Saturday, 2/18/12

NYT 5:01 
LAT 4:37 
CS 5:48 (Sam) 
Newsday 2:31 with Erik 
WSJ (Saturday) 12 minutes 
Celebrity untimed 

The ColorLines blog wrote about the Thursday NYT puzzle’s inclusion of ILLEGAL as a noun. (Hat tip to Michael Sharp–who talked with a Univision reporter about the same subject. The reporter emailed me when I was out but you know what? I bet Michael and I would have said pretty much the same things. Still shaking my head about that one.)


Matt Ginsberg’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers, 2 18 12 0218

Even without the Notepad on the puzzle, I knew there had to be an extra “something” in this crossword. Matt Ginsberg doesn’t make 72-word puzzles with mostly unexceptional fill unless there’s another layer. This time, it’s the words UPSTAIRS and DOWNSTAIRS running diagonally along the black squares that slice from lower left to upper right.

Fill I appreciated includes TUSHES, ON THE LAM, PASTIES meat pies, practically vowel-free RHYTHMS, POTSIE Webber from Happy Days, HOOLIGAN, ENIGMA (with a Larry David quote clue), Czech composer SMETANA (wouldn’t you think this name would appear in crosswords more often? look at his letters!), WISHBONE (though the sports clue meant nothing to me), AGNOSTIC, “TRUTH IS…,” and a scary GORGON.

Presumably the three-way checking of squares necessitated by the two diagonal answers accounts for the clunkiness of  your ORTH, LOUS, OORT, and ILONA business.

I do like a good analogy clue (always was a sucker for standardized tests, too). 30d is [Forum : Rome :: ___ : Athens]. AGORA! I feel we see that word far less often in crosswords these days. My kid got marked off for a vocabulary question at school. He said a forum was an online discussion site. Which it absolutely is! But not when you’re studying ancient Rome in Social Studies.

3.75 stars.

Updated Saturday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “I Need a Shower” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, February 18

My first reaction to the title was “TMI.” But I soon figured out that SHOWER can follow the last word in each of the four theme entries:

  • 17-Across: SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is the [Movie rated the top musical of all time by the American Film Institute]. Neat clue. A rain shower is something this Pacific Northwest boy knows all too well.
  • 25-Across: The COMMON COLD is a [Winter woe], and a cold shower is…something this Pacific Northwest boy knows all too well.
  • 44-Across: [Patti the Platypus, for one] clues BEANIE BABY, an even more familiar FAD than [Goldfish swallowing, once] (though I didn’t know Patti the Platypus from Adam the First Man). Then there’s the baby shower, something this Pacific Northwest boy knows only from having baked and decorated a couple of baby shower cakes. One was in the shape of a rubber ducky and the other had “A Star is Born” theme complete with red carpet, a spotlight, and the silhouette of the expecting mom. At least it was supposed to be the mom-to-be. A lot of people thought it was a teapot.
  • 57-Across: I’m not familiar with BLOOD AND THUNDER as a term for [Sensationalism], but it sounds cool. Even thunder showers aren’t especially common in my neck of the woods. The northwest prefers steady leaks to occasional heavy downpours.

My favorite part of the fill was the northeast corner, where ALAN and ALDA intersect and share the clue [A star of "Tower Heist"]. Not exactly his most famous work, so I like that I had to work for it. Sometimes a stunt like that compromises the fill, but that corner is very clean. It even has I DIG, the ["Cool, man!"]. Cool indeed.

I loved how the pop culture references dialed back the time machine. KLINGON and SEA HUNT are terrific, and there’s also Betty BOOP. Speaking of her, did you notice all those Os in the southwest corner? Looks like the Olympic flag flying at an angle. Other highlights included AX HANDLE, SABOTAGE, and MALIBU.

Barry Silk’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 2 18 12

We’ve got a mix of zippy long stuff and blah short stuff in this 72-worder. We’ve also got a word I’d never seen before: 2d, QUBIT, a [Unit of quantum information]. If it’s pronounced the same as “cubit,” I say boo to the people who coined that.

