Wednesday, 3/28/12

NYT 3:31 
LAT 4:15 (Jeffrey) 
CS 4:59 (Sam) 
av untimed 
Celebrity to come 

Joe DiPietro’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 3 28 12 0328

I don’t recall seeing a variation on this theme before, and I like it. Seems like it’s probably been done before because it seems so obvious now, but of course it’s not a theme that ever occurred to me before. Well executed. The riff is “X of Y” phrases in which the Y word can double as a person’s name:

  • 18a. WORK OF ART, [Man's labor?]. I have Art Carney and Harry and Tonto in mind here.
  • 23a. CRACK OF DAWN, [Woman's flippant remark?]. If this were an Onion or BEQ theme, I don’t think we’d have that “flippant remark” clue.
  • 37a. ARTICLES OF FAITH, [Woman's journalism?]. I hope some small-town paper somewhere has a column with this title by a writer named Faith.
  • 53a. BUNDLE OF JOY, [Woman's package?]. This is what we call a Crying Game clue.
  • 59a. BOARD OF ED, [Man's plank?]. Now I’m wondering if there’s any school superintendent named Ed who calls his Little Guy “Board of Ed.”

You see how diligently Will Shortz worked to keep this theme out of the gutter and I put it right down there anyway.

I get tired of seeing too many “IN A __” crossword entries because sometimes they’re just semi-lazy ways to fill a corner more easily, and I didn’t much like IN A TRICE here. Then I felt better when BUNDLE OF TOY was obviously wrong and we got the sprightly IN A JIFFY instead.

Top clue/answer combos:

  • 6d. EX-WIFE, [Splitsville resident?]
  • 8d. GRR, [[Damn, this is frustrating!"]]

I rather liked “Rock the CASBAH,” FODOR travel books, and the garden GNOME too. Four stars. I’d give it more, but I’m not sure the puzzle gets credit for all the amusement I found for myself amongst the theme entries and clues.

Mark Bickham’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Jeffrey’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword Wed Mar 28 2012

Theme: Words that can precede BODY. 60A. [Physiques, and what the starts of the answers to starred clues are] – BODY TYPES

Other theme answers:

  • 18A. [*Handycam project] – HOME MOVIE. An umpire is a Home Body.
  • 23A. [*Graduates' burdens] – STUDENT LOANS. Universities have many a Student Body.
  • 34A. [*Marshall Plan subject] – FOREIGN AID. A Foreign Body is in a place where it doesn’t belong.
  • 42A. [*Frustrating call response] – BUSY SIGNAL. Yente and/or Yenta is a Busy Body.
  • 50A. [*Cornerback's responsibility] – WIDE RECEIVER. Wide Body is a plane I never seem to get on anymore.

Other stuff:

  • 20A. [Maritime special ops force member] – NAVY SEAL. Maritime makes the clue too easy.
  • 40A. ["Let __ Cry": Hootie & the Blowfish hit] – HER
  • 66A. ["__ a Letter to My Love": 1980 film] – I SENT
  • 6D. [Drummer's pair of cymbals] – HI HAT. This has appeared 3 or 4 times lately.
  • 10D. [They may involve rants] – BLOGS. They do not! That is so ridiculous! Stupid puzzle! Stupid clue! Stupid answer!
  • 19D. [__ à trois] – MENAGE. Mommy, what’s  a MENAGE à trois? Go ask your father and his friend, dear. Another BODY theme answer?
  • 50D. [Revolutionary general known as Mad Anthony] – WAYNE. Doug, can you think of another way to clue WAYNE?

A good example of the overused “word that follows” theme. ***½ stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Lending a Helping Hand” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, March 28

70-Across says that AID is the [Helping hand that's been "lent" to the four longest answers], meaning that “AID” has been inserted into common expressions and nouns to form wacky new ones:

  • 17-Across: “Bring on board” has been changed to BRAIDING ON BOARD, with the clue [Working as a cruise ship hair stylist, say?].
  • 27-Across: “Men In Black” morphs to MAIDEN IN BLACK, a [Goth girl?].
  • 46-Across: Your everyday “prep school” changes to a PRE-PAID SCHOOL, an [Up-front alternative to a student loan?] (this one was my favorite).
  • 62-Across: Those Commie “red squirrels” become RAIDED SQUIRRELS, a description that could be used when one [Made a surprise attack on an acorn cache]. Something about an “acorn cache” really makes this clue shine.

The strategic arrangement of black squares offers visual appeal through the “Ls” that frame the center of the grid. But they also facilitate a very clean fill even though there are 59 theme squares occupying fixed space (70-Across counts because it is painstakingly placed in the lower right corner as the last Across entry). We get treated to NEON GAS in Las Vegas, a C-CUP, and a MIX-UP that gets everything ASTIR. Sounds like the plot to The Hangover.

