Wednesday, 8/3/11

Onion 4:00 
LAT 3:10 
NYT 3:08 
CS untimed (Sam) 

Paul Guttormsson’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 8 3 11 0803

WhaT we’ve goT here is a sTunT puzzle in which every single answer word conTains aT leasT one “T.” Now, packing The puzzle wiTh such a common leTTer means ThaT we see a loT of repeaTers, and Those never enhance The solving experience. Especially when combined wiTh a preponderance of E’s and S’s. ETAIL plus ETRADE, ETTA and OTTO, ALIT and STYE, plural SUETS and RITAS and GTOS and -ETTES and E.T.A.’S and TOS, ET TU and ESTEE? Tut, tut. The puzzle is four T’s shy of the record, with 51.

The three longest theme entries are heavily T’d: TEMPORARY TATTOO, TENNESSEE TITANS, and TEETER-TOTTERING. The latter one, I haven’t encountered much as a verb. The clue, [Tilt-boarding], befuddled me. Why not [Seesawing]?

Most disappointing use of a question mark in a clue: [Trouble with a lid?] for an eyelid STYE. It’s not as if people are always talking about having trouble with pot lids and thus the clue is surprising. Odd.

Oh, look at that. Just noticed that all the clues start with a T, too. That explains the weird clues for TEETER-TOTTERING and STYE. Call me persnickety, but torturing the clues doesn’t always make for a more entertaining crossword.

2.5 stars. A rather joyless outing, all told.

Matt Gaffney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 8 4 11

It took me a while to make sense out of Matt’s theme. The paired answers include one term that starts with a color and ends with something that sounds like a letter name, and the other term is thing that is that color and has that initial letter:

  • 17a. [Japanese drink, or 19-Across] clues GREEN TEA. What’s green and starts with T? How about a 19a: TURTLE, or [Red-eared slider, e.g.]?
  • 25a. [Potential source of blurred vision, or 35-Across] is PINKEYE, or conjunctivitis. A pink “I” word is 35a: INTESTINES, or [Wasteful places?]. All together now: Eww! Maybe this blog post was Matt’s inspiration. If you’re into healthy pink viscera, consider buying these socks or knitting these innards.
  • 55a. [Ontario athlete, or 45-Across] is a Toronto BLUE JAY. Our blue “J” is 45a: JOKEY SMURF, a [Little cartoon character known for giving exploding gifts]. Jeez, really? We’re expected to know Smurf names? I refuse!
  • 68a. [Sochi and Odessa's body of water, or 66-Across] is the BLACK SEA, and the black “C” is actually dark brown. I call a foul on this one. 66a: COFFEE is clued as a [Brewed awakener]—rhymes with “rude awakener.”

What an odd theme.

There’s some sort of ugly stuff in this puzzle (aside from the viscera). 8d: VAT DYES, 32d: TITOV, 28a: KER? 26d: [FireWire equipment brand] IOI? I guess this is the price we pay for having eight theme answers,

20a: ["Dreams of My Father" memoirist] is Barack OBAMA, who turns 50 this week. He’s having a birthday party/fundraiser/concert in my neighborhood tomorrow night, at Uptown’s Aragon Ballroom. There’s a fair amount of gang-related drug dealing and shootings about two blocks from there, so hey! It’ll be nice to have a heavy police presence for a day. Can we keep them?

21a: [Plant used in perfume] is NARD. Ooh, hardcore crosswordese.

Three stars.

Kurt Krauss’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword answers, 8 3 11

This theme pairs verb and noun phrases that couple UP and DOWN with the same preceding word. Like so:

  • 17a. [What older baseball pitchers might do?] is WIND DOWN WIND-UPS. So, wind-ups can be wound down, and this would be done by the old and tired?
  • 23a. [Fetch Halloween costumes from the attic?] clues GET DOWN GET-UPS. I’d rather see your get-ups for gettin’ down.
  • 53a. [Post snide comments on a blog?] is PUT UP PUT-DOWNS. I’m sure I don’t know anything about this.
  • 64a. [Join the high school wrestling team?] clues TAKE UP TAKE-DOWNS. So half of the theme entries use sports terms.

