Thursday, 6/3/10

Fireball 6:08
Tausig untimed
BEQ 4:06
NYT 4:02
LAT 3:46
CS untimed

Liz Gorski’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 7You know what’s missing from this puzzle? MAO. Sure, LENIN’s a [Red head?], but there’s no MAO to form ROFLMAO. But the shorter ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) is spelled out at the beginning of the theme entries:

  • 17A. A ROLLING BLACKOUT is a [Utility's power-saving stratagem].
  • 25A. [How oysters may be served] is ON THE HALF SHELL. (Either ON or ON THE can be deemed part of the theme.)
  • 42A. FLOOR TO CEILING is clued as [Fully, in a way].
  • 56A. Did you know the [Kookaburra] is called a LAUGHING JACKASS? And have you met the human embodiment of a kookaburra? I’ll bet you have.

My only grumble about the theme is that ROFL, like LOL, over-promises. I’d wager that fewer than 1% of the people who type “ROFL” online have actually been floor-bound with laughter. Even “LOL,” while less hype-filled, is usually a lie. Why “ha” was deemed too much trouble to type, while LOL is ubiquitous, I can’t explain.

Let’s take a gander at some some of the fill here:

  • 5A. A HAJI is an [Observant Muslim, at times].
  • 9A. MASHA, MASHA, MASHA! She’s [One of the three sisters in Chekhov's "Three Sisters"], along with Olga and Irina.
  • 14A. GO BANANAS? Nice! [Wig out] is the clue.
  • 37A. SATAN is a [Character in Tasso's "Jerusalem Delivered"].
  • 62A. [When repeated, capital city of 11,000] is PAGO Pago. Not fond of the half-answer.
  • 9D. Oh, dear. a MICROHM is a [Tiny electrical measure]. This is perhaps nobody’s favorite unit of measure. It just looks wrong.
  • 10D. Oh, dear. ALKANE is a [Saturated hydrocarbon]. Is that anybody’s favorite hydrocarbon? Squishing two ugly science words together is not optimal.
  • 35D, 37D, 38D. SARG SERGEI YUL? They don’t look so hot all in a row. [Puppeteer Tony], [Composer Prokofiev], [Broadway's Brynner].
  • 41D. [Subject for Chagall and Cassatt] is LILACS. With the first couple letters in place, I guessed LILIES. Here are his lilacs; here are hers. Oh! Cassatt’s “Lilacs in a Window” is lovely.
  • 49D. Liz is a musician, so TUNE makes perfect sense to her for [Get ready to play, say]. I was thinking of sports first.
  • Partials, meh. ILL AT, IT NO, AN END, NOT IF, and AS IT present three or four partials too many. (I’m OK with one or two per puzzle.)

My vote for potential quicksand crossing: 41A: [Egypt's Temple of ___] meets 30D: [Pope with a 27-day pontificate]. (I had no idea pontificate was also a noun.) It’s LUXOR and LEO XI, meeting at the X.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 18″

Region capture 4Yay! For the clue that’s crazy-long, Peter provided a little help to Across Lite/Black Ink solvers: the full text of the clue in his e-mail. Mind you, seeing the full clue didn’t help me get the answer in the slightest, but at least I knew what I was dealing with. This ESQUIVALIENCE is a [Fake word in the New Oxford American Dictionary defined as "the willful avoidance of one's official responsibilities; the shirking of duties"; "an unwillingness to work, esp. as part of a group effort"; and "lack of interest or motivation"]—one of those words dictionary editors plant within the tome to nail plagiarists.

Did this puzzle land in the range of a not-so-tough Saturday NYT for you, harder than a Friday NYT?

Favorite answers and clues:

  • 17a. [Cool group] is GREEN DAY because Tre Cool’s a member of the band. I know this only because of alt-weekly or BEQ clues for TRE.
  • 45a. ARRID EXTRA DRY has been a [Drugstore product since 1967]. I believe it to be the only antiperspirant whose TV ad jingle resides in my brain. Sing it!
  • 61a. [When a flip response is warranted?] is a perfect clue for COIN TOSS.
  • 64a. Are you paying attention, people? BULGARIA is [Where leva are spent]. Some day in the future, you’ll be doing a crappy puzzle in which LEVA is is clued as Bulgarian currency (because how else are you gonna clue that?), and you’ll dredge it out of your brain. (Leva is the plural of lev. One lev contains 100 stotinki, you know.)
  • 3d. In the It’s Not Kosher Sweepstakes, STEAK QUESADILLA is a [Cheeseburger alternative]. My son ordered steak quesadillas last weekend. I know you wanted to hear about that.
  • 9d. GOBI DESERT is solid, but I don’t know what the heck ["Flight of the Phoenix" setting] is all about. Google tells me it’s a 1964 novel and a 1965 Jimmy Stewart movie (set in the Sahara) and a 2004 Dennis Quaid movie set in Mongolia, home of the Gobi.
  • 11d. [Musophobic cry] is “EEK,” the cry of someone scared of mice. Last night on Wipeout, they used the word coulrophobe—that’s someone afraid of clowns.
  • 12d. Don’t let Mao’s appearance in another clue fool you. [Red square] means TRIPLE WORD SCORE in Scrabble—and in Facebook’s Lexulous, where I’ve largely lost my mojo in the last month. Would someone please return my Scrabbly mojo right away?
  • 24d. Easy to choose the wrong approach to a clue like [Go after]. GUN FOR is a fresher solution.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Action!”

