Saturday, 1/8/11

[time_hdr postdate="2011/01/07" plug="saturday-1811" puzz="NYT" anchor="ny"]8:37[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/01/07" plug="saturday-1811" puzz="LAT" anchor="la"]4:12[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/01/07" plug="saturday-1811" puzz="CS" anchor="cs"]untimed (Janie)[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/01/07" plug="saturday-1811" puzz="WSJ Saturday Puzzle" anchor="wj"]10:32[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/01/07" plug="saturday-1811" puzz="Newsday" anchor="nd"]6:15[/time_hdr]

New feature we’re trying out at Diary of a Crossword Fiend: star ratings! Let the world know how you feel about each crossword. We’re counting on everyone to be decent and just rate each puzzle once rather than stacking the vote. Thanks to Pete Muller for the suggestion.

My suggested ratings rubric, as a starting point:

  • 5 stars: Truly exceptional puzzle that knocked you out; one you’ll remember months later. A++.
  • 4 stars: A very good puzzle that’s quite well done but not as perfect or memorable as a 5er. A solid A.
  • 3 stars: Decent puzzle; nothing to write home about but not noticeably flawed. B.
  • 2 stars: A big “meh,” with an inconsistent or flat theme, sloppy fill, or poor execution. C.
  • 1 star: Really, none of the puzzles we blog here is truly terrible so there probably won’t be too many 1-star ratings. D or F.

Thanks for the technical wizardry, Evad! He has toiled away diligently in the back-room sweatshop, hammering out the HTML code for this ratings tool, so I hope it works as expected. It would be a real shame if Evad had to spend the weekend shackled to his sweatshop desk, wouldn’t it?


Will Nediger’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution 1/8/11 0108 Will Nediger

See? You can make a super-Scrabbly puzzle packed with uncommon letters without bothering to make it a pangram. Will’s crossword has five Z’s, three X’s, three K’s, and two J’s, but there’s no Q in sight. This is not a shortcoming at all.

This 70-worder has limited interplay between the north/west half and the south/east half, which makes it tough to progress smoothly through the grid. That’s part of what makes it a Saturday-grade challenge. Tough clues and fill that isn’t often seen in crosswords further ramp up the difficulty.

These were my favorite bits:

  • 1a. I was expecting one of those quaintly colorful synonyms for [Balderdash], like poppycock or tommyrot, but instead we have the two-word CRAZY TALK. “That’s crazy talk!” is something I say fairly regularly.
  • 14a. I like XENIA, OHIO, because my friend Kristin introduced me to the word xenial and it’s etymologically akin.
  • 17a. “I’M ALL EARS” is a great colloquial phrase.
  • 29a. Love the clue! [Woodstock artist] is Peanuts cartoonish Charles SCHULZ, not someone who played music at Woodstock. The other Woodstock is Snoopy’s bird pal.
  • 40a. [It's the same old story] clues a REMAKE.
  • 54a. SATIRIZED is clued as [Swiftly written?]—timely with the Swiftian REMAKE of Gulliver’s Travels on the big screen. Anyone else read the clue as looking for the adjective SATIRICAL?
  • 4d. ZILLIONS and ZILLIONS. It’s [A ton].
  • 9d. KOSCIUSZKO is the [Highest mountain in Australia], named after a Pole.
  • 12d. Not sure I’ve really heard of JOSE JIMENEZ, but I like the J-J-Z name.
  • 24d. Put your hands together for the LIBERAL ARTS, people. [They're not technical].
  • 25d. FLAT STOMACH? I’ll take it.
  • 38d. To BUM A RIDE is to [Hitch] a ride or hitchhike.
  • 40a. Love Calvin and Hobbes! ROSALYN was Calvin’s baby sitter.

Mystery items included 29d: SCLERAL clued as [___ buckle (eye surgery procedure)]; 58d: ["Porte ___ Lilas" (Oscar-nominated 1957 film)] for DES; 10d: CADENZA, or [Virtuosic improvisation]; and 6d: [Square- (prim)] TOED. Despite having seen the word [Operculum] in my dental-editing past, LID did not come to mind; in dentistry, the operculum is a bit of gum tissue that covers a tooth that’s not fully erupted.

