Friday, 4/9/10

NYT 11:26 (no, really!)
BEQ 5:30
LAT 3:45
CHE 3:25
CS untimed

Ned White’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 12Whoa, Nellie! Either this puzzle is super-tough or it’s a damn good thing my family doesn’t attend the ACPT to holler behind me. The more I hit dead ends in this puzzle, the more I flailed around the grid looking for toeholds that kept slipping away. At last, it all came together, but dang. And this is the Friday crossword, not the Saturday?

The fill included plenty of unexpected letter combos, but I think the clues were really where the difficulty lie. The grid doesn’t hold any words I’d never seen—I just couldn’t piece them together so readily. Among the toughest parts:

  • 1A. JASMINE TEA is a [Flower-scented refresher]. The words tricked me into thinking only of air fresheners, not palate refreshers.
  • 1D. J.S. BACH was the ["Original father of harmony," per Beethoven, briefly]. Now, with these J words in this corner, who’s gonna expect a Q just downwind? And yet there’s 15A: [Flimflam's antithesis], a SQUARE DEAL, crossing the constellation AQUILA, 2D: [Heavenly neighbor of Scutum]. Is there a constellation called Sputum?
  • 17A. Really? Old-time sci fi’s BUCK ROGERS is our [Longtime battler of the Mongols]. I was thinking Genghis Khan, Marco Polo…anyone who lived centuries ago.
  • 18A. [Antony's love] isn’t CLEO, no. It’s AMOR, Latin for “love.” I totally walked into the CLEO trap.
  • 31A. I had this narrowed down to the general region of the Mideast and North Africa, but didn’t know that ARAFAT was the [Leader whose full name included Abdel twice]. That’s Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini, if you were wondering.
  • 60A. On the radio, among other places, an [Alternative to alternative] is MAINSTREAM. Did you know this about FM RADIOS—[They utilize high bands]? That’s 29A.
  • 63A. Omigod, I love the word TROGLODYTE! It’s clued as [One who used to go clubbing?] because the cavepeople were wont to club their prey, I presume.
  • Money, money! 3D: [Former Ecuadorean money] clues SUCRES, while 46D: [100 centimes] clues a Haitian GOURDE.
  • 7A. Love this clue: [Guest in a library] is writer EDGAR Guest.
  • 10D. [Lyricist Dubin and others] are ALS. Who?
  • 11D. I knew [Clock] was going for a 4-letter synonym for “punch out,” but DECK and SOCK didn’t work with the crossings. SWAT? All right.
  • 14D. The Sargasso Sea gets its name from the [Floating brown algae] called SARGASSO.
  • 23D. Eww, the KLAN. They’re a [Group in the Bogart film "Black Legion"]. I hope he was on the anti-Klan side.
  • 25D. ARTOIS? A [Historical region on the Strait of Dover]? Not at all familiar to me.
  • 28D. Oh, this one stumped me. An ERASER is [One way to take back one's words?].
  • 35D. ADELAIDE, Australia, is a [Capital on Gulf St. Vincent]. Not a gulf in my ken.
  • 36D. BRONCHIAL wouldn’t fit for [Like some thoroughly examined passages]. BIBLICAL! Brilliant clue. I also like the CADILLAC clue in this corner—[Something that's the most luxurious of its kind], as in “a Cadillac health plan.”
  • 47D. [Where semis aren't typically seen] is in ALLEYS. I’ve seen good-sized trucks in alleys making food or beer deliveries. Getting in and out of alleys can be hard for a truck. The driveway next to my building is sort of an alley—juuuust wide enough for a moving van to squeeze through if it backs in slowly. When the truck has that incessant beep-beep-beep in reverse, it is brain-busting. Imagine hearing that for a solid half hour in your home office.
  • 48D. With all the clues relating to “Eri tu,” why didn’t I know RENATO was the [Opera character who snigs "Eri tu"]?

Do I hear an “Oy!” for the two rivers? The AIRE is clued [It flows through Knottingley] and the AAR is clued [River past Solothurn]. I needed all the crossings I could get for both of these.

Overall, excellent fill throughout this puzzle. I could do without random [Second-century year] CLII, but other than that, this is a solid Saturday puzzle. This is, I believe, Ned White’s second NYT themeless, and both have been superb. Keep ‘em coming!

