Thursday, 9/22/11

Fireball 7:23 
NYT 3:19 
LAT 6:08 (Neville) 
CS 6:49 (Sam) 
BEQ 7:23 (Matt) 
Tausig — tune in Friday

Linky goodness! First up, Facebook discombobulated its U.S. users with a number of changes today. NPLer Andrew Greene riffed on that in imagining what it would be like if Facebook edited the New York Times crossword. I’m tickled pink to see this humble blog used in the service of satire, and delighted that Mike Selinker posted Andrew’s image in Wired.com’s Decode puzzle section. If you used Facebook today, you know what a brilliant send-up this is. You know what? This may even be cooler than the time Wired magazine quoted me as a crossword etiquette expert.

On the video front, we’ve got constructor Andrea Carla Michaels starring in The Atlantic’s documentary short film about crosswords, posted here. The other two videos feature someone who restores pianos and a penguin scientist—all three videos are about people who work with black and white. Andrea assures me that her home isn’t usually stuffed to the gills with crosswordy accouterments but boy, she sure has a lot of that stuff! (I probably do, too.)

Jeff Dubner’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 9 22 11 0922

This is a twist on the vowel progression theme, with variable spellings mixing things up a bit. We get the DAILY MAIL, a DELI COUNTER, DILLY-DALLYING, DOLLY PARTON, and DULY NOTED. Two long vowels and three short ones provide further variation. Now, you’d think that the D*ILY/D*LI/D*LLY x 2/D*LY assortment would make the puzzle harder than one in which the first word was spelled the same except for the changing vowel—but no. This puzzle is no more than Wednesday difficulty, and there’s nothing bendy that makes it merit a Thursday placement.

Highlights:

  • The stacks with colorful 9-letter entries above or below the 17a and 54a theme answers. STARFRUIT is a terrific 1-Across (but I caution those of you with kidney disease not to eat starfruit), and ESPERANTO and THE STONES are wonderful, too. In the Down direction, I love J.J.’s “DY-NO-MITE!” and admire the inclusion of BUD SELIG‘s full name. A few years ago, I would have been delighted to see a reference to Win BEN STEIN’S Money, but (a) a possessive entry is terrible and (b) Ben Stein has since turned into a loudmouth opponent of the theory of evolution. (Roger Ebert eviscerates Stein here.)
  • 41s. [English author Edward Bulwer-__] LYTTON is the namesake of the annual contest in which writers strive to craft the worst opening sentence they can. BULWER-LYTTON would be a great themeless answer, wouldn’t it? (If 12s were easier to include.)
  • Nice language clue: ALEUT is a [Western language historically written in the Cyrillic alphabet]. I didn’t know that. Speaking of language clues, ESPERANTO’s clued with [It has just 16 rules of grammar]. I have no idea how many grammatical rules English has. Anyone know?

Not much else to point out here. Overall sense of the puzzle, judging it on the Wednesday scale: 3.5 stars.

Pete Muller’s Fireball crossword, “Bike Me!”

Fireball 2(32) solution

I don’t understand the title of this puzzle at all, but I grasped the theme just fine: Motocross bikes are the inspiration for MO/TO rebus crossings. Sometimes it’s MO across and TO down (as in BOOK OF {MO}R{MO}N meets SEA S{TO}RM and {TO}KE) and sometimes it flips the other way (PU{T O}UT {TO} STUD meets NE{MO} and BE{MO}AN). Now, I don’t know what Peter Gordon told Across Lite to accept as correct answers in those squares, but I just put MOTO in each one (and Across Lite Xed them all out). Works for me. Cool theme concept, no? Ten two-way rebus squares feels like a lot, and you’d think the fill would stink as a result but it doesn’t. Pretty smooth overall. Particularly fond of RETSYN, an old KIT BAG, BLURAY, and BOSNIAN. Most of the fill’s rather ordinary stuff, but it’s not bad stuff, it’s just plain. Given that the long double-rebused theme answers are lively phrases and that there are so many rebus squares, ordinary language in the surrounding squares is an achievement. No hideous compromises are evident.

4.5 stars for Peto Moller today.

