Saturday, 9/24/11

NYT 5:16 
LAT 4:15 
CS 5:51 (Sam) 
Newsday 9:54 

Jeremy Horwitz’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 9 24 11 0924

This might be a short post. I’m feeling puzzled out after solving and editing seven crosswords since lunchtime.

So. Jeremy’s puzzle: I said to myself, “Who puts in two mini-themes??” You’ve got the JOHN GRISHAM/ LEGAL EAGLES pair (which could certainly not be a mini-theme if the clues weren’t connected, but they are in symmetrical spots) and the [Bum rap]/[Bum rap?] pairing of a FALSE CHARGE and “BABY GOT BACK,” the most famous rap song about booties. “Ni-i-ice!” Brendan Quigley and I were IM-gossiping about the puzzle and he pointed out, “[Bum rap?] is a stellar clue.” ‘Tis, indeed.

Quite a good puzzle overall. Super-smooth fill in a 72-word grid with 18 answers in the 7- to 11-letter range. Sure, there’s a little in the ECO ATAP ENT EERO ENO vein, but the clues are solid and there’s a PRETEEN GANGSTA to liven things up. Five clues I liked:

  • 21a. Little ol’ SEE is clued as a [Gloating cry]. See?!? I really wanted HAH here but I like where the clue went instead.
  • 10d. [Drills that can bore] you are ROTE learning.
  • 20d. [Nude showers?] clues ART GALLERIES that show nudes. The clue looks racy but really, how many showers aren’t taken in the nude? The best movie shower scene of all time, if you ask me, is in Starship Troopers—a bunch of fit young military recruits are chatting while they wash up in a group shower, and it’s a coed group.
  • 32d. To [Be mephitic] is to put off a stink, or REEK. Love that word, mephitic.
  • 55d. Tolkien’s ENT is clued as a [Fictional creature whose name is Old English for "giant"]. I did not know that, and neither did my LOTR-fan husband.

Four stars. Updated Saturday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Men of Music” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, September 24

It is my understanding that some folks read about the daily crosswords on this blog without actually solving them first. If you’re in that camp, I doubt you could figure out this crossword’s theme just from looking at the theme entries in the grid to the right.  Here, see if you can do it.  The theme answers are these:

  • 17-Across: RICKY NELSON.
  • 26-Across: BILLY JOEL.
  • 37-Across: THE KINGSTON TRIO.
  • 51-Across: ELTON JOHN.
  • 61-Across: NEIL DIAMOND.

It’s not cheating to look at the puzzle’s title, Men of Music. At first glance you might think the theme is “five male musical performers or acts,” but that theme would be way too generic for a quality crossword. Three of the five theme entries feature singers with first and last names that are also men’s first names (Ricky and Nelson are both boy names, as are Billy, Joel, Elton, and John). But that only gets you 60% of the way there. Not even Gwyneth Paltrow would name her son “Trio” (though “Diamond” could be a remote possibility). So what gives?

Well, it turns out that the theme is in the clues. Each of the theme entries is clued with reference to a hit song from the performer that includes “Man” in the title. Thus:

  • 17-Across: ["Travelin' Man" singer].
  • 26-Across: ["Piano Man" singer].
  • 37-Across: ["A Worried Man" singers].
  • 51-Across: ["Rocket Man" singer].
  • 61-Across: ["Solitary Man" singer].

To my eye, this kind of theme is subtle.  But others probably find it very overt.  I sorta wish there was another solo male performer to substitute for THE KINGSTON TRIO—that would have given the answers a consistency on par with the clues.  But I don’t consider this to be a fatal inconsistency.

Interesting how a testosterone-infused theme leads off at 1-Across with BREAST, the [Wishbone location]. Whenever I see “wishbone” I immediately think of college football and the old “wishbone formation” used on offense. My favorite entries were SOY INK ([Environmentally friendly printing material]), L.A. GEAR ([Nike competitor]), and WONK ([Student who studies too much]). I also loved the pairing of NEVADA, ELIXIR, and ATTEST in the southwest corner.

Two things I learned from this puzzle: a ROSCOE is a [Pistol, in old slang] and the surname of ["The Planets" composer Gustav] is HOLST.

Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 9 23 11

I couldn’t figure out why this themeless 72-worder had such a weird grid, with all those 3s and 4s and cheater/helper squares. Eventually I made it down to the OREO at 50d and discovered the theme: the OREO is the [Food associated with the starts of 16-, 36- and 56-Across]. Those three answers are as follows:

  • 16a. [Common closer] is a TWIST TIE. Great entry on its own, but it also relates to twisting off the lid of an Oreo.
  • 36a. [Superficial, uncaring effort] clues LICK AND A PROMISE. Lick off the “creme.” Minus five points for the “A” missing from the beginning of this phrase.
  • 56a. [Carnival game in which a suit is worn] is DUNK TANK. Aren’t dunk tanks more fun when the dunkee is fully clothed? Dunk your cookie in milk if you want to make your milk look gross.

The colorful long fill supported the diagnosis of themeless puzzle:

  • 39a. ["Go ahead"]. FEEL FREE. Knock yourself out. Have at it.
  • 4d. The U.S.S. ALASKA was a [WWII battlecruiser in the Pacific].
  • 8d. [With "The," 1960s series set in the North African desert during WWII] is RAT PATROL. I misread the clue and missed the part where this is a TV series and not a historical entity.
  • 10d. GOSSIP GIRL is a [TV drama narrated by a teen blogger]. Never seen it, but love to see it in the puzzle.
  • 25d. A ROCK GARDEN is a [Common Zen temple feature]. You’re feeling more relaxed just picturing it, aren’t you?
  • 35d. ["Howards End" author] E.M. FORSTER gets the full-name treatment.

Today’s vocabulary word:

  • [60a. Informal essay] = CAUSERIE.

And today’s favorite clues:

  • 3d. ["See you next fall!" elicitor] is a TRIP or stumble. Were you trying to think of things said at the end of a school year?
  • 15d. [Trivial Pursuit symbol] is PIE. Yes. Those aren’t “wedges,” they’re blue pie and orange pie.

But then you have the ugly stuff, right there at 1-Across. [Aleutian island] ATTU! What are you doing there? ET TU, Gareth? Other entries in the “meh” family:

  • 46a. [Name meaning "gift of Isis"] clues ISADOR. There aren’t any really famous ISADORs. The Isidore/Isadore/Isadora people hog all the glory. Similarly, the name Theodore means “gift of God” (theo- as in theology).
  • 52a. [Brewery equipment] is your standard clue for OASTS.
  • 5d. [Where unison countdowns usually begin] is AT TEN, particularly on ATTU.
  • 6d. [Agnus __] DEI.
  • 30d. ["The Mikado" weapon, briefly] is a SNEE, an old-timey dagger.
  • 51d. [Hydrocarbon suffix] is -ENE.
  • 53d. TARO is a [South Seas staple]. Probably doesn’t grow well on ATTU.
  • 56d. [V x XI x XI] works out to 55 x 11, or DCV, which is 605. The Roman numerals saved me from multiplying two two-digit numbers in my head.
  • 57d. [Country that incl. Sharjah] is UAE, the United Arab Emirates of Dubai fame.

Three stars. I’m always sad to miss out on a themeless opportunity.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Newsday crossword solution, 9 23 11 "Saturday Stumper" Wechsler

Tough one today. First up, the highlights:

  • 17a. Shout-out for the Denis [Diderot novel], THE NUN. I read it for a French-lit-in-translation class in college. I remember little of it, but one does like to be rewarded for one’s academic choices.
  • 18a. REBRANDS is a fresh word. [Gets a new logo, say].
  • 3d. The first of the 15s is DRESS TO THE NINES, or [Suit yourself admirably?].
  • 7d. Who doesn’t like a SCREWBALL COMEDY? Better than that [Farce cousin] who always embarrasses himself at family reunions.
  • 8d. Don’t think I’ve ever seen THE DEEP SOUTH in a crossword grid before. [Common ground for Dr. King and Governor Wallace].

