Friday, 6/24/11

LAT 5:28 
NYT 4:44 
CS 6:18 (Sam) 
WSJ (Friday) 8:15 

Milo Beckman’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 6 24 11 0624

The long answers in this puzzle are a hoot! I checked Wordplay to see just how young this debut constructor was. Turns out Milo is 15, but really, the fill could have come from someone in their 20s, 30s or 40s just as easily.

This puzzle calls for a Top Ten list:

  1. CHILL PILL (65a). Love it! “Jeez, take a chill pill, would ya?”
  2. NO OFFENSE (15a), clued as [Words after an insult]. Because most of the time someone says “no offense,” it really doesn’t work to negate the fact that they’re giving offense.
  3. Just ACT CASUAL (1a). Be cool, honey bunny.
  4. THIS SIDE UP (51a). This is an especially important notation for a box containing something marked FRAGILE (which must be from Italy, if you’ve seen A Christmas Story).
  5. I CALLED IT (63a). Beautifully colloquial thing to say.
  6. HIGH-PROFILE (11d). Not an uncommon phrase at all, but as an 11-letter, two-word term, not so common in crosswords.
  7. I always like a good TOSTADA (3d).
  8. BETA TESTING (23d) is good, too.
  9. It’s generally frowned upon to use the same word root in multiple answers, but can you really grumble about ASEXUAL SEXTS (8d, 21d)?
  10. I’M SO TIRED (17a) rounds out the terrific stack of answers in the opening corner.

Also fine: VIVALDI, the EVIL twin, the SILENT L (clued trickily as [Calf part]—were you wondering how to fit GASTROCNEMIUS into seven squares?), ABIGAIL, Y’ALL, AJAX, and SCHUSS. Now, this iTUNES PLUS, I don’t know what that is exactly. Blogger Rex thinks iTunes Plus is a format sold at the iTunes Store, the store being more aptly a “where.”

Less savory: partials A HALT and A CAB, little-known Jason WINER, archaic LADED, blah ‘ENRY and AFTA, and FITB NUI. Pretty much everything I didn’t list is smooth, solid stuff.

The German word at 27d may have thrown some of you. We are used to the DER/DIE/DAS trio, but did you know that DES is in the genitive case? True story. Now, I like a little German in my crossword, and a Frenchy fill-in-the-blank like [__ Moines] is too easy for Friday. So German and genitive it is.

4.5 stars. An auspicious start to a new constructing career, to be sure.
Updated Friday morning (it’s Friday, Friday…):

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Last Dance” – Sam Donaldson’s review

Washington Post/CrosSynergy crossword solution, 6 24 11

Orbach fills our dance card with five two-word nouns (some proper, some improper) where the last word is a type of dance:

  • 18-Across: The [Foam finger wearer, often] is a SPORTS FAN.  Wikipedia helpfully defines the “fan dance” as “a dance performed with one or more fans.”  Where would we be without Wikipedia?
  • 23-Across: The [Blockage removed with a snake] is a DRAIN CLOG. A working drain is an obvious inspiration for a clog dance.  I expected Wikipedia to have an equally unhelpful definition here, but the article on “clogging” has a more sophisticated start:  it’s “a type of folk dance with roots in traditional European dancing, early African-American dance, and traditional Cherokee dance in which the dancer’s footwear is used musically by striking the heel, the toe, or both in unison against a floor or each other to create audible percussive rhythms.”
  • 39-Across: [Nelson's Column locale] is TRAFALGAR SQUARE.  Since it’s a reference to square dancing, perhaps the reference in the clue is to Willie Nelson.  More on square dancing below.
  • 52-Across: The [Four-run hit] is a GRAND SLAM. For the late, great baseball broadcaster Dave Niehaus, it was a “grand salami.”  Ah, slam dancing, what the kids today call “moshing” and what we 40-s0methings call “battery.”
  • 58-Across: The [Mock rock band with the albums "Smell the Glove" and "Shark Sandwich"] is SPINAL TAP.  On a scale of 1 to 10, this band is, naturally, an 11.

