Saturday, 1/30/10

NYT 9:23
Newsday 4:48
LAT 4:41
CS untimed
WSJ Saturday Puzzle untimed

Even if you get an error message when you try to load Cruciverb’s main page, the LAT archives page should still work, and at the appropriate point in the evening (10ish Eastern time?), the Saturday puzzle should be there. If that doesn’t work, let me know—I can post the Across Lite file at the forum if needed.

Mark Diehl’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 14Inexplicably, my browser crashes when I try to post the solution grid here. It must be because the puzzle is too fearsome! Mark Diehl’s crossword broke the internet. (Third time’s the charm.)

I commend him for these salient accomplishments:

  • Making a really tough puzzle. We don’t get such chewy challenges so often.
  • Making a puzzle in which everything was (to my mind) fair. No pushing things too far, no dirty tricks.
  • Making a puzzle with tons of lively entries. Lots of long answers, only four 3s.
  • Making a 64-worder with—this is key—no tortured fill. I don’t love most 64-or-below puzzles. Too often, compromises are made and we end up with extraneous prefixes and word endings stretching words out to fill the grid. My fictional example: REAMUSER. Nobody uses “amuser” and nobody uses “re-amuse” and certainly nobody puts REAMUSER in a grid. But some low-word-count puzzles come perilously close to that. Some include strained abbreviations that nobody likes. Not this one, though—Mark Diehl joins Patrick Berry, Frank Longo, and not too many other people on my short list of constructors who can make a 64-worder that has the same mouthfeel as a 72-worder.

So yes, I was impressed by this crossword. And you?

My favorite answers:

  • 1A. CAT HAIRS are an [Allergy source] and a crazy answer to piece together.
  • 17A. RATTLER wouldn’t fit, but apparently the [Diamondback, for one] is a PIT VIPER. You’re not skeered of snakes, are you?
  • 19A. We escape AJA and instead get the band STEELY DAN, clued as the [Group whose 1972 debut album "Can't Buy a Thrill" went platinum].
  • 30A. To WARM ONE’S HEART is to [Make a person feel good]. Just one of three solid 13s stair-stepping across the middle of the grid. This whole crossword warmed my word-nerd heart, honestly.
  • 45A, 51A. ED MCMAHON atop BLOOPERS? Didn’t he co-host some of those earlier bloopers shows with Dick Clark? If so, is this where the fill began? ED is the [Late entertainer who was known for his laugh], and BLOOPERS are given a sports clue, the plural noun [Overthrows, e.g.].
  • 8D. STRAP ON A FEEDBAG, y’all. [Get ready for chow].
  • 34D. DODGIER. Americans should use the word “dodgy” more often. The clue, [Relatively hard to pin down], suggests that dodginess is about dodging things rather than being generally shady. I like the answer more than the clue.

Hard trivia, tough clues, things I contemplated Googling but managed to figure out on my own:

  • 34A. [Sources of some Zimbabwean exports] are DIAMOND FIELDS. I came at this entry from the back end, so I was waiting for some sort of agricultural crop to sprout at the beginning.
  • 35A. [Alternative to Beauvais] is ORLY, a French airport. Never heard of Beauvais.
  • 39A. [Part of una salsa] is PASO. Say what? The PASO that’s part of the El Paso brand name of salsa, or a PASO that’s an ingredient? Help me out here, people.
  • 43A. GODEL (of Escher, Bach fame) was the [Co-winner of the first Albert Einstein Award, 1951]. I had the *O*EL and considered NOBEL. Had no idea what the answer was.
  • 5D. I got [Navy relative] through the crosses—crosswordese blue dye ANIL. The answer is not ARMY. ARMY shows up as a [Major employer]—employer of people with the rank of major—at 31D.
  • 6D. I SPY is a [Game with a spotter]. Weightlifting and gymnastics just wouldn’t fit.
  • 20D. [Macduff, to Macbeth] is a NEMESIS. Do you have a crossword constructor nemesis?
  • 24D. [California peak], 6 letters, fourth letter is S…SHASTA? No, LASSEN. That held me up.
  • 30D. For [Blame-diffusing words], I needed the crossings. Sadly, for many of the crossings, I needed the crossings. This corner of the puzzle was my toughest. But hey, man, WE ALL DO IT. What, you’ve never rolled through an intersection without making a complete stop at the stop sign? Come on. WE ALL DO IT.
  • 41D. [What a loser may be out of]—the running? the race? No, out of SORTS. Perfect: the clue works, the answer is a common word, and the clue sends your mind down blind alleys.
  • 50D. This one actually wasn’t too hard. It’s like a little gift to the solver. Two clues for the price of one! [Preserve...or get rid of] clues CAN. Canned tomatoes, canned employees.

