Sunday, 12/20/09

NYT 7:15
BG 7:03
LAT 6:44
Reagle 6:33—Don’t miss the story behind Merl’s Wed. LAT xword
CS 3:32

If you’re one of Santa’s elves and you’re dreading staying up late wrapping presents, take heart! Today, I told my kid, “I heard Santa’s elves are going to be cutting back on the gift wrap this year. They’re going green.” He was glad to hear it—and now I don’t have to wrap! Am quite proud of my industrious laziness. Go green!

Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword, “Inside Dope”

Region capture 17This puzzle was a bit of a snore, truth be told. The theme’s inspiration is the phrase “inside dope,” interpreted as “inside” INFO hidden within assorted phrases. The theme entries are clued straightforwardly, for the most part, and puzzle is not long on humor. The bulk of the fill is stuff I’ve seen before, sometimes too many times (e.g., 32D: SLOANE/[Everett of "Citizen Kane"]). The grid was maybe a little heavy on people’s names, which made it easy for me but might’ve driven the anti-names-in-crosswords folks nuts. 93A was completely unknown to me, though—RENEE [___ Vivien, British poet known as the Muse of the Violets].

Oddly enough, I finished this puzzle up by 1-Across. The [Crib cry] is “WAAH,” which is of indeterminate spelling, and which could also have been MAMA. 1D didn’t help me—[Target of salicylic acid] is a WART, but salicylic acid’s also in aspirin, which has its own targets, and in acne medicines. 3D is ABIE, the [Title fellow in a 1922 Broadway hit], Abie’s Irish Rose, and 4D has the generic clue [Shop tools] for HANDSAWS. Kind of a weird bunch of clues for the starting corner—I quickly moved along to 5A ISIAH Thomas and his crosses.

By the way, if you wondered why the applet time differs from what I’m reporting, it’s because my browser spun its wheels idly for 12 seconds. Honest.

I loved seeing the chatty “HELLO AGAIN” (16D: ["Oh, you're back"]) and “OKEY-DOKEY (74A: ["You Bet"]). There are a bunch of question-marked clues for shortish answers, but they tended not to be too tough. [Lab inspector?] is a VET(erinarian), [Takes to the hills?] is SKIS, [Meteor trailer?] is -OID, and [Having I trouble?] is EGOCENTRIC—these feel familiar. [One who might be left holding the bag?] is not the usual clue for AIDE, but then, AIDE is a boring little word. I do like the tricky [Counter view?] clueing the bar STOOLS seen along a counter.

Some of the theme answers felt a little iffy as crossword-worthy phrases. Here’s the full set:

  • 23A. [It has a large canopy] clues the RAIN FOREST.
  • 25A. PLAIN FOLKS are [Average Joes].
  • 35A. [Republicans in 2008] were MCCAIN FOLLOWERS. This and 25A don’t quite pass the bar as fill…or, if they pass it, they’re laboriously pulling themselves over the bar rather than vaulting over it like an OKEY-DOKEY does.
  • 55A. [Busboy's assignment] is NAPKIN FOLDING. Is that a thing? Or is it just noun + verb?
  • 78A. [Stop a trip?] clues REGAIN FOOTING. Again, stumbling over the bar rather than vaulting.
  • 96A. TOPSPIN FOREHAND is a [Rafael Nadal specialty]. Never heard of it, but my husband, who pays more attention to tennis than I do, gives it the thumbs-up.
  • 112A. [Expect, everything considered] is BARGAIN FOR. The preposition looks sad dangling there like that. I’m feeling as if I usually see this in the “more than he bargained for” past tense.
  • 114A. JOIN FORCES is clued as [Unite].

Okay, your turn: How’d you like the puzzle? I hope you had more fun with it than I did.
Updated Sunday night:

Merl Reagle’s syndicated (Philadelphia Inquirer) crossword, “Puzzle Party”

Region capture 18The note accompanying this puzzle reads:  The crossword puzzle turns 96 years old Monday, Dec. 21, so here’s a puzzle celebrating the first word across in that first-ever 1913 brainteaser. That word is FUN, and it appears in 15 theme entries (I’ve circled the hidden FUNs in my answer grid):

