Sunday, 9/11/11

NYT 10:00 
BG 12:36 (pannonica) 
Reagle 7:05 
LAT 8:40 
CS 8:15 (Sam) 
WaPo 6:42 

Kay Anderson’s New York Times crossword, “Cornered”

NY Times crossword solution, 9 11 11 "Cornered"

What a neat theme. The puzzle isn’t particularly zingy, as there’s no overriding wordplay action, and it looks weird because there aren’t any long theme entries running across the grid. That’s because each theme answer rounds the bend, turning a corner (as the title hints) in the grid. I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening because the first part of each theme answer merely looked like a compound missing its other half, while the second part (including the bridge letter in the corner) was clued in a completely ordinary fashion. Very stealthy.

So the starred theme answers are as follows:

  • 1a. BRASS TACKS, with BRASS plus a STACKS clue at 5d.
  • 6a. STRAW HAT, with STRAW and a WHAT clue.
  • 14a. GRASSHOPPER, with GRASS and a SHOPPER clue.
  • 58a. HUNCH OVER splits into HUNCH and HOVER.
  • 77a. RIGHT ANGLE yields RIGHT and a TANGLE.
  • 35d. MERLOT WINE involves TWINE.
  • 57d. The GOING RATE splits off that GRATE.
  • 95d. JUMPING ROPE, GROPE.
  • 107d. CIRCUS TENT, STENT.
  • 117d. PASSWORD, SWORD.

Note that these L-shaped entries are all in symmetrical locations. And note also that the bent part of the answer is entirely unrelated to the second part of the theme answer that’s clued for the first part. TACKS and HAT have nothing to do with STACKS and WHAT—completely different creatures. I like this intricate construction, even though I didn’t see what was going on while I was working the puzzle.

I suppose there are a lot of other two-word terms and compound words that have this same property, but I can’t think of any at the moment. I like how there are so many different letter combos involved in the theme—S+T x 2, W+H, S+H, H+O, T+A, T+W, G+R x 2, and S+W.

Highlights in the fill include SKETCH OUT, HIPSTERS, RIPPED IT, LET SLIDE, Susan STAMBERG, TALLADEGA, JOHN GALT, and PARADIGM.

Things I didn’t know:

  • 8d. ROSTERED is a word? It is indeed. It means [Listed].
  • 14d. ["The "it" in the lyric "turn it on, wind it up, blow it out"] is a GTO. Yeah, not lyrics I know at all.
  • 105d. ART LAB is a thing? I haven’t seen that term before. [Where kids get creative in school] is, if you ask me, “art,” “art class,” or “the art room.”
  • 120d. [Israeli conductor Daniel] OREN? Don’t recognize the name.
  • 99a. The missing word in ["I have been half in love with __ Death": "Ode to a Nightingale"] is EASEFUL.

I like the combo of 104a: [Ancient kingdom in Asia Minor] and 112a: [Onetime weight-loss drug]. I think LYDIA MERIDIA just might be Amelia Bedelia’s cousin.

The Scowl-o-Meter tried to rattle to life with ART LAB but remained quiescently frozen for the rest of the solve. Smooth grid. I’ll rate it 4.25 stars. That’s a really impressive debut for Kay Anderson!

Updated Sunday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, September 11

I’d like to say I MADE QUICK WORK OF this 72/35 freestyle puzzle (i.e., that it was [Handled handily]), but I feel like I should have been a touch faster. There were some cool entries and clues, including these:

  • I like the conversational, in-the-language feel of DROP IT, and the clue, ["I'm sick of that subject!"], seems to capture it perfectly. Similar good phrases in the grid include HAS IT EASY and GET A BREAK.
  • I’ve never much liked the term “END QUOTE,” because I firmly believe the proper word is “quotation” (“quote” is a verb). I’m sure the dictionaries say otherwise, but I still don’t like it. That said, the [Mark after a remark] makes for a great crossword entry.
  • It’s hard to have an original clue for OREO. I like [Klondike bar variety] because “Oreo” was far from my mind.
  • Miss the question mark in [Member of REM?] and you’ll wonder which member of the band fits in three squares. See the question mark and you realize the answer is EYE, because that’s the “E” in “rapid eye movement.”

