Sunday, 8/7/11

NYT 8:01 
LAT 7:33 
Reagle 7:19 
WaPo 8:11 (pannonica) 
CS 6:56 (Sam) 
BG mia

Tony Orbach and Janie Smulyan’s New York Times crossword, “Good to Go”

NY Times crossword solution, 8 7 11 "Good to Go"

Yay! Go, Janie, go! This puzzle marks Janie’s debut as a published NYT crossword constructor. Is there anyone else in the club of “people who made their debuts with Sunday puzzles coauthored by Tony Orbach,” or is it just me and Janie? I bet there are others, as Tony is a total peach to work with.

The “Good to Go” theme has made GOOD go away from assorted phrases. The results range from okay to humorous, and we do like a theme that brings the humor. Who would like to see how efficient a HOUSEKEEPING SEAL is? I’m thinking he’s going to leave puddles on all your furniture. At the bar mitzvah, CHARLIE BROWN hears “today, YOU’RE A MAN.” THE ERA OF “FEELINGS,” whoa-whoa-whoa feelings. “I’M INTO…SOMETHING.”

Lots of the expected light touches throughout the puzzle (I say “expected” because Tony and Janie both swing toward the whimsy direction). For example, TORSO is clued as [Six-pack holder?] (as in six-pack abs). I recently had to clue ALFA and I wish I’d thought of [Romeo's predecessor?]. The northwest corner features GET A GRIP and SHEESH, plus two great clues for throwaway 3-letter answers: TET is clued expansively as [Holiday celebrated with banh chung cakes], and SRI is an [Asian title that's an anagram of an English one]. I also like ["2, 4, 6, 8 - Who do we appreciate?," e.g.] for YELL. Nice fill includes ON THE GO, George COSTANZA, DAS BOOT (newly out on Blu-Ray, I hear), FABERGE egg, TOWNIE, and HETERO.

Four stars.

Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Take Two Vitamins”

Merl Reagle crossword answers, 8 7 11 "Take Two Vitamins"

So, I solved the puzzle and then went to the kitchen to write “vitamin D” on the grocery list. Thanks for the reminder, Merl! This week’s theme is names and phrases that start or end with two separately pronounced letters that are both vitamins:

  • 22a. [Where "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) takes place] = WASHINGTON, D.C. Cute to have OBAMA in the same corner.
  • 24a. [Legendary sky bandit] = D.B. COOPER. He was just in the news this week. Something about his niece telling the FBI what his real initials were?
  • 31a. [It might be your type] = AB NEGATIVE.
  • 35a. [Part of a recovery prog.] = AA MEETING.
  • 47a. [Blues great] = B.B. KING.
  • 52a. [Trucker tracker] = CB RADIO.
  • 60a. [Prosecutor-to-be, perhaps] = DEPUTY D.A. Is this different from an assistant D.A.?
  • 70a. [1966 Raquel Welch film] = ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.
  • 83a. [Sound system staple] = CD PLAYER.
  • 92a. [Stuart Little's creator] = E.B. WHITE.
  • 96a. ["Constant Craving" singer] = K.D. LANG (though she prefers all lowercase). Love her All You Can Eat album, a great K.D. CD.
  • 105a. ["A Shropshire Lad" poet] = A.E. HOUSMAN.
  • 108a. ["Tulips and Chimneys" poet] = E.E. CUMMINGS. Another poet and another lowercase person. Imagine if Mr. T’s A-Team character had gone by b.a. baracus.
  • 118a, 121a. ["Get Down Tonight" group, with 121 Across] = K.C. AND THE / SUNSHINE BAND. Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.

That’s 14 answers spanning 15 entries. Yes, a lot of the theme answers are short, but there are a zillion (i.e., 15) of them.

Mildly surprising to have DIETED at 41a ([Reduced, in a way]) in close proximity to 15d: [Country ruled by a diet] (JAPAN), though the diets in question are entirely distinct words.

Mildly distracting to have other answers that start or end with one or two vitamin letters, like BASF, APB, ORAL-B, A LEAK, and A KID. Plus all the partials—those last two in this paragraph’s list, plus AN EGG, OWE A, AND I, I WAS A, and SUE THE. Too much! 85d: REDAM/[Stop again, as a river] isn’t a partial but it sure ain’t pretty either.

