Sunday, April 5, 2020

W: Hello and welcome back to another week of RTT with Angela and Will!  My work week’s been pretty slow. The main development is my transition from baking bagels to trying out biscuits and scones.  Been eating a lot of CUTEY(s) too – or whatever you call those little oranges. Mmm.. yum. Also, I just gotta say, thank god for the NYT puzzle archive – aka, where I’ve spent the majority of my now largely unstructured time.  Bless y’all. How’ve you been holding up this week, Angela?

A: Whew, where did the past week go? Oh right, I spent 3 out of 5 days last week in virtual full-day PhD open houses. Enough time crouched over a laptop screen to give me SCIATICA – I really gotta get an ergonomic chair! The original plan was to visit Will and party it up in NYC with other prospective NYU PhDs, but instead I came to the realization that my dining room chair is supremely uncomfortable. At least I got to EAT LUNCH whenever I feel like making it – my lunch quality and freshness has improved massively over the last few weeks.

W: So for this week’s puzzle we tackled another Sunday, and it seemed like a pretty typical run for us.  Unfortunately, this means it was not nearly as smooth a solve as our record-setting time last week – taking us 49:16 all in all.  The theme was “Double Talk,” and it… well…. ummm… jeez, I need to stop writing about Sunday themes. This is the second week in a row that I totally did not get it while solving, and, honestly, I still don’t quite understand what it was going for.  Was it just puns where the clues referenced speaking? I’m never a majorly harsh critic on here, but this just seems kinda lacking to me. And it was certainly no help in solving the puzzle, though we happily managed to tease out the more puzzling themers (i.e. TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY and THE AYES HAVE IT) with crossers.  Was that it? Am I missing something?

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A: As the frequent theme-solver in our pair, I have to agree that I had no idea what was going on in the theme this week. We decided halfway through that the crossword constructor must be British (who else puts THAMES in a puzzle?), and blamed that for our trouble with the themers and lack of knowledge on words like SHOAT, though Will assured me that was just crosswordese (he’s getting really good at these, folks). Confession: as Millennial crossworders, Will and I actively complain when we run into phrases and clues that we are absolutely sure people our generation don’t use anymore, though I am grateful for the only philosophy class I ever took for equipping me with COGITO ERGO SUM, and my 5th-grade goth Edgar Allen Poe phase for helping out with EL DORADO.

W: I did have a lot of fun with parts of this fill.  SNEEZE crossing with SNOOZERS? Then, just for kicks, we got another SN with SNERD?  Usually this sort of syllabic repetition annoys me (see: ISH and IST also in this puzzle), but this one is a little weird. I dig it.  That said, I’m officially done with AMES, Iowa. Sorry, I’m sure it’s a lovely town – I know Angela knows some good folks there – but I’ve seen it too much and it’s now officially joined YALE/ELIS, etc. on my xword college town shit-list.  A few other notes: SAL Paradise remains one of my all-time favorite character names (and this song still rules), MR. CUB made me smile, thinking of the time 12-year-old Will wrote to Ernie Banks and got a signed card in return, and “Cartomancer’s deck,” is a bad-ass clue for TAROT, and totally seems like a song title that would show up on a latter-day Mountain Goats record.  What’d you like on here, Angela?

A: Mmmm…. ENOKI mushrooms. So good in hot pot and big spicy bowls of delicious noodles. This past winter, I’m pretty sure I ate more hot pot than I’ve ever eaten in my life, and heck, it is the best way to pass the Chicago winters. I used to not like it as a kid, but it has 100% become a top food in the last few years. I’m going to keep leaning into my Asian-American heritage and also shout out the Netflix original Always Be My Maybe, which I watched a few days ago and is a hilarious rom-com featuring characters Sasha TRAN and Marcus Kim, played by Ali Wong and Randall Park. Big recommendation, and a good movie for these times. I told Will to watch it, as there is at least one absolute gold celebrity cameo that I know he’d appreciate.

W: So all in all, I think this was a decent puzzle.  The theme didn’t snap for us, but we had a fun time solving / momentarily taking our minds off of this chaotic world.  And Angela taught me what a DOSIDO is! Maybe I’ll make some time for a square dance if I ever get out of my apartment.  But in the meantime, make sure you’re keeping your hands SCRUBBED UP for a full 20-seconds every time you leave the house!  And stay six-feet apart, or else this vigilante pilot might SIC their social distancing drone ON you.

A: Oh my, that is quite something. Only in NYC… Hope you’re staying safe, Will! To our loyal fans: HOLD IT on the going out, say to yourself I WANT TO BE ALONE, and we’ll see you next week as we continue our crosswording streak!

Sunday, March 29, 2020



A: What better time to restart our crossword blog than in the middle of a pandemic?? After participating in a virtual crossword tournament last weekend, I felt a strong urge to get back to crosswording. Will’s been avidly doing the NYT this past year (I think his streak was up to 24 daily puzzles!), but I’ve been doing them sort of ad hoc here and there, on planes and in random down time. No more! Time to flex my crossword skillz while all these new folks begin discovering the joys of crosswording on day 1380247 of being stuck at home.

W: I couldn’t agree more!  I’ve basically been spending all my time baking bagels since the quarantine came down, so this will be a welcome break from my ongoing quest to raise my cholesterol and gas bill.  But more seriously, crosswording has been a sorely needed balm this month. My grad program at NYU got moved online, my library and museum jobs are on-hold, and all this time indoors has me talking to my cat a little bit too much like she’s a human being.  So heck yea – it’s time to get the band back together.  

