Thursday, 1/28/10

NYT 7:00
Fireball 5:19
LAT 3:34
Tausig untimed
CS untimed

Raymond Young’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 8Okay, I’m falling asleep, probably because of the cosmo I drank with dinner, and just signed on to cover for PuzzleGirl on L.A. Crossword Confidential duties tonight, so I’ll be brief.

Did not like the southwest corner of the puzzle—seriously? SIGN and its plural Italian cognate SEGNI in the same puzzle? “AGRI-food industry”? THAIS?—and was not sentient enough to realize that 46D was wrong until over a minute and a half of scouring the puzzle for my wrong square. I’ve heard of Lonette MCKEE, yes, but forgot the name when I read the clue, [Lonette of "Malcolm X" and "The Cotton Club] and plunked in MCGEE. No, PING THINGS didn’t make any sense with the theme entries, because the hidden things are all PINK THINGS. Cool theme, once I managed to find it: a flamingo, eraser, and carnation are all pink, and they’re hidden in FLAMING OIL (ouch!), the lovely QUE SERA SERA (dismal clue: [Resigned response to tragedy], as when FLAMING OIL has been poured on your loved one), and INCARNATION ([A pharaoh, vis-a-vis Horus, in Egyptian myth]).

Favorite entries/clues: THIRD-HAND, which is how the best gossip is heard. Gold-tone THREEPIO, the ["Star Wars" droid, informally]. [Pump, in a way] clueing QUIZ. [Source of many a bead] of sweat is a PORE; took a while to understand the clue and finish the answer. Was briefly stumped by [Head of government?], which turned out to be the HARD G at the start of “government.”

Anti-favorites: SWEETENER clued with [It may help close the deal]. Nobody calls something that sweetens the deal a SWEETENER, do they? Would’ve liked an ace-K clue here. The too-much-Italian vibe: Besides SEGNI, crosswordese ETNA and ESSO. FRANCIS II, [The last Holy Roman Emperor], and I don’t think they saved the best for last because this guy is not so famous. My husband, the history major, he doesn’t know the name either. 13D: [Animal-like] clues ZOOID; this is a terrible word unless you’re playing Scrabble, in which case it can save your butt. I feel like the DAT clue gets things a little wrong: If you’re saying the “wit dat” part of ["What's up wit ___?"] DAT, you’re probably eliding the apostrophe-s. There’s a popular Saturday Night Live sketch called “What Up With That?” that elides the ‘s but does pronounce the “th” sounds in “with that.” And last, there’s the never-heard-of-him EDGAR, [Mitchell of Apollo 14]. I checked out his Wikipedia bio, and he sounds like a kook.


Updated Thursday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Fishing Tour”—Janie’s review

As promised in the title, today’s puzzle incorporates several words that are associated with “fishing.” Though there’s nothing that holds them together beyond that, each of the four two-word theme-phrases ends with a word related to the title activity. If not overly exciting, the phrases are all solid. There’s:

  • 17A. FAIR CATCH [Punt returner's option]. Football ‘n’ fishin’. Hmmm. I guess all that’s missing is the stogie and the six-pack. The catch, of course, is what ya come home with. Or throw back…
  • 10D. PLASTER CAST [Broken limb protection]. If you sustain a serious injury in that football game, say. Here’s a little “how to” on casting (throwing) your fishing pole.
  • 23D. PRUNING HOOK [Broken limb remover]. Following 10D as it does, my first reaction to this clue was “Ouch!” The limb in question, however, turns out not to be of the human variety but of the botanical sort. Whew! You know what a fishing hook is. But an actual pruning hook? While I’m hardly a Bible scholar, that’s where I know this phrase from–Isaiah 2:4: He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
  • 54A. PARTY LINE [Old telephone connection]. You couldn’t count on privacy with a party line and you prayed your operator wasn’t Ernestine… The hook gets attached to the line, which is cast from your rod, and you reel in your catch. MIA: the sinker (which weights the line..), the rod, the reel, the creel perhaps. So an okay, but not fully-satisfying, development of the theme. For this solver anyway.

Had most of my fun with (what I saw as) the bonus and non-theme fill. Bonus fill? Sure. There’s CLAM [Chowder bit] and [Porgy's love]. I know, I know. The “correct” answer is BESS, but in the land of “fish” puns, I couldn’t help but think of BASS

Entomologists will appreciate the attention they get today, with the appearance of both APHID [Destructive insect] and HORSEFLY [Biting insect]. Because they have only four legs… [Jitterbugs] doesn’t make the cut. Especially since the clue and fill (JIVES) are verbs. Then, taking off from horsefly, equestrians will also appreciate [Canter or gallop] for GAIT and [Hurried pace] cluing TROT.

