Wednesday, 5/4/11

[time_hdr postdate="2011/05/03" plug="wednesday-5411" puzz="NYT" anchor="ny"]4:21[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/05/03" plug="wednesday-5411" puzz="LAT" anchor="la"]4:18[/time_hdr]
[time_hdr postdate="2011/05/03" plug="wednesday-5411" puzz="Onion" anchor="av"]4:18[/time_hdr]
Tausig tba
[time_hdr postdate="2011/05/03" plug="wednesday-5411" puzz="CS" anchor="cs"]9:08 (Sam)[/time_hdr]

Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword

5/4/11 NYT crossword answers 0504

Hey! What’s this Thursday theme doing on a Wednesday? It must be celebrating my wedding anniversary. Isn’t that sweet.

The theme is absolutely nuts, never before seen (to my knowledge). The five Down theme entries are palindromes, and when they reach their midpoints, they hit the black-square U-TURN (65a: [Maneuver required five times to finish this puzzle]) zone and head back up. Each single square in the U-turn zone is, in fact, unchecked:

  • 2d. [Lionized] clues DEIFIED, entered as DEIF.
  • 7d. The Napoleonesque palindrome “ABLE WAS I ERE I SAW ELBA” looks like ABLEWASIER. That looks wronger than DEIF, doesn’t it?
  • 12d. Echoes of Joe DiPietro’s recent Fireball crossword here, with the ROTATOR cuff lopped off at ROTA.
  • 25d. I had MADAME here for a while before understanding the theme. The [Classic introduction] is “MADAM, I’M ADAM,” represented by MADAMI.
  • 30d. The playfully fake word AIBOHPHOBIA is used for the supposed fear of palindromes and is itself palindromic.

Fun, no?

The grid’s got left/right symmetry instead of the usual rotational. There may be a lot of 3s and 4s in the grid too, but it’s Scrabbly (ZITI, BBQ, WIZ) and the long fill sparkles so aggressively, I can’t help liking the puzzle. A spooky dead PHONE LINE, a genie’s “YES, MASTER,” short SNIPPETS, ouchy PAINTBALL, insurance REDLINING, a sweet LOVE SONG, a sneezy “BLESS YOU,” DR. WATSON, a DRY WIT, and “I TRIED“? Great stuff.

That [Argonaut who slew Castor] is gonna round up some Google traffic to my old crosswordfiend.blogspot.com site, for sure. Nobody much knows IDAS whenever he appears in the crossword.

I’ll give this one 4.5 stars, with IDAS and the unchecked midpoints keeping the puzzle from hitting 5 stars.
Updated Wednesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “Abe Linkin” – Sam Donaldson’s review

Today’s puzzle features four two-word expressions where the first words ends in -A and the second word begins with BE-. Thus, there’s an ABE “linkin’” the two words together:

  • 17-Across: The [Lager served with a lime] is CORONA BEER.
  • 31-Across: The [TV drama set in Vietnam] was CHINA BEACH.  I remember that this show was critically acclaimed, but I never saw an episode.
  • 48-Across: The [Bamboo eaters, colloquially] are known as PANDA BEARS.  “Colloquially??,” I wondered aloud as I solved, “There’s a stuffier name for panda bears?”  Some quick research indicates that the official name is simply “panda,” or sometimes “giant panda.”
  • 65-Across: One [Chocolate ingredient] is COCOA BEANS.  Others are sugar and butter.

Robin! To the Man Cave!

I’m a fan of the “hidden word gimmick,” where a secret word spans the divide between two words in common expressions.  But in honor of President Lincoln, I have to be honest: this one didn’t quite do it for me.  Maybe it’s because other theme entries come readily to mind (DAYTONA BEACH, KOALA BEAR, VANILLA BEAN, SOFA BEDS, and so forth), or maybe it’s because the non-theme entries have more pizzazz.  MAN CAVES, clued as [Places for guys], is just awesome, and I SAID NO WAY, clued as ["What part of 'fat chance' don't you understand?"], may be a tad forced but it’s just kooky enough to be endearing.  Even DO IT, the imperative clued as ["What are you waiting for?"], sparkles.  When theme entries get swallowed by the non-theme fill, something’s off.

Bonus points for the reference to the [Nightclub in a Barry Manilow song], the COPA, Copa Cabana, where music and passion were always in fashion.  Additonal points for working in three Zs, three Vs, and an X in ways that did not at all seem strained.