Jim Holland’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Graded Rulers”

This puzzle posits that the adjectival equivalents to the letter grades of A, B, C, D, and F are greaRegion capture 10t, good, fair, bad, and terrible, and links those grades to various European rulers’ nicknames:

  • 20A. Now, this clue is a bit of an Olaf. [Ruler of Norway, 1035-47 (grade: B)] and the answer isn’t an Olaf or Olav of some sort? The date range helps me not at all. It’s MAGNUS THE GOOD.
  • 25A. PETER THE GREAT is our top student in the ruling class today. [Ruler of Russia, 1682-1725 (grade: A)].
  • 36A. But not all tsars were GREAT. IVAN THE TERRIBLE was the [Ruler of Russia, 1547-84 (grade: F)].
  • 44A. This French guy is only so-so. Or maybe he was blond and pale, or maybe he was particularly just. PHILIP THE FAIR was the [Ruler of France, 1285-1314 (grade: C)].
  • 51A. [Ruler of Navarre, 1349-87 (grade: D)] clues CHARLES THE BAD.

It’s a good thing the letter grades are there to help out, because three of these five names were unfamiliar to me.

Highlights beyond the theme:

  • 45D. Roger Ebert has been tweeting about Director Werner HERZOG a lot lately. Roger relates the fascinating story behind Aguirre: The Wrath of God at his blog. Go read that.
  • 10D. ENIGMA gets a puzzly clue: [WWII coding machine].
  • 9D. Wow, a CARE BEAR in the Chronicle of Higher Ed? Is this a first? Is there a field of academic study devoted to the Care Bears? Care ursinology?
  • 37D. THIS LIFE is the title of the [1980 Sidney Poitier autobiography].

The “Omigod, CHARLES THE who?” crossing award goes to 48D: [Largest Greek island after Crete]. EUBOEA! Not a top-ten travel destination for the average American, who can neither spell nor pronounce the island’s name. I could find it on a map if the island names are printed big enough.

Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 11When I figured out that each theme entry would have a PO stuck in it, I looked to the bottom of the puzzle for a reference to the Italian river Po. Instead, we have a PO’ BOY, or [N'awlins sandwich, and this puzzle's title]. I don’t see any BOY aspect to the theme entries, however. The PO stuff is as follows:

  • 21A. [Criticize a small town?] is SLAM PODUNK, which is slam dunk + PO. Colorful answer before and after the PO was added.
  • 26A. [Checking for doneness at the grill?] is BURGER POKING.
  • 42A. BELLY POACHER is clued as [Certain pork thief?]. Do people call it “belly,” or is it always “pork belly”? I haven’t heard the meat referred to as just “belly.”
  • 49A. BEE POSTING is a [Spelling contest notice?].

Favorite bits:

  • 38D. The [1950s-'80s Chevy utility vehicle], that big two-door car with an angled rear with a pickup truck bed, is the EL CAMINO. (Yes, I said “the EL.” Get over it. No, I won’t order anything “with au jus.”) That Wikipedia link shows El Caminos in colors other than yellow/gold and orange, but it seemed like those were the classic colors in the ’70s. Speaking of classically ’70s cars, we have an [Old Ford] here (23A), the PINTO.
  • 28D. “OY VEY” is clued as [Kvetch's words]. If you’ve seen Wordplay, you may remember Will Shortz reading a letter from a solver asking about the [Kvetcher's cry] of OY VEY. “Is this a Northern thing?” (s)he asked.
  • 41D. Whoa, drug paraphernalia! There’s a BONG here. Except it’s not clued as a water pipe thingie for smoking pot. No, it’s a [Big bell sound]. I like to have brunch across the street from Cafe Bong, and southern Wisconsin has a nature-packed Bong Recreational Area. Yes, they all make me snicker.
  • Can we go back to the theme-encompassing PO’ BOY? Make mine fried chicken, please. Or catfish, if I’m in the right mood. I will eat it at Mother’s in New Orleans, among other venues, and I will eat it at Chicago’s Heaven on Seven.
  • 25A. I have never called [Bad luck] HOODOO. There was a band called Hoodoo Gurus, though. Dictionary says “hoodoo” is an alteration of “voodoo.”
  • 44D. Retail trivia! PENNEY, as in J.C. Penney, is the [Retailer whose middle name was Cash]. What were his parents thinking? Why didn’t they offset the Penney with a nickname of Dollar? He could’ve founded an upscale Neiman Marcus then.

Updated Friday morning:

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

Ya know what IRKS [Exasperates] me? If you’ve spent any time reading my posts of late, you know. Repeated fill. Yep, we’ve got another today, EBBS [Abates], which we saw just three days ago. But that’s not what’s really eating at me today.

Now if you’ve been reading me longer, say for about a year now, you may recall that I complained kinda loudly when a good theme wasn’t developed in a consistent way. That I really don’t understand. Today’s puzzle is a perfect example of this kind of imperfection.

