Wednesday, 10/5/11

Onion 5:38 
NYT 3:46 
LAT 3:17 
CS 6:27 (Sam) 

Hearty congratulations to Joon Pahk on his second straight Jeopardy! win today! If you weren’t already impressed with the breadth of Joon’s knowledge, surely you are now.

Barry Boone’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 10 5 11 1005

Similar to yesterday’s theme by Dan Feyer, this one’s got a bunch of short thematic bits strewn throughout the grid rather than having a handful of long answers. DOUBLE A, which is a more minor minor league than Triple A, is represented by six AA rebus squares. The zippiest AA crossing pairs AFRIK{AA}NS with M{AA}LOX, while IZ{AA}K/S{AA}R hits the nadir. SAL{AA}M is solid, but AN{A A}LICIA of Falcon Crest? I know the name only from crosswords—Wikipedia tells me that she’s only 54 but has largely been out of the public eye for the past couple decades. Meh. C{AA}N/SE{A A}IR, S{AA}B/B{AA}ED, and N{AA}N/TE{A A}CT round out the theme.

There are some long Downs, but ITERATION and SEGREGATE just say “boring long word derived from Latin.” Would’ve been nice to sneak in a sparkly phrase here. X-GAMES is good, though. The big mystery word in the grid is 4d: VARESE, a [City or lake in northern Italy]. The city has only 82,000 people! Am I the only one who would have found record label Varèse Sarabande a more accessible way of cluing this? Because I needed every crossing to get the geography answer.

3.25 stars.

Byron Walden’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword solution, 10 5 11 Byron Walden

All righty, I solved this puzzle while drinking wine, so please pardon me if I mangle the blogging thereof. There are three theme answers formed by appending NO to the beginning of three entirely unrelated phrases. The NO parasitically attaches itself to the beginning of each phrase’s first word, breaking the word in two:

  • 24a. [Statement after Vietnamese emperor Bao Dai's abdication in 1945?] combines NO and Who’s the Boss? into NOW HO’S THE BOSS. Ho… Ho… Ho Chin Minh, I presume?
  • 33a. ["Try this snack - you'll get smarter!"?] negates a “shit for brains” and gives us NOSH IT FOR BRAINS.
  • 45a. [Rock 'n' roll legend with innovative pet therapies?] is a NOVEL VET ELVIS.

Kind of a fun and unexpected theme, NO?

The 72-word grid would make the cut for a themeless puzzle, and there are plenty of long answers wedged in here—the CAVENDISH banana, phrasal AVERAGE OUT, EXTRA SAUCE (which is a good thing on pizza), golf’s FEDEX CUP, poppy “RICO SUAVE.”

Five favorite clues:

  • 26a. [Mature parties?] are ADULTS. ORGIES AT “THE VILLAGES” IN FLORIDA wouldn’t fit.
  • 53a. Our [Beret-topped "What's Happening!" character] is RERUN. Yay, late ’70s TV! Rerun was much beloved. I do need to point out the typo in that clue. The show’s title is What’s Happening!!, with two exclamation points.
  • 5d. [Mail man?] clues KNIGHT, as in someone wearing chain mail.
  • 41d. [Message spelled out by punked Harvard fans at the 2004 Harvard-Yale football game] clues WE SUCK. (Did you guess that Byron has a degree from Yale?)
  • 52d. [Androgynous-looking kids] are EMOS. I was totally thinking of actual children rather than emo teens with skinny jeans and hair flopping over their eyeliner.

In the “this is the Onion, we can get away with this” vein, we have drugginess (UP IN/SMOKE, NARCS who are [E-tailers?] on the tail of people selling E) and male-oriented lewdness (morning WOOD, a ROD, a RODEOS clue about “staying up”).

Isn’t Mike ROWE of Dirty Jobs more famous than Michael Jackson’s ex, Debbie ROWE? He’s certainly more attractive to me.

Four stars.

Clive Probert’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 10 5 11

This one’s slightly reminiscent of the recent “air travel woes” theme, isn’t it? The theme entries are vexing things that keep some people (not me) up at night:

  • 17a. [Honk ... honk ... honk ...] goes the AUTOMOBILE ALARM. “Car alarm” is more in the language, but an 8-letter theme answer wasn’t going to work here.
  • 27a. [Woof ... woof ... woof ...] go the BARKING DOGS.
  • 42a. [Drip ... drip ... drip ...] goes a LEAKY FAUCET.
  • 54a. And a GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP is [What you'll get as a result of 17-, 27- or 42-Across? Not!]. Before I read the “not!” part, I put in A BAD NIGHT’S SLEEP, which…does anyone say that? I’m not sure.

This theme might also have considered including neighbors playing their music loud or having a party, but it’s hard to convey that by repeating the same word three times.

The grid’s notable for having a pair of 9′s in the northwest and southeast quadrants. My favorite of the 9′s is 2d: “BLUE BAYOU,” the [Roy Orbison song that was a top ten hit for Linda Ronstadt].

Two Jane Austen references! 10a: EMMA was a [1996 title role for Gwyneth], and 30a: LYDIA is the [Youngest "Pride and Prejudice" Bennet sister]. Heidi KLUM, Doris Day of “Que SERA Sera” fame, MARGE Simpson, STES, and “Ave MARIA” provide the other estrogenic answers today, offsetting ROMEO, LEAR, GUYS, Marcel MARCEAU, Dan’l BOONE, Josh GROBAN, Bret Easton ELLIS, LEON Spinks, Mr. MAGOO, THOR, and Eric UTNE ring in the for the fellas. Dang, the menfolk outnumber the women yet again.

