Friday, 2/5/10

NYT 5:40
BEQ 5:15
LAT 3:50
CS untimed
WSJ 9:18
CHE—On hiatus this week?

Are you part of the Cru—a denizen of the various NYT crossword forums? Are you going to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament? The annual Cru dinner will take place Friday, February 19. Details here.

In her blog, Crossword City, constructor extraordinaire Elizabeth Gorski applies the words of Abraham Lincoln—”I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”—to crosswords. If you encounter a word you don’t like (or don’t know), you must “get to know it better.” This is what top solvers do—when we hit an unknown word, first we grumble, because what’s a word we’ve never seen doing in our crossword? And then we make a point of remembering that word. Wikipedia is a great tool for superficially familiarizing yourself with unknown quantities.

Joe Krozel’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 4Kevin Der holds the record for the fewest blocks in a crossword, at 18. Joe Krozel’s 64-word puzzle today contains a still-very-low 19 black squares. Usually I grumble at these feats of construction because the fill seems to take a back seat to the “look what I did” aspect—but Will Shortz has picked some good ones this week. Yesterday’s Matt Ginsberg puzzle had embroiled 98 squares in the theme/gimmick, which is an ungodly number of theme squares—and yet the fill did not suffer for it. Same thing today—despite the constraints of the grid design, Krozel’s fill is also quite smooth for a 64-worder.

The grid is anchored by stacked pairs of 15s framing all four sides (with 7s framing them in the outermost squares). There are a few clunky little bits of fill, but they’re largely offset by the good stuff. Here are the 15s, all solid:

  • 15A. ONCE IN A LIFETIME is [Very rarely indeed]. ONCE IN A BLUE MOON is actually a good bit more frequent than ONCE IN A LIFETIME—but I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one who started with that answer. It was 9D: E-FILE/[Option for one's return] that ruled out the BLUE MOON for me.
  • 17A. [They're often tipped on sidewalks] clues STREET MUSICIANS. Anyone else picturing sidewalk café patrons tipping their chairs back?
  • 44A. [Stored something for future use?] clues MADE A MENTAL NOTE.
  • 47A. An ELEPHANT TRAINER is a [Big-top worker with a big responsibility]. Easy enough.
  • 2D. In diplomatic relations, a [Summit success] might be ENTENTE CORDIALE. I could swear I learned that second word from a crossword, but the only time it shows up in the Cruciverb database is a Klahn CrosSynergy from 2003, [___ cordiale]. This may well be the most widely unknown answer in the puzzle.
  • 3D. [Like an extradition transition] is ACROSS THE BORDER.
  • 12D. How do you feel about spelling out numbers in the grid? I don’t like it for BTWO and TWOD and USONE, but I’m okay with DIALS NINE-ONE-ONE, or [Calls for a quick dispatch].
  • 13D. ["Try someone else"] clues “I’M NOT INTERESTED.”

Highlights from the rest of the puzzle:

  • 30A. [They may get belted] clues CHAMPS. A boxing champ gets belted by his or her opponent’s fists, and also gets a belt for a victory.
  • 31A. [Lane in a mall] refers to the Lane BRYANT womenswear seller.
  • 33A. LOOK-SEES are [Quick surveys].
  • 26D. The late, great Chicago newspaper columnist Mike ROYKO was a [1972 Pulitzer winner for Commentary].
  • 29D. If you’re making soup, BROTH is a [Stock option].
  • 40D. Umbilical trivia! [About 90% of people have one] clues an INNIE.

Lowlights:

  • Partials & Co.: A VOTE, OR BED, OR I, A NEST, IT I. GOES AT, WISE TO, and SAY TO aren’t partials, but they feel less natural than two-word TEE UP does. At least RUN IN is clued as [Drop by quickly] rather than as a confrontation or a verb meaning “take to the police station.” “I’m just gonna RUN IN and get that and then I’ll be right out.” I like this deviation from crosswordese
  • Plurals: NTS/[Windows options], DECS/[Fourth qtr. enders], RAHS.
  • Contrived-sounding answer: GOOD MEN, or [Marine Corps candidates, it's said].

A few other clues that may vex people:

  • 19A. [Astra and Antara] are OPELS, European cars.
  • 38A. [Podiatric problem] is not a CORN but foot ODOR? Ick.
  • 40A. Unfamiliar name: INES is clued as [Conquistadora ___ de Suarez]. You can read her story here.
  • 42A. A lumberjacks’ or [Loggers' contest] is a ROLEO. I learned the word from crosswords long ago.
  • 48A. NERISSA is a [Maid in "The Merchant of Venice"].