The gimmick today is the inversion of letters (those “alterations” the title alludes to) at the end of well-known phrases to create new phrases. This is is just terrific, and had the final example not broken the rules established by its two predecessors–or appeared with other like examples–I wouldn’t be feeling so cranky about the result. But it did and I am. (Get over it, Jane!) Here we go, and remember the title as:

  • 20A. Cowboy boots → COWBOY BOOST [Stirrup?]. Beautiful. And love that very concise clue, too.
  • 38A. Bullet-proof vest → BULLET-PROOF VETS [Indestructible animal doctors?]. Another winner. And the pattern is set. The last two letters of the phrase are reversed. Simple and, judging from the quality of the new phrases, clever, too. But then comes
  • 52A. Morning coat → MORNING TACO [Mexican breakfast?]. Huh? Look. There’s a great synergy between the clue and the fill, but this lively “alteration” belongs in a different puzzle. Unlike the others, this one is an anagram and not simply a case where two letters are reversed. But good as it is, how did this one get in the mix?

Why does this kind of inconsistency make me cranky? Because the puzzle has been created by a pro and edited by pros who know that this is a less than perfect combination of theme entries; and because the puzzle is otherwise such a treat. Look at some of the other great fill/cluing Ray’s given us:

  • BOLLYWOOD [India's movie industry]. The very word conjures up a vivid image of film production in a culture so unlike our own.
  • A 50¢-word in ACERBATES [Makes bitter].
  • The assonant SOUSA and TUNIC and TUBER and AOÛT.
  • The Spanish 101 words (perhaps working off that “Mexican breakfast” concept): ESTA and PESO and ENERO.
  • The NOSH [Snack] items: you can have an OREO [Double Stuf. e.g.] or some NILLA [ ___ Wafers]. (I was torn between Nilla and Necco…)
  • I liked being reminded that the [First little pig's building material] was STRAW and that SLOP is another word for [Pig food].
  • FROGGY for [Hoarse]. For reasons I could never explain, that one just delights me. Ditto the cross of CRAVEN (another good word, meaning [Cowardly]) and ESCROW. Somethin’ about that “CR.”
  • And we have not only EMBER [Sign of a dying fire] but it gets RE-LIT [Fired up again]. And speaking of fire, I’m reminded of the cauldron over the fire in a segment of Fantasia–the one involving a BROOM [Item bewitched by the Sorcerer's Apprentice]. Enjoy this clip!

So please, CS team—a little more attention to making sure the theme is really working at every stage of the game. It keeps the air in the puzzle and the solving experience the genuine pleasure (and/or challenge) we know you intend it to be.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “You Are Here”—a contest!

Hey, it’s a contest. I’m not going to give away the answers. It’s a Gaffney-style crossword-plus-meta-puzzle challenge, not crazy-hard like some of Matt’s but it does require a little mental workout. Enjoy!

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31 Responses to Friday, 4/9/10

  1. jimbob says:

    Thank God you found it as hard as I did. That makes me feel better.

    As a young’n, I’ve always found the usage of Cadillac to mean ultimate a bit perplexing. There are much better, more luxurious cars out there than a Caddy. Cadillacs don’t even register when I think of fancy cars. It seems like it’s a relic of my grandfather’s generation that’s stuck around for whatever reason.

    There’s a good scene from The Wire where this issue comes up (NSFW language).

  2. foodie says:

    NY Times: Well, I got killed by this one. I confidently put NASSER in lieu of ARAFAT since I already knew Gamal Abdel (Abdul– same thing) Nasser and figured there was another Abdel buried in there. DIGS INTO instead of DEBRIEFS did not help the situation in that neighborhood. CLEO not AMOR, MILK not WAWA, and so it went. I had to cheat to get a toehold in each of the quadrants. I did love many of the answers, but all the currencies and abbreviations coupled with the tough cluing made it one of the most brutal Fridays I’ve experienced.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Easier than yesterday :) At least I could solve this one. It was a struggle, especially on top, but ultimately solveable. Great puzzle.

  4. Mark Murphy says:

    I’m afraid I wiped out on this one….
    Al Dubin wrote the lyrics to such songs as “Lullaby of Broadway,” “42nd Street” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.” His most notable collaborator was probably Harry Warren….
    Sorry to say that in “Black Legion” (1937,) Bogart, years away from stardom, plays a working guy who is talked into joining a Klan-like organization, with tragic results.