Updated Thursday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “T Time” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, September 22

We can summarize this one in mathematical terms: simple theme + sophisticated grid = enjoyable solve. The theme is one we have seen many times over, as the letter T is added to the start of three well-known expressions to produce three wacky phrases that receive matching clues:

  • 16-Across: The [Sitcom about a very big kid?] is TALL IN THE FAMILY, playing off the 1970s smash hit All in the Family.
  • 34-Across: The [Garbage collector's dilemma?] is a TRASH DECISION, from “rash decision.”
  • 54-Across: The [Ineffective baseball tipster?] is the TOUT IN LEFT FIELD. I’m more familiar with tout the verb than tout the noun. My dictionary says it is “one who obtains information on racehorses and their prospects and sells it to bettors.”  That I was reading “tipster” to mean “sot” means, I suppose, that I was “out in left field.”

Okay, so the theme is not entirely new. But wow, this grid!  It’s not often we get to see 8- and 9-letter entries stacked with a 15-letter entry in a themed puzzle. And we don’t often see triple-stacked 7s running through the grid’s mid-section, much less two 8s with a 7 in the other corners. These extra layers yield a puzzle with only 70 answers (most themed puzzles have 74–78 answers). The 38 black squares is in line with a themed puzzle, and yes, two of them are “cheater” squares (you could remove the black square at the end of 4-Down and the one atop 52-Down without affecting the total number of answers). But I’ll make that offering to the Crossword Gods any day if it means we get a grid this open and varied. After all, longer entries tend to be more interesting.

Cases in point: PHOTOSHOP, the [Digital image modifying program], gets us off to a nice start at 1-Across.  Beneath “’tis but a FLESH WOUND,” clued as a [Minor cut]. Over in the northeast stands the fully-named BRIAN ENO, the ["Music for Airports" composer], with ABYSSES perching precariously on the right edge. The southeast features EARTH ANGEL, the [1955 Penguins hit], right above the EPICENTER, the [Earthquake origin point]. To pull this off, Ashwood-Smith employs at least 16 3-letter answers (I reasonably sure there’s at least 16 of them in there, but my count may be off), meaning nearly a quarter of the answers are of the uber-short variety. Few of them are abbreviations or foreign words, though (only SSS, -OSE, and ERI stand out), so this does not compromise the grid’s fluidity. My favorite clue = [A lot of wealth?] for ESTATE. (“Lot” as in “parcel of land.”) Perhaps one day I will go from a lot of debt to a lot of wealth.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Freegan’s Menu”—Matt Gaffney’s review

BEQ 369 answers

Fun one from Brendan today, where he conjures up a literal list of foods that freegans might eat.

What’s that? You had to Google what “freeganism” is? Don’t feel bad—I did, too. It’s not something I’d consider espousing, considering how culinarily hooked into the oppressive capitalism system that I am, but it makes for a nice crossword: literal freegans would indeed eat CHUCK(ed) STEAK, DIRTY RICE, TOSSED SALAD, SOUR CREAM and, least hygienic of all, SHOO-FLY PIE.

Seven observations:

  1. This one took me 7:23 in Across Lite, meaning it took Amy approximately 5:01. Amirite? (Plus or minus 8 seconds. Minus, actually.—Amy)
  2. I adopted a mocking tone towards freegans in my intro, but since they’re not hurting anyone I say: go for it, my freegan brothers and sisters.
  3. 24-Down is hilarious, and classic Quigley.
  4. Also outstanding: TORA BORA, SAW FIT, SHELLAC, AFL-CIO, WNBA, I’M NEXT, DON/AMECHE, and bonus themage JUNK FOOD.
  5. 43-Down is the only English word with six letters and a vowel-consonant pattern of VCCCCV. Except for ISTHMI and ARCHLY, as I learned 15 years ago when I submitted this as a Wild Cards puzzle to GAMES Magazine and it was rejected on those grounds.
  6. This feels a lot more open than 76 words.
  7. 30-Across only has one S.

Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ, and try not to waste any food today, folks!

Betty Keller’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword answers 09 22 11

Los Angeles Times crossword answers 09 22 11

What a fowl puzzle! Each theme entry is a smush of a phrase started with a tasty bird and another phrase:

  • 17a. [Daffy trying to hit the pinata?] – DUCK BLINDFOLDED
  • 25a. [Survey response at the farm?]  - CHICKEN FEEDBACK
  • 43a. [Tom fooler?] – TURKEY LEG PULLER
  • 57a. [Loosey's cake-making aid?] – GOOSE EGGBEATERS

This didn’t do too much for me as far as “wacky entry” puzzles go – I mean how exciting can a survey response be? (Don’t tell the folks at Family Feud I just said that.) The other clues also reference particular named animals of that species, but apparently  ”on the farm” is enough of a clue.

