Wednesday, 3/9/11

[time_hdr postdate="2011/03/08" plug="wednesday-3911" puzz="Onion" anchor="av"]4:10[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/03/08" plug="wednesday-3911" puzz="LAT" anchor="la"]3:20[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/03/08" plug="wednesday-3911" puzz="NYT" anchor="ny"]3:01[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/03/08" plug="wednesday-3911" puzz="CS" anchor="cs"]untimed[/time_hdr]

Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword

3/9/11 NY Times crossword solution 0309

The theme is cute in a “spring is almost here” way, but it takes up only 43 squares, and the theme’s limitation on the letter T (only found in the kite’s tail) somehow leads to a lot of undesirable fill. When 1-Across is a partial (AS AN) and it crosses both the more-famous-in-crosswords-than-out SELA and a plural AMYS, the puzzle has to work overtime to win me back. And fill like CMI, LOGE, AGER, OLLA, ELY, ILONA, ORIBI, CANER, AM I, RFDS, ELBA, ISSEL, and YORBA does not reel me in.

The theme entries are FLYING HIGH, BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND, and TAILING OFF, which are all verb phrases that could be associated with kites. Well, the third one really can’t, can it? It just points at the kite’s T tail but otherwise has nothing to do with kites. And oddly, FLYING HIGH isn’t clued with reference to theme when the other two long Acrosses are.

A mere four squares are circled to spell KITE, and then there are six T’s “tailing off” from the T in 38a. I say: If the only way to keep a T out of most of the puzzle is to include things like the ILONA/OLLA/LEILA/ELLIE/ELY zone and the LOGE/AGER crossing, maybe you want you rethink the concept. (Tongue twister time! Say “Ilona olla Leila Ellie Ely” three times fast.)

And it would be nice to space out the restricted-alphabet puzzles so we don’t have two in a row. The same concerns I had yesterday over the sort of fill you get with half the keyboard are present for the don’t-put-T-in-most-of-the-puzzle concept. Solid fill with interesting clues: that is what I’m looking for above all. A cute gimmick with questionable fill tends to lose me.

Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword answers 3/9/11

Whoa, I wasn’t looking for BOOKER T. and the M.G.’S to run in the Down direction, but I was indeed expecting to find MGS somewhere. The four long theme answers are (semi-)famous names with M.G. initials:

  • 17a. [*Moscow park eponym] is MAXIM GORKY. I know this from the book/movie Gorky Park, though the Maxim part came from the crossings.
  • 61a. MARVIN GAYE is the [*"What's Going On" singer].
  • 10d. [*20th-century cartoonist who wrote "He Done Her Wrong," a 300-page pantomime tale] is MILT GROSS. That clue could have gone on thrice as long and I would still have relied on the crossings to fill this in. None of this rings a bell with me. Gross died in 1953, so “early 20th century” is more on point. I know TV actress Marla Gibbs’ name better, but that’s not 9 letters long.
  • 32d. [*"Mad Max" star] is the now-infamous MEL GIBSON.
  • 48d. [Leader of the band with the 1962 hit "Green Onions"] is BOOKER T.
  • 61d. [With "the," 48-Down's band (which sounds as if it could have included the answers to starred clues)] is a kinda cute rationale for grouping these M.G.’S together here.

Highlights:

  • The 14-pack of 7-letter answers, mostly in the corners. TEMPEST (my first [Violent storm] was TORNADO) and ROXANNE. The singing LORELEI. Vicks VAPORUB. OCEANIA above O CANADA ([Anthem for "eh" sayers]), missing only OCARINA for the OC****A trifecta. SWAHILI, the [East African language].
  • 43a. SUV is clued [It's not known for MPG efficiency]
  • 49a. [Din in the library?] means Kipling’s GUNGA Din, not “noise.”


Updated Wednesday morning:

Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “It’s Vine With Me”—Janie’s review

With spring creeping up on us, Sarah gives us a puzzle that conjures up images of the greenery that’ll soon be ours to appreciate. Each of her four theme phrases begins with a word that also names a kind of vine. We get vines of the bean, kiwi, wisteria and ivy varieties. Those bean and wisteria vines are especially pretty, no? The non-vine phrases that deliver this array of flora are:

17A. BEAN COUNTER [Number cruncher]. Which is a reminder that tax season is upon us… Don’t love that, but do love the phrase.

26A. KIWI AIRLINES [Former flier down under]. Nupe, they’re no longer in business.

47A. WISTERIA LANE ["Desperate Housewives" street]. Lasted maybe half the first season with this show—but ya sure can’t go by me for what “the public” likes on TV.