I like seeing: HOVEL [Crummy quarters] abutting eye-rhyme NOVEL [fictional work]; WIGS clued as [Old symbols of social status]; crossword puzzle regulars RAH and POW clued musically in connection with [Female rapper ___Digga] and ["Boom Boom ___" (#1 song by the Black Eyed Peas)]; and especially ZEST [Soap introduced with the slogan "For the first time in you life, feel really clean"] followed by BATHED [Used soap]. Who sez crosswords aren’t good clean fun?!

Donna Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 9Excerpted from my L.A. Crossword Confidential post:

THEME: “Sex! Sex! Sex! What, here? Oh, no. Never!”—Three phrases that normally include SEX change a vowel to be something altogether not lewd.

Fun theme, definitely on the small side. Two 12s and a 13 equals 37 theme squares. That leaves room for some chipper fill, and then there are Donna’s clues, which tend to be on the fresh/fun side.

Theme entries:

  • 20A: [Music lessons for Bill Clinton?] are SAX EDUCATION. Nine band directors out of ten do not recommend the abstinence-only sex education. If you don’t pick up the sax and play it, how are you gonna be any good at it?
  • 39A: [Documentary about Chicago's relationship with its team?] clues SOX AND THE CITY. Horrors! See that tall building looming behind the Wrigley Field scoreboard? It casts a shadow over my building at midday in the winter. We are Cubs fans here. Yes, some Chicagoans are White Sox fans, but that singular “its team” chafes. A good friend of mine flew out to Mesa, Arizona, this week to interview Cubs legend Ron Santo. She said he was “as great as you think.”
  • 57A: THE FAIRER SIX are the [More equitable of two civil case juries?]. So…civil cases have six-person juries, I gather? I guess it would be unseemly to suggest that half of a 12-person jury could be patently unfair. Could also have gone with [Blonder third of the Duggar family's kids], except I think they surpassed 18 recently.

A few highlights:

  • 43A: [Stuffing stuff] is EIDER down. Do not, I beseech you, use this in your Thanksgiving stuffing. Pillows, yes. Turkey, no.
  • 60A: [With alacrity] clues APACE, which is a word Merl Reagle included on his list of flansirs, or words that are “familiar looking although never seen in reality.” Anyone else actually start using this word after seeing it in crosswords for years? I know I have. So has Joon, I believe.
  • Recent movies! 2D: REMADE is clued as being [Like "The Day the Earth Stood Still," in 2008]. “Klaatu barada nikto!” There’s a generic ICE AGE, sure, but there’s also 37D: [2002 movie with Manny the Mammoth].
  • 7D: AFTA is essentially a crappy brand-name answer. Not because it’s a brand name, but because it’s a not-a-household-name brand name that happens to be 4 letters long and half vowels, so it finds its way into crossword grids despite its non-prominence. But it’s got a clue that rescues it: [Aptly named shaving lotion]. “Aptly” because it’s an aftershave, an or aftashave in a Long Island accents.
  • 48D. LES MIZ is the [Musical based on an 1862 novel, for short]. (The novel in question is the Victor Hugo book by the same name.) Who here has not seen the show? I saw it around 1990. Spectacle! Bombast! “Look down! Look down!”
  • 49D. EDIBLE gets a slightly twisty clue: [Safe to put away].

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Attaché Cases”

Region capture 10Peter takes advantage of online publishing’s advantage over print: No hard and fast restriction on size to fit a layout. This themed puzzle is 17×17.

I’m not sure why Across Lite Xed out my unaccented Es since it wouldn’t accept accented letters. Just something Peter did do make sure the theme’s real oomph wasn’t overlooked? Various phrases take an extra E or two, but in this add-a-letter theme, the additions are É with an acute accent, and—as a smackdown to the zillion crosswords in which a diacritical mark in one crossword answer disappears in that letter’s crossing—the É is used in the Down answers, too.

The Montreal Expos (and no, in English, it’s not Montréal) become MONTREAL EXPOSÉ crossing POKÉMON. P/e ratios turn into ÉPÉE RATIOS, crossing an ÉTUDE and an ÉCLAIR. A pushcart also takes two És: PUSH ÉCARTÉ involves a card game, and NÉE and SAUTÉ cross the added letters. Last up is JETÉ PROPULSION, with a ROSÉ meeting.

It’s an elegant and unexpected theme, and it deflates the arguments that we must ignore diacritics in crossword grids because it’s too hard to get them to work with crossings. Which is not to suggest that Peter didn’t have to work at this—how tough was it, Peter? Based on the often-uninspired fill (PLATER, EEE, and PREMIX did nothing for me, and that [Inferior racehorse] clue for PLATER doesn’t make me like the word any better) and the two ugly islands of black blocks, I’m guessing it was incredibly difficult to fill the grid with the É restraints.