Here are some larkspurs. I added this pic on a lark, a spur of the moment thing.

Items new to me:

  • I think I may have heard the word LARKSPURS before, but I certainly wouldn’t have known they were flowers, much less [Buttercup cousins]. I would have guessed they were birds.
  • I never would have guessed EBONITE was [Common bowling ball material], but that’s mostly because I have never heard of ebonite.
  • IRWIN is the [Broom Hilda troll]. I’m only vaguely familiar with this comic strip, meaning I am aware of the title character and that’s it.
  • EARS is the word for [Radio, in Citizens Band lingo]. I’m not up on my CB lingo. I know “Smokey,” but not much else.
  • I still don’t get how USA is the answer to [Birthplace in a 1984 charter]. Any help out there?
  • The answer to [Retail chain launcher Horace] took a little while because I didn’t know Horace was the first name of Mr. SAKS.

Today’s confession: with only the W in place for 41-Across, I confidently plunked down GREAT WALL as the answer to [The Chinese call it Huang Hai]. But the answer proved to be YELLOW SEA. Oops.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “State Fare” — pannonica’s review

Boston Globe crossword • "State Fare" • Cox, Rathvon • solution

nb: A write-up of Hex’s WSJ Saturday variety cryptic has been posted.


Playing on the ubiquitous state fair, the theme identifies an assortment of “official” comestibles and potables. I have no idea how many official things—birds, mammals, trees, songs, nicknames, invertebrates, lumbar tats, flowers, graphic novels, songs, et al.—each state has, but they are legion.

Since this is the Boston Globe crossword, I suppose it’s understandable that the selection skews heavily toward items representing the Bay State.

Ben Schonzeit, "Crab Blue" 1973 • acrylic on canvas, 8'×9' • Worcester Museum of Art

  • 23a. [MD State Crustaceans] BLUE CRABS.
  • 25a. [LA State Vegetable] SWEET POTATO.
  • 37a. [MA State Dessert] BOSTON CREAM PIE. Well, that makes sense.
  • 50a. [RI State Drink] COFFEE MILK. Have never heard of it, but according to Rhode Island’s official website it’s similar to chocolate milk, but made with coffee-flavored syrup, which is commonly available in northeastern New England. I’ve long seen coffee syrup in markets where I’ve grown up, but not the apparently preferred brand, Autocrat.
  • 52a. [TN State Fruit] TOMATO. Those spunky Tennesseeans, boldly taking a stand on the tomato-is-it-a-fruit-or-a-vegetable debate.
  • 62a. [MA State Cookie] CHOCOLATE CHIP. Very sensible. Massachusetts item no. 2.
  • 68a. [SC State Snack Food] BOILED PEANUTS. See, I would have bet dollars to peanuts that VA would have claimed this one, but that state has yet to declare any official foods.
  • 83a. [OK State Vegetable] WATERMELON. Falling on the other side of the fence from 52a—and much more controversial—is watermelon as a vegetable rather than a fruit. OK.
  • 91a. [MA State Beverage] CRANBERRY JUICE. Not Maine or New Jersey? Nope, that’s Moxie® for ME and nothing-as-yet for NJ. Mass. no. 3.
  • 110a. [TX State Health Nut] NATIVE PECAN. Officially, it is indeed listed as the state’s “health nut” (there is no designated “regular nut”). I thought that was someone who exercises a lot and avoids junk food.
  • 112a. [UT State Historic Vegetable] SUGAR BEET.

Interesting but kind of random assortment of things. 52a TOMATO does not have a symmetrical theme entry; instead the clue at 81a is [Big name in guitars] MARTIN, which could be a big name in crosswords. That reminds me, 47d is [Vegan-friendly brand] AMY’S.

