Friday, 12/2/11

NYT 5:58 
LAT 5:03 
CS 4:22 (Sam) 
CHE 7:16 (pannonica) 
WSJ (Friday) 7:30 

A couple solving-software tips to share:

If you’ve got a .puz file but you are on a computer without Across Lite (perhaps as a houseguest in an Across Lite–free domicile), you can drop a .puz file onto Derek Slager’s webpage (using an HTML5-savvy browser—Google Chrome 4 or Mozilla Firefox 3.6 or better) and voilà, the puzzle’s on the webpage for solving.

Tyler Hinman guest-blogged for Rex Parker last night and touted a solving program called XWord. His answer grid looks lovely, and the XWord site says the app can read .puz, .jpz, and other puzzle file formats; it also supports rebuses, diagramlesses (I think it even lets you fill in letters and black squares on your computer), and “trick” puzzles. I think it’s Windows-only at the moment but that a Mac version is coming out soon.

Ed Sessa’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 12 2 11 1202

Did you notice how the STABLE BOYS are on HORSE SENSE down in Equine Corner?

Kind of an oddball themeless, and rather challenging for a Friday puzzle. It could pass for Saturday.

My impressions:

  • Pardon me, Dr. Sessa, but—ORTHOPTICS? I see that this is a word, but it’s not one I have encountered in my years of medical editing, not even when I worked on that ophthalmology book series. [Field of vision?] is a solid clue for it, but the answer strikes me as obscure.
  • O-o-o-old geographical terms. ANGLIC, [Old English]? It’s not in the dictionary I checked, and I wanted the plural people, ANGLES. Then there’s the [Ancient French region] of ALSATIA, old Latin for Alsace. And while we’re at it with old adjectives ending with -ic that cry out for further suffix action, how about BENEFIC, [Of some good]? Dictionary has two labels for the word: “rare” and “astrology.”
  • Let’s everybody stigmatize mental illness today. [Whack jobs] = PSYCHOS, [Crackers] = NUTSY. (Kinda thought the NYT was a little more sensitive than that.)
  • Some of the fill skewed mid-20th century to me: MITZI Gaynor, MOGAMBO, SNCC, the OSS, ungainly plural CYS ([Composer Coleman and others]), GO-GO boots, EZIO Pinza, and Goldie HAWN from back when she was 24.
  • Favorite clue: 24d: ["She turned me into a NEWT!": Monty Python].
  • Northfield, Minnesota, shout-out: [Coll. founded by Norwegian immigrants] is ST. OLAF, across the Cannon River from Carleton.

Let’s call it…three stars.

Michael Yanagisawa’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 12 2 11

Took me way too long to understand what the theme was doing—changing SH- words to S- words, with a variety of spelling changes:

  • 18a. [Restraints to prevent the eating of forbidden fruit?] might be SIN SPLINTS. Is that the best sin we can come up with? This is one of three theme answers (the others are 29a, 44a) in which an H is deleted (from shin splints), plain and simple.
  • 23a. Shanghai changes spelling radically to become SANG HIGH, or [Crooned while tipsy?]. I might’ve gone with a falsetto clue here.
  • 29a. [Resistant to punches?] is SOCK PROOF.
  • 36a. [Scary place to pray?] clues SURLY TEMPLE (Shirley Temple). Uh, buildings can’t be surly.
  • 44a. [Actor Holbrook under the weather?] is SALLOW HAL. Shallow Hal is a not-very-good movie.
  • 53a. [Underwater menace?] clues SEA DEVIL (she-devil).
  • 60a. [Rooster that doesn't wake you up?] is a SUBTLE COCK (shuttlecock). Heh. And people snickered at BONER in the NYT the other day.

Seven theme entries in a 15×15 is a lot, of course. Does the fill suffer as a result? Hmm, maybe. I wasn’t expecting 26a: [Sleep: Pref.] to end with an I, in SOMNI. I TO, EEE, A CLIP, IS A, APER, EFS, KEMP, and YEH left me cold, or at least lukewarm.

Good stuff:

  • 11d. DON’T MOVE, [Cop's order].
  • 41d. LACQUER, a [Strong finish?].
  • 36d. SYLLABLE, [One of seven in this clue]. Did you do what I did and hunt for a letter that showed up seven times in that clue?
  • 45d. [Younger, as a sister] is a great clue for LITTLE.