I had NUDGED as the first answer to [Moved a little], but I didn’t like the crossing NOERS as the [Dutch South Africans]. Say what you will about them, they’re just not that cynical. It’s safe to call them BOERS, though, meaning the movement in question is BUDGED.

ROLL-ONS looks great in the center of the grid, but wouldn’t it have been cool if it was stuck under one of the “arms” formed by the L-shaped grouping of black squares? Okay, I think I need to get outside and get some fresh air….

Ben Tausig’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, Tausig 3 28 12

It took me a long time to see the theme here. The four 11-letter Across answers aren’t thematic at all. Instead, 3-letter entries with two-part clues with “up” and “down” components are hinting at two answers, not one. The “up” word is found by turning upward in the grid at the end of the short word fragment, and the “down” word by turning downward. Like so:

  • 17a. FLA, [Fire up, or beat down]. FLAME when you travel upward in EMAILED, FLAILED when you go down.
  • 21a. TRA, [Followed up, or stomp down]. TRACED up in DECAMP, TRAMP down.
  • 38a. GAL, [Balls up, or winds down]. GALAS up in SALES, GALES down.
  • 40a. PAR, [Mock up, or rear down]. PARROT up in TORRENT, PARENT down.
  • 60a. CAR, [Load up, or touch down]. CARGO up in OGRESS, CARESS down.
  • 62a. STI, [Prop up, or bite down]. STIRRUP up in PURRING, STING down.

What elevates this theme a ton is that the “up” and “down” phrases are all real verb phrases, to be reinterpreted literally. So “fire up” doesn’t mean “arouse” or “stir” here. It means word meaning “fire” traveling up, ergo FLAME. The only blot on the theme is that in 40a, “rear down” doesn’t sound like a real phrase to me. Horses rear up, but when they un-rear, they’re just coming down, aren’t they? Is there another “rear down” verb meaning that escapes me?

Anyway, try to come up with another pair of words that start with the same 3 letters and can be clued with words that pull double duty in verb phrases that include “up” or “down, and whose endings can split up and down into real words. Really. PURRING with an IRRUP up and an ING down, EMAILED with an AME up and AILED down. Could you come up with six such word sets? Holy purring cats.

Hey, WAIT A SECOND. I just now noticed that the grid is not symmetrical, despite having filled in the grid once for PuzzleSocial testing and then again this morning. Those 11s are all flush right! A lack of symmetry has exactly zero effect on the solving experience, if you ask me—except for the improvement in user experience that fiddling with the blocks can make possible. Six funky up-and-down theme answer trios plus a quartet of interesting 11s and three sections of 7s? Yeah, I’ll do without pretty symmetry for that.

Five stars! It’s a smart theme concept that’s executed well (albeit dispensing with grid symmetry), and that has smooth fill and fun clues (like 65d: TIT, [Bird some library computers might block you from searching for]).

Addendum! Apparently my brain is unable to process top/bottom symmetry even though I can always tell when a crossword has axial or left/right symmetry. Thanks for the correction, Joon.

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27 Responses to Wednesday, 3/28/12

  1. ArtLvr says:

    Ooh – I like the great variety of body types in the LAT, especially the FOREIGN BODY. I did wonder if M.’s counterpart was going to be a Le Carré character in the KGB, but no – MLLE! And I enjoyed seeing Mercedes Ruehl on B’way years ago in a play directed by my son-in-law Bob Falls, “The Rose Tattoo”… one of the few he’s done in a theater in the round!

  2. Gareth says:

    Today’s NYT theme seems such an obvious hit, and yet I don’t think I’ve seen it before either. For Art, I was thinking Garfunkel and “Bright Eyes” though… Oh, And a Clash shout-out too! One query: Whenever I see MCQ in a puzzle it refers to that movie I’ve never seen… Is MCQ as a slangy abbreviation for multiple-choice questions not used in the States?

    Agree the LAT was a pretty well-executed example of the genre (don’t agree it’s overused though), Like Artlvr my favourite was FOREIGN BODY! Loved the clue for HDTV. MENAGE was surprisingly risque! The only thing I disliked was NATTINESS as a 9-letter answer. I can see that corner was a struggle to fill though, from the fact that it’s awash with S’s and other common letters…

  3. Argyle says:

    Carol Wayne Rogers

  4. Doug says:

    @Jeffrey – How about [Twitchell who pitched for the Expos].

  5. joon says:

    amy, the onion grid is symmetric: it has mirror symmetry about its “equator”, and the six themers are also symmetrically placed wrt that axis. also, i agree with the 5-star rating: the most interesting theme i have seen in a long time, combined with flawless execution and terrific fill. early puzzle of the year candidate, for sure.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Who gave the Onion 1 star? I would really like to hear the logic.

  7. I echo the 5 star rating for the Onion. Terrific puzzle.

  8. Pauer says:

    Brilliant, Ben! Bravo!

  9. Matthew G. says:

    Love that Onion puzzle. Love it. I had this notion in my head that Ben Tausig’s puzzles tend to be kind of bland–but wherever I got that idea, it’s now gone.