Top nine answers:

  • 1a. [Black-and-white prowlers] are SQUAD CARS. Nice to get a Q in the first answer, announcing to the world, “Yes, Barry Silk likes the Scrabbly letters”—though if you’d prowled the grid looking for Z’s and X’s and J’s and more Q’s, you’d have encountered only the Z in SMAZE at 1d.
  • 15a. Some prepositional phrases that show up in crosswords are dreadfully boring, but I like MUSTERS UP for its casual in-the-languageness. The dictionary I checked pretends that nobody uses the “up,” that mere “musters” will suffice, but “muster up the courage” sounds righter to me than “muster the courage.”
  • 25a. [Literally, "may you have the body"] calls on Latin or legalese knowledge. To the non-Latin-reader, HABEAS CORPUS sounds more like a question, no? Got Milk? Habeas corpus?
  • 38a. [Risks a court-martial, perhaps] clues GOES AWOL. Nice to expand from the super-common 4-letter crossword answer to the verb phrase.
  • 55a. TECH-SAVVY is clued as [Like most web designers]. Evad? Totally tech-savvy. My husband? Not so much with the web design, but totally tech-savvy in umpteen other arenas. Hey, stare at this answer in the grid. The CHS, the double-V—it looks sort of crazy and wrong.
  • 6d. CRAFT BREWERY is a great answer. I’m not thrilled with the clue. [Subject of the 2004 documentary "American Beer"] sounds like it wants BREWERS or BREWING, as a single CRAFT BREWERY is not on target here. Wikipedia confirms that the doc featured New Glarus (Wisconsin’s own!), Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Dogfish Head, Bell’s, and other craft breweries. If you’re looking for the singular, then you’d need to be specific about which brewery.
  • 11d. [Indication that money is involved] is that you encounter the punctuation mark known as a DOLLAR SIGN. How is this term used? Here’s a sample sentence: “TiK ToK” is a hit song by Ke-dollar sign-ha.
  • 21d. Nice to see a shout-out to a Chris [Evert specialty]. Apparently she had a mean BACKHAND SHOT.
  • 25d. [David with the autobiography "Making Waves"] had me thinking of all sorts of prominent Davids in recent American history and culture. Now, I knew HASSELHOFF had his autobiographical Don’t Hassel the Hoff but never heard of the other book. Guess what? The two books’ Amazon pages feature the same Publishers Weekly review and the same customer reviews. Making Waves‘ publisher is British, Don’t Hassel‘s is American. Same book, different editions. Would obviously be better to use the American edition in the clue, but the title would give away the answer in this case.

Five more clues:

  • 42a. [Last man to walk on the moon] was EUGENE CERNAN. Last is much less famous than first. Did any of you see the movie Apollo 18? Kind of a Blair Witch Project meets speculative fiction meets crazy moon sci-fi thriller. There was another moon mission, but some moon creatures attacked the astronauts and NASA pretended the whole thing never happened. So if you buy the premise of the movie, Cernan wasn’t the last, just the last to survive walking on the moon.
  • 17a. Ralph ABERNATHY, [Southern Christian Leadership Conference president after King]. The SCLC was a seminal civil rights group.
  • 46a. [Energy Reorg. Act of 1974 creation] is the NRC, or Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Oddly enough, its predecessor agency, the AEC, shows up in many more crosswords. It’s the “I have vowels and you don’t” syndrome.
  • 8d. [River originating near Winterberg]—Germanic-sounding name, 4 letters, river … it’s gotta be the ELBE, ODER, SAAR, or RUHR. SQUAD CARS’ R chooses the RUHR.
  • 30d. For [Feet-first Olympic event], I was picturing the long jump but the answer is the LUGE.

Seemed like there was more in the trite/stale vein of ATRA, URAL, A SOU, DADO, SENS, EDT, LSAT, LA LA, LTRS, OTT, SOC, and ETE than I’d like to see. They did facilitate a lot of cool longer answers, but they took Barry out of his A game and down to more of a B, B+. 3.5 stars.

Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (writing as “Lester Ruff”)

Newsday crossword answers, "Saturday Stumper" 2 18 12

The Stumper, particularly when the byline isn’t “Les Ruff,” is typically the weekend’s hardest themeless puzzle. So it’s well-suited to the cooperative or competitive two-person play at the Facebook Crosswords app. I played head-to-head against Fiend commenter Erik, racing to fill in more squares than the other person (and finishing together in 2:31), but when one of us checked out after we finished, the completed grid vanished. So then we refilled the puzzle in the doubles “solve for fun” window in even less time (but “solve for fun” is done off the clock, no pressure). While it’s true that the two-person play means you only solve part of the puzzle yourself, it also means that you can skip what you’re stuck on and might not need to wrestle with it at all.

