Saturday, 9/17/11

Newsday 12:02 (yes, really) 
LAT 6:24 
NYT 4:56 
CS 6:04 (Sam) 
WSJ (Saturday) untimed 

Greetings, people of Earth! I’m taking Sunday off so you’ll be in the capable hands of Team Fiend. Enjoy the blogular stylings of Joon, Janie (she’s back!), Jeffrey, and jannonica. I mean, pannonica. (Thanks, Team!)

Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 9 17 11 0917

Wait just a second here. What is this Friday puzzle doing in the Saturday slot? (And what was that Saturday puzzle doing in Friday’s slot?)

I kinda like this grid. The stacked pairs of 15s don’t produce the grievous crossing fill that triple and quad stacks too often do. It’s gotten so that I groan out loud when I open up a puzzle and discover that it’s filled with 15s, just because it can go so wrong in so many ways. Here, the fill doesn’t provoke heavy Scowl-o-Meter action, but it’s also not particularly zingy.

Highlights:

  • 14a. ALIEN ABDUCTIONS are one of the rare answers that may well be better in the plural than in the singular. Do you know how many people are victims of repeated alien abductions? It’s a terrible thing, I tell you. (I dispute 41a: EERIE being clued with reference to 14a. They’re not real! How exactly are they eerie?)
  • 17a. My kid was just telling me some fact about the VOLKSWAGEN JETTA today. Doesn’t that look great in the grid? Scrabbly, too.
  • 9d. ST. JUDE’S does good work with sick kids.
  • 41d. I like [Grandfathers, e.g.] as a verb cluing EXEMPTS. I benefited from a grandfather clause when I was in college—the drinking age rose to 21 for people younger than I, but I was legal when I turned 19.
  • 50d. After encountering the NUDIST in the grid, who can be at all surprised to find a WANG? Wayne WANG is ["The Joy Luck Club" director, 1993].
  • 63a. [They go with uppers] is a beautifully misleading clue for SOLES. Uppers are the top portion of your shoes, and they’re attached to the soles.

56a is MESS, clued as [Hoarder's problem]. If you’ve got a hoarder in the family (even if it’s you), check out the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. Why do people gather up so much stuff? Why don’t they get rid of it? Partly because various objects are imbued with much more meaning for some people. It’s as if everything has deep sentimental value. Fascinating and insightful read.

Things I could do without:

  • 3d: TILE SETTER? The cutesy clue just makes the solver spend more time with an incredibly boring word composed of incredibly common letters.
  • 16d is CNN NEWS. I Googled the phrase inside quotes and I’m not certain it’s actually a thing. CNN has news, yes, but I don’t think there’s a “CNN News” entity or title out there. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.
  • 61a. [Smoking and heavy drinking] are VICES if you’re using more interesting letters. AGERS? Meh.
  • The 15s’ crossings include TEK, ROTI, EDGER, APIA, and REO? Eh.

I dunno, with a 72-word grid, I was kinda hoping for more memorable fill. Three stars.

Tom Heilman’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword answers, 9 17 11

Is it just me or did this puzzle settle in at an unusual Saturday-NYT difficulty level? I wasn’t expecting that from an LA Times crossword.

This, too, is a 72-word grid. It, too, has mostly ordinary fill, though the top half of the puzzle includes six Js and Xs.

Highlights:

  • 36a. MORALLY BANKRUPT! Love that phrase. Does it describe Pat Robertson this week? The clue is [Beyond unethical].
  • 29a. To [Unfavorably influence] something and make bad things happen, there’s some JINX action going on. The clue didn’t really help me get to the answer but I love a gopd JINX. Well, the kind where two people say the same thing simultaneously and one says “Jinx!” and the other is forbidden to speak.
  • 4d. TRIFECTA is a cool word meaning a specific sort of [Long-odds bet].
  • 6d. [Character flaw] clues FEET OF CLAY, a colorful old expression. No connection to Cassius Clay, who was light on his feet.
  • 12d. [Classroom response, at times] can be a LAME EXCUSE for why you’re not turning in homework. Just saw the Simpsons episode where Bart’s teacher encounters him with his dog and asks if this is the dog that’s always eating his homework. The dog steadfastly refuses to eat a fresh assignment, even with a can of food dumped on it.
  • 14d. SEXTS! An au courant verb! Wait, what’s this clue? [Times of prayer in the Divine Office]? Oh. Never mind, then. (I know what sexting is but this clue for IMS, 58d: [Uses Trillian, briefly]? Googling…okay, Trillian is an “IM client” that makes it easy to chat across phones and PCs and Macs. Glad TRILLIAN isn’t in the grid yet!)
  • 29d. JINGOISTIC is a cool word, but I don’t know that [Loyal to a fault] quite captures the excessive and war-prone patriotism it connotes.