I admire [Kama ___ Records] as an uncontroversial clue for SUTRA.  Hey, dealing with an offended solver can put one in an awkward … wait for it … position.  But my favorite clue was [Snakes on a plain?] for ASPS.  You can just hear Cleo: “I’ve had it with these incestuously amorous asps on this incestuously amorous plain!”

Francis Heaney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

5/5 Onion AV Club crossword answers Francis Heaney

Theme: Circled squares contain the SWEET desserts, FLAN, STRUDEL, SORBET, TRIFLE, MOUSSE, and TORTE. Kudos to Francis for skipping the shorter PIE; brickbats for not finding a longer phrase that contains the letter string CREMEBRULEE in its midst.

The SORBET hider, JACKS OR BETTER, is a great poker term. I generally disdain poker terminology in the crossword, but if you can hide dessert in a 13? So much the better. I wonder if this was the seed entry.

No, maybe the seed entry was the MOUSSE lurking in ANONYMOUS SEX. Raise your hand if you never knew there was any MOUSSE in there. *hand raised*

Haven’t really seen Ted Haggard called PASTOR TED, I don’t think, but then I’m not an evangelical follower of his church so who knows.

ALF LANDON‘s FLAN and ACCOST RUDELY‘s STRUDEL are drier than the first three I discussed, and sticking a tasty TRIFLE inside ASSAULT RIFLES is a bit jarring. Kudos for fitting in six theme entries, though.

In the fill: EEL TANK? Really? That’s just goofy. RESAT is ugly, but it crosses three desserts. RESET would be better, but I’m not sure it’s kosher to depluralize Pecan Sandies and have one SANDIE. Is it a sandy or a sandie, or unsingularizable?

Four stars.

Don Gagliardo’s Los Angeles Times crossword

5/4/11 LA Times crossword solution

Cute enough theme—the CATSKILLS mountains are redefined as “cat skills” such as BALANCING, SELF-CLEANING, HIGH JUMPING (except that you rarely see “high jumping” when people are referring to the high jump event) and…DISAPPEARING? Cats disappear? Whatever. What about scratching and hissing, hmm? I don’t like cats.

And while the theme clues are marked with asterisks, it’s still jarring to have another -ING word in a long Down answer, that DIVINING ROD. Don’t cats divine the future? Seeing into the future sounds like SIGHT UNSEEN, the other long Down—and both of these Downs would be better in another puzzle than in this one. They’re great entries on their own but awkwardly echoed the theme here.

Mostly the fill bugged me. ANA/PSY, AMIGA, GAMY clued as [Plucky] (nooo…plucky = game, gamy = smelling like spoiled meat), MOIL (put in TOIL and didn’t check the crossing, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one because who ever uses the word MOIL??), the weird abbrev CANC., MOL, MON, ADJ, LEA, A BEE, ANKA, AABA, just so many short answers in the “bleah” category.

Three stars.

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31 Responses to Wednesday, 5/4/11

  1. joon says:

    loved this one. jeff is on a roll!

  2. John E says:

    The north-central / central section of the NYT is pretty cool – four 9 letter answers plus the palindromic ten letter answer – all without a lot of junk in the crosses. Very well done overall!

  3. Michael says:

    Brilliant idea punctuated by the elegant UTURN revealer at 65A. Is this the first instance in the NYT where unchecked letters are really unchecked (i.e., don’t spell any words)?

  4. sbmanion says:

    Best puzzle of the year for me. Brilliant.

    Steve

  5. Aaron says:

    For AIBOPHOBIA alone, this puzzle gets five stars.

  6. Jeff Chen says:

    COMPUTER: BEGIN CODY-CODING IN ANONYMOUS HTML
    This Jeff Chen fellow has proven himself to be far beyond brilliant. Jeff, if you are out there, please contact me at once so I may nominate you for the Nobel Peace Prize, Tracy Morgan’s EGOT, and the Newbery.

    I post this anonymously because I don’t want people to ask for my birth certificate, but rest assured, I have influence at the highest of levels.