My favorite bits of fill here were DOO-DADS (having it cross DADDY looked cute to me) and REDNECK, which I know we’ve seen recently, but who cares. Though frankly I don’t see a redneck as a [Scapegoat in some down-home humor], especially not Jeff Foxworthy’s. I’d saw the redneck is more of a schmuck – we don’t blame the redneck, but we do mock him.

  • 62a. [Blanche Dubois's sister] – STELLA!
  • 16a. [Japanese salad ingredient] – UDO, which is a plant also sometimes found in miso soup. I’d not heard of it, so I had to figure out ID’ED, [Picked out from a lineup], one of those nasty abbreviations-cum-verb-ending. RSVP’S isn’t superb either, by I prefer it for its sheer consonant density. Along those lines, TSK TSK is a winner too.
  • Anyone else think 1d. [Fizz in a gin fizz] was cluing SLOE? It’s actually SODA. I’m not a mixologist, but apparently I was mixing up two different drinks. (Pun intended.)
  • 35a. [Many a Louis] is a ROI? All of the people named Louis I’ve met haven’t been French kings, but what do I know. Still, I get the picture. Quick: Is Louises the plural of Louis or Louise? How do you pluralize the other? These are the important questions in life.

A quack quack here and 3.7 stars there.

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11 Responses to Thursday, 9/22/11

  1. joon says:

    in the FB, i had a problem where BETS_ crossed RETS_N. RETSIN looked okay, or maybe i should say RETSYN looked wronger than BETSI. ultimately i guessed it wrong. cool puzzle though.

  2. Plot says:

    I had an error on the same word, with the raT/reTsyn crossing. Didn’t read the clue except for the word ‘zodiac’ so I had it as raM. I guessed right on the Y in Betsy, but still think that crossing was somewhat unfair. Given the obscurity of the actress (I didn’t recognize her, despite seeing all seven Saw movies), one would expect that clue to be for an unusually-spelled name as opposed to a more common one . I guess Peter must be running out of famous Betsys to use as clues.

  3. ArtLvr says:

    I thought that the accepted choice was the one for across answers, when you have two possibilites at a rebus crossing and would like to see a Happy Pencil at the end… Did you really get every one marked wrong by putting MO throughout? More important query — am I going to lose my trusty Google because their new versions won’t download to my ancient iBook? Aarrgh.

  4. Aaron says:

    Agreed: re the Thursday’s difficulty. Not quite sure why this ran on a Thursday; at any rate, I found the fill even easier than Wednesday’s tough “inner (unknown) cities” theme.

  5. Re the Fireball title, a pun on “Bite me,” I’m guessing.

  6. gareth says:

    Was around 6 minutes and I only had 5 squares left: WEBBS/BENSTEINS/PASS/WAMPUM/ARM.

    No excuse for WAMPUM, that eventually opened it up – just caught out by the clever phrasing. The rest… don’t know what that ARM clue means, though I did find some US cleaner. Don’t know either WEBB, what on earth a bomb PASS is or who BENSTEIN or why people were winning his money. Call it a personal Waterloo… Last S of PASS/BENSTEIN took nearly minute alone before decided to guess that letter. Rest of the puzzle played out like a very easy, but fun themeless!

  7. Howard B says:

    Times had some pretty interesting fill, and the names may have pushed the difficulty meter up. I do have to say (in nitpicking mode), that BENSTEIN’S as fill is pretty nasty stuff. I don’t expect that type of partial cluing from the Times. (And I loved that game show, incidentally.)
    I know I sound kind of grouchy, but I guess I’m kind of tired lately and maybe shouldn’t post in that frame of mind.
    But if one non-theme answer sticks out like that, I do have to say something. It would have been fun without that S.

    Hopefully will get to the Fireball later, so I’m dodging the writeup on that for now. Have a good one! :)

  8. Angela Osborne says:

    Gareth – the “arm” goes with “Arm & Hammer” who make baking powder.

  9. John Haber says:

    I thought it was lacking a bit of Thursday oomph, too. But it’ll do. (DYNOMITE and BIAO didn’t much anything to me, but ok.)

  10. Meem says:

    Gareth, when the quarterback launches a long, long PASS, the color commentator on the tv broadcast is likely to observe that the QB just launched a BOMB.

  11. Rihat says:

    another 6 letter word with VCCCCV: aphtha

Comments are closed.