In the could-do-without category:

  • 24a. LOESS, the [Fine-grained soil] I know only from crosswords.
  • 44a. DEO [__ vindice: Confederacy motto]? I tolerate our Robert E. LEE and CSA repeaters, but now I have to learn more about the Confederacy? Their motto is Latin for “Under God, our vindicator.” Um, folks? That boat has sailed. The vindication? It’s not going to happen.
  • 52a. [Akkadian king who conquered Mesopotamia], SARGON? Didn’t know this based on the clue. Now, [Uncommon name of that guy who cheated on that woman my sister used to work with 20-some years ago], that I would have gotten.
  • 58a. I like a good ["Olly olly oxen free!"] in hide-and-seek, but “IT’S SAFE” isn’t much of a lexical chunk unto itself.
  • 8d. JIBES are [Sailing maneuvers]? Nautical, shmautical.
  • 13d. [Pulitzer-winning writers Timothy and Jennifer] clues EGANS. The famous Egans! Who have written such great words as…I’m sorry, Timothy Egan and Jennifer Egan. I don’t know your work.

3 stars.
Updated Saturday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Take It Off!” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, September 17

37-Across tells us that STRIP is not just the answer to [Get naked] but also a [hint to the latter parts of 17-, 26-, 44-, and 56-Across]. That’s because the last word in each of those entries can precede the word “strip” to form a new expression. Let’s reveal the theme entries:

  • 17-Across: The [Stand-up who frequently appeared on "The Gong Show"] was THE UNKNOWN COMIC, a.k.a. Murray Langston. (comic + strip = comic strip)  Reportedly, Langston wore a paper bag over his head because he was ashamed to be on The Gong Show, and the gimmick took off.  I remember him well, but I wonder how many outside my age cohort can say the same.
  • 26-Across: TYRONE POWER is ["The Mark of Zorro" star]. (power + strip = power strip, that thing probably near your feet with six or eight plug-ins for your power cords)  Power’s peak of fame precedes my age cohort, but I’m certainly familiar with him.
  • 49-Across: The [1967 chart-topper by The Buckinghams] is KIND OF A DRAG. (drag + strip = dragstrip, the site of many a race)  The song pre-dates me (not by much), but it’s such a classic that it was pretty easy to get with just a few crosses. Enjoy.
  • 56-Across: The [1965 film for which Nicolas Cage won the Best Actor Oscar] is LEAVING LAS VEGAS. (Vegas + strip = the Vegas Strip, that portion of Las Vegas Boulevard that runs from the Sahara hotel and casino south to the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino)  If you ever have the chance to take this 4-mile walk, it’s well worth it just for the people-watching.

Any puzzle with ROLLERBALL, the [1975 James Caan movie], gets huge props, but there were quite a few times where I had what Oprah might call a “Huh? moment.” I struggled with PALAVER, the [Powwow]. My dictionary defines it as “idle chatter,” among other things. Then there was my recurring nemesis, the [Marine snail] Lawrence WHELK—an answer I can never seem to remember. Finally, appropriately enough, I didn’t know the [Leader's last lap around the track] was the GUN LAP.

Interesting to see all those HES and SHES meeting up in the northwest; it’s reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut.

Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Newsday crossword answers, 9 17 11 "Saturday Stumper"

Whoof, tough puzzle. I have a hunch that Al S. and Anne E. and Joon P. will all have found this no more challenging than usual, though, because I can’t identify anything that really and truly makes this more than twice as hard as today’s NYT.

Let’s just take a quick amble through the grid and make note of some things:

  • 15a, 21d. This cross-referenced pair makes the location [where the Peacock Throne can be seen]. I got the IRAN part right away, but why did I hesitate on TEHRAN?
  • 17a. [Where an order may be placed], a religious order, is in a MONASTERY.
  • 20a. You’ve got a lotta ATTITUDE, you know that? Oodles of [Pugnacity].
  • 21a. Didn’t know the movie line, but THEY’RE ["__ essential" (key line in "Schindler's List")] is lovely and makes sense.
  • 22a. [Girl in Byron's "Don Juan"] clues LEILA. I had LEOLA at first, thanks to a SENT IN/SENT ON mix-up.
  • 27a. [Spots for figureheads] are CUSHY JOBS. Great answer, but I was stuck for too long trying to think of words for the prow of a Viking ship.
  • 29a. [One in a stable environment] means a person or animal in a horse stable, in this case a person: A HOSTLER is the same thing as an OSTLER, which is a word I learned from crosswords. Historically, it’s the person whose job was to look after inn guests’ horses overnight. Not sure you can bring your horse to Motel 6.
  • 31a. [Heracles' love, per Ovid] is IOLE. I just did a little reading on Wikipedia about Iole. Apparently Heracles is a right bastard in the Greek myth, enslaving Iole as his concubine after slaughtering her family, but in Ovid’s version, Iole exacts her vengeance by humiliating Heracles.
  • 37a. Okay, so, KOOL [__ Moe Dee (rap artist)] is an old name in hip-hop, so that was easy enough. But it kept me from considering STAY COOL as the [Yearbook-signing cliche] at 11d. Kool cigarettes, Kool Moe Dee, Kool and the Gang, L.L. Cool J—I think it’s all the same word regardless of the spelling, so I’m surprised to see it twice in the grid.
  • 42a. C’mon, IT’LL BE FUN! My favorite answer in this puzzle. They’re more fun as [Encouraging words] than a mere “You can do it.”
  • 44a. [Its emblem has wings enfolding the globe] clues NORAD. Had the R from RIALTO, guessed at NORAD. Yay!
  • 48a, 33d. [Infomercial "before" photo] and [Infomercial "after" photo] are POTBELLY and toned ABS. Fun combo.
  • 1d. TAMALE can only be clued in relation to the “hot tamale” phrase, as with [Hot stuff] here. For the food in Spanish, it’s one tamal, two tamales. Mind you, English dictionaries will tell you “tamale” is a Mexican food dish, but Spanish speakers might laugh at you if you use the word like that.
  • 2d. [Cast liability] clues EMOTER, an overactor who’s a liability to the cast in a show. Meh.
  • 9d. Uh, no. [Word in a five-star hotel review] is POSHLY? Oh, wait. “Poshly appointed,” that works. A Google search attests to “poshly comfy” and “poshly minimalistic,” too. Yeesh.
  • 13d. SOMERSET is the [Jane Austen Centre site]. Town of Bath, county of Somerset.
  • 18d. STATOR is a [Turbine's pivot]. I think I learned this word from Saturday crosswords.
  • 28d. Ooh, I hate it when I don’t know a botanical clue! [Thorn-apple alias] didn’t ring a bell because I know it only as JIMSON WEED. Poisonous!
  • 34d. Oddball trivia: a HOLSTEIN was the [Official pet of President Taft]. I sure didn’t know that.
  • 36d. RONALD McDonald is the [Clown around for 40+ years].
  • 40d. TUITION? [It's steep at Stanford]. Did you know that tuition at prestigious private colleges runs about $55,000 a year now?
  • 52d. ECCO is a [Scandinavian shoe brand], but I slowed myself down by putting ECKO here. There’s fashion’s Marc ECKO, kitchenware brand EKCO, and Danish shoe brand ECCO. Got that?

Smooth fill overall. Four stars.

Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Disagreement”

Brilliant creation. Crossing words at conflicting letters that can be changed into one that works in both directions? That’s neat. Moving the conflicting letters into end boxes that spell out DEFENDANT and PLAINTIFF, and having the new letters spell out LEGAL FEES? Super-duper elegant interconnectedness. Smooth fill, smooth clues—like butter.

It turned out to be easier than I was expecting—it helps that two or three answers fit into just 13 squares in each row/column, so you can figure out where most of the answers need to go. (Contrast this to the Hex cryptic last week. It nearly broke me! Took forever to be able to start poking around in the grid and trying out options for where some answers might fit together.)

Gotta run now. Five stars!

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21 Responses to Saturday, 9/17/11

  1. The EXEMPTion you spoke of worked the other way for me, Amy. Minnesota law grandfathered all individuals born on September 1, 1967 or earlier under the 18-year-old provision for legal consumption. I was born four weeks too late…

  2. Tuning Spork says:

    In Conecticut, they kept raising the drinking age by one year, each year, as of July 1st. I was born on June 18th and was legal without interuption since the day I turned 18. Of course, I never touched the stuff back then.

    They’re not real! How exactly are they eerie?)

    Actually, I believe that many “abductees” do believe that their claims are real. I heard Whitley Streiber describe his first “encounter”. He said that he thought he was sleeping and wanted to wake up so he tried to force his eyes open, only to open them really, really wide. I heard that and thought, “yeah, you were dreaming.” The mind is in a world of its own and very weird stuff can happen.