Now that I’m done writing the post, I see that Howard Barkin and Byron Walden are on the applet with eminently respectable solving times, nothing out of the ordinary for a Saturday NYT. So, which is it: This is an ordinary Saturday puzzle (albeit quite a good one), or this is uncommonly challenging?

Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 13Brad WilbEr’s puzzle reminds me of Friday’s NYT crossword by Doug Peterson—roughly the same number (14 here, 16 there) of long entries (8+ letters), tons of sparkle in the featured phrases and words, and some Scrabbliness. The clues were easier overall, this being an L.A. Times puzzle.

That’s Brad WilbEr, with an E, not a U. Lotta people spell it as Wilbur. Anyone have a good mnemonic for remembering that this guy’s name has an E? “WE like his puzzles.” Or “WE call him our nemesis.” These could work for NYT constructor Byron WaldEn (not Waldon), too.

Highlights:

  • 17A: ["Fully loaded" purchase] is a DELUXE MODEL from the car dealer’s showroom. I’ve got my eye on the new four-door Porsche sedan, the Panamera. The turbo model will run you $132K, about 40 or 50 grand more than the base model. Oh, wait. It gets 15 mpg city. Better look into the Ford Fusion Hybrid instead.
  • 25A: [Like "Marley & Me"] clues RATED PG. Neither SCHMALTZY nor SACCHARINE would fit.
  • 27A: ["Heartland" autobiographer] is MORT SAHL. This political humorist’s last name shows up far, far more in crossword grids, so it’s nice to see the full name. The clue…the clue was no aid to solving.
  • 37A: [Footwear ill-suited for stealth] includes clunky, cloppy wooden CLOGS. Now, the rubber-soled Merrell clogs, those are great for sneaking around.
  • 55A: [Castaway's dream come true] is a RESCUE PLANE. Rescue planes have been in the news of late.
  • 2D: ONE B.C. (aka 1 BCE) is the [Last year of its kind]. Calendars are weird, aren’t they? They look like neutral metrics but they carry more weight than that.
  • 6D: Mnemonics! One [Geography-class mnemonic] is HOMES, for the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Chicago’s Michigan Avenue crosses the other four Great Lakes street names, running SHEO from north to south. I need a mnemonic to help me remember that it goes Chicago, SHEO, Ohio, Grand, Illinois.
  • 8D: [Drunk's chaser?] is not the beer chaser after a shot, it’s the suffix -ARD in drunkard. This is not the suffix in 9D: DIEHARDS, clued as [Hardly fair-weather friends]. Clueing them as [Hardly fair-weather fans] would have suggested the answer more strongly…but would’ve been easier. And we don’t want that, do we?
  • Bing, bang, boom, three in a row. Isn’t this a great corner stack? 10D: [Some limo sharers] are PROM DATES. 11D: [Anti-diversity type] is a XENOPHOBE. (My son is a homophonophile.) And who doesn’t love a 12D: SNOWGLOBE, that [Popular paperweight]?
  • 28D: [Consequences of one's convictions] are JAIL TERMS. I like the mislead. These are not your philosophical convictions but the ones wherein you get convicted of a crime.
  • 30D: [Upscale Roman shopping street] is VIA VENETO. I don’t know a thing about it, but V-V phrases are nice, aren’t they? Dang, all I can think of is “va-va-voom” and a gynecological disturbance.
  • And this is one of the zippiest answers. It’s not brand-new, no—other constructors have used it. But I still like it. 38D: [Homemade cassette with assorted songs] is a MIX TAPE. I haven’t had one since senior year of college. I think people still call ‘em mix tapes even though technology has moved past cassettes. No, wait. Do they just call ‘em “mixes”? Help me out here.


