Wednesday, 2/1/12

LAT 3:46 
NYT 3:01 
Celebrity untimed
CS 5:24 (Sam) 
Onion untimed 

Elizabeth Gorski’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 2 1 12 #0201

This theme is being pulled in two different directions. You’ve got the word ladder that goes from HAWK to HARK to HARE to CARE to CORE to COVE to LOVE to DOVE (hang on, there’s no reason to pass through LOVE since COVE to DOVE is a single-letter change), and the hawk/dove combo is referenced by the central answer, WAR AND PEACE. I don’t think anything’s added by plunking LEO TOLSTOY in random circled squares sprinkled throughout the grid, though. In fact, given that the applet’s “See Notepad” went nowhere, I tried eyeballing the shape you’d get if you connected those circles, to no avail. (Not quite a bird…) So I checked the PDF of the puzzle and found out it’s simply “the 10 circled letters, read from top to bottom, will spell a name associated with 39-Across.” Given that Tolstoy probably didn’t write about hawks and doves (what do I know? haven’t read him), it seems off-balance to drop him into the grid like that, WAR AND PEACE or no.

Now, before I had that middle answer, I had GREAT APES and THE DONALD and figured we were in for a helluva theme. But those aren’t thematic, alas.

I’m slightly put off by the randomness of the circled letters. How come the T at the beginning of TOLSTOY is in the same row as LEO’s O, instead of two rows down in row 9? The next O could be dropped to row 10, in either of two places. Plus, the instructions just say “read from top to bottom” and don’t tell you to read from left to right in the rows with more than one circled letter.

And then! The theme answers take up 43 squares, and the could-go-lots-of-places LEO TOLSTOY adds 10 more. Is that enough theme constraint to excuse ALENE YSER AGR KEAS TREO REATA MHOS? And what’s with the horrid crosswordese in the clue for OAR? [Item in a thole]! Is this supposed to be educational, so that the next time THOLE is in the grid (heaven forbid) with an oar-related clue, more people know it?

Also, the Palm TREO hasn’t been made since 2008. I think it’s time for this puppy to get purged from constructors’ word lists.

To end on a positive note, I do like RUBY RED (but not grapefruit), CHARLIE Brown, and PET PEEVE. Plus we get THA, clued as an [Article in rap titles]. That’s THA as used in five of Lil Wayne’s albums: Tha Block Is Hot, Tha Carter, Tha Carter II, Tha Carter III, and Tha Carter IV.

Three slightly mystified stars.

Doug Peterson’s Celebrity crossword, “Wayback Wednesday”

Celebrity crossword solution, 2 1 12

All righty! Today, we start blogging the Celebrity crossword, the easy-enough-for-newbies 13×13 pop-culture puzzle at PuzzleSocial’s Facebook app, Crosswords. I’m on the editorial team for the Celebrity crossword, so I won’t be giving star ratings.

Sports fans are in luck this week—Doug’s “Wayback Wednesday” theme is baseball-centric, and there’s still a “Sports Fan Friday” Celeb in another two days. The theme is nicknames of Yankees legends:

  • 18a. [Hall of Famer Babe Ruth's nickname: 3 wds.] is the SULTAN OF SWAT.
  • 31a. The YANKEE CLIPPER is [Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio's nickname: 2 wds.]. The word YANKEE in this answer is why the clues don’t mention that these three legends all played for the Yankees.
  • 43a. [Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig's nickname: 3 wds.] is THE IRON HORSE. No, I don’t know why THE is included in this one but not the other two. No, that’s not true: It’s included in this one so that the theme entries balance out symmetrically. It’s only mildly unsettling.

This puzzle was edited before the news broke about 15a: SEAL and Heidi Klum splitting up. I’m pretty sure the divorce isn’t final yet, so [Singer married to Heidi Klum] is probably legally correct.

The #1 highlight of this puzzle is 9d: BLOW POPS. Blow Pops! Those [Suckers with bubble-gum centers: 2 wds.] are second only to Tootsie Pops in the category of Suckers With Stuff Inside.

6d: EDEN could easily be clued with a Garden of Eden reference, but no. Doug went with [Barbara who starred in "I Dream of Jeannie"]. I learned from the old L.A. Crossword Confidential blog that Doug has a thing for Barbara Eden. (Also for Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched, if memory serves.)

