Tuesday, 9/27/11

Jonesin' 4:37 
NYT 4:09 
LAT 3:40 (Neville) 
CS 5:11 (Sam) 

Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 9 27 11 0927

Ahem. Will Shortz, sir, do you realize this is the fourth Peter Collins puzzle you’ve run in the past month? how about giving some other folks a chance? I’m guessing that Peter’s crosswords don’t make up a full seventh of the puzzles in the acceptances pipeline, unless he submitted a couple puzzles a day during all of summer break.

Today’s puzzle should really be tomorrow’s puzzle, because it’s hitting a lot of us at Wednesday-plus level. Tougher than a Tuesday, no?

The theme is hidden COUNTRIES lurking inside the borders of various phrases, much as San Marino is inside Italy and Lesotho’s inside South Africa. (My inner geography geek would have liked it if the word ENCLAVE had been tied to the theme.) We have the following:

  • 17a. KENYA inside CHICKEN YARD, which I didn’t know was a “thing.”
  • 23a. ITALY inside DIGITAL YEARBOOK, which I also didn’t know was a thing. Is that on a website? An iPad or phone app? DVD? Replacing an expensive printed yearbook?
  • 35a. PERU inside ROPE RUG. Huh? The [Braided floor covering]s I’m familiar with, those oval ones, are called braided rugs. Not sure what a rope rug is.
  • 37a. TOO MANY hides OMAN. I’m not sure I like TOO MANY as fill. TOO FEW would be dreadful fill, but TOO MUCH sounds totally idiomatic. Maybe TOO MANY is somewhere in between.
  • 50a. MALI is inside the good ANIMAL INSTINCTS.
  • 57a. CHINA spans three words instead of two in CATCH IN A LIE.

I’m usually a sucker for geography themes, but before I knew there were countries hidden in them, the phrases had already rebooted the Scowl-o-Meter. They had lots of help from fill like OEN- (as if OENO- weren’t bad enough), ERN, EENSY, ESE, INURED, EEO, HST, NAST, ODOM, CEE, EDS, KATS, and PIPIT. Sometimes a 72-square theme brings with it a boatload of compromises in the fill.

Now, I did like THE WALRUS and the PIXIES having ME TIME.

2.5 stars.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Cornering the Market”

Jonesin' crossword answers, "Cornering the Market" 9/27/11

Ooh, I love this puzzle! The four theme answers round the bend in their respective corners, always traveling clockwise, and they’re in specific corners for logical reasons. The grid’s stretched to 16 squares high. I’m not sure why, but the result is that the Downs in the middle side sections are 4 letters long rather than 3.

The theme:

  • 1d, 1a. [With 1-across, space that occupies the upper left corner of a Monopoly board] spells out FREE PARKING, moving from square 27 up and around to square 6. The answer is in the same upper left corner the clue cites.
  • 10a, 13d. [With 13-down, it's placed in the upper right corner of an envelope] puts your POSTAGE in the proper corner.
  • 52d, 70a. [With 70-across, it's often seen in the bottom right corner of a TV screen] clues a NETWORK LOGO. Man, aren’t those annoying? Especially when the network starts throwing promos for other shows into that corner or the whole dang bottom of the screen.
  • 68a, 56d. [With 56-down, state that makes up the lower left corner of the Four Corners Monument] is ARIZONA.

Did somebody mention a corner? Because nobody puts 34d: BABY in the corner, not when Johnny’s around.

The theme entries don’t occupy much real estate, which means there’s ample room for juicy fill like UNDERDOG crossing a BUNNY SUIT, GROUCHO Marx,  CALYPSO music, and MISOGYNY intruding on Florence HENDERSON, who is crossing the SIDEWALK and having a NEAR MISS with some kid riding a Big Wheel.

The completed grid looks insane, doesn’t it? “Wait a minute, what on earth is OGOLKR? Is ANOZ referring to Dr. Oz? What does APEERF mean?”

Five stars, because I love this cornering action.

Steven St. John’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

LA Times crossword solution 9 27 11

LA Times crossword solution 9 27 11

Hey, why not write a puzzle including everything there is to hate about air travel? That’s evocative!

  • 17a. [Invasive airline inconvenience] – BODY SCANNER. Not as bad as the pat-down, though.
  • 29a. [Uncomfortable airline inconvenience]  - CRAMPED SEAT, unless you have to pay for two seats.
  • 46a. [Wearying airline inconvenience] – LONG LAYOVER. Better too long than too short, no?
  • 57a. [Excruciating airline inconvenience (the last straw!)] - LOST LUGGAGE. As a frequent victim of this, inconvenience doesn’t even begin to cover this one.