    Sincerely,
    An anonymous, but extremely famous, venerable monocled English sort of old chap
    anonymous@gmail.com
    END CODING IN SECRET ANONYMOUS HTML CODY-CODE

    BEGIN HIDDEN COMMENTING IN INVISIBLE C TRIPLE PLUS
    Heh heh, wait til people read this fake anonymous post! They’ll be banging at my door for autographs, and perhaps a literary agent will sign me and sell my children’s book, MEET YOH MAKER, complete at 39,000 words.

    Good thing I’m such a wizard at writing ultra-neutrino-encoded html that I can pull off a stunt like this.
    END SILLY POSTY-POST

  7. MM says:

    (laugh) Ha! (/laugh)

  8. Matt says:

    NYT puzzle reminded me of one of my fave words: an EMORDNILAP is a word that means something different when spelled backwards.

  9. Howard B says:

    Now that is an insane theme. Happy solver here (8).
    The grid seems like such a restrictive thing, and yet somehow there’s still clever ways to bend and work around it.

    My pitfall was the cross of REDLINING and TILDA. I’ve never heard of REDLINING, so I had to convince myself first that RECLINING and TILCA would not work, and then find a better alternative. That took me a while to iron out.

    And I still want to put a random tilde over a letter in ‘Tilda’ for no logical reason whatsoever.

  10. Matt says:

    TILDA was a gimme for me… And if you’ve seen ‘Michael Clayton’ and it’s not a gimme for you, then… I just don’t know what to say.

  11. Meem says:

    Brilliant that the unchecked letters are surrounded by black squares forming the letter “u.”

  12. Gareth says:

    NYT’s theme was just brilliant, for the obvious reasons!
    Loved the LAT too, what a great revealer! Remark re MOL: very weird clue. I’d say, at least here, if you did high school chemistry, you’d have encountered the common, but IMO unnecessary abbr. for mole, but abbreviating molecular I don’t think I’ve encountered, ever. What Amy said re GAMY.

  13. Martin says:

    I’ll second the Hall-of-Fame nominations.

    Why would the unchecked midpoints be considered a flaw? (The review dings them.) They and their “U” containers are part of brilliance of the theme. That’s just wrong!

  14. Sara says:

    Hall of Fame, definitely!

  15. @ Gareth – The American Heritage Dictionary gives mol. wt. as the abbreviation for molecular weight. I would agree that nowadays the abbreviation is not common, the unit mostly having given way to the Dalton.

  16. joon says:

    martin, the unchecked letters are bold, but in a way, not very fair. if you can’t solve the one clue that the unchecked letter appears in, there is no other way to get it. in the past, when there have been apparently unchecked letters, there has been another way of checking them, as here and here. it would have been an absolutely amazing feat to (say) put U-TURN itself into those five squares.

    then again, this “flaw” is not really any more of a flaw than last saturday’s puzzle cross-referencing ODDS and ENDS, which intersected at the D.

    did anybody else find the CS puzzle about twice as hard as usual? just me, then? {Lets hit it} is an absolutely brutal clue for NET. it took me about a million years to understand it.

    i didn’t find DIVINING ROD or SIGHT UNSEEN to be distracting in the LAT, but i was distracted by NECCO/WAFER in francis’s puzzle. also NECCO/NEKO. also, NEKO itself, and the other proper names i had no idea about (NIGHY, SISTO, GAYLE).

  17. Neville says:

    Really enjoyed the LAT and Onion themes today. Would’ve thought BONDAGE would appear in the latter, not the former. SANdiA had me two letters away from a full solve in the Onion – oh well. I sort of get how cats disappear… but not quite. SELF-CLEANING was my favorite entry of the day, across all of these.

  18. john farmer says:

    Plenty of gimmick puzzles have used unchecked squares. Jim has a page listing them. I haven’t checked them all, but it seems many if not most offer no another way to verify letters that are part of one answer only. I know other puzzles not on Jim’s page also fall in the same category (here and here, for example).

    It seems like a pretty solid tradition — if the gimmick warrants it, unchecked squares are allowed. In fact, isn’t that the nature of gimmick puzzles? You can break the rules if it makes sense for the theme. Changing directions, irregular numbering, two-letter words, letters outside the grid, multiple letters in a square, etc., etc. — these and other gimmicks all “break the rules” of crosswords in one way or another, but no one would say that that’s a “flaw.” It’s the nature of the gimmick. Same for unchecked squares, as I see it.

    The only caveat I’d add, in fairness an unchecked square should not be ambiguous. That’s not the case with today’s very excellent puzzle. No harm, no foul.