Newer pop culture names in the grid include SURI Cruise, [Tom and Katie's daughter]; ELIN Nordegren, [Tiger Woods' ex-wife]; and MYA, [R&B singer who was a "Dancing with the Stars" runner-up]. Did you know these three names?

Robin Stears’ Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 2 1 12

Is this puzzle a debut? I’m not sure. It’s a cute, simple theme:

  • 17a. [Buzz-filled 2007 animated film] is BEE MOVIE. With Jerry Seinfeld.
  • 30a. [Betty White co-star in "The Golden Girls"] is the legendary BEA ARTHUR.
  • 43a. The B VITAMINS include [Biotin, thiamine et al.]. Niacin and riboflavin say “Don’t forget us!”
  • 57a. [Behave candidly] clues BE HONEST. That’s less of a “thing” than a phrase like the Boy Scouts’ “be prepared” so I’m not loving it.

Anyone have trouble at the crossing biblical names? 40a: SIMEON is [Brother of Judah], while 35d: [Biblical prophet: Abbr.] clues ISA., short for Isaiah. I think I’d have opted for a partial like [Patience __ virtue]—though not that exact phrase, as VIRTUE is in the grid clued as a [Basis of morality].

But wait! I just noticed that every clue in this puzzle starts with a B. Did you see that? This is why ISA gets the [Biblical...] clue. And that is why the clue for 15a: PITH felt off to me—[Bare bones] starts with B, whereas [__ helmet] and [White stuff inside citrus rind] do not.

The B thing explains the mystifying painting included in 31d: ["Belshazzar's Feast" painter Rembrandt van __] RYN. You ever heard of that painting? I’m betting there aren’t many more famous Rembrandt works that start with a B. If only he were Belgian rather than Dutch.

I don’t know why the TIDE is a [Bay of Fundy wonder]. Is the tide different there than in most other bays? Indeed: The Bay of Fundy has a high tidal range, a big drop between high and low tide. I’ll bet our Canadian readers knew this.

3.75 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “I Mean That Literally” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, February 1

I tend to be miserly with my 5-star ratings, as I understand it to mean “a puzzle I will remember for a long time.” It’s hard for an easy puzzle to be very memorable, and that’s probably for two reasons. First, I tend to remember the puzzles that, like a worthy adversary, put up just the right amount of resistance before finally yielding to my superior intellect (“Victory is mine!”). Second, easy puzzles typically don’t invoke much trickery or wordplay, so it’s hard for an easy puzzle to stand out from the crowd.

In my view, though, this Donna Levin crossword stands out. A great theme, terrific theme entries, and some creative clues all come together in this 5-star puzzle. Four common directives are clued as though they are demands from those who would mean them more literally (is there such a thing as “more literally”?):

  • 16-Across: Yes, this puzzle had me at DON’T TOUCH MY JUNK, as my Inner Beavis snickered in delight. You and I might mean it as a demand to leave stuff alone, but it has a different meaning as a [Demand from a germophobic Chinese boater?]. (“Junk” = Chinese ship, for those not in the know.)
  • 25-Across: When we say HELP YOURSELF, we mean “please, dive right in,” “don’t stand on ceremony,” or “I ain’t serving your sorry ass.” But it has a different connotation as a [Demand from a therapist?]
  • 42-Across: Sit a spell, relax for a moment, settle in, and TAKE A LOAD OFF. Inviting words, to be sure, unless they are a [Demand from a stevedore's boss?]. I once wrote a law school exam question about a hypothetical dock worker named Steve Dore. I’m convinced less than five percent of the students made the connection. I’m always better at getting my class to laugh at me instead of with me.
  • 56-Across: And here I thought those KEEP OFF THE GRASS signs were just about protecting the green spaces at parks. When seen as a [Demand from a substance abuse counselor?], they serve a second purpose as propaganda in the old “war on drugs.” Is that war over? Did we win?

