Thursday, 8/5/10

Fireball 9:57
NYT 4:48
LAT 3:25
Tausig untimed
BEQ 3:25
CS untimed

Gary Whitehead’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 2It was just this past Monday that we had our last MISSISSIPPI River theme (that one was in the L.A. Times). This one, though, is really a MIDWEST theme:

  • 66a. The MIDWEST is [What the circled parts of this puzzle comprise]. Wait, isn’t it that the MIDWEST comprises the circled states, rather than that the various states comprise the region? Word mavens, help me out.
  • 18d. The MISSISSIPPI is clued [It runs through the middle of the 66-Across].
  • Scattered throughout the grid are the two-letter postal abbreviations for ND, SD, NE, and KS in the west; MN, WI, IA, IL, and MO in the center; and MI, IN, and OH in the east. Hey! Look at that. The states are placed in roughly geographic relation to one another. That elevates the theme from “Why?” to “Oh!” The MISSISSIPPI River is placed in the grid where it belongs vis-a-vis the states—between Minnesota and Wisconsin, and separating Iowa and Missouri from Illinois.

The answers in which the states appear are not thematic. MIDWEST’s opposite number, ONTARIO ([Its official bird is the great Northern loon]), touches Midwestern states and has its very own unrelated Mississippi River, but it seems unrelated to the theme too.

More on the fill in a bit…

—It has now been “a bit.” Clues/answers I wanted to mention:

  • 8a. [Painters Frank and Joseph] are the STELLAS. Joseph Stella is less famous than Frank (no relation).
  • 16a. A [Nasty fall] is a WIPEOUT. Oh, how my family loves to watch Wipeout! It’s cartoon-level slapstick, I tell ya. It may also be the most significant pun outlet on network TV today.
  • 17a. A CHRISTMAS STORY, the [1983 Jean Shepherd film memoir], is a great entry but it’s distracting to have a nonthematic 15 in a themed puzzle.
  • 21a. MMIX, or 2009, is the [Year of the swine flu epidemic] in Roman numerals. No signal for the Romanity of the numbers, though, and the epidemiologists generally use the Arabic numerals for years.
  • 44a. [Place for a pot] clues SILL. I have never once placed a pot on a window sill. You? Oh! Not a cooking pot. A flower pot! I’ve definitely put flower pots on window sills.
  • 47a. QIX is a [Popular 1980s arcade game based on simple geometry].
  • 8d. [What lawn mowers make] is SWATHS.
  • 9d. TISHA [___ B'Av, Jewish day of fasting], is less familiar to me than actress Tisha Campbell-Martin.
  • 13d. Ooh, this is ugly. AURI- is clued as [Hearing: Prefix]. It took me a while to find a word in which this prefix is used: auriscope. Of course, nobody seems to use that word; I’ve only seen otoscope.
  • 27d. I don’t know about the word classic in this clue. IPANA is a [Classic toothpaste brand]? Bygone, sure, but Crest and Colgate seem more classic to me.
  • 29d. Crosswordese coming and going! ANA is a [Literary olio]. If you don’t know what ana and olio mean, this is completely unrevealing.
  • 32d. [Whom Artemis loved and unwittingly killed] clues ORION. Maybe if he’d had a utility belt like Batman, he could have saved himself. A belt made of stars is useless.
  • 37d. [French court event] isn’t about a court of law or a tennis court—it’s a BAL, or ball/dance, attended by royal courtiers.
  • 52d. Is there any other way to clue OPNIN (that’s op’nin’) besides this fill-in-the-blank? I say no. ["Another ___, Another Show" ("Kiss Me, Kate" song)].

