Wednesday, 1/6/10

BEQ 5:10
NYT 4:09
Onion 4:03
LAT 3:17
CS untimed

Julian Lim’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 6I’ll be brief because I have my foot up on the table beside my desk, and it’s not a good angle for facing the keyboard and monitor! Woe is me.

The theme is tied together by ALL-WISE in the middle, clued as [Like King Solomon...or an oral hint to 17- and 62-Across and 11- and 29-Down]. I am familiar with Solomon’s wisdom and with the term all-knowing, but ALL-WISE is sounding weird to me. Is it just me? Those four theme entries contain “all Y’s,” no other vowels, and are all 100% made-up:

  • 17A. FLY SPRYLY BY is [Race energetically past?].
  • 62A. [Native African's musical beat?] is PYGMY RHYTHM.
  • 11D. GYPSY CRYPT is [Where an old wanderer is interred?]. Wow, GYPSY and PYGMY both? This kinda has a weird “remember when people called them that?” vibe.
  • 29D. [What Romeo and Juliet had to do?] is SYNC TRYSTS. Unsynced trysts are rather lonely affairs.

The theme is kinda wyrd (that’s the Old English predecessor of “weird,” originally meaning “destiny”). The highlights for me lie elsewhere:

  • 49D. SYZYGY is the [Alignment of celestial bodies]. Cool word.
  • 30A. FRAIDY CAT is a [Yellow one].
  • 12D, 13D. SERENA Williams, [Sister of Venus], stands beside TWO-SET, [Like some short tennis matches] between female players. Serena and Venus both have probably won a boatload of two-set matches.
  • 58A. Brand-name ZIPLOC is a [Popular sandwich bag].
  • 20A. TATTOO is clued with [It sometimes depicts a dragon or a tiger]. My grandpa had, I believe, a dragon and a lady, from a Shanghai tattoo artist when he was in the Navy 90-some years ago.

My real and fake names almost make a joint appearance today: There’s AMY, [Singer Winehouse], and ORANG, a [Banana-loving zoo critter]. The ORANG would probably prefer to be known for its life outside captivity, mind you.

The least familiar answer to me is 54D: OPHIR, [Biblical land with "ivory and apes and peacocks"]. The Bible says that every three years, Solomon got shipments of gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, apes, and peacocks from Ophir.


Updated Wednesday morning:

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

At the core of all of Randy’s two-word theme phrases is the word alba–which spans the end of the first word and the beginning of the second. There is, however, no “tuna” in the grid and I miss it. The theme phrases are fine (two of ‘em are far better than that), but the theme would be better served with something more than the title pulling it together. On its own, I don’t really understand what alba signifies. Or that’s my take anyway. At any rate, the theme phrases are:

  • 17A. FINANCIAL BACKER [Venture capitalist]. This feels a little BEIGE [Light brown] as a kick-off phrase.
  • 25A. CRYSTAL BALL [Fortune teller's prop]. Much better. Clearly…
  • 53A. NAVAL BATTLE [Guadalcanal, for one]. A reminder, too, of the way conflicts used to be fought. Recent naval battles? The Falklands War had its share. These days, though, it seems the closest thing we have to naval battles is the piracy in the Somali waters off of Africa.
  • 55A. CLASSICAL BALLET [Margot Fonteyn's milieu]. I’m trying to think if there are ballerinas from more recent generations who have achieved Fonteyn’s world-class status. The closest I can come is Suzanne Farrell, but as brilliant a dancer as she was, I couldn’t say that she’s genuinely in Fonteyn’s league. In this case, it’s true once again: “there is nothin’ like a Dame”…

There’s a lot to like in the non-theme fill and cluing, my faves including:

  • CANTATA [Bach composition]. Anyone for the “Coffee Cantata“?
  • SOAPDISH [1991 Sally Field film]. Screenplay by Robert Harling (of Steel Magnolias fame). Kevin Kline playing a wonderfully washed-up, hammy actor was in this, too.
  • WANNABE [Pretender].
  • SNORT [Quick quaff]. Yesterday we had a clue featuring Andy Capp–the comic strip character who can always be counted on to enjoy a quick snort or three.
  • [Pippi Longstocking, for one] for SWEDE. I never read the Pippi books, but always liked the way she was illustrated.
  • That [Japanese dog] is an AKITA. It crosses KOBE, a major Japanese port-city, but which is clued today as [Bryant of the Lakers].
  • There’s a nice palindromic cross of (the almost-alba) ELBA [Island near Corsica] and ABLE [Up to the task]. FLIP [Tumbling maneuver] tumbles gently over the second “L” of …ballet, too.
  • And how can ya not love being reminded of the ["And they give you cash, which is just as good as money" speaker], Yogi BERRA? I confess, though, given the logic of that observation, the first name that came to mind was the (one letter shy) George (W.) BUSH…

Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 5Gareth’s theme is “[pronoun + to be, contraction] a [noun]” song titles, and he’s got four of ‘em. Last May 11, Fred Piscop had an NYT puzzle with Gareth’s I’M A…, SHE’S A…, and HE’S A… songs, but with YOU’RE SO VAIN in lieu of WE’RE A WINNER. I didn’t know that last song, but included this video of it in my L.A. Crossword Confidential post—the song’s great. Thanks, Gareth, for bringing it to our attention. Super-tight theme with the parallel grammatical structure of all four theme entries.

Favorite clue: 25D: [Earthmoving machine, and hopefully not the one driving it] for DOZER.

For more about this puzzle, please see my L.A.C.C. post.

Brendan Quigley’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 7At long last, “NO SHIT, SHERLOCK” finds a solid reason to become a crossword answer. Combine it with WATSON AND CRICK and you’ve got Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, lead characters in Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic A STUDY IN SCARLET. I’ve been hearing mostly bad things about the new Holmes movie with Robert Downey, Jr., but I also heard that his eyes twinkle in it, and I’m a big fan of his eyes. So sue me.

With just the three theme entries, Brendan’s got the wiggle room to work 10 8-letter answers into the fill, most notably SPIKE LEE, a PUB CRAWL, and little SPUD WEBB. Overall, this puzzle seemed a bit easier than most Onion crosswords for me. Is it just that it’s an easy enough theme combined with a BEQ themeless (72 words, yo), and I’ve been averaging one BEQ themeless a week for about a year? Speaking of which…up next, “Themeless Wednesday” at Brendan’s blog.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Wednesday”

Region capture 8This 68-worder has triple- and quad-stacked 8s in the corners. I felt mildly vexed by prepositions this time. IN CARE is basically a 6-letter partial that looks weird without its trailing “of.” The ASPIRE clue needs a [...with "to"], doesn’t it? CAME ON seemed weird for [Started], but makes perfect sense if you’re thinking of a TV show or concert performer. ON TOE is prepositional too, but works fine for [Pirouetting]. We’ve seen IN A TIE plenty before, too. But MESSES IN, clued as [Interferes with]? That felt off to me.

Lotsa grammar for EDITORS—[They're experts in cases] as well as verb TENSES. EDITORS have a normal job. Today’s odd-jobbers are the SALTER and some STEALERS. Aw, no Stealers Wheel reference? Or a switch to the STEELERS crossing the German word ALLE?

Too bad MEDICINE and IRISHMAN appeared together without their obvious restorative partner, GUINNESS.

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25 Responses to Wednesday, 1/6/10

  1. Jeffrey says:

    STYMIE indeed. The bottom half killed me. I thought I fell asleep after doing the top half and woke up on Saturday.

  2. miguel says:

    Yes, there was a big LOTTERY in OPHIR where you could win free riches…it was called OPHIR WIN FREE.

    I greatly disliketh the SE corner. I experienced some real pain in the AAS area.

  3. John Price says:

    So would a great ape who’s ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence be A CLOCKWORK ORANG? (Any constructors out there, feel free to use that one.)

  4. joon says:

    quinquireme of nineveh from distant ophir,
    rowing home to haven in sunny palestine
    with a cargo of ivory,
    and apes and peacocks,
    sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

    that’s the first stanza of “cargoes” by john masefield (a lovely poem), and it was (until today) the only place i’d ever heard the word “quinquireme” (which i guess is five thirds of a trireme) and OPHIR. well, it’s still the only use of quinquireme, but now OPHIR has company.

    boy, this was tough. ALL-WISE sounds okay to me, but i needed the crossings when i had ___WISE. practically every clue required some thought. i loved it, but trying to speed-solve this puppy made me feel dumb.

    i’m pretty sure this is a debut (or at least a NYT debut; i haven’t fully caught up on the past two weeks’ worth of puzzles yet) for juliam lim. he emailed me a few months ago and asked me to critique some of his puzzles. he’s got a lot of talent, so i’m looking forward to seeing his byline again, soon and often. congratulations, julian!

    john price: believe it or not, A CLOCKWORK ORANG has been a theme answer in four different puzzles in the NYT alone.

  5. Did NOT like GST – had GMT. Who knows from Greenwich Sidereal Time? GST is Guam Standard Time also. And dare I hope that is there an obscure sister of Venus named MERENA anyway? Humph…..

    @ Jeffrey – feels like Saturday to me too.

    Retyrd_Chymyst

  6. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Joon, my first sighting of Julian Lim was the 12/29/09 LAT puzzle.

