Saturday, 3/3/12

Blindauer 28:34 (Amy) 
Newsday 6:49 
NYT 5:35 
LAT 4:43 
CS 6:28 (Sam) 
Celebrity untimed 
WSJ (Saturday) 20 minutes 

Byron Walden’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 3 3 12 0303

Some friends and I were just talking about the relative difficulty of the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday NYTs. Some agreed with me that the Fridays have been easier than usual in recent months. I was surprised that yesterday’s puzzle put up a bit of a fight, and then surprised again when this long-awaited Walden took me only a few seconds longer than the Friday. (I say “long-awaited” because Byron’s last NYT was over 6 months ago, and that was his only one last year. He does have periodic themed Onion A.V. Club puzzles, but I’m a themeless fan.)

Anyway! The grid design breaks this into two Scrabbly 6×5 corners, two 8×3 corners, and long answers spinning out from the center zone. Lots of good stuff here: AIR SIGNS, BRAIN ROT (which, wait: is that a “thing,” or is it just “you’ll rot your brain”?), and a ROCK CAVE crossing NOVA SCOTIA and a STEAK QUESADILLA. The southwest chunk is super-smooth. UP TO NO GOOD travels down for some good.

I can’t say I really knew that HAIR LACQUER and ARMY GROUPS were “things,” and 18a: IT’S BIG feels like a stretch for [Promotional description for a coming show]. The stuff that smacks of crosswordese is all familiar, not obscure to Saturday solvers–ABRA, YSER, ENDE, OMSK, OLEO, LIANA.

Favorite clues:

  • 9d. [Dogs that ought to be great swimmers?] are SPITZES, no relation to Mark Spitz.
  • 10d. If you’re in a LATHER, you’re in a [State of nervous tension].
  • 13d. [Old country name or its currency, both dropped in 1997] has nothing to do with the Euro Zone. It’s ZAIRE, now Democratic Republic of Congo and not particularly democratic.
  • 53a. I learned something about the crosswordese Nye who isn’t Bill Nye the Science Guy. LOUIS NYE was the [Steve Allen sidekick with the catchphrase "Hi-ho, Steverino!"]. (Not to be confused with Ryno, aka RYNE [Hall of Fame Cub Sandberg].

Four stars. Keep ‘em coming, Byron.

Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 3 3 12

This puzzle’s midsection, with the 15-letter PERSONAL TRAINER working out with the 11s, PEA-SHOOTERS and GONE HAYWIRE, is super-smooth. I like all three of those answers, and their crossings include five solid answers of 8+ letters and assorted 4s and 5s with no clunkers. You can gripe about the partial at 24d, but this lands in my “zippy Merl Reagle partial” zone: ["If I ___ so myself ..."] clues DO SAY.

The top and bottom sections are all right but there’s not much zip there outside of OH DARN, POST-IT, and DON’T ASK.

Eight clues:

  • 17a. MARENGO is the [Italian town where Napoleon defeated the Austrians]. Byron Walden and I once concocted a theme with horrifying letter-repetition meat recipes, like MARE MARENGO and YAK YAKITORI.
  • 18a. ALADDIN is a lamp [Rubber of myth]. You were wondering if the Trojans played a role in Greek mythology as well as history, weren’t you?
  • 19a. ALEXIA is the [Loss of the ability to read]. You don’t hear much about this.
  • 40a. [Couples can break it] refers to PAR on a golf course. That’s capital-C Couples, Fred Couples.
  • 1d. I dispute PIMA as a [Bedsheet material]. It’s Pima cotton, no? Does the content label just specify Pima, or does it also say cotton?
  • 2d. [Magnitogorsk's river] is the URAL. Ugly clue. (No offense to the people of Magnitogorsk. I’m sure they’re lovely.)
  • 20d. A CATTLE CAR is a [Stock holder]. I figured it was livestock, not stock shares or soup stock, but had CATTLE PEN at first.
  • 40d. [It's usually a little sticky] is a good clue for a POST-IT note. Indeed, it’s not very sticky, just a little sticky. And people often call Post-Its “stickies,” and they do come in little sizes.