I promised more about square dancing.  Square dancing was actually part of the freshman P.E. curriculum at my high school.  Here I was, this awkward, acned, fat teenager trying his best to master basic square dancing steps.  Our P.E. teacher taught us a dance where the boys stand in a circle and the girls form another circle around them.  The girls would take turns dancing with the boys across from them, then spin to the boys on their right, only to repeat the same process.  It worked well for me, because for the most part I was confined to a short space and couldn’t do much damage.  Despite the confined space, I managed to work up a sweat.  I’m sure I looked like quite the prize.

The worst part was holding the hands of my female dance partners.  At that age, I had constantly sweaty palms.  When I got nervous, they practically dripped, and I suppose it goes without saying that the combination of dancing and holding a girl’s hands was almost terrifying.  So I’m sure it was a real treat for these girls to be forced to hang on to the cold, wet vises that were my hands.  I couldn’t help but notice the look of relief on each girl’s face as her turn with me ended and she had the chance to wipe her hands on her pants before taking the comforting, warm and dry hands of her next partner.  It got to the point where I offered a disclaimer to each new girl that came to me.  “You’ll have to forgive my hands,” I would try to joke, “they’re very nervous.”  Most girls took my hands with a polite look of restrained horror and either looked straight down or straight up until their fifteen seconds of private hell expired.

But there was one exception.  Her name was Toni.  When it came time for her to dance with me, I offered the aforementioned pre-apology.  “Don’t worry,” she said in the sweetest, most comforting tone, “it doesn’t bother me at all.”  Even if she really didn’t mean it, I didn’t care.  For that fifteen seconds, I wasn’t the Phantom of the Gymnasium.  She made eye contact, smiled, and helpfully led me through that tricky part where I had to move my feet from side to side.  As she twirled away to the next guy, she said, “Thanks.”  More importantly, I noticed, she didn’t wipe her hands when she went to the next guy.  (I did notice that the next guy wiped his hands on his pants after he danced with Toni.)

Obviously I’ve never forgotten that simple act of kindness.  It meant the world to me, even though I’m sure she has long forgotten about it.  Heck, it was 28 years ago.  Since that time, my hands have dried, I’ve shed about 100 pounds, and my skin is clear.  (In fairness, I also have less than half the hair, and I’ve reacquired about 30 of the shed pounds.)  I learned to be a little less awkward, especially around the opposite sex.  And Toni’s lesson on the impact you can have by treating people with kindness and respect has never left me.  I haven’t always practiced it, I’m afraid, but I can think of some situations where I’ve tried to “pay it forward,” so to speak, and I hope it has helped on some of those occasions.

Oh wait, this is a crossword blog and not a therapy session.  Dancing may be awkward for me, but this grid was anything but.  Orbach gives us another smooth solving experience.  My only hangup was in the northeast corner, as I held on to I’M SERIOUS as the answer to ["Quit monkeying around!"] for way too long (the correct answer was BE SERIOUS).  It didn’t help that the neighboring MUFTI, clued as [Civilian clothes], was new to me and that [They may be partaken of at a parlor] proved to be an elusive clue for ice cream CONES.

The two Japanese terms, IMARI porcelain and the sliding screen, SHOJI, were similarly new to me, but the crossings were easy enough to help me get them.  For it’s conversational and evocative tone, my favorite clue was ["Don't just stand there!"] for MOVE. I also liked [Words heard after no objections] for I DO and [Women's mag with a Bachelor of the Year award] for COSMO.

James Sajdak’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword answers, 6 24 11

I didn’t much care for this puzzle. The theme didn’t quite cohere and the cluing seemed unnecessarily obscure at times. Two of the pun theme answers are cattle-related, two horse-related, all involving a voiced \th\ turned into \d\:

  • 20a. [Thoroughbred farm slur?] is “SO’S YOUR MUDDER,” playing off “so’s your mother” with reference to a “mudder” in horse racing, a horse that likes to run in the muck.
  • 29a. [Dairy farm proverb?] clues “BE KIND TO UDDERS” (others). That’s solid.
  • 46a. [Cattle farm commandment?] is “HONOR THY FODDER” (father). There’s nothing cattle-specific about fodder, though a dictionary tells me it’s hay etc. for “cattle and other livestock.”
  • 56a. [Clydesdale farm boast?] clues HEAVY BREEDERS (breathers). Uh, that’s not a boast, it’s a noun phrase that doesn’t lend itself to being spoken the way the other three theme answers would be. This is the odd pun out.