Harvey Estes’ Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution 1/8/11 Harvey Estes

It’s a treat to see Harvey’s byline again—it’s been too long. This 68-worder has even less flow between sections than Will’s NYT puzzle—it’s essentially four discrete crosswords joined by square pairs surrounding the central plus sign. This being the L.A. Times crossword, the clues were more forgiving and it was not difficult to gain purchase on some answers in each section.

Highlights:

  • 14a. An ICE MACHINE is a [Motel convenience]. We were mean parents and didn’t let our son fill the ice bucket in our Key West hotel. The plastic liner bag was wet from the get-go! That’s a no-go.
  • 32a. [Spot remover, at times] isn’t about stains and laundry, it’s about advertising. When an advertiser pulls its commercials from a program, it ceases to be a SPONSOR.
  • 48a. [Mixed condiment] confused me, as I live in a house full of condiment mixers. A little balsamic glaze with your mayonnaise? BBQ sauce blended with mayo? Ketchup with Cholula hot sauce? My menfolk love all such combos. Harvey was going for GARLIC SALT, though.
  • 55a. [Cause of senselessness] is the ANESTHESIA that dulls your senses to the point of unconsciousness.
  • 57a. The puzzle’s talking to me. “IT’S USELESS,” it says. ["Don't waste your time"]. Is it talking smack about the USA Today or Universal crossword? It just might be.
  • 11d. [Being supportive] clues AT YOUR SIDE. Omigosh! It finally happened! We get the word YOUR instead of ONE’S, making the phrase feel so much friendlier.
  • 15d. [What fans do] is BLOW, if you plug them in or they run on batteries. If they’re unpowered, they just CLAP like appreciative people.
  • The IMP people appear near each other. There’s a WIMP, or 23d: [Unlikely hero], alongside SIMPS, or 27d: [Ninnies].


Updated Saturday morning:

Patrick Jordans’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Active Furniture”—Janie’s review

The theme fill today highlights three familiar objects of furniture (a table, a chair, a bench—all nouns) that are also verbs in familiar phrases. The first two are connected to matters procedural and can be tied in to one another; the third stands alone. Here’s how those pieces of furniture get movin’:

  • 20A. TABLE A MOTION [Engage in parliamentary postponement].
  • 40A. CHAIR A COMMITTEE [Demonstrate civic leadership, perhaps]. The tie in I mentioned? During one of those committee meetings, the chairperson might hear a motion to table a particular item of business…
  • 55A. BENCH A PLAYER [Keep someone out of the game]. Aw, shucks—put me in, coach!

Now, while Patrick clues CEDAR as a [Common chest wood], it’s also used in making other furniture as this site makes clear.

Once again, we’ve got a grid that’s girded left and right at center with triple 6-columns. JASCHA [Violinist Heifetz] and JESTER [Court clown] (which peels off of the maestro’s name) are particularly nice there at left. The less savory LEERED [Looked like a wolf?] is among the fill at right. [Moreover] ALSO, there’s a (loose) lupine connection with the clue [Orb seen in werewolf films] (which gives us MOON, of course).

Though they’re pretty much in their separate corners (in more ways than one…), today ISRAEL [Solomon's kingdom] shares the limelight with YEMEN [Arab League nation]. And while [Certain woolen suits] are TWEEDS, I find that cross with the “W”-sharing TWEETY [Granny's pet, in cartoons] to have a leavening effect. Even better? What sounds like they could be comic book effects, mirror each other SW and NE: SLAM and WHAM. Clues [Insult slangily] and [1980s duo with George Michael] dispel that notion. But as the pix confirm, not entirely…

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Snowflake”

Me, I’m partial to the WSJ Saturday offerings that take twice as long as this “Snowflake” did. It can be tough to get started, but then the words start to mesh together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and next thing you know, the grid is filling in nicely.