A: As for my life updates: I’m really still doing the same thing I was when we left off, hanging around Chicago and doing my research job. Chicago continues to be cold and windy, and the lakefront is closed off due to the need to “socially distance”. It was unseasonably warm a few days ago, and everyone headed out to the lakefront because everything else is closed in Chicago. Apparently, the throngs of people on the beaches defeated the whole point of sheltering in place, and our mayor closed the lakefront the next day. There went my two weeks of routine exercise, sigh. Anyway, in more exciting news, a move closer to the East Coast is potentially in my near future! We’ll see if things shake out given all this craziness, but it would be neat to be able to see friends in person – and go to Lollapuzzoola 2020?? If it’s still on…

W: I’m a little too skittish to prognosticate on whether/when future events will happen, BUT I will say that if Lollapuzzoola 2020 happens – we’ll 100% be there.  Now, for our “first” puzzle back, we chose a Sunday (…mainly because we got stumped 20-minutes into the Saturday lmao). Happily, we kinda crushed it? No major hang-ups – we just hummed right through this one.  The theme involved SPOT[TING] THE DIFFERENCE between two 5×5 chunks of the grid, which were identical save for circled letters in each spelling out BLACK and WHITE.  And honestly, I didn’t even register this theme until the puzzle was over.  It’s clever I guess? But it didn’t factor into our decision-making while solving at all – something that’s a little disappointing for a Times Sunday.  That said, we (plus my girlfriend Emma) set a new Sunday record: 24-minutes flat!  Look out, world – RTT is back!!


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A: I too was very excited that we set a Sunday record for this puzzle, mainly because it had been a while! We were able to sail through relatively fast, and a highlight was definitely Will’s rendition of the Beach Boys singing “Bermuda, BAHAMA, come on pretty mama” for a few minutes in the middle of the puzzle, until Emma and I decided that it was enough. I feel like there were a few tropical clues in here (LAGUNA, does SPONGEBOB count?), which was sad given the need to stay at home. (Wait, I now have an idea of a virtual beach party, which I am most definitely going to pursue over the next few weeks…Will, are you and Emma in for Hoover Luau 2.0??) We also geeked out about the fact that Brian ENO designed the Microsoft 95 startup sound, which we immediately listened to after the crossword and agreed was very melodic.

W: Idk how well ambient music pays, so I’m personally thrilled that Brian got a bit of that Micro$oft Money.  In terms of other notable clues, this puzzle seemed to skew pretty heavily toward big name pop culture. SPONGEBOB, AVENGER, DOBBY, LUIGI, NALA, and so forth – it’d be pretty hard not to immediately get these if you 1.) were a kid in the last twenty years, or 2.) had a kid in the last twenty years.  I’m sure the puzzles for the rest of this week will atone for this by asking about 1950s noir character actors or something. Some other notes: I love any and all Shia LaBeouf mentions in puzzles.  And when they’re paired with Rihanna? *chef’s kiss* Maybe it’s time for a Shia movie marathon – what’d’ya say, Angela? I’m also really proud of us for getting LEXEMES almost immediately.  I guess hanging out with so many linguists in college finally paid dividends!   ***No offense to our linguist friends, we love you!****

A: On a more serious note, the OPIOIDS clue reminded me of the public health research I’m working on at UChicago looking at the opioid epidemic. Although – we’re now focused on a different epidemic, the current one! I’m going to use this space to shout out my research center, the Center for Spatial Data Science, for their responsiveness to the current times, and pivoting our research to at least three projects focused on visualizing and doing spatial analytics for coronavirus. We got a shoutout in Vox recently (that first map is our team!), and this piece from the main UChicago comms account explains how we’re using spatial data analysis to understand the situation and detect epidemic hot spots. We have this super cool visualization put together that we’re developing over the next few weeks, more info on our research page.

W: Yes, Angela!  Flex! But yea, y’all have been crushing it during this wild time.  It’s been deeply inspiring to see how quickly researchers across the world have pivoted their work to countering this public health crisis.  Keep up the great work – but when you get off the clock, keep up the great crosswording too!    

A: Overall, I thought this puzzle was a respectable return to crosswording, and look forward to honing my crossword craft and keeping in touch with Will! Stay safe and healthy, and be like us and virtually crossword with your friends from the shelter of your home! 

W: Agreed!  And while you’re staying inside, follow us on Twitter, and check back next week for more write-ups! 

–  Angela and Will

Friday, October 12, 2018

A, from the future: Folks, we apologize for the extremely long wait for this blog post. We do realize it’s been three months, but fear not — we have continued to crossword together, despite being too lazy to write up our thoughts after challenging puzzles. Our potentially overambitious resolution for 2019 is to write 50 blog posts, so hold us to that. (Our other resolution, is of course, to post respectable tournament times, but you already knew that.)

[March 31, 2020 edit: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah]



W: Ah cool you’re still there!  Well, some of you, hopefully. Angela and I apologize for the brief hiatus RTT took during September / October.  As we mentioned on Twitter (which, by the way, you should follow), we both had a crazy set of weeks.  My internship ended, and I started another pair of jobs. Angela, meanwhile, got chased around the continental United States by a superstorm of sorts.

A: My summer internship in North Carolina quickly ended when I heard reports that 1) Hurricane Florence was supposed to be one of the most dangerous, or at least, the most rainy, hurricanes of our lifetime, and 2) was going to hit the Triangle hard while I was planning to be on the road. I evacuated early to drive back to Virginia, where I’m from, and then vegetated for some time before going back to Chicago for my permanent job. Definitely the first time I’ve been chased out of a job by a natural disaster.

W: But, thankfully, that’s all over.  And now that we’re settled back in, we figured it’s time to dust off the ol’ NYT subscription and get back to solving!   Plus, we didn’t even have to skype this time – Angela was back in New York for…a work something? All I remember is there was an open bar, of which I was very jealous.

A: Woo!! Conferences!! Like summer camp, but for adults. Or something like that. It turns out that my research center has strong ties to a company out in Brooklyn, and we were co-sponsoring a conference in October. Using my keen intellect, I reasoned that if I could finagle my way to the conference, I could crossword in person with my friend Will, who is also out in Brooklyn. And so here we are, reunited!