Other Massachusettsiana:

  • 21a. [Salem, MA , county] is ESSEX, not LENOX, as I guessed.
  • 49a. [The Liberty Tree, et al.] ELMS; R.I.P. Liberty Tree (1646–1775).
  • 4d. [Tip of Bay State Politics] O’NEILL.
  • 40d. ["Ariel" poet Sylvia] PLATH.
  • 41d. [MIT-trained architect] I.M. PEI.

A pair of criminal clues:

  • Had the right idea, wrong answer for 22a [Martha Stewart, for one] EX-CON, not FELON.
  • 116a [Polo shirt label] IZOD is in the news lately because Lacoste is unhappy that Norwegian shooter Anders Breivik is so fond of the brand.

Overall, the puzzle has a low CAP Quotient™ and a noticeably varied selection of celebrities, books, sports, geography, brand names, etc; very healthy novaeanglican crunchy granola mix, despite an absence of flashy long non-theme answers. Fun crossword and a smooth solve, despite the theme being a little floppy.

Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Altar’d States”

Merl Reagle crossword solution, 9 11 11 "Altar'd States"

I don’t know why the title has “Altar’d” rather than just “Altared.” That would work fine, wouldn’t it? The theme riffs on the “If so-and-so married such-and-such, she’d be —”:

  • 20a. [If a writer married Ben, she'd be ___] VIRGINIA WOOLF VEREEN. Sounds like wolverine.
  • 28a. [If a singer married 1940s film star Jack, she'd be ___] MARIAH CAREY OAKIE. Sounds like karaoke. Jack Oakie’s name is one I know exclusively from crosswords. Four vowels and one consonant make him useful fill, but he’s pretty obscure these days. Mariah Carey’s married to Nick Cannon in real life, and they have twin babies named Moroccan and Monroe.
  • 47a. [If a singer married Adam, she'd be ___] SHEENA EASTON WEST. Sounds like East and West. Wow. Sheena Easton! My dad had a crush on her in the ’80s. She’d pretty much vanished from the pop culture radar by 1986, no?
  • 59a, 77a. [If an actress married Eliot, then Herman, she'd be ___] SONDRA LOCKE NESS MUNSTER. Loch Ness monster! Cute.
  • 86a. [If an opera star married a famous pianist, she'd be ___] KATHLEEN BATTLE AX. Emanuel Ax is the pianist in question.
  • 106a. [If a writer married Greg, she'd be ___] PEARL BUCK KINNEAR. Sounds like buccaneer.
  • 115a. [If a writer married Benny, then Frasier, she'd be ___] GEORGE SAND HILL CRANE. Ooh, avian: the sandhill crane, no spelling change.

If you’re one of those people who spurns pop culture and doesn’t store the names of various pop culture figures inside your brain, this puzzle probably didn’t make you too happy. Names in the fill include André GIDE, DALIS, Mrs. MUIR, Uncle SAM, ALAN Cumming, [Outspoken 1960s madame] NHU(?!), Bob SAGET, David Ogden STIERS, ELI Lilly, REN the asthma-hound chihuahua, ERIKAS Eleniak and Slezak, Robert TOWNE, Don AMECHE, Ayn RAND, REDD Foxx, Ralph LAUREN, SEAN Ono Lennon, Reese Witherspoon’s character ELLE, Wyatt EARP, NAT Adderley, and Sebastian COE. Now, none of these slowed me down—I do stash famous names in my head and found the puzzle easy—but I know names give some of you fits. And the names in the theme answers suggest to me that Merl’s been kicking around these theme entries for a long time, waiting until they gestated into a puzzle set. Sheena Easton and Sondra Locke have faded from prominence in recent years, and Jack Oakie faded eons earlier.