  19. John Haber says:

    I was very impressed (a little hard for a Wednesday, too). I don’t consider the unchecked single letters a flaw, both because they’re supported by the gimmick and because the gimmick means that other letters in theme answers are doubly checked. Well, ok, I could have lived without IDAS and didn’t know CABER.

    I don’t get the ROOST clue, but maybe it’ll come to me. Oh, REDLINING is definitely a real word in my vocabulary, well worth knowing as part of recent American history and urban politics.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      @John Haber: You should’ve read Sam Donaldson’s CrosSynergy review yesterday—he had a photo of a caber! If you like throwing telephone poles and logs, the caber toss is for you.

  20. pannonica says:

    “…the gimmick means that other letters in theme answers are doubly checked.”

    Uhm, no they aren’t.

    For the record, I agree with Martin’s assessment of the “flaw.”

  21. Martin says:

    joon,

    I understand that unchecked letters deprive the solver of a second chance. However, you can argue that the palindrome wouldn’t make sense except when the correct letter is chosen, and that the letter is actually used twice in the palindrome. In other words, all theme letters except for the terminal are triple-checked and the terminal is double-checked.

    Whether you buy that or not, the palindromes are obvious enough that it’s hard to argue any theme entries are ungettable because of its last letter. Taking this into consideration, dinging the construction because of the rule violation seems, if not petty, beside the point.

    Anyway, while I wouldn’t call this passionate defense tongue-in-cheek exactly, I want the reviewer to know that I don’t think she’s a bad person.

  22. Jim Horne says:

    Thanks for the XWord Info plug, John. The thumbnail views work even better for lists of, for example, puzzles with unchecked squares. Here are my JNotes on today’s puzzle:

    This U-TURN puzzle probably has the record for appearing on the most special XWord Info pages. Five clumps of blocks are in the shape of a U qualifying it for the Grid Art page. The there-and-back palindromes make it a nonlinear puzzle. The 45 blocks are among the most ever. It has rare mirror symmetry. And, of course, it has unchecked letters.

    None of that says that this one was also FUN.

  23. Erik says:

    Maybe he was thinking of the Cheshire Cat.

  24. Walter says:

    Jeff Chen’s NYTimes puzzle today (May 4th) best ever!!

  25. Jan (danjan) says:

    Happy Anniversary!

  26. Jan says:

    [LAT] A cat we had years ago would disappear ALL THE TIME! We once found her in a cupboard with the door closed – how did she manage that?!

  27. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Jan: Technically, the cat had not disappeared. She was merely hiding. Laws of physics, matter neither created nor destroyed, yadda yadda…

  28. Jeffrey says:

    Was the cat named Schrodinger?

  29. Jan says:

    Her name was Kitty (embarrassingly uncreative, but she already had that name when we adopted her). We should have renamed her Schrodinger! Darn!

  30. sandirhodes says:

    OK, since it obviously slipped through the cracks, let’s take a look at the Tausig . . .

    Tausig’s Ink Well (7:53) (sandirhodes)

    I really like the theme answers, but got confused with some of the fill.

    18A A Fun Dip alternative is pixystix;
    23A A certain tryst is extramarital sex;
    34A Commemoration of a 19th Century Mexican military victory is Cinco de Mayo;
    49A Idiom is a fixed expression (I guess), and
    54A A popular choice for 34A, and things found in . . . (the rest) is dos equis (that’s ‘two Xs’ to you and me).

    Now, I don’t speak Spanish, but I know how this last entry is pronounced thanks to the spokesperson for the Mexican beverage by that name, who is also, it seems, is the most interesting man in the world. And he says it SO well!

    With all the Xs in the grid, I thought it might be a pangram when I saw the Q and Z, but alas, I guess it’s a unior ersion of one (no j-v get it? Sigh).

    Loved teabag clue, EdAsner (full name kudos), epic (fail), edu (nice clue, even if one sees it every week!)

    Don’t get why pastrami is the only answer for “Thing offered every time you go home even though you’ve been a vegetarian for years now.”

    I didn’t know Bao/Haines, arepas, Emme, Lorrie, Bartok, or Nyad. But I’m sure you all did.

    Note: Wow! This takes longer than I thought! Lots more respect earned for you reviewers today!!!

    Bye.

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