Three stars.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Mineral Deposits” — pannonica’s review

CHE crossword 12/02/11 • "Mineral Deposits" • Wechsler • solution

Here we have a very fun two-way rebus puzzle, in which the squished fill appears in one form for the across answers and in an alternative form for the downs. As the central spanning clue (which I didn’t read while solving because the print in AcrossLite was too small to bother with) and answer explain:

  • 33a. [What's been deposited in four squares of this puzzle, expressed both by name and symbol] METALLIC ELEMENT. So that’s the sort of mineral described in the title. Even without the benefit of reading the clue, it didn’t take me too long to figure out the clever gimmick, although as you can see from the lovely Xs the solution grid, my choice of favoring the verticals and using the atomic symbol didn’t satisfy AL. Hang on… Okay! A little experimentation reveals that the only acceptable fill is the full element name; neither the first letter of the symbol nor the first letter of the name work.

On to the other four:

  • 17a [First-grade subject] / 8d [Actress who famously said, "Acting is the perfect idiot's profession"] SIMPLE ADDITION / HEPBURN. That’s lead and Pb (from the Latin plumbum).
  • 26a [Popular Bach piece] / 2d [In perpetuity] AIR ON A G STRING / FOR LIFE. Iron and Fe (Latin ferrum).
  • 42a [Historical period founded by Kublai Khan] / 37d [One born looking "like a hairy garment"] MONGOL DYNASTY / ESAU. Gold and Au (Latin aurum).
  • 56a [Troops also called skirmishers] / 49d ["__ That a Time" (Weavers song)] LIGHT INFANTRY / WASN‘T. Tin and Sn (Latin stannum).

Super theme, heroic and nearly perfect execution. Allow me to dissect:

  • First, how great and how difficult was it to find four solid, strong pairs of words or phrases in which each contains the full name of an element—let alone a specific type of element—and the two-letter symbol (all of the ones in this puzzle are two letters)? Not to mention that the two pairs of acrosses, for symmetry’s sake, were required to be of equal length?
  • Further, in each across the element name is spread over two words, whereas each down answer contains the symbol in its one word (including one contraction)!

And now for the criticisms, in increasing order of reasonableness:

  • Wouldn’t it have been even more amazing if the rebus squares (and hence the crossing vertical themers) were also symmetrically arranged?
  • Three of the four elements names are four letters long, and just one is three letters long.
  • Speaking of that three-letter metal, tin, it shouldn’t have been repeated in the answer to 24-down [Recycling-bin items] TIN CANS. Because it lies dead-center in the puzzle, I considered that it might be part of the theme, but I simply can’t see any way that it is. I realize an alternative fill would be difficult, as it crosses a lot of the immutable theme entries. Fiddling around, I came up with an adequate replacement of the center to mid-upper right section, but it would also require a radical reworking of the lower left corner, which I didn’t pursue.

Anyway, in the grander scheme of the puzzle, these complaints are minor. Oh, by the way, there are 90 theme squares in this puzzle. Ninety. With that amount of content, you’d think the rest of the puzzle would be filled with short fill and have an astronomical CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials), but you’d be wrong. Behold! Meaty eight-letter triple stacks in the NE and SW! (EMIGRATE|EMOTICON|TENEMENT and MUSCULAR|ESPOSITO|TEENAGER—all single words!) Even the six-letter triple stacks in the other two corners are none too shabby. It’s probably fortuitous rather than intentional, but it’s nifty that OSCARS at 43d balances out HEPBURN. Though they’re completely unrelated, something about the symmetrical pair of OTHELLO and SLURPEE makes me smile. One last note: I’m pretty sure that the clue for 39a USERS should have read [Manual readers, supposedly].

An excellent puzzle.

Updated Friday morning:

Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Rough Seas” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, December 2

Is the room spinning or is it just me?  Perhaps I have 54-Across, MOTION SICKNESS. You know, that [Feeling that might be brought on by the last word of 20-, 31-, or 38-Across]? Wait, what? You have to know what those last words are? Okay then:

  • 20-Across: A [Warning to a batter who's crowding the plate] is a BRUSHBACK PITCH. So imagine you’re on a boat.  If the bow and stern are dipping up and down, that’s pitch.  If you’re having problems already, please hang out by the railings.
  • 31-Across: A CALIFORNIA ROLL is a [Sushi bar selection]. Now imagine you’re on a plane. If the wings go down on one side and up on the other, you’ve got roll.  If the wings make one complete revolution, it’s called a “barrel roll.” Fortunately you don’t get that on most commercial flights, but there’s a little paper bag in the seat pocket in front of you just in case.
  • 38-Across: [The FBI's top targets] are enumerated on the MOST WANTED LIST. Okay, back on the boat!  If it leans to the side, you’ve got list (just like Santa, except the list is nearly always naughty and not nice).