Least familiar and yet utterly charming item: 111d: GANDY [___ dancer (old slang for a railroad worker)]. Here, take a gander at the gandy dancer Wikipedia entry.

3.25 stars. The theme doesn’t have any built-in humor, and the 15-entry theme layout seems to have led to some subpar fill.

Updated Sunday morning:

William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” — Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, August 7

As has been noted here before, freestyle crosswords typically have no more than 72 words and rarely more than 32 black squares. Today’s Sunday Challenge is a 74/32 puzzle, slightly above the usual limits. If a freestyle has more than 72 words, it needs to have at least one of these three things: (1) super-juicy entries; (2) a “mini-theme” (like a grid that has STARTS WITH A BANG up top and ENDS ON A HIGH NOTE at the bottom); or (3) some crazy “stunt” factor to it (like quadruple-stacked 12-letter entries or some unusual and artistic arrangement of black squares). Today’s puzzle doesn’t appear to have a mini-theme, and there’s no whimsical arrangement of black squares. Yes, there are some nice entries, but I wouldn’t call them “super-juicy” enough to merit departure from the usual limits. So I can’t say I’m a big fan of this grid.

That may seem a bit harsh. After all, take away just two black squares and we’d have a 72/30 puzzle that wouldn’t raise any eyebrows.  Why get all atwitter over two black squares? Fair question. My response: because quality freestyle puzzles should be fun to solve, awe-inspiring to look at, and so smooth they look like they were effortless to construct. The art of the freestyle form is in the ability to mash colorful, evocative entries together without creating obscure crossings, and, generally speaking, longer entries are more colorful. Moreover, when the constructor is not bound by 40–60 squares of theme entries, she or he has the freedom to push the limits. (You know, like using longer entries, preferably ones we have never seen and with some rare letters. We see an abundance of short stuff in themed puzzles, so why not use less of the short stuff in a freestyle?) The limits should be pushed, because usually that’s where the entertainment lies.

Okay, that’s enough. I shouldn’t be harping on this point because it looks like I am picking on this particular crossword too much. As I said, there is some good stuff here. Among my favorites:

  • I loved the entry WI-FI HOT SPOT, though the clue, [What warchalking points to], meant nothing to me. According to Wikipedia, “[w]archalking is the drawing of symbols in public places to advertise an open Wi-Fi wireless network. Inspired by hobo symbols, the warchalking marks were conceived by a group of friends in June 2002 and publicised by Matt Jones who designed the set of icons and produced a downloadable document containing them.” Wait, what? Our Matt Jones?
  • My next favorite entries were SPOON-FED ([Overindulged, in a way]) and AHEAD OF TIME ([In advance]).
  • The GRATEFUL DEAD and LONI ANDERSON seem to be nearly polar opposites. It’s fitting, then, that they appear opposite each other in the grid.
  • My guess as to the three hardest entries for most solvers would be ILEX, the [Holly genus], [Conductor Zubin] MEHTA (I thought it was Mehta Zubin instead of Zubin Mehta–oops), and the [Wilderness Road blazer], which is not a four-wheel drive vehicle but Daniel BOONE. Allow Wikipedia to explain: “The Wilderness Road was the principal route used by settlers for more than fifty years to reach Kentucky from the East. In 1775, Daniel Boone blazed a trail for the Transylvania Company from Fort Chiswell in Virginia through the Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky. It was later lengthened, following Native American trails, to reach the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville. The Wilderness Road was steep and rough, and it could only be traversed on foot or horseback. Despite the adverse conditions, thousands of people used it.”

Anyone else try LAND OF THE FREE as the answer to [America, for many]? Turns out it is also the LAND OF LIBERTY. In any case, it’s quite a land.