    Miguel, I like that OPHIR WIN FREE.

  7. seahedges says:

    An orang who liked the zoo, too, but only as a visitor:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Allen

  8. david H says:

    I’m with Retired_Chemist – looking for the elusive Merena Williams. Did not even think of tennis, despite the two-set proximity. I just figured I needed to bone up on my mythology.

  9. Matt says:

    Me too on MERENA/SERENA. Not to get stubborn about this, but GMT really is the right answer.

  10. Angela says:

    After making progress in this new world (to me) of crosswords, I thought I had a mental relaspe when I couldn’t get today’s SE corner. And even after I finally figured out SINCTRYST and completed the puzzle and saw all those “whys” I still didn’t connect the clues to the ALL WISE reference. Whew, what a relief after reading all of your brilliant comments because If the experts had a Wednesday problem maybe there’s hope for me after all!

  11. Zulema says:

    Joon,

    Thank you for the Masefield. Do we think that was a basis, what with TRIREME and OPHIR? Difficult Wednesday, but better than a too easy Wednesday.

  12. joon says:

    no, i don’t think so. julian said this was a revision of an earlier grid with the same theme answers all horizontally, with much worse fill. will liked the theme but not the fill, so julian redid it with two of the theme answers running down.

    and … trireme isn’t in the puzzle, is it? TRAWLER is in there. in any event, the poem is a great one. here’s the rest of it.

  13. Jan says:

    Re the CS: Here’s a link to the delightful AFLAC commercial where Yogi Berra said the line “”And they give you cash, which is just as good as money” and two other Yogiisms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-EZf56AfYc . Enjoy!

  14. Martin says:

    GST is an ugly but valuable entry. This clue (“Prime meridian std.”) is about as good as it gets. “Std.” makes it clear that it’s not about Standard Time and avoiding “clock” or the like keeps it out of regular people’s homes.

    Some highly respected constructors have gone with this clue:
    http://www.xwordinfo.com/ShowPuzzle.aspx?date=7/5/2009&g=6&d=D

  15. Matt says:

    Well Martin, even Google doesn’t know what GST is. I’m sympathetic to constructors, and I thought it was a neat puzzle– but the GST entry is simply a wart. It’s not an accepted acronym, and it can’t be because there’s really no such animal as “Greenwich Standard Time.”

  16. Martin says:

    Matt,

    GST is an accepted acronym for Greenwich Sidereal Time.

    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O80-GreenwichSiderealTime.html

    It’s used by astronomers. As I mentioned earlier, “std.” in the clue means it couldn’t be a reference to Standard Time. You’re correct that GMT is the standard solar time zone at the prime meridian. That just happens to be unrelated to the clue and entry.

  17. Matt says:

    Well… I think an entry that requires solvers to have a copy of the “Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac” at hand– in order to look up the distinction between sidereal time and universal time– is problematical.

  18. Martin says:

    Matt,

    GST is ugly but useful enough that it appears regularly:

    http://www.xwordinfo.com/Word.aspx?word=GST

    You only have to learn about sidereal time once, and then you’re set for life. The same is true of many crosswordese entries.

  19. Jon S says:

    OH, man. That Williams sister clue. I just now got that. I so overthought that one, I was stymied as to who Venus’s sister was in mythology. Is that a sign I’ve done too many crossword puzzles?

    However, not enough to discern GMT vs. GST. I had all the puzzle filled in, but it kept telling me there was an error, and this morning, I learned that was it.

  20. janie says:

    i was onto the GMT v. GST quandary from the start and left the middle letter blank until seeing SERENA emerge and so went with the latter.

    questionable (if defensible) fill in a puzzle as strong as this simply goes with the territory some days; but scholarly and anecdotal attributions aside, something still seems more than a tad “inside-ereal” with said defenses…

    ;-)

  21. Tom says:

    I also did not know about GST. Live and learn. I also did not know about Sepoy. My biggie is Sync Trysts. Ugh. No like. My fav: syzygy. I love that word.

  22. Jeffrey says:

    Nice how the CS puzzle ends with EXPOS on the day Andre Dawson gets elected to the Hall Of Fame.

  23. Art Shapiro says:

    While Ms. Fonteyn, immensely talented, perhaps was a household name due to appearing (if memory serves) on the Ed Sullivan Show, I don’t think you can ignore Sylvie Guillem. Waching her dance Cinderella, later made into a Great Performances telecast, was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

  24. joon says:

    SYZYGY! i know it’s not a theme answer, but how awesome is it that julian was able to shoehorn it into the fill of this particular puzzle? above and beyond it just being an awesome word, i mean.

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