Friday, 8/12/11

NYT 6:29 
LAT 4:30 
CS 7:05 (Sam – paper) 
CHE 7:19 (pannonica) 
WSJ (Friday) 8:01 

Julian Lim’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 8 12 11 0812

Julian has chased the eely goal of a 58-word grid and achieved it via a four-leaf clover grid with 44 black squares. The quadrants packed with intermeshed 7-letter answers look good from a distance, but on closer inspection there are some compromises lurking in the grid, particularly in the northeast corner. Did anyone plunk FLEERED in for 14a: [Derided], or did we all start with SNEERED and then unravel the problem? Have never seen LOVE-SHY, REGRADE is a tad roll-your-own-wordish, MEECES is whimsically fake (and was just in another crossword I did a few days ago!), and DENARII is old-school Roman crosswordese.

That said, the other three quarters of the grid are much smoother. The archaic noun WANTONS is unfamiliar to me and ASH-GRAY is blah, but I love the rest of the northwest.”My SHARONA,” SILENT K, EL GRECO, Matt GROENING? Lovely. Down below, the KINDRED KLINGON (terrific language clue for the latter) and a bunch of solid words and phrases are marred only by crosswordese RETS. In the final corner, EFFACER is roll-your-owny, but I like CONFETTI, GET A TAN, and the TORNADO TWO-STEP a lot.

Lots of potential for wrong turns here in addition to SNEERED/FLEERED. Had ADD TO before ADDED and RAN AT before the clunkier HAD AT (any conjugation other than “have at it” sounds weird, including the HAS AT IT I’ve seen in crosswords). Have heard tell of PATIO/PORCH, ONE-TIME/OLD-TIME, and FLATBED/LONG-BED mix-ups, too.

Love the clue for ENJOY: [Word from a waiter]. I absolutely waited for the crossings to work that one out for me.

3.5 stars.

Robert Wolfe’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 8 12 11

I like the theme alright, but find the fill disappointing. There are six short theme answers, each spelling out as a word a letter that is pronounced separately from what follows it (and then recluing accordingly):

  • 17a. [Urban area set aside for pekoe purveyors?] might be a TEA SQUARE (T-square).
  • 25a. [New Zealand lamb-exporting method?] clues EWE BOAT (U-boat).
  • 28a. A QUEUE TIP is the [End of the line?] (Q-tip). Do lines have tips?
  • 47a. ["The Look of Love" and "Suddenly I See," e.g.?] could be EYE TUNES (iTunes).
  • 49a. [Pitch notation for Debussy's "La Mer"?] clues SEA CLEF (C clef). “La Mer” is French for “the sea,” of course.
  • 58a. [Island allotment?] clues CAY RATION (K-ration). I don’t know why an island would get rations, and I also pronounce CAY like “key” rather than “kay.”

The theme works okay, for what it is.

I’m afraid I can’t give this puzzle a FOUR-STAR ([Like expensive restaurants, hopefully]) review. I have groused before about FLAM being clued as if it’s synonymous with flim-flam. The two dictionaries I consulted define FLAM only as a certain drum beat, with nary a hint of a [Hoax]. 31a: [Swimmer who channeled her energy?] is a cutesy clue for Gertrude EDERLE, who swam across the English Channel in the 1920s. Does anyone know who she is if they don’t do crosswords? The other downers include STELA ([Commemorative pillar]), NAOH, DVII, 6-letter partial NEED BE, and INURN. No idea who 11d: ["Felicia's Journey" writer William] TREVOR is, either. Am I alone in that? Because Wikipedia suggests he should be a household name: he is “widely regarded as the greatest contemporary writer of short stories in the English language.”

2.5 stars.