3.5 stars.
Updated Saturday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Missing Pieces” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, March 3

Today’s puzzle is designed to make us feel a little better about all we have going for us by making us pause to remember that others are missing important things:

  • 17-Across: The [Walrus cousin] with something missing is the EARLESS SEAL. It’s okay to talk about it in front of one–it can’t hear you anyway.
  • 28-Across: The [Abyss] that’s missing something is a BOTTOMLESS PIT. But is a bottomless pit really missing something? Isn’t a bottomless pit supposed to be the mother of all pits? No pit is more menacing, more prominent (or more impossible) than a bottomless one. So other than having the -LESS in place, I’m not sure that this one is all that consistent with the theme.
  • 47-Across: The [Aldous Huxley novel] with something missing is EYELESS IN GAZA. I’m not familiar with the book. Apparently it takes its title from a Milton poem about Samson. I understand the random ordering of chapters in Huxley’s novel will make you want to pull your hair out.
  • 62-Across: I think the missing thing from the [Sphynx] was its nose. Then I realized that’s the Sphinx. The one with a Y in its name is a HAIRLESS CAT.

Although the theme doesn’t seem optimally consistent, I liked many of the goodies in the fill. OH BOY OH BOY is a fun entry, and I felt the ["Goody, goody!"] clue was perfect since “OH BOY OH BOY” was my first thought with only the first O in place. I don’t think I have heard of LIZA WITH A Z, the [1972 Emmy-winning concert film], but it’s another great entry. Other notable entries include THE NET (I have riffed on this one before), BILOXI, I’LL SEE, and ELIXIR.

It was a little jarring to see [Jay or Kay] as the clue for JOHN. I know John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, but John Kay, the Steppenwolf front man, was new to me. The clue was jarring because Jay and Kay are the names of my siblings. That’s just weird, right?

Nice to see the ORYX in the grid, but that’s so 2008 (or is it 2000-and-late?). It’s all about the ORCA now.

Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Newsday crossword solution, 3 3 12 "Saturday Stumper"

Unusual grid design, for Stan and for anyone. The 11/13/15 stack and the triple-stack of 15s are more common than this 13/14/15 stack, which isn’t pleasing to the eye but brings some tasty fill. The six big answers are:

  • 1a. SEMICLASSICAL, [Like Gershwin's orchestral works].
  • 14a. Delicious PAIN AU CHOCOLAT, [Patisserie purchase].
  • 16a. CORNED BEEF ON RYE, [Reuben's cousin]. Fresher fill than the HAM ON RYE concept that was in another puzzle this week.
  • 50a. IMITATION OF LIFE, [Fannie Hurst novel]. Who? What?
  • 54a. CAFE RESTAURANT, [Source of casual fare]. This just sounds wrong to me. Surely there is ample justification that this is a term, but it sounds stilted.
  • 55a. NEEDLESS TO SAY, [Obviously]. Totally jam-packed with boring, suitable-for-the-bottom-row letters, and yet fresh and lively and in-the-language. We seldom see a 13-letter answer on the bottom of a grid, but if we did, this one would show up as often as STRESS TESTS.

Trickiest and toughest clues, juiciest fill, etc.:

  • 29a. [World Series participant] is a CARD PLAYER, not a ballplayer. World Series of Poker.
  • 32a. A SCAREDY-CAT is a big ol’ [Chicken].
  • 36a. [Fly-by-nighter, typically] is a MOTH rather than a shady operator.
  • 42a. [Pro who coached Lendl and Federer] is ROCHE. I kinda follow tennis, but this one was a mystery to me.
  • 49a. [Jury's conclusion] is RIG, as in “jury-rig.” What’s the verdict?
  • 3d. I thought [Long-hand indication: Abbr.] was about writing in longhand/cursive. It’s the MINute hand on a clock.
  • 22d. [Democracy Day cosponsor] is the NEA. No idea what Democracy Day is.
  • 24d. [Organiser II was an early one] clues a PDA, personal digital assistant. Smartphones have supplanted non-phone PDAs.
  • 26d. Was GARY SINISE in Apollo 13? He was. Is that why they hired him as [Narrator of "When We Left Earth"], a TV miniseries about space travel?
  • 31d. Never heard this one before. ["La Dame de __" (Eiffel Tower nickname)] clues FER. “The Lady of Iron.”
  • 47d. [A standard shown on a Royal Observatory wall] demonstrates the official length of a YARD. Off the Y, I tried YEAR first, but it’s hard to visualize a year, isn’t it?
  • 53d. Spanish! [Una palabra ignorada en alfabetizacion] clues LAS. A word ignored in alphabetization is “the.”

4.5 stars. Extra credit given for the 13/14/15 stacking, even though the CAFE RESTAURANT didn’t sit well with me.