Region capture 5Hidden within 1-Across (balancing COMICS as the last Across entry) and the four longest entries are various comic book sound effects, and—in the printed version of the puzzle—those hidden words are enclosed by cartoony balloons. The “VROOM” in TV ROOM appears with a speedy plume of the dust you’re being left in. The three jagged-edged words are BANG, WHAM, and BAM. And the gooshy-edged word is SPLAT. In each case, the sound effect word spans two words in the theme entry.

Highlights:

  • 11a. The biggest trick is in a little 3-letter word. [Male cat], that’s a TOM, of course. Except that it’s GIB here. If you’re like me, you frowned at the mangling of the three crossings until those clues unwound the GIB.
  • 18a. [You suck if you use one] clues, yes, a TEAT.
  • 23a. ["It's not ___ truck. It's a series of tubes" (Senator Ted Stevens describing the internet)] clues the partial A BIG. Gotta love the ill-informed and out-of-touch making bold pronouncements in the Senate. “Series of tubes” instantly became a classic description.
  • 32a. [Monthly toiletries] for some are PADS. Ben’s a grown man. He’s not afraid of a little menstruation. Have you seen the new Kotex “U” advertising campaign? Although the TV networks won’t let KOTEX use the word “vagina” in a tampon commercial, they’ve boldly put the blue liquid, the white pants, the beach, and riding horseback behind them. The straightforward approach is about 30 years overdue.
  • 30d. Ah, the mythical two-word PEN IS, clued with ["The ___ mightier ..."]. Did PENIS really did appear in the NYT crossword before the Shortz era, or is that apocryphal?
  • 31d. [Kagan who saved crossword constructors from having to reference a very old actress or a Russian tennis player] or, for that matter, a Russian skater, Spanish princess, or Italian queen, is ELENA Kagan.

Mark Bickham’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 6Verbal communication’s the name of the game, and you’d better think flexibly about it:

  • 18a. KEY WORDS are defined as [Musician's parlance?]. Because some musical instruments have keys? Or because of Francis Scott Key? I would have gone with a locksmith, personally.
  • 24a. [Billiards player's parlance?]  is ENGLISH LANGUAGE, owing to the “body English” pool players use.
  • 38a. [Mechanic's parlance?] clues IDLE CHATTER. I would have gone with a taxi driver or a bus driver here, as they deal with idling much more than auto mechanics do. Then again, drivers don’t need to speak about neutral gear much, do they?
  • 55a. [Remodeler's parlance?] is a PANEL DISCUSSION. Eh…how many remodeling plans involve wood paneling?
  • 61a. BACK TALK is [Chiropractor's parlance?].

As you might have guessed, this theme didn’t grab me. The occupational connections feel forced for a few of the theme entries.

Seven’s a lucky number, so here are seven other clues:

  • 7a. Ben Franklin was smart. ["There never was a good" one, according to Franklin] clues WAR.
  • 3d. To [Right, in a way], a wrong is to AVENGE it.
  • 9d. [Lustrous fabric] clues RAYON here, not SATIN. You wanted SATIN here too, didn’t you?
  • 10d. I suppose [Fired wildly into, as an oater town] makes for a more palatable clue for SHOT UP than a heroin reference would.
  • 26d. LICHENS are unholy [Fungus-alga unions].
  • 39d. Antoine CADILLAC was [Detroit's founder] in 1701. Wow, Detroit’s been Westernized a lot longer than Chicago.
  • 47d. [Badger at the park] clues HECKLE. I suppose this is about baseball players, but I associate heckling more with stand-up comedians.


Updated Thursday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Batter’s Box Office”—Janie’s review

Hello, good readers! In two weeks I’ll be back full-time; for this week and the next, I’ll be sharing the honors with the estimable (and most wonderful!) Evad, whose alacrity in picking up the slack has touched me no end. Thank you warmly and heartily, Dave!!

