Wednesday, 6/23/10

NYT 6:47 (Sam)
LAT 4:50 (Sam)
Onion 8:51 (Sam)
CS untimed

Happy Hump Day, everyone. Sam Donaldson here to review three of this week’s Wednesday crosswords. As usual, Janie will drop in with her review of the CrosSynergy puzzle a little later.

Alex Boisvert’s New York Times crossword

NYT 062310Across Lite solvers had this little treat in the notepad: “In the print version of today’s puzzle, some of the horizontal rules of the grid are not solid all the way across. They appear broken, for reasons relating to the puzzle’s theme. Specifically, the horizontal rules under the following squares are not solid: Row #3 — under squares 5-7; Row #5 — under squares 9-13; Row #8 — under squares 6-10.” At least they fared better than applet solvers, who didn’t even get the part I put in bold print above! You can check out Amy’s post below for a blank copy of the print-edition grid if the notepad explanation has you confused.

Because of the foregoing, I’m guessing some online solvers will be grousing on some of the other blogs without ever really considering the merits of the puzzle. But not here, right? We devoted Followers of the Fiend aren’t put off by having to print out the occasional grid to get the full effect, right? We much prefer an innovative and entertaining puzzle even if it means having to do a little extra legwork, right? Well, I certainly hope so because I thought this puzzle was well worth the very little extra effort required here.

Frankly, I don’t think one needs to see the “dotted lines” in the grid to complete the solve – although I printed the blank grid in advance, I stuck to Across Lite during the solve and never even looked at the printed version until I was done.
The theme, by the way, is Alex’s clever take on the phrase at 50- and 60-Across and clued as [Ink a contract]: SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE. The entries at 17-, 25-, and 37-Across contain a hidden sign of the zodiac that sits atop the dotted (not solid) lines in the grid. Hence, the signs are on the dotted lines. Way cool! Let’s make like a library patron and check them out:

  • [Tots] are LITTLE ONES, hiding Leo, the lion.   I’m partial to this one because I once hid the word “Leo” inside of LITTLE ONE for a CHE puzzle about constellations.  Should I have said “Spoiler Alert” there?
  • To [Make fine adjustments to] is to CALIBRATE, contains Libra.   I like how Libra is represented by scales and here it’s hidden inside the word “calibrate.”
  • The ["On the Waterfront" Oscar winner] is EVA MARIE SAINT, whose name hides Aries, the ram.

Before you even think about complaining that there’s only three entries with dotted lines, remember that they work symmetrically with the important reveal (“SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE”) and that there’s not exactly a ton of other theme entries from which to choose. I wonder if Alex started with the “sign on the dotted line” concept or if he first tried to make a puzzle with hidden zodiac signs and could only generate good theme entries with three signs so he had to come up with another way to spice it up. Either way, I thought it made for a terrific puzzle. Normally, I would carp that Leo and Aries cross two words while Libra is entirely contained within one word, but my love for everything else squelches any urge to pick nits.

The fill may sparkle like the theme, but it’s certainly solid. I love DORITOS, the [Tortilla chip brand], both as an entry and as a snack, and WOBBLE, clued as [Need leveling, perhaps], is just a great word, though I confess I first tried WOBBLY. The western half of the grid boasts Vs aplenty along with two Xs and a J.  I like the pairing of long vertical entries with INDIANAN, a [Hoosier], and VIRGINIA, the [Birthplace of eight U.S. presidents].  As a fan of the show, I was right at home with OCEANIC as the [Fictional airline on "Lost"].

On the clue front, I love ["Still mooing"] at 1-Across for RARE – a terrific clue to start the solve. I also like the use of [Old flames] twice, once without a question mark for EXES and then with a question mark for ASHES. And I was bully for the double-use of Theodore Roosevelt, first to clue ABE as [Mt. Rushmore neighbor of Teddy] and then to clue TRUST as [Target for Teddy Roosevelt].

Were there trouble spots? Not so much for me.  I know, a time just shy of seven minutes is not exactly cruising through the grid by the standards of many readers, but that would be a slightly fast Tuesday time for me.  I had to think through the spelling of L’CHAIM, the [Toast at a bar mitzvah], and I needed two crossings for BIMINI, the [Bahamas getaway]. But otherwise it was smooth sailing.   Did you hit any potholes?

Kudos to Alex for the great theme concept and for terrific execution!  I think the only way I could have loved this puzzle more is if it worked in my own sign, AQUARIUS. But maybe that’s a tall order.

Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LAT06231061-Across tells us that [Each of the four longest puzzle answers has two pairs of them], and that’s ESSES. How sassy! Here they are:

  • One who is [Confident] is SELF-POSSESSED. I think I’m more “demon-possessed” than “self-possessed,” but I’m willing to concede that’s my own quirk.
  • The [Second-counter's opening] line is ONE MISSISSIPPI. I didn’t pay close attention to the clue and missed the hyphen on the first go-round, so this one took a little while to figure out.
  • An [Evaluation by co-workers] is a PEER ASSESSMENT. Academics like me who undergo the tenure process know all about peer assessments of research and teaching.
  • A [Professional hitter?] is a HIRED ASSASSIN. I normally think of “paid assassin” and “hired gun,” but this feels legitimate to me, too.

