Wednesday, 1/13/10

BEQ 4:17
Onion 3:54
LAT 3:47
NYT 3:23
CS untimed

If you didn’t see the late comment on the Tuesday post, the new WSJ Saturday Puzzle will be available online and for free. W00t! While wsj.com/puzzles is a dead link at this writing, that’s where the puzzles are to be, starting January 16.

Kevan Choset’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 7Poppy Montgomery needs a better publicist. She missed the cut for this FLOWER GIRLS theme featuring three women’s names that begin with flowers:

  • 17A. IRIS MURDOCH was the subject of that highly regarded movie I didn’t see a few years ago. She’s the [Author of "The Sea, the Sea"], which I have not read.
  • 28A. The fictional DAISY MILLER is a [Henry James heroine]. I may or may not have read that book.
  • 46A. I approached the [Noted mother of nine] from the tail end, and the clue alone wasn’t doing anything for me. With some letters at the end, I filled in ETHEL KENNEDY. Well, I filled in as much of that as would fit, paying no mind to the lack of any ethels in the garden. ROSE! ROSE KENNEDY.
  • The grand unifying FLOWER GIRLS answer is clued as [Certain wedding participants or a hint to] the theme answers. Hey! Women, not “girls.”

Five clues, quickly:

  • 50A. A [Unit of cultural information] is a MEME. The internet is where many memes are passed along from person to person. That bra thing on Facebook the other day? Meme.
  • 11A. PEZ, [Candy in a dispenser]. The dispenser’s inventor died the other week.
  • 24D. Do you like clues such as [Certain amino acid]? Yes, LYSINE is really quite certain. No uncertainty there.
  • 7D. [What circles lack] are ENDS, not to mention corners.
  • 15A. SIN TAX is a [Cigarette additive?], or at least an addition to the price of smokes. Speaking of sin, is 24A: [Friction fighter]/LUBE intended to be automotive here?
  • 20A. [Films have them] clues RELEASES as a noun. Not too be confused with the [Pond film], which is 1A: SCUM. Wait, that’s eight clues, not five. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

I like the alphabet soup over in the mid-Atlantic region—EXHIBIT A hits T CELL, which collides with R-LESS. In general, the fill’s zippy and Scrabbly and the clues are lively.


Updated Wednesday morning:

Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Full of Energy”—Janie’s review

Yep. This one is “full of energy” and vim and, as 60A confirms for us, PEP [Word separated in 17-, 23-, 48-, and 58A]. Even “separated” there’s little that can break the spirit of pep. Look at the nice phrases it finds a home in:

  • 17A. ESCAPE PLAN [Strategy for a jailbreak]. And plot device of countless movies–and these are only the ones with the word escape in the title…
  • 23A. BAGPIPE PLAYER [March parade performer]. Comme ça.
  • 48A. GRAPE POPSICLE [Purple treat from the freezer]. Make your own! Very hard to go wrong.
  • 58A. CRÊPE PAPER [Party decoration]. Ever wonder how it’s made? Me, too!

There’s a lot of peppy fill (and some peppy clues, too) that keeps this keeps this puzzle a lively one. If your energy is dragging, however, you can always take a caffeine break from that COFFEE POT [Server with a spout]. However you don’t want to be taking KICKBACKS [Shady payments] (though doing so might certainly get your adrenaline goin’…). CAPRIS are defined here by saying [They end above the ankle], but according to this article, they may also end anywhere above the ankle to a couple of inches below the knee. (Any shorter and they might be mistaken for clam-diggers–and we wouldn’t want that!) MASCARA is clued as a [Cosmetic counter item], but you’ll put a huge OBSTACLE [Barrier] in front of yourself if you think [Counters with beads] equates with display cases at Michael’s (craft store chain…) and not ABACI.

[Slick material?] is not sharkskin, but OIL; if you want to [Form a secret union], by all means ELOPE; that [Topping in a tub] is not your rubber ducky, but OLEO; and for a non-violent, non-alcoholic way to [Get ready for a shot?], why, simply ask the photog to point the camera and then POSE.

In the “You’re in the army now” column we see CAMP as a [Troop training place] and MESS HALL as a [Base cafeteria]. And in the “Sometimes I’m cranky” column: a [Surly sort] is a BOOR; a [Small-minded] person is characteristically PETTY and easily IRKED [Rankled], someone who may be provoked to PAN [Critique harshly] a movie or play if s/he’s not enjoyed a good meal first (or perhaps eaten at an especially “base cafeteria”…).

Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 6Here’s the theme:

  • 16A. [*Dictated reminder] is NOTE TO SELF. Self-defense.
  • 19A. “THIS IS INSANITY!” is clued [*"We must be nuts!"]. The insanity defense sometimes involves Twinkies.
  • 32A. [*Restricted airspace] is a NO-FLY ZONE. Zone defense is…what, a basketball thing? My husband adds “football, soccer, hockey, lacrosse….” He may be making up that last one.
  • 50A. [*"We answer to a higher authority" brand] is HEBREW NATIONAL hot dogs. National defense, yadda yadda.
  • 55A. [*Marquee name] is a MOVIE TITLE. A boxer or crossword champion embarks on a title defense against a challenger who would like to unseat her. Not crazy about MOVIE TITLE as a crossword-worthy entry.
  • 36D. [Stadium chant, and word that can follow the ends of the answers to starred clues] is DEFENSE.

It looks like a standard Naddor grid with those 7s in the corners opening things up, but for a change there’s a theme answer lurking there.

For more on this puzzle, please see my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Fangs for the Memories”

Region capture 8All righty, a vampire theme that has nothing to do with Twilight: VAMPIRE WEEKEND is a band. The DRACULA SNEEZE is a recent (I think) coinage for the sneeze-in-the-crook-of-your-elbow [Technique used to keep your germs to yourself]. This works even if you’re not wearing a cape, luckily. And Dracula morphs into a bat, so we have BAT ONE THOUSAND. Do people say “bat a thousand” more than “bat one thousand,” or is my sense of it off?

Favorite parts:

  • TWEET is clued as [American Dialect Society's word of the year, 2009]. The vote was just last week, and I followed Jesse Sheidlower’s entertaining live tweeting of the proceedings.
  • I like Brett Favre, so I like having DEANNA, [Brett Favre's wife], here.
  • Brendan knows that a TV SET is an object that [might be thrown out of a hotel window]. I’m not sure if he succeeded in doing that at a past ACPT, or if he merely attempted to do so.
  • ZBIGNIEW! You can spell that too, right?

Not keen on seeing SEISM, or [Land slide?], in a puzzle mere hours after the Haiti quake. I also grumbled at the zoological misclassification of the NEWT; amphibians like newts aren’t [Semi-aquatic lizard]s, as lizards are reptiles. A marine iguana is not a salamander just because it can swim. Fill like ELAM and TO LET and ONER and STS…meh.

Tyler Hinman’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 9This weekend’s MIT MYSTERY HUNT ([Annual puzzle event that begins this year on 1/15/10) is the basis for this week's theme. You don't have to know anything about the Hunt to get the other theme entries, luckily—past Hunt themes have included THE MATRIX, CARMEN SANDIEGO, and the HOLY GRAIL. COINS are [Change (and the objects players try to find each year in the 39-Across].

Lots of good stuff, and overall a smooth and entertaining puzzle. Hot shots:

  • ETNA is clued as a [Sicilian peak popular in crosswords]. ALAS is clued as ["Them's the breaks," more formally]. That’s one way to rescue boring fill—with terrific or funny clues.
  • THE MRS. is a [Spouse, in bar conversations]. Great entry.
  • I drew a blank on [It may be measured with alarms] until Sunday’s dinner of CHILI came to mind.
  • [Cinematic portrait of "The Artist" as a young man] is Prince’s PURPLE RAIN. Great fill, great clue.
  • [Distraction for the dogs in "Up"] clues SQUIRREL. I liked the movie when I finally saw i…SQUIRREL!
  • [How aviophobes might travel] is BY TRAIN, not plane. Didn’t know “aviophobe” was a word but the meaning is not hard to derive.
  • I have not followed the career of R. KELLY, so I was amused by the song title in the clue: [R&B singer with "I Like the Crotch on You"].
  • The last time I remember seeing HAHA in one of Tyler’s puzzles, it was clued as some sort of underground stake/fencing thingamajig. Now it’s an appreciative ["Good one"].
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13 Responses to Wednesday, 1/13/10

  1. Martin says:

    Of the 22 amino acids, only three have six-letter names, lysine, valine and serine. Those are better odds than roman numeral entries give you, much less SSE v. NNW. And three letters are free. Furthermore, lysine had a starring role in “Jurassic Park.” (The dinos were engineered to require lysine supplements for survival. I never got that strategy since we can’t manufacture lysine — or the other seven “essential” amino acids — either but get plently from a natural diet. Apparently the dinos didn’t understant the strategy either.)

    Better solving through chemistry.

  2. Payola Gorganzola from Osceola says:

    Clue 63D “Victr” suffix has to be the worst clue of the year.

  3. Gareth says:

    Some higher grade “flower women” (though I’ve never heard the wedding participants called as such…) had only heard of candidate #3, but I think that probably says more about my lack of knowledge than anything about the puzzle. BTW, can’t believe how long EXHIBITA had me for!

