Thursday, 9/9/10

BEQ 4:42
NYT 4:19
LAT 3:59
Fireball untimed
CS untimed

Kevin Wald’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 22The unusual grid layout was obvious right off the bat, but I had no idea the black squares were going to play a key role in the theme. The six theme entries, laid out symmetrically in the grid, describe the various chunks of black squares, which resemble familiar typographical bits:

  • 9a. The [Lower septet of black squares, typographically] are a stylized number SEVEN.
  • 18a. The SEVEN flips symmetrically to look like a CAPITAL ELL in the [Higher septet of black squares, typographically].
  • 26a. The [Octet of black squares in the middle of this grid, typographically] clue refers to the TWO DASHES that each consist of 4 squares.
  • 45a. A typographical SLASH MARK isn’t really at a 45° angle, but the [Nonet of black squares in this grid, typographically] approximate a slash.
  • 54a. An APOSTROPHE is represented by the [Higher pair of black squares in this grid, typographically]. The only way to tell apart an apostrophe and a comma is by their position relative to the baseline. Up yonder? That’s an apostrophe.
  • 60a. The COMMA is depicted by the [Lower pair of black squares in this grid, typographically].

This theme’s crazily innovative and I give it major points for freshness. Also admirable: The 4×7 and 3×7 stacks in the corners. Eighteen nonthematic answers are 7 or 8 letters long, and they’re a good batch of entries. Some of the short fill is “meh,” but overall this is a smooth puzzle.

Highlights:

  • 17a. [Three scruples] make one DRAM. One scruple weighs 20 grains, in case you were wondering. And one grain (of wheat) weighs 1/7,000th of a pound. Calculating what fraction of a pound a dram equals is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • 20a. Fresh clue for the ULNA: it’s a [Bone on the pinkie side]. That leaves the radius on the thumb side, I guess. Now pinch your pinkie and thumb together. See what you just did? You adducted those digits. (1d: ADDUCTS, [Brings together, as two parts of the body].)
  • 31a. To SEE STARS after a punch to the head is to [React to something striking?] your head.
  • 44a. We get ACRE or ACRES a lot in crosswords, but when have you ever seen this clue: [Units of chains x furlongs]? How many scruples of wheat can be found in one square furlong if the wheat is piled 10 cm deep?
  • 2d. The playwright Christopher MARLOWE is clued as a ["Shakespeare in Love" role]. How come Marlowe never became a popular baby name?
  • 3d. More literary switcheroo. Sir Walter Scott’s IVANHOE is instead clued as an [Arthur Sullivan opera].
  • 27d. It seems obvious after the crossings gave it to me, but [Electron-swathed nuclei] befuddled me at first. ATOMS!
  • 36d. I’m a fan of pencils but didn’t know this [Classic pencil brand], SCRIPTO. Scripto? Let’s Google: Ah, mechanical pencils, and available in a meaty 1.1 mm lead. I’m using a o.9 mm Pentel.
  • 41d. SALAMIS are clued [They often hang around delis], suspended from the ceiling.
  • 43a. A SKEETER is a mosquito, a [Summer pest, slangily]. South Africans complain of mozzies.

All in all, this is a very cool puzzle, and I’m stashing a copy in my vault of potential Oryx award nominees.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “It’s Not All Black and White”

Region capture 20It makes me grumpy when the Across Lite timer doesn’t automatically start when I open the puzzle. I’m used to just go-go-going, so when the timer doesn’t start on its own, I’m typically a couple minutes into the venture before I notice. So how tough is this puzzle? Hard to say.

This 17×17 themed puzzle has a not black, not white, two-way rebus. Each rebus square is GRAY in one direction (the American spelling) and GREY in the other (British, etc.). (According to Peter’s answer page, those squares are to be colored gray, but that’s certainly not an option when solving on screen.) It definitely took me a while to figure out that there was a rebus involved—most of the theme entries weren’t gimmes for me as clued. From top to bottom, the squares that aren’t standard crossword black squares or white squares appear in these words and phrases:

  • ERIN GRAY and GREYHOUND RACING. She’s not really very well-known these days.
  • ASA GRAY and GREY GOOSE VODKA.
  • GRAY DAVIS and GREY OWL. I really wanted GRAY DAVIS to be some sort of cars that were recalled in 2003.
  • TOUCH OF GREY (now, why did the Grateful Dead choose an un-American spelling?) and Ari GRAYNOR. I loved Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but didn’t remember this actress’s name. Her character loved to chew gum so much that when she threw up in the Port Authority bathroom, she fished her gum out of the toilet and popped it back in.
  • EARL GREY and KATHRYN GRAYSON. Who the heck is she?
  • HOMESTEAD GRAYS and the GREY CUP.