  • 22A. FUNK AND WAGNALLS are a [Reference duo]. Bring in da noise, bring in da Funk, bring in da Wagnalls.
  • 25A. [Big bay east of Maine] is the Bay of FUNDY. In the plural, that’s Fundies brand edible underwear or fundamentalists.
  • 31A. TV puts the FUN in DYSFUNCTIONAL: [Like George or Kramer on "Seinfeld"].
  • 48A. ALLEN FUNT of Candid Camera is clued as a [Reality show pioneer, perhaps]. Interesting slant.
  • 56A. Never heard of this one. THE FUNERAL is a [1996 gangster film starring Christopher Walken].
  • 65A. “FUN, FUN, FUN” is a [Beach Boys hit]. See also: 89A.
  • 79A. FUNNEL CAKE, the [Carnival treat], is gross. There are better ways to execute the fried dough concept.
  • 89A. Annette FUNICELLO is a [Beach-movie fave].
  • 102A. Love this answer: TOSHIRO MIFUNE is an [Icon of samurai cinema].
  • 115A. FUNGO is a [Type of bat used in baseball practice]. I have no idea, really, what a fungo bat is. I acknowledge that “fungo” is an awesome word, though. There’s fun, and go, and a general air of mongo fungus.
  • 117A. OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN is clued [From who-knows-where]. In medicine, FUO is short for “fever of unknown origin.”
  • 3D. That’s right: Merl’s got four Down theme answers, and each one intersects two other Across theme answers. I’m not sure how Merl managed that. There’s not room for anything really FUN in the non-theme fill, and some of the short stuff is pretty “meh.” But the themers are cool. FUNAMBULIST is the big-vocabulary way of saying [Tightrope walker].
  • 15D. FUNICULAR is a [Railway of suspended cable cars]. I think I rode one in Prague, or maybe just looked at it.
  • 70D. One sort of [Tree growth] is a SHELF FUNGUS. This “Steve, Don’t Eat It” post is perhaps the most entertaining tale of a shelf fungus in existence.
  • PTA_Disbands!(Jasper)81D. “NO REFUNDS” is an ["All sales final" policy]. Aw, that’s a downer of a way to end the theme.

At 12D, JAS. is clued as [Madison or Monroe: abbr.]. Back in the day, my folks were listed in the phone book under “Zekas, Jas.” and my mom had a friend who assumed my dad’s real name was Jasper. (Like Madison and Monroe, of course, he was named James.)

Alan Arbesfeld’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Loose Lady”

Region capture 19In contrast to his NYT puzzle that I didn’t like, this Arbesfeld theme is more successful. The theme is “RUNAROUND SUE”—120A: [1961 #1 hit for Dion, and a literal hint to this puzzle's hidden theme]—and the other seven theme entries have SUE running around their edges, either SU___E or S___UE. The answer phrases are a lively bunch:

  • 23A. SHRIMP BISQUE is a [Seafood restaurant starter].
  • 38A. SENTIMENTAL VALUE is an [Heirloom quality].
  • 54A. SULFUR DIOXIDE is an [Acid rain component].
  • 84A. In Latin, SUMMA CUM LAUDE means [Literally, "with highest praise"]. I’ll bet at least five of my readers graduated summa cum laude.
  • 101A. [The world's longest crosses Japan's Akashi Strait] is a trivia clue for SUSPENSION BRIDGE. If you dig civil engineering feats, you can read up on the bridge here. It’s over 2 miles long and took 12 years to build.
  • 16D. My favorite clue in the puzzle is this one: [Nickname heard in Manhattan]. It’s SUNFLOWER STATE, the Manhattan in question being a town in Kansas, not the NYC borough. Kept me guessing until the crossings led the way.
  • 50D. The SUMMER SOLSTICE is a [June observance]. The winter solstice is coming up on Monday evening. Nothing like the days getting longer…as January weather sets in and says “Ha ha! The cold and snow are just getting started, sucker!”

What I do not like about this puzzle is the title and the three two-word, 6-letter phrases in the upper left corner of the grid. Oh, and the ELATER, 26D: [One who gets you up], which is now making me think of two 6-letter pharmaceutical brands. That’s not much to GROUSE about, mind you. I do like the BAHAMAS/RIOT ACT and INERTIA/MODESTY corners, REINED IN (boring letters but a good verb phrase), and these two whiz-bang answers: THE WAVE (11D: [It's caused by standing fans]) and SQUAWK (102D: [Bellyache].

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “Digital Display”

Region capture 20This one’s got all sorts of echoes. The theme is, yes, another hidden-word theme. This time it’s a TOE in each of 10 theme entries, tied together by the explanatory 50D: TEN TOES are [What this grid's Acrosses have]. Those 10 toes appear in Van Gogh’s THE POTATO EATERS, the Latin phrase COGITO ERGO SUM, author UMBERTO ECO, TIC-TAC-TOE, TOMATOES, the AUTO EXPO, MISTLETOE, author Fyodor DOSTOEVSKY, PHOTOELECTRIC, and the movie (and novel) WAITING TO EXHALE.

Besides the “another hidden-word theme” echo, there are these:

  • Brendan Quigley’s NYT puzzle on Friday had TOE JAM. Toes! They’re everywhere. Time to get the crossword a pedicure.
  • Dan Fisher’s Wall Street Journal puzzle on Friday had a hidden-TOY theme. Our pal Fyodor was there, too, but with his DOSTOYEVSKY spelling.
  • HEX is a curse or [Whammy], and also the portmanteau of Henry Rathvon and Emily Cox. They are, of course, the Brangelina of crosswords.