W: We decided to do the Friday for this week.  Which was constructed by Bruce Haight and our friend – and RTT reader – Erik Agard!  My first thought on loading up the puzzle was something like, “Huh, that looks funny.  Cute lil’ circle thing. Neat.” Fortunately though, Angela is smarter than me and doesn’t suck at shapes, quickly noticing it was a LIGHTBULB and thus solving one of the first big crossers of the puzzle.

A: I was upholding my role as the “theme noticer” in our duo, which is what I’m holding onto, because Will has gotten gosh darn good at crosswords. I think it’s because he moved to New York, which immediately increases your skill at the NYT Crossword twofold. Now he just pulls out these crossword terms from nowhere. Like PEONS? Who knows the word PEONS?! Unless there’s some “owning the means of production” and “exploitation of labor” going on, hm, Will?

W:  As for my favorite clue of the puzzle, other than NAE NAE, obviously, I’m gonna go with WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA – a clue successfully solved by my alleged gf Emma (who makes a voice cameo on our video!), at whose house we filmed, and Angela crashed.  That answer opened up the entire top half of the puzzle for relatively pain-free solving. We snagged a couple of fun ones up north there too, such as DUH and GAM, the latter of which shattered my dreams of “Soccer superstar Lionel” ’s answer not being RICHIE.   And yes, I just manufactured a reason to plug that magnificent video into this writeup.  That’s your fault for reading our blog.

A: Speaking of magnificent videos, let’s not overlook the author of the words “I was RIDE[ing] SHOTGUN with my hair undone / in the front seat of his car”, which shows you that while Will is off listening to dad music, I’m listening to girly-tween-daughter-of-dad music. Man, that sparkly guitar in the music video for TSwift’s boppy masterpiece brings back…fond?…memories of middle school. So if you just groaned from Will’s plug for his music video of choice, enjoy America’s top pop star in her country days.

W:  All in all, we had a pretty good time with this one – and finished with a solid mark of 23:55. No real struggles, although it was personally concerning with how long I was stumped by MEGADETH.  Cute puzzle design, a manageable difficulty level, no answers that seemed super forced, and another reminder that the word TOME exists and frickin’ rules. Good stuff, in my [Gutenberg’s Bible, e.g.]

A: You might go as far as to say that this puzzle was AS EASY AS ABC. It was definitely one of our faster Friday solve times, with nothing in there to trip us up a ton. I was nervous the puzzle would be super challenging and then our reunion crosswording would fail and/or take wayyy too long, but thankfully, that was not to be. Altogether a satisfying solve, a ROBUST set of standard clues, and nothing that stumped us for too long. We’re back! And better than ever.

W:  Also, if you follow us on Twitter, you may have seen some posts tagged #SolvingSoundtrack – in which I share music that I listened to while solving solo.  Well, as promised, here’s the official Spotify #SolvingSoundtrack playlist – which I promise to update regularly!  Give it a follow – and let us know what you listen to while furiously trying to remember if the answer is EPEE or ALEE.   See y’all next week!

A, from the future: “See y’all next week!” So ambitious, so naive. Content creation is hard y’all, but I hope you appreciate our efforts…and get ready for more in the upcoming days!

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Howdy y’all and welcome back to another weekly edition of Respectable Tournament Times with Angela and Will!

W: We’ve been tackling Thursday puzzles for our write-ups thus far, but – thanks to some scheduling changes – we decided to take on a Friday.  Which was a lil bit nerve-wracking, if I must say. We tried our hand at a Friday puzzle three weeks ago and weren’t even able to finish it, much less make a video or blog post on the debacle.  Fortunately for us (and maybe, you!) – we actually kinda killed it this time around? Our time was a clean 16:57, which is good for our second best Friday time ever (confetti falls from ceiling, champagne pops, hell yea).

A: Heck yes!! Sometimes we’ll start puzzles super fast, and get stalled out in a few minutes, sometimes we’ll get halfway through and trip up over the theme, but this time, we just steadily filled out the puzzle at a nice clip. Maybe the puzzle featured less esoteric old movies or groan-inducing puns than usual. In any case, both Will and I were on fire in this puzzle. We started out by combing through the clues for fill-in-the-blanks and trivia we knew, like Boba FETT from Star Wars, or AMAS for “Reddit Q&A sessions”: basically, things we knew would have a high chance of being right without much additional context. Once we got those and boosted our confidence a bit, we were ready to start on the lengthy phrases in the themeless Friday puzzle!

W: So it seems to me that Friday grids typically feature super-long answers, usually in their top and bottom sectors.  Cracking those quickly can then often be the key to a fast time – as they give you helpful hints to their respective crossing answers.  That process was at play here – as we immediately got producer extraordinaire DANGER MOUSE (whose work on the new Parquet Courts record is fantastic), as well as HUNT AND PECK – although that one took a timely Angela correction from my original CHICKEN PECK.  Which I still maintain is a thing! At least that’s what my parents called it when making fun of my typing style in middle school…. Also – check out our video recap for exciting bonus content like our attempts at playing chicken peck charades!  Fun!

A: So Will’s chicken impression in the video is a lot more aggressive than mine. I think he’d get most of the corn and I’d just walk around wondering where the corn was. But maybe he’d be the first to fatten up and be taken to the ROTISSERIE. Wow, sorry. That was morbid. This is what happens when I’m putting together my thoughts for our crossword recap when I’m hungry. Also on the topic of food, I was excited about getting SWISS CHARD, which is a great vegetable that my Asian parents fed me a lot of as a child. It definitely promoted strong bone growth or something like that. I feel like it was probably a vegetable that made me a very non-picky eater and promoted healthy habits later in life. Saute your own and enjoy good health.