Updated Friday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Gold-Blooded” — Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, August 12

If you’ve ever confused a C for a G, you can relate to this theme. Ashwood-Smith takes three familiar expressions starting with C, changes the C to a G, and clues the resulting wackiness:

  • 17-Across: The [Show about roofs?] is GABLE TELEVISION, a play on “cable television.” Here’s Chuck Klosterman’s argument that Louie, a cable television show, is the best comedy going right now. I’m only one episode into the second season, but so far I’d have to agree. (Inside joke alert: Somewhere right now PuzzleGirl is fuming at the missed opportunity to reference wrestling legend Dan Gable in a puzzle.)
  • 35-Across: The [Concern of Mr. Clean?] is GRIME PREVENTION, a twist on “crime prevention.” Any reference to Mr. Clean gets two thumbs up from me.
  • 53-Across: The [Bad glazier's worry?] would be not just a “class action lawsuit” but a GLASS ACTION LAWSUIT. I wasn’t too keen about this theme entry at first, but it has grown on me to the point that I now like it. A crossword blogger’s prerogative.

When a puzzle has three 15-letter theme entries, there’s frequently the stair-stepping cascade of 4- and 5-letter entries that runs through the center of the grid. Such is the case here, with the streak that runs from SLAY to JARS. These staircases are great for solvers because very often they already have two consecutive letters in place before seeing the clue for the first time. Today was no exception, as I made quick work through the middle.

But then came the northeast corner. There I struggled and struggled with B-BOY, the [Rap devotee, in slang], and EMBEDS, clued not as a verb but as a noun: [Some war reporters]. Had the first one been BOY-EEE, I might have figured it out.  But B-BOY was completely new to me. Most of my online research suggests that the term is more closely associated with break-dancing than with rap. (The lead entry in the Urban Dictionary goes so far as to say the frst “b” even stands for “break.” Then again, another definition of the term on that same site uses the phrase “Popular to contrary belief.” The lesson, of course, is to take the Urban Dictionary with the whole shaker of salt.)

EMBEDS, on the other hand, I know. But the clue made no sense to me (in my defense, I solved this puzzle before getting to yesterday’s wonderful NYT debut from Parker Lewis–at least by that time I was ready for it!). My dictionary confirms that EMBED can also be a noun meaning “[o]ne that is embedded, especially a journalist who is assigned to an active military unit.” So there you go, boy-eee.

Overall, the theme had some laughs and the fill had some really nice spots (hello, SOB STORIES and FAIRGROUND). Kudos to Ashwood-Smith for not forcing a K into the grid just to have every letter in the grid.  Others would not have been able to resist the siren call of the pangram.

Jack McInturff’s Chronicle of Higher Education Crossword, “Country-a Origin” — pannonica’s review

CHE crossword puzzle, 8/12/11 answers "Country-a Origin"

A 15×16 grid to accommodate the two longest theme entries. 42 black squares seems a large amount, even for a grid of these dimensions. The theme is common phrases in which the first word is replaced by the name of a country ending in -a. The original word has that a sound tacked on to it.

  • 3d. [Alcoholic beverage from a Mediterranean nation?] MALTA WHISKY (malt whisky). That’s the Scottish spelling. Of whisky, not Malta.
  • 4d. [Slingshots from an island nation?] GRENADA LAUNCHERS (grenade launchers). Pronunciation okay, as the country has a long a sound for its second syllable. Blame the British.
  • 23d. [Starch source from a Caribbean nation?] CUBA ROOT (cube root). Look what happens when you query Wolfram|Alpha with “cube root 23d”: link.
  • 9d. [Large banknote from an Asian nation?] INDIA FIVE HUNDRED (Indy 500). That might a rubber bill.
  • 29d. [Decree from the world's largest nation?] RUSSIA ORDER (rush order). Da?

So. 77 words. Is that a lot? Too many? I don’t know. It was smooth going except for the center-right section. For a long time I had ITCH instead of OUCH at 45a [Reaction to an insect bite?]. The proximate fill was unhelpful: 42d [Tributary of the Seine] AUBE (obscure geography); 41a [Like natural pearls] RARE (generalized); 48a [Ride the waves] BOB (also generalized). Even though the nearby MINUIT [Manhattan purchaser], AVESTA [Sacred texts of Zoroastrianism], and SAC [Org. headed by LeMay] were unknown to me, the crossing fill made them a snap.