This theme highlights one of Dan Naddor’s many talents: the ability to extract a whole puzzle from a simple theme.  I mean, the theme is so straight-forward (two-word terms where the second word contains two double-S pairs), I thought for sure that it would have been done before.  But a quick check through the Cruciverb database indicates that no one else bothered with this theme before (at least not with these same theme entries, and it’s not like the list of eligible theme entries here is incredibly long).  The double, double-S words used here have been used many times in freestyle grids, which isn’t too surprising since words loaded with the letter S are helpful along the eastern and southern edges of freestyle grids.   And yet it seems no one else thought to turn these things into a themed puzzle.  Dan Naddor had a gift for seeing these things that so many others missed or never bothered to exploit, and he made good use of them.

My only misgiving about the puzzle is that because the theme is clear from the entries themselves, the ESSES punchline at the bottom of the grid really added nothing to the construction (making it less essential?); in fact, I found it a little condescending.  Otherwise, though, this was solid for a simple puzzle.  I liked the paired vertical 8s of EINSTEIN and the BOGEY MAN in the northwest, as well as PUMP IRON and I BEEN HAD! in the southeast.  IRED, clued as [Burned up], is admittedly a clunker, but I think it’s more than offset by the longer fill entries and even some of the livelier short ones like USES UP and EVEN SO.

Matt Jones’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion 062310The clue for both 1-Across and 64-Across is [Internet interjection found in two theme answers]. In the case of 1-Across, it’s WTF, meaning “What the fudge?” And for 64-Across it’s OMG, or “Oh. My. God.”   (Us old-schoolers often add “Becky” at the end of that one, I can’t deny.)  Sure enough, two of the theme entries insert “WTF” into common phrases, and the other two theme entries are a word and a name with “OMG” inserts.  To wit:

  • [Gingrich getting large, but organized?] clues NEWT FAT AND TIDY, which inserts WTF into “neat and tidy.”   Good thing Mr. Gingrich is back on the best-seller list.  Maybe a year ago Matt would have had to clue this entry with reference to an amphibian.
  • The [Country where it's customary to have diamond-encrusted prophylactics?] is a CONDOM GEM NATION, the result of inserting OMG into “condemnation.”  Anyone else shuddering at the thought of a diamond-encrusted condom?  Hardly a girl’s best friend, right?
  • The [Really foxy Christmas tree shapers?] are HAWT FIR STYLISTS, which is what you get when you insert WTF into “hair stylists.”  Fossil that I am, I took me a while to accept “hawt” as a correct variation of “hot.”  Kids these days.  Sheesh.
  • [Bitterness over a theater award from out of nowhere?] would be TONY RANDOM GALL, and that’s what happens when you mix OMG with the great Tony Randall.  An odd coupling, to say the least.  (Oh c’mon, that’s funny and you know it!)

Yes, this theme totally worked for me.  Matt Jones FTW!  As one would expect, there was stuff to titter about in the fill and clues, like [Evening rental, maybe] for PORNO.  But TINGLE got the innocent clue, [Feel all fluttery].  Even the most prim and proper among us would like OFF-YEAR, the [Bad season, to optimistic players], NO MA’AM, the [Polite refusal], and NO HOW, [Not in any way].  I thought it odd to see FLOW so close to ICE FLOE, but of course that’s not really a duplicate.  Wonder why Flo the waitress from “Alice” didn’t make an appearance?

A great assortment of Wednesday crosswords today, no?  Let’s hope the fun continues tomorrow!


Updated Wednesday morning:

Nancy Salomon’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Voice Your Choice”—Janie’s review

Nancy gives us three opportunities to act today (or not, as the case may be…) and the title tells us that these options come to us in rhyme. Thus, at:

  • 20A. there’s FIGHT OR FLIGHT [Choice of one who's threatened]. Pick yer battles! Self-preservation can never be over-rated!
  • 37A. we have BY HOOK OR BY CROOK [Choice of how to get what one wants]. And notice how Nancy folds in some complementary fill that supports either option with BUM [Mooch] and ROB [Take in a bad way?]. Nice, too, how the former plays off of the “b” of by and the latter sits atop the phrase itself.
  • 58A. exhorts us to USE IT OR LOSE IT [Choice of one with an offer that's about to expire]. In the workplace, this can refer to your vacation days. Use ‘em—you’ve earned ‘em!

In addition to this lively kinda theme fill, with entries like POGO STICK [Toy for bounding], there’s lots of bounce to the remainder of the fill as well (also [Bounce back] by way of ECHO…). I suspect Nancy [Labors over] TOILS AT her every construction, but there’s nothing belabored about the fill or the cluing, so the hard work pays off!