On some rough seas, you might have a whole lotta pitch, roll, and list going on, and if it’s really bad, motion sickness might well be the least of your problems. Fortunately, the fill in today’s puzzle is much smoother. Having four 14s isn’t the easiest thing to deal with, but Doug makes it look effortless. Let’s go Amy style and highlight five clues:

  • C-PLUS is clued as a [So-so grade]. In a world of rampant grade inflation, today’s C-plus was 1990′s D-minus. In case you’re curious, A-plus now means “you did what you had to do but you’re nothing special,” A means “you didn’t really try, but I don’t want to have to deal with you so here, take this,” and A-minus means “you suck so bad I have no problem saying it to your face.” Obviously, B-plus is “how the heck did you get past second grade?” There is no conversion for grades of B and below because they aren’t given. Anyone is apparently entitled to a B-plus merely upon paying tuition. </rant>
  • I like ["Choice" role for Meryl] as the clue for SOPHIE. I’m guessing Doug had another equally good clue for the word but he was forced to pick just one.
  • BAKU is the [Capital of Azerbaijan]. I wonder if traveling from BAKU to L.A. involves a quantum leap? (To the three people who got that joke, you’re welcome.)
  • [Like some hot dogs] refers to ALL-BEEF. Here’s a helpful solving mnemonic: when the clue refers to hot dogs, it’s ALL-BEEF, and when it refers to Taco Bell tacos, it’s THIRTY-EIGHT-PERCENT-BEEF.
  • My first reaction on seeing the clue [Seller of EKBY JARPEN shelves]: “Gesundheit!”  Second reaction: “That can only be IKEA.”

Patrick Blindauer and Tony Orbach’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Entomology”

Wall Street Journal crossword solution, 12 2 11 "Entomology"

Aw, man, I was hoping for a bugs-’n'-science theme. Instead, it’s an “(e)N to M”-ology puzzle, where N’s in familiar phrases are changed to M’s:

  • 23a. [Ultimatum from a thirsty pirate?] = RUM FOR YOUR LIFE.
  • 28a. [Marceau very far from Earth?] = DEEP SPACE MIME. I could see this being more popular than terrestrial mimes.
  • 45a. [Title of Al Jolson's memoirs?] = THE MAMMY DIARIES.
  • 52a. [Manly greenside shots?] = MACHO CHIPS. As for the base phrase, you may be saying “but nachos are made with tortilla chips.” Don’t forget about the concessionaire’s round nacho chips served with cheezoid sauce. Those are a thing unto themselves.
  • 68a. [Toss a TV spokescat?] = CHUCK MORRIS.
  • 85a. [Where to store one's flat stones?] = SKIMMER BOXES. Stones?? Skimmers are shoes, silly. Like pumps, only they’re flats instead of heels.
  • 94a. [Do some slam-dancing?] = HAVE A LITTLE MOSH.
  • 106a. [Transmit cat calls?] = BROADCAST MEWS.
  • 117a. [Heating company owned by siblings?] = WARMER BROTHERS.

Despite the inclusion of nine theme entries—eight of which have some stacking overlap with other theme answers—Tony and Patrick (the Warmer Brothers of crossword construction!) have managed to include some terrific long fill too. ALFA ROMEO, the really-sort-of-a-partial-but-I-love-it UP TO HERE, ED MCMAHON, and POOL CUES. Just getting a few cool long answers into the fill will buy you a lot of forgiveness, as the solver will be less likely to focus on things like the ONEA/ANSE/ERNANI chunk.

Good to see 35d: TELLER clued as [Silent partner of magic] rather than as a bank employee. My son and I just started watching (via on-demand programming) Penn & Teller Tell a Lie (video starts playing with sound right away, but don’t you want to watch a clip or two?). In the show, P&T (not Patrick and Tony) present seven claims, only six of which are true. I was particularly fond of the floating dessert made with helium (true!).