All right, I’m out of thoughts.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Trying New Things: Part Two”

Region capture 13Dr. Seuss famously used a tiny 50-word lexicon when he wrote GREEN EGGS AND HAM, making a book that’s easy to read but embodies whimsy and drama despite the teeny vocabulary. Did you figure out that last week’s Ink Well theme entries were words used in Green Eggs and Ham? The words that didn’t fit into last week’s puzzle appear with the starred clues in this puzzle, along with two explanatory answers:

  • 41a. [*Children's classic that turns 66-Across this August (4)] is GREEN EGGS AND HAM, and the parenthetical 4 in the clue tells you that those four words are used in the book.
  • 66a. [Total number of words used in 41-Across (all of which appear in this and last week's puzzles in the answers to the starred clues)] is FIFTY.

This puzzle includes the words in the following bulleted list, as well as SEE IF, THANK YOU, ARE, NOT HERE, GOOD, and I DO:

  • 1a. DARK, [*Like some secrets and chocolates (1)]. Great clue. I would not, could not, in the dark.
  • 17a. A HOUSEBOAT is a [*Mobile home, perhaps (2)]. Would you, could you, in a house? On a boat, with a goat?
  • 27a. [*Sign at a free sample table (2)] is TRY THEM. Yes, it’s a trumped-up entry, but it gets two of the 50 words in, and in a direct quote at that: “You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may.”
  • 59a. [*Guided by Voices song from "Mag Earwhig!" (4)]? Good gravy! I needed the crossings for every bit of this. Never heard of “I AM A TREE” but I do know that Brendan Quigley and my friend Loretta are huge GBV fans. Now, did the band have a reason to spell it “Earwhig” rather than “Earwig”? Is the song about the Whigs?

Ben had a lot of thematic material to pack into these two Seuss puzzles, so sometimes the fill suffers. Less familiar bits today include these:

  • 28d. RIRE means [To laugh: French].
  • Crossing 4-letter European rivers!  33a is OISE, [River to the Seine]; 29d is YSER, [River through Belgium].
  • 30d. TEER is clued as a [Golfer, while preparing for a shot]. That’s a “tee”-er, one who tees. Bleah.
  • 32d. [78° 45' clockwise from north: Abbr.] is EBN, or “east by north.”
  • 37d. [Khalid al-___ (anti-Guantanamo Bay activist)] clues ODAH.

Brendan Quigley’s Fireball crossword, “Losing Confidants”

Region capture 1Fireballer Peter Gordon brings us a guest constructor this week and a switch from the usual 15×15 themeless to a Sunday-sized themed puzzle. Brendan’s theme involves taking assorted phrases, excising a word that means “confidant” or “buddy,” and cluing the shorter phrase accordingly. It must’ve been tough to develop a good set of theme entries that would fit in symmetrical slots. The fill was constrained by the need to include the “lost confidants” in the grid, perhaps because these friends are too good to lose completely? They’ve only been misplaced?

Given the heavy cross-referencing (of the eight “lost confidants” in the grid), I spent a long time having no grasp of the theme. Then when I did figure out that various words meaning “friend” were cut out of longer phrases, I had a dickens of a time finding the pairings, which I think cut down on the fun of the experience.

Theme entries:

  • 27a. [Product that keeps some Cambridge students from sweating?] is M.I.T.(chum) ANTIPERSPIRANT.
  • 40a. [Become warm?] clues (bud)GET FRIENDLY.
  • 48a. [Morning period for answering a few pieces of fan mail?] clues THREE-LETTER A.(crony)M. Eh, I don’t care for this one. Nobody would call this a “three letter a.m.”
  • 64a. [Bandage for the shins?] is a LEG(ally) BINDING.
  • 70a. To [Beat hoofer Gregory but good?] is to SMOKE (mac)HINES.
  • 89a. [Gp. of mile-high sergeants?] is THE DENVER (bro)N.C.O.’S.
  • 96a. [One who can testify on the authenticity of Middle Eastern currency?] is a (mate)RIAL WITNESS.
  • 106a. [Disorder characterized by claustrophobia and inability to hear the radio?] is CAR(pal) TUNNEL SYNDROME.