  5. Evad says:

    This took two sittings, finished the NW and SE last night and then the SW and finally the NE (getting WAWA to break it open) this morning. Are TWO IRONS really “vintage” clubs? In a puzzle I did yesterday (Fireball?) ONE IRON was clued as a club to possibly drive with. I’m sure the golfers among the Fiend community can weigh in on that.

    REMS in the plural bothered me as well. I’ve heard of REM sleep; I would think individual REM “phases” wouldn’t be called just REMS.

  6. Anne E says:

    Wow did I ever make a lot of wrong turns in this one! OASES instead of LAIRS, AVON instead of AIRE, ESCUDO instead of SUCRES, OTELLO instead of RENATO (OTELLO?? what was I thinking??), NASSER instead of ARAFAT, ALSACE instead of ARTOIS…. good grief. Brutal is right.

  7. Joe Cabrera says:

    Felt like an average Friday to me. I got a fast start by entering 1-across immediately.

    I did have to resist entering SEALHUNTER for One who used to go clubbing? and Cash’s big hit Everybody Loves ANUS.

  8. Howard B says:

    Wow, NASSER here too. Confidently. Followed by sheepishly deleting each and every letter a few minutes later.
    @Joe C: Thanks for the laughs! That last one is a classic. If you’re going to think of a crossing error, make it a good one.

    (I was about to add a comment regarding the B-side of that Cash song, but then withheld it. ;) )

  9. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Evad: REM phases are REM phases, but the individual eye movements are indeed REMs. THe plural is used in the sleep medicine papers I’ve edited.

  10. Karen says:

    I crashed and burned the entire left side of the puzzle. Holdups included STENO for CLERK and WNBA for NASL, which left me with a noble BROW. Plus a lot of the traps that Amy fell into. Lots of names I’m not familiar with. I’m guessing that today’s puzzle was a Saturday puzzle kicked back a day to accommodate a special tribute to William of Ockham’s feast day tomorrow.

    Amy, I love the BRONCHIAL passages answer.

  11. ArtLvr says:

    Really tough! I worked it out without a peek anywhere, but stopped the clock when TIME wasn’t the answer to the Clock clue. Nothing seemed right in the top half except FM RADIOS.

    Thus I completed the bottom half first, from MTS and MAINSTREAM and knowing the radial notch had to clue ULNA. Every tiny bit counted, including C starting the Roman numeral and IDS crossing DRIED. The GOURDE was new to me.

    Fortunately, I’d just read a column on today’s oped page which mention “Crash Course”, a book by Paul Ingrassia, in which the multiple follies of US car makers were epitomized by the Cadillac with tail fins nearly as high as the roof!

    When I got back to the top half, I got the EARLY MASS and TEES OFF, then realized that Guest in the library was like Waits in music yesterday — a person! Also that the sippy cup meant kiddie stuff, therefore WAWA, too funny. Thanks for the workout, Ned!

  12. joon says:

    beat me up, too. i didn’t try NASSER, but i had a hell of a time with the top region. DAILY MASS fit and is a phrase i’m familiar with, whereas EARLY MASS just seems like adjective+noun. dunno. i had KHAN for KLAN, even though the group isn’t called that. made HASSLE really tough to see. JSBACH was my first answer in the grid, but i could not get any of the crossing words. that’s rough. answers i’d never heard of included GOURDE, SUCRES (ugh), RENATO, ARTOIS, and even WAWA (except as part of baba wawa).

    nifty to include JS BACH, TS ELIOT, and FM RADIOS.

  13. kent brody says:

    I don’t think the Klan was actually in “Black Legion”, the Black Legion was the obvious stand in for the Klan…also think the cabanas clue was unfair… if this was Friday, tomorrow is going to be a doozy….

  14. Martin says:

    The Black Legion was, in fact, a branch of the Klan when the movie was made. Warner Brothers pretended they didn’t know, but not very convincingly.

  15. Jan says:

    The CS puzzle inconsistency drove me crazy! I kept staring at MORNING TACO, trying to figure out what letters I had wrong. Thanks for admonishing the CS team!

  16. Ned White says:

    Thanks for the comments – yes, two annoying little rivers here, and I’ll try to avoid that in the future. My starting entries (what I call my “anchors.” my favorites, actually) were BUCK ROGERS in the NW and TROGLODYTE in SE, both of which appear in the NYT for the first time. I clued TROGLODYTE differently (I think “hermit,” its more common usage today) but Will wisely took us back to cave dwellers.

    Fun blog!

