Monday, 1/9/12

NYT 3:22 (pannonica) 
LAT 2:24 
CS 5:36 (Sam) 
BEQ untimed 

Michael Dewey’s New York Times crossword — pannonica’s review

NYT crossword • 1/9/11 • Mon • Dewey • 0109

Another Monday, another NYT debut.

Avian similes today. Each of which is new (at least for the NYT, according to XWordInfo.

  • 20a. [Soar] FLY LIKE AN EAGLE. “Doot-doot, doo.”
  • 38a. [Tell everything to the coppers] SING LIKE A CANARY. “I tawt I taw a teft!”
  • 51a. [Carefully guard] WATCH LIKE A HAWK. “           ”

Only three themers, but all are lengthy and solid. Perfectly fine, especially for an early week offering. Lovely, lovely long non-theme fill, with SCALAWAG and NEOPHYTE tops in length and appeal.  The CAP Quotient™ is low, with the worst being the abbrev. UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso), which always sounds as if it should be some lesser Egyptian demigod, and the partial RAN TO. Not bad at all.

I happened to be listening to this cultural snapshot while I was solving, so 1d ["The Three Little Pigs" antagonist] WOLF put a grin on my face.

The solve was fluid and easy even if the grid was a bit more fragmented than I care for. Not KNOTTY (47a) at all. Was surprised that XWordInfo (yes, that site again) revealed many of its characteristics (word count, open squares, average word length, Scrabble average, and Freshness Factor™) to be at mid-week level.

Was also pleasantly surprised at some of the clues, which did not seem typically Monday-ish to me. TORI as the plural of the geometric solid, rather than singer-songwriter Amos, or ‘actress’ Spelling.  The cross-referenced (if slightly inaccurate in one case) clues for DARWIN and ADAPT. The playful [One with a freezing point?] for ICICLE, by far my favorite clue in the puzzle. Cute that the last across clue is [Finishes] for ENDS.

Very fine Monday puzzle.

Updated Monday morning:

Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Pay to Play” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, January 9

Letter-addition themes may be the second-oldest gimmick in the book, that book being The Encyclopedia of Crossword Themes. (The oldest, I imagine, is “hey, look, these terms have something in common,” as in THE SUN ALSO RISES, OLD MAN AND THE SEA, and ERNEST HEMMINGWAY–commonly cited for its triteness.) Letter-addition themes can rise from 2- and 3-star puzzles to 3- and 4-star puzzles chiefly through one of two techniques: (1) a complicated letter addition, such as adding a rare letter like Q or a series of letters like J-A-B in a puzzle called “Add a Little Punch;” or (2) the use of super-entertaining theme answers.

In my view, the second technique is harder to use than the first, for what qualifies as “entertaining” really is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve had at least a half dozen submissions rejected or returned for more work because of one or two theme entries that were my favorites but ones the editors obviously didn’t like.

One of the things I admire most about Doug Peterson as a constructor is that he can take a simple theme and deliver consistently entertaining results coupled with fun grids. Today’s puzzles is a good example. The four theme entries are common terms ending in words that start with P. He adds an L after the P each time (that’s how “pay” turns to play“) to get wacky new terms. Although the first one confused me, the other three were gold-star answers:

  • 17-Across: HAREM PLANTS are the [Greenery guarded by a eunuch?]. My problem here is that I wasn’t familiar with the term “harem pants.” (I know them as “parachute pants,” thanks to M.C. Hammer.) So that made for a tough start.
  • 27-Across: Any confusion was instantly forgiven upon the discovery of AUSTIN PLOWERS, clued as [Some Texas farm hands?]. I’m not the biggest fan of the Austin Powers movies, but I thought this was some great wordplay.
  • 46-Across: Doug knows that I like the Black Eyed Peas (I commented favorably on his use of BOOM BOOM POW in a recent Sunday Challenge), but he may not know that I also like to eat the occasional black-eyed pea too. So I really liked the BLACK-EYED PLEA, the [Barroom brawler's court statement?]. I like how the best theme clue accompanies the best theme entry.
  • 61-Across: One [Bound for a scheming session?] can be said to be GOING TO PLOT, a play on the more lively “going to pot.”

Highlights in the fill include SOMEBODIES, the [Big shots], CHORUS GIRL, and the reasonably [Long odds] of ONE IN TEN. My favorite entry, though, was HOO BOY, a [Cry of exasperation] that I’ve been known to use after perusing a couple dozen clues on a Saturday puzzle only to have a still-empty grid. Is anyone issuing a demerit for ATE OUT and OUTLAW? In my mind, that’s not a duplication. But my mind is often lax.

