Thursday, 2/10/11

[time_hdr postdate="2011/02/09" plug="thursday-21011" puzz="Fireball" anchor="fb"]5:17[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/02/09" plug="thursday-21011" puzz="LAT" anchor="la"]4:47[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/02/09" plug="thursday-21011" puzz="BEQ" anchor="bq"]4:00[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/02/09" plug="thursday-21011" puzz="NYT" anchor="ny"]3:58[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/02/09" plug="thursday-21011" puzz="CS" anchor="cs"]untimed[/time_hdr]

Derek Bowman’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution 2/10/11 0210

The famous people word ladder theme is placed in a 68-word grid with a ton of 7- and 8-letter answers in the fill (20 of ‘em). Given my fondness for themeless puzzles, you’d think this sort of grid would be right up my alley, but alas, there were too many questionable answers that took me out of the fun zone.

I caught onto the theme right away, when DONNA KARAN gave way to ELENA KAGAN—and the subsequent theme entries included the last names of CARL SAGAN, KATEY SAGAL, and ERICH SEGAL, taking us through a five-step word ladder of last names. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the existence of the word ladder, other than “isn’t that curious?”

I like the look of those corners jam-packed with 7s, but they were peppered with odd fill:

  • 25a. RE-EDIT, or [Make a long story even shorter?]. What’s the word “even” doing in that clue? You can make a short story even shorter, but if you’re making a long story shorter, the word “even” doesn’t belong there. The RE- prefix is echoed by the affix action in JERKIER (+y +er), AMIABLY (+able +y), RENAMING (re+, +ing), REASSESS (re+), and the weird GRIPPERS (+er +s).
  • 28a. ARSIS, [Accented part of a poetic foot]? Last time this word was in an NYT crossword was in 1997. I can’t say I’ve felt its absence.
  • 38a. [2010 Olympic ice dancing gold medalist ___ Virtue] is named TESSA. Hmm, no recollection of that name.
  • 2d. [Patricia who wrote "Woe Is I"], a grammar book, spells her name the atypical way: O’CONNER.
  • 3d. I recognize that this has become an accepted and embraced word in many quarters, but oy! The word MENTEES always pains me. A mentor mentors. Now, if a mentor “mented,” I could see the word “mentee” making a degree of sense. Why isn’t it “mentoree”? The ugliness of MENTEES is that the word severs itself from its semantic roots. [Students with personal guides] is the clue.
  • 10d. The [Georges Simenon detective Jules] MAIGRET has a cool name. I suspect a lot of Wednesday solvers won’t know it, though.
  • 48d. ARIA is certainly a common enough crossword answer, but the clue stretches beyond the Wednesday zone: [A cabaletta is a short one] features a word I’ve never seen.
  • 22a. Wait, how is INERTIA a [Reason to keep moving]? Doesn’t the presence of inertia suggest that you can’t keep moving? You ought to start moving, is what you should do,

Cool stuff:

  • 11d. Fred ASTAIRE with a neat quote clue.
  • 55a. I love the [Shakespearean term of address], SIRRAH. I am, regrettably, stifled in my ability to use this word in daily discourse.
  • 40d. the SERRANO is a [Red hot chili pepper]. Does the clue have anyone else singing “Give It Away” and “Under the Bridge”?
  • 36d. RAGTIME! It’s ["The Entertainer" musical genre]. The weird thing about decade-specific satellite radio stations is that you’ll hear songs like this on the ’70s channel. Now I’m holding out for that other instrumental hit, “Music Box Dancer.”

Daniel Finan’s Fireball crossword, “Location, Location, Location”

Daniel Finan Fireball 2/10/11 answers

You look at the grid and see no entry longer than 8 letters. Where are the theme entries? They are all around you, with am elegant five-way riff on yesterday’s jack-less clue theme in the NYT. This time, the words top, bottom, middle, left, and right are omitted from the theme entries, which appear at the top, bottom, middle, left, and right of the grid, and the missing words always belong at the front of a phrase:

  • 1a, 5a, 8a. TopLESS, Top GUN, top SECRET.
  • 13d, 37d, 55d. “Right THERE,” right ARM, right ANGLE.
  • 68a, 69a, 70a. Bottom DOLLAR, bottom OUT, bottom LINE.
  • 1d, 31d, 49d. Left LANE, left OFF, left FIELD.
  • 39a, 30d. Middle AMERICA, Tolkien’s Middle-EARTH.