I was disappointed (she says most unsnidely) to find AMP UP at 12d, as I’d rather have all the UPs and DOWNs confined to the theme entries.

Highlights: The HOW-TO/”I KNOW” combo, PLUGS AWAY. As Brendan Emmett Quigley says in his Reddit Q&A, responding to a question about improving one’s skills to get past the Wednesday puzzle: “It sounds trivial, but doing it every day forces you to get better, even if you have absolutely no shot of even finishing any puzzle past Wednesday. It’s like working out, you have to tear muscle if you plan to build any. You’ll find that over time you’ll be able to see through the tricks in the clues.” Keep plugging away at it, that’s HOW TO do it and be able to say I KNOW how to conquer the crossword.

Five clues:

  • 59a. [Italian diminutive suffix] clues INO. Oof. Ino is also the “mythical mortal who helped raise Dionysus.”
  • 71a. [Campfire treat] is a S’MORE. Today, I bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s S’More ice cream. Time for dessert!
  • 3d. [Scratch] meaning LONG GREEN, meaning do re mi, meaning moolah, meaning dinero, a.k.a. money.
  • 5d. [HTC smartphone] is the EVO. Also the first name of President Morales of Bolivia. Did you know he’s (a) a native Aymara and (b) a coca farmer?
  • 25d. [Geneticist's concerns] clues DNAS. Are there any geneticists who say, “Oh, sure, plural RNAS and DNAS, we talk about those all the time at our conferences”?

Three stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Just Between Us” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, August 3

Tho we might hope that nothing would ever come between u and me, Ross gives us five entries where many letters fall between U and ME (that is, each of the five theme entries starts with U- and ends with -ME).  U get me?  Here they are:

  • 17-Across: Sure, URBAN CRIME is a [Problem for mayors], but isn’t it also a problem for other residents of the city?
  • 38-Across: The [Poe poem] is ULALUMEThe skies they were ashen and sober, just like me.
  • 54-Across: A [Day or decade], a week or year.  Each is a UNIT OF TIME.  As a crossword entry, UNIT OF TIME doesn’t quite seem catchy enough to be a theme entry.  It works fine as non-thematic fill, but I’m not sure it holds up well in the spotlight.
  • 11-Down: [Like folks in a high tax bracket] is the clue for UPPER INCOME.  Others may find that kinda dull, but this tax law professor likes it.
  • 25-Down: If it’s [Not good for you], then it might be UNWHOLESOME.  And cool.

There’s a good deal of interesting entries here, like SQUIRT, the [Pipsqueak], STEINWAY pianos, and even HIGH TEA, the [Late afternoon meal at the Mayfair].  But notice how the grid is effectively divided into three discrete sections–there’s the nice wide swath running from the southwest to the northeast along with the northwest and southeast corners.  To get into those corners, though, you have to enter through one of only two white squares.  If neither of those squares is working for you, you have a very tough solve ahead.  I typically prefer grids that offer more avenues for access into the various quadrants, though I must say I liked the intersecting 7s in the middle flanked on all sides by the 6s.

Newer solvers might be flummoxed by BOSUNS, what my dictionary calls the “nautical variant” of BOATSWAINS, the “warrant officers or petty officers in charge of a ship’s rigging, anchors, cables, and deck crews.”  You’ll sometimes see it as BO’SUNS (added apostrophe) or BOS’NS (apostrophe for the U) or even BO’S'NS.  It’s just one of those things you have to get used to in crosswords.

Final note:  Did you notice too that the answer to 1-Across is two words:  LEG IT?  That’s totally legit.