Having 42 7-letter answers means there are none of the blah repeaters (your ANA and OREO and AERIE) that populate regular crosswords, but with a cap of 7 letters, you also don’t get many knock-your-socks-off phrases.

[Crispy square] clues a SALTINE cracker. Last weekend, I was having unappealing airport food (I know! What are the odds?) and found myself dipping my husband’s soup Saltines into my son’s sour cream and salsa. I tell ya, it tasted a damn sight better than my “honey”-”lime” chicken. I’m not saying I’ll serve Saltines with sour cream and salsa at my next shindig, but if you’ve got only those three things left in your kitchen, you’ve got yourself a passable snack.

[Nanny (Hyph.)] was one of the toughest clues for me. I was thinking of child-care workers rather than the SHE-GOAT. If anyone called me a she-goat, they’d be in a world of trouble.

Plenty of opportunities for wrong turns in this puzzle, though the crossings help extricate you from your errors. I had IGNITES for EXCITES, BLOWOUT for SHUTOUT, SERAPHS for CHERUBS…and the one-word, totally wrong COASTER in place of the two-word COAL CAR to fill in the COA***R slot.

Doug Peterson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Newsday crossword answers 1/8/11 Doug Peterson "Saturday Stumper"

Not the toughest Stumper by a long shot, but still among the toughest couple of crosswords this week. The Saturday Newsday puzzle is pretty reliable that way—if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.

Doug likes fun fill and fun clues. Here are my favorite spots:

  • 24a. CHIQUITA BANANA! That’s a [Toon first drawn in the '40s], but I don’t think it’s ever had a show of its own. It’s just a commercial spokesbanana, no?
  • 46a. [A in science] stands for an AMPERE.
  • 61a. Supreme Court Justice ELENA Kagan was a [Name in nationwide headlines, May 2010]. It’s great to have an ELENA who’s not an actress of yore to find in the crossword.
  • 2d. I had absolutely no idea that an ARTICHOKE was a [Daisy relative]. I had A**IC*O*E and figured nothing else would fit. I kinda like it when puzzling out a letter pattern breaks a corner open, rather than just knowing the answers to the clues. It’s a different skill. There are a number of Sporcle.com quizzes that require you to work off of letter patterns. I’ll have to feature some on our Sporcle page here. (See the Sporcle tab above? We’ll try to swap out the quizzes every day or two so that those of you who aren’t already regular Sporclers can get a taste of the trivia fun.)
  • 4d. At first, I thought Doug was talking smack about Stevie Wonder, but no. [Wonder's output, maybe] is ONE HIT, referring to those one-hit wonders. Stevie has had a great many hits.
  • 7d. My favorite [Rib-joint servings] are the MOIST TOWELETTES.
  • 33d. Does Chicago count as part of the HEARTLAND? We are within but not of the ["Amber waves of grain" area].
  • 36d. Rowan ATKINSON of Mr. Bean fame is also the [Hornbill's voice in "The Lion King"].
  • 50d. I hate the first-name etymology clues when I don’t know them but I like them when they’re gimmes for me. So I liked LINDA clued as [Pretty, in Mexico city]. Technically, it’s a foreign-language vocab clue and not a first-name etymology clue, though. There are quite a few names in this puzzle, aren’t there? PITT could also be a person, and there’s TALIA, EEYORE, DAHL, SPENCE, IAN, AMPERE (an eponym), ELENA, I.M. PEI, CORONADO, AARON, PAMELA, RHETT, and ABE. This suggests that a lot of people found this puzzle really challenging, but that the I-know-names crowd had an easier time of it.
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38 Responses to Saturday, 1/8/11

  1. pooptron says:

    Tape decks? For realz? Does RadioShack actually sell those things in 2011? I guess that would make sense, since RadioShack is an old person’s idea of an electronic store and probably caters to people who’ve been left in the dust by modern technology. I’m just surprised the place is still in business.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    The ratings idea is awesome, thanks. Is there a way to see how many people gave it each rating, like on Amazon? If not, no problem.