Trip Payne’s Celebrity crossword, “Smartypants Saturday”

Celebrity crossword answers, 3/3/12 "Smartypants Saturday" Payne

Simple culinary theme:

  • 15a. LOUISIANA, ["Cajun cuisine" state associated with 28-Across]
  • 28a. EMERIL LAGASSE, [Celebrity chef and "Top Chef" judge]
  • 46a. DELMONICO, [Las Vegas steakhouse of 28-Across]. Emeril also has a Delmonico restaurant in New Orleans, one of his three N.O. joints.

Related Big Easy answer: 4d: SAINT, [New Orleans __ (NFLer who plays in the Superdome)].

Related culinary answer: 36a: BRAVO, ["Top Chef" network].

Favorite clues:

  • 39a. PAPER, [It beats rock but loses to scissors in a game].
  • 33d. EAR [__ candy (catchy pop songs)].

Good puzzle with smooth fill.

Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Section Eight”

WSJ Saturday Puzzle solution, 3 3 12 Section Eight

Ooh, these “Section Eight” puzzles tend to be among Berry’s toughest variety puzzles for me. These and the “Some Assembly Required” puzzles. Both require the solver to think in non-crosswordy dimensions with some jigsaw puzzle aspects. With the “Section Eight,” you have to figure out where to place words in all the inner rings based on finding the letters you need in the surrounding ring, and there’s no way to know whether a ring will go clockwise or counter-. Always a gnarly challenge.

What elevates this puzzle to its five-star rating is the inclusion of so much juicy Berry fill. Ring 1 features MAGIC SQUARE (with a Q that travels down two more rings), BIG BLUE, and SNITCHED. Moving in, we find SECOND BEST, QUAGMIRES, TERI GARR, CHESTNUTS roasting, “I DON’T CARE,” and IN THE CLEAR. The rest of the words may be less lively, but not a single one of them evokes the slightest scowl. And then! The innermost word is ARACHNID, an [Eight-legged critter] that’s an entirely appropriate core for a “Section Eight” puzzle. Flawless puzzle.

I suspect it’s insanely difficult to construct these puzzles, especially with zero objectionable fill. There’s not a single compromise like including a proper noun that can only be clued by way of a person almost none of us have heard of. Just clean fill that ranges from quite good to excellent. I don’t know how Patrick Berry does it.

Patrick Blindauer’s website crossword, “Ode to Element 18″–Matt Gaffney’s review

PatrickBlindauer.com March crossword answers, "Ode to Element 18"

I don’t know if I even have the moral authority to blog this puzzle because I gave up trying to solve it after about 10 minutes.  It was right before bedtime, I was tired, and was getting the contours of the gimmick but hadn’t fully grokked it yet (thought it was something to do with argon’s chemical symbol, Ar).  Didn’t want to go to bed without knowing what was up so I hit reveal all — and even then it took me a while to figure things out!  Such are the many levels of trickery involved in a Blindauer crossword.

It’s really pretty simple once you see it, though: all the R’s have been removed from the crossword grid.  The puzzle’s title is “Ode to Element 18,” which is argon — get it? “R” gone?

One interesting feature of the grid is that almost all of the R-less entries still leave cluable words.  Like COPS OUT at 17a is really CROPS OUT, and GAMMA at 32a is really GRAMMAR without its Rs.  There are (what appear to be) a handful of exceptions to this, though, so I don’t think Patrick intended it to be an across-the-board idea (AGI, NLE, OTA and NEI might be cluable somehow, for example, but not off the top of my head).  Some other good ones: LEG IRONS become LEGIONS in the SE, and RESPIRES reduces to ESPIES in the SW.

What did you all think of this one?  This isn’t really my favorite kind of theme to solve, though I can appreciate the artistry involved.  For instance: echoing Patrick’s “I Love U” puzzle from February, every single entry in this grid drops at least one R.  That can’t have been easy to pull off.

Best clue: [Coal porter] for T(R)AM at 7a.

(Note from Amy: Killer puzzle! I thought it was a crazy rebus for the longest time, and finally grokked the knock-out-every-R bit. I don’t know what to do with OTA (suffix??) or NEI, but I’ve seen AGI and NLE in puzzles before–adjusted gross income, National League East.)

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24 Responses to Saturday, 3/3/12

  1. Jan says:

    So happy to see Byron’s name on a Friday NYT puzzle again. I hope there will be more soon!