The fill and clues did their share of the heavy lifting to make this puzzle a success. I liked both LOIS Lane and LANA Lang, [Clark's Metropolis crush] and [Clark's Smallville crush], respectively. Entries like FOUL UP, LAY BARE, and PART ONE add some pizzazz. MEDUSA, already a great entry, gets the red carpet treatment with the puzzle’s best clue, [Gorgon with a herpetologist as a hairdresser?]. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

I felt a little holy with MASS and LENT in the grid, but that’s just another example of paired entries that make for a more elegant construction. (Others may not care for it, but I loved the discord created from the crossing of ERIS, the [Goddess of discord], with EROS, the [Son of Aphrodite].) I was proud of myself for remembering SET as the answer to [{x, y, z}, for example], so there was even the sense of accomplishment during my solve. So it’s five stars from me. You?

Ben Tausig’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword solution, 2 1 12

Funky theme—there’s a REVOLVING DOOR in each of the theme entries, and you’ve got to complete the rotation in order to make sense of those answers:

  • 18a. MADE TO ORDER ([Customizable]) looks like MADETOOER until you see the D and R below the OO. You have to circle through OORD to come out on the other side of that revolving DOOR and finish the answer.
  • 23a. [They're used to cook chicken tikka] clues TANDOORI OVENS. I knew it had to be TANDOORS, TANDOOR OVENS, or TANDOORI OVENS, but the letter count was off for all of those options. This was the first theme answer I hit, and it vexed me mightily until the light dawned. TANDOIOVENS just looks crazy.
  • 53a. Yum, SNICKERDOODLE! It’s a spiced [Sugar cookie]. Did you know that last year’s Girl Scout cookies, taken out of the freezer yesterday, are still delicious? I need to clear out the frozen Tagalongs and Thin Mints before the new cookie stash lands. SNICKERDDLE doesn’t sound as tasty, does it?
  • 61a. GORDON BROWN looks like GORN BROWN here. He was the [UK prime minister from 2007 to 2010]. Is Cameron the one who succeeded him?

Highlights:

  • 14a. Crosswordese in real life! SANAA is a [Yemeni city with 2011 protests].
  • 15a. [Relative of a mudslide] is an AVALANCHE. I so want them both to be mixed drinks rather than grievous disasters. Who’s with me? Let’s make a recipe for the avalanche.
  • 22a. [Word for a German count] is DREI. Anyone else imagining Sesame Street‘s Count mit einem deutschem Akzent?
  • 33a. A DAP is a ["Terrorist fist-bump," to non-racists].
  • 1sd. The ESC key is a [Key at the ready when viewing NSFW content], especially at work.
  • 12d. [Some people prefer it to stink] clues CHEESE. Friend of mine says she likes “assy” cheese, even though she uses that word to describe it. I’ll pass, thanks.

4.25 stars.

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28 Responses to Wednesday, 2/1/12

  1. It rather bothered me that “score” appeared for the clue in 68A while SCORED was the answer to 12D in the NYT (with both referring to the orchestral sense). Must have slipped by Will.

  2. Jim Horne says:

    Huh. I thought the NYT was awesome. A nicely symmetric opposites word latter, explicated by the central across, with the circle bonuses to tie a nice big knot around it. To each her own, I guess, but it worked for me.

    BTW, connect the circles to create a convincing portrait of Count Vronsky. Uh, no, I mean Anna Pavlovna. One of them.

  3. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Hmm, I don’t think the ratings widget will work for the Celebrity puzzles this week. Evad’s on vacation and I think something technical needs to be poked. He’s in charge of all things technical.

  4. pannonica says:

    If I recall correctly, the tides at the Bay of Fundy used to be much more dramatic, but some civil engineering in the 50s or 60s diminished their awesomeness.

    *Unverified “assertion.”

  5. pannonica says:

    Aha. I was thinking of tidal bores associated with the Fundy tides, specifically those of two rivers. Wikipedia: “The once-famous tidal bores on the Petitcodiac and Avon rivers have been severely disrupted as a result of causeway construction in the 1960s–1970s which have caused excessive siltation.”

  6. Gareth says:

    NYT: Always enjoy a word ladder! GREATAPES… NAMEONE… THEDONALD. An alternative theme! THEDONALD was my favourite answer (with a touch of envy, it’s been sitting in my wordlist for a while!)