600px-Eastern_Towhee-27527-2EMO-POP, or 25D: [Upbeat punk kin], is a new word for me. P. DIDDY and ZOUNDS both look great in the grid. One of my favorite clue/answer combos here is 104A: [Towhee hue] for RUFOUS, the rusty color seen on the bird‘s side. I suspect not everyone’s mom made a point of teaching them about this bird; mine did.

Updated Sunday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s Washington Post/CrosSynergy “Sunday Challenge”

Region capture 21“Sunday Challenge” is a misnomer—the themeless CrosSynergy puzzles tend to be scarcely any harder than the weekday puzzles.

Let’s run through some clues and answers:

  • 14A. Eddie Murphy’s AXEL FOLEY is a [Transplanted Detroit detective of film], the film in question being Beverly Hills Cop. Gotta like a “detective of film” clue that’s for ’80s movies and not ’40s movies.
  • 18A. [Zeus visited her as a shower of gold] clues DANAE. (No comment.)
  • 31A. ["Beau Geste" extras] are ARABS.
  • 36A. Nice to see OVERJOYED in the grid. [Thrilled to pieces] is the clue.
  • 47A. LBJ is a [1960s D.C. trigram].
  • 54A. This clue kept me guessing for a while. The [Vessel with a spout] is a GRAVY BOAT.
  • 1D. HALE is [Frail's rhyming antonym].
  • 23D. CHARD is a [Large-leafed beet]. Also short for Chardonnay.
  • 37D. JOURNEY is clued as ["Only the Young" band]. Say what? My husband and I were teenagers in the ’80s and don’t know this song. Ah, Google tells me it’s from 1986, when we were in college and far too sophisticated for the likes of Journey.
  • 42D. JAPAN is the country whose [anthem is "The Reign of Our Emperpr"]. Did not know that!
  • 49D. Also did not know the New York JETS are a [Gridiron group that began as the Titans].
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19 Responses to Sunday, 12/20/09

  1. joon says:

    nope, snoozer for me too, except for TOPSPIN FOREHAND, which conjures a vivid mental image of rafa unleashing a vicious shot with so much topspin that his follow-through takes his arm over his head instead of across his body. slo-mo video here if you’re into that sort of thing. everything else about this puzzle left me cold, and i agree with you about the iffiness of MCCAIN FOLLOWERS, REGAIN FOOTING, and NAPKIN FOLDING and the weird cluing of the NW corner.

    one other thing: directior vittorio de SICA crossing LASAGNA at the final vowel was fairly unkind, as the latter is regularly spelled with both a terminal A and E, and the former was wildly unfamiliar to me. toss in UNTAME and the unfortunate SCUBAS (it’s not listed as a verb in my dictionary, and i’d definitely say scuba-dive for the verb), and you have one messy corner.

  2. ledfloyd says:

    de SICA was a gimme for me, but i’m a rabid cinephile. the puzzle was boring and easy. TOPSPIN FOREHAND was the only theme clue that did anything for me.

  3. tabstop says:

    I let the applet tell me which of lasagna/lasagne was right. Right before that I had to work out ASKANT. It felt like the entire puzzle was either using questionable words (askant, scubas) or made up phrases (almost all the theme entries, ask of, go up (at least the way it was clued), top row), or one of three possible answers (wart, ajam, oid, pts (I had dir), Merle, Elroy vs Leroy). Didn’t help that I confused Rascal Flatts with Lester Flatt, so I was really just erasing/re-typing as much as anything else. (Note: this is probably not actually true, but that’s what it felt like while doing it.) At the risk of being inconsistent I’ll say I liked the misdirection of Dice being chop instead of cube.

  4. Tuning Spork says:

    Just read the story of Merl’s Wednesday LAT puzzle. What a happy event at such a trying time for Clara and her family. Great job, Messers. Reagal and Norris!

  5. Zulema says:

    It’s been a long time since someone said something kind about a puzzle here. Everett Sloane is crosswordese now? Lasagna is perfectly good Italian, and spatial proximity to Vittorio de Sica does not detract from either one. It would have been more interesting if the beginnings could have all gone on to rhyme as some of them did: RAIN, PLAIN, MCCAIN, REGAIN, but the others don’t, and I think it’s what makes the theme break up in a way and become dulled, if that’s a word.

  6. joon says:

    zulema, i wasn’t complaining about spatial proximity. i was complaining that the intersection of the two answers was basically guess-the-vowel, because either A or E could be right for the familiar answer, and they both looked at least somewhat plausible for the uncommon one.

    also, people have basically been saying kind things about the puzzle every day. this NYT puzzle is perhaps particularly unlucky to be run in the wake of what may be the best four-day run of puzzles i’ve seen since i started doing them every day, starting with david kahn’s amazing wednesday and culminating with saturday’s tough-but-chewy byler hinden. perhaps especially in light of recent puzzles, a blah sunday seems even blaher, but i think this one would have bored me on any given sunday, simply because there isn’t much about it to grab you.

