Wednesday, 9/21/11

Onion 5:12 
NYT 4:21 
LAT 3:45 
CS 6:00 (Sam) 

Peter Collins’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 9 21 11 0921

My general sense as I worked through this puzzle is “The theme is crosswordese.” The INNER CITIES in the theme—RENO, ENID, ERIE, TAOS—are most notable in crosswords for the frequency with which they’re convenient tools to fill a corner. I didn’t notice until after finishing that the longer answers that include them are all in California. I dunno. Would be cooler if the letters of the INNER CITIES appeared consecutively rather than randomly spaced out. And the thematic unity created by sticking with California towns means we get California towns of no particular fame—Oceanside and Bakersfield, Santa Rosa and Garden Grove. Anyone ever vacation in any of them?

The crosswordese vibe first struck me at 1-Across. Who among us learned of the ZEBU first from crosswords? Let’s see a show of hands. (Crossword nerds, in the house!) The EMUS, ARNO, ELOI, UZIS, ESS, ESO, OPE, ENS, NEC, ITT, ETA, ETTA, AMIE run keeps the vibe churning along throughout the grid.

Good stuff: RUBBERNECKS is a colorful word. It’s crazy to turn IRAN into two-word FITB answer I RAN from the ridiculous ’80s New Wave band A Flock of Seagulls, but I’m a sucker for circa-1982 New Wave. What can I say? It was on MTV.

I look forward to the day when REEDIT gets edited out of a grid in favor of the website REDDIT, but that’s probably too obscure for most crossword solvers at this point. If you don’t know what it is, you owe it to yourself to skim through the Brendan Emmett Quigley Q&A at Reddit.

2.75 stars, because the crosswordese inherent in the theme and strewn throughout the grid is bringing me down.

Brendan Quigley’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword solution, Brendan Emmett Quigley 9 22 11

Really a clever theme, though I am out of my league when it comes to knowing who these bands are. The multilevel concept takes band names that could be conceived of as inspirations for crossword-theme wordplay, and clues them with a handful of potential theme entries. Basically, what Brendan’s done is create seven different themes and collapse them into one puzzle. Given how challenging it can be sometimes to concoct a single decent theme, is Brendan showing off here?

  • 18a. [Title of a crossword with theme answers like OVERHAND KNOT, BUTTERFLY EFFECT, and CRAWL SPACE] clues THE STROKES, as all three begin with swimming strokes.
  • 23a. [... HIT A RA(W)(N)(E)RVE, ARE (W)(E)(N)OT ME(N)(W)(E) ARE DEVO, and SPOK(E)(N)(W)ORD] clues NEW ORDER, as each lively phrase contains the letters in NEW in a different order.
  • 29a. [... TAN XMEN, MINX AND MATCH, and PEPSI MANX] clues ADD N TO X. What is this, an algebra tribute band? Never heard of them. Your base phrases in this one would be tax men, mix and match, and Pepsi Max. Could be hard to clue those N+Xers as theme entries, no?
  • 34a. A CIRCLE JERKS theme could put synonyms for “jerk” inside circled squares, as in [... I(D)(O)(L)(T)RYOUTS, GOD H(A)(S)(S)POKEN, and MASONI(C)(L)(O)(D)GE]. If you don’t know the lewd meaning of the band’s name, Google with extreme caution.
  • 42a. [... MANDY MOORE, MARILYN MANSON, and MIKE MYERS] are M PEOPLE with M.M. initials. Never heard of this band, either.
  • 50a. [... QATAR AIRWAYS, DJ QBERT, and IRAQ WAR] are phrases that contain Q AND NOT U. Who are they? And more importantly, does Trip Payne listen to them?
  • 56a. PORTISHEAD can be parsed as “PORT is head” of the following phrases: [... PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, PORTERHOUSE STEAK, and PORTMANTEAU WORD]. Hey, those would make a great trio of crossword answers. Too bad only one is as short as 15 letters.

Never heard of 25a: ALAINA ["Smallville" actress Huffman], either. But you know what? I’m making a mental note of that name. It’s two-thirds vowels and thus gridbait to constructors. She just needs to get a skosh more famous.

Four stars.