Updated Friday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Cyclops”—Janie’s review

The distinguishing feature of cyclopes, a race of mythic giants, was the single eye embedded in the middle of their foreheads. The distinguishing feature of today’s theme fill is the single eye embedded in the middle of the phrase it appears in (and in the middle of the row, which is a fine feat of construction). Or, as is spelled out at 34D (creating a “cross-eye” condition…): [Cyclops feature found at the center of the three longest answers], namely EYE. And here’s how Martin does it:

  • 20A. TWELVE YEAR OLD [Certain pre-teen]. Thought this was gonna be a phrase beginning with TWEEN…
  • 36A. ERLENMEYER FLASK [Conical lab container]. Wow. Probably haven’t thought about Erlenmeyer flasks since taking high-school chemistry. Remember these guys? (Note, too, how nicely the defining theme-fill shares the “Y” at dead-center.)
  • 51A. ORANGE YELLOWS [Amber colors]. This one got me thinking of those boxes of Crayolas, with their orange yellow and yellow orange crayons, blue green and green blue, red orange and orange red, etc.–although I see from this Wiki article that orange-yellow has been retired. Alas!! Take a look at this MARIGOLD [Colorful plant of the daisy family]. Looks like a pretty good example of orange yellow in nature to me!

So apparently, the eyes have it…

It’s probably because of its particularly geometric/cheater-induced appearance, but once again, Martin’s grid calls to mind Navajo design–and I take this as a good thing. I also take as a good thing the pairing in the NW and SW (first position of top row and bottom row) JABS [Quick punches] and someone who, no doubt, threw his share of ‘em, [1930's heavyweight champ Max] BAER. (To judge from his record, most of his opponents felt the impact of his BRAWN [Muscle] and few received gentle POKES [Nudges])…) To [Stop fighting] is to CALL A TRUCE–though, of course, the usage here is more in the political or personal-negotiation arena rather than the boxing arena.

Of the longer fill, I also liked seeing WEED EATER [Popular lawn tool] and IMMORTALS [Gods, e.g.]. Among the lively, shorter fill are faves SWIVEL [Turn, as in a chair], “EUREKA!” [Solver's shout], LORAX [Dr. Seuss book with "The"] and X-RAYS winningly clued as [Pictures of health?].

I question [More like a sauna] as the best clue for STEAMIER as saunas are known for producing dry heat (even though water may be poured on hot stones, momentarily throwing off steam). “Go Ask Alice” explains. And although there are four examples today of fill that repeats what we’ve seen this week alone (ESTÉE, OLLIE, ARLO and X-MEN), the only (almost-)repeated clue is the one for Estée. Yesterday it was [Cosmetician Lauder], today it’s [Cosmetics magnate Lauder]. The clues for Arlo and X-Men are in the same (family- and comic book-based) territory (but take a different approach within it…) and Ollie, thank you very much, eschews Laurel and Hardy for [Kukla, Fran and ___]. More better. So to speak…

Gary Cee’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 5This puzzle has one of those stacked-words themes, like the recent NYT puzzle with “ONE under PAR” represented in the grid. Here, it’s BE ON THE BALL exemplified by having BEs atop BALLs hidden in longer answers. The words with BALL in them are a lively assortment—a BALLADEER and a BALLERINA, a BALLOT BOX and a CABALLERO.

Since nine answers were constrained by thematic content, perhaps some compromises were made. We don’t see crosswordese like ADIT, ATKA, and PATEN too often, and TELL A FIB sounds stilted to me.

I do like TABITHA from Bewitched, and those LAST LEGS may be sort of an 8-letter partial entry, but I like the idiom.

Todd McClary’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Dance Number”

Region capture 6This is a brilliant theme—IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO is the inspiration, and the three ways to split TANGO into two words (T + ANGO is nothing) are represented by symmetrically paired theme answers that define those parts of TANGO. Like so:

  • 23A and 114A define TA and NGO. The first is a BRIT’S WORD OF THANKS (and I know this thanks to @EditorMark’s Twitter feed), and the latter could be a nongovernmental organization like Doctors Without Borders but here it’s DINH DIEM OF VIETNAM.
  • 33A and 100A split the dance into TAN and GO: a BEACH SKIN TONE and the MONOPOLY SPACE we all like passing. More interesting to clue GO that way than as a verb, no?
  • 43A and 93A give us TANG, the ORANGE DRINK MIX I loved as a kid, and O, Oprah’s WOMEN’S MAGAZINE.