  7. Zulema says:

    Joon, maybe I was exaggerating, but I do think that the theme failed just in the way I found it wanting. The INFO part did not require the rhyming beginnings at all; once they showed up though, I expected that they would continue, but they petered out. What I thought was part of the theme turned out not to be, and I thought that was the best part, despite the title.

  8. Quentinc says:

    I have to say I didn’t much care for this one either. TOPSPINFOREHAND was a great answer, but then you have UNTAME and SCUBAS (as Joon pointed out), YESED (no!) and then a lot of stock stuff.

  9. Tuning Spork says:

    I finished at WAAH, too. Never seen it spelled like that before. Had LASAGNA right off the bat. I’ve seen it spelled LASAGNE, but that’s just wrong, imo.

    On Sundays, I look at the title and then don’t think of it again until I have a reason to. I never had a reason to here, and solved it as a themeless. Not unusual during the week, but disappointing for a Sunday.

    The cluing seemed especially easy this week. (But, then again, there is a wider audience than us crossword junkies that need to be catered to, as well.) None of the the “tricky” clues seemed tricky at all. Not neccessarily because they weren’t “tricky clues”, but because it felt like I’d seen nearly every one of them ten times before, even if I haven’t. [Having I trouble?], in particular, struck me as a Tuesday-level brand of trickiness, not the Wednesday/Thursday-level that we expect from the NYT.

    My guess is that this is a gift to those solvers among us who still desire to, one day, finish a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle and that, next week, we’re going to be truely amazed by a level of constructional perfection that we’d hitherto only dared entertain could possibly exist.

    Either that or Will Shortz has forgotten how to sellect and edit a grid.

  10. Gareth says:

    Not sure how I managed it but I finished the top half by noticing all the entries had NFO hidden in them, without realizing it was in fact INFO! Finished at ASKANT/SEATS. ASKANT?? Is that a portmanteau of ASKANCE and ASLANT??? I agree with Joon – TOPSPINFOREHAND is by far the coolest entry here. Before I had any idea of the theme 114A looked a lot like MENDFENCES…

  11. ledfloyd says:

    merl’s puzzle was a blast. fitting given the theme. but the LATKA/KINNAN crossing was impossible for me. TOSHIRO MIFUNE needs to show up in more crosswords.

  12. Evad says:

    Count me among the SICE/LASAGNE set. I had to compare my finished grid to Amy’s to find the typo. I would say whichever way Garfield spells it should rule. (I guess I lost.)

  13. Angela Osborne says:

    NYT/12/20
    My first impulse after filling in 35 A (MacCainefollowers) was to look for “dope” in the answeres. I found “cocaine” hidden in 35-A and “heroin” hidden in 96-A, but then spent so much time looking for more that I completely missed “INFO”.
    Otherwise, an easy puzzle with some fun answers.
    Angela

  14. I thought THC was going to be hidden in each of the theme entries. Imagine my disappointment.

  15. Paula says:

    I got no fun out of this puzzle. Am not into tennis so too many tennis references I had to get around. The Waah was Baah humbug. As was said in some comments, all this for “info”??? I didn’t even get info as I worked on one of the least entertaining puzzles in the Sunday NYT history. Got lasagna (lasagne would be a variant as far as I’m concerned). . . And askant??? Oh, puleeze.

  16. Zulema says:

    In defense of ASKANT, it’s in much medieval literature, and usually refers to the disapproving look in someone’s eye.

  17. David says:

    CRAP! I solved all the puzzles except Merl’s. I came here to read the blog on the LAT. Instead of clicking on “LAT” I clicked “read more”. I scrolled down and inadvertenty caught answers to Reagle’s FUN puzzle. DUMB DUMB DUMB! The FUN of that puzzle was ruined for me. I’ve only myself to blame, I suppose. DAMN!

  18. John Haber says:

    Count me among those who saw first a lot of rhyme, or more specifically a recurrence of “ain.” I included the entry REFRAINS, and of course working from the top down, the actual theme entries that contradict this rule come fairly late.

    Since I didn’t know aspirin cured warts rather than ACHE or PAIN, wasn’t sure whether the tool might be a HACKSAW, and didn’t know that ASKANT rather than ASLANT was a word, my guess was that there must be some rebus or other device translating “refrain” puns into something else coming down. How funny to discover that the theme was so trivial and the puzzle ultimately easy (give or take those sticking points).

  19. Stan Jonas says:

    I am looking for the list of words generated in the 3-D puzzle of 12/13/09 Help, please.

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