Some very likable vocabulary in this puzzle: ASA GRAY, ANISEED, BISCAY, HOLY SEE (is the stacked ISRAELI/SPARRED/HOLY SEE some kind of narrative or commentary?), RAIMENT, EARLDOM. All welcome, even if some of the cluing wasn’t transparent for me. For instance, when I scanned the clue for ASA GRAY [Harvard University Herbaria founder], I read something like “Hibernians” and left the clue for later; when I returned, it was a headsmack moment. “ANISEED balls” as a licorice-flavored candy was unfamiliar, though aniseed itself is not. And of course, as I was solving for speed, I fell into the trap at 32a [Starbuck's orderer]; both the possessive apostrophe and the-er suffix eluded me and, having the H in place, I filled in CHAI instead of AHAB.  30d threw me as well, as the TITANS were an entire race, male and female, not just the [Sons of Gaea]. Oh! Another mistake: I thought Silver Springs, in the clue for 22a, was in Maryland when it turned out to be Florida. Yes, with all the mines I stepped on, it’s a miracle I finished the puzzle at all.

Enjoyable, but not thrilling.

Randolph Ross’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Legal Proceedings”

WSJ crossword solution, 8 12 11

Had I solved this crossword late at night rather than in the morning, I’m not sure I’d have been able to stay awake. It all felt like a rote solve, nothing really captivating or amusing me.

The theme takes a bunch of phrases that contain words that also have legal/judicial senses and clues them as if they’re specific legal references:

  • 23a. [Legal proceedings against Team USA?] = OLYMPIC TRIALS.
  • 40a. [Legal proceeding at Wimbledon?] = FAULT FINDING.
  • 58a. [Legal filing on behalf of Reuters?] = NEWS BRIEF. What, no Murdoch/News Corp. reference? Oh, right—WSJ is owned by Murdoch.
  • 69a. [Legal proceeding naming John Scopes?] = MONKEY SUIT. This one is weird because Monkey Trial is the term dedicated to what’s in the clue. “Monkey suit” means tuxedo. Would be happier with this one if the clue were about Bonzo (I know, chimps are apes and not monkeys) rather than Scopes.
  • 74a. [Legal proceeding at an intersection?] = STOP ACTION.
  • 82a. [Legal proceeding involving Oscar the Grouch?] = CRANKCASE.
  • 102a. [Judgments handed down by NBA refs?] = COURT RULINGS. Inconsistency! COURT RULINGS doesn’t have a meaning outside of the judicial arena. The other theme answers, if clued straight-up factually, would have nothing to do with law.
  • 122a. [Legal directives about redactions?] = TAKE-OUT ORDERS.
  • 17d. [Legal decree in a divorce proceeding?] = SPLIT DECISION.
  • 57d. [Legal punishment for bad writing?] = RUN-ON SENTENCE.

I was surprised to find two 6-letter partials in one small section of the grid—10d: LEAP OF and 12d: AS SEEN.

66a. [Report of a shot fired?] is a good clue for BANG, but it depresses me because of all the children who’ve been shot this summer in Chicago. Can’t the NRA get some firearms training for the gangbangers so they can learn how not to shoot random bystanders? They really have terrible aim.

2.5 stars, because of the two theme answers that missed the mark and the fill that didn’t excite me.

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27 Responses to Friday, 8/12/11

  1. joon says:

    yes, the NE is full of awkwardnesses, but the rest of the grid is really solid. in fact it’s amazingly lively for a 58. if they are going to be this interesting, i don’t mind seeing ultra-low word counts every now and then. but i do +1 the characterization of low word counts as an “eely” goal.

  2. Byron says:

    REGRADE is a perfectly cromulent word in my universe, alas.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Let me put a good word in for DENARII — they were the coins of the realm for a long time.