Okay. So let’s take a look at this puzzle. Harder to blog it when I never even saw at least a third of the clues despite two rounds of solving!

Five faves:

  • 40a. STRAY DOG = [It's picked up by the pound]. Were you thinking of “you pick ‘em” fruits or veggies paid for by the pound?
  • 64a. The MAN CAVE is a [Basement with a bar, maybe]. The danker, the better.
  • 34d. We just had Valentine’s Day this week. What’s [Another word for love]? It’s NADA, nothingness. (This is a tennis reference, not a failed romance one.)
  • 38d. GOLF PROS, not academics, are golf [Course teachers].
  • 60d. Don’t be such a [Wet blanket]! If you’re planning a picnic or a 10K, SNOW is definitely a party-pooper.

Tougher pieces:

  • 2d. A FIRE BOX is a [Source of some alarms]. Wha…? Dictionary tells me it’s the chamber in which fuel is burned in a boiler. Is the clue referring to fire-alarm versions of call boxes?
  • 62a. PINE TAR is a [Wood preservative]. I don’t preserve a lot of wood myself.
  • 8d. [Scientific calculator function] could have a ton of correct answers. This time, it’s the trigonometric function COSECANT.

Not much space in a 7-heavy grid for any show-offy longer answers, so it’s seldom the most enjoyable themeless layout for me. Smooth grid, though, without obscure names or an abundance of abbreviations. 3.75 stars.

Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “First Things First”

WSJ Saturday Puzzle answers, 2 18 12 "First Things First"

Love the puzzle design and the DA VINCI/Nat King Cole’s “MONA LISA” pairing. I opted for the wrong [Pole dance?] joke and figured it was a dance for Polish people, the POLKA, but already had an R in the third square of the P word. Turned out to be a LIMBO beneath the limbo pole. Aside from those bits, the fill and the clues were fairly ordinary fare.

Four stars.

Sorry the picture’s upside down. It’s time for the Sunday puzzles now, so I’m not going to futz with cropping and flipping. [edit: Simple fix! –p]

Adam Cohen’s Celebrity crossword, “Smartypants Saturday”

Celebrity crossword answers, 2 18 12

This week’s Smartypants theme is newsies:

  • 18a. DIANE SAWYER, anchor of ABC World News.
  • 30a. BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC Nightly News anchor.
  • 40a. The new guy, SCOTT PELLEY, anchor of CBS Evening News.
  • 1d. TOM Brokaw, who anchored NBC for eons.
  • 5d. PETER Jennings, who anchored ABC for eons.
  • 11d. DAN Rather, who anchored CBS for eons.
  • 20d. George WILL of This Week with David Brinkley, George Stephanopoulos, or assorted other people.
  • 23d. PBS‘s News Hour.
  • 32d. Barbara WALTERS, onetime co-anchor on ABC, back in the day when it was deemed weird to consider having a female anchor, even one who had to share the newsdesk.
  • 43d. ERIN Burnett, a CNN anchor.

Who’s ready for some mindless reality TV or sitcoms now? My Name is EARL is no longer on, and neither are MAE Whitman and “ARI Gold’s” shows. At least we’ve still got 33d, American IDOL.

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19 Responses to Saturday, 2/18/12

  1. ArtLvr says:

    I smiled at your child’s faux pas on the Forum — it will be a Family Tale for years to come, I’m sure. One of mine was evoked by the CHAPEAU in the NYT, in that I was said to have thrown a tantrum at a very tender age, refusing to wear a hat to some dressy affair downtown. Can’t remember it of course, but I never did develop a fashion sense or see UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS distinctions. Last fill was the O for the OORT and the OATMEAL as I sampled a pumpkin pie made from an unfamiliar recipe and decided it was too sugary, more of a sweet potato mush. OORT-like?

  2. Matt Ginsberg says:

    Just peachy. Here I go for years trying to put an Easter Egg in a puzzle, and Will puts in this note about two extra words, and Amy says that it obviously had to be there because I don’t do themelesses (give or take). I think I should just figure it’s hopeless!

    I hope people liked this — probably my last puzzle for a while, since I’ve got my head down working on Dr. Fill. See you all in Brooklyn!

