Wednesday, 2/29/12

NYT 4:02 
LAT 3:27 (Jeffrey -paper) 
CS 5:11 (Sam) 
Onion untimed 
Celebrity untimed 

You see that “Best Puzzles of 2011″ tab up there? It takes you to a page Evad made for us today, with a list of the 25 top-rated crosswords from last year. If you missed some of them or you just want to reexperience the delight of solving these puzzles, you can click the links and work those crosswords. Special thanks to Merl Reagle and Rich Norris for providing #20 and #22, which were no longer accessible via their usual archives or Puzzle Pointers. The NYT puzzles, of course, are subscription-only as usual (but I think many of you will have seen those puzzles when they originally ran). The Fireball link for one of the #1 puzzles just takes you to my review of the puzzle; Fireball crosswords are subscription-only. Thanks, Evad, for adding this handy complement to Sam’s Orcas award write-up.

Kevan Choset’s New York Times crossword

2/29 NYT crossword solution 0229

The theme hinges on Broadway musicals–danger, Will Robinson!–but it uses show titles that are common words and places them at the beginning of familiar phrases so it feels markedly less like a “you’d better know your musicals” theme. Whew! My favorite theme answers are CHICAGO BEARS, clued as [Pessimistic Broadway investors?], and those CATS PAJAMAS. Also like the HAIR REPLACEMENT clue, [Understudy in a Broadway show?]. GREASE MONKEY is lively, and RENT CONTROL is super New Yorky.

Outside of the confines of the theme, the TWIN CITIES and TRICK KNEES sparkle (and bracket together pairs of theme entries). PAVLOV atop AGASSI makes for a cool 1-Across opening. And I like DA BOMB, though I wish the clue were [Awesome] rather than [It's awesome]. I feel “da bomb” means “awesome” more than it means “thing that is awesome.” You can say “she’s da bomb,” right? And “she” isn’t an “it.”

The five theme entries and spangly Down 10s may have locked the grid down a bit. There’s a bit more in the vein of THEA RAE ILE ESS ALEUT MT. OSSA STN OVI LST etc. than I like to see in one puzzle.

Also? I must deplore 63a. [Giggle] clues HEHE, and I know people type that all the damn time. “Hehehe.” “Hehe.” That is not a laugh. “Hee hee” is a laugh, as is “ha ha” or “heh heh.” But “he he” is just horrible. I loathe it. If you’ve been typing that to represent laughter, I beseech you to stop and thank you for your support.

Four stars for the theme, minus .5 for the fill I didn’t like and minus another .25 for HEHE. 3.25 stars.

Donna S. Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Jeffrey’s review

Welcome to February 29, a day that only comes once every 4 years. I have a former colleague who is turning “12″ today.  The LA Times crossword celebrates the event with a puzzle about a SWAMP.  Clearly this is a tie-in to the fact that the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World (which is built on a SWAMP) will be open 24 consecutive hours today.

Theme answers:

Los Angeles Times crossword solution Feb 29 2012

  • 20A. [Shooter of soft confections] – MARSHMALLOW GUN
  • 36A. [Minor motoring mishaps] – FENDER BENDERS
  • 53A. [Strains credulity] – BOGGLES THE MIND
  • 66A. [Overwhelm, or a relative of the first syllable of 20-, 36-, or 53-Across] – SWAMP

Other stuff:

  • 40A. [Exercise popularized by Jim Fixx] – JOGGING. Jim Fixx died at the age of 52 after his daily run. Go figure.
  • 43A. [JFK alternative in NYC] – LGA. I am flying into EWR this year for the ACPT. Not the best choice, but I am using air miles.  How do you get to Brooklyn from Newark? Practice?
  • 58A. [Rock's partner] – ROLL.“ And I wrote some rock ‘n’ roll so you can move”
  • 64A. [Mötley __] – CRUE
  • 2D. [Dolt] – DUMMKOPF. I learned that word from “Hogan’s Heroes”.
  • 44D. [Old-style "Cool!"] – GROOVY. Why did “cool” remain cool, but GROOVY is no longer GROOVY?
  • 49D. [Domed home] – IGLOO. Like all Canadians, I live in an IGLOO.