61A. IVY-LEAGUERS [Cantabs and Elis]. We all know that Yalies are also Elis, but if “Cantabs” is new to you, “Those matriculated at or graduated from Harvard University are called Cantabs, derived from Cambridge, where fair Harvard is located, which in England was once known by the Latin Cantabrigia. Hence, Cantabrigians (the residents) or Cantabs for short.” [The Big Ten's Fighting] ILLINI represent some of the best players in the state school system.

This is one of those themes where, for me, the parts are more interesting than the whole. I think it’s the nature of the gimmick here. To her credit, Sarah makes good use of the non-theme entries to add more color to the fill. Of the longer items, I especially like the grid opposites DECORATE [Adorn] and DIALOGUE [Screenplay component]. I like TOE DANCE, but scratch my head at the clue [Ballet excerpt]. Really? To toe dance is to perform on pointe. It’s a verb. I’m really having trouble seeing the logic of cluing it as a noun. “The ballerina performed a toe dance.” As opposed to a tap dance? Maybe. But why an “excerpt”? Just a confusing clue, I fear.

Other peppy fill? “BABALOO” [Desi Arnaz signature song], and peeling off of those “B”s, BABKA [Coffee cake variety] and BWANA [Master, in Swahili]. The connectivity in KARO/OMSK/KWAI is similarly appealing. RACIEST [Most suggestive] is another goody, and I’m also fond of the ACH/ACHES crossing in the NE; ditto the opposites that get the puzzle going: AVOID [Go around] and MEETS [Runs into]. (Yes, I know they’re not parallel parts of speech..)

Fave clue? While I do like the sibilance and alliteration in [C. in C.'s second-in-command] for VEEP, the visual and wordplay of [Ring around the newly weds] gives HORA a lovely lift—so that’s the one that gets my vote today.

Francis Heaney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

3/10/11 Onion AV Club crossword solution

This morning’s New York Times reports that the Spider-Man Broadway musical is being retooled and will delay its opening from this week to three months from now. Oh, crazy star-crossed, cast-injuring, audience-disappointing show! Will you ever look like a reasonable use of $65 million?

Francis culls a bunch of song titles from U2′s oeuvre that seem relevant to the ill-fated musical:

  • 1a, 17a. [U2 song about most performances of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"?] is OUT / OF CONTROL.
  • 20a, 58a, 20a again. [U2 song about a disastrous "Spider-Man" matinee?] clues SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY.
  • 22a. VERTIGO is a [U2 song about a common affliction for "Spider-Man" performers?].
  • 32a. NUMB is a [U2 song about the aftermath of a "Spider-Man" injury?].
  • 39a. [U2 song appropriate for many performers in "Spider-Man"?] clues I FALL DOWN.
  • 48a. 54a. 63a. [U2 song about dangerous "Spider-Man" rigging?] clues TRIP / THROUGH/ YOUR WIRES.
  • 72a. [U2 song about "Spider-Man" in general?] is BAD.

Now, I’ve only heard of one of these songs, but each title works great as a punchline for mocking the musical. I like Francis’s approach to satirical skewering of U2′s Bono and The Edge, who are co-creators of the show.

Seven more clues:

  • 14a. THE HUDSON is a great entry. [New York river, to locals].
  • 33a. [Precise, so to speak] clues SURGICAL. The clue’s got that surgical precision, and yet it wasn’t at all obvious.
  • 44a. [College gridiron event] clues BOWL GAME, another terrific entry.
  • 4d. [Harmonia ___ (classical label)] clues MUNDI. All crossings for me.
  • 21d. [Ticket-buyer who stayed home (perhaps wisely)] is a NO-SHOW. Nice echo of the theme.
  • 34d. [Fancy saloon of old] clues GIN PALACE. Whoa, that’s a new one on me.
  • 59d. [Stan Shmenge's brother, on "SCTV"] is YOSH. Zero recollection of this one. How else you gonna clue YOSH?

 

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24 Responses to Wednesday, 3/9/11

  1. Aaron says:

    Spent about a fourth of the puzzle just on that awful left center portion, the cross between LEILA/ILONA and ELLIE/OLLA. ISSEL and his NBAERS didn’t make me any happier. Nothing really stood out for me; probably doesn’t help that I dislike Dylan.

  2. john farmer says:

    I disagree with the implied premise that this is an easy grid to fill. It is not. The biggest constraint not mentioned is the string of diagonal T’s. All things considered, the fill’s not bad. On the plus side, it’s a fresh theme. I liked discovering the tail at the end, and the way the kite connected the three long Acrosses was well done. Pretty nifty puzzle.