    LAT: I always pronounced BEA as two syllables: live and learn! 8/9/9/8 seemed a little light theme-wise even if they’re all great entries, didn’t notice the clueing thing at all! I thought the Bay of Fundy fact was something most everyone would be exposed to as a kid from those “fantastic fact” type thingummies. Very conservative grid, except for the expanses in the top-right/bottom-left, which were well-handled (with a TUXEDO and an ICEAXE too!), but if the puzzle were 9/8/8/9…

  7. sps says:

    Didn’t notice the word ladder, didn’t even try to look at the circles. Just a fast, not too interesting solve…

  8. Alan says:

    You’re offended by “thole” which is a very legitimate word but like “tha”?

  9. Robin Stears says:

    Thanks for your kind review, Amy! This is actually my second puzzle in the LA Times, and you’re right, I had to stretch a bit to get all the clues to start with the letter B, and to not use the same “B” word twice, either in the clues or the grid. I’m calling this “The Puzzle That Was Meant to B.” :D

  10. MD Solver says:

    “Tha” simply means “the”?

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @MD: Yup. “Da” is another alternative, as in 50 Cent’s “In da Club.”

  12. pannonica says:

    It’s simply a spelling variant, like “ya” for “you.”

  13. Zulema says:

    I second Jim Horne. Liz’s crossword is a complex creation. THOLE is a real word in use, not crosswordese.

  14. Karen says:

    I noticed the B clues in the LAT right off. Surprisingly few clunkers in there for me.

    I thought the word ladder in the NYT was fine; I looked at the circles when I was done and felt confused.

  15. HH says:

    “THOLE is a real word in use, not crosswordese.”

    In use by whom — people who lisp?

  16. Argyle says:

    THOLE is used by people that row boats.

  17. HH says:

    “THOLE is used by people that row boats.”

    Did you think I didn’t know that?

  18. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Who the hell rows boats is what I want to know. Is it just people rowing a little boat to get out to their sailboat, and people at summer camp? Because I don’t come from the summer sleepaway camp/sailing demographic.

  19. HH says:

    I imagine boat-rowers who say THOLE are vastly outnumbered by rap enthusiasts who say THA.

  20. Grant says:

    Onion crossword went pretty smoothly this week. Didn’t know what a tandoori oven was though so I needed to get a couple crossings to finish the puzzle and I had no idea what nabe was supposed to be. Quick internet search says its a term for neighborhood theater but I’ve lived in a city just about my entire life and never heard a theater referred to as a ‘nabe.’ Is that a crosswordese term?

  21. pannonica says:

    In my experience, nabe is simply short for neighborhood. Perhaps the theater in that definition was in the sense of milieu rather than Odeon?

    Also, what kind of city has no Indian restaurants?

  22. Bananarchy says:

    I imagine rap enthusiasts that say AHOLE also outnumber boat-rowers who say THOLE

  23. Tuning Spork says:

    For years, my grandfather had a rowboat in the yard and in disrepair. Many generations of spiders made it a home to a tholian web.

  24. Grant says:

    I try to avoid Indian cuisine. Don’t like spicy food :(.

  25. ArtLvr says:

    I enjoyed Liz’s NYT WAR AND PEACE, with HAWK turning to DOVE and author slightly concealed (I didn’t bother reading notepad, if there was one). I’d also recommend a favorite mystery by Michael Delving entitled “Bored to Death” in which an art dealer is treated to the risky thrill of riding a tidal river’s bore in an old rowboat, grasping at tholes! Really liked the idea of a theme with GREAT APES too — or maybe political schmoos that don’t get knocked down, just keep bouncing back in your face…

  26. MD Solver says:

    I enjoyed the review of today’s New York Times, though I think I may skip the Celebrity puzzle after all.

    Meantime the Onion was quite a solving experience.

  27. meadowlands says:

    Donna S. Levin Crossynergy had an error today. #1 across: Catholic Sacrament. The answer was Mass but the Mass is NOT a sacrament it is a sacrifice. The sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Matrimony and Extreme Unction or Annointing of the Sick.

  28. oeuftete says:

    Canadian reader here who went to university on the Bay of Fundy… piece of cake. I didn’t notice the B clues until I read the writeup here!

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