Among my faves today: HALF-RIGHT, which is [Better than all wrong]; NOAH’S ARK [Shelter for 40 days and 40 nights]; OUTSIZED [Uncommonly large]; the pair: ELEGY [Poem of remembrance] and its emotional opposite (in a musical setting, too), [Beethoven's "] ODE TO [Joy"] (the ode itself was written by poet Friedrich Schiller); MARCONI [Pioneer in wireless telegraphy]; SOCIAL [Liking company]; the snarky “YEAH, SURE” ["Now tell me another one"]; and, of course: TO DIE FOR [Absolutely fabulous].

I got a kick out of seeing both G-R-R and B-R-R in the same puzzle, for [Warning from a guard dog] and [Shiverer's sound] respectively. And I like the way the classic world gets a nod with OMEGA [Alpha's opposite] in the Greek alphabet and TOGA [Wraparound of old Rome]. From more modern Rome, we get “CIAO!” which, like its clue, is my own cue to say ["See ya later!"].

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8 Responses to Wednesday, 6/23/10

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Aquarius would be tough but my Virgo is awfully close to being in the grid (VIRGINIA). I printed out the blank grid and solved that way but it really wouldn’t have mattered as it was easily solvable without worrying about the theme. Cool effort.

  2. Gareth says:

    NYT:

    Lol at the fact Alex warned us that Jim Horne warned us that it’s better on paper, meanwhile it was his puzzle. Ironic that the message had “You can solve it electronically but it will be a little more challenging that way” – I don’t have my times on me but I think this is a PB Wednesday by some margin, in AL.

    When your theme revealer takes up 2 entries, 3 further theme entries is perfectly alright! Loved the theme – even though I only saw it after solving and reading the notepad! Always great to see a familiar theme concept – “hide related words in longer, unrelated theme entries” – get an original twist!

    Agree the “Still Mooing” / RARE combo was a winner! Total WTF when reading first time.

    LAT: Biggest winner: ONEMISSISSIPPI as a theme entry!! Looked wrong for so long with the terminal I! Agree that it’s a simple but elegant theme. The ESSES didn’t bug me til reading your objection, Sam. Funny that.

    Oh yes, thanks for holding the fort Sam. Your opinions and write-up have been most entertaining!

  3. Karen says:

    In LAT I started off with ONE ONE THOUSAND for 26A. Then I realized part of it was wrong, I really wanted to put in One Mippippippi. (Old Farscape joke.)

    I ended up printing up the AL puzzle for the NYT and highlighting the lines that were dotted on Orange’s grid. Once I got the theme reveal I still had two dotted lines to fill in, so the lines were useful. But I prefer solving on the computer these days.

  4. John Haber says:

    Since I do all puzzles in print, this was no burden on me. (Well, some of the TV clues were, and I had my sci-fi crosswordese scrambled in my brain so first entered “ents” instead of ELOI.) I very much enjoyed the theme, but while Amy warns not to complain on the paucity of three such entries out of 12 signs, perhaps it would have been better for a Sunday.

  5. cyberdiva says:

    I always print out the Across Lite puzzle and solve it with pencil and paper, but I couldn’t see any difference between the lines that were supposed to be broken and those that were normal. Hmm…perhaps I need a new toner cartridge? I apparently DO need a new brain. I completed the puzzle in what for me was probably record-breaking time (I don’t time my solvings, but the puzzle answers all seemed pretty obvious, and I completed it as if it were a Monday). Feeling very smug, I came to the blog site, and only then did I see that I had missed the main point of the puzzle! I was so pleased that I had finished the puzzle so easily that it never occurred to me to look for signs on the supposedly dotted lines! [place red-faced icon here]

  6. John Haber says:

    Diva, it wasn’t that printing made the dots clearer, it was that AcrossLite couldn’t handle the theme, while pdf could, so you were obliged either to adjust mentally from the notepad or else use pdf, which meant printing.

    Part of me wishes (given a Wednesday level) that I’d worked in AcrossLite and had to figure out where the dots might fall without consulting the notepad, based only on the theme entries.

    I also do realize that my suggestion of a Sunday puzzle runs up against the difficulty of embedding more signs in natural fills. Even with reversals allowed, something like, say, frOG RIVer isn’t really a phrase.

  7. cyberdiva says:

    John, thanks very much for your follow-up message. After reading it, I went back to the web page and saw that there was a pdf file offered. Normally, I just immediately click on the “Today’s Puzzle” link, which brings up AcrossLite. I then print out the puzzle from AcrossLite. That’s what I did yesterday as well. I wasn’t even aware that there was a pdf option until I read your message. Oh well….

  8. Alex says:

    I can’t figure out why they didn’t circle the relevant letters in the Across Lite file and have the notepad say “The print version of this puzzle has a 60-Across underneath the circled letters.” Oh well.

    Thanks for the nice review, Sam.

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