I’m usually pretty good at crossword geography, but most of this puzzle’s geo clues stumped me. I got 35d: [City near Provo], LEHI, because it was in another recent puzzle, but it triggered the Scowl-o-Meter. 63a: [Capital at the foot of Mount Vitosha] is SOFIA, but there really are no Bulgarian mountains well-known among Americans. And SOFIA crosses 55d: [Yodo River city], OSAKA, which is usually clued in much more gettable ways (generally having a clearer signal that Japan is involved—I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Yodo in a crossword or anywhere else).

Also didn’t know 31d: [Former Jerry Marcus comic strip], TRUDY, and I can’t honestly say I’ve even heard of the erstwhile strip.

I’m generally OK with TAO and KOI, but the ERL SLA TAO KOI row doesn’t look so hot. If you showed just that row to a beginning crossword solver, I think she’d drop her pencil and run away.

Perhaps the trickiest clue is 7d: [Hora part]. I was thinking of the dance called the hora, but it’s also “hour” in Spanish and the answer is MINUTO.

2.5 stars.

Randolph Ross’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Good News, Bad News”

WSJ crossword answers, 6 24 11 "Good News, Bad News"

The theme deftly interprets assorted common phrases as good and bad things for people in different circumstances:

  • 23a. [Good news for a dieter, bad news for a London gambler] = LOSING A FEW POUNDS.
  • 38a. [Good news for a pitcher, bad news for labor management] = THREE STRIKES.
  • 53a. [Good news for a real estate developer, bad news for a mom] = HOUSEWORK. Uh, that should be “bad news for pretty much anyone.” Nobody really likes housework. Moms, dads, childness men and women, children, housekeepers…
  • 72a. [Good news for a golfer, bad news for a commuter] = LONG DRIVE.
  • 86a. [Good news for an Olympic athlete, bad news for a disc jockey] = BROKEN RECORD.
  • 100a. [Good news for concert producers, bad news for speeders] = EXPENSIVE TICKETS. This one doesn’t quite feel as solidly “in the language” to me.
  • 17d. [Good news for a British apartment seeker, bad news for a motorist] = GETTING A FLAT.
  • 58d. [Good news for those on fixed incomes, bad news for bike tires] = LOW INFLATION.

It seemed like there were more than the usual number of stilted -ER answers. APTER, SORER, SANER, ROPERS, RUERS? No, thankers.

Highlights in the fill include AGUILERA, VAMPIRES, RED INK, JINX, and ENTROPY. Longer fill like OBOE PART and ANISETTE, on the other hand, doesn’t add much to the solving experience.

Spanish word I have never seen: 94a CLASE, or [Spanish teacher's group].

Three stars.

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20 Responses to Friday, 6/24/11

  1. Jan (danjan) says:

    Plunked down the German DES, had a vague recollection about VIVALDI, but am unfamiliar with iTunes Plus. Lots of great fill – I loved ACT CASUAL and NO OFFENSE, and how they were clued. Great puzzle – I enjoyed the challenge!

  2. ArtLvr says:

    Another youngster’s debut! Kudos to Milo — nice fit for a Friday, and not too wacky. My mind went first to Ma’am for the Southern term of address, but ‘ENRY ‘elped set that straight. Otherwise no surprises. VIVALDI had an unfamiliar clue, as did AJAX, but it was cool to have classics included. Looking forward to more from this new contributor.

  3. pannonica says:

    Amazing début, especially from such a young constructor!

    VIVALDI was a long one I plopped in confidently because I’m a fan of the unconventional and talented quartet, Red Priest.

    Took a risk on MARY for [Hail __ ] and paid for it with a little extra time.

  4. Gareth says:

    Top-left and bottom-right stacks were just fantabulous!

  5. animalheart says:

    Terrific debut. The Red Priest was the easiest fill in the puzzle for me, but it was the last thing I entered, since it was the last clue I looked at.

    As someone once said: Vivaldi didn’t write over 500 concertos; he wrote the same concerto over 500 times. (Not a big fan.)

  6. Ladel says:

    My shrink was fond of saying that talent shows up really early in life, and the ones that have it just need a little polishing to shine.