Julian Lim’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 9 21 11

Went through this entire crossword without grasping the theme, since I didn’t quite read the final theme answer’s explanatory clue. The post-solve take-another-look leads to an “Oh! They start with words that can precede club” epiphany:

  • 17a. [*Title role in the 2009 Tony winner for Best Musical] is BILLY ELLIOT. Not a fan of billy clubs.
  • 24a. [*Advantage of some military goggles] is NIGHT VISION. When’s the last time I went to a night club? Boy, I couldn’t tell you.
  • 45a. [*Freetown is its capital] clues SIERRA LEONE. The Sierra Club! I approve.
  • 11d. [*Unauthorized stories written by devotees] is FAN FICTION. Great, fresh crossword answer. I believe slash fiction is the term for fan fic that crosses the line into erotica.
  • 28d. A stubby little GOLF PENCIL is a [*Pro shop freebie]. Golf clubs have multiple layers of meaning for Tiger Woods.
  • 55a. “JOIN THE CLUB!” ["That's exactly how I feel" ... or what each starred clue's first word can do?]. Super-fresh and fun, just like FAN FICTION.

The fill’s pretty smooth overall, and the clues have some zip to them. Four stars from me.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Can Do” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, September 21

Customer service is at the heart of Tony Orbach’s latest puzzle, as it features four common expressions clued simply as synonyms for ["Can do"]:

  • 17-Across: MY PLEASURE.
  • 24-Across: AT YOUR SERVICE.
  • 53-Across: HAPPY TO OBLIGE.
  • 65-Across: NO PROBLEMO.

There’s a certain elegance in the theme’s simplicity, and the expressions all have a light and entertaining air to them. Still, I would have preferred a little more pizzazz to it, like maybe hinting at the type of person who would use each of those expressions. Something along the lines of ["Can do" from a member of the armed forces] for AT YOUR SERVICE or ["Can do" from a server at a tapas bar] for NO PROBLEMO is what I have in mind. Of course, adding this extra layer might well take the puzzle’s difficulty beyond the original intent so maybe I’m asking too much.

As we have come to expect in Orbach puzzles, there is plenty of good stuff. My favorite was probably UP TOP, the [Words said when requesting a high-five]. IN THE LEAD and COPS A PLEA are fine long Downs, and I’m a sucker for BLOOPER, having seen more than my share of those specials that Dick Clark and Ed McMahon co-hosted. Lastly, I realize there’s probably no intended connection, but I like how the first two Across entries were ABCS and CBS TV—if only the third one could have had NBC or FOX in it.

There’s an abundance of abbreviations and acronyms here (CTA, BOS, ACLU, MISC, OTS, HMO, MSG, REO, OSS, et. al.), but nothing that seems to interfere with the solving experience. I like it when easy puzzles teach me new things—I still feel smart for breezing through the grid but I also get to learn something new. I don’t think I had ever seen the [Beatles tribute band The Fab] FAUX before, and I think I would remember a clever name like that. I slipped for a while as I insisted that the [Rodeo rope] had to be RIATA instead of its variant spelling, REATA, but this didn’t cost me too much time (I’m a big fan of ICEE, the [Frozen drink brand], so I knew something was up at the crossing). Finally, the [Lad, in Irish slang], or BOYO, was new to me. I was a little cheesed off for having to know Irish slang, but perhaps I was a bit knackered at the time.

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18 Responses to Wednesday, 9/21/11

  1. Jeffrey says:

    This one threatened to lose me at 1 across with ZEBU and then make good on the threat.

    Then FIR reappeared in the NYT with a similar clue and I got lost again.

  2. joon says:

    i think i first learned ZEBU from scrabble, not crosswords. but now that i’ve gotten to know the one from my local zoo, i’m decidedly pro-ZEBU. the rest of the puzzle wasn’t terribly interesting, though.

  3. Art Shapiro says:

    I’ve vacationed in Santa Rosa, frequently go through Garden Grove, bicycled down to Oceanside last weekend, and may or may not have ever visited Bakersfield.

    What a pleasure compared to, say, NY City subway lines.

    Art

  4. Gareth says:

    I learnt ZEBU from picture cards as a kid. Also UNAU strangely enough… GARDENGROVE I learnt from Sublime though…

    Loved LOVED the LAT’s revealer, and most of the grid was a delight!

  5. pannonica says:

    NYT: Similar to Gareth, zebu from books and National Geographic as a child. Also, the animal-based version of Geography that my family indulged me with. Dropped it right in the grid, unhesitatingly.