Merl’s got a few 6- and 7-letter partials, but he makes ‘em work. “HIGH AS A kite,” “I COULDA been a contenda,” and “MEAN AS a junkyard dog” all bring a zesty flavor. Overall, nothing too exciting in the fill. Let’s call this a three-star puzzle.

Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 75″

Washington Post Puzzler No 75 crossword solution, 9 11 11

I am not remotely in a blogging mood today.

Nice fill: SPAMBOT, PLIMPTON, BAUDELAIRE, TEENY-WEENY.

Bleh fill: REOIL, PENH, TSO (anyone know 50a: [Nien Rebellion general] off the top of their head?), APERY (aper is so, so much more common in crosswords than in life) and TOWERY (“The AAA truck driver is so TOWERY”), UNROBES.

New LEW clue: 57d: [OMB director Jacob __]. His name may show up in news stories about the OMB’s latest reports, but did any of you know the name?

Oldest word, perhaps: 8d: ALMONER, [Charitable person].

3.5 stars.

Robert Wolfe’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Let Me Interject”

LA Times Sunday crossword answers, 9 11 11 "Let Me Interject"

Still not in the blogging mood, and this puzzle took me out of the solving mood too. Lots of high Scowl-o-Meter readings, what with all the fill that doesn’t really enhance the solving experience. Words like AGAR NEHIS YAHS SNEE TAROS MEAS SEINER SWEE STELE ORRS SETAT just felt like they were popping out at every turn.

The theme swaps out short words in various phrases and replaces them with sound-alike (or vaguely similar) interjections:

  • 24a. [Frat for complainers?] = “FIE!” BETA KAPPA. (Phi.)
  • 26a. ["Look! Ghosts!"?] = “LO!” SPIRITS. (Low.)
  • 112a. [Complaint about a weak morning cup?] = COFFEE “BAH!” (Uh…bar? Is “coffee bar” a thing?)
  • 119a. [Unfriendly store owner?] = ”SHOO!” MERCHANT. (Shoe. “Shoe merchant”? That’s your base phrase?)
  • 13d. [At exhilarating times?] = IN THE “WHEE!” HOURS. (Wee.)
  • 36d. ["Pauses are normal" adage?] = TO “ER!” IS HUMAN. (Err. I do not at all like this use of “ER!” as a verb.)
  • 42d. [Like kittens and puppies?] = “AW!”-INSPIRING. (Awe.)
  • 52d. [One skilled at expressing relief?] = MAN OF “PHEW!” WORDS. (Few.)

The theme doesn’t quite jell for me. For example, of all the phrases that have “shoe” in them, why go with the clunky “shoe merchant”? TENNIS “SHOO!” has potential, as does the running shoe. Nothing much in the fill and cluing drew me in, either. 2.5 stars.

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26 Responses to Sunday, 9/11/11

  1. Jeff M. says:

    Total change of pace from the usual Sunday puzzle. Found it a level above in difficulty…and class. Awesome debut.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Take me a long time to figure out what was going on, and by then I didn’t care. The difficulty was at an annoying level, rather than clever or challenging.

  3. Howard B says:

    Really loved the creativity of this theme. The only glitches were the complete unknowns of OREN, MERIDIA, and STAMBERG, of which every crossing letter was needed. So that slowed things down, but the rest felt pretty fair.
    The clues in general seemed tweaked a bit on the tougher side for some reason, but overall this one was really a good challenge. Impressive :).

  4. gareth says:

    Clever theme! MERLOT WINE is the weak link, as it can be called simply MERLOT IMO.

    Hope you guys got to watch your opening World Cup game: a 22-10 loss to Ireland, but still…

  5. Matt says:

    Neat and elegant puzzle, rather tougher than usual for a Sunday. NE corner was last to finish, what with OTERO, ROTC, ALP, and GTO. I’ll note that if someone calls you a HIPSTER, they’re probably not admiring your coolness.

  6. kludge says:

    Can’t understand 120 A in the BG, “Ride for a sub?” = PINE. Huh?