  3. Todd G says:

    One can also use OCTAVIA to finish the OC****A trifecta (used 4 times in the NYT, and 5 times elsewhere according to cruciverb.com).

  4. Jamie says:

    I hope Bono doesn’t do the Onion crossword;)

  5. Howard B says:

    Cute NY Times theme. Although I do like these kind of puzzles, I agree with the comments on the fill; some of it was especially thorny. Maybe the puzzle was sort of designed to be like Charlie Brown’s kite-eating tree.

    Anyway, a hopeful theme for the upcoming season. I do enjoy snow, but had enough of winter for a while.

  6. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @John Farmer: I said “If the only way to keep a T out of most of the puzzle is to include things like the ILONA/OLLA/LEILA/ELLIE/ELY zone and the LOGE/AGER crossing, maybe you want you rethink the concept.” I recognize the constraint, and I don’t like what resulted.

  7. Matt says:

    I thought it was a cute puzzle, the multi-T fill didn’t bother me particularly. I had a roman-numeral issue where my brain kept saying ‘MCI’ rather than ‘CMI’, which (obviously) caused problems in the upper middle, but that’s a neural network issue.

  8. John Haber says:

    I liked the theme, with the tail of the kite kicking in for me only slowly. I agree the fill had rough or awkward sections, with ELLIE/LEILA/NALA being one for me, and I couldn’t remember for the life of me how to spell GHALI. (I’d guessed Galli.) Asian vs AVIAN flu also got me into a section about (ugh) golf.

    On the other hand, I’m surprised LOGE bothered you. I thought it was a common word or even the obvious answer to “theater section” without crossings. My tough crossing with AGER was “poetry SLAM.” Guess it’s a different kind of poetry than I’m used to.

  9. john farmer says:

    Amy,

    Yes, you had mentioned the missing T’s. My point was the T’s that are in the puzzle. Diagonals are always a tough constraint, and probably more so with crossings of 6 and 7 letters.

    When I see LOGE, SELA, ELLIE et al. get singled out, I’d say we don’t look at puzzles the same way.

  10. Gareth says:

    Remark at 4D in my puzzle: The slang is used here too (though it’s slightly dated), but somehow the Aussies get all the crossword airtime (check it out.)

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @John Farmer: And when you see CMI, AGER, OLLA, ELY, ILONA, ORIBI, CANER, plural RFDS, and ISSEL singled out, do you see the puzzle the same way? Those were singled out as blah fill. The ELLIE/LEILA/OLLA/ELY/ILONA pileup was just plain uninteresting. A boatload of names loaded with Ls plus a double-L crosswordese? Blah.

  12. john farmer says:

    Just about every puzzle has something that could have been better. I don’t agree with everything on your list, but the question is, is it overdone? In light of the theme today, I don’t think so.

  13. joon says:

    hey, i know all those U2 songs. BAD is my favorite. best song ever by that name (and the MJ song is pretty darn good). the live version from wide awake in america is better than the album version (from the unforgettable fire). neat that all seven songs are from different albums.

    nifty puzzle from gareth, with a nice reinterpretation of “the MGs” (though not as awesome as the DC COMICS puzzle from rich a few months ago). MAXIM GORKY is a writer i’ve read, but i don’t know what “moscow park” refers to. his the lower depths is a good play along the lines of ibsen’s the wild duck and o’neill’s the iceman cometh. as for MILT GROSS … yeah, who? marla gibbs isn’t ringing a bell either. MAHATMA (or MOHANDAS) GANDHI is too long, but would have been great. same with MARTHA GRAHAM, MATTHIAS GRÜNEWALD, and especially MIKHAIL GORBACHEV (16 letters! argh). i guess MUAMMAR GADDAFI can be spelled with almost any number of letters. anyway, all of this is pretty much beside the point—the placement of BOOKERT pretty severely limits you to short(ish) theme answers, barring an extremely fortuitous set of intersections.

  14. Daniel Myers says:

    I found today’s NYT’s puzzle rather fun (and surprisingly easy, more like a Monday). I simply don’t understand this continual bloody-minded carping over “fill” – not merely on this puzzle, but so many others. Perhaps this makes me a cruciverbal Philistine amongst soi-disant cruciverbal aesthetes, but it bothers me not.

  15. Howard B says:

    @DM Just part of discussion. Every person brings a different experience and reaction to each puzzle, and what may be difficult or easy to one may be the opposite to another. Some solvers prefer very smooth, more common answers throughout a puzzle as a gauge of enjoyment, while others strongly base it on the theme. Others may find that one very original pun or theme answer is more than worth some smaller quirkiness throughout the puzzle. This is just a place where those thoughts can be written out; there weren’t always such forums for this.