  4. Matthew G. says:

    I have never heard the word FLEERED before in my life. As a result, I floundered endlessly in the northeast before giving up. I may have had the right crosses in there at some point, but I surely erased them unaware that FLEERED could be a correct entry.

  5. Dave G. says:

    I FLEERED at the NE corner of the puzzle. I would not pay a single DENARIUS for it. After all, what are we, men or ASH-GRAY LOVE-SHY MEECES?

    There, I used all those words in a paragraph – they’re not so bad. I would have used WANTONS in the sentence too, but when I tried for some reason I kept thinking of Chinese food.

  6. pannonica says:

    William Trevor was well-known to me, even though I haven’t read him. Even though he’s Irish (and I love Irish writers), I lump him with Raymond Carver (also unread) as an older guy famous for short stories. They both had award-winning—or at least critically-acclaimed—and hefty anthologies published in the ’90s.

    nb: Did not verify any objective facts above.

  7. Anne E says:

    I tried DRACHMI for DENARII first, which is simply stupid! Other mistakes included STEELER for PANTHER, ONETIME for OLDTIME, FLATBED for LONGBED – sheesh! Can’t believe the time damage wasn’t worse. I find the four-barely-connected-quadrants format very intimidating, but I enjoyed this one, despite all my errors.

  8. Matt says:

    I fell right into most of the traps mentioned by others– and then a few more of my own making. Like my original answer for 30D (It’s typed with the left pinkie) was AAAAAAA. I still like that answer and may patent it. And, by the way, this was a Saturday-level puzzle, at least.

  9. sbmanion says:

    I thought it was Dinarii (aren’t Dinars a modern currency?) and ultimately came down to whether it was the unlikely FLIERED or the more likely FLEERED, but with the less likely DENARII. NE took longer than the rest combined.

    I also had ONETIME instead of OLDTIME and FLATBED, but was ready to fault the clue if it had been STEELER for Pitt (even though it is Friday).

    I thought it was an excellent puzzle.

    Steve

  10. pannonica says:

    So I’m the only heretic who had FREAK for FIEND?

  11. Toby says:

    FLEERED/DENARII is a bit of a “Natick” crossing. (Funny story: I used to work in Natick, Mass., at a friend’s start-up software company. It was house in a Class B retail/office development located right next to the West Natick commuter rail station. The name of the shopping center? “Natick Crossing!” http://goo.gl/jbQlp)

    The northwest stumped me for a long time. I had RECAP in 1d, NILLA in 12d, ERE LONG in 11a (I know, that made no sense!), RANKS in 1a… Finally had to just erase the whole sector and start over from scratch. But I actually enjoy it when that happens — kinda like when you get lost in a cornfield maze, and you just have to keep to the left until you get back to the start, then try again.

    Saturday level, definitely.

  12. Gareth says:

    The NYT is an impression feat of construction to be sure! DENARII was a gimme; I’m sure anyone who has read either the Bible or Asterix and Obelix comics knows what one is, and that’ a whole lot of people! I dislike the 4 mini puzzle style of themeless, because it’s so easy to get stuck in one! In my case it was the bottom-left that pushed this from easy Friday to Saturday. I plonked down OneTIME too, and crossed it with mOvie which fouled everything up! As Joon says though, far less junk and more nice entries than you’d expect for a grid as ambitious as this: I gave it 3 stars.

    Pannonica: The 15X15 standard is 78 words and 38 letters. The LA Times allows up to 43. 42/77 for a 15X16 is nothing unusual… I liked the theme a whole heap, kinda makes me wish I hadn’t decided to skip the puzzle!

  13. John says:

    Was anyone else annoyed at “b-boy”? I was under the impression the term specifically referred to a break dancer.

  14. Daniel Myers says:

    The NYT was one of the easiest, yet aesthetically pleasing (pleonasm?) puzzles that I can recall. The only word that I found unfamiliar/bothersome was NECCO. Are they that good?

