you who Googled “Miley Cyrus” and landed here by some special act of Providence. (If you don’t need the spoiler space and are eager to get to the solution, click here.)

A musical interlude:

Saxophones! But if you did not like that one, maybe this one will be more up your alley:

Here is a look at the solution, taken from an analysis of my puzzle by the very cool website xwordinfo.com. Colors represent the number of times answers have appeared in New York Times puzzles during the Will Shortz era (1993-present).

Puzzle solution

As you can see, five of my answers have never appeared: IPOET, CRONOS, SOTA, ZITIS and TSH. Apologetics for each:

IPOET: This was used in desperation. Still, I liked it as a punny answer. I had no idea that the application does in fact exist. It is still an OK fill, I think.

CRONOS: Nothing wrong with this one. It is sometimes spelled with a K and time-related prefixes derived from it use an H (chron-). I am quite surprised this answer has never appeared.

SOTA: One solver asked was this slangy name for Minnesota ever actually used? I have heard it at least once. Kevin Garnett gave a shout out to “the fans in ‘Sota!” in an-on court interview after winning the NBA title with the Boston Celtics. Salt in our wounds, really. I thought using him in the clue helped strengthen it a bit.

ZITIS: Weak and ugly. The plural of ziti is ziti. But zitis is good in the Scrabble dictionary because it is at least theoretically possible to use it in a sentence such as “A comparison of the two companies shows their pastas–spaghettis, rotinis and zitis–to be nearly indistinguishable, though only one of the firms is headed by a bigot.”[1] Well, maybe not. It is an ugly fill and I regret using it.

TSH: An acronym for an obscure blood test. I tried to justify it somehow by using the less obscure PSA later in the puzzle with an almost-identical clue. Weak, but I’ve seen similar from others (and I’ve done worse). Whether or not it violates the “Breakfast Test” is another matter.[2]

Gray words in the above image have appeared five or more times in NYT puzzles since 1993. Those appearing at least 100 times (in decreasing order of frequency) are: ELI, ALI, ELSE, TSAR, AMA, ARES, ARA, UNIT, USA, HER, ATSEA, ERODE, SEER, and SIN. The word ELI has appeared a mind-numbing 353 times![3]

I would love to avoid using overworked crosswordese such as the above, but, wow is it difficult! One of my favorite clues in this puzzle, “Eno of crossword fame,” turns the tables on one such overused answer.

I changed one clue in the puzzle after a very sharp-eyed solver pointed out that the lyrics to Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” are in the first person. So the grammatically-correct title would be “I am not Misbehaving.” The Fats Domino tune “Ain’t That a Shame” stepped in nicely.

One person asked me about the non-preferred plural of HERO. Dan Quayle’s mind must boggle at the thought, but both HEROES and HEROS are correct. My clue should probably have indicated my use of the alternate spelling.

Theme and diagram

The theme of this puzzle is one I like well enough, though I am pretty sure (without actually doing any research) it has been used before. Unfortunately, my execution of it is inelegant. My first intention was to use all Greek names (a twist!) but I just could not make that work. Mixing Roman and Greek names? Yuck.

GAIA, of course, is the one planet Holst left out of his suite. So the “Seven Plus One” title of my puzzle refers to the eight planets of our solar system and Holst’s omission of our own, Earth.[4]

The diagram itself is ugly and contains too many blocks (black squares).

Statistical analysis and hope for the future

My recent discovery of the xwordinfo.com website and its analytical tool has inspired me to create puzzles that come closer to replicating the quality of those published in the New York Times. I am learning a lot there and hope my future puzzles will reflect that. Here is a graphic cut from an analysis of my puzzle that shows how far short I fall in the metrics of average word length, number of blocks and others (click on the photo to see a larger, readable version):

Also, I have been in touch with the leader of a local group of crossword creators, George Barany. George was recently profiled in the Star Tribune. Yesterday, Thursday, December 19, he and Michael Shteyman had a very cool and groundbreaking puzzle published in the New York Times.

I have already enjoyed puzzles available online at the George Barany and Friends website. Now I hope to “up my game” by participating, at least to some extent, in this community.

Stay tuned.


  1. “I would never do an advert with a homosexual family … if the gays don’t like it they can go an eat another brand,” said Guido Barilla, the head of one of Italy’s largest pasta makers, Barilla. [^]
  2. Some puzzle editors use what is known as the “Breakfast Test.” If you can talk about it at the breakfast table, it can be used in a crossword. Death and disease are generally out. This may account for why the word TUMOR (I’ve used it in my puzzle) has only appeared twice in the New York Times since 1993. [^]
  3. Can anyone think of ways to clue this without using Eli Whitney, Wallach or Manning? There is also the 2010 film “The Book of Eli” starring Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis, I guess. [^]
  4. Pluto’s 76-year run as a planet did not begin until 1930, twelve years after the premier of Holst’s work. It was demoted to “dwarf planet” status in 2006. [^]

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