W: After the big clues fell into place, it was just a matter of speeding through the rest of the fill.  Almost all of which came refreshingly quick for us. Outside of maybe SHTETL and SEER there wasn’t too much crossword-ese, or for the uninitiated, words that appear with great – sometimes comical – frequency in grids.  And I gotta give props for the amazing SEER clue – that answer is truly an inspiration for so many great, terrible puns. Any clues that stuck out for you, Angela?

A: I was very excited to get BABE RUTH before Will did, which is going to be the first and last time I get a baseball clue before he does. To be fair, we had AL CAPONE there first as an answer to “Member of the 1920s Murderers’ Row” (he did murder a lot of people in the 1920s, after all), and realized it was wrong once we got the HUNT AND PECK clue. But Will was still thinking about the Mafia, and I used his distraction to get the clue! On the other hand, I was super impressed by Will’s knowledge of another thing that happened in the 1920s – Helen KELLER being a founding member of the ACLU! This was quickly addressed with Will telling me that the only reason he knew this was because of crosswords. See, you can learn trivia from doing crosswords.

W: I had a couple of cool flashback moments in this grid.  First being, 27-down about the Mazurka, a dance form that I briefly studied in a music class with the awesome Prof. Zbikowski last winter.  In particular, we discussed Villa-Lobos’ Mazurka-Choro and the Mazurka’s use of TRIPLE TIME, which came in handy here.  After that, I got a smile from the 55 across clue – “Brilliant!” – as it reminded me of the ridiculous, old Guinness ads that used to run constantly on ESPN in my childhood.  If that’s not familiar to ya, please educate / culture yourselves and watch these GENIUS – err – Brilliant! videos.

A: Speaking of being educated/cultured, I had absolutely no idea that writer Nora Ephron had a younger sister named DELIA Ephron, who is equally impressive. So for a while I had NORAH Ephron in our crossword since I was sure that it was she who was a writer and maybe I just had her name wrong in my mind. Nope, I was wrong on multiple fronts. I’m dutifully adding Delia Ephron books to my Goodreads. I’m also adding Parenthood to my Netflix queue, based on not knowing who DAX Shepard was (and also a recommendation from a friend to watch the show!). See, we millennials don’t just watch/read/consume things; we use technology to keep track of all those things. Are we electronically keeping score? Or have platforms simply made it easier to quantify our developing interests? I sense an op-ed in its nascence.

W: Other than those clues, I was thrilled to see HONEY HONEY continue the inexorable march of the ABBA-ssance, a term which you can watch me excitedly define in our video above (pls watch our videoooos pls pls pls).  And yea – I’d say that was a very fun, clean puzzle. No issues that I can think of, just a breezy, enjoyable solve. Props to you, John Guzzetta!

A: Huzzah for the puzzle, John Guzzetta! Building up our morale in our solving skills through an accomplishable Friday. You’re truly making a difference in this cold, harsh world of seemingly-impossible end-of-week crossword puzzles. Ok, so that’s just our current non-respectability – but one day, all Fridays will feel like that Friday, one day!

— Will and Angela

Thursday, September 6, 2018

W: So once again we return to you with a write-up and video of the Thursday puzzle!  We had a great time with this one and even finished with our best Thursday time (19:01) since starting this blog!

A: Woohoo! Let it be known that this is not our best Thursday time ever – which is something like 15 minutes – but compared to our average 35-40 minute Thursday solve, I’d say this is a respectable tournament time.

W: That, however, was definitely NOT what we expected upon loading the puzzle.  Why, you ask? Even though my solving is buoyed by loads of unearned confidence, seeing the constructor name “Jeff Chen” has me pumping the brakes.  Nothing against Jeff, ofc, it’s just that we’ve had some….scary experiences with his crosswords before *flashes back to Lollapuzzoola Puzzle 4, cries a little bit*

A: Upon looking at the puzzle, Will immediately said “Oh [fudge], it’s a Jeff Chen crossword” and then both of us groaned, recalling the extremely difficult clues and the theme we stumbled through on his Lollapuzzoola puzzle. Nothing like the feeling of utter loss when you’re sure you’ve given the maximum intellectual effort you can on a crossword, and you’re only halfway done, and you’re sure half your boxes are wrong anyway… Yes, we still have experiences like that.

W: That said – today’s puzzle was nowhere near that frightening.   We started things in the upper left corner, getting most of it filled in…until seeing SLAM where it should be ISLAM.  So okay, we thought, we’ve run into the theme. Maybe it’s something like “missing eyes?” But then we got MERGES instead of EMERGES and realized that something a little funkier was up.  Thankfully, Angela came to the rescue with a good ol’ fashioned pen and paper.

A: As the self-appointed theme solver of our two-person team, I grabbed a notebook and started writing down the missing letters that I knew for sure were missing, and got IEBERG, which seemed suspicious. I glanced down the clues to look for the theme, and saw that “Hidden trouble indicator … or what you’ll need to finish this crossword?” was the clue. Putting two and two together, I realized the only English word I know that ends in BERG is ICEBERG, and the extra boxes helped me figure out that TIP OF THE ICEBERG was the theme. So what Jeff did here was take a bunch of words whose first letter was I, C, E, B… etc and chop off the first letter. I have to hand it to him, this is clever.

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Detailed analysis of What’s Going On With The Theme?!

W: Once the theme was out of the way, the rest of the grid kind of fell into place for us.  A solid amount of crossword-ese showed up in the top of the grid, including a hat trick of SLAV, ECRUS, and NANA in the second row.  We even got EMUS up there too! I, for one, was thankful for all these familiar clues as it compensated for a trickier theme; however, it left me a little sad that my dream crossword answer / band name EMO EMUS was left off the table.  Maybe next time, Jeff.

A: The overall clue level wasn’t too difficult in this puzzle, after we figured out the theme. Maybe Jeff decided one weird letter thing was enough to add difficulty, and took it easy on the rest of the puzzle. For the clues, I got PRATE and LAPIN, which were words I didn’t even know I knew. I also felt justified for watching hours of YouTube video bloggers in middle school when I was able to fill in RHETT & Link almost immediately. Maybe that’s what inspired me to start vlogging with a friend about fun and interesting topics (aka crosswords).