  3. Gareth says:

    2X names could sort of remember but still needed lots of crossings for spelling reasons: KOSCIUSZKO and ROSALYN! Also needed a ton of crossings before could get JOSEJIMENEZ never heard of him either (no surprise), but with enough letters I could guess the surname! Awesomely scrabbly grid! Not usually a fan of disconnected grids, but except for the bottom-right didn’t get stuck trying to restart the crossword. To have a CADENZA in South African slang means to go temporarily mad. I managed to find a def here: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/having+a+cadenza! My medical background also helped with operculum…

  4. Evad says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, Matt. I may take an idea from Joon’s “Guess My Word” app that displays your guesses if you hover over your results. I could do a similar thing here with the breakdown of the ratings. It would help keep the info displayed at the top of the blog from becoming too busy.

    I guess back to the sweatshop for me! :) Actually, a sweatshop sounds pretty good when it’s 18 degrees here in Boston.

  5. Alex says:

    FWIW, the ratings look all screwed up in Chrome for Mac.

    Cool idea!

  6. Evad says:

    Alex, can you hit the refresh button? I had to change the stylesheet and I bet you have a cached version of it in your browser.

  7. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Haven’t read today’s comments yet, since I haven’t done today’s puzs, so I don’t know if the rating system has been commented upon. I think it’s basically a good, interesting idea. All of us here either (a) like, (b) love, or (c) are psychopathologically addicted to, puzzles and I therefore think we will be inclined to be charitable to constructors. (Please, no one be offended by this sentence. I mean it in the most affectionate way, and include myself, of course.) Sometimes I criticize a puzzle which I still thought was a good entertaining puzzle, and I think if anything my star ratings would tend to be higher than a negative comment might suggest.

    But as is usually the case with anything computer related, I’m a bit puzzled. I take it that one does not simply enter stars in the text of these comments, but rather that there is some sort of special procedure or routine or site or app, or whatever the right terminology is, to do the dastardly rating deed. As I say, perhaps this is explained above in the comments, which I will check later.

    I just did Mike N’s Thurs. While it was a bit odd, it certainly was creative and different. But WHAT THE *&^%$^& IS A MARSHMALLOW PEEP? (Of course it was only rather late in life that I learned what a smore (a smores?) is.) I hope a marshmallow peep is not as bad as a smore.

    Bruce

  8. sbmanion says:

    I wonder if the constructor clued the pitcher as the Bill Dana character from the early ’60′s: My name Jose Jimenez. Even though I am a sports enthusiast, I have only the vaguest recollection of the baseball pitcher.

    I thought the center was very tough.

    Steve

  9. Howard B says:

    Loved the Times fill, but the names and trivia made it especially rough; most of the puzzle fit the Saturday challenge perfectly, but the clues for the names (even ROSALYN, being a Calvin & Hobbes fan!) were pretty darn obscure. I only blame myself for spelling poor KOSCIUSZKO 3 different ways before getting it right, though. That C and Z looked pretty good in each other’s place, initially.

    Evad, great job behind the scenes to set up the ratings. I know these things looke easier than they are, especially the simpler and more intuitive they appear on the surface…
    If repeat voting ever becomes an issue, could it [eventually] be written to count only the last entry per unique IP address per day, or something to that effect?

  10. Will Nediger says:

    Well, I learned something from my own puzzle! Never heard of the baseball player, as I clued JOSEJIMENEZ as the Bill Dana persona.

  11. Alex says:

    False alarm! It looks fine.

  12. Evad says:

    Bruce, there’s a “rate it” link at the end of each line…just click it and the stars turn into a rating form with a drop down for your vote to submit.

    Here’s what marshmallow peeps look like. You generally only see these guys in the store just before Easter, although I hear there are recipes that call for them that you might make year-round. Think of the sweetness of a Krispy Kreme donut, but much more gooey, almost like taffy.

  13. Meem says:

    Hand up for satirical. And for taking a long time to get Jose Jimenez. With the Bill Dana clue, I’m there in a heartbeat. Guess Will S. thought that clue was too easy for a Saturday.