*** stars.
Updated Wednesday morning:

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

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, February 29

Doug takes common expressions containing a word starting with a hard-G sound, morphs the hard G into a soft G sound, and clues the resulting shenanigans. Merriment ensues:

  • 17-Across: “Played hard to get” becomes PLAYED HARD TO JET, clued here as [Disobeyed the flight attendant, say?]. Did others also have images of Alec Baldwin and Words With Friends dancing in their heads? In any case, that’s an awesome answer, though my money says it wasn’t the seed entry that inspired Doug.
  • 26-Across: A “guest appearance” becomes a JEST APPEARANCE, or a [Stand-up comic's gig?].
  • 46-Across: A “wild goose chase” becomes a WILD JUICE CHASE, clued here as a [Frantic search for a fruity beverage?], though I can’t help but imagine there’s a white Bronco involved. Okay, my money’s on this one as the inspiration for the puzzle.
  • 61-Across: Ordinary “basketball games” becomes BASKETBALL JAMES, clued as [LeBron, e.g.?]. I suppose a reference to James Worthy would have been a little dated, huh? This was my least favorite theme entry, probably because the base phrase “basketball games” isn’t nearly as interesting as the other base phrases used in this puzzle; accordingly, the post-modification theme entry lacks the same sizzle.

There’s an interesting travel vibe to the puzzle. There’s some Spanish with ESTA and the clue for U.S. OF A., [Mexico, neighbor, informally]. Head over to Europe for some  STOLI vodka and ASTI sparkling wine, only to find yourself experiencing ENNUI over being stuck in the BAYOU. Highlights in the grid were ESPNEWS, the [Cable channel with lots of highlights] that don’t include the correct number of N’s, CON JOB, GOOD ONE, and the boll WEEVIL.

I would have bet the farm that NOLAN would have been clued along the lines of [Pitcher Ryan] instead of ["The Dark Knight Rises" director Christopher] (bonus points for name-checking a movie that hasn’t been released yet!–tres au courant!). But don’t worry–there’s a baseball tidbit here in [2012 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Barry] LARKIN. Again, a very current clue!

I struggled with TRANCE as the [Electronic music genre], as the term was completely unfamiliar to me. I would have called it ELEVATOR MUSIC ON COCAINE, but that’s a bit more than 15 letters. Here’s a trance sampler for those seeking that let’s-have-a-rave-at-home feeling. Pass the X!

Byron Walden’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 2 29 12 Walden

It takes a little brain work to figure out what this theme is doing. The middle answer, GEAR SHIFT, is an [Automotive part ... and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. The other four theme entries begin as phrases that start with a gear, but the gear name is anagrammed and the morphed phrase is clued accordingly:

  • 14a. Reverse mortgage becomes SEVERER MORTGAGE, [Effect of downgraded credit on a potential home buyer?].
  • 17a. A neutral observer shifts gears to become an UNALERT OBSERVER, or [Watchman asleep on the job?].
  • 49a. Remember drive-in movie theaters? I wonder how many people had trouble seeing the movie because their windshield was dirty. My windshield is never clean enough. VERDI IN THEATERS is clued as [Broadway productions of Rigoletto and La Traviata?]
  • 53a. “Low” goes avian with OWL EXPECTATIONS, which might include [Comfortable perches and plenty of nocturnal prey?].

The fill includes a baker’s dozen of 7-letter answers. Fresh/unusual answers take the lead. MEN ONLY is a [Sign on some gay clubs]. OVARIES don’t show up in many crosswords; I like the clue, [Organs studied by Gabriele Falloppio] of tube fame. [When Mozart began composing] was at AGE FIVE; not a huge fan of the “insert any number here” sort of answers. Not only is 34d: NEW NEWT a [Rebooted political persona identified on the 2012 campaign trail], it’s also tied in with the EFT, a [Creature often clued in crosswords as a 34-Down]. EFT is crosswordese, yes, but it is wielded to excellent effect here.