W: There was also some cool history littering this puzzle – one that Angela and I both recognized was Jerusalem’s Mosque of OMAR.  We used to walk by it all the time when we lived there and studied history last year. Just googling images of the mosque’s exterior places me back on its busy, incense-heavy street corner in the Old City – just steps from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Check out our video for my brief retelling of why those two holy sites are so close in physical proximity – one of the more interesting stories I learned on that trip.

A: Will and I are always excited when something Jerusalem-related (FALAFEL, RABBI, etc) shows up in the puzzle, if only as a reminder of our study abroad experiences. It’s a way for us to not forget about the time we spent abroad, and the deep dive into history and culture we had for a brief moment. It’s so neat how a little clue in a crossword can bring to mind something that we’d almost forgotten about. There’s an idea: crossword clues as conversation topics for forgetful humans.

W: I also def laughed a bit at a few of these clues – most notably SATAN as the answer to “Leader of the land down under” and the double meaning of JOCK.  I like when crossword answers are juuust dumb and juvenile enough to make me smile. And this puzzle hit that sweet spot in a very good way.

A: Agreed, I thought STRETCHY was cute as the answer to “Like one-size-fits-all garments”, and I lol’ed at DIED as the very obvious answer to “Word on a gravestone”. Though to be honest, I originally thought it was DEAD, which is arguably an even more hilarious word to have a on a gravestone. My gravestone is just going to say “Angela. Dead!” and it’ll be great.

Thanks for reading!

— Angela and Will

Completed Puzzle


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Time: 30:01

W:  So once again Angela and I tried our hand at the Thursday NYT crossword, and we had a pretty good go at it….well, until the final corner that is.  But for now I’m only talking about the happy stuff! For starters, we are proud to announce that we actually, for once in our lives, figured out the puzzle’s theme within the first few minutes of solving!  It all started with 11-across “Light lunch choice” – we already had the S in place from Yosemite SAM, so my brain immediately thought “Salad” ….probably thanks to the monstrous leafy creations I used to make daily at the dining hall.  But something was amiss. We could only fit SAL into the space available. Enter, Angela with the puzzle-cracking theme insight…

A: Wait wait, I’m pretty sure you figured out that “AD” was missing from the two words in the upper right corner, which frankly I was impressed by. Figuring out that type of thing took me a lot of time before I felt comfortable with multiple letters in a box. As someone said to me when I tried to promote the fine art of crosswording: “Is that the sort of thing that people who are good at crosswords do because they get bored by normal crosswords?”, which is maybe true, but in any case is something to watch out for in Thursdays. Knowing that might be part of the theme, I took advice from our dear pal Jeffrey to heart, and scanned through the puzzle clues for something that would reveal itself. Fortunately the theme revealer was straightforward and I confidently told Will to install the AD BLOCK.

W: Once the theme was cracked, the rest of the puzzle fell into place nicely for us.  I, for one, am loving New York Times continue to lead the charge in the EMO-renaissance.  Plus, the more supporters we can muster up in the fight against MANSPREAD-ers, the better.  Those were probably my two faves of the grid – which we *thought* we had completed just a few ticks past 19-minutes, an excellent Thursday time for your two favorite solvers.  But, as you can tell, we thought wrong.

A: We got stumped in the bottom right corner with spelling AREOLA, which is a word I did not know the definition of and do not recommend you search at work. And then we had SEMINAR instead of WEBINAR because gosh darn, I didn’t go to my seminar classes! Attendance? Only required if you’re getting a grade on it. Actually, Will can attest to the time I skipped my graduate sociology seminar class to rake and maintain a gigantic leaf pile in the middle of campus. This was a worthwhile tradeoff, but I did have to dive into the pile and hide when my professor strolled by after I blew off his weekly 3-hour class. (Sorry mom, I know you read this blog.) Anyway, that stumped us and we started feeling utterly at a loss with the incorrect MOS and (AD)EMS, but having no idea what to put instead.

W: Yea, things did get a little desperate as the minutes kept slipping away.  We did follow the Lollapuzzoola example of “google tickets” – a practice I have long-followed but now feel safe to openly admit.  Our googling isn’t ever anything clue related. It’s usually more reserved to things like, “Wait, is MEGAMAN actually blue?” or “Does FT. SUMTER have a P or nah?”  I also may have used my google machine to figure out what the hell a BMOC was too, once we were sure it was right. But hey! If it’s fair game at the crossword tournament, then it’s gonna happen while skyping from my apartment too.

A: After much futile Googling, mostly confirming that all of our other clues were right, we made the WEBINAR breakthrough and finally fixed our errors. I didn’t realize (AD)AMS was referring to the presidents, and if you watch our video, you can see me coming to terms with my poor grasp of American history, live! I blame it on the confusing clue.

W: Overall, we had fun solving this puzzle.  Our last ten minutes of struggle was pretty rough, but the theme was neat, some of the answers were cute, and there wasn’t anything tooo wack included amongst them.  Goals for next time? Only have five minutes of confused, dead time at the end before we finish the puzzle. Oh yeah, and I think it’s high time we bought some kazoos and made a theme song for our videos – what’cha say, Angela?

A: Bzzz bz bz bz bz bz bz BZ! (That’s the NY Times crossword jingle via a kazoo.) I haven’t had a kazoo in my possession for years, so I’m looking forward to this first adult purchase. We’ll have to do some recording before our next video…

Puzzle on!

— Will and Angela


Completed Puzzle

Screen Shot 2018-08-31 at 11.47.49 PM

Lollapuzzoola 2018 Recap!