Things I didn’t know or didn’t like:

  • The southeast corner was sort of mean, wasn’t it? You take vague clues for 60a: BREWER/[Calling of some monks] and 65a: SHORTS/[They're seen at court appearances] (meaning tennis matches), and then cross those words with a vague clue for 61d: ETO/[Army formation of WWII] and a trivia clue at 47d: PHIBES/[Vincent Price title role of '71 and '72], and what do you get? Bleah. Eventually I took a gamble and pieced things together.
  • 58d. TAE is [Literally, "to strike with the foot"]? Say what? None of the 183 TAE clues in the Cruciverb database are etymological. None of them. Googling to make sense out of this… Ah, it’s Korean. Wikipedia spells it out: “In Korean, tae (태, 跆) means ‘to strike or break with foot‘; kwon (권, 拳) means ‘to strike or break with fist’; and do (도, 道) means way,’ ‘method,’ or ‘art.’”
  • 9d. Every time I see this one, I call it out as wrong. ALB is a crosswordese clerical garment. The [BC neighbor], the province of Alberta, is customarily abbreviated as Alta., not Alb. Its postal abbreviation is AB. Canadians, can I get some backup?
  • 2d. [Orbital extreme] wanted to be APOGEE but I needed two more letters. APHELION? Apogee relates to a moon’s distance from the earth (-gee = geo), while APHELION involves a planet’s distance from the sun (helio = sun).
  • 21d. What’s a trencherman? Dictionary says it’s a humorous term for a man who eats heartily. So [Trencherman's concern] is ample PORTION SIZES.
  • 39d. [Victorian home feature] clues CASEMENT. Casements are windows that open like doors.
  • Six foreign words seems a bit heavy for a 15×15 puzzle. We’ve got French—19a: LES/[__ Cayes, Haiti] and 57a: ILS/["Ces hommes"]. And Spanish—36a: ENTRE/["__ otras cosas" ("among other things: Sp.)] and 27a: JAI/[Start of a game name], jai alai. And German—30a: ARBEIT/[Work, in Weimar] and 42d: SIE/[Prussian pronoun].

Three stars.

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12 Responses to Saturday, 9/24/11

  1. pannonica says:

    The skunk family is Mephitidae.

  2. Duke says:

    Can someone explain the baker’s dozen clue?

  3. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Loved the NYT despite the damn rap song–I wondered what on earth that meant. But a very elegant grid. Does one “sit under” a lecture? Doesn’t sound idiomatic to me. ‘Eco’ is becoming a universal, fits-anything prefix. The majority of Xwords these days seem to be ecopuzzles.

    On a related note, may I take this occasion to deplore the modern hijacking of the word “green,” which used to be the name of a perfectly respectable color? :-)

    Bruce

  4. pannonica says:

    Duke: My guess was that a commercial baker could have as many as a dozen ovens.

  5. animalheart says:

    This one took me forever, mainly because of the SW. Bruce, I sympathize on BABYGOTBACK. Never hoid of it. I also raised an eyebrow on SITUNDER. Does anyone actually say that? But some nifty fill, so I’ll give it four stars.

  6. Matt M. says:

    Really a terrific puzzle. Lots of fun, and the Sir Mix-a-Lot clue is an all-time great, I think.

  7. Howard B says:

    That is a good puzzle, and an especially great mini-theme clue combo. Much better effect if you know the song; lyrics will explain the connection if you’re unfamiliar.

    SIT UNDER was the only odd one for me, since I’ve never heard or seen that phrase spoken or in print. Sounded like a “roll-your-own” combination that worked there, but it wouldn’t be the first time (or the second, or the sixteenth) that a common phrase I’ve simply never encountered appeared in the grid :).

  8. Karen says:

    My favorite version of Baby Got Back is Jonathan Coulton. I got stuck nearby, had difficulty parsing the wrist/back clue.

  9. Harry says:

    I agree with Bruce. I don’t listen to rap and really struggled with that one. Overall, very good puzzle!

  10. Martin says:

    Amy,

    You are being very francophobic in your call for “Canadian” backup. “Alta.” is used by English speakers and “Alb.” by French speakers in Canada. By the myth of Canadian bilingualism, any province name can signal either English or French.

    And enough people do say “sit under,” I guess, for it to be listed in an abridged dictionary.

  11. sps says:

    Karen, We are *big* Coulton fans in this house. He’s got to be one of the funniest, smartest songwriters around. And you’re right, his version of BGB is terrific.

  12. John Haber says:

    Yeah, I must have rechecked SIT UNDER and BABY GOT BACK twenty times wondering what was wrong. Generally, the SE was last to fall with the Jane movie, the ENT and RIO clues etc. (I also kept wishing “oriels” or “ocelli” would fit instead of OCULI.) I didn’t remember what EVA stood for either. Still, seemed fair for a Saturday, if not a favorite for us who don’t read JOHN GRISHAM or listen to rap, either one under pain of death.

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