    AV: ALAINA/ORAN crossing made me cross. Kept thinking ONE RING ZERO should appear as a themer.

  6. Pat Merrell says:

    As a kid, spent one of the hottest days of my life in Bakersfield. Not sure why our family was there, but we never went back. Santa Rosa is a nice town, home to the Charles Schulz museum and, right next door, the ice skating rink he built for the town (and where the Schulz people still toil away, upstairs).

    Santa Rosa is also the home of the horticulturist Luther Burbank. A tour of his small home and garden can easily fill up a half hour.

  7. kludge says:

    Thanks, Parick. I’ve never been to any of those towns, but I have seen Santa Rosa in a movie- Alfred Hitchcock filmed Shadow of a Doubt there. Bakersfield I know from country music, the “Bakersfield Sound” of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. It is also name-checked by The Rolling Stones in their faux-country song “The Girl With Faraway Eyes,” which is on the same album as “MISS You”

  8. kludge says:

    PaTrick

  9. John says:

    Amy, slash fiction is fanfic that features same-sex couples. Eroticism may or not enter into it. It takes its name from the slash separating the names of the characters, e.g. Kirk/Spock (the original slash pairing) or Harry/Draco. Originally the term referred only to male/male pairings, but in current usage it can refer to either male/male or female/female pairings. (Though it’s not uncommon to see the latter referred to as “femslash.”)

    Pat, as far as I can tell, never wanting to go back is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a visit to Bakersfield.

  10. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Ooh, I meant to mention that the LAT’s FULL TILT poker website is (a) no longer available in the U.S. and (b) the target of a federal civil complaint that it was partly a Ponzi scheme. The NYT has the story.

  11. john farmer says:

    Whenever ICETEA appears in a puzzle, somebody somewhere inevitably says it’s a mistake, there should be a D in there. Fact is, it’s not wrong, either way works, but if you’re used to one way, the other may sound off. MIDSIZEDCAR has the opposite effect for me. Nothing wrong with it, but the D at the end of SIZE seems one letter too many to my ear. “Midsize car” seems more in-the-language. “King-size bed” and “oversize load” also skip the D, which may be cause “size” is more commonly a noun than a verb.

    Hey, California cities! Places I’ve been to (and through). Bakersfield is hot all the time, I believe, and I’m not sure why people go there except for Dewar’s Ice Cream Shop. It’s that kind of town.

  12. John Haber says:

    How strange. Really two themes that have nothing to do with one another, unless one counts that California and crosswordese cities are obscure to the rest of the world in two curiously distinct ways. Then add that the circled letters are that constructor kludge of just appearing wherever it works rather than symmetrically or in sequence. And add ZEBU at the start. And …

    Perfectly Wednesday level, but hard to justify its being in print.

  13. kludge says:

    that constructor kludge? Oh, I see

  14. Zulema says:

    I have to chime in also. I spent a weekend in Santa Rosa at the Scottish Games or Festival, and I’ve certainly driven through the others. California cities are indeed obscure to crossword solvers except for a few of them. I agree it was a strange combination. Have also been to or through those four letter inland cities.

  15. Mitchs says:

    Loved BEQ’s Onion puz. I’ve had the occasional quibble on his site puzzles that the obscure music/yesterday’s weirdly spelled in-the-news name made for Naticks, but I got all the groups through the crossings and clues. How cool to use bands whose names were also clueable. And, typically for BEQ, a lot of smoothness to accompany the dense theme.

  16. Karen says:

    joon, I’ve seen that ZEBU too! It was very friendly.

  17. klewge says:

    Amy,
    ADD N TO (X) was a band that played electronic music with various old school synthesizers- lots of patch cords to plug and unplug. I don’t think their name is related to algebra but instead to computers: it resembles an assembly language instruction that might be used to increment a counter. I saw them back during the end of my youth in the 90s at the Bowery Ballroom playing on a bill with a band called Atari Teenage Riot, who did not appear in the final version of BEQ’s puzzle.

  18. Joan macon says:

    Well, I guess I have to speak up for Garden Grove. It’s kind of lost next to Santa Ana and Anaheim, but it has a great school district (I taught there for over 20 years). I also lived there for six years before moving to Anaheim. It’s a city of working people and lots of different ethnic groups. Really just part of the megalopolis that is Southern California, but I love it!

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