Here are my favorite clues:

  • 20a. The [Penultimate frame] in bowling is the NINTH. The clue was mystifying for so long.
  • 6d. [White dwarf] is SNEEZY, not a star in the sky. Note the racial stereotyping present in Snow White. Most of the white men in that movie are dwarfs!
  • 7d. [It may start with a bird in the hand] doesn’t clue an adage, maxim, or axiom. It’s a SERVE in badminton.
  • 31d. [Its name comes from the Greek words for "pebble" and "worm"] clues CROCODILE. Who knew?

John “Doppler” Schiff’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 21This is an excellent theme. The AUTOREVERSE function of a cassette deck inspires a set of automobile-related phrases in which the order of two words has been reversed:

  • 17a. A vanity plate flip-flops into PLATE VANITY, or [Excessive pride in one's china?]. This is the weakest of the theme entries, but the original phrase it’s based on is certainly fresh.
  • 26a. An old-fashioned rumble seat becomes SEAT RUMBLE, or [Brawl during a game of musical chairs?]. My 10-year-old recently read The Outsiders, which is chock-full of gang rumbles. This entry could also have been clued as the result of a whoopie cushion or a hearty meal of beans.
  • 36a. [What Winfrey couldn't do during a noted couch-jumping episode?] is CONTROL CRUISE, as in Tom Cruise. Do any of you use cruise control for driving on city highways, or is this strictly useful for stretches of open road without a lot of traffic?
  • 51a. [Zorro's chamois?] is a BLADE WIPER.

The highlights lie mostly in the deft cluing:

  • 16a, 52d. [Cellular transmitter] pulls double duty, cluing both RNA and a PHONE. Nice!
  • 41a. [Case, for instance: Abbr.] clues SYN., short for “synonym.” “In this case” = “in this instance,” so case is a synonym for instance. The meaning of the phrase “for instance” is not part of this clue.
  • 56a. [B on a table], the periodic table of elements, is BORON.
  • 11d. GRAB BAGS is a great entry. They’re [Random assortments].
  • 25d, 63d. [Jerry's comedy partner] is DEAN Martin if you’re talking about Jerry Lewis. [Jerry's partner] is TOM if you’re talking about Tom and Jerry, the cartoon cat and mouse nemeses.
  • 33d. An ARROW is a [Feathered flier] of a sort. How many 5-letter bird names went through your head?
  • 50d. A [Word-for-word reference?] that helps you choose an apt SYNonym for a word is ROGET’S Thesaurus.
  • 62d. I’m a big fan of the word alleged being included in this clue for [Alleged spoon-bender Geller], URI.


Updated Thursday morning:

Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Not So”—Janie’s review

Complementing yesterday’s puzzle, in which a critical word (found in the grid) preceded the second word of a two-word phrase, today’s asks us to place the critical word (found in the grid) before the first word of the theme phrase. The clue that pulls it all together today is the title-reflecting 72A [Not so, or word that can precede the first word of 17-, 30-, 48-, or 65-Across], FALSE. So in “before and after” style, we’re treated to:

  • 17A. (False) LABOR UNION [Organization concerned with workers’ welfare]. I’m not sure what a “treat” false labor is to any mother-to-be, but (three days after the holiday to celebrate ’em—and as a card-carrier myself—) I sure am glad there are labor unions! (See mention of yesterday’s IWW co-founder, Mother Jones.)
  • 30A. (False) BOTTOM ROUND [Cut of beef]. (Facetious) spoiler alert: trunks and cabinets with a false bottom are the stuff of magic tricks. But boy is it fun to be fooled!
  • 48A. (False) HOPE DIAMOND [Large gem in the Smithsonian Institution]. I like this one especially because instructions in the uber-clue notwithstanding, false can precede the entire phrase as well as the first word (or the second for that matter). A false Hope Diamond (or a false diamond) would be paste (okay, or a large rhinestone or cubic zirconium). False hope—well, that conjures up Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion.”
  • 65A. (False) ALARM CLOCK [Sony Dream Machine, e.g.]. I think a false labor could qualify easily as a false alarm… As for alarm clock, I suspect that the majority of folks setting one for NINE P.M. [Bedtime hr., for some] are those working on the graveyard shift.