One thing that pushes me away from this theme a little is that so many of these “confidants” are specifically male terms. Bud, mac, bro, mate? I keep seeing words like this in the spam comments my filter catches, the irksome spams that assume the blogger is male. “Great site, mate!” This English language, with its decidedly gendered slant on things, it pisses me off sometimes. Where are the positive words for female friends, huh? One thesaurus gives me only “homegirl,” offset by “homeboy.” Brendan and Peter, did you notice that the relocated words tended to be specifically male?

Highlights:

  • 45a. [Cream cheese?] is Eric CLAPTON, who was in Cream.
  • 43d. The word [A in German 101?] can be EIN. Of course, it can also be eine, einer, eines, einem, einen…depending on the gender of the following noun and whether it’s the object of a preposition or not. But I like the clue.

A lot of the short fill in this puzzle left me cold. ASNE and ARNE, ERTE, CLEM, a surprisingly non-Japanese-golfer-sounding AOKI (Black Panther Richard Aoki was Japanese-American and I can’t help thinking that spending childhood in a U.S. internment camp might’ve helped radicalize the guy), AGAR, LISI? Not so thrilling.

Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 12What are some synonyms for ARREST? There’s RUN IN, which we often see in crosswords and is included in the 48d clue: [Run in, and a hint to the ends of the answers to starred clues]. There’s also NAB, which gets a lot of puzzle play as a 3-letter word. The five theme entries here end with other synonyms used in non-law enforcement contexts:

  • 18a. [*If absolutely necessary] clues IN A PINCH.
  • 20a. [*Ranger, for one] is a FORD PICKUP. The two word pick up can mean “arrest.”
  • 37a. [*"Am I missing something here?"] is what “WHAT’S THE CATCH?” means.
  • 55a. BLUE COLLAR is clued as [*Like manual laborers].
  • 59a. A BEER BUST is a [*Boisterous frat party].

The main highlights in the fill are the vertical stacks of 7s and 8s in two corners. An AGNOSTIC WAITRESS on the HIGH SEAS with a FREEBIE BACKLASH? Good stuff.


Updated Thursday morning:

Tyler Hinman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Storm Fronts”—Janie’s review

No, you won’t need your knowledge of meteorology to help you solve this puzzle. Just keep in mind that the first word of each of Tyler’s four two-word phrases is a word that can precede the word “storm.” With one exception, this idea works very well. The one exception, though, surprised me. And not in a good way. Here’s what we get by way of theme fill:

  • 17A. MEDIA BIAS [What news networks claim to lack]. Fox News says it most loudly with its claim to “fair and balanced” reporting. If I’m reading it correctly, this Forbes article is saying that if Fox is not altogether “fair,” it does tend to “balance” the other networks… Seems Fox is often at the center of some media storm or other.
  • 28A. PERFECT SQUARE [4, 9, or 16]. As in 2×2, 3×3, or 4×4. Nice how this same clue is used to define INTEGER. That perfect storm is a whole other thing, that sounds almost benign, but which is, in fact, one harrowing combination of all the “worst case scenario” weather pictures. The Sebastian Junger book about the 1991 event spells it out in human terms.
  • 45A. HANNAH MONTANA [Disney Channel phenomenon]. Okay, this is the one that made me go “Huh?” Here’s the given: I’m not much of a TV-watcher and even less of an ESPN-follower. So Hannah Storm was completely new to me. Not a problem; live and learn. (Like that clue for LEGO [Toy name from the Danish for "play well"]. Sweet!) But what is a problem is the base phrase/theme combo, in which nothing changes. Hannah Montana is a fictional character and Hannah Storm is a real person, but both are females with the first name “Hannah,” so this feels like a very, very weak entry to me. Of the ROUGH DRAFT (It needs editing) variety. (Ditto BRANGELINA [Portmanteau in the tabloids]. Unless Tyler has some fresh dish on them, this five-year old “handle” feels dated.)
  • 60A. DESERT FOX [Field marshal Erwin Rommel's nickname]. This fill puts us back on track, though I must confess that I don’t adore being reminded of Operation Desert Storm… I like the way the military ties together both components of the theme however. Rommel’s death was a suicide at 52. He’d been found guilty of conspiring to assassinate Hitler and Hitler allowed him to commit suicide rather than go to trial and certain execution. Yikes.