Donna Levin’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Swordplay”

syndicated LA Times crossword answers, 8 7 11 "Swordplay"

Donna’s puzzle title could easily be changed from “Swordplay” to “S Wordplay,” as that’s the name of the game here. Eight phrases get their first words changed entirely by the addition of an “S” sound to the beginning. I like the consistency of every first word having a broader spelling change aside from the S+ action:

  • 23a. [Bathtub ring with no discernible cause?] = SCUM FROM NOWHERE. (Come.)
  • 37a. [Schusser's name traced in the snow?] = SKI SIGNATURE. (Key.) I have no idea what “key signature” means. Husband says it’s a music thing, tells you what key to play in.
  • 60a. ["Alas" and "Ah, me"?] = SIGH OPENERS. (Eye.) Thank goodness the dreadful “Ah, me,” which no one ever says, is confined to a clue rather than being a blight upon the grid.
  • 70a. [Surveillance satellite?] = SPY IN THE SKY. (Pie.)
  • 92a. [Make Oreos?] = STUFF COOKIES. (Tough.)
  • 110a. [What grumpy old men might experience?] = SURLY RETIREMENT. (Early.)
  • 17d. [Geckos that don't set their alarm clocks?] = SLEEPIN’ LIZARDS or perhaps SLEEP-IN LIZARDS. (Leapin’.)
  • 46d. [Pilots' milieu?] = SPHERE OF FLYING. (Fear.)

Highlights:

  • 1a. PIE SAFE, [Pastry preserver of the past]. A pleasing 1-Across to usher us into the puzzle.
  • 115a. [Failed school curriculum that was the subject of the 1973 book "Why Johnny Can't Add"] clues NEW MATH. No idea if the math I learned in grade school was the New Math or whatever followed it.
  • 19d. [Medical stat?] clues “AT ONCE,” as “stat” means “do it now.” No statistics here.
  • 52d. [Walking aids] tricked me. I was thinking of canes rather than dog LEASHES.
  • 86d. [Rec room scrape] clues RUG BURN, a super lively answer.
  • 89d. [Pen pals' exchange?] is the OINKING between porcine sty-mates.

I didn’t know BUTANOL (44d: [Experimental biofuel]). I did know LEORA (79a: [Arrowsmith's first wife]) and TRET (75d: [Deduction for waste]), but I know both of them strictly from crosswords and they do cross at that R; might be a tough crossing for anyone who’s uncertain of these uncommon words.

3.75 stars.

Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 70″ — pannonica’s review

Washington Post Puzzler no. 70 • answers • Karen M. Tracy • 8/7/11

["Color me confused"] (54a) indeed! I somehow managed to write-up next week’s WaPo Puzzler instead of this one, despite noticing the number discrepancy (71 for 70). Oh, 54a is I DON’T GET IT. But unfortunately you get me again.

So, here we are. How’ve you been? Great! Glad to hear it! What? The puzzle? Right, sure. Uhmm…

Ms. Tracey delivers a strong grid, with some nutritious 10-10 stacks: HARLEQUINS/INSINUATES, CHICKENPOX/TATTERSALL, LORELEI LEE/ANCHORAGES, and I DON’T GET IT/LUNDY’S LANE. I’d never heard of Lundy’s Lane [War of 1812 battle site near Niagara Falls], but I find it interesting to note that the movie Niagara (1953) was in part filmed in that area. In that same year, Marilyn Monroe, star of Niagara, also appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as LORELEI LEE; as the clue for 26d INSINUATES (17a), Carol Channing originated the role in the stage production of 1949. If you’ve never read Anita Loos’ original 1926 novel, I recommend it highly, as its wit and charm are timeless.

The puzzle was a fairly smooth solve. Whatever unknowns or speedbumps I encountered were rather easily compensated for by crossings and surrounding fill. The letter content of the fill itself is pretty darn Scrabbly, with Js, Qs, Zs, Xs, Ks, and more aplenty. As for those temporary impediments, I number the at-first mysterious 45a [Game in which you sometimes eat fruit] PAC-MAN among them, as well as 20a [Eyjafjallajökull output] EJECTA (not ash(es), magma, lava, et al.), 53a [Four-time Pro Bowl tight end Crumpler] ALGE (although “Crumpler” is a great name for a blocking footballer), 25d [Scale with five sharps: Abbr.] B MAJ. (I can never fill in more than the M without crossings on those {A–G}M{AJ/IN} clues), and 44a [Least massive dwarf planet] CERES (I knew it wasn’t Pluto but wasn’t sure if it was Ceres or something else).