  2. George Barany says:

    According to xwordinfo.com, today marks only the second time that the first name of the 1995 Nobel laureate in literature has graced the New York Times puzzle page. However, since February 2 of this year, that same last name has also showed up in the answer key of a puzzle that Amy has graciously hosted in her “Island of Lost Puzzles” forum — you may enjoy visiting there or at the “mother” site: http://www.mojo-working.com/GailCollins Enjoy!

  3. Gareth says:

    NYT: For me it was another week of flying through Friday only to be brought back to ground with a loud thud on Saturday. A worthy challenge with lots of a-has! Only easy part was bottom-left: started with RUBIES and it just flowed. For Imperial offering, I was thinking the rental company, which I see is local (Doh!): limO/autO/avEO before OLEO. Sporadic entries until puzzling out UPTONOGOOD opened things at +-15 minutes. Still had to fight top-left: had been wondering when someone would use AIRSIGN(S)! and the top-right was a bear: the two answers I had poodlES and congo were not helping though (like Loren Smith’s term “faux-holds!”…

    LAT: Don’t remember a GG themeless before, if it’s her first congrats! I agree the4 Middle mash-up was definitely the best part of the puzzle (with long downs crossing too!), and also the part with my most obstinate error: CATaLogue for CATTLECAR: only in crosswords!

  4. Victor Barocas says:

    NE corner of the NYT took me as long as the rest of the puzzle. Wanted ARENA for AMBIT, knew too many kitchen tools and not the right composer, etc. It was just a disaster. Only thing that saved me was deciding that the puzzle was due for a Z (and then a second). Couples clue in the LAT was my favorite of the day.

  5. ArtLvr says:

    Wow, the Walden NYT was great, except for my getting bogged down in the NE with the SLEAZE and ELGAR cross — not to mention ZAIRE. I should have left “Untrustworthy sort” open, but it was more enticing to try Weasel, even Stoolie came to mind. One could do a whole puzzle with a theme of unsavory characters! Oh well…PAS MAL.

  6. animalheart says:

    I didn’t realize that this was a Byron Walden puzzle until you mentioned it. Like other people here, I had most trouble with the NE, until the penny (or maybe the Zaire coin) dropped on the country/currency. Wasn’t fond of ITSBIG, but loved just about everything else. (I think familiar answers like OLEO go down a lot easier when we’re given a clever clue, as we are here.) Great to see the great SEAMUS Heaney showing up. Is this puzzle a pangram? Probably, but I don’t want to spend the time to check. Five stars. Just wish the Byrons weren’t so few and far between.

  7. Josh Bischof says:

    Two great puzzles from the Timeses today.

    The NYT puzzle was brutal–really hard to get a foothold in those 5X6 corners. As Victor pointed out above, the NE corner was especially unkind.

    I thought the LAT puzzle was a lot of fun. Those three long answers across the middle are great, but what really makes it shine is the four long down answers that cross them: IN EXCESS, ORGAN DONOR, ERRAND BOYS, and I WOULDN’T. It’s touches like that that, for me, make a puzzle a lot of fun to do. Top it off with some clever cluing (“Couples can break it” being my favorite) and you get an enjoyable, breezy-but-smart crossword.

    Off to tackle the Stumper now.

  8. Cyrano says:

    I’m surprised at the love being expressed today towards the NYT. While I liked the puzzle generally and was very challenged by it, I felt the NE was just bad. I don’t really view a SLEAZE as having anything to do with trust, PAS MAL seems a bit obscure French-wise even for Saturday (and it’s the first time ever according to Xword Info, unless I searched wrong), ITSBIG is terrible, Green Book and THE IRA is completely legit (although I had no idea). These crossing SPITZES (?), AMBIT (which could have been clued as “Sphere of chocolate” as it has nothing to do with influence) and an obscure ELGAR piece. Blech. Sorry for complaining, as I actually had a really good laugh since for about 5 minutes I thought the Proverb was “She is more precious than BABIES.”

  9. Jeff Chen says:

    Count me in the loved-the-NYT crowd. I wasn’t a fan of ITS BIG, but it did elicit a salacious chuckle from yours truly. All in all, an entertaining mental workout.

  10. joon says:

    a bunch of puzzles that i really liked today. byron’s puzzle was typical byron, with some entries so fresh they make you wonder if they’re really in the language (IT’S BIG, notably), and great cluing throughout. gail’s LAT was lively and fun, and stan’s stumper was a really tough challenge. i actually had more trouble with it than with the crazy PB2 offering, which i solved by first writing the word ARGON next to the title and then having an “aha” moment about 20 seconds later.

    now to do section eight… these puzzles are great, but they take me forever.

