Wednesday, 12/16/09

BEQ 4:45
Onion 4:10
LAT 3:52
NYT 3:42
CS untimed

David Kahn’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 4This puzzle’s a no-lose proposition: Heads you win, tails you win. If you draw a crooked diagonal line to roughly split the grid in half, the northwest half is HEADs and the southeast is TAILs:

  • 10D. HEAD is an [Apt attachment to the starts of 14-, 17-, 35- and 43-Across]. Those four answers are as follows:
  1. 14A. [Othello, for one] is a BOARD GAME, the one in which the playing pieces are black and white. Hey! They’re like plastic coins with black heads and white tails. Headboard is the HEAD word here.
  2. 17A. [Help for a pioneer] is a LAND GRANT. A headland’s a narrow spit of land jutting into the sea.
  3. 35A. At a hotel, [Offering from the front desk] is a ROOM KEY. Tall people need more headroom.
  4. 43A. [Unable to hear] clues STONE DEAF, which I would guess is a term not smiled upon by the deaf community. Hey, what do you know—a dormant blog called Stone Deaf Pilots reviews assistive technologies for the hearing-impaired. Bonus tip for the week: If you know anyone who would appreciate having phone calls captioned, check out Sprint’s WebCapTel. It’s free.
  • 51D. Flipping the coin, TAIL is an [Apt attachment to the ends of 30-, 37-, 59- and 62-Across]. Note the aptness of the HEAD heads and the TAIL tails. The tails in question are as follows:
  1. 30A. GUINEA PIG is an [Experiment subject]. My kid looks super cute with pigtails, which are handy for keeping his hair out of barbecue sauce.
  2. 37A. [Classic Steinbeck story, with "The"] is RED PONY. Ponytail is usually centered, pigtails are off to the sides.
  3. 59A. POLO SHIRT is a [T-shaped pullover]. Shirttails are, you know…shirttails.
  4. 62A. SPONGEBOB! The clue stumped me for a bit. [Animated character with buck teeth]? Hardly his most salient physical feature. The pores are pretty noticeable.

What is that, 76 theme squares? That’s a lot to pack into a crossword this size, and it’s elegantly executed. The surrounding fill is compromised a bit, as you’d expect with that theme density. [How a bump may appear] = ON A LOG? Meh. But there’s some groovy fill, too. Supplementing the diverse bundle of theme answers, there’s LEO TOLSTOY (29D: ["The Cossacks" novelist], not his most famous novel) across from the unusual ERROR-PRONE (11D: [Likely to slip]). Each of those 10s crosses two theme answers. Other pairs of theme entries are stacked, and those stacks intersect things like OMNIBUS (7D: [Volume of reprints], like that giant NYT book of oldish puzzles), PASS GO (46D: [Round a corner in Monopoly]), and—my favorite—WALLOPS (41D: [Heavy blows]).

It’s good to see David Kahn’s byline again. This is his sixth NYT puzzle this year, but back in 2003-2004, he had 10 puzzles a year. We want more than six!

Matt Gaffney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 5Well, I do declare, Mr. Gaffney! This is the most genteel theme the Onion’s had in ages. It’s got none of those rude words, just some words you wouldn’t mind saying in front of your grandmother:

  • 20A. [Indignant reply to a request for free sock repair?] is “I DON’T GIVE A DARN.” Why, that looks like a watered-down bit of blasphemy, but it’s just about mending socks.
  • 36A. “GO FUDGE YOURSELF” is clued [Take a bath in brownie mix?]. I have to say, that doesn’t sound half bad. Mmm, chocolate…
  • 49A. [Comment about a panda who just finished eating?] is “HE’S FULL OF SHOOT.” Pandas eat bamboo shoots, you know. And bamboo leaves.

In contrast to the NYT puzzle, this one’s light on the thematic front: 43 squares, not a teeny theme square count but not big either. So there’s room for lots of juicy fill and Oniony clueing. A few highlights:

  • 33A. [Rapper killed in Las Vegas] is TUPAC Shakur. His first name happens to be the Latin caput (“head”) spelled backwards, you know.
  • The opposite 10s are all great: GREEN ACRES and POWERPOINT, GET OFF OF ME and BLEAK HOUSE.
  • 1D. The way people use NAZI these days is [Hardass, as it were]. “Breastfeeding nazi.” “The Soup Nazi.” “Grammar nazi.” If Grandma has WWII Europe issues, best not give her this crossword, though.
  • 4D. SWINE FLU is [H1N1, more commonly].
  • 25D. U-BOAT gets an etymological clue, [Its first letter stands for "untersee"]. I must quibble, though. U-Boot, the German name for it, is short for Unterseeboot. The English-language U-Boat translates das Boot to “the boat,” so why is the U not for “undersea”?
  • 37D. The three-word “GO ON UP” looks like “goon up” or “goonup” in the grid. I’ll bet that throws some people. ["I'll join you in the apartment in a few minutes].
  • 38D. SMASH HIT is a [Summer jam, say].
  • 47D. Hair [Cuts on a funk album?] are AFROS.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “My Bad”—Janie’s review