There’s something redundant-looking about the stacked OLD PAL/OLE/AXLE on the right flank, as well as ALGE/FEES/TESS in the southwest corner; didn’t sit well with me. I did, however, enjoy the stilted-language SUASION and HITHER neighboring each other in the middle top. The windmilled long entries toward the center were nice too, QUIZZICAL, ZOROASTER, ANONYMITY, LONELY BOY, although I need many crossings to get that last one: [1977 hit for Andrew Gold].

Overall, a very strong puzzle with good, if not overly exciting, cluing. I wonder if next week’s will be any better?

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33 Responses to Sunday, 8/7/11

  1. Jeffrey says:

    The club of unpublished Fiend members is getting pretty lonely. Mazel tov (or is that just mazel) Janie! This was fun and even a little close to the breaktest test edgy.

    Now can anyone give me Tony’s number?

  2. cyberdiva says:

    I enjoyed today’s NYT, and not just because I finished it in what was for me record time. I enjoyed the major clues/entries, especially HOUSEKEEPING SEAL and YOU’RE A MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. I do have one quibble, though. The clue for 26A, “Sleuth Lupin,” isn’t all that accurate. Arsène Lupin was not a sleuth but a burglar and a criminal mastermind, in the author’s words, a “gentleman cambrioleur.”

  3. Erik says:

    Seven letter partial. I’m more impressed than appalled.

  4. Sam Donaldson says:

    Congrats on a fine NYT debut, Janie! Consistent with the theme, I suppose A TIME WAS HAD BY ALL in solving it. I know I enjoyed it!

    One vote for NO NEWS IS NEWS as the most enjoyable theme entry, with I’M INTO SOMETHING a close second.

  5. joon says:

    fun puzzle, and congrats janie! from the title i thought we’d be dropping -OD from a word, but this works too. excellent theme answers—they really all brought a smile to my face.

  6. sbmanion says:

    Congratulations, Janie. Fun puzzle. Friday-esque at first for me until I caught the theme.

    Steve

  7. Gareth says:

    Oh, that’s our Janie? Congrats! Ambitious theme, taking a tetragram out! Entries were fun, in a totally nutty way! Also: Anyone else cling desperately to ORAMA in the face of AGOGO! RENDERING made me think of rendering plants (google only if you have a strong stomach), but only because I’m doing a week of meat hygiene starting tuesday! A small, but noticeable female reproductive tract subtheme: IUD plus a clue with “vagina” in it is certainly not usual! The DULLEA/ULLA/ANSARA trio was where I ended: guessed an L, but then tried E before A and Mr. Happy Pencil appeared. Those 3 do seem a bit rough to be meeting with each other…

  8. Evad says:

    Congrats janie (and to Tony as well). Laughed out loud at many of the theme entries, and that hasn’t happened in a long time with a Sunday puzzle.

    Looking forward to your LAT next week!

  9. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Gareth, there’s a car-towing company in Chicago called Rendered Services. Would you leave your car in a lot with a sign warning that unauthorized vehicles will be taken by Rendered Services? I picture myself going to the impound lot to retrieve my car and getting only a bucket of automotive intestines.

  10. John Haber says:

    Theme was well carried through, though the whole fill was way too heavy on whimsy, to use Amy’s word, for my taste. That and DETERGED must be one of the ugliest words ever. Also a very easy puzzle for me, at least until I got to the corner with ANSARA, Scooby-Doo, and Japanese, which I could have lived without.

  11. Jenni says:

    We have a meatpacking plant locally, and I sometimes have to follow trucks that clearly come from the rendering vats..ugh.

    Really enjoyed the puzzle. My favorite theme entry was Charlie Brown, followed closely by the housekeeping seal. Giggle. Nice going, Janie!

  12. D F says:

    WaPo: Not sure where Post Puzzler 71 came from, but today’s is number 70 by Karen Tracey.

  13. pannonica says:

    D F: Fixed, thanks!