Where are SCREAMING BABY, FLIGHT DELAYS and AIR SICKNESS? This theme sure brings out some images, but not any pleasant ones. The parenthetical on the last theme clue is cute, but it doesn’t quite make up for the nastiness of this puzzle.

I do like a lot of the fill in this puzzle:

  • 3d. [Awe] – BEDAZZLE. Used in a sentence: Those bedazzled jeans awed me.
  • 48d. [Where YHOO stock is traded] – NASDAQ. A nice easy clue for Tuesday, and as a familiar abbreviation ending with Q, I like it. I can’t say the same for the crossing REQ.
  • 39a. [Flippable card file] – ROLODEX. Rolodex was invented in 1956, but I can’t help but feel liked they’re being eclipsed by smartphones. They’re better for storing recipes, though, if you ask me.
  • 39d. [Military day starter] – REVEILLE. Maybe I just like this word because it looks like my name.

Two KN words in this puzzle – KNAVISH and KNIGHT. You know, I just noticed that this puzzle is pretty Scrabbly, for better or for worse. As far as the fill goes, I think that’s a good thing. But still the theme doesn’t make me smile – it makes me cringe. 3.6 hours until this flight lands.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Soft Touch” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution September 27

The three theme entries are SOFT in the middle, so to speak, as each is a three-word expression in the form “___S OF T___.”:

  • 20-Across: [Miniscule facts] are GRAINS OF TRUTH. For maximum nutritional value, they should be whole grains of truth. If the ingredient list on your loaf begins with “enriched white truth,” you can count on it being unhealthy.
  • 37-Across: [Idea sequences] are TRAINS OF THOUGHT. Mine get derailed all the time.
  • 48-Across: The [1990 Tom Cruise film] is DAYS OF THUNDER. As easy as it is for late-night hosts to skewer Cruise, you gotta admit that his portfolio of movies are generally quite strong. Days of Thunder, though, ranks close to the bottom on my list of Cruise’s best work.

The problem with a theme like this, in my view, is that it’s only workable by pluralizing expressions that are normally phrased in the singular. “Grains of truth” isn’t nearly as common as “grain of truth” (439,000 Google hits for the former versus 2.1 million Google hits for the latter) and “trains of thought” isn’t as common as “train of thought” (935,000 to 5.25 million). I’m not saying GRAINS OF TRUTH and TRAINS OF THOUGHT are invalid entries–I’m just saying that they are not nearly as common as their singular cousins, and that’s less optimal. During my solve, I resisted GRAINS only because I actually thought to myself, “No, it’s ‘grain of truth,’ not ‘grains.’” Same problem with the “trains” of thought (though I actually had CHAIN first, as I thought, not having glanced at the puzzle’s title, that maybe we were playing with the -AIN sound at the front of each theme entry).

Only Days of Thurnder feels like an unforced theme entry. I tried to come up with other unforced theme entry possibilities, but my list was limited to MEANS OF TRAVEL (a snore-fest of an entry), UNITS OF TIME (ditto), and RULES OF THUMB (but that’s the pluralization problem again). While it would seem like this kind of theme should yield dozens of possible entries, an appropriate insistence on sticking with the more common form of an expression wipes many of them off the list.

Okay, that’s enough dumping on the theme. The fill has some really nice parts, and they merit mention too. From the It’s-Always-Nice-to-See-Full-Names Department comes ANAIS NIN, the ["Henry & June" author]. I’m guessing many in my age cohort were first “exposed” to Nin through the Henry & June movie, the first NC-17 film I ever saw (and I think the first NC-17 film with a wide theatrical release). Then there’s EYE TEETH, ST. THOMAS, and PONZI schemes, all of which add a nice kick. Always one to appreciate the mash-up of crossword-ese, I was tickled by the crossing of EERIE and ERIE in the southeast corner.

I seem to have a hard time remembering PULE, here clued as [Whimper], even though it sounds an awful lot like “P.U.” when spoken. My favorite clues were [Cry from the Black Pearl] for AHOY, [Two in a row?] for OARS, and [Porgy and bass] for FISH. The one clue I didn’t like so much was [Yankees, to the Red Sox] for OPPONENT. RIVAL, yes. But mere opponent?  That seems a little too loosey-goosey. A qualifier at the end like “at least 9 times a season” might have helped.