Rarely one to eschew the obvious, lemme just say it and get it over with: “My Bad” is awfully good. And at times (for me anyway…) good and hard. The key to the title-related gimmick (which I was able to discern on my own) is spelled out at 56A: I DROPPED THE BALL ["Oops!" (and a hint to 17-, 26-, and 44-Across]. In other words, this is a “subtraction” gimmick. The letters B-A-L-L have been removed from well-known phrases to create new ones. That’s a lotta letters to take out, and Randy’s picked some good material to work with, so that at:

  • 17A. “(The) Ballad of John and Yoko” → AD OF JOHN AND YOKO [Bed-in promo].
  • 26A. Ballet slippers → E.T. SLIPPERS [Casual wear for aliens]. Funny concept here that leaves lots to the imagination.
  • 44A. Ballpark figure → PARK FIGURE [Smokey Bear]. Good heavens–Smokey turned 65 this year! He’s eligible for Medicare! (There’s a joke in there about a “Medicare Bear” but I won’t be the one to mine the material…)

Why did I have difficulty with the non-theme fill? Well, there was some tricky cluing and I found I was doing a bit of head-slapping as I solved. That [Bar in the shower], for instance–that’s a bar of SOAP and not some kind of four-letter towel-rack or safety bar. Then there was [Grunt and carp]. Yes, they’re both ways to express dissatisfaction or MOAN, but they’re also both FISH. I’d heard of the latter, but not of the former. Nice misdirection there. And we see this clue (or a variation on it) pretty regularly, but it almost always stops me in my tracks and forces me to think: [The whole shebang] is A TO Z.

FANFEST clued as [Super Bowl side show] also threw me. The term gets a healthy number of Google hits, and its meaning isn’t difficult to make sense of, but I don’t think you’re going to find a dictionary definition out there. Not that it’s the definitive source, but you won’t find it in OneLook.com. Yet.

And then–then there was GARAGE clued as [Delta house?]. See, this is where being a car-free city-dweller worked against me. Seems Delta is a major manufacturer of garage doors and garage door openers. So, no, this clue was not a reference to Animal House or any fraternity fictional or real, but to the portion of your property that would house a Delta product. See Jane STEW [Do a slow burn]. ;-)

Merl Reagle’s Los Angeles Times crossword

(Excerpted from my L.A. Crossword Confidential write-up.)

Region capture 3THEME: “Where Is That Music Coming From?!?”—Five theme entries contain a three-car collision of musical notes. In my solution grid, I circled the notes where they appear within each theme answer, but the circles were not used in the original puzzle.

Theme answers:

  • 16A: [Comfort] (CONSOLATION). My favorite line from the movie (I know it’s also a book, but I’ve only seen the movie) Cold Comfort Farm is “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.” My husband and I are inordinately amused by that line, but our son does not share our enjoyment.
  • 39A: [Queen whose name contains three apt words in a row, as does each of this puzzle's four longest theme answers] (LATIFAH).
  • 61A: [Sister Sledge hit] (“WE ARE FAMILY”).
  • 10D: [Outnumber all others] (PREDOMINATE).
  • 24D: [Pooped] (ALL TIRED OUT).

Well! What a surprise to see Merl Reagle in the 15×15 size. The vast majority of his work these days are his syndicated Sunday puzzles, and the last daily-size Merl creation I remember seeing was the NYT crossword he made for the Wordplay documentary. I gather Merl liked this five-pack of theme answers and didn’t have a another batch of them to fill out a Sunday theme.

  • 14A: [Shooting Starr] (BELLE). She was a notorious outlaw in the 1800s but I know little about her.
  • 19A: [Contraction that's an "i" dropper] (T’WERE). Contraction of “it were.” I’m partial to t’weren’t and t’ain’t.
  • 22A: [Rhyme scheme used in a villanelle] (ABAA). A villanelle is a 19-line poem split into 3/3/3/3/3/4 stanzas. Read a couple here.
  • 47A: [Play delayers] (RAIN). As in a rain delay in a baseball game, not a theatrical hold-up.
  • 1D: Roman numeral math! L x VI (CCC). That’s 50 x 6 = 300.
  • 27D: Henri’s conclusion? (ETTA). Looks like a clue for a French word meaning “conclusion,” but it’s actually going for the suffix in Henrietta. I have some ancestors named Henrietta, and I’ll bet a lot of other people do. Funny how there are a zillion baby girls named Isabella but none named Henrietta. Nobody names their kid after a great-grandma named Henrietta.
  • 46D: [Apple topping] (CARAMEL). Yum! I really want some caramel now.

If you’d like to read a Crosswordese 101 lesson about OLAF and OLAV, click over to L.A.C.C.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “When the Levy Breaks”

Region capture 6Brendan’s post was the obituary for his late laptop. He says this puzzle is one of his previously published Time Out New York crosswords. The theme concept is solid—TAX REFORM is used to inspire a collection of answers in which the letters TAX appear in different order in the circled squares. ODESSA, TX and ARANTXA Sanchez Vicario are great, MIX TAPE is good, FIXATION is fine, and LES BAXTER is not a name I know. In the fill, I like SIXTY-SIX (an excellent year!) and “I ATE IT” (which could also be clued as the old Alpha-Bits commercial line—”I found a BEAR in my cereal.” “Whadja do?!?” “I ate it.”).