W: Lollapuzzoola 2018 has come and gone and, wow, what an awesome and fun experience it was.  400 super-friendly, super-nerdy people in one room, an incredibly smoothly run event, and at least two puzzles referencing goths.  What more could you want?

A: Only the best crosswording partner to tackle the day with! AWWW. Having Will as my sidekick as we puzzled, goofed off, and met new folks made Lollapuzzoola that much better (and probably lowered my guard with regards to making weird comments that I wouldn’t normally make in public – apologies, new friends!). I noticed a lot of the pairs puzzling together were parents and their kids, husbands and wives, groups of friends… It turns out crosswording is the best niche social activity you could have dreamed of.

W: I’m just going to give a summary of the festivities here, but for more details on our reactions to individual puzzles and the event – check out the video below!  P.S. This was my first attempt at video editing since…well…ever so hopefully that’ll only get better from here on out *knocks on wood*.

A: Hey, I had to record all the videos since I’m the shorter one, so equal split of work here! Also, maybe video editing will become your competitive advantage for the next archival job you’re looking for. (Aside: Will needs a job! If you have a job, please give him one. He likes writing, history, and is currently working at the NY Philharmonic. Also, he’s in NYC.) Anyway, enjoy our first Respectable Tournament Times post-tournament video.


W: So, in terms of expectations – let’s just say I was really nervous heading into the day.  Angela and I can typically complete Monday-Friday and sometimes Sunday NYT puzzles with times we feel happy with.  But we’ve only finished a Saturday once – and it took nearly 90 minutes of solving while waiting in line for Carly Rae Jepsen tickets to get the job done.  If the Lollapuzzoola puzzles were as hard as that one, we’d be in trouble.

A: We had done a practice crossword the day before, but it was a Sunday and we didn’t get through it super fast. I was also dying of a deadly head cold, which I’m pretty sure I brought to all of New York and most likely Will. Will, I apologize in advance for what’s about to happen to you. Anyway, while I wasn’t nervous per se, I crossed my fingers that we’d have a good time and enjoy the day.

The Puzzles

W: Fortunately, those fears were mostly unfounded.  We were able to work our way through the first three puzzles fairly easily, using around half the allotted time for each.  The next puzzle though. Yikes. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves. I mean, we’d just eaten salads at lunch – which ought to be worth some amount of good karma, right?  But then Jeff Chen and Puzzle 4 stopped us dead in our tracks. Remember that feeling from school of getting handed an important test – feeling all confident – only to slowly come to the terrifying realization that you don’t know any of the answers?  Yeah, I thought I’d left that feeling behind when I took my last math class in 2014, but I was very wrong. We gave it our all, though, and managed to battle our way through 3/4 or so of the grid before the timer hit 0:00. Thank goodness Puzzle 5 was easier, and we were able to rebound well, finishing the day having completed four of the five offerings with plenty of time to spare.

A: I definitely hit my stride in Puzzle #2 after getting the theme almost immediately, after a slower start for both of us during Puzzle #1. I think Puzzle #2 was my favorite, if only for the sense that it was written by and for a Young Person™ (h/t Erik Agard, who I hear reads this blog! Celebrity name drop, check.). We usually chat during our joint puzzling — with one of us filling out the puzzle, which the one says answers out loud, so the more intense tournament environment where you don’t want to say the answers out loud was disorienting. After we started chat-whispering to each other, that went a lot better. Will did really well in Puzzle #3 (many music clues), we both died in Puzzle #4, and then the slightly-larger, Sunday-level, Puzzle #5, picked us back up after the trouncing we received from Jeff Chen’s puzzle.

We ended up placing 50th out of 63 Pairs teams, which I think is pretty solid, especially for never having been to a crossword tournament before. Our scores are here, if you need proof. I’ve been telling people we placed at the top of the bottom third, but they’ve mainly been tickled about the fact that I went to a gosh-darn crossword tournament. Well, you know what?! You can participate at home, too.

Tips for Your First Tournament

W: If I had to give any tips for prospective tournament competitors, I’d say to, first, practice with printed crosswords.  Angela and I always solve online – so making the transition to the good ol’ fashioned pencil and paper was a little difficult in the early stages of the tournament, especially when it came to cross-checking the clues with their location on the grid.  Practice on paper! Second, I would make it a habit to be checking on themes early-on in the puzzle. I usually have a lackadaisical approach to themes, tackling them only when I have to. But when time becomes important, taking a moment to really think about the “trick” behind the theme can really, I think, improve your overall speed.  I know this because…well, I rushed through all the themes last week, hardly understanding any of them, and then limping my way through certain sections of the puzzles. I’m lucky Angela was there to carry my dead-weight at those times, but – hey, not all of you might be so lucky.

A: Will and I received a few tips for solving from the pros that were there, such as “did you look at the theme yet?”, which seems obvious, but isn’t when you’re nervously participating in your first tournament. While we were doing a warm up puzzle, this random guy walked up behind us and started looking over our shoulder as we were doing it. At first, I was confused why he was there, and I figured he was judging our not-extremely-respectable crosswording. He expressed some interest, then walked away, then came back after we finished the puzzle to chat about it. It turns out, he MADE the puzzle we were doing! It was LA Times crossword constructor Jeffrey Wechsler, who 1) reminded us that themes are probably a good thing to figure out ASAP 2) informed us that the LA Times crossword was free, and that the NYT Crossword is a gateway drug to other “indie crosswords” and 3) provided critical commentary during the final round to help us understand why so-and-so was able to fill out squares faster than someone else. In effect, our own personal live crossword commentator. Thanks for taking us under your wing, Jeffrey.