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24 Responses to Wednesday, 8/3/11

  1. Rihat says:

    Wow, completely missed both the fact that every answer contains a T and every clue starts with a T. Maybe that’s a sign the fill was pretty smooth given the constraints?

  2. Jeff says:

    I’m really not one to criticize xwords, especially because I’ve never constructed one of my own, but this one didn’t seem to be up to NYT standard. First, it seemed to be Monday level difficulty and theme. Second, with subpar answers like E-tail and E-trade, NATO crossed with NAFTA and so on, it seemed generic. Lastly, the letters around the Ts all seemed to be Es and As…at least throw some Scrabbly letters in there. Ugh. I look forward to the next grid by this constructor without this silly constraint.

  3. Erik says:

    Doubled my time trying to root out a typo: RENDS/DOV for RENTS/TOV. Noticing the T thing probably would have helped. This puzzle will haunt me in my dreams. And not in a good way.

  4. pannonica says:

    Erik: Made the same mistake.

    59a. [Italian diminutive suffix] clues INO. Oof. Ino is also the ‘mythical mortal who helped raise Dionysus.’” —Amy R.

    inorite?

  5. john farmer says:

    If Obama needs police protection this week, I’d guess that’s because Democrats and liberals will be attending the party.

  6. AV says:

    I have a real doozy of a puzzle ready to be sent to Will – every answer has a vowel! :-)

  7. Todd G says:

    Well, today I might call you a troublemaker instead of persnickety…except that, truth be told, I think you’re terrific. Take that, New York Times!

    Todd

  8. Meem says:

    This would have been more fun if it had had “tea party” as a reveal.

  9. joon says:

    i can’t buck the consensus on the NYT, which was a very dull (albeit very quick) solve. but i really liked gaffney’s goofy onion theme. and coffee with no cream added is certainly called black, even if the actual color is very dark brown. so that seemed fine. anyway, just the GREEN TEA/PINK EYE/BLUE JAY/BLACK SEA find would have been interesting enough for a theme, but i like that he went the extra mile to beef it up. as for JOKEY SMURF, no, i don’t remember smurf names either (except for papa and smurfette), but that went in pretty easily once i had BLUE JAY and it made me smile.

    DNAS is one of my least favorite plurals commonly seen in fill. at least RNAS is semi-legit in that there are three different well-known types of RNA (transfer, messenger, ribosomal) with distinct functions. DNAS has nothing to recommend it.

  10. John Haber says:

    I didn’t care for it either, perhaps especially ETAIL and ETRADE (more of use, it seems, to Will Shortz than the real world) in the same puzzle. I wouldn’t call it Monday level in part because the three long entries weren’t entirely natural. Can’t say I recalled Annan’s middle name either, and I had to wonder if anyone remembers “Terminal Bliss.”

  11. Martin says:

    Joon,

    There are multiple DNAs too.

    BTW, there are many more kinds of RNA than those three. They are the types involved in protein synthesis but we have discovered other roles for RNA entirely, including gene regulation and compressing genome information (as done by reverse transcribing viruses).

  12. Matthew G. says:

    I agree with Joon — I thought MG’s Onion puzzle had one of the better themes I’ve seen recently. Other than the horrible crossing of NARD and VAT DYES (I was unaware that there was a subset of dyes specific to vats), I thought it was a superb puzzle. Four stars from me.

    Hated the NYT T-party, like everyone else.

  13. Matt Gaffney says:

    Re JOKEY SMURF — it’s also apropos since “The Smurfs” is the #1 movie in the country at the moment. Jokey Smurf is voiced in the movie by none other than Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee Herman.

  14. john farmer says:

    Smurfs are the current Happy Meal toys at Mickey D’s and I’m afraid we’re working on a collection. Haven’t caught the new movie but I enjoyed seeing JOKEY SMURF in the grid.