Updated Saturday morning:

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Have a Ball”—Janie’s review

Yesterday we were asked to take one letter out of each theme phrase; today we’re asked to put three back in. And as is confirmed at 61D., those letters are form the word ORB [Sphere, and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. Follow the bouncing “ball” as it amusingly changes the familiar:

It’s a living” → “ORBIT’S A LIVING” [Title of an astronaut's autobiography?]. Now that’s just a terrific combo.

Absent-minded → ABSORBENT-MINDED [Like a fast learner?]. Some days I’m far more the former than the latter and am astounded by the way the brain’s (not always comforting) “automatic pilot” function seems to override actual recall of having done something… <sigh>

Matched set → MATCHED SORBET [Color-coordinated frozen dessert?]. Hmmm. It may be best not to think about this one too literally. Not sure how one of anything can be matched to itself… “Color-coordinated,” yes–comme ça–but without the final “S” (for sorbets–and tasty as this image looks), this one feels kinda iffy.

No iffiness in the animated, wide-ranging non-theme fill. Faves in the fine arts include: SARGENT [American portraitist John Singer ___ ] (just about everyone’s familiar with “Madame X,” no?); TEATRO [Milan's ___ alla Scala]; SITARIST [Ravi Shankar, for one] (nice, too, how [Indian spiced tea] the clue for CHAI follows “Ravi”…); and F. SCOTT [Author Fitzgerald] (though I was initially baffled–then delighted–encountering the “FSC” consonant-cluster in the grid).

Pop culture gets its day too, with: ASTOR [Mary of "The Maltese Falcon"], HARVEY [Actor Keitel], RAMBO [Stallone role], “ED TV” [1999 Ron Howard film], ARETHA ["___ Now" (1968 album featuring "Think")], REO [___ Speedwagon], and ONO ["Walking on Thin Ice" singer]. Seems the Plastic Ono Band is in the throes of re-forming. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Other great fill comes to us by way of the refreshing LEMON ZEST [Tangy grated peel], RED INK [Indicator of a bad bottom line], STOOGE [Patsy], and the non-bubble-gummy BAZOOKA [Rocket launcher].

The colloquial fill, too, adds life to the party: “RATS!”/["Shoot!"]; “IN HERE”/[Words that might follow "psst"]; “I SEE!”/["Aha!"]; GONNA [Fixin' to]; and the defensive “LET ‘EM”/["Don't care if they do'].

And once again, had my head-slap moment processing [Stand or deliver?] as yet again, it’s a parts-of-speech clue, this time for VERB. D’oh!

Thanks, CS team, for a great puzzle week!

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal acrostic (Saturday Puzzle)

I will probably not make a habit of blogging the WSJ acrostic, just as I don’t blog the NYT’s acrostics. The WSJ one uses the same sort of online applet as the NYT—which is one Mike Shenk himself created, if memory serves—but it looks a little prettier. (Same obsequious applause when you finish.) The Java applet removes all the grunt work of transferring letters over to the grid, which is handy.

The clues were quite a bit easier than the NYT acrostic’s clues typically are. I could figure out about 80% of the clues on the first pass, so there was less of the back-and-forth toggling between piecing together the quote and working on the clues. The Cox/Rathvon NYT acrostics often skew thematic in the clues and word answers, but Shenk’s are an olio of unrelated things with straightforward clues.

The quote is from the unknown-to-me Helen Scales’ Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality. (On that Amazon page, the last-name-first author is identified as “Ph.D., Helen Scales.” Tsk, Amazon.) “There is something intangible yet intoxicating about the idea of seahorses. For a living creature to look so strange and yet so perfectly pleasing at the same time, we might assume it must be a magnificent feat of deliberate design, a fairy tale made real.”