Meeting the Crossword Community

W:  All in all, I had a blast solving on Saturday.  But even better were the interactions Angela and I had at the tournament with our fellow solvers and members of the crossworld.  We launched this blog literally the week of Lollapuzzoola – and didn’t even post our first puzzle recap until Thursday.  With that newness in mind, it was AMAZING having people introducing themselves to us, giving us advice, complimenting our (two-day old!) blog, and just all around being welcoming and friendly to two, wide-eyed youngsters on the crossword scene.  A big thanks to everyone who said hello and put up with our enthusiasm and endless questions last weekend. We hope to see all of y’all again soon – and meet even more of the awesome people who’ve reached out to us on social media thus far!  U rawk! And thanks for the swag, NYT!

A: I really want to get to know some of these folks who are going off and winning crossword competitions in their free time like a badass. Like, look at this tweet from Lollapuzzoola champ Stella.

After bursting onto the tournament scene, Will and I are ready to travel the crosswording circuit next year. Though it’s the off-season now, we’re going to train up and come back next season better than ever. We look forward to an exciting puzzling career.

Removing the competitive aspect from it (lol), we’re really excited to have found such a friendly community, and we can’t wait to continue to chat with these lovely people online and in-person in the near future. I think Will is already planning to go to another crossword tournament in Bryant Park in a few weeks, though I sadly can’t make it. In fact, shouldn’t there be a tournament in Chicago? Is that something we can do? Can someone reach out to me please??

Overall Reactions

W: We can’t recommend this tournament enough to anyone who’s a crossword fan.  The atmosphere was warm and fun – I was nervous about being overwhelmed by the puzzles – but those worries were totally unnecessary.  Every single person I spoke with – from table-mates to tournament champions – was respectful, approachable, and filled with enthusiasm for this semi-niche hobby.  In fact, that sense of shared passion was palpable throughout the day. I had a moment during the finals – as 400 people, myself included, sat silent and spellbound while watching three competitors solve on giant whiteboard grids – where it struck me just how wild it was that so many people can bond together over the love of these little puzzles.  And that, I think, is just one of the coolest things in the world.

A: We’re getting into it early, so when we’re old and wizened and wise in the ways of this world, we’ll have had many awesome years of being able to participate in this incredible community. And we’ll be able to say things like “50 years ago, at my very first Lollapuzzoola, I knew this was the semi-niche hobby for me…the palpable sense of shared passion had me silent and spellbound…who are you again?…oh yes…Will!…you continue to be an incredible friend and crossworder even after 50 years…”

W: Oh yeah!  One last thing – for bonus content like our attempt at live-blogging, or behind the scenes footage of, say, me eating a cheesepuff (!!!) – follow us on Twitter!  We’re @rttpuzzles and, honestly, I’m super excited to start tweeting nonsense about crosswords without (further) alienating the followers on my personal account.

A: True, we’ve been spamming our friends, family, and co-workers with crossword content lately. You thought it was just a phase, but we’re just getting started. And we won’t stop until we achieve respectable tournament times.

That’s it for now – check back later this week for another puzzle video, and we’ll leave you now with a quick photo gallery from the tournament.  Puzzle on!

– Angela and Will



Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hi y’all!  Thanks for checking out our first video-post on Respectable Tournament Times!  Here’s a video with commentary, or you can scroll down for our write up.

Warning: spoilers below!


Will:  Angela and I decided to do a Thursday this week – and we feel pretty good about how it went, finishing with a time of 22:34.

Angela:  We started in the right hand side of the the puzzle, and we filled in the top and middle right sections relatively quickly. After that, we did the rest, only getting stumped at the end with COMEDY CLUB.  Our physics backgrounds are a bit weak, so we had AMPETER instead of AM METER for a while, which we corrected after we realized COMPEDO CLUB wasn’t, in fact, some cool Spanish club that we hadn’t heard of.  That made us feel better about YOW instead of the non-word OOW, though I’m pretty sure that no one says YOW either.

Crossword Theme

W:  The theme of today’s puzzle was – at first glimpse – some mystery movie man.  Once the ING of RAGING BULL revealed itself though, we were able to figure out ROBERT DENIRO, the glue holding the puzzle together.  Now, I know basically nothing about Mr. DeNiro, other than 1.) His name rhymes with Al Pacino, 2.) I get the two of them confused all the time, and 3.) Middle-aged men are always trying to convince me he’s great.  Regardless, given that I spent my teen years trolling around IMDB trying to make myself “cooler” and “more cultured,” most of the titles here were somewhat-recognizable.

A: I don’t think I’ve actually seen any of the movies in the puzzle, which is somewhat embarrassing, because I feel like it’s part of the “cultural lexicon” or something. (Or maybe that’s what middle-aged men are trying to convince me of!!) In any case, it’s entirely possible to have a passing familiarity with titles of things and still do crosswords well. I mean, I know what GOODFELLAS is – it’s the movie where that mafia dude says “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” I kid, I kid.

Favorite Clues

W:  As for my my favorite clue of the day – that goes to DEERHUNTER.  No, not because of the time I rented Bobby D’s three-hour opus from my local Family Video store…. only to return it unwatched a week later.  But rather for the Georgia-based indie rock group of the same name who I, in a rad coincidence, have tickets to see this week! I’m linking my fav DH track, Desire Lines, here, but their records Halcyon Digest, Monomania, and Cryptograms all rip from front to back.

A:  My favorite clue was ARNE, for the Chicago connections. Previous Education Secretary (under President Obama) Arne Duncan is from Hyde Park, which is where our alma mater UChicago is. He went to Lab Schools and worked for Chicago Public Schools for a long time. He also played basketball in the exact place we started our tradition of crosswords! Wait, what? Let me explain. When I was in my second year of college, I worked as a book scanner at the undergraduate library. I scanned books for 7 hours a week, which meant I listened to a TON of podcasts, including the Chicago-homegrown podcast The Axe Files, where David Axelrod interviews all sorts of political figures. I happened to listen to an episode when Arne Duncan talked about playing basketball in Bartlett Gymnasium as a kid. And you know what happened between when Arne Duncan was a kid and today? The university converted Bartlett Gym to Bartlett Dining Hall. And Bartlett Dining Hall had free copies of the New York Times with free copies of the New York Times Crossword. Boom. Mind blown.