So—”Batter’s Box Office” gives us a more-bang-for-the-buck “before and after” title telling us not only that the theme is related to baseball, but also to movies about baseball. Comprised of four ’80′s flicks, the theme-fill line-up features:

  • 17A. THE NATURAL [1984 baseball movie]. Based on the Bernard Malamud novel, this one starred Robert Redford. Mostly what I remember about it is that I found it to be a “mixed-positive” film, but that a friend who really didn’t care for it at all dubbed it The Unnatural… (Didn’t remember at all that this was directed by Barry Levinson.)
  • 28A. MAJOR LEAGUE [1989...]. All I know of this one is what I read on IMDB, which confirmed my recollection that this was a Charlie Sheen vehicle.
  • 45A. EIGHT MEN OUT [1988...]. Score another for Charlie Sheen. This is the story of the Black Sox scandal as seen through the lens of John Sayles—who also appears in the film as writer Ring Lardner.
  • 61A. BULL DURHAM [1988...]. “Oh, she gets wooly. Young girls they do get wooly…” Thank you, Tim Robbins (by way of screenwriter Ron Shelton), for forever enhancing my enjoyment of “Try a Little Tenderness.”

In addition to these movie references, many of the Down clue/fill combos contribute to the puzzle’s peppy show-biz undercurrent: CAHN is the last name of [Lyricist Sammy]. Did he write “HIGH HOPES” [Oscar-winning song from "A Hole in the Head"]? Sure did. (Composer was Jimmy Van Heusen.) ICE T is the ["New Jack City" star who sounds cool]. Then there’s ORSON [Bean or Welles], the latter of whom narrated the startlingly realistic radio treatment of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. (That author’s novella The Time Machine gets play with ELOI [Race in an H.G. Wells story].)

Steve URKEL is the [Nerdy neighbor on "Family Matters"]. (I never saw the show, but because of all the media attention Jaleel White got at the time, I did know the reference…) From Off-Broadway’s still-running (again) The Fantasticks, there’s the timeless ["Try to] REMEMBER ["]; and there’s classic filmdom’s EMIL [Jannings who won the first Oscar] (in 1929, for his roles in both The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh). Oh, and there’s one in the Across column, too, and that’d be [Critic Rex] REED—because that’s a show biz and not a cruciverbal clue (not to mention that PARKER is two letters too long…).

There’re a bunch of klever klues that deserve a shout-out today, so “say ‘hey’” to:

  • [Give a smack, say] for KISS.
  • [Winter air?] for CAROL (’cause BOREAS wasn’t gonna happen…).
  • [Rice whose characters suck] for ANNE, whose vampires populate both the printed page and the silver screen.
  • [Goes downhill, in a way] for SLALOMS. We saw a lot of that with this past winter’s Olympics.
  • [Thanksgiving dinner spot, maybe] is KIDS TABLE and not GRAVY STAIN…
  • And, for its self-referential silliness, my fave:
    [Number of F's in this puzzle's answer grid] for ONE (see 52A or 54D).

Hey, Janie! Welcome back! We missed you.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Faking It”

Region capture 8See? Right here, TRE is clued as [Green Day drummer ___ Cool]. What did I tell you last night in the Fireball write-up?

This puzzle’s theme is fake bands from movies and TV shows. Six bands in all, occupying seven entries. My favorite is DRIVE SHAFT, because I’ve watched Lost much more recently than the other shows/flicks. “You All Everybody” is among the best bad song titles. Plus, bassist Charlie = cinematic hobbit. You can’t go wrong there.

The only fake band I haven’t seen in my personal consumption of pop culture is DETHKLOK. But that’s OK. I’ve learned the name…from crosswords. (Alt-weekly and/or BEQ puzzles, not the daily paper’s crossword.)

With the theme entries occupying so much real estate in the grid, there’s not much else of note.

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15 Responses to Thursday, 6/3/10

  1. ktd says:

    I got the theme after finishing the puzzle–what a great idea! Here’s one of my favorite uses of ROFL: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/category/ncbi-rofl/feed/

  2. pannonica says:

    LAT 18a: Where would crosswords be without compositions in keys such as A Major, F Sharp, and all the rest?

    LAT 24a: m-w defines body English as ” bodily motions made in a usually unconscious effort to influence the progress of a propelled object (as a ball).” Effective English is “spin around the vertical axis deliberately imparted to a ball that is driven or rolled” (m-w again).

  3. joon says:

    i’m in a bit of a slump, but i still think the fireball was very hard, much harder than a typical NYT saturday. had to fight for every square. especially ESQUIVALIENCE (obviously). it’s cool, but is it fair? i have to wonder that about the entire puzzle, actually, even though i did eventually solve it. in a puzzle that already had a lot of trivia in the fill, i vehemently disliked the choice of these particular clues for LADY, AS IS, and LEE; they couldn’t have been less helpful. and the clues for GREEN DAY, MAGIC, and CBS all relied on the same proper name trick. TUM and TON are words that i do not know, apparently. (TOM or TUN, i woulda been all over.)