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13 Responses to Tuesday, 9/27/11

  1. pianoman1176 says:

    Came in over average on the NYT today… 7’18″ alas. I *think* DIGITAL YEARBOOK was in the incredible Flag Day puzzle of Mr. Heaney from June 2010. Perhaps that’s why it came so quickly, because I certainly hadn’t otherwise heard of it. Not one of my fave puzzles in recent memory, though I thought METIME popped.

  2. Rihat says:

    not only is peter collins overplayed recently, but he must be the most prolific creator of mediocre puzzles. his star ratings on here are consistently bad, for example.

  3. pannonica says:

    re: Jonesin’: The little on-screen network logo—usually in the lower right—is called a “bug,” which is not terribly exciting as crossword fill.
     
     
     
     
     
     
                                                                                                         p™

  4. Todd G says:

    I recently submitted a nation-themed puzzle to Will. Mine is a Sunday, and my theme answers are quite different, but I used 3 of the same countries as Pete did.

    I guess it’s a small world after all. (Ouch! That hurt.)

  5. Gareth says:

    Amen for a tough NYT Tuesday!!! I’ve seen this theme a few times, so that wasn’t hard to spot, but the clues felt uniformly a bit tougher than a typical Tuesday. When I read 66A, I thought of baseball, but went with haloeS anyway, because the “Guardian” part didn’t fit in my mind. I remember TRIS, but not ODOM from my cache of cruciverbally-useful-baseballers. Had the TOOMuch you mentioned – actually I can’t see anything wrong with TOOFEW myself… I’m willing to bet the farm I’m not the only one who had prIMAL before ANIMAL!! My scowl-o-meter was also screaming at me, but PIPIT was a big smile: they’re common LBJs (little brown jobs) here, a nightmare to identify!

    LAT: I thought it was a really clever theme! Unique, and pretty cool to find idiomatic complaints that can make up a puzzle. It may help that I’ve never experienced any of those: I guess our airline industry is a lot smaller and thus easier to manage… The only problem I’ve ever had in tons of flights is being double-booked once… Had baGGAGE before LUGGAGE, which means my “Dolls’ dates” turned up as GaYS!! Very sporting of them! Thank you for pointing out REQ, Q felt crammed in there!

  6. Gareth says:

    Aside: According to Jim Horne’s stats (http://www.xwordinfo.com/AuthorByYear) this puzzle allows Peter A. Collins to pull one ahead of Patrick Berry, with Ian Livengood two off in third. Way more exciting that horse racing!

  7. Jenni says:

    Yah, probably a bit harder than an average Tuesday, but didn’t slow me down much. Really didn’t like CHICKEN YARD, and I’ve never heard of a DIGITAL YEARBOOK, either. Also really not pleased with AMINOS, which is never used as a plural in that way. All in all, a meh.

  8. pannonica says:

    Jeffrey: I’ve come up with SANDS/MISTS OF TIME, [THE] SIRENS OF TITAN, AND MOUNTAINS OF THINGS.

    The bad news: The first is too short, the second is a partial of Vonnegut’s title, and the third was a minor hit song for Tracey Chapman in the 1980s, probably too long ago to be relevant.

    The good news: They’re all totally kosher in my new wabi-sabi Weltbild.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    @pannonica – I think you mean Sam.

  10. ArtLvr says:

    PAIGOW, bigad! I grew up in games-mad family, from cards and charades and chess to jigsaws and name-the-state-capitals around the dinner table after everyone was a Ghost, even tried Go while in grad school — but I never came across that Chinese game! WOTD

  11. pannonica says:

    Jeffrey: I sure did. Wires crossed, for sure. Sorry!

  12. Karen says:

    In the NYT’s lower left, I crossed my pewits and pipits to get PEPITS at the dreaded enured/inured cross. Aagh.

    I’ve never heard of ROPE RUG before either; apparently people recycle climbing ropes into floor coverings.

  13. Jamie says:

    This is the the second NYT crossword to which I have given the dreaded two stars in eighteen months. It was atrocious and we don’t know whether to blame the constructor or the editor. Amy has explained all the problems better than I.

    But, always glad to reiterate, as the constructor did: Pipits, Rope Rug (WTF), ERN, EENSY, ESE, INURED, EEO, HST, NAST, ODOM, CEE, EDS, KATS, etc.

    It astonishes me that this was NYT-worthy. Seriously, Shortz.

    Also, I regret that I didn’t give it a one-star rating. I really do. I think Amy described the one-star rating as something that should not happen in a respectable crossword source.

    That describes this puzzle.

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