Additional Reactions

W:  Angela and I ultimately had fun with this puzzle – I mean, c’mon, BURRITO was an answer (so was BRRR, but it loses points for not being a Gucci Mane reference).  But we were also left a queasy by some of the answers. Like, why did TEAT have to be here in the first place, and, more importantly, what is it doing right next to ASS in the grid??  The last thing I want to do when solving is get all hungry thinking of a BURRITO and then have my stomach turn over at the prospect of an ASS TEAT.  You a weird dude, Mr. Arbesfeld.

A:  Not to mention that the very first clue in the puzzle was CLOG, which is yet another gross thing that reminds me of all the times I’ve had to pull hair out of a drain. Ew. No thank you.

W:  So with that lovely topic closing us out – we wanted to thank y’all again for checking this out!  We plan on updating at least once a week, hopefully more as our schedules permit. In exciting news, we’ll be at LOLLAPUZZOOLA in NYC this weekend!  Which we can’t wait for, and hope to get some hot tips from our boi Rex Parker on how to conquer the Internet crossword game.  So stay tuned for some dispatches from the World’s Second Largest Crossword Tournament – and then weekly updates from there on out!

Solved Crossword



— Will and Angela



Welcome to Respectable Tournament Times!

We’re Angela Li and Will Brown – two college friends who bonded over a shared love of crosswords.  We want to document our quest to post, in a paraphrase of a New York Times Crossword caption about Bill Clinton’s crosswording abilities, “respectable tournament times.”  

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This space will be our forum to work our way up the ranks from “morbid tournament times” to “mildly disappointing tournament times,” and perhaps on to “fine, I guess, tournament times,” before finally breaking the threshold at which Will Shortz, smiling, can say, “Wow, Mr. Former President Bill Clinton, that young duo sure can adequately solve my puzzles.  My, how I respect them.” Then, and only then, will we bask in the warm glow that only recognition from the world’s leading man-whose-name-that-appears-at-the-top-of-all-my-crosswords provides, and thus consider our mission complete.

So basically, if that last paragraph was too disorienting, we’ll be using this space – via videos and blog posts – to document our attempt to get better at crosswords.  Don’t expect blazing fast finish times or a lexiconographer’s grasp on crosswordese. We’re pretty okay, but we’re no Rex Parker.  What you can expect is 1.) fun commentary on this oft-ridiculous puzzle, 2.) weird, sometimes surreal anecdotes that this Crossword evokes, and maybe even 3.) frustrated and perhaps, if Will’s annoyed, profanity-laced, tirades about uncrackable clues.

But more than that, we want to build a community for people who love crosswords, but aren’t yet masterminds.  We want to show how much fun crosswording can be for people that are still finding their legs. (Hint: find a friend, and do it with them!)  And, yes, we want to be able to one day walk up to former President William Jefferson Clinton and say, “Hello, silver-haired sax man. We too can post respectable crossword tournament times.”  

Play us out, Bill.

Okay, now for some introductions.  Angela and Will met back in 2014 when we were first years at the University of Chicago.  As luck had it, we were both placed in Hoover House, a wing of the Max Palevsky East Residence Hall.  That was back when UChicago students still had “free” access to the New York Times, and so that – in combination with the house table, the house lounge, and schoolwork to be avoided at all costs – created a new dorm tradition: group crosswording.

At first, Angela and a few others would do crosswords during meals on an ad-hoc basis, but as more folks got interested, daily themes emerged, corresponding to the increasing difficulty level of the NYT weekly crosswords: Minute Mondays, 2 v 2 Tuesdays, Work Together Wednesdays, 3 or More Thursdays, and Eff it! Fridays.  At its peak, 2 v 2 Tuesdays was an epic experience, with 8-12 of us (some of whom may cameo on this blog) pairing up on a weekly basis and racing to finish the NYT Tuesday puzzle. Or, more realistically, race to come in 2nd to David Jaffe’s team. Sadly, the tradition graduated in 2016 with the upperclassmen who anchored the festivities, and Hoover House crosswording was largely a relic of the past.  

Well, that is until we crossed paths again studying abroad in Jerusalem during Spring 2017.  There, we started crosswording regularly before and after class, rediscovering just how fun and absurd the puzzles were.  It was also in Jerusalem that we completed the celebrity crossword puzzle that both inspired the name of this blog and set our aims upon becoming solvers who could complete puzzles “in times that would be respectable at a crossword tournament.”

Upon coming back to Chicago, we ate less falafel, but we kept doing crosswords together, making our hallowed pact to one day complete puzzles with speeds that’d make Will Shortz nod in approval.  We solved while stealing free food from CS grad seminars. We solved while procrastinating on our respective history and economics theses. We solved while road-tripping to Milwaukee, between sets at Lollapalooza, and – Will’s personal favorite – while waiting in line for two hours to buy Carly Rae Jepsen tickets.  

We both graduated in June 2018 and promptly moved away from Chicago.  Angela, to Durham for the summer (though she’s going back to Chicago soon), and Will, to New York.  Crosswording then became more than a fun diversion from the work we didn’t want to do: it’s the tie that binds our friendship together.  Crosswording gets us to talk every week about what’s new in our lives while trading quips and stories about whatever ridiculousness is in that day’s puzzle.  

And we’re aiming to keep things that way.  If our goal 1a is to create a community for new crossworders and company, then goal 1b to well – remain good friends.  And awww, c’mon that’s kinda cute.

So watch and read along!  We wanna make this fun for everyone involved – and we hope to send some others along with us in the quest toward respectability.  Leave us tips in the comments! Leave us your favorite anecdotes the puzzle brought to mind! Leave us, idk, NYC pizza recommendations – we wanna hear from you!

— Angela and Will