Non-theme clue/fill combos that delighted include:

  • [Ink] doing double-duty for PRESS and TATS. Tats? Yep. As in, “This lady’s body is covered in tats.” Tattoos. Or, “This lady’s body is covered in ink.” Still works.
  • To [Try to get money out of, in a way] is to SUE. When you’re playing poker, that [Initial wager], the ANTE, is when you put money into the pot, since it’s a pay-to-play kinda game.
  • Yesterday we had the clue [Place for a slicker?] for CITY. Today we have [Slicker], but this time it’s an adjective and more in the BP/Gulf Coast vein of OILIER.
  • We get the span of the generations going from childhood with [Kid's mealtime morsel]/TATER TOT to “maturity” with [Fogy]/OLDSTER.
  • ["That was Zen, this is] TAO[" (philosophy pun)] is [Ideal]/BLISSFUL.

And yes, that’s our pal ERAS (for the fourth day running…) but how very grateful I am for a sports clue (!), [Baseball stats usually rounded to two decimal places, for short].

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “The Barbery Coast”

Region capture 4Brendan combines his need for a haircut with his vacation plans and egests a beach/sea barbershop theme: Five shore-related things include barbershop-related words within them. This is one of the easiest BEQ puzzles in a good long while, isn’t it?

Not crazy about TARRER (!?) or the weight of the short “blah” words (DEL, ERS, OLLA, IST, AMA, ASST, CEO, AFC, ANI, DST, etc.). The two corners with longer fill would be better if TSETSES didn’t anchor one of them to the side of the grid. Is it just me, or does IODEVICE look like an Italian surname pronounced “yo-de-veech-ay”? It’s actually I/O DEVICE, short for “input/output device.”

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21 Responses to Thursday, 8/5/10

  1. NYT: I knew after my third circled pair — SD, what else? — what the other pairs were. So I then made the fatal mistake for speedsolving purposes of jumping all over the grid to fill the circles in. I should have filled up the area adjacent to MISDO and made a mental note of what to fill when I reached the next pair. I presume that you who regularly outpace me have learned to overcome such distractions…

  2. ktd says:

    A whole comprises its parts, not the other way around. So yes Amy, you are correct.

  3. Karen says:

    Looking up AURIcle (the outer part of the ear), it seems the root comes more from ‘ear’ than ‘hearing’.

    On the Fireball, I couldn’t get the part in the NE where the fashion designer and the French crossed the jibberjabber. But it was a very chewy puzzle. Some bits still stuck in my teeth.

  4. pannonica says:

    RIRE crossing OISE is not fair.

  5. LARRY says:

    Re flower pots on sills (and their danger of falling), somewhere between 25 and 35 years ago, the former TV star Arlene Francis propped open the window of her 8th floor NYC apartment with a 5 lb. dumbell; the dumbell fell and killed a passerby on the sidewalk below. Some wags referred to it as HER bad day. I’d say his was worse. Anyway Amy, your reference to putting flowerpots on your windowsill immediately brought this incident (accident) to mind. I hope YOU don’t have a bad day.
    Also re Tisha b’Av (Hebrew for the 9th day of the month of Av), a Yiddish joke goes: “When will you get that job done?” Answer: “A year from Tisha b’Av”, meaning “an indeterminate but long time from now”.

  6. D_Blackwell says:

    “Looking up AURIcle (the outer part of the ear), it seems the root comes more from ‘ear’ than ‘hearing’.”

    I believe the clue to be poorly chosen. AUD- (L) and ACOU- (G) are the roots for ‘hearing, listening’. AUR- (L) is the root prefix for ‘ear’.