  15. Sam Donaldson says:

    Yes, Daniel, Necco wafers are great. I should qualify that statement: I like them, but then again I also like circus peanuts, and I’m the only person I know who doesn’t recoil in horror at the sight of them.

  16. Daniel Myers says:

    Hm, Sam. There’s only one thing for it then. I shall have to sample said wondrous wafers. However the taste test turns out, I’ll be sure to remember them the next time a wafer clue comes around.

  17. pannonica says:

    I’ll vouch for Necco wafers and posit that Catholic churches could drum up greater attendance if they used them for transubstantiation rites, but will assert that circus peanuts are not for eating. They might be good for cushioning packages. Might. I suspect they were created so that Peeps could have something to look down on.

  18. joon says:

    both necco wafers and peanuts (in any venue) are gross. i’m not hugely fond of the taste of consecrated eucharist either, but then, i’m not really in it for the flavor.

  19. Howard B says:

    Prefer only the greenish lime and brownish chocolate Neccos here. I don’t know why.

    DENARII is a cool-looking word that’s unexpectedly useful in Scrabble-type games.
    Disclaimer: Side effects include online opponents quitting games in frustration, and family members disowning you if you play it.
    (What? That’s a word?!? Let’s play Jenga instead.)

    Yes, I had FREAK for FIEND at first, until the vowels showed me the error of my ways.

    I think I should now try to make a fortune manufacturing and selling gourmet-flavored eucharist wafers. Jalapeño-lime. Hazelnut latte. Dark chocolate-cinnamon. A wafer-of-the-month-club.
    It’s gonna be blasphemy, but it’ll be a blast for me.

  20. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Eww, Necco Wafers are an abomination. Apparently they’re returning to the original artificial colors and flavors because the natural colors and flavors weren’t selling well enough: http://candyprofessor.com/tag/necco-wafers/

    @Joon, you do know that Circus Peanuts are not a peanut product, right? They’re an orange-colored, banana-flavored, peanut-shaped hard-marshmallow abomination.

    I miss Wacky Wafers.

  21. janie says:

    FLEERED [Derided]. by pelting with abc bubblegum? ;-)

    wow, what a corner!

    good thing i didn’t have *too* much else on the agenda today!

    ;-)

  22. John Haber says:

    Seeing all the black for a Friday, my first thought was that there was a surprise theme, not being as savvy about construction obstacles. Then I just figured he was going for four tough block-like corners, with the drawback that I’d have objected at its falling apart into four puzzles if they weren’t good. But I liked it.

    I did have FLAT BED, since I’d at least heard of it. And that presented lots of obstacles. Then it couldn’t be “sneered,” and “drachmi” was tempting but clearly wrong. The T had me wishing it were a different number of squares coming down so I could have, say, “retest.” I just put it all aside, took another look at the tempting FLAB, let that tempt me into FLEERED and BERATED, and it went from there. LETTER A was another tough one for me, and I liked it. Since a letter A is just, well, an A, I wanted something else to work. Shift-A would need two left fingers, small A had the wrong number of squares, etc., etc.

  23. Masked and Anonymous says:

    Thought Amy would ENJOY the FIEND entry. But the FIEND evidently liked ENJOY more.
    In my cross word-less youth, I was hopelessly hooked on Circus Peanuts. Outgrew ‘em.

    Never heard of these NECCOs and DENARII.
    But, isn’t there a famous scifi-flick quote, something like:
    “Gort Klaatu Denarii Necco”
    Perhaps that’s the Klingon version.

  24. Jeff Chen says:

    Speaking of cromulent, NECCO wafers embiggen us all.

  25. Erik says:

    You’re telling me FLAM isn’t a Spamish dessert?

  26. Kent says:

    I am fine with everything but fleered…..

  27. Harry says:

    Factoid: The U.S. Army Base in Vicenza, Italy, is named Caserma Ederle, after Gertrude. I spent three beautiful years there…after Viet Nam.

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