  4. Well, MICROHM googles but I still don’t like it. MICROOHM is the term I am familiar with.

  5. Eric Maddy says:

    Here’s what happens when I solve a Tausig puzzle way too fast: I glance at the 31D clue, see “Kagan” and “crossword constructors”, confidently enter JONAH, and then have to come back later and figure out why that’s not right……

  6. Gareth says:

    From yesterday:
    “Soccer (that’s football to Gareth). ” – South Africans mostly use soccer, as in Soccer City the venue of the 2010 World Cup Final.

    NYT:
    This theme is so simple, but awesomely elegant too! It’s one of those “Why couldn’t I have thought it?!” ones.

    Have literally “ROFLed” once… Laughed so much I leant backwards too far on my chair…

    Alkane seems perfectly respectable to me… Chemistry 101 word, much better than say, ENOL. MICROHM is a lot more meh. A pox on those partials! (but Ms. Gorski posted on her blog that she likes using partials in her puzzles… Different strokes I guess.

    LAT: Took longer than the NYT, on a Wednesday. Interesting. Like the idea of the theme very much.

    Yes I did want SATIN; I also wanted HUGS. In that small area the wheels kinda fell off!

    (Just realised: It’s because this is my fastest NYT Thursday by nearly half a minute!)

  7. Mitchs says:

    Thank you Joon! I was bummed after completing this puzzle, which I thought was very tough, and then having it rated as between a Fri and Sat NYT. Not for me.

  8. Zulema says:

    The ESQUIVALE…. part came easily because ESQUIVAR is Spanish for the gist of the definition, but not the ending which stymied me as I could not find crossings that made sense. I would have thought the word (or non-word) was more likely to be “esquivalence” but no.

  9. Quentinc says:

    I’m usually the one finding everything harder than Amy describes, but for me the FB did feel somewhere between a Fri and Sat NYT. I thought the fill was really good.

    The pointless prolixity of the clue for 28A was baffling, but it is sort of funny once you read the explanation in Peter’s answers. Still, when dictionaries start including fake words, can the fall of Western Civilization be far behind?

    The clue for GREENDAY annoyed me. Is there any band on earth less cool that Green Day (unless you’re into perky aerobics music)? I see the explanation now, but that’s still no excuse.

    And, finally, the dictionary says that PEDOLOG[y] is both the study of children and the study of soil?!. They couldn’t find two separate words to describe those? Or is the link that children are always playing in the dirt?

  10. pannonica says:

    The fake words ploy has been around for decades. If you’re right, Quentic, then the FOWC is overdue. Some might say it’s already here.

    I don’t subscribe to the Fireball puzzles, but seeing esquivalience and comments thereon puts me in mind of a musician, and then another: Esquivel (“space-age bachelor pad music” pioneer) and Esquerita (Little Richard was the toned-down version).

  11. diana says:

    Re: LA Times
    You might have enjoyed the theme answers more if you thought of ‘idle’ as something a mechanic adjusts when working on your car and ‘panel’ as not just wood paneling since it also refers to insulation, construction and shoji screens.

  12. Jeffrey says:

    It is also common for mapmakers to create fake streets for copyright purposes.

  13. joon says:

    and crossword constructors make up fake words for copyright purposes.

  14. Howard B says:

    Enjoyed the Fireball puzzle except for the already mentioned Long-word crossing the ‘Pedologist’ clue – as one is a fake word, exactly how did you come up with the correct letter on the first try for the S, other than “best educated guess”? It’s really cool and interesting, but it really requires every crossing to be pretty solid. The other cross with SOIL was the clue for 41-A (ALSO) with the dictionary reference. For anyone who has the puzzle, can someone please explain it? I’ve read and reread it, and am completely stumped. Not knowing the -ology is one thing, but completely not grasping the clue in another ;).

    Oh yeah, the misdirection for GREEN DAY? Got it, but that name misdirection clue really needs a recognizable name to work – that drummer name doesn’t pass it for me, really (though I’ve seen it in puzzles as well).

    Didn’t mean to sound snarky – not a complainer, and 98% of that puzzle was just pure fun. But that side really annoyed me, and I don’t annoy easily, honestly. Just thought it was a little bit more on the “unfair” (aka really vicious Saturday Stumper) side of challenging, although I did complete it.

  15. Quentinc says:

    I had no idea. I can’t wait for two separate dictionary or map makers to accidentally use the same fake words/streets, and then fight it out in court over who plagiarized who. How can you copyright a street? Hey, you stole those streets from me when you made your map!

    I think I’m going to make up some fake laws next time I write an article for a health care law publication. I now have the perfect excuse.

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