    Interesting idea the rating system. Kudos, Evad for making it work. It will be fun to watch over several weeks.

    Bruce M.: IMO Peeps are a zillion times worse than s’mores.

    Our mail was delivered very late yesterday, so did CHE this morning. Really liked it. Got the trick at Galileo followed quickly by 71A.

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    S’mores are delicious. Peeps are, as I said Thursday, an abomination. Evad, I am sad to report that the Peeps people have been making them for other holidays. I believe I’ve seen Halloween and Christmas non-chick, non-bunny, non-neon/pastel Peeps.

  15. Doug P says:

    Yes, they make Peeps for many different occasions nowadays. Awful! I never ate my Easter peeps when I was a kid, but I wasn’t about to give them to my Peep-loving sister. (Yes, I was a cruel brother.) I’d hide them somewhere until they were rock-hard. Let them sit for a couple of months and a block of Peeps makes one heck of a blunt instrument.

  16. Evad says:

    @Howard B., thanks for the kudo. To make something like that behave the same in IE, Firefox, Safari and Chrome is quite a challenge! More than once I was ready to give up until I finally hit upon the correct CSS and HTML commands that would work across all browsers.

    On the other hand, these browser discrepancies keep me employed in my day job, so I shouldn’t complain!

  17. Christine Anderson says:

    I loved Will Nediger’s NYT, which also means, in this case, I hated it. Drove me nuts. Thank you.

    I especially liked “Swiftly written?”/satirized and “thing to get pinned on”/mat. Perhaps the latter was easier for the sports-minded, but it took me a while to figure it out.

    It wouldn’t be Easter without marshmallow peeps in your basket. Peeps, btw, are sugar-coated marshmallow in vague shapes to resemble baby chicks, and very inexpensive, which is no doubt why they always appeared in abundance. However, they taste pretty bad and were always the things we ate last, if at all. (Ah, Easter baskets and the taste of chocolate first thing in the morning.) I was scandalized to see Santa-form peeps in the stores at Christmas. It just seems… wrong!

  18. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Peeps haters should be sure to Google up those Peeps science experiments involving microwaving and whatnot.

  19. Howard B says:

    Peeps are admittedly a bit disturbing, I’ll grant that. Which is why they fit squarely in my “guilty pleasures” category. I suspect the artificial grass in the Easter basket is actually healthier.

  20. jim hale says:

    Hated the Saturday NYTimes puzzle. Too many esoteric words I’d never heard of and didn’t care about. It was painful to get through.

  21. Deb Amlen says:

    Amy, Peeps blend, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9LTA6jhmeY

    The ratings are a great addition! Congrats, and nice work, Evad!

  22. joel h says:

    Nice on the ratings! Sometimes I don’t have time to do every puzzle, but I never want to miss the really great ones. This way I can get a sense without reading the blog post and spoiling the puzzle.

    speaking of ratings, are you guys planning on oryxes this year? If so, looking forward to them!

  23. Ladel says:

    @pooptron

    it was us “old”(er) people that first discovered the electronic wheel as it were, all that has ensued is mere commentary.

    as for how Radio Shack stays business?, nobody seems to know, including the CEO: http://www.istockanalyst.com/article/viewarticle/articleid/2951420

    Ladel

  24. Ellen says:

    Who is the Cheney who went to Yale? (5D) It’s not Dick, Lynne, Mary or Liz. ???

  25. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Thanks Evad especially for the photo. I think I’ve seen those little peeps, though I didn’t know what they were called. I’ve mercifully been spared tasting them. After I posted earlier, I realized the rating system would be explained above; I just didn’t want to spoil the puzzle.

    Even with the Liszt and cadenza gimmes to start things, the extreme obscurity of “Dashboard Confessional” (whatever that is–must be a rock group)–and Brion did me in in the NE. I didn’t know emo was a genre. I thought it was a person named Brian. (Not to mention Emo Philipps, who can be amazingly funny in a grating sort of way). I can never remember the difference between emo and elo. One is a group, the other a person (?) My excessive annoyance at these sorts clues (rappers, rock groups, reality TV, Am Idol & its clones) makes it difficult for me to rate such puzzles, because I know my reaction is idiosyncratic. I think I will recuse myself from rating this one, since there was much about it I liked.