Four stars.

Ray Hamel’s Celebrity crossword, “Wayback Wednesday”

Kind of a tough actor-trivia theme today. Val Kilmer is the subject:

  • 15a. MACGRUBER, [2010 film with 49-Across as the bad guy]
  • 26a. WONDERLAND, [2003 film starring 49-Across]
  • 35a. REAL GENIUS, [1985 film starring 49-Across: 2 wds.]
  • 49a. VAL KILMER, [Batman in "Batman Forever": 2 wds.]
  • 10d. MISSING, [2003 film for 49-Across, with "The"]
  • 31d. TEMPLAR, [Simon ___ (role for 49-Across in "The Saint"]

Not many of us saw Wonderland; it grossed less than $3 million.

Lots of pop-culture names in this puzzle. George WENDT, SIMBA’S, ENDORA, Liam NEESON, High PLAINS DrifterFLO the [Woman in Progressive Insurance commercials], cousin IRA on Mad About You, LEA Thompson (I swear I just saw her on TV at the Oscars), Nicolas ROEG, ANNE Hathaway, ERIN Brockovich, SEAL, Cheri OTERI, and NORMA Rae.

Crosswordy words to remember if you’re a new puzzler: The NAVE is a [Main church section],  a ROUE is a [Playboy] or lothario (though sometimes the answer is RAKE, which has the same first and last letters as ROUE), and AMIE is a [French girlfriend] as in female form of the word for “friend,” AMI. All three of these words are regularly found in mainstream crosswords, but seldom used in conversation.

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22 Responses to Wednesday, 2/29/12

  1. Gareth says:

    Suspect this is merely because I’m not American but the AP part of APTEST was letter guessing for me: A/R, L/P/M.

    LAT was fun: well-executed GROOVY theme, plus a DUMMKOPF (usuall y spelled domkop here) too!

  2. Howard B says:

    THEA / TITUS was a rather nasty crossing for a Tuesday. That is all :).

  3. Bananarchy says:

    Val Kilmer is “wayback”? I must be getting old

  4. Amy Reynaldo says:

    It’s the Real Genius effect. Wayback Wednesday’s cutoff is generally the ’80s.

  5. Josh Bischof says:

    Byron Walden’s puzzle strikes me as one that will land on many best-of lists at the end of the year, and I was surprised that the review of it gave it such short shrift.

    Consider its many impressive accomplishments: first, four anagrams for gears. Then four phrases beginning with those anagrams. None of those phrases are forced or awkward, and I mean both the original phrases (e.g. “low expectations”) and the new phrases (e.g. “owl expectations”).

    Each one is 15 letters long. Then they’re stacked in twos, creating all kinds of restrictions (I would imagine) on the fill. But the grid does not take the easy way out by limiting the number of words that cross both 15′s to a bunch of boring little three- and four-letter words. Rather, there are those lovely chunks of white in the four corners.

    And no clunkers in those corners. I happen to like AGE FIVE. I might be delusional, but something about that seems less arbitrary than, say, AGE EIGHT or AGE ELEVEN.

    Then there are the happy coincidences of MEN ONLY next to OVARIES, and BURGEON next to UPTURNS.

    Lots of fun fill and clever clues. Hardly a single clunker (ORSER is really the only one that gave me pause). GEARSHIFT there in the middle tying the theme together and creating a nice symmetry with the four theme answers. Goodness like PWN and MWAH and NEWNEWT (coupled with, as the reviewer pointed out, EFT). And as an added bonus for me, the first time I’ve seen my son’s name in a puzzle (50-Down).