Superb theme concept and execution.

Au courant clues:

  • 24a. [Manny, to Jay, on "Modern Family"] is his STEPSON. A gimme for anyone who watches that show.
  • 2d. Ignatiy [Vishnevetsky hirer in 2011] is Roger EBERT, for Roger Ebert At the Movies. A gimme for anyone who follows @ebertchicago on Twitter.
  • 25d. [Siriusly ___ (satellite radio channel)] clues SINATRA. A gimme for anyone with satellite radio.

Likes:

  • Lively fill: FAN BASE, KNOPF, unusual GOT A TAN, WEIRD AL Yankovic.
  • 56a. ["Yours truly is going to," much more informally] clues I’MA, as in “I’ma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.” Also spelled IMMA, but there’s no hard and fast rule.


Updated Thursday morning:

Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Hold ‘Em, Tex! “—Janie’s review

When the title of the puzzle is a play on the Texas Hold ‘Em variation of poker, you’re in card-game territory, thematically speaking. The first words of each of the four theme phrases are words you’ll also hear at the poker table—all betting LINGO [Specialized speech], and to be more specific: check, fold, call and raise. As it should be, all of the theme phrases have lives of their own, unrelated to the card table:

  • 17A. CHECK KITING [Using the "float" illegally]. This article gets into some of the finer details, but for anyone familiar with the story of Catch Me If You Can (based on the exploits of Frank Abnagale, Jr.), that’s a real life example.
  • 27A. FOLD ONE’S ARMS [Show determination].
  • 44A. CALL IT A NIGHT [Retire to one's boudoir]. Some friends wrote a musical about club-date bands, and the band’s song signaling the end of any gig had the lyric, “If we don’t call it a night/We’ll soon have to call it a day.” Great colloquial phrase.
  • 59A. RAISE A STINK [Complain big time]. Or, in the past tense, GRIPED [Bellyached]. Because sometimes, as my dad usta say, “the squeaking wheel gets the most grease.”

Look at some of the other great fill that’s in the grid. There’s a lively pair of 9s in JUMPS ROPE [Plays Double Dutch] and FOOLPROOF [Like a perfect plan]—though how much crow has been consumed in the aftermath of a “foolproof” plan? (The Watergate break-in comes to mind…) We get the excellent, symmetrically placed—PIGGISH [Gluttonous] and WIZARDS [Potter and pals])—and then crossing 7s, too: GHASTLY [Awful] and “WHAT’S UP?” ["How are things?"], and SNAPPLE [Popular beverage brand] and the (yeah, kinda cloying but still) image-specific “ICKY-POO” [Disgusting, to a toddler].

Two other crosses that are shorter but worthy of a shout out lead to MISS/USA [...name of a pageant winner], and then to two women who, by virtue of their marriages to very high-profile men, kept the tabloid presses running overtime: OONA [Charlie Chaplin's widow] and ONO [1969 Beatle bride]. Crossword constructors have been counting their lucky stars ever since!

Don Gagliardo’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword answers 2/10/11

I found this a fairly unpleasant puzzle to solve, and the way the theme unfurls didn’t do it for me. You’ve got the ingredients of a DRY MARTINI hiding in the ends of unrelated phrases, but not in consistent ways:

  • 17a. [Delta location] is a RIVER MOUTH. Long word spanning two shorter words.
  • 20a. [Source of showroom shock?] is STICKER PRICE. Short word found within a single word.
  • 35a. [Standing by for an on-air appearance] clues ABOUT TO GO LIVE. Medium word spanning two short words. Since when is ABOUT TO GO LIVE a good crossword entry?
  • 53a. [Risk calculation] clues SAFETY MARGIN. Another short word within a single word. And also a boring answer.

The theme felt uneven to me. PuzzleGirl liked the theme, so maybe it’s just me. Maybe I find martini themes as pointless as poker themes, just as a matter of personal taste.