    Bruce

  26. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Ellen, Dick Cheney’s Wikipedia bio says he attended Yale but reported that he “flunked out.”

  27. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Bruce: ELO = Electric Light Orchestra, ’70s pop group. ENO = Brian eno, rock producer and ambient music pioneer. EMO = music genre for overly EMOtional boys with overly long bangs and overly skinny pants, as well as comedian EMO Philips.

  28. Daniel Myers says:

    Isn’t 54A “SATIRIZED” a bit off, even with the question mark in the clue?
    Gulliver’s Travels or whatever written work penned à la Jonathan Swift is SATIRICAL whilst the subject of whatever is written, not the work itself, is SATIRIZED. No?

  29. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Daniel, isn’t that pretty much what I said in the post? I agree the clue demands an adjective like SATIRICAL. [Wrote Swiftly?] would go with SATIRIZED but would ruin the who-knows-it’s-a-capital-S trick.

  30. Daniel Myers says:

    Amy,

    Yes, it is “pretty much” what you said in the post. I suppose I was just elaborating that it isn’t a mere arbitrary preference: SATIRICAL vs. SATIRIZED, but that a real (perhaps trivial to some) grammatical issue is involved. What about [Swiftly summarized?]? It has a sweet sibilance to it as well as being formally correct.

  31. Amy Reynaldo says:

    But what’s being “summarized”?

  32. Daniel Myers says:

    Point taken as far as exactitude goes, but at least it allows for the subject of the summary to be a person or a society or what have you. [Swiftly scathed?] preserves my beloved sibilance as well as meeting your standards (I hope), but is rather too much of a gimme, I suppose.

  33. Martin says:

    “He had satirized since his school days.”
    “He had ‘Swiftly’ written since his school days.”

    It’s Saturday, and the obvious answer is a trap.

  34. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Martin, it’s a transitive verb. Satirized what? Your examples can work if you add an object to both, but then you need to insert an “about” into the second sentence, and you lose your equivalency.

  35. Martin says:

    Satirized for your protection.

  36. Daniel Myers says:

    Martin,

    Right. Agreed that it’s a mad Saturday with all sorts of loose clues abounding. But the point I was trying to make has nothing (or very little) to do w/ transitive vs. intransitive. The point is that the clue [Swiftly written?] as it stands makes “written” a past participle, or adjective, rather than a simple past or imperfect or pluperfect or what have you.

    So, unless one goes and constructs sentences around the clue using auxiliary verbs – e.g., “had written” etc. – what is demanded is a rough synonym which can only be in adjectival form. The problem with the past participle/adjective “satirized” is that it can only refer to things written ABOUT, as Amy points out, whereas “written” – in whatever manner – always refers to the writing itself.

  37. Martin says:

    Daniel,

    I don’t really understand the problem. Yes, “written” is a past participle in this clue. There are a lot of ways you can make the clue not work, but on Saturday that’s in a clue’s favor. You only have to make it work one way. Which I think I did.

    “Satirized” doesn’t have to take an object. Whether you call it intransitive or “not referring to things written about,” the definition that I linked — “to utter or write satire” — means that my earlier sentences are meaningful and grammatically correct. The clue seems a great Saturday clue to me.

  38. Daniel Myers says:

    Well Martin, apparently we shall have to agree to disagree. There are all sorts of, hm, tastes when it comes to solving puzzles. It seems to me that it requires an undue amount of labor to make this clue work at all, really, and I’m not conceding that it does by the bye. It’s not so much a matter of your sentences being incorrect. It’s more a matter of matching or, as Amy dubs it, “equivalency” with the clue. But, some people fancy this sort of thing. For me, it produced a sort of knee-jerk grammatical/semantic jolt, “No, total CRAZY TALK!” Oh well, to paraphrase Nero:

    “What a schoolmaster the world loses in me!”

    Cheers Martin,

    Daniel

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