    MB has strutted his stuff with this fine puzzle, and had me sure 32A was amps because it always is, until the crosses showed me his cute little twist. Kudos

  7. pannonica says:

    Ladel:Late Bloomers: why do we equate genius with precocity?” · Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, 20 Oct 2008. Contrasts Picasso and Cézanne, among others. It’s worth a read.

  8. Zulema says:

    Gary,

    On the contrary, it was Haydn who wrote the same symphony 104 times.

  9. Meem says:

    NYT is a really solid puzzle. Congratulations, Milo.

  10. joon says:

    i loved milo’s puzzle and i’m looking forward to seeing more from him. and also, perhaps, to meeting him in the fall when he matriculates here. AWACS/WINER was a rough crossing, but the overall vibe of the puzzle was so fresh that it’s one of my favorite themelesses of the year.

    i like the fact that the friday LATs are getting knottier, but that’s just about the only thing i liked about this puzzle. the theme didn’t seem coherent, or consistent. shouldn’t it be HONOR DIE FODDER? well of course that makes no sense, but it seems like a good reason to use a different pun, perhaps FOUNDING FODDER or even LIFE WITH FODDER (although that is an old, old base phrase). also, i thought QAT was arabian, not african. it’s certainly most closely associated with yemen.

    sam, i’m glad you could get that off your chest, but i think i’m going to start charging you $200/hour for these little sessions of ours. :) great puzzle from tony—anything with SPINAL TAP as the punch line gets a big thumbs-up from me.

  11. Ladel says:

    pannonica

    Thanks for the article. In this instance I was limiting my argument to MB and his apparent precocity, abundantly displayed in this puzzle. I also like to occasionally rattle the cage of critical readers who seem incapable of distinguishing ability from talent.

    Zulema

    Come on now, Papa was a genius, had a long, fruitful life, at least twenty of those are memorable, the rest are what he did to make a living. N’est-ce pas?

  12. Gareth says:

    The names in today’s LAT coupled with tricky to parse theme phrases beat me up something awful!

  13. pannonica says:

    Ladel: Wasn’t trying to contradict you (or your “shrink”), only to expand the discussion by pointing to an essay that provided a strong, albeit tangential, commentary on the subject.

  14. Ladel says:

    pannonica

    Loved the article and thanks for pointing it out. I too have noticed and been amazed by late blooming talent, to date, have not read anything that explains why.

    My cage rattling statement was not directed at you but at another xword blogger well known to these pages, who, in the past, IMO was unjustly critical of talent to the point of deconstructionism. MB is a gem and we are fortunate to have him with us.

  15. Erik says:

    It’s the second definition of the word boast, as in “the hotel boasts high standards of comfort” (thank you Goo G. Le). But as it’s not a spoken phrase, it’s still the sore thumb theme answer. Boo.

  16. pannonica says:

    Erik: In the context of the clue, boast is unequivocally, as Amy wrote, a noun, with the same connotation as the verb* you suggest. It’s still more nonsensical than cogent.
     

    *A second verb sense is:
    to shape (stone) roughly in sculpture and stonecutting as a preliminary to finer work (m-w.com)

  17. John Haber says:

    There was a fair amount I didn’t know (such as CHILL PILL, Utah State, that name for a composure I thought I knew, and iTUNES PLUS), but it went it went quickly enough that I enjoyed encountering them. On the other hand, the crossing of AWACS and WINER was just a long-shot guess for me, and I didn’t like that. I picked a W thinking maybe there was something like “army women’s air corps” or some such, which made me wonder if that really gave an idiom with “_ plane.” And in fact it didn’t, so I’ll just be grateful that I got the right fill.

  18. john farmer says:

    Wasn’t Jason WINER the guy who got himself in trouble tweeting pictures of his beaujolais?

    Terrific debut from Milo today. Kid’s got a bright future (and bigger than just crosswords). Hope to see more from him.

  19. Jan (danjan) says:

    I also enjoyed the CS today – the theme wouldn’t have been that obvious without the title, and the theme phrases and fill were great.

  20. Jeff Chen says:

    Sam:

    You ought to write a book. And not one about tax codes!

    Jeff

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