3.5 stars. Fun theme.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Posturing” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution October 5

Here’s a very interesting crossword from Bruce Venzke. The theme is very simple: four expressions, each starting with an adjective that can also be a verb describing one’s posture:

  • 21-Across: A [Defenseless target] is a SITTING DUCK.
  • 25-Across: The [Start of an ancient Chinese saying] is CROUCHING TIGER. The rest, of course, is “hidden dragon.” Anyone else think of those old Calgon commercials upon seeing the phrase “ancient Chinese?” I don’t think you would see an ad campaign like that today.
  • 45-Across: [Permanent rules of military conduct] are known as STANDING ORDERS.
  • 51-Across: I didn’t know that a [Mass transit vehicle with adjustable door height] is a KNEELING BUS. I wonder if that was the seed for this particular theme.

This is probably the right level of difficulty, though it could have been spiced up a little if the clues referred to verb forms of the first words. I’m thinking that a clue like [Bench-warmer on the University of Oregon sidelines?] for SITTING DUCK or ["Pop tall!" and "Get up!", e.g.?] for STANDING ORDERS could add a little more depth albeit at the cost of a little more complexity. I’m not faulting Venzke, as the target demographic for the CS puzzle is the newer solver who likes easier puzzles. I’m just noting that by re-framing the clues you can get a slightly harder puzzle that fans of word-play might like.

There’s also a noticeable mix of sparkly and starchy fill. On the sparkly side there’s the Nintendo GAME BOY, JET LI, RENT-A-WRECK, and the great NILES CRANE (the last two stacked with theme entries, leading me to think at first that they too were theme entries somehow). On the empty-calorie front, there’s OBIS, OTIC, E.LEE, CMDR, and ILE. Eww. I’m not sure what to think of K-TEL and K-CAR in the same grid, but I’m leaning toward liking it.

I liked the intersecting entries with the same [Bounder] clue, CAD and RASCAL. When I toggled between the clues on my computer I thought there must have been an error when the clue did not change. On a related note, check out the [Bounders], ROUES, on the other side of the grid.

My only trouble spot was the answer to 10-Down, the [Johnson & Johnson product]. With BAND- in place, I confidently plunked down BAND-AID. The second A worked to end NORA Ephron, but it left me with TII toward the end of CROUCHING TIGER, to say nothing of the ID- start to the [Republic founded in 1836]. Idaho? No, it had to be TEXAS. Figuring I misspelled the brand name, then, I tried BAND-ADE, even though that didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the answer was BANDAGE, which to me is the generic term for the product. Looking back, I don’t like the clue. With the specific reference to Johnson & Johnson, I feel like the answer should have been to the brand name, BAND-AID. It’s like using [Kimberly-Clark facial product] to clue TISSUES and not KLEENEX. Okay, maybe that’s not the best comparison. But you get the idea.

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11 Responses to Wednesday, 10/5/11

  1. ktd says:

    NYT: For VARESE why not just go with “Composer Edgar”? At least some portion of solvers who also listen to classical music could get this on its own. I heard the St. Louis Symphony perform a Varese piece a few years ago.

  2. larry says:

    Joon rightly (as a physics teacher) bet big on his ability to do s fairly simple arithmetic calculation in his head. Bravo.

  3. Aaron says:

    In my head, I was totally thinking — this is math, not trivia: you can bet it all. And then he did, and pulled it off under pressure, something that most Jeopardy players don’t seem to be able to do. (Better to go for broke in the categories you’re surer of, than to risk it in Final Jeopardy. Had that Stan Lee category had the Daily Double for me, I’d have gone all-in. Especially with those easy, easy questions, based only on the common FILM characters, not the deep library of comics — like Ravage 2099.) In other words: very nicely done, Joon.

  4. ArtLvr says:

    Thanks for the timely heads-up on the Jeopardy show — joon was awesome! As for the puzzles, I had some trouble with Byron’s, especially in the ANTI-ARAB area… Awful.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    True Daily Double (15 letters) will forevermore be referred to as a “joon”.

  6. joon says:

    i had a queasy moment in byron’s puzzle: baby mama _OWE crossing tool _OD. i went with hOWE/hOD. a hod is a tool, not that {Tool} would be a great clue for that. bowe, howe, lowe, rowe, and powe are all names of people i know (or know of), and bod/hod/lod/rod/pod are all legit crossword answers (though only hod has any connection to tools, at least that i could think of). that one hurt more than the WE SUCK jab.

  7. John Haber says:

    I got VARESE without too much trouble, partly from crossings that weren’t too hard and partly because, given the composer, it looked like it ought to be a word! Not great but not my biggest problem.

    I needed AFRIKAANS to stir for me enough memories to solve the punny MAALOX clue, and I needed the latter crossing to get X GAMES, which I don’t know. My other hard bit, was the crossings of “Falcon Crest,” Lewis, and Carquest (definitely not ringing a bell to this person in NYC = not auto country). Not having kids, the “Lion King” clue would be hard, too, for me except that it’s become crosswordese. And you normally don’t see the L’ as part of the arch’s name. Thus, that corner didn’t work for me, but done — and otherwise a puzzle with a very nice theme indeed.

  8. Jamie says:

    Ana Alicia? Please. That is inexcusable. Former actress on 30-yr-old soap?

  9. Alex Trebek (not really) says:

    joon is busting out all over — LOL!

  10. Martin says:

    Jamie:

    Falcon Crest was a prime-time show that ran for 9 seasons (1981-90). I think that makes it fair game. There’s way, way more obscure stuff referenced than this (even in theme clues) in NYT puzzles.

    -MAS

  11. John says:

    It’s not the height of the door that’s adjustable on a kneeling bus, it’s the height of the step up into the bus. The height of the door, which I take to mean the distance between the top of the door and the floor, remains constant.

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