  3. ArtLvr says:

    Yes, Matt — liked it a lot, very elegant construction! Good luck on your other endeavors…

  4. Tuning Spork says:

    There was a notepad on the NYT? Huh.

    I was skipping around the Stumper with only one answer filled in for the first 4:00 or so. Then I noticed that it was by Lester Ruff. The puzzle got much easier after that.

  5. Winnie says:

    Great puzzle. Finally a full week of completed puzzles.

  6. loren smith says:

    Why is no one commenting on the fact the the grids of the Stumper and the Times are almost mirror image of each other? Is this just a coincidence?

  7. pannonica says:

    loren smith: Possibly because there are only a handful of comments of any sort so far, and also possibly because the Stumper write-up hasn’t been posted yet.

  8. animalheart says:

    Totally forgot to look for the bonus answers, which is too bad, since they would have really helped with AROD and RHYTHMS. I found the SE to be the toughest nut to crack. Kept wanting 38D to be TRUSTME, which kept me occupied for quite a while. First guess for GORGON was SCYLLA. AGOG doesn’t seem quite right for “Stoked,” but it’s Saturday, and how can you not love a puzzle with Bedrich SMETANA in it? Next challenge: Get MAVLAST into a puzzle.

  9. Dan F says:

    Loren: Also because yes, it’s just a coincidence. Those are classic themeless grids, many variations of which have appeared in both outlets.

    A couple years ago there were two *identical* grid patterns on a Saturday, but they were both by Doug P. so it wasn’t a complete coincidence…

  10. Cyrano says:

    @animalheart: I thought the exact same thing about MAVLAST, namely why is my favorite piece of music never in a puzzle. That could be the revealer and the six theme answers could be the names of each movement. Although it would be non-symmetrical and everyone would hate it, except possibly the two of us.

  11. pannonica says:

    I see your MÁVLAST and raise you one DEVOMAX!

  12. pannonica says:

    LAT: re: Apollo 18. Have you heard about Iron Sky, to be released this year? Premise: “In the last moments of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evaded destruction by fleeing to the Dark Side of the Moon. During 70 years of utter secrecy, the Nazis construct a gigantic space fortress with a massive armada of flying saucers.”

    Udo Kier ist der Mondführer.

  13. Daniel Myers says:

    @p – “DEVOMAX”-lol-They had the lead singer or whatever from Devo (forget his name) on a BBC programme yesterday asking him what he thought of the various plans for Scottish devolution. As one would expect, very offbeat response involving being saved by extraterrestrials. I somehow get the feeling you probably heard that though….as one does.

    Great puzzle!

  14. Tuning Spork says:

    @DM Mark Mothersbough? I always wondered whatever happened to that cat.

  15. pannonica says:

    Mothersbaugh has been prolific with television themes and soundtracks, among other things.

  16. Gareth says:

    Stylish little gimmick, and a mostly satisfying, hard crossword, where I was consistently putting down words, but never had any RHYTHMS going. I call foul on MaRLEE/UNaS. That is two obscure, unconventional names crossing. Before solving played Trivies, asked opposing team “Who composed Ma Vlast” Ans: 8D, who no-one had heard of. Wasn’t a classical music sort of a gathering (despite being a 77th birthday). Liked seeing OORT a lot, notable, and doesn’t get as much crossword exposure as it should!

  17. Erik says:

    “…but when one of us checked out after we finished…”

    by “one of us” she means me, and by “checked out” she means “exited with his tail between his legs, having suffered a demoralizing 20-point loss.”

    the somewhat antagonistic NAT clue in the la times puzzle gave me pause… until i saw the byline.

  18. Jan says:

    Enjoyable NYTimes – loved the bonus words.

    @Sam – Patti the Platypus is a notable Beanie Baby in my house. My daughter Patty changed the way she spelled her nickname after acquiring the fuzzy purple Patti. This was when Beanie Babies were fairly new and becoming popular, and she was 7 or 8. We still try to tell her she is spelling it wrong, and if it weren’t for that platypus……

    I think you don’t have to know all the Beanie Baby names, just that that’s the pattern they follow: (cute name) THE (animal name).

  19. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Apropos the ↗STAIRS / ↙STAIRS bonus: everybody here remember Matt G.’s spectacular ESCALATOR metapuzzle?

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