    Quite an accomplishment, and worthy, in my opinion, of five stars, both as a fun puzzle and an impressive feat of puzzle construction.

  6. pannonica says:

    Josh Bischof: The bottom line is that for a puzzle to be considered exceptionally good, it should be well-constructed, clever, and an enjoyable solve. For whatever reasons, I found it to be lacking in charm and did not enjoy it. Not everyone’s experience is the same.

  7. Jeff Chen says:

    I so nearly loved the NYT – clever theme, fun to uncover! But I must have been sleeping when we went over MASADA and ANCIEN in… history class? Poli sci?

    Must have been on the RP test.

  8. Martin says:

    “For whatever reasons, I found it to be lacking in charm and did not enjoy it”

    Too many notes?

    -MAS

  9. Tuning Spork says:

    I’ll echo Josh on the Onion. I smiled as I typed in the last letter at ORSER / UNALERT OBSERVER. (Mainly, though, because I’d mis-read the answer as UNALERT TO B?ERVER for a short while.)

  10. pannonica says:

    Just call me Empress Josephine, Martin!

    But seriously, my solving experience was, without trying to analyze it, not enjoyable. That’s valid reportage as a comment.

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    I 5-starred the Onion as well. That’s a nice theme and a very nice grid.

  12. Tuning Spork says:

    Martin, Pannonica,

    The empress Josephine reference isn’t clicking, but I do recall Tony Levin telling the story of his first session with John Lennon for the “Double Fantasy” album. Levin came highly recommended, but Lennon had never heard of him and didn’t know his style. He said: “They tell me you’re good, Tony. Just don’t play too many notes, okay?” Levin replied: “John, you’ve hired the right guy.”

  13. joon says:

    count me as another onion 5-star rater. the only thing i didn’t like about it was HERTZES, since the plural of hertz is hertz.

  14. Martin says:

    “Martin, Pannonica,
    The empress Josephine reference isn’t clicking…”

    It’s a quote from Amadeus:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoY0Qa0zU0A

    -MAS

  15. Alex says:

    Well, puz files for the NYT are subscription-only, but the PDFs are free once they go into syndication.

  16. ArtLvr says:

    I’m glad I checked in tonight — I solved the GEAR SHIIFT puzzle without seeing anagrams afterward, just shrugged. Silly of me! I might have appreciated it more in the a.m……

  17. Ben Tausig says:

    Hello Friends:

    My sincere thanks for your comments about today’s Onion A.V. Club puzzle by Byron, which I agree was an excellent construction.

    It always means a lot to know that you enjoyed a puzzle. Thoughtful dissent and critique are appreciated as well, of course. Not every theme or grid is a gem. But, you know, none of us are in this for the money (what money?); we are to a person in it to give you something you enjoy. So there’s no more important currency than your kind words.

    Cynicism is so tempting. I’m an academic in my other life, and experience my fair share of people tearing one another down as a matter of habit. It breeds bitterness, not high standards. But the crossword community has for me been a welcome refuge from that. There was a movie review of “Wordplay” published in one of the alt-weeklies where Ink Well runs, several years ago: the critic panned the doc because he couldn’t bring himself to believe that the ACPT was in fact as friendly as depicted. The relationships seemed implausible. I told him he should go some year. We’re lucky to have what we have. It’s rare and it’s good. Thank you.

    Ben

  18. Tuning Spork says:

    “…the plural of hertz is hertz.”

    Count on Joon to nitpick what the rest of us had no clue about. :-o

  19. Don Byas says:

    ONION Gearshift – awesome *****

    Great, no KRAP fill :-J

    @Josh – short shift, indeed!

  20. HH says:

    “…the plural of hertz is hertz.”

    In some neighborhoods, it’s hertzim.

  21. HH says:

    “There was a movie review of “Wordplay” … the critic panned the doc because he couldn’t bring himself to believe that the ACPT was in fact as friendly as depicted.”

    Only because I wasn’t there.

Comments are closed.