Doug Peterson’s Newsday “Saturday Stumper”

(PDF solution here.)

Why, the Stumper was scarcely any harder than today’s LAT puzzle. How often does that happen? Hardly ever.

Highlights:

  • Super-smooth double- and triple-stacks of 10-letter answers in the corners.
  • Scrabbliness—the long answers pony up a Z, Q, X, J, and a couple Ks.
  • 33A. JUNGLE GYMS is a great answer. [Spots for swingers] at the playground, not at a swingers’ club or where people swing baseball bats. (Is that the BATTER’S BOX, or [Rectangle on a diamond]?)
  • 43A. [Pulse quickeners, perhaps] are NEAR MISSES.
  • 46A. 50A, 52A. A [Turkey] is a real STINKAROO, but on the map, SYRIA is a [Turkey abutter]. But [They're often stuffed] refers not to turkeys but GLUTTONS.
  • 59A. BURGER KING is a lively answer. Didn’t know it was a [Onetime Pillsbury unit].
  • 12D. CHARTREUSE was a [Crayola color until 1990]. It deserved to bite the dust.
  • 26D. The verb DJING is clued [Receiving rave reviews, maybe] because DJs play music at raves. Have you ever been to a rave, Doug Peterson? Inquiring minds want to know.

Other clues:

  • 37A, 38A. [Surfer's choice, briefly] clues both DSL and AOL. Raise your hand if you still call it “surfing the web.” Lower your hand if you’re over age 60. Any hands left up?
  • 49A. Weird clue for crosswordese ECUS: [Outmoded currency baskets]. I just looked up the word. No mention of “baskets,” but I learned for the first time that the ecu is not an old French coin akin to the sou, as I had always assumed. It’s short for “European currency unit” and the unit has been replaced by the euro. Did everyone else know this?
  • 66A. [Grandfather portrayer, in "Peter and the Wolf"] is the BASSOONIST. The oboist plays the duck, and this concludes the listing of my knowledge about which instrument is which character in Peter and the Wolf.
  • 2D. [___ fortis (nitric acid)] clues AQUA. Snooze.
  • 8D. BEVERLY is a [City near Cape Ann] that I have never heard of. Other first names in the grid: OMAR, a [Name meaning "long-lived"]; Queen ANNE, [Last of the Stuarts]; YNEZ, [Santa ___ Valley, CA]; LILI, [Destructive hurricane of 2002]; and EVE, [Second of all] people in the Bible.
  • Most obscure word in the grid: 54D: RUTA, [Part of a Spanish "itinerario"]. I suspect it’s Spanish for “route,” but the only foreign word for “route” I know is the French one…route.
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22 Responses to Saturday, 1/30/10

  1. jmbrow29 says:

    Hey Orange. Its more like a PASO (step) that’s a part of the Salsa (the dance as opposed to the food). The S on PASO was the last letter I put in the grid. I wanted PACE at first because I think that a salsa brand or taco seasoning brand or something like that.

    I thought this puzzle was very challenging; I never really got a good rhythm going.

    Jon

  2. Rick Narad says:

    For Diamondback, I first thought Arizonan. It must be because college baseball starts next week.

  3. Gareth says:

    That NYT… Ouch! What I can say… Got a mauling, but I finished. Normally when the clock starts heading over 30 minutes I tend to give up, getting more disciplined! Was just impossible to find correct toe-holds, anywhere…

    Wow! A 64-worder you say. Did notice the lack of 3′s, all in all, agree an awesome achievement in grid-filling! Agree 13/13/13 crossing a 15 in the middle is most stunning, though WARMONESHEART and only that, has something to complain about: ONES, but it’s such a minor flaw in a diamond of a centre. 8D – had no idea! can see it’s legit though. 34A: was thinking tobacco, that’s what Zimbabwe is known for, agriculture-wise at least. Zimbabwe is, not, a big diamond producer AFAIK (http://www.africapedia.com/wiki/index.php?content_id=123 is the best I can do). Seemed weird until I busted out google after the puzzle… see the reason for it is some political stuff that’s been in the news recently and that I was totally oblivious about.