3.5 stars. Didn’t move beyond liking the theme to loving it.

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15 Responses to Friday, 12/2/11

  1. Tuning Spork says:

    Too many “?”s, and very few anchors. I couldn’t tell what this puzzle wanted.

  2. cyberdiva says:

    Just a heads-up that although the links at the top to the NYT, LAT, and CS puzzle discussions work as they should, the link to the CHE puzzle goes instead to Thursday’s puzzle discussions.

  3. Gareth says:

    Promising debut(?) by Mr. Yanagisawa – agree some of the answers didn’t quite work but still an ambitious attempt!

  4. pannonica says:

    cyberdiva: Fixed! (sorry)

  5. Jon88 says:

    LAT theme is slightly flawed, alas. Six of the seven, after alteration, are punny, but SEA-DEVIL is a real thing. Not “wrong,” necessarily, but inelegant.

  6. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I just did the Wed. & Thurs. NYT’s. I confess to wondering if Rolf and Elizabeth were psuedonyms. (I had thought Elizabeth Long was actually Mike Shenk or Rich Norris, or someone else we know, but perhaps not.)

    Re Wed: 14a {Tuba sound} for ‘PAH’.–

    Many years ago, in the latter years of the Eugene Maleska tsardom, I submitted in writing two nits to him, both of which he acknowledged as errors (a rarity). I got a small certificate, “Suitable for Framing” (which I did, and still have), called the “Gotcha Award” (I initially mistyped “Botcha” which would have worked too.)

    The first of the two errors was the misspelling of the singular imperative French verb form “arrete.” in the grid. (He left off the final ‘e’.)

    The second was this: The clue for a nine-letter entry was {Tuba Sound}. The answer in the grid was OOMPAHPAH. I pointed out to him that the tuba only goes OOM, the *other* band instruments respond with PAHPAH. He acknowledged this (in the light of the fact that it is clearly correct.) So historical nits repeat themselves.

    Bruce

  7. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Bruce: “Alice Long” is a Shenk pen name (anagram of his college paper, the Collegian). I know of only one instance of a pen name being permitted in the NYT byline in the Shortz era so in general, one needn’t be suspicious that the NYT byline’s fake.

  8. ArtLvr says:

    Working on the NYT last night, I got SOCKPROOF, but some of the rest was too SUBTLE. Oh well… Waiting for comments on the WSJ tour de force by Blindauer & Orbach which I did this a.m. and found very amusing! My longest hang-up was on the “sidekick” clue — I really wanted the buddy of old J Edgar Hoover, but he didn’t fit. What a hoot!

  9. jason says:

    I was impressed by what seems clearly to be a first effort by Mr. Yanagisawa; certainly not flawless, but ambitious and entertaining; where doe all these new constructors come from?

  10. trey says:

    wsj friday. verrrry poor puzzle. theme was obtuse and many clues were a stretch.
    usually look forward to slugging it out, but this one sent me way to early to the solutions resources. gregg probably gave up early also.

  11. John Haber says:

    Seemed strange to me. Like the occasional Saturday that I don’t finish because of too much obscurity. I got pretty far with wild guesses but even then didn’t finish.

  12. ArtLvr says:

    I came back late, realizing I’d left the CHE undone… What a clever theme! And while the rebus squares aren’t exactly symmetrical, they do all lie in the longest across answers together with revealer, which just means you can’t play the game on symmetry alone. This degree of symmetry is fine with me, allowing a balancing degree of difficulty — if you can imagine it that way. And I think TIN CANS is acceptable, since the letters T-IN in LIGHT INFANTRY are not the same word, any more than the RING in G STRING would be considered the same word twice if RING were used elsewhere, or the STY in DYNASTY… One may greatly prefer not to use ATE-RATE-GRATE-MIGRATE along with EMIGRATE, but surely only the last would raise many eyebrows?

  13. pannonica says:

    ArtLvr: My criticism was not of the sequence of letters T-I-N so much as the duplication of a (component of a) theme answer, TIN.

  14. pauer says:

    Sorry you didn’t like it, trey, but just because it’s too (with two O’s) hard for you, doesn’t make it a poor puzzle. Better luck next time!

  15. Lois says:

    I enjoyed the NYT puzzle. Unfortunately, I changed nutso to nutty instead of nutsy, but I should have seen Alsace somehow. Didn’t realize I had a little advantage because of an interest in astrology.

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