Of the non-theme fill, I really liked the whole feel of FOURSOMES being clued as the sociable [Groups on double dates, e.g.]. KNEE-BENDS is fine fill, too, but (good back-therapy as they are) I hate doing those […squats in the gym] (even in the privacy of my own home). While something feels a little incomplete (with the clue perhaps?), I also liked ONE-TRACK [Limited in scope] and perked up with the idea of PAPER HAT, clued as [Party topper].

I never knew that LEILA was a [Bizet opera princess] (not to be confused with George Sand’s Lélia). And what do opera princesses sing? Why, SOLI [Songs for one] (not to be confused with [“O Sole] MIO[]).

Threw myself off for a bit, responding to [Basis of a reporter’s scoop, perhaps] with LEAD and not LEAK. What a difference a letter makes, eh? Another clue I really enjoyed—[Car bar] for AXLE. Was it the resemblance to “bar car” that amused me? Dunno. It worked. ’Nuff said.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “One Grand”

Region capture 1The theme is one grand PIANO, and piano components (hammer, string, keys, pedal) appear at the beginning of the theme entries. Solid stuff.

Brendan said people had been clamoring for easy puzzles, and that this was such a thing. Hello! It took me longer than the Thursday NYT, a solving time in line with Friday NYT puzzles. “One Grand” is hardly an easy puzzle. Brendan has a really tough time making easy crosswords. He’s just too fond of challenging clues. Don’t ever change, Brendan. The world is full of easy crosswords, so why should you strive to provide more?

Toughest vocabulary word in the puzzle: 26d: EKISTIC, or [Pertaining to city planning]. To understand what this is, read here.

My favorite clue/answer combo, no joke: 24d: [Sure spots], ARMPITS where you might apply Sure antiperspirant.

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18 Responses to Thursday, 9/9/10

  1. Inscrutable biq says:

    To the Capitalist Running Dogs at the New York Times,

    51d.”Got it,” jocularly AH SO
    Perhaps another adverb is called for.
    I submit: “Got it,” tiresomely
    “Got it,” passive aggressively
    “Got it,” boorishly

  2. Ladel says:

    Meem, nickname or just made up for the blog? I have a close friend who’s nickname is Meem, very unusual. Mine was bestowed by a childhood friend.

    Ladel

  3. Gareth says:

    NYT: Loved the anatomy action, esp. 1D which took a while to dawn on me! Thick corners are pretty cool too! Scripto is something I thought I wasn’t going to know, only it turns out I did! Hah!

    LAT: I now know what that feature is called!! Not that it’s going to be too useful since tapedecks are kinda obsolete…

  4. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Inscrutable biq: Well-played with the “inscrutable” tag. On the plus side, GOOK had been appearing in the NYT crossword about once a year (with a clue like [Icky stuff]) but it hasn’t shown up since 2004. It pays off to raise awareness by making a stink about something you find offensive.

  5. Howard B says:

    Was tearing nicely through this NY Times puzzle, figured the theme early, and mostly had that whole mind-meld thing going on with today’s constructor, which surprised me a bit (nicely done, by the way!). That is, until I hit that top-left corner. From 1-D to 3-D were three answers I could not solve with the clues (1-D I simply had never seen, and the other two were familiar answers, but completely alien-to-me clues. Never seen Shakespeare in Love). So off to the Acrosses. And more trouble ensued. A guess at a measurement, the bone clue (which I should have figured out, granted), and only COHN to work from. Stumped at —DASHES, wasn’t thinking literally enough. Eventually it worked itself out, but there was a sharp Saturday corner (for me) lurking in this very unique, clever puzzle.

    In any case, well-done. The unexpected extra challenge is fine, and the visual theme was very effective without being distracting. I do just wish that one (@*#$&) corner was clued a bit differently ;). (MARLOWE? DRAM/ADDUCTS? Holy…)

  6. ePeterso2 says:

    NYT – My struggle was in exactly the opposite corner from Howard – my inability to conjure AMATORY and EROSIVE kept me from believing that the crossings were correct. Good stuff otherwise, and loved the layout.

