Friday, 4/16/10

NYT 6:00
BEQ 4:46
LAT 3:51
CS untimed
CHE tba—Is there a CHE puzzle this week?

Eric Berlin’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 8Let’s look at this by the numbers: 70 words. Eighteen of ‘em in the 7- to 11-letter range. A few of them pleased me, but I dunno, things like ANIMAL PELT and AEROMETERS fell flat for me. First up, the good stuff:

  • 17A. Ever order the TASTING MENU? [It has a lot of small dishes]. I had a great tasting menu at Aqua in San Francisco in the ’90s. It remains the only time I have willingly and enthusiastically partaken of mushrooms. (Wild.)
  • 58A. I’m not a fan of gendered-for-no-reason words like COMEDIENNES, but it does look lovely in the grid. [Women who may make people break up?]—break up laughing, not break up a relationship.
  • 10D. COULDA! I like the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” spellings. The clue made it gettable even if you’ve never heard of the song (which I had not): ["___ Been the One" (2006 Rihanna song)].
  • 18D. GNARLIER is clued [More difficult, in slang]. Was this gnarlier than the usual Friday puzzle for you? No? It was for me.
  • 26D. SUSAN is (was?) a [Longtime human "Sesame Street" role]. Took me way too many crossings before I remembered Susan, of Susan and Gordon fame.
  • 34D. SATURNINE is a cool synonym for [Gloomy].

I’m torn on LETTER N (42D: [End of discussion?]). I feel like it wants THE up front. LETTER N by itself feels incomplete, naked without the definite article.

Two long science/technology doodad-related terms are stacked together in the southwest. 27D: [Crookes tube emission] is a CATHODE RAY (which is seldom seen in the wild outside of the phrase “cathode ray tube”) and 28D: [Measurers of gas properties], AEROMETERS. I feel that the people who are conversant in those things are more likely than most to be familiar with KIT CAR (4D: [Build-it-yourself wheels]). I prefer the junior version, the Kit Carson.

Clunky fill includes abbreviations (DESC., A.E.C., ELEC., IDENT., U.A.E., O.E.D., SYS., O.N.I., ELEM., SEPT., and ASST.), partials (O’ CAT, A HOT, ON OR), and a sort of awkward plural FINAL CUTS (6D: [Demands of some directors]).
Updated Friday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Break-Ups,” Janie’s review

Oh, boy, did I enjoy this one. It’s a wordplay theme that all comes down to parsing–the way you “break up” a sentence or phrase for meaning. The five theme-clues all yield amusing three-word answers (some of them groan-worthy); but look at them more closely and you’ll see a familiar two-word phrase as well. In this way:

  • 17A. [Cut on an egotist's CD] → THE “ME” SONG. Or, on second glance, theme song.
  • 23A. [Country where everyone drives the same color automobile?] → RED CAR NATION. Or red carnation. Groaner alert. Oops. Too late.
  • 35A. [Biographical information about Wall Street workers?] → STOCK BROKER AGES. Or stock brokerages
  • 45A. [Benevolent and slim monarch?] → GOOD THIN KING. Another groaner that shares the space with good thinking. The latter will often yield IDEAS [Brainstorming results].
  • 56A. [Runt at the Round Table?] → WEE KNIGHT. Or, yes, week night.

Now that’s one nice little gimmick used to fine effect. The remainder of the puzzle does its part to keep things interesting. You and your mate are [Visitors to Vail], SKIERS, say. Stands to reason that a HOSTELER [Innkeeper] there is likely to win your favor if s/he greets you with baked goods that are HOMEMADE [Like cookies from the kitchen], no?

And I learned something about the Latin phrase ["Ars] LONGA, [vita brevis"]. This translates, roughly, as “Art is long, life is short,” but the origin of the phrase is Greek, in fact, and was spoken by Hippocrates (he of the oath taken by physicians). It seems, then, that “art” is not to be understood as “fine arts” but more in the sense of “technique” or “craft.”

Some other longa fill I liked includes MAPMAKER [Cartographer] and KEPT DOWN [Stifled] (though my first fill there was KEPT IT IN…). PEEPER [Eye, in slang] is a nice complement to WINK [Fleeting moment] (as in the idiom “in the wink of an eye“). NLERS [Bucs and Cards, e.g.], WBA [Fighting org.], ALI [Champ from Louisville] and ONE-NIL [Low soccer score] are all sports-based, of course, and those last three especially work well with REFEREE, since you won’t just find ‘im as a [Member of an NFL officiating crew].