I also liked the all-vowel string in OUI OUI, clued as ["Positively, Pierre!"]. That was about the only foreign word in the grid (unless you want to count the great MOMBASA or something like SIGMA or AULD that have been sufficiently grafted onto the English language), and all of the abbreviations are limited to very familiar terms like IOU and IDS. That’s just terrific fill for an early-week puzzle.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

BEQ #400 answers

If you missed your chance to sponsor Brendan’s blog during the pledge drive (instead of a tote bag, donors received a 21×21 themeless puzzle, which was a fun solve), you can always use the “Tip your constructor” link on the site. This is his 400th puzzle for the blog! That’s like 10 books with 40 puzzles each. If you’re able to spare some change, I hope you’ve sent a little monetary good will Brendan’s way.

This grid pattern runs the risk of boring me, but only when the constructor fills it with a bunch of blah 7s. BEQ spices up the enterprise with these:

  • BON IVER with a band etymology clue crossing PBS hack painter BOB ROSS.
  • Chicken NUGGETS.
  • Slangy talk. “DO IT!” “NEGATORY. I REFUSE! GAH.” “I HEAR YA.” “YOU DO? HUNH.” “AYE.” See? The dramatic tension is all resolved by the end of the puzzle.
  • SPIDERS gets a Bowied-up clue, so it’s less creepy (tarantulas!) and less boring (isn’t there some sort of financial investment called a spider?).
  • HOME BREW gets the out-there clue, [Blonde you might keep in your basement for months]. This clue would be appalling if it evoked some name from the news, or if there were an 8-letter word for “victim of a sick abduction.” But I went straight for a blonde ale myself.

No idea what this LOB CITY thing refers to—[2011-12 L.A. Clippers team, affectionately]. But I was ready for it because Tyler Hinman had sent out a tweet asking when LOB CITY would appear in a crossword, and Brendan replied:

Four stars.

Timothy Meaker’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 1 9 12

Finally remembered this evening that even though the .puz file’s not posted at Cruciverb.com yet, there is a place to do this crossword without tussling with the new L.A. Times interface: the Chicago Tribune puzzle page.

The theme is a letter progression: Phrases starting with words that begin with B*TT march through the alphabet, filling the asterisked space with A, E, I, O, and U. BATTLE PLAN, BETTER HALF, BITTER END, BOTTOM LINE, BUTTER DISH. I got a stoneware butter dish as a wedding gift 20 years ago. I think it had been bought on clearance at T.J. Maxx, because the top isn’t perfectly symmetrical. I like the irregularity, which reminds me that building things out of clay is a messy proposition.

The four corners of the grid have bundles of 7-letter answers, and every one of those 7s is rock-solid. The clues were Monday-easy and I romped through the grid mostly using successive Down clues (the Trib crossword interface doesn’t make it as easy to change directions on the fly). The Down-heavy nature of my solve means I never even noticed the clunkiest Acrosses—ITER, ACEY, and APSE—until after I finished solving.

Theme that doesn’t confuse + easy clues + mostly smooth fill = a 4-star Monday puzzle.

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28 Responses to Monday, 1/9/12

  1. Martin says:

    Pannonica, even though RAN TO can be clued as a partial, it is also a phrase in itself. It is not a partial in this (very nice Monday) puzzle.

    -MAS

  2. pannonica says:

    Martin, it still feels like a partial. Kind of like OPTS TO—which I called a ‘quasi-partial’—from last week’s Tausig, and of which Todd G. wrote, “on page 136 of Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies, the estimable Patrick Berry discusses OPT TO under the header ‘Verb phrases that aren’t.’”

    I don’t have that book and wonder if RUN TO appears in the same section.

  3. Martin says:

    OPT TO may very well be a verb phrase that “isn’t”, but RUN TO/RAN TO is a verb phrase that “is”. :-)

    Also, RAN TO can be defined precisely without a FITB clue. OPT TO cannot.

    -MAS

  4. pannonica says:

    The clue in the Tausig puzzle for OPTS TO was [Decides one will], not a fill-in-the-blank.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    I have the book. SEE TO and COME TO are cited as examples where the verbs take on new meanings, but OPT TO doesn’t. RAN TO would be one of the former.