    Same experiences with 35A, 5D, 24D. 6D actually had POLO for a bit (It made sense in my mind)

    LAT was an easy, but an absolutely fun themeless romp!
    25A: Off the bat: RATED ?, no, can’t be one letter too many.
    37A: lol
    2D: Brilliant
    15D: Also plays a central role in Michener’s Centennial, which I waded through a few months back
    28D: started with the ugsome JAILTIMES, JAILTERMS is a lot better though!

  4. NY Times puzzle, Saturday, 30 January 2010; paso, part of salsa. Salsa is a dance; paso is a step. Dance Step.

  5. Salsa is a dance; paso is a step. Dance Step.

  6. daveinkalamazoo says:

    I agree, Amy. This was not only impressive, but lotsa fun to solve.

  7. Matt says:

    Good and tough. I found the NE-to-SW diagonal less tough than the NW and SE corners– ONIONLET/ONIONSET was just a guess for this non-gardener. And I got the PASO-SORTS crossing just because nothing else fit. Various other oopsies– WIND/REED, KIOSK/COPSE, BEAD/BELT/PELT, COLDALE/COLDONE.

  8. Karen says:

    The NYT was difficult for me too. Also, my problem quadrants, the NE and SW, were inimical to googling. I’ve never heard of ONION SET before, which looks like an alternative to seeds for growing. Fun factoid: trading in onion futures is still banned because of market manipulation in Chicago in the 50s. It’s the only product so banned.

  9. John says:

    Does anyone have any idea why blogger wont take my posts? If I try Name/url I get illeagal charactres in the url, even though I have not filled in a url. Any other choice just resets it back to post your comment step. This all started when I tried to log on to Cruciverb after it had been hacked. Any help would be appreciated. Thamks , John.

  10. Amy Reynaldo says:

    John, try filling in a fake URL, like http://www.notarealurl.com, and see if that works. Or try choosing “Anonymous” and just sign your name at the end of the comment.

  11. janie says:

    mark’s puzzle was by no means a walk in the park, but i found doug’s (yesterday) to be seriously difficult — more so than today’s. needed the overnight treatment for both, but was able to finish mark’s in less time and sans artificial intelligence (ZANZIBAR was a “look-up” for me yesterday, but made the remainder of the solve doable. of course, SETTLED UP for RUSTLED UP, however, didn’t help any…).

    both are total beauties, imoo, and gave me a great workout. still — because i was able to solve today’s error- and look-up-free, it was ultimately happier-making. some weekend!

    ;-)

  12. Sara says:

    I thought STEELY DAN crossing STRAP ON… was very funny and kind of shocking

  13. Nina says:

    I see there is supposed to be an applet for the WSJ acrostic, but I can’t find it. Can someone help? Thanks.

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Nina, as I just blogged while you were commenting, there is a Java applet:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/puzzle/2010/01/29/acrostic/

    Mike Shenk created the NYT’s acrostic applet, so it’s no surprise he uses one at the WSJ.

  15. Nina says:

    Thanks, Amy. I see now that I was supposed to just click on the word Acrostic at the top of the puzzle. I was wasting time on the PDF version, and now I’ll go back and do it on the applet.

  16. Evad says:

    Like Janie, today’s NYT took two sittings to get through, and even then I gave up in the NW and Googled STEELY DAN. Found today’s infinitely harder than yesterday’s, guess it’s a wavelength thing. Does anyone actually say they’re allergic to CAT HAIRS (in the plural)? Funny I struggled with that one with a cat in my lap (happily I’m not allergic to him!)

  17. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Also thought it was very tough, but it warmed my heart to finish, except that I guessed ‘ilpy’ instead of ispy. Neitherer one of them sounds like any game I’d want to play. What the hell is ispy? (I Spy?) Hate those steely dan and other rock group clues, but at least this one I recognized from crosswords. But many interesting, tricky clues, in a fair way. I saw Cherry Orchard not long ago, but I didn’t perceive it as ironic. A bit of an enigma, I guess. Started with ‘atom’ insttead of ‘nosh.’