Only one repeat today (PAM appeared four days ago) and the cluing was a tad straightforward, but there were a few standout clues, and they’d be [Hand holder?] for ARM, [Ending for finish or finish for ending] for ING and [Two after do] for RE-MI. That last one took me far too long to catch on to. D’oh!

Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 9Given the existence of “chick lit,” it took me a while to figure out that CHICKEN LIT (21A: ["Egg-laying for Dummies," etc.?]) was shorted from “Chicken Little.” Each theme entry was made by lopping off -TLE from the end of (sometimes semi-)familiar phrases. Besides the chicken one, we have:

  • 17A: [Princeton jazzman?] clues JERSEY CAT.
  • 27A: [What a New York baseball owner would do to ensure player fitness?] clues TEST ONE’S MET. I briefly thought this was including that gym rat/exercise word “met,” some sort of metabolic unit, and thought it was a bit arcane for a crossword, but of course it’s a capital-M New York Met.
  • 42A: [Sign outside a boarded-up JFK?] might be AIRPORT SHUT. Too bad the clue didn’t have Heathrow in it, given that northwestern Europe’s airports are closed on account of a volcanic ash plume. Picture! A high-school classmate of mine is taking her kid to Iceland next week to see the volcano. Her inner geology geek is squealing with delight.
  • 50A: [Little Londoner?] is a PEANUT BRIT. I have given up on peanut brittle. The Indiana Amish folks make this nutty crunch stuff that is to die for. Butter, sugar, nuts—that’s about it. With cashews and almonds and pecans along with peanuts, it kicks peanut brittle’s inadequate behind.
  • 56A: [Carpet-cleaning android?] is a VACUUM BOT, but I’m not 100% certain what a vacuum bottle is. Is “vacuum jar” a thing? Is it the same thing? Are thermoses involved? And is anyone else thinking of botflies with BOT BOT BOT staring at them?

I like those open corners with the 8- and 9-letter answers in them. The word TARNISHED (9D: [Sullied]) rhymes with “varnished,” which minus the R and verb ending is VANISH (23A: [Disappear]).

No comment on D-CUPS (59A: [Parts of some support systems?]) pointing squarely at AREOLA (45D: [Colored circle around the pupil]).

Favorite clue: 30D: [Day star?] for OPRAH. (Not EL SOL.) Have you been watching the Life series on the Discovery Channel? Oprah Winfrey is the narrator. She really helps cheetahs attacking a zebra go down easy.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “What’s the Alternative?”

Region capture 10Okay, the theme entries swap in an opposite for the second word in a phrase. Or not exactly an opposite, but the other item in a “___ or ___” phrase.

  • 17A. [What a marathon runner does after getting a sprain during a race?] is TREAT KNEE. The opposite of KNEE is, of course, Williams. No, wait. The opposite goes with the first word here: trick knee.”Trick or treat.”
  • 24A. [Answer to "which Rogers and Hammerstein musical do you want to see and when?"] clues OKLAHOMA!, LATER. The Oklahoma Sooners were more prompt. “Sooner or later.”
  • 40A. [Tell-all that doesn't actually tell all that much?] is NOTHING EXPOSURE. The opposite phrase is…”all exposure.” “All or nothing” is certainly familiar, but that’s not making any sense here. Help me out here, folks.
  • 52A. [Food shortage that spreads from area to area?] is a MOVABLE FAMINE. “Feast or famine.”
  • 65A. [Score the first points in a tennis game?[ clues BREAK LOVE. Lemme think…Ah, yes: “make or break,” make love.

I’d like this theme better if 40A made any sense to me, and if the changed word was in a consistent location in each theme entry. Hmph.

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18 Responses to Friday, 4/16/10

  1. jimbob says:

    The NYT puzzle sucked. None of the fill was interesting, and at least half of it was total crap (tons of abbvs, for one thing). Boo-urns.

  2. Evad says:

    Also a fence-sitter on this one…loved SETS FOOT IN, DOMINOS, SATURNINE and SCARECROW, but I agree with LETTER N needing an article up front and are there pelts that don’t belong to animals?