  7. joon says:

    ingenious puzzle, although i had similar difficulties to howard in the NW. compounded, actually, by the fact that i was looking at the diagonal block and not the two 4×1 lines for 26a. (yeah, i can’t count.) on the plus side, i have seen shakespeare in love and i got MARLOWE off the M.

    kevin wald lives pretty near me and i see him on the street every now and again. on monday i ran into him in front of the davis square T stop. i hadn’t seen his byline in a while; i’d say he’s back with a bang.

  8. Morris Pelzel says:

    Can someone explain 49-A in the Fireball…”They age backwards” = ORKANS. Got it from the crosses, but Googling doesn’t help me see what’s going on here.

  9. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Cute puzzle, though pretty easy for me (oddly, since this is the sort of visual thing which I tend to have more trouble with than others.)

    Does anyone object to “septet” and “seven?” I’m not fussy about that sort of technicality, but some people are.

    Bruce

  10. Mitchs says:

    I thought Fireball was one of the toughest in a while. No way did I get the different gray spellings. Tough enough to sort out the rebus. My first was TOUCHOFGREY – finally.

    Me likey.

    @Morris: Think Mork from Ork – Robin Williams sitcom, probably early eighties.

  11. Howard B says:

    Morris: 49-A is a very vague trivia-based clue. The answer refers to the TV show Mork & Mindy, where Robin Williams’ Mork hails from the planet Ork, a race of people who apparently age backwards. Not a major plot point of the show, I think, but a small, quirky, esoteric trivia nugget from pop culture past.

    In the same category, solve enough puzzles and you’ll also occassionally run into ORK, and also NANU, half of Mork’s catchphrase.
    No, I can’t explain it either. You really just have to watch an episode, it’s all about the character (and a chance for Robin to joyfully improv and act goofy) :).

  12. Meem says:

    @Ladel: Nickname bestowed by younger brother who could not pronounce my name. Agree with Amy that NYT is a puzzle worthy of consideration for year-end honors. An enjoyable start to the day.

  13. Morris Pelzel says:

    Thanks, Howard and Mitch…that explains why I didn’t have a clue.

  14. Ladel says:

    Got my first Scripto in grammar school in the early 50′s, had the longest piece of lead, cost about a quarter and was indestructible. Got my first Pentel in the late 60′s, also 0.9, the yellow one, still have it and some others less meaty. On the rare occasion that one breaks I mail it back to the good folks at Pentel, they fix it for free.

    Loved the grid, so hard to think different.

    Ladel

  15. John Haber says:

    This one was actually hard for me, partly because I’m too rigid to easily translate the patterns into, say, 7 and didn’t think of the phrase SLASH MARK as readily as I should. But mostly just some interesting but hard fill. Yes, ADDUCTS and IVANHOE were unfamiliar, but both were exceptionally plausible once I had some crossings. I’ve forgotten everything about “Shakespeare in Love,” but faced with the first letter (M), it was instantaneous for me to think of the right Elizabethan.

    Thus, my hard corners were elsewhere. One was LEA (where I vaguely remember a Michelle Lee) and SCRIPTO. One was PEN CASES and a few other things there. But solved. My actual sticking point was KEPI crossing KEN. I haven’t seen the toy story movies.

  16. wij says:

    I think this is Kevin Wald’s NYT debut. Great!

    For those of you who don’t know his puzzling, he is a hugely prolific cryptic crossword generator. He often brings specially themed cryptics to the ACPT and NPL conventions. He is Ucaoimhu in the NPL.

    http://www.math.uchicago.edu/~wald/misccryptics.html

  17. Anne E says:

    Yeah… brutally difficult cryptics! Try one if you have a spare week or two to spend at it. Exceptionally clever (and did I mention difficult?), and very satisfying once they fall… if they do.

    This puzzle wasn’t all that easy either, for me – no specific trouble spots, but barely made my Thursday goal time. Happily I had JUST seen that exact clue for MARLOWE in an old Kahn NYT, or things would have been a lot worse. Nice debut!

  18. Amy Reynaldo says:

    AH SO, Part 2: Over on Facebook, Rex Parker posted this 1965 Beatles cartoon and writes, “In case you wondered whether ‘Ah, so’ was in any way racist…”—the answer is “hell, yeah.” The “Dr. Ah-So” character is an “honoulable ploplietor” and the Asian characters all have ridiculous buckteeth. Just another data point for the “AH SO is horrible fill” argument.

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