    Now if somebody is to criticize the overall quality of puzzles in general due to an unknown proper name or 3, then yes, that’s carping and I think that’s generally overkill. But too many strange crossings and obscure words/abbreviations will frustrate many people in a puzzle and that will be often expressed in comments.

    As for my own fill comment, I said it was “thorny”, meaning I had more difficulty solving the smaller answers than the larger ones and the general theme. This is unusual, and not a heavy criticism, but it was my honest experience. I agree that it was generally a bit easier than its day of the week. There is always wiggle room here for difficulty, though.

    Finally, it’s not a battle here against those who like/dislike a puzzle, or expert/intermediate/novice solvers. All are welcome here; this is not a class struggle. I’ve liked puzzles that most people on this and other blogs have really disliked, sometimes for almost the same reasons. Also vice-versa. Nobody has yet attacked me for saying so ;). So if it was easier to you than others have said, congrats :). Conversely, if you get stuck on an unknown word on a Monday, vent that too and you likely won’t be the only one. No worries, and happy solving!

  16. Francis says:

    Let’s take a moment to remember the legendary Shmenge brothers!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k884as0-3s

  17. Alex says:

    How else you gonna clue YOSH?

    [Gentle admonition to a friend in a library]?

  18. Erik says:

    Hippest LAT puzzle I’ve seen yet. I’m ashamed I needed 5 of the crosses for “BOOKER T.”

  19. D_Blackwell says:

    There was a fair bit of dreck in the fill, but obscure crosses were mostly avoided. I only had to throw one dart. Also, most of the sucky stuff was clued (through the crosses) to make getting through those spots as easy as possible so that the theme could be enjoyed. I thought that that was quite nicely done and chose to enjoy the theme.

    (I did think that all three clues for the theme related entries were exceptionally poor. I’ll be nice and call them ‘serviceable’.)

  20. Meem says:

    Jamie is oh so right! The irony of the timing of the Onion puzzle vis a vis today’s NYT article is amazing. And what a great puzzle. Great fun to solve.

    Also enjoyed solving Gareth’s puzzle. Joon: Gorky Park in Moscow is named for Maxim Gorky.

    NYT was a clever idea, but some of the cluing, e.g., 54D., befuddled me.

  21. Daniel Myers says:

    @Howard B—Many thanks for your urbane and comprehensive response. I certainly wasn’t knocking fora (to use a “fill” word) such as this one and cerainly not knocking your post. It just seemed to me more than a tad overkill in general today regarding “fill” answers, and I was being just a wee bit whimsical regarding aesthetes and Philistines. Anyway, here’s some more provocative “fill” whimsy from Richard Wilbur’s poem “All That Is” to lighten the day:

    Is it a vision? Does the eye make out
    A flight of ERNES, rising from AITS or AERIES,
    Whose shadows track across a harsh terrain
    of ESKER and ARÊTE? At waterside,
    Does the shocked EELER lay his CONGERS by,
    Sighting a REO driven by an EDILE?
    And does the EDILE, from his running-board,
    Step down to meet a RANEE? Does she end
    by reading to him the works of ELIA?”

    One wonders, Mr. Wilbur. One wonders.:-)

  22. Jamie says:

    @Francis (assuming you are Mr. Heaney) – this was by far my favorite puzzle of the day or the last month for that matter. Thanks for being funny. We need more of that in crosswords. Of course I didn’t pick up that all the songs were from different albums (and OF COURSE Joon did; that guy does not have a normal brain in his cranium, more like an encyclopedia). I didn’t even know half the titles. I still had an evil grin on my face throughout the puzzle. Really loved it – thanks.

  23. Jamie says:

    @Gareth – not to leave you out. I really liked your LAT puzzle. Anthem for “eh” sayers cracked me up. They really do say that, plus they don’t know how to pronounce the letter O. Except for, perhaps, in O Canada. Unless they call it OOH Canada, which wouldn’t be a bad national anthem. I am not ridiculing Canadians except for living in a really cold country. Yonks ago, I was at a Canadian health spa, and I got the best massage of my life. I was astonished to learn that massage is covered by Canadian health care for citizens and my masseuse had to have a four-year degree in massage therapy.

    As a non-American-English speaker, I love when a furriner posts a crossword. This one was excellent. Unfortunately, I am not sure you will ever top “Yes There Is A God.” But please keep trying!

  24. Howard B says:

    Understood, Daniel. Reassuring that most of us aren’t Philistines here either :). Thanks!

    And thanks Francis, for helping us relive the Shmenge brothers.
    (Didn’t help me figure out YOSH, but I liked the puzzle!) Spidey earned this one.

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