  7. Howard B says:

    Re: OPNIN:
    Well, major weak spot found here, in those dialectic words in the titles of Broadway showtunes. Arrgh. Took me awhile to find that typo (APNIN/OPNIN). Sometimes I think I’d prefer to a handful of NLERs, REWIPINGs, and all of those other less-desirable fill bits than one of those. The spellings of these also throw me (see LAK A, LIDA, etc.) when they pop up in clues. We all have our weak spots, and musical knowledge in general:
    1) just never seems to sink in for me after seeing and hearing, and
    2) there seems to be an endless supply of interesting and odd lyrics, titles and names to choose from. It’s the Marianas Trench of unknown trivia for me, still unexplored with depths yet unknown :).

    Takeaway lesson: These puzzles are a pretty good way, over time, to learn which areas you are well-rounded in, and which you’re a bit flat and in need of some air.

  8. Jeffrey says:

    CS: Word repeated in “Ring Around The Rosie” is HUSH-A in Canada. Is ASHES uniquely American? Anyone recall other versions?

  9. Sara says:

    Jeffrey: Wikipedia has an interesting compendium of various Ring Around the Rosie lyrics:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/17386/188135

    I had no idea.

  10. Amy Reynaldo says:

    And Rolling Stone has this to say about Katy Perry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_a_Ring_o'_Roses

    Aw, hell, no wonder Sara didn’t include the right link. The apostrophe in the URL refuses to be recognized by the HTML here. Google “ring around the rosie wiki” and you’ll get there in a jiffy.

  11. Jeffrey says:

    Wiki confirmed my memory! A first.

  12. John Haber says:

    I’m always complaining about circled-letter themes, on the grounds that you can make anything come out by circling the right letters. But not this time! It’s a wonderful construction. One can easily forgive the overused crossword fill of EDY, ANA, and that Verdi. (I knew Tisha B’Av but couldn’t have told you how to spell it without crossings. Phonetic after all.)

    When I was in college, perhaps especially as this was Princeton, all the artists kept wondering what American painter would be the next Frank Stella. Of course, in just a year or two, it was clear that painting and art were both going in quite other directions, as it turns out was Stella.

  13. Sara says:

    Amy has that great edit feature; I should think about using it. Yesterday a friend emailed me that he was fantasizing about doing something petty. I replied that surely he could think of something better to fantasize about and included the Katy Perry Rolling Stone link. I’ll be damned if I understand how it ended up in my comment this morning!

    O yeah: I loved the NY Times puzzle today

  14. joon says:

    evad, i thought hannah storm fit in just fine. the only thing that surprised me about the theme was the lack of a BRAIN entry.

  15. Meem says:

    As an Iowan who has lived in Chicago for years, loved this puzzle. But gotta say Gary Whitehead has commandeered my day! Cannot get Another Op’nin outta my head.

    Another op’nin, another show
    In Philly, Boston, or Baltimo’
    A chance for stage folks to say hello
    Another op’nin of another show.

    And the three verses that follow!

    I guess having the Midwest in the southeast is an interesting counterbalance to having Ontario south of North Dakota and Minnesota.

    Agree with Joon that in WP Hannah Storm was good and that “brain” would have been good, too.

  16. Jan says:

    In the LAT, what does the title “J to tha L-O” mean? I feel really out of it!

  17. joon says:

    it doesn’t really “mean” anything; it’s just a longer way of saying “j-lo,” which is a shorter way of saying “jennifer lopez.”

  18. Evad says:

    @joon, janie writes the weekday and Saturday CS commentaries, I just drop in on Sundays. (But I do appreciate the props confusing janie’s excellent commentaries with mine!) Re the Fireball, I too found some of the theme entries a bit stretchy for my tastes (THREE LETTER AM was not only hard to associate with the clue, but the original phrase, THREE LETTER ACRONYM, seems very arbitrary.) I left two squares open–the crossing between CLEM and LISI and this ANNA SUI (who has bit me before) and SARA. I expect better from such a prestigious team as PG and BEQ.

  19. Joan macon says:

    Long ago, when I was a kid, before TV, on the radio there would be many programs sponsored by the phrase “Ipana for the smile of beauty, Sal Hepatica for the smile of health.” We all know Ipana was a toothpaste, but to this day I have no idea what Sal Hepatica did for health.

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