  11. pannonica says:

    Huh, ow, ouch, damn, dammit, godammitsomuch!

    What do they all have in common? They lack the eighteenth component of the alphabet.

    Wow!

  12. pannonica says:

    p.s. Kudos on that!

  13. Dan F says:

    I’m sure Patrick intended for each grid entry to be a “valid” one. OTA is definitely cluable as a suffix, and NEI is probably something Italian?

    Also, five stars for the Stumper. Those fresh 13/14/15s crossed in the middle by Shenandoah/Jericho/Gary Sinise?? Sweet.

  14. pannonica says:

    “Best clue: [Coal porter] for T(R)AM at 7a.”

    Which brings us to

    colporteur (n.) – a peddler of religious books (French, alteration of Middle French comporteur, from comporter to bear, peddle)

    First Known Use: 1796 (m-w.com)

    The famous songwriter was born Cole Albert Porter, and I doubt the similarity is intentional.

  15. pauer says:

    Yes, that was my intent. OTA has also been clued as [Hiroshima's river] and NEI is ["In the," in Italy] or [Chessmaster Ivo ___]. Neither is stellar, I admit, but those were the best options I could find.

  16. Bob says:

    Saturday LAT puzzle impossible. Undecipherable and illogical clues. In 40 years of solving I have never seen a worse puzzle. Grabowski needs another job – writing limericks? What a waste of time. No wonder LAT is losing readership!

  17. Bananarchy says:

    PB2 is quickly becoming a new favourite. Loved the puzzle.

  18. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Who doesn’t love a sour-grapes comment? I think Gail should put @Bob’s comment in her scrapbook for the humor value. The worst puzzle inn 40 years! That’s quite a distinction.

  19. pannonica says:

    I’m amazed that the posts following Bob’s are still extant; I’d have thought the dripping acid would eradicate them.

  20. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Just did yesterday’s (Sat) puzzles. Also delighted to see a Byron, though this was not my very favorite. Again, we’re all over the place. NE was by far the easiest and first for me (16 & 18a, 10, 11m 14d) etc. NW and SW *very* tough, in fact I started worrying about a DNF, until they both suddenly came to me. I liked the clue for 57a. Didn’t associate “ankh” with “key”–I think of it as a cross, but I guess it’s a life symbol or “key” as well. Don’t know Ms. Alexa. I guess the IMAC had an operating system called “Leopard” (?)

    I was less taken with the Stumper than some. The entire lower half was brutal brutal (sic!) for me. Why is “No” a clue for “Elem”? Is No an abbreviation of a chemical element? I can’t think which one. I don’t much like “Semiclassical” as a Gershwin descriptor. The term is almost meaningless, and pointlessly (even inaccurately) disparaging, besides. Of course, I don’t much like the expression “classical music” either, though it’s forced on me. I regard it as a retronym. It used to be just “music”. No one would have ever said of Mozart or Brahms or Schubert that they wrote “classical” music. Don’t know who “Renfro” I thought he was a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. John Newcombe and Tony Roche were perhaps the best tennis doubles team in history, though it’s hard to compare one era against another. I’m not sure an ocarina is so much an ancestor of the flute, as an old instrument which has similar sound production characteristics. But I guess that’s too much of a nit. “Cafe Restaurant” does not sound idiomatic to me. To me it’s like giving someone a birthday gift present, though I suppose you could say that a cafe is a variety of restaurant. Never occurred to me that “White Christmas” was set in an inn, but still, a fresh clue.

    Worst puzzle in 40 years???? Well, I guess I’m hardly one to complain about someone expressing a weird opinion or two.

    I’ve bit (bitten) the bullet and registered for the ACPT for the first time in several years. I look forward to seeing people again. Please help me (and I’m serious here–c.f. my post of a couple months ago)–by reminding me who you are the first time I encounter you so I can relearn you.

    Bruce

  21. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Bruce, I’m pretty good with faces and names, but there are SO MANY at the ACPT and they’re all from basically the same context. Name tags really come in handy, except when they’re flipped over or hidden by a jacket.

  22. Jenni Levy says:

    Bruce, I just finished the Stumper – liked it better than you did but didn’t care for CAFERESTAURANT, either.

    NO is the ELEMent Nobelium.

  23. pannonica says:

    Many establishments call themselves café restaurants, so, as redundant as it seems, the answer has some validity. That term doesn’t upset me nearly as much as the image invoked by also-common pasta grill—I invariably imagine the noodles falling through the grates and into the fire.

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