    Beauvais is a splendid cathedral town with a the highest spire in France, I think, (in the world?) It also has an airport of disproportionate importance to the size of the town, which can be used as an alternative route to Paris. Do diamonds come in fields? I though you had to mine them. Should I be looking for some in my back yard? Maybe some of the mathematically inclined here can explain the Godel incompleteness theorem. An axiomatic system cannot be both consistent and complete. I actually could more or less undersand the proof, back in my formal logic days, but they are long gone. Bertrand Russell used to say that his mental powers declined throughout his life from mathematics to philosophy to religion. My similar hegira was from music to philosophy to law.

    Bruce

  18. Doug P. says:

    For the record, I’ve never been to a rave. That was one of Stan’s clues. Who knows, maybe he’s a regular at the Long Island rave scene. :)

  19. Alex says:

    49A. Weird clue for crosswordese ECUS: [Outmoded currency baskets]. I just looked up the word. No mention of “baskets,” but I learned for the first time that the ecu is not an old French coin akin to the sou, as I had always assumed. It’s short for “European currency unit” and the unit has been replaced by the euro. Did everyone else know this?

    Well, it’s both! It was an old French currency unit and the French suggested it for use as the official European currency. They would have gotten away with it but apparently it sounded like an insult in German so it was retracted. That’s my understanding of the events anyway.

    Cruciverb appears to be down again, so let me recommend CrosswordButler to anyone who wants the LA Times in Across Lite regardless of Cruciverb’s status.

  20. joon says:

    i don’t remember the last time i had to google to solve the NYT. so yeah, i’d rate this as uncommonly hard for a saturday. i got all but the NW done in under 10, but the only answers i had in the NW were MOLAR crossing EARL. eventually i guessed ANITA and COPSE and even I SPY, but still no love (perhaps because i had CHOMP ON A FEEDBAG instead of STRAP …). eventually i, like evad, googled the steely dan clue and fixed my errors. TITER looks wildly unfamiliar. does anybody ever use that word? titration, sure… TITER, not so much.

    i suppose if i had got REED, i could have cracked this puppy. but for some reason it wouldn’t come to me. my first thought was OBOE, but the two are not quite the same (though closely related). then WIND, which clearly didn’t want to be the penultimate letter of 1a. i think of an english horn as a double-reed, but of course that means it’s a REED too.

    then again, maybe i wouldn’t have cracked it. the only word i was sure about was MOLAR, and … it wasn’t right.

  21. nancyindg says:

    No one has commented on the repetition of “diamond” in both the clues and fill: “17A Diamondback, for one” and then the DIAMONDFIELDS answer. I’m always amused when constructors on the cruciverb-l ask questions about the admissibility of much less egregious repetition. WS seems to allow it fairly regularly.

    We have seen ALER and NLER so often in the past few years. At first I tried plugging in “nleaguer” for Diamondback, which unfortunately, didn’t fit, as well as not being a real life phrase.

  22. John Haber says:

    Joon, chemists do use TITER, and in fact it was a help to me in that corner, which was really hard. STEELY DAN was a gimme, first thing I filled in even though I don’t care for them, so I was surprised it got me exactly nowhere. I more or less crept up from the bottom.

    In the NW, I’d guessed the wrong shade of blue (teal), couldn’t guess the right sense of “stand,” hadn’t heard of ONIONSET, and indeed have no clue what I SPY is, so the S/L choice there was my last fill though it seemed like it had to be right. My other last letter to fill was _OSH, since I didn’t recognize the cartoonist. I ran through the alphabet twice before figuring that’s indeed a “little something.”

    Part of me hates to have a pub pull, which sounds too English, Irish, or even with a hankering for a decent ale for COLD ONE, which is so American and so reserved for Bud and Miller. Incidentally, while ENGS is fine (and I first guessed EGRS), Cal Tech has a superb reputation in the pure sciences. And funny to have a good definition for INTEGRAL in the same puzzle.

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