    CNN has news, yes, but I don’t think there’s a “CNN News” entity or title out there. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

    You are correct. The first N in CNN stands for news so anyone calling it “CNN News” would have to be reported to the Department of Redundancy Department.

  3. ArtLvr says:

    The clues in both NYT and the LAT were very clever. I thought the FERRULE had gone out with the Victorians! As for grandfathering, my best experience with that was years ago when my father went to court with a state biologist who testified that the trees’ huge girth on a public easement next to our shore property meant that it had never been used for that purpose, so we were allowed to split the extra land with our neighbors permanently. Wilderness worth a small gold mine sixty years later!

  4. Matt says:

    VOLKSWAGEN? Are you telling me that I’ve been misspelling this word all my life? Well, OK. Never mind.

  5. Pete says:

    TILE SETTER is in honor of my father-in-law, who was a tile setter for 25 years before going into property management (which he still does full-time at the age of 82). It’s a tough way to make a living — very physically demanding. But it’s how he put my wife and her four siblings through Catholic school and college. So here’s to you, Germano (who has never done a crossword puzzle in his life).

    - Pete Collins

  6. HH says:

    “Greetings, people of Earth! I’m taking Sunday off…”

    Purely coincidence? Or should I be honored?

  7. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Have you got tomorrow’s NYT, Henry?

  8. pannonica says:

    “Alle, alle auch sind frei”

  9. Papa John says:

    Edgar Allan Poe’s tales are not true, yet they are eerie.

  10. Jenni says:

    Oooh, oooh, a Sunday Henry Hook? Brew more coffee!

  11. Howard B says:

    Newsday stumper was pretty tough, what with all the trivia, but not much crunchier than the usual Stumper fare. Slow, steady solve, nicely done.

    Fun Times as well. Interesting moment when I had NNN entered for CNNNEWS, and couldn’t think of fill that worked there for a moment.

  12. Byron says:

    Stumper was pretty stumpy for me, too. GOHAVEFUN for ITLLBEFUN was a big part of the problem.

  13. janie says:

    DECK (not SOCK) for [Wallop] and ENDS (not ONES) for [Tips, often] did me no good….. did little to diminish my overall delight in the final product, however!

    ;-)

  14. Dan F says:

    My problem with the Stumper was the NW — I had REDS instead of TESS, allowing for DONE IN instead of SENT IN, and then “ON, ON” or “C’MON” for the [Cry of support]. Took a few minutes to dig out of that. Otherwise, just the right level of stumpiness.

    LAT was harder than usual for me, too. All day I’m going to be singing the song from (off-Broadway’s) Hello Again which has “I’m morally bankrupt!” as a motif.

  15. kludge says:

    Peeked into future and see that the BG puzzle to be blogged tomorrow is by Henry. Of tomorrow’s NYT I know nothing. And yes, the Saturday Stumper was tough, especially when you have NILE BASIN instead of NILE DELTA.

  16. Al says:

    I found the Stumper just as hard as Amy did. No one trouble spot, just slow for me all around. I enjoyed it though. I gave a crossword talk this morning, and did some of the NYT as a group solve, so no time for me there. (I plugged your book, Amy!). LAT was definitely more meaty than usual, a good trend. Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer this year for “A Visit from the Goon Squad”, so I think she’s legit. Great book, by the way. Loved the Berry WSJ Saturday, as always.

  17. Jerome says:

    Pete- I’ve been a carpenter most of my life… but I’ve also set a lot of tile. Tough job. I raise my glass to Germano.

    Tile setter, “incredibly boring”. Not at all.

  18. kludge says:

    There is even a novel about a tile setter by a prize-winning author that is apparently required reading in some college courses: http://www.amazon.com/Tilers-Afternoon-New-Directions-Paperbook/dp/0811212408

  19. joon says:

    since i, too, was called out by name—yes, i was stumped by the stumper. 16+ minutes, my slowest 15x puzzle (of any stripe) in about 8 months. pretty much every corner had me scratching my head.

    the LAT and CS were also the toughest i’ve done of those all year, not counting CS klahns. so, rough day, but i liked all the puzzles.

  20. Howard B says:

    LA Times was absolutely brutal; took me longer than the Newsday today, thanks to stuff like JIBES, JINX, and ITS SAFE, which just had me scratching my head until I slooowly worked them out.

  21. Tuning Spork says:

    NYT: hard but fair. 17:08

    LAT: Brutal, but juicy. 23:23

    Newsday Stumper: Beyond brutal. 1:01:08, while using “check” at a few junctions along the way. The NW finally fell at the half-hour mark, but the NE took forever.

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