In the fill, we had foreign words (DEI, ASADO), abbreviations (REGT, N.Y. METS, ACAD, APR, ADV, YMHA, ET AL, SSE, IRS), names (GWEN crossing WOUK and NEHRU, PEDRO, EMIL, ["Catcher in the Wry" author] Bob UECKER, OREL, GETZ, TYLER, MRS C beside AYLA) and a partial (A MAD), as well as odd bits like XIAN (43a. [Central Chinese city]), GAUD (40a. [Bauble]), and LYDIA (50d. [Croesus' kingdom]). And EATABLE?!? Yes, it’s a word, but not an interesting or particularly useful one. When nearly a third of the puzzle’s fill winds up in the “I didn’t love this stuff” paragraph, no, it wasn’t a fun solve.

Words I like:

  • 34d. GONZAGA, the [Spokane university] that often fields a good men’s basketball team
  • 32d. [Wheel securer] is a boring clue, but LUG NUT is just fun to say. Like nunchuks.
  • 45d. AFEARD, also spelled afeared, is clued as [Terrified, to the bard]. Dictionary tells me it’s archaic and was used mostly by Shakespeare. Come on, people! Let’s bring this word back! It’s got more oomph to it than “afraid” does.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “In the Bedroom”

BEQ 305 answers

Brendan goes racy for today’s theme, featuring various sex paraphernalia (GAG, CHAIN, PLUG, WHIP, LUBE, and CUFF) with a decided S&M slant. Ooo-kay then.

Twenty-three 3-letter answers felt like a lot. Wasn’t loving the 3s. So many abbreviations.

Highlights:

  • The knowing clues for TAL (36a. [The only chess player you need to know for solving crosswords]) and BAER (63a. [The only 1930s boxing champ you need to know for solving crosswords]). Now, LILIAN the [Romance novelist Darcy], she’s not the only romance novelist you need to know. In fact, you will likely never need to know that name again for crosswords.
  • ROAD HOG is lively.
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33 Responses to Thursday, 2/10/11

  1. joon says:

    the INERTIA clue is spot-on. inertia is what makes an object keep moving if it’s already moving, and also what makes it keep still if it’s already still.

    i didn’t care for the NYT, but the fireball is a true wow puzzle.

  2. Bruce S. says:

    My last box was the OCONNER, ARSIS crossing at that R. Didn’t know either of those. Maybe I will next time.

    I also really enjoyed the Fireball. I think it was the fastest I have done one in the 13 months of fire.

  3. John E says:

    Even though the answer to the NYT puzzle was in the background of the pictures of Jan at the contest in CT, it still took me woefully long to solve. I was expecting more trickery for a Thursday, but I actually thought it was well-constructed and liked the puzzle. A few of the references were unfamiliar to me (never read the credits at the end of “Yellow Submarine”), but it’s always good to learn something new.

  4. Gloria says:

    I think the “even” shorter is necessary. To make a long story shorter, one would edit it. To make it “even shorter”, one would need to go back and RE-EDIT it.

  5. Aaron says:

    I can hardly call myself a “young” solver anymore, but for someone under 30, this Thursday’s gimmick-less puzzle was a real disappointment and an unnecessarily difficult slog. It’s the first puzzle I haven’t had fun with in a while.

  6. Gareth says:

    Wow that was for me the toughest thursday that I’ve seen in a while! Funny, 1A was a gimme. Things went downhill from there! Never heard of DONNAKARAN (DKNY yes no idea what it stood for), KATEYSAGAL and ERICHSEGAL ring the faintest of bells. So many parts of the grid had me stumped, really felt like saturday. Area with mysterious TESSA, crossing STEIGER (faint bell as a name, but with no connections other than actor), SERRANO. The whole SIRRAH (faint bell), SALOME (know the Bible character, but opera not helping…), PELHAM (know the horse bit) area. Also around DONNA: OCONNER and MENTEES plus ARSIS. Wanted MADEIRA to be MARSALA initally. MAIGRET and the weird clue for CHINESE (it’s a SOMETHING? Could see by pattern it SHOULD be Chinese but refused to enter it!) as well as not being able to get MAC or TEE. Many of the other clues were thorny, precious little gimmes!

    (Mistakes were ENDO/MENDEES and SERRENO/SEGEL. Shrug.)

  7. Duke says:

    It’s Thursday, not Wednesday! Too many names. Annoying.