At first I thought DONE TO A TEE was part of the theme, because the E-less “to a T” is also a valid form of the phrase. But no, I think it’s just fill here. Highlights include Bush FORTY-ONE, EMERIL LIVE, BELAFONTE, THREE-PEAT, and five Xs.

Worst wrong turn: Wanting BELA FLECK where Harry BELAFONTE belongs.

Overall, I found this one a good bit easier than the two themelesses that preceded it. It’s got a larger grid but took less time. Same for you?

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Shifting Weight”

Region capture 11A TON of weight is shifted around in this puzzle: a TON is removed from four answers and finds a new home in four other answers.

  • 17A. [Press regulations?] could be NEWS LAW. This one is Newton’s Law minus the TON—and I completely spaced on that when I test-solved this puzzle and asked Ben if “news law” was a real entity. Duh, no, it’s not. It’s a TON-less theme entry.
  • 26A. DOLLY PAR (Parton) is [Benchmark for a golf-playing clone?].
  • 48A. COT MOUTH (the fearsome cottonmouth) is clued as [Condition for some thirsty pre-schoolers at nap time?].
  • 58A. [One who snitches on people for stealing booze?] is a BAR FINK, based on the Coen brothers’ film Barton Fink.
  • 6D. Where did the TONs go? One is here, in TEAM UPTON, a [Reading group assigned to discuss "The Jungle"?].  Nice allusion to Team Edward v. Jacob, Team CoCo v. Leno. (The verb phrase team up.)
  • 11D. Sharp-set is an old term meaning “very hungry”; possibly it evokes the smart set too. Add a TON and get the SHARPTON SET, [Entourage of a New York civil rights activist].
  • 25D. [Aviation?] is a DAYTON TRADE (day trading). The Wright brothers were from Dayton, Ohio, weren’t they?
  • 35D. The sex act expands to be a SEXTON ACT, like [Wiping down the pews?]. Sextons are people who tend to the church and churchyard. Is this still a job title, or are they called building and grounds maintenance workers now?

What is that, 68 theme squares? That’s a lot of theme material. So the rest of the fill is less zingy than Ben’s stuff usually is.

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27 Responses to Thursday, 1/28/10

  1. ArtLvr says:

    Yes, I’ve heard of some concession(s) thrown in as a deal sweetener, but that’s okay… I’m still kicking myself for not getting out of my PING Things, but was picturing only the old chalky Erasers fo a blackboard and never considered the rubber end of a pencil, most likely because I hardly ever use a pencil… The length of the hidden item was clearly going to be different in each case, so I considered stopping with CAR in the carnation — that was no good either. Pink with embarrassment!

  2. Doug says:

    “Sweetener” — Used all the time in business, and I think is very common with investment bankers who want to sweeten a deal. No pun intended, Cadbury wanted a sweetener from Kraft (your homeboys!) in the form of more cash before selling last week.

    15-year-old son called out SNIPER so all that XBox / Call of Duty time paid off! Thought the PORE clue was the most clever. And you must admit, there was a lot of fresh fill in this.

  3. Gareth Bain says:

    Hiding FLAMINGO in FLAMINGOIL = awesome (but not for the flamingo…) Couldn’t find the “pink thing” in QUESERASERA… Are ERASERs definitively pink? Here the stand-alone ones are usually white, and occasionally lumo pink/orange/yellow… Those crappy ones on the tops of HB pencils that never work properly, ok those ARE pink!

    Part of the xword that gave me the most trouble was where THREEPIO caused havoc… My initial guess was CTHREEPO, I went through all sorts of weird combinations, was so not guessing the I! Not something I’m used to seeing written out like that.

    Two thumbs up for SWEETENER here too, but a pox on SEGNI.

  4. janie says:

    massenet’s THAIS is probably most famous for the violin “meditation” that’s also (if i have this right) an entr’acte. regardless, both the “meditation” and the opera as a whole are quite beautiful. or they certainly are to this fan… the story, btw, is about a courtesan’s conversion to a life of religious faith and (having fallen in love with her) a man of faith’s conversion to a more worldly existence. now that’s “opera”!

    ;-)

  5. Jon S. says:

    Also despised the SW corner. I got HEAT to get the other crosses there. I guess you pack HEAT and carry a HEATER? Also ION and ORRIN made me glad to be a car fanatic and a political junkie. THAIS? Really? And ZOOID is just weird.

  6. Evad says:

    I found the SW impossible…guessed at AGRI, but had OMEN for SIGN and couldn’t suss out anything else down there. Did like the theme and hidden PINK things, though. I remember the big erasers I used in grade school that looked something like this.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    A Fireball I could actually finish (10:07). MONTREAL EXPOSE could be a clue about that event in 1982 between me and… never mind.