    Aside:
    Aren’t their 20 basic amino acids that are coded for by mRNA, several more like selenocysteine, hydroxyproline and S-adenosyl methionine that are modified versions of the basic 20, but a theoretically infinite number of amino acids? I’m sure I’m missing something obvious as to the significance of 22… Biochemistry was a fair while ago!

  4. Evad says:

    Yes, a lower-brow version of this theme (for the tv generation) might include:

    LILY MUNSTER
    HEATHER LOCKLEAR
    JASMINE GUY

  5. david H says:

    I was just thinking today how tired I am of the “Playground retort” clues – very frustrating because we know all the permutations but cannot get them without the fill. Useless.

    Other than that, a fun puzzzle.

  6. Zulema says:

    Well, Evad/Dave, I would have recollected Lily perhaps, needed crossings for Heather, and totally never heard of Jasmine, whereas I liked the ones in the puzzle. Daisy Miller is a short painless (in effort) way into Henry James. And VICTR- was a new clue but pretty terrible, I agree.

  7. Martin says:

    In most contexts, “amino acid” is one of the 22 that are used to build the proteins of life but, yes, others can be synthesized.

    Twenty are encoded by DNA, and are fundamental to life on earth. Two others, hydroxyproline and cystine, are produced after initial protein synthesis. These two evolved key roles after the genetic code was established. For example, hair is 5% cystine. I’d guess that Life 2.0 will have an expanded genetic code to accomodate these 22.

  8. joon says:

    if you think about it, almost every kind of flower doubles as a girl’s name, so the set of ladies in this puzzle were far from an exhaustive treatment of this theme. and yeah, the GIRLS part of the “reveal” answer rubbed me the wrong way. (i do hope there are no girls who are already mothers of nine.) then again, i didn’t mind when pauly shore, art shell, vernon castle, et al were in andrea carla michaels’s BEACH BOYS puzzle in the new york sun, so maybe i’m over-attuned to language that makes it easy to take women less than seriously.

    i’ve decided that i don’t mind the {Certain [whatever]} clues. on the one hand, it would be nice if they were a little more specific, but on the other hand, it’s a crossword puzzle, not a biochemistry test. it’s easier to get LYSINE by already having the L in place (as i did by the time i read the clue) than it would be if the clue were {Amino acid whose side chain is (CH2)4NH3}. i feel like i often see the “certain” kind of clue used to deliberately conceal important information, like {Certain League member} for ARAB or {Largest of a certain septad} for ASIA. those annoy me a bit more, as i’m not fond of clues that are difficult solely because they are vague.

  9. Amy Reynaldo says:

    So nobody else was envisioning a very assured LYSINE striding boldly about the lab, lording it over the other amino acids who felt more uncertain?

  10. Martin says:

    A slew of -olas followed the success of the Victrola. It can be argued that Victrola was the popular originator of the suffix. Victrola obviously stole from “Pianola,” but that was orginally perceived as piano+la. By inverting the last two letters in Victor before adding the “la,” the new suffix “ola” entered the language.

    As the father of crayola, payola and all the rest, I thought the clue was well-earned homage to the coiner.

  11. RichS says:

    @Martin

    Just a thought: If the scientists in Jurassic Park were able to clone, breed, etc., live dinosaurs, then maybe manufacturing lysine is not beyond their abilities either.

  12. Rex Lawson says:

    The word Pianola was a compromise, arrived at around 1896 or 1897, between Edwin S. Votey, the inventor of the instrument, and Harry B. Tremaine, the President of the Aeolian Company, which marketed it. According to an article in the Aeolian house magazine in 1922, Votey had intended his instrument to unite the two words, Piano and Aeolian, and be called a Pianolian. However, Tremaine thought the word to be too cumbersome, and suggested Pianola instead. The instrument was NOT a piano, but rather a cabinet with a series of felt-covered fingers, which fitted in front of a normal piano. The name was first registered as a trade mark in 1898. You can find out more about the instrument and its history at http://www.pianola.org. If you dig around the pages, you may even find a photo of yours truly by the roadsign for the village of Pianola in central Italy.

  13. joon says:

    rich s, of course the scientists can synthesize lysine, but that’s not the point. humans can’t manufacture it naturally, and somehow we get by without supplements of synthetic lysine, because we eat plants (or animals who have eaten plants, or animals who have eaten animals who have eaten plants, etc.), and plants can make lysine. lysine is called an “essential” amino acid because we need it to live but can’t make it ourselves, thus making it an essential part of our diet.

    genetically modifying the dinos to be unable to synthesize a required amino acid is a clever idea, i guess, but in practice, any of the usual amino acids can be easily obtained by eating other living things that don’t have the genetic defect.

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