There was so much I didn’t like in the fill, though, that I wasn’t enjoying the solving process. RETORE? ENL clued as [Military E-1 or E-2, e.g.] is just mystifying. Crosswordese abounds—AVISO, CREE, ARNO—and is joined by awkward entries—have never seen “NO-FAT” on a label, IT I, -ARY, I.S.O., U.R.I. Plus, I use double daggers in my editing work and didn’t remember that it was a DIESIS; who the hell is going to indisputably know the E in DIESIS and ENL? Not many. (Grumblegrumblemumble.)

I generally like Brendan’s new-for-the-blog puzzles far more than the occasional TONY rerun, so: Thanks for all the great new crosswords that you make, Brendan! I look forward to Friday’s.

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14 Responses to Wednesday, 12/16/09

  1. Jan (danjan) says:

    This was like getting two puzzles woven into one; I was impressed with all the theme fill, especially since some were stacked. I enjoyed the bump/ON A LOG clue and answer and a lot of the other vertical fill, too.

  2. Sam Donaldson says:

    Even by Kahn’s standards, this is impressive construction!

  3. foodie says:

    Very elegant piece of work, indeed. HEAD is the head of the phrase, TAIL is the tail of the phrase; HEADS theme answers are nearer the top of the grid, TAILS theme answers are near the bottom; the word HEAD touches the top edge of the puzzle, the word TAIL touches the bottom edge! And 10 theme answers with some long crosses intersecting them! I love that the constructor managed it all without resorting to obscure names and extreme crosswordese for the rest of the fill. Very satisfying!

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    “25D. U-BOAT gets an etymological clue, [Its first letter stands for "untersee"]. I must quibble, though. U-Boot, the German name for it, is short for Unterseeboot. The English-language U-Boat translates das Boot to “the boat,” so why is the U not for “undersea”?”

    Ach so, das ist ein kluger Punkt, Frau Reynaldo. Gut geschrieben.

  5. Martin says:

    Matt,

    I think you’re rolling way too easily. It seems a bit too kluger a Punkt to me. U-BOAT is more a transliteration of the German (so it won’t be pronounced you-boot) than a translation. English has a perfectly good word for underseaboat if a translation is called for. If you need something punchier than “submarine,” there’s always “sub.”

  6. Barry G says:

    Nice puzzle, but it seemed way harder than your average Wednesday to me. Sadly, I finished incorrectly with GIBE/GLO instead of JIBE/JLO. I got everything else, but the cluing seemed to be ramped up for some reason (Terri GARR was in “Dumb and Dumber”? I had no idea).

    Oh — and TEASEL was a complete and utter unknown for me. I got it via the crosses, but was sure I had made a mistake somewhere. Maybe it’s common crosswordese, maybe not. I was still surprised to see it.

  7. Evad says:

    Great puzzle today, definitely better than your average NYT Weds. fare. I kept reading “Apt” as an abbreviation for “Apartment” though, so I was thinking the phrases were beginning or ending with apartment numbers, like 1A, 2B, etc. Definitely impacted my solving time, as well as my difficulty gaining purchase in the whole GUINEA PIG/RANGED area.

  8. joon says:

    david kahn’s NYT was a definite “wow” puzzle for me. when BEQ put “word that can follow/precede …” on his list of 10 bullshit themes, he said something to the effect of: “if you’re going to do this, there has to be something extra-special about it.” i’d say including both HEAD at the beginning and TAIL at the end, having eight long theme answers including two stacked pairs … yeah, that qualifies as special. i thought the fill was clean, too. don’t love ON A LOG (and i didn’t know TEASEL either… stupid botany) but the other stuff was fine.

    surprised to see merl’s name on a 15x, but what a cool theme… cluing was a bit tougher than usual, but i liked that. AD REP instead of AD MAN did force me to erase, but it was a pleasant surprise.

  9. Zulema says:

    Martin,

    You meant “too klug” but were leery of being thought “too klug” pedantic, so “too kluger”?

  10. Gareth says:

    NYT: I don’t think I need to say more. That was a special crossword. TEASEL was something I knew, but I wrote CACTUS first… First time in a while my Wed NYT and LAT times are nearly the same!!

  11. Nina says:

    NYT: How many thought “flier to Stockholm” should be Elin Nordegren?

  12. Tuning Spork says:

    re: BEQ, I didn’t know DIESIS, either (who did?) or ARANTXA (who?). But ENL (for “enlisted”) was a gimme for me once the L from TROLL was in place.

  13. Amy Reynaldo says:

    “Enlisted”? Oh! I figured the clue was about military airplanes.

  14. Martin says:

    I thought the ENL clue was more nitworthy than the UBOAT clue, since the “E” in “E-1″ and “E-2″ stands for “enlisted.”

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