  7. janie says:

    sam — without fully giving away the “aha,” think of billboard “charts” and the boss…….

    i think yer gonna wish you had a v-8.

    this was my fave clue today.

    ;-)

    j.

  8. pannonica says:

    kludge: An athlete who isn’t a starter sits on the bench, “rides the pine,” until called in to substitute.

  9. kludge says:

    Thanks, pannonica.

    That “charter” clue confused me too. Thanks, janie.

  10. Sam Donaldson says:

    Thanks, Janie! For a brief moment I actually wondered if it was a reference to that song, as I very much remember it as a hit of 1984, But even then I couldn’t make sense of “charter.”

    I coulda had a V8, I guess, but I’ll stick with my coffee, thanks.

  11. Patrick Jordan says:

    In my Sunday Challenge, the reference in the 34-A clue is Bruce Springsteen’s “charter” (a song that reaches the charts) “Born in the USA.”

  12. kludge says:

    Thanks, Patrick. One more thing about that clue- at one point I was checking to see if there were quotes around “1984″ like in Merl’s puzzle.

  13. sbmanion says:

    There is an expression in the dice game to CRAP OUT. Can anyone justify CRAP as a noun? Maybe it is an interjection!!!

    I thought the puzzle was terrific, but it took me an inordinately long time to see the gimmick. I am usually pretty perceptive about turning, jumping over, skipping type puzzles, but not today. Finally got it at STRAW HAT and by then I was almost done.

    Steve

  14. Harry says:

    Great puzzle, Merle! That had to be tough to create those theme answers. Plus the fill was excellent. 5-stars!

  15. lexicon fan says:

    @sbmanion …

    You can have a pile of various items — collectively, they would be a pile of ‘crap.’ There are other, er, more graphic uses of the word as a noun in some circles.

  16. kludge says:

    If a puzzle has only one CRAP answer, it is doing pretty well with respect to Sturgeon’s Law.

  17. sbmanion says:

    I guess I should have been more precise–I meant in the context of the clue: as a losing roll in the dice game.

    Steve

  18. kludge says:

    I never heard that singular usage either.

  19. kludge says:

    Maybe that one should have been clued “If it’s not Scottish it’s ____!”

  20. Jeff M. says:

    In craps, when one bets on 2, 3, or 12 when the button is on it’s usually called a “crap” or a “crap check.”

  21. Martin says:

    Steve,

    And Jeff’s use is in the dictionary.

  22. Evad says:

    One bad square in today’s NYT–had LETS LIVE and MERIVIA. Guess I should be glad I don’t have to be familiar with the names of weight-loss supplements. Enjoyed the RIGHT ANGLEs today!

  23. Todd G says:

    It looks like SHOOMERCHANT was chosen because he needed to cross the entry with MONOFPHEWWORDS. Looks like he could have used PLATFORMSHOO instead…though the singular is seldom used.

  24. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Merl’s PI was very cute. Favorite was Kathleen Battleax. There was a Chinese tennis player at the US Open with the surname ‘Lu.’ I was thinking when he played that he should find a nice girl named Lulu. 4 stars easily. NYT was OK, and certainly a nice debut, but nothing special. 2 3/4* rounded off to 3.

    Bruce

  25. kludge says:

    Hm, the singular is even on the Wikipedia page. I will have to ask some of my gambling friends about this. In any case, a missed opportunity for somebody to post a “Kodachrome” video.

    OK, my friend just told me that he heard it in once in “Guys and Dolls” but never in a casino.

    But he also says he doesn’t go to the dice table too often.

  26. lexicon fan says:

    I dealt craps in Vegas for years. The usage when betting 2, 3, or 12 is accurate. We always chuckled to ourselves at one regular who always said, “I’ll take a crap!” when tossing in a cheque. I’m not really sure to this day if he was aware of the double entendre. The action was so focused that only an unsuspecting passerby might misinterpret his meaning.

    Then there was always, “Gimme a hard ten!” But that’s another thread.

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