  8. Al Sanders says:

    I missed the elegance of the Fireball theme preserving the accented E’s for across and down, very nice! Definitely much easier than the first two, took me about half the time (5:35), and no errors (which I unfortunately couldn’t say for 1 and 2)

  9. John Farmer says:

    I liked the É-addition theme in the Fireball. It was a novel twist. If I ever knew that AL accepted diacritics, I had forgotten.

    I liked the Times theme. I don’t know if any color would have done, but PINK THINGS seems to work. Did for me. I agree about the SW corner, which probably had a thousand options.

  10. Gareth says:

    Fireball theme was just awesome, the title for me was almost the most inspired part about it!

    Amy: I managed to get AL to accept ALT+144 characters (É’s) but it wouldn’t accept the lower case characters ALT+130 (é’s)…

  11. joon says:

    fireball #3 felt like it was about a wednesday difficulty, just bigger. took me 6:17 on paper. loved the theme! when i noticed what was going on with the accents, i almost giggled. i appreciate the double-É action in ÉPÉE and ÉCARTÉ.

    that SW corner in the NYT was … weird. i had HEAT and INDO and THAIS, but actually erased THAIS because i didn’t understand what was going on in the rest of it. eventually i un-ruled out SIGN because of the ___DG, and HARD G presented itself.

    toughest puzzle of the day was the tausig. could not grok the theme until i was completely done. i wonder which law NEW(TON)’S LAW is referring to. he’s got lots of them, you know.

    in the CS, i wanted HORSEFLY to be another theme answer, but TEEN IDOL wasn’t looking so promising on that front. RAH and POW had unfamiliar new clues that i wasn’t expecting from the CS puzzle.

  12. Howard B says:

    Loved the Fireball crossword, despite not quite knowing how to shoehorn the diacriticals into the AcrossLite grid. No matter, enjoyed it anyway.

    I believe Peter has occasionally used accented letters, umlauts, and other notations in the Sun puzzles in a similar fashion (although in some different themes). It seems like it’s a much tougher constraint to work with than at first glance, but I dunno.

  13. Jim Finder says:

    Great Times, Fireball and Tausig puzzles today.

    In the Fireball, at 27D, “placer” seemed reasonable for an inferior horse. That meant that the “California college” (44A) would be CHU, but I don’t know California colleges so I left it. You got me, Peter.

    In the Tausig, at 3D, “Aw, hell naw!” isn’t a phrase I’ve heard a lot, but the shifting TONs made all the theme entries a lot of fun.

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Jim, did you figure out that [Cal. col.] is the calendar column, THUrsday?

  15. Spencer says:

    Hey. My Fireball puzzle hasn’t arrived yet. I started reading your writeup, thinking it was about last week’s puzzle, and quickly realized I hadn’t seen the puzzle yet. I guess it should be arriving today, as the previous two arrived on 1/14 and 1/21.

  16. joon says:

    spencer, i got mine last night. i’m sure they’re all sent out at the same time. might want to ask peter if you didn’t get yours.

  17. Spencer says:

    Hah! It was in my spam folder.

    I was unable to type the diacritics into the grid in AcrossLite. Thus, no “Mr. Happy Pencil”, but the visual PROMPT of the Xes after I used the “Check” function suggested removing those letters to get the underlying phrase. So that was OK.

  18. Sara says:

    Liked the confluence of the Fireball Pink/ROSE and today’s Times’ Pink. I thought the Fireball was Thursdayish. Didn’t “get” the crossing acute accents until reading it here. Amazing.

  19. Jim Finder says:

    Re: 1:38 pm. Yes, thanks, after seeing the answer THU (a common abbreviation) I realized the clue was “calendar column,” not “Calif. college.” Left that out of my comment, sorry.

    The new blogsite has a great look.

  20. ArtLvr says:

    I am put out, not being able to access cruciverb.com all day, and when I went to the Ephaim website I got the NYT and the CS and the JZ okay — but the LAT was again inaccesible, “forbidden on your server”… though it’s the same I’ve always used! What gives? Does anyone have any suggestions?

  21. Amy Reynaldo says:

    The L.A. Times puzzles are hosted in Across Lite on the Cruciverb site, so when Cruciverb is down, the links elsewhere can’t deliver the puzzle because they still have to go through Cruciverb.

    I’m asking Rich Norris and Kevin McCann if I can post the LAT on the Fiend forum until Cruciverb is back up.

  22. Amy Reynaldo says:

    The Thursday and Friday LATs (in Across Lite) are now posted at the forum:

    http://www.crosswordfiend.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=369

  23. Jan says:

    12D in the CS gave me a big chuckle: “bean sprout?” = idea. Took me a while though!

  24. Pete M. says:

    RE: Fireball

    Can someone explain THU for “Cal. col.”? I assume it means California college, but I can’t find any reference to it in Google. What am I missing here?

  25. Jeffrey says:

    Pete: Thursday is a calendar column.

  26. Pete M. says:

    Doh! :) Thanks.

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