  8. Matt says:

    Thumbs up for the Fireball. Gotta start remembering that the Fireballs have titles. Not so enthused about today’s NYT. Word ladders are OK for me if they have a meaningful A->Z e.g., LEAD-> GOLD. But just Name->Name is kinda meh, IMO.

  9. Evad says:

    After first getting KATEY SAGAL, I thought the fashion designer would be KATE SPADE and we’d have a KISS ME KATE entry. Found this one very difficult, particularly in the corners with the crossing obscure names.

  10. janie says:

    in the fb, maybe the au courantest of all? the [Huffington Post acquirer] clue for AOL.

    nice!

    ;-)

    j.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Janie—Yes, I meant to mention that one! I lost track of it while writing.

  12. jemini says:

    Rule of Physics: A body in motion remains in motion and a body at rest remains at rest unless acted on by an outside source.

    I liked the puzzle.

  13. Howard B says:

    ARSIS/OCONNER took me 2 or 3 guesses, I forget. That would have been a wrong square on paper. No idea. Interesting theme, though the names throughout the puzzle were rather oppressive.

    The Fireball was incredibly fun. Top of the line, right over the middle of the plate. A little bit of bottom-of-the-barrel fill in there (LEO XI), otherwise great. Nothing left to say.

  14. janie says:

    >I meant to mention that one! I lost track of it while writing.<

    p’raps, but look at all you *do* keep track of while writing. and writing. and writing. on thursdays especially. ;-)

    i feel certain you chose to “omit” it, to see what your readers would bring to the table!

    ;-)

  15. Jan (danjan) says:

    The O’CONNER/ARSIS cross was the one that I was least sure of in my winning puzzle; O’Connel/alsis also looked possible, but seemed a bit less likely. I was familiar with TESSA Virtue, but spelled Ms. SAGAL’s first and last names several different ways as the crossings unfolded. I didn’t know Erich Segal had anything to do with Yellow Submarine, but do remember him from Love Story.
    MENTEES has to be the least favorite entry for my speedier co-finalist, who accidentally had -EEE at the end, rather than -EES.

  16. Jeffrey says:

    I’m on Team Amy re the LA Times except it does have another Total Eclipse of the Heart reference.

    Fireball wins Thursday.

  17. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Turns out Roger Ebert is a big Inspector MAIGRET fan (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110209/REVIEWS/110209985). This probably means we’ll all encounter the word ARSIS somewhere else today, too, right?

  18. joon says:

    i’ve see WOE IS I in crosswords, both as a clue for the partial IS I and as a standalone entry (even a theme entry), so i remembered it was something like “o’connor,” but not the correct spelling. (i even misspelled it while blogging.) TESSA virtue rang only a faint bell, and i finally remembered why: liz gorski’s blog. ARSIS is a word i didn’t know, but i’m glad to know it now.

  19. Eric Maddy says:

    Maybe someone who is more of a tippler than I am can help with this — is ICE an ingredient in a DRY MARTINI?

    I’d always had the impression that martinis were served neat.

  20. john farmer says:

    In my bartending days at the end of college, I never served a martini on the rocks. Typically, the gin is chilled on ice then strained into a martini glass. I think the bigger objection for martini drinkers is including VERMOUTH as an ingredient. I learned early that vermouth never goes into a DRY MARTINI, despite what the recipe books tell you. You can wave the vermouth bottle over the drink but that’s as far as you want to go.

  21. mitchs says:

    FB = one of the coolest themed puzzles ever. @Eric: I didn’t do the puzzle containing that clue but I suspect that it referred to the fact that ice is the ONLY ingredient other than booze in a dry martini. Even served up, you could argue that ice is an ingredient.

  22. Victor Barocas says:

    My dad turned me on to MAIGRET when I was in high school, I think, and I still enjoy reading the books. I find that Donna Leon’s books are similar, and she has great letters, so maybe she’ll show up some time. I liked the fill quite a bit more than the theme. Only big downer for me was ADSALES.

    On the LAT, I agree with all of the criticisms, but the theme just felt nice to me. I think that you use ice to make the martini but then strain it out, but I’m not a drinker or bartender, so I could be wrong. I didn’t like “DRY” in the entry because I think that those ingredients would go in any martini, “dry” just meaning that there’s more vermouth. Somehow, in spite of that, I still like it.