  17. John Haber says:

    It was brutal for me as well, first just to get a foothold anywhere (T. S. Eliot), then progressive harder for me, too, as I worked progressive quadrants counterclockwise from the SE. Even there I started with a mistake (1 FRANC, misled by the number in 100 centimes to expect the “one” and of course not recognizing GOURDE). Can’t tell you all I didn’t know, but indeed crossings of SARGASSO, STEIG, TWO IRONS, and FM RADIOS were killers for me, and I did stare at S_AT and _AWA before guessing the final letter.

    I also needed most crossings to get BUCK ROGERS (familiar as his name is). EDGAR Guest (a vaguely familiar name and a truly forgettable poet), and EARLY MASS (where I kept hoping MATINS would somehow be the core of a fill). ADIA and AAR was also definitely an obscure crossing. But got it all, thankfully, so done!

  18. *David* says:

    I liked the CHE, it felt like IVAN THE TERRIBLE was the seed entry there, hmm 15 lettters let’s work that one. The CS TACO made no sense to me and I gave up on understanding what was the alliteration there.

  19. Martin says:

    CHE-wise, I think I would have preferred “Ranked Rulers” to “Graded Rulers.” It’s pretty nitty, I know, but grades have common definitions that differ from the entries. F is “Failing,” not “Terrible.” “Fair” and “Good” sound pretty right for C and B, but A and D are universally “Excellent” and “Poor,” not “Great” and “Bad.”

    On the other hand, coming up with five rulers that worked was genius. I just think the academic spin went a little too far for its own good.

  20. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Sure, I was waiting for the final CS theme entry to have an ST/TS swap too. But then out of nowhere, a taco emerged. I think the real theme is surrealism.

  21. Umberto says:

    This puzzle was a pain in the Scutum!

  22. Martin says:

    The CS theme was reasonably tight — only you either don’t see it or don’t like it. “Alterations” also implies articles of clothing. BOOTS, VEST and COAT are anagrammed. You make up a different theme and complain it’s not consistent. Sheesh.

  23. Amy Reynaldo says:

    So, you take your boots to the tailor for alterations?

  24. Martin says:

    No, boots don’t get altered but that’s a fairly minor inconsistency compared with surrealism. And it’s more a complaint with the title than the theme. “Things you wear” is not worth crankiness, in my humble opinion. But we had a niice bottle of wine with dinner so I can’t be sure.

  25. joon says:

    martin, even your theme is inconsistent, because the first two are far simpler than an anagram. it’s just two letters swapped, it’s the last two letters both times, and it’s an S and a T both times. for a puzzle with only three theme answers, there’s no way to see those two and co “anagram.” so the third one sticks out like a sore thumb. even sorer than that for me, since i had no idea what the base phrase was. after a few minutes i figured it must have been MORNING COAT, but those two words together mean nothing to me.

  26. Martin says:

    joon,

    A morning coat is a cutaway, like the tails worn with white tie. It’s formal wear for daylight hours. Maybe knowing the phrase makes a difference in the perception of the theme but it never struck me that the theme was anything other than anagramming articles of clothing. Not every anagram can be expected to be stellar.

    I’m very surprised that there is controversy as to what the theme is but I guess there is. Boot tailoring notwithstanding, I thought the title made it very clear.

    The alternative ito “my theme” is what? Two T/S swaps, a taco and a title that makes no sense?

  27. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Martin, you can’t deny that the order in which theme entries appear matters. MORNING TACO first, then the VETS, and then the BOOST? The anagram theme would have been more apparent. Presenting two final-ST/TS transposals first primed the mind to expect another.

    “Alterations” doesn’t scream anagrams. It means “changes.” Transposals are changes, too.

  28. Martin says:

    I might have even gotten the last theme entry first. I don’t remember. (I do two weeks worth of CSs when they’re posted on alternate Saturdays and that was two weeks ago.) I admit that could have made a difference.

    But even if you didn’t, and you figured the alterations were transposals, I don’t understand staying with the theory when TACO didn’t fit. I’d call “uninteresting anagrams” an appropriate criticism. “Didn’t any of the 50 CS editors know that TACO doesn’t fit the T/S transposal theme?” doesn’t seem so.

  29. Alex says:

    Why not change WINTER COATS to WINTER COAST for that last theme entry?

  30. Martin says:

    Here’s the April 24 CS. Solve it now and you’ll forget all it’s flaws by then.

    http://games.yahoo.com/litsoft/crossword/puzzles/cs100424.puz

    How did the system decide I look like Alfalfa the Pentagon?

  31. Spencer says:

    I googled Solothurn, saw it was in Switzerland, and immediately knew the river had to be AAR. Silly crosswordese that sticks in my head somehow.

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