  6. MD Solver says:

    What on earth is wrong with OPTSTO, aside from being slightly awkward in spoken English? It is a completely familiar transitive verb phrase.

  7. Daniel Myers says:

    Agreed MD Solver, for my part anyway. But, there are many here who, if not exactly obsessed, are partial to partials. It’s really not my part to, hm, speak to the matter. But I’m bored, and it’s Monday.

  8. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Some day I may get over being shocked and stunned, but this time–I was still shocked and stunned. Yesterday I was mindlessly spinning TV channels and came across a quiz show whose premise was evidently to give adult celebrities the opportunity to make fools of themselves answering questions from elementary school textbooks. It didn’t take long.

    The protagonist was the redoubtable Regis Philbin. The first question I witnessed was “What language was routinely spoken in ancient Rome?” He had a choice among a) Greek, b) Latin and c) Italian. He mused “well I don’t think it’s Greek, but between the other two–I’m not sure. He ended up passing on the question.

    The second question was in the “vocabulary” category: “What is the ordinal of ten?” Regis got a glazed look, and said “Ordinal” Now there’s a word I’ve never heard of.” The kid he was paired with rapidly wrote the answer on his screen (correctly, it turned out.)

    I suppose one should respect someone for being willing to go in public and put himself on the line like that, (and yes, I can imagine myself doing something equally embarrassing.) But for someone with a lively, articulate, witty TV personality (though hardly charming), who one assumes received a decent education several decades ago–Yes, I was shocked.

    Bruce

  9. Doug P says:

    Sam, thanks for the Hammer video. This is who I most closely associate with harem pants.

    @MD Solver – One of the problems with OPTS TO is that it’s very difficult to clue without using the word “to” in the clue. I’ve yet to see a clue for it other than “Decides one will.” Can you think of another option that doesn’t use “to”?

  10. Richard the Deadhead says:

    Regarding the BEQ puzzle and the question about “lobcity,” Blake Griffin of the Clippers is well known (at least among bball fans) for spectacular dunks from lob passes. However, I had never heard this term before and finished the SE portion last. Thus, my interest in basketball did not help me.

  11. Lois says:

    Ordinals: A lot of people have trouble with those, aside from knowing the terms ordinal and cardinal. I’ve worked with several people who were bewildered because 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th worked but not 1th, 2th and 3th – that is, they didn’t notice anything strange when those appeared in print, and didn’t understand the explanation of why that was wrong.

    Going back to “opt to” – I never participated in the original discussion, and I’m not sophisticated about those construction issues, but I agree with MD Solver. “Opts to” works for the clue “Decides one will,” and “opts” does not. As for Doug P’s reply, that’s the point. If the clue would use the word “to,” as in “chooses to,” that would show that “opts to” is not an answer one would want to use. Because one can use the phrase “Decides one will,” it seems to me “opts to” can be OK.

  12. Gareth says:

    Pretty tidy NYT debut! Also enjoyed the Doug Pleterson puns especially AUSTINPlOWERS! Has anyone seen the LAT .puz file?

  13. MD Solver says:

    @Doug P. Seconding Lois here. If there is a reasonable and correct clue (even just one) for a given entry, then that’s enough. OPTSTO is not an entry I would especially care to see all the time, but if it comes up now and then I see no objection to it on lexical or grammatical grounds. It isn’t quasi-anything. It isn’t “isn’t” anything, other than lively.

    Nice puzzle, by the way, Doug!

  14. Doug P says:

    @Lois & MD – I’m fine with “Decides one will” as a clue for OPTS TO. I’d put OPTS TO in a category with ALAI, IRAE, etc. That is, entries with limited cluing options. They’re OK in a pinch.

  15. HH says:

    @Bruce — The non-celebrity contestants on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” are considerably better at the game than the celebs. But of courese, there are no smart celebrities.

    And remember, Regis hosted “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” — he didn’t have to know the answers there.

  16. mememe says:

    Regarding the BEQ puzzle…Why does “like a happy camper” lead to “in drag”???

  17. mememe says:

    oh like campy…now i see!

  18. Daniel Myers says:

    Options for clues for OPTS TO sans “to”: “chooses/selects/picks (etc.) as a course of action”, “decides upon doing”, “acts on a choice”,…….I don’t know. I’m emphatically NOT, nor ever shall be, a Constructor and have no idea whether the above would pass editorial muster. But, as a solver, they seem fine to me.