  23. joon says:

    oy vey, the LAT theme was vexatious. not only has this theme been done before, and quite recently, but the execution was pretty shoddy. i much prefer gaffney’s WILL TO LIVE to gagliardo’s ABOUT TO GO LIVE. the addition of ICE as an ingredient can’t really be seen as an improvement, i think, especially given the controversy over whether it’s actually part of the drink.

    so, let’s talk about the fireball. was that cool or what?? my favorite puzzle of the ytd.

  24. Rex says:

    Wow. I didn’t think nearly so much of the FB puzzle. It’s fine, but it’s a variation on a puzzle I’ve seen before. Non-theme fill is just OK. Once I got the theme, I just went around the edges filling everything in. No fun in that. I liked it a little, but it’s not even in my top ten of puzzles ytd. First FB puzzle (“Watch It”) was best FB so far, IMO.

  25. AV says:

    And I can’t rate the NYT puzzle because?

  26. Howard B says:

    Actually liked the strategy of first figuring out today’s FB theme, then working around the edges and then finally to the chewy center. In “Watch it”, I enjoyed the concept as well, but a couple of the theme answers were extremely tough until the theme reveal, and less satisfying to me (wasn’t up on my actress names).

    I definitely see the unique merits of each, and can see the pitfalls of both. I do especially appreciate the unpredictability of themes and fill, with a relatively high difficulty curve. Thought this one was ahead by a nose, but if the FB themed puzzles are of this quality, that’s a heck of a good standard to maintain.

  27. john farmer says:

    In my answer to Eric’s question, I may have given the impression I was down on the LAT today. Actually, I rather liked the puzzle. (I didn’t remember the Gaffney, and I’d bet Don G.’s was in the pipeline before Matt published his.)

    The objection to ICE would stand if the clue said “ingredient” instead of “component.” You do need ice to make a martini, so it’s fair to include it. Vermouth is fair too, whether it’s used or not.

    Across the board, my experience with puzzles was not in sync with the crowd today.

  28. John E says:

    Bang on, John Farmer. The degree of dryness in a martini relates to the ratio of gin (or *gasp* vodka) to vermouth – the higher the ratio, the drier the martini. I prefer about an 8:1 ratio myself, some prefer no vermouth at all.

    You make a martini by shaking the ingredients in ice, and then using a strainer to pour everything but the ice into the glass. If done right, you should have little ice crystals at the top of your drink. Some people will serve martinis on the rocks.

    One note of caution to all – never mix martinis and Monopoly – really bad things can happen.

  29. Amy Reynaldo says:

    AV: Sorry about that. I copied the NYT header code to make a BEQ line but inadvertently knocked out the NYT line altogether. It’s back now.

  30. Ladel says:

    @john farmer

    I have seen the vermouth poured over the ice first, stirred, then discarded, back in the day, a wave of the bottle was my preferred ratio.

    Arsis:
    1.
    a. The short or unaccented part of a metrical foot, especially in quantitative verse.
    b. The accented or long part of a metrical foot, especially in accentual verse.

    2. Music The upbeat or unaccented part of a measure.

    Now use it in a sentence kiddies and you’ll own it.

  31. AV says:

    Thanks Amy – I thought NYT had banned you from the rating system given the low ratings their puzzles got! :-)

  32. John Haber says:

    I thought the theme was lame. As for the fill, given the ambiguity of “endo” vs ENTO and the unknown ARSIS and O’CONNER, not to mention the odd synonym for “buddy” up there, it wasn’t very satisfying. At least one search, too, got me “O Connor,” and I could sear ARSIS wasn’t in the dictionary, although I see it now in RHUD. Had no clue as to TESSA but got it from crossings. Maybe worst sin was that a theme word (Katey Segal) was trivia I didn’t want to know, but it was that crossing in the NW that lost me. (Why not L?) Have to say that ROS Asquith, the person for the Dickens novel (I presume a TV version), and JAR for “bump” were just part of what one deals with.

  33. pannonica says:

    Mentos = “The Freshmaker”
    mentees = “The Stalefiller”                  ?

    (Actually, “mentee” makes me think of goatee because ment– is the Latin root for chin.)

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