Highlights in the fill include the terrific triple-stacked 10s in the corner (feat. KANYE WEST, artist EMIL NOLDE, and TIT FOR TAT all together in the northeast), SHOOFLY pie, the unusual QATARI, SEQUINED, SATCHMO Armstrong, and ZENITHS.

Favorite clues: [Message for a pen pal?] for SOOEY, the call to a pig; [City name on the Wizard of Oz's balloon] for OMAHA; [Presidential address part] for GOV, as in whitehouse.gov; [Element of many murder mysteries?] for ARSENIC; and [Branch of the U.N.?] for the OLIVE branch in the logo.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Forecast for Miami”

Region capture 7Unfortunately, I encountered a spoiler before I did this puzzle—someone at the Crossword Fiend forum said this one was reminiscent of a certain 1996 puzzle. The only ’96 crossword anyone remembers is the CLINTON/BOBDOLE election puzzle, in which the crossing clues worked for either of those Acrosses so the puzzle’s political prognostication would be correct no matter who won. Here, Brendan kinda stilts the language to make the puzzle work two ways, but…it does work two ways. And if I hadn’t read that spoiler, it’s possible I would have been oblivious to the two-way business, so I guess I can’t complain. No, wait. I would have known, because Across Lite told me three squares were wrong.

The [Sports prediction] theme reads: QB FROM NEW / ORLEANS WINS A / SUPER BOWL / FOR NFL’S COLTS…or FOR NFL SAINTS. Only three squares have to be bi: 57D: [Devices that have speakers, for short] are PCS, personal computers, or PAS, public address systems. 43D: [They may be found in a shoot] clues either PISTOLS or a plant’s PISTILS. And 61D: [Term in tennis] can be either a LET or a SET. The way I read the clues, I went straight for the COLTS, but I’d rather see the SAINTS win. Brendan must agree because NFL SAINTS was the answer deemed correct by Across Lite.

This sort of theme is ridiculously challenging to pull off, so kudos to Brendan.

The fill is pretty free since the theme occupies only 42 squares and the two-way squares were tucked away at the bottom. Twenty non-theme answers are 6 to 8 letters long (KEN STARR goes nicely with SOAP UP, doesn’t he?), giving us a break from a flood of 3- to 5-letter fill.

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23 Responses to Friday, 2/5/10

  1. miguel says:

    Thought it was a bit more like my wife’s last hair appointment…more low-lights than highlights., but I have played around in a few teatros. One pretty grid, but sometimes beauty really is only skin deep.

  2. Jim Horne says:

    I love the Elizabeth Gorski blog too. It’s insightful, literate, and humerous. Oh, and helpful as well.

    Entente cordial has appeared three times before in the NYT alone.

    5:40 for a 19 block puzzle? Amy, that’s awesome.

  3. janie says:

    i believe that OR BED wants to be ORBED… and a less partial “partial” in the process, no?

    thought that BOYCOTTS and (especially) SAMOVARS were mighty fine in the grid, too!

    ;-)

  4. Eric Maddy says:

    This puzzle was used for the championship round of the Silicon Valley Puzzle Day this past Sunday.
    Not surprisingle, the crossing letter of ENTENTECORDIALE and NERISSA was the last letter entered by both of the top two finishers.

  5. Jim Finder says:

    It’s not surprising that ENTENTE CORDIALE sounds familiar — it was a major event in world history. Check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entente_cordiale

  6. ArtLvr says:

    One wrong guess near the beginning: Merman for LUPONE, but I worked all around and that came clear…At the end, I’m still not sure what NTS is or are, having no Windows here, but that had to be right. Very smooth, all in all.

    I tried Spur as well as Corn for the foot problem, before the ODOR prevailed. I also thought PTR for Partner before DIR. Last fill was GOOD MEN! Wasn’t the phrase “A Few Good Men”, or is that something else?

  7. Gareth says:

    That was tough for me. Harder than many Saturdays, at least recent ones. But brilliant none the less. Didn’t have one 15-letter word after 20 minutes! The first I got was ELEPHANTHANDLER, which turned out to be… wrong. 1D SNORING instead of TOSSING was a major roadblock too, and I’m guessing a deliberate one too!

  8. rick says:

    The marines were “looking for a few good men” in an advertising campaign.