  19. joon says:

    i’m in the berry camp when it comes to OPTS TO vs RAN TO. what i don’t like about OPTS TO is that the actual lexical unit is OPT (or OPTS), and the “to” is really just there as part of the following verb (now that’s what i call a split infinitive): in the phrase “she opts to participate”, would you say that the “to” goes with “opts” or with “participate”? another way of looking at it: “opt to” does not have its own dictionary entry the way “run to” or “come to” (or even “opt out”) does.

    as for the common clue {Decides one will}, i don’t think it passes the substitution test. it’s a solvable clue, due both to its familiarity and general proximity to the answer, but it’s not actually correct. that’s not the fault of the clue—i don’t think that you really can write a clue for OPTS TO that follows the usual rules. that’s why i’m against it as an answer.

    as for LOB CITY, the term originated with the reaction of blake griffin upon being informed last month that the clippers had traded for chris paul. griffin and his frontcourt mate deandre jordan were both in the top 3 in the NBA last year in dunks, so “lob city” was perhaps a reasonable expectation for what might result from teaming them with the NBA’s best point guard. it has kinda-sorta caught on among NBA fans as a nickname for this year’s clippers.

  20. Daniel Myers says:

    @joon-Yes, well, of course, grammatically, as well as lexicographically, you’re spot-on. But, if you pit yourself against all answers/clues that fail to follow the “usual rules”, then, as you well know, things will start to become rather daunting towards the end of the week.

    In any event, I was merely picking up the gauntlet which Doug P. has thrown down. I don’t really have a strong opinion on the subject, merely indulging in a little wordplay.

  21. Tuning Spork says:

    @Joon, I think you’re right that it doesn’t pass the substitution test in normal conversation.

    “Opts to lob the ball” seems fine as a substitute for “decides one will lob the ball”. But I’d call both of these disembodied phrases that don’t even qualify as sentence fragments.

    If we take a headline — say, “Gonzalez opts to stay with Falcons another season” — and substitute it with “Gonzalez decides one will stay with Falcons another season”, we have a mess.

    In the context of a complete sentence, it’s hard to come up with a substitution other than something out of a poorly written users manual like, say, “If one [opts to/decides one will] clean the blades of one’s plastics grinder, be sure one unplugs it, first.”

    Also, excellent point about splitting an infinitive. The “to” in OPTS TO belongs to the next verb and is not a self-contained verb phrase in the way that RAN TO and DRINK TO are.

  22. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I finally opted to do the LA Times puzzle at the Chicago Tribune site: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/games/chi-sa-crossword-htmlpage,0,4198286.htmlpage

    Hoping the LAT .puz files will find their way home by tomorrow.

  23. Daniel Myers says:

    May I briefly adduce that whilst joon’s point about the infinitive may be brilliant, he is only whimsically referring to it as a “split infinitive”.

    Example of a split infinitive:

    to poorly navigate – The infinitive “to navigate” is split by the adverb “poorly.”

    For the record, I have no problem with most split infinitives in English. In Romance languages, the infinitive – being one word – is impossible to split.

    But you are no doubt aware of this, Spork, and joon’s point is well made that the “TO” in OPTS TO is invariably the first part of an infinitive belonging to another verb. Having conceded all this, I’m still inclined to say, “So what?”

    He who opts to play substitution games is apt to find them tricky.

    One who decides one will play substitution games is apt to find them tricky.

    He who decides he will play substitution games is apt to find them tricky.

    The whole pronoun issue here in a non-issue, as most people recognize statements or phrases with “one” in them as GENERAL phrases or statements which, when converted into PARTICULAR phrases or statements are replaced by “he”, “she” or “it”.

    I think I’ll end the evening by watching Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing.

  24. Jamie says:

    @Bruce N. Morton: I’m posting this late, but prepare to be shocked and stunned. I couldn’t have answered that question about the ordinal of ten either. I can solve all the crosswords here, except when BEQ goes all-out new-music on me. I’m not illiterate.

    The word ordinal has never cropped up in my fifty+ decades on this earth. Instead of mindlessly spinning through TV channels, I read books.

  25. backbiter says:

    I went to the Chicago Times link to do the L.A. Times crossword. It’s the exact same flash interface the LAT has always had. Not counting recently when they changed it around.

  26. Tuning Spork says:

    LAT .puz file is up at Cruciverb now. Woo hoo!

  27. This is one awesome blog.Really thank you! Will read on…

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