    Don’t understand the complaints about E*TRADE. Do all the E’s get lumped together in solvers’ minds? ETAIL, imo, is legit though not very exciting fill. EMAG, otoh, is less desirable though may be needed in a real pinch. E*TRADE, though, is a crossword-friendly company name, one of the leaders in its industry, with a big marketing presence and pretty much a household name. I don’t see the problem.

  15. Daniel Myers says:

    Right, so I didn’t fancy the NYT today either, and I’m not a CC like many of you lot. But it seems to me that if a CC such as Paul Guttormsson (Quite a surname, there!) got it into his head to have a puzzle in which all the clues began with “T” and all the answers included a “T” and persevered with this notion and got the bleeding thing published, he deserves at least a pat on the back.—Could anyone else here have done much better constructing a puzzle around this notion?

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    Cool, John! Jokey is in fact one of the 16 Smurfs in the new Happy Meal. Here he is with his exploding present:

    http://thetoymuseum.blogspot.com/2011/08/mcdonalds-happy-meal-toys-2011-smurfs.html

  17. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @John F: I’m fine with E*TRADE, but once thats’ in the grid, ETAIL needs to go. Wouldn’t even particularly like to see EMAIL and ETRADE in the same grid.

    @Daniel M: As reported in Wordplay, it was Will’s idea to make the clues all start with T. Deb Amlen also mentioned Manny Nosowsky’s more whimsical T-heavy approach: http://www.xwordinfo.com/Crossword?date=4/1/2000. Some notions shouldn’t necessarily have puzzles constructed around them. “Far more T’s than normal” doesn’t exactly usher in hilarity, interest, or challenge to engage the solver.

  18. Daniel Myers says:

    Thanks for the inside info Amy, to which I was not privy. I agree, of course, and did not find the puzzle particularly hilarious, interesting or challenging. All the same, it’s a kneejerk reaction of mine upon seeing some poor sod’s puzzle rubbished in a blog to defend it and him/her. I’ve seen what seemed to me many worse puzzles than this one published w/o anyone batting an eyelid, STYE or not.

  19. john farmer says:

    I see your point, Amy, about a bit of a repeat with ETRADE and ETAIL. Other comments seem to be calling ETRADE subpar, and on that I disagree.

  20. Matt Gaffney says:

    I don’t see the problem with E-TAIL and ETRADE in the same grid (aside from the fact that E-TAIL is a somewhat subpar entry in its own right). Would MCCOY and MCMAHON be not OK in the same grid? Or IPHONE and IPOD? or A-LIST and A-GAME? None of these seem objectionable to me.

  21. ArtLvr says:

    I didn’t see the T-start of all the NYT clues either! That makes it really OK by me… As for a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, I just discovered their Americone blend and am now a Cone-vert. While on vacation, my son-in-law made ice cream from SCRATCH nearly every day and his final flavor choice was GREEN TEA, a taste so subtle one wouldn’t have guessed.

  22. Matthew G. says:

    FWIW, although I struggled to see JOKEY SMURF in the grid, after a few crosses I remembered him from watching the Smurfs cartoon in my childhood. In this case “Little-known” was actually a big help, because I recall that he would briefly appear in scenes, give bombs, and do nothing else.

  23. john farmer says:

    ETAIL/ETRADE. I don’t see it as a major infraction, and maybe not even a minor one. But all things being equal, I’d see if I could avoid using one of them.

    I’d probably try to not use two MC_’s, two I_’s, or two A_’s either, in the interest of more variety and what I think of as “optimal” fill. But nearly every puzzle has something that’s less than optimal, something the constructor has to settle for. It’s often a judgment call and a matter of what the trade-off is. Would two MC_’s be better than two partials? Two I_’s better than an obscurity? Maybe. Different folks may have different ideas.

    I find the longer I’ve been making puzzles, the less I try to get away with. Otoh, as a solver, I find many of the things that seem to bother other people don’t bother me much at all.

  24. Matt M. says:

    I’m with joon — I really liked Matt’s Onion theme. Clever and something different.

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