    I miss Mike Royko

  9. Elaine in Arkansas says:

    Wow, this one was intimidating; after five minutes I had one (wrong) entry in the upper left, a couple of partials, and a feeling of despair. I went clue-by-clue through the Downs for the right-hand side, and BRYANT let me in the door.

    I miss Mike ROYKO, too! I thought BUCHWALD at first, but needless to say, he refused to fit. ’72 was about when Art Buchwald had a field day with Nixon, CREEP, and The Enemies List….

    I guessed ADANO correctly, but jazz is not in my wheelhouse, so I did ultimately google AHMAD and NERISSA, which allowed me to finish…but, alas, with one error– SERENA instead of SELENA. ROLEO created a wee Natick for me there.

    Humerous, Jim Horne? The little red underlining is there to help…though I note it is alerting me that ROYKO, ROLEO, NATICK, ADANO, and google are all unacceptable!

  10. mickbrown says:

    As a former Marine I can say this with impunity: “The Marines: We’re looking for a few good men. We ruined the last batch!”

    I’m also a former Chicagoland resident who had the good fortune once of playing golf with Mike Royko!

  11. Steve Manion says:

    Mike Royko was my favorite columnist. I loved the name SLATS GROBNIK, but my all time favorite column involved Mike’s description of a wedding that was almost called off or perhaps was called off because of the ethnicity of the wedding band. At a time when Yugoslavia was still a unified country so far as I knew, Royko led the reader to believe that the tension was something expectedly volatile such as a black band at a Klan wedding, when in fact the band was Croat and the bride and groom Serbs. I remember at the time having no idea that ethnic hatred ran so deep.

    Steve

  12. Rob says:

    In BEQ’s puzzle, the “correct” answer for the three squares that Across Lite marked wrong is *both* appropriate letters… so NFLS(AC)(IO)(NL)TS is actually what’s in the puzzle… absolutely ensuring that Brendan will be correct come Sunday night. :)

    Of course, since my annual prediction for the NFL’s Big Game is that the team that scores the most points will win, I’ll be right, too. :)

  13. Martin says:

    I also saw the spoiler before doing the BEQ, but stuff happens. The only flaw is that pistils are parts of flowers and shoots don’t have flowers by definition (they’re immature). That’s a tough one. Anybody have an idea for a bi clue that’s accurate? “They are found near shoots” would be better because a mature plant can sprout shoots. But there must be a better clue. Part of a pistil is a “style” and pistols are in style in the NFL, but I don’t see the clue yet.

  14. Al Sanders says:

    @Martin: “Part of a Guns ‘n’ Roses show?” I know, it’s a stretch!

  15. joon says:

    al: ha!

  16. abide says:

    I got to test solve the BEQ and did suggest “They may be found at shoots”, but he never listens to me ;)

    Flowers are modified shoots bearing modified leaves. In the typical flower, the modified leaves can be grouped into four sets based on appear­ance and function: sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils. The sepals and petals are lowermost on the shoot toward the sides of the flower. The stamens and pistils are at the tip of the shoot at the inside. (source: internet page about flowers)

  17. BethW says:

    Wow! NYT was delicious. Tough but not impossible, as the short(er) answers gave me just enough to nail the long answers. Joy!

  18. Martin says:

    Peter,

    I guess that’ll do. I’d say that a flower is a modified stem and leaves, and while developing is a modified shoot. The essence of shootness is immaturity, but considering the constraints I’ll withdraw the nit.

    How lucky was BEQ that the Colts’ QB is from New Orleans?

    And Al’s clue is genius, of course.

  19. abide says:

    Martin:

    Thanks. Arguing with an ikebana expert is like bringing a knife to a pistil fight.

  20. John Haber says:

    I wanted to love the NYT, between the few black squares and the four paired full-length answers, with intriguing and orignial fill. (I too first tried “once in a blue moon” and also “seniors” for “sisters.”) But I have to say that I was just left wondering. What was Lane Bryant? What was the intersection of logger’s contest and a Mexican American? I don’t really understand any of those and don’t care.

  21. Daz says:

    I don’t mind spelled-out numbers in the grid, even for items where the numbers are rarely if ever spelled out in practice — it’s just another trick in the constructor’s toolkit.

    But I do object to public information signs that read

    “[In an emergency] DIAL 9-1-1.”

    Despite looking all over the telephone dial, I am unable to locate the hyphen.

  22. Tanya Mills says:

    I just learned that Jean Baptiste NGO DINH DIEM was the first president of South Vietnam!

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