  3. ArtLvr says:

    Good one by me — tricky and tough, but gettable. I even resisted looking up the symbol for Dominos’ stock because I knew it would come back to me, as it did. Neat clues, like PULSES being “checked for life”. That’s A HOT one! No complaints… Thanks, Eric.

  4. Howard B says:

    I don’t mind LETTER N, as it falls in the category of misdirection with SILENT E, HARD G, and all of those nasties.
    However, what hurt me here was my (fairly confidently) placing LECTERN in there about halfway through my solve, resulting in the perfectly cromulent CARSI. (TARSI + CARPI ?). You know, I tried very hard to convince myself that LECTERN fit the clue, since the ‘end’ of a discussion hall could be a lectern? Except that it doesn’t quite fit.
    That took me a while to untangle. The anklebone’s connected to the… wristbone? Sure. Lesson of the day: Do not enroll in medical school.

  5. Evad says:

    Funny to have three I-plurals today: TARSI, STRETTI and ILLINI. The latinphiles must be happy with this one.

    @HB, can you imagine a Sesame Street show ending with this line? “Today’s show was brought to you by LETTER N.” I can’t.

  6. joel says:

    DOUBLE exposure

  7. Amy Reynaldo says:

    DOUBLE!

    Evad, ILLINI isn’t a plural.

  8. Evad says:

    Oh, I always thought of the Fighting Illini as a group, like the Atlanta Braves.

  9. Vic says:

    The LETTER N is REPUTEDLY, with some COMEDIENNES, eating wild musrooms, ordered off the TASTING MENU at DOMINOS when a WELL-PAID SCARECROW SETS FOOT IN the place, wearing an ANIMAL PELT. This scene is cast onto a screen by a REEL-TO-REEL projector by a director who is demanding FINAL CUTS, so that she may SELL TO a major distributor. Good puzzle, Eric! I wholeheartedly disagree with the person who said it sucked. Vic

  10. Howard B says:

    @Evad: Point made, and it is a bit awkward. Though in some cases, the “Letter X” nomenclature can work. Case in point, Letter B.

    Also, I’ve heard it used at the start of a sentence or clause, albeit awkwardly: “In this equation/graph/chart, letter N represents the number of Slurpees consumed per year, while letter Y represents annual reports of brain freeze”. (Of course, ‘letter’ wouldn’t be used in math class, but occasionally in reference to a graph label).

  11. Evad says:

    Thanks Howard…I still would like to see “the” before “letter” in your equation/graph/chart sentence.

    Now if we were talking about a London landlord named N, all bets are off.

    And since I’m exempt from the 30-minute rule, I’ll post this video in response!

  12. cyberdiva says:

    Amy, I’ve been looking for the Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle for several days now, and I haven’t found it. I turned to your blog in part to see whether YOU had found it.

    As for today’s NYTimes, I really liked it, partly because I was able to finish it with no cheating. I agree, though, that there were too many abbrevs. As for the “letter n” controversy, could it be that the absence of “the” was most troubling to people who watch(ed) Sesame Street?

  13. Mike says:

    Capital of Nigeria? No, it’s not Abuja. Nope, not Naira, either. It’s LETTER N. As arbitrary as the [blank]TILE answers.

  14. LARRY says:

    Did not know that HERACLES was an variant spelling for HERCULES – but my dictionary did.

  15. Jon88 says:

    [never mind, I was mistaken...]

  16. John Haber says:

    I didn’t know what an AEROMETER or KIT CAR is, and I didn’t recognize Crookes tube emissions right off, although I studied science. So let’s just say they weren’t necessarily a gimme for people like me, just things that worked out ok with crossings. I’d mixed feelings about LETTER N, as I was getting less and less fond of the joke on hard or soft C, say, as more and more like crosswordese, and this was more banal, but I rode with it.

    Hardest for me was ILLINI. Also, REA is not in RHUD. So say I liked a lot that it was about a normal Friday in difficulty, no giveaways or torments, even if not a thriller fill or terribly witty clues.

    Oh, Hercules is the Roman form, Heracles the Greek form.

  17. ArtLvr says:

    Janie — I think the vacuum bottle is what we call by brand-name Thermos!

    Happy with BEQ’ alternatives, all good especially Trick/treat knee…

  18. jojo says:

    I think the clue is for “Test one’s mettle.”

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