  14. Dan F says:

    No, Pannonica – you solved and blogged next week’s Puzzler, #71 by Patrick Berry. Can that whole section be removed so others don’t get spoiled? (no worries, I’ll forget what I saw by next Sunday…)

    And another congrats to Janie!

  15. kludge says:

    I just checked and it looks like the puzzle that has been reviewed IS Post Puzzer 71 by Patrick Berry from next week.

    Or what Dan said. I crossposted.

  16. pannonica says:

    Aha. The mistake is entirely mine. I clicked on the wrong date in the calendar for the download. Please stand by…we are experiencing technical difficulties…

    (sorry everyone!)

  17. Meem says:

    Congrats, Janie and Tony! And thanks, Dan et al, for pointing out Post Puzzler gaffe.

  18. tony orbach says:

    Attention, Fiend bloggers!
    MWM Will co-construct puzzles with you
    Will not travel (unless you’ve made something nice to eat and have a pull-out king-size bed)
    Fun-loving, anthropomorphism-appreciators preferred

    Thanks, gang, and way to go Janie!

  19. ArtLvr says:

    Same prob with the puzzler, glad someone figured it out!
    Good going, Janie! NO NEWS IS NEWS is just too apt for some networks…

  20. Finn V says:

    Congratulations, Janie and Tony! This was a delight to solve. First theme answer to fall into place for me was NO NEWS IS NEWS, which I love. Charlie Brown is a close second, though. Really fun puzzle and an auspicious debut to say the least! Looking forward to Janie’s LAT tomorrow!

  21. ArtLvr says:

    Congrats to Donna too — one of my favorites to date! SKI SIGNATURE is really great, since so many constructors throw in an opus for which one must remember the key (like Roman years)!

  22. pannonica says:

    LAT: Yes, the R in LEORA/TRET stung me, stung me hard. Saw it as SLEEP-IN LIZARDS, rather than sleepin’. RUG BURNS rubbed me the wrong way, because carpet burns seem more common; rugs often slide, minimizing the risk of friction burns.

    (I don’t feel exactly justified in being critical at the moment, but I can’t help myself.)

  23. Norm says:

    Anyone else try Merl’s monthly Word-O-Rama? Thought the (B) and (C) questions were sort of clunky, since it wouldn’t be a crossword with those words, would it.

  24. janie says:

    dear fiendish ones (of all stripes) — what a *great* day this has been, thanks (in no small part) to the enthusiastic reception you’ve given me on my debut — and to tony and me on our collaboration. wow! the goal was to provide some real smiles along with the solve — and i get the sense we accomplished our mission! ;-) while there was lotso back-and-forthing in creating the puzzle, when i tell you tony took the idea i presented him and ran with it — well, trust me, it wouldn’a happened without him. so you’ll have to forgive the “mutual admiration society”-like tone of this post, but once again: thank you, tony o.!!

    ;-)

  25. john farmer says:

    Janie, great to see your byline on the puzzle today. Congrats! Excellent puzzle too. Kudos to both you and Tony.

  26. Noam D. Elkies says:

    The NYTimes puzzle’s constructors and/or editor probably got a rise – um, let’s say a giggle – from crossing HETERO with ERECT. With AROUSES in the grid too it’s almost a mini-theme. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  27. pannonica says:

    Noam: in that case, what’s your take on Row 4 in the WaPo Puzzler?

  28. Howard B says:

    Job, Janie (and Tony)! :)

  29. Evad says:

    One, Howard!

  30. Garrett says:

    Pannonica — Just loved this comment! ” (I can never fill in more than the M without crossings on those {A–G}M{AJ/IN} clues)”.

    Ditto.

  31. zifmia says:

    Can’t think of gandy dancers without thinking of Moose Turd Pie… Mmmmmm….
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zb1qsVqjwg

  32. Garrett says:

    Worked Janie and Tony’s puz today at lunch with some friends and we really got a chuckle on the IM INTO SOMETHING fill and its clue. Fun puzzle.

  33. Jan (danjan) says:

    I’m late catching up on all the weekend puzzles – just wanted to add my congrats to Janie and Tony O for a very entertaining puzzle. When I got the first theme entry, I immediately thought that it was an inspired premise. All the others were equally amusing!

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