    I agree that {Rear down} feels imperfect. One rears children, and thus to rear is to PARENT, but I don’t see how the “down” works into it. I suppose one can lean down toward one’s children to lecture them, but that doesn’t really work. Children grow up, so down just doesn’t make sense. That is the only thing wrong with this puzzle.

  10. john farmer says:

    Indeed. Ben’s AV is a beaut! Nice work.

    Fair point about “rear down,” though around the intertoobz you can find a few uses of “rear down” in the sense of “raze,” as in bring down a building or structure. Not cited in the dictionary, though. Otoh, my mom used to say, “Get your REAR DOWN to the dinner table right now!”

    (Okay, I made up that last part. It was my dad.)

  11. Gareth says:

    What everyone said re the Onion: a masterpiece!

  12. Cyrano says:

    Nothing to add, but just wanted to chime in with praise for Ben’s Onion puzzle.

  13. Jeff Chen says:

    It’s infrequent that I add a puzzle to my personal list of great ones, but the Tausig today made it. Wow!

  14. ArtLvr says:

    Me too, congrats to Ben on the intricacy of the Onion puzzle! And if you wonder how the Ruehl interpretation fits into Tennessee Williams’ body of work, google “The Rose Tattoo, Ruehl” for the 1995 NYT’s rave review! Quite a memorable performance…

  15. pannonica says:

    M from Fleming, Control from LeCarré.

  16. Torbach says:

    I’m late to the Onion party, as I thought I’d blast through the Fireball first to comment on it as well but 1. I see it’s not been blogged yet and 2. The afternoon is slipping by and I still have some missing FB teeth in my grid so, let me get on this bandwagon before it’s gone! I liked the cool and different symmetry and thought the theme cluing was just fantastic, rear down or no. What actually mitigates the “rear” for me is that you have 3 other theme clues ahead of it that are perfect – by the time you hit “rear” it might finally get you to realize what’s going on which, to me, makes it an asset. That the others all work as phrases is quite amazing.

    Also, enjoyed the NYT – a breezy Wednesday, with, I thought, just the right degree of difficulty: WORK(S) OF ART today!

  17. Alex says:

    The Onion was just a little too clever for me. I couldn’t see the theme for the life of me and had to come here to have it explicated. Very clever, but I can understand a low rating from someone who just didn’t get it at all.

    … and I guess I’m the only a**hole who’s going to dispute Ben’s leap year math?

  18. pannonica says:

    Alex: That is exactly the gratuitous, weasly “clever” Roman nvmeral clue I deplore, regardless of computational and calendrical validity. Who are such clues meant to appeal to? Certainly not typical solvers, and I can’t imagine it impresses other constructors (which would be misguided anyway). People who would rather be engaging in rote math than in a word-and-knowledge challenge?

    I thought the theme was interesting and clever, but the odd choice of symmetry was inexplicable or unexplained, and hence a major distraction, despite its fostering those very nice stacked twelves.

    Also, SEDALIA, Missouri? Really?

  19. Jeffrey says:

    Yeah, Alex, I noticed the leap year problem too. For those unaware, leap years are NOT every 4 years. Century years must be divisible by 400. So 1600 and 2000 were leaps years, but not 1700, 1800 or 1900. Please adjust your calendars for 2100 not being a leap year.

    And, pannonica, I like the math problems for Roman numerals way better than “this pope was around” clues.

  20. Jeffrey says:

    P.S. May 7, 2008 (a leap year), on Rex’s site, I commented:

    While I always say I live in Victoria, BC , I am actually in Saanich, which is a suburb with more people than Victoria proper. However, despite the appealing SAA, I would never expect to see it in a puzzle as most solvers would consider it an obscure 7 letter random city starting with S. Along comes SEDALIA and the bar has been lowered.

  21. arthur118 says:

    With all of the rave reviews, I finally tackled my first Onion puzzle and want to say thanks to those who touted it but especially to Ben Tausig for a brilliant construction!

    It is, indeed, a masterpiece.

  22. pannonica says:

    Jeffrey: Yes, I have similar scorn for randompope years, future Super Bowls, and the like.

  23. Dan F says:

    I thought the Onion puzzle was brilliant, but I think it’s in the wrong venue. There are going to be literally thousands of casual solvers who finish the puzzle but don’t understand what’s happening — or won’t bother to finish it — and might not come back to crosswords. We’re experts here, and I bet most of us didn’t get it until we scoured the grid afterwards. There’s not even a puzzle title to help make sense of it! So I wish Ben had sold it to Shortz or Gordon. (And if he tried and was rejected, then hey, I take it back…)

  24. Robo says:

    THANK YOU! I knew the 3-letter up/down clues in the Onion puzzle must be a theme but I could not figure it out. That one is really clever, love it!

  25. John Haber says:

    Thanks to everyone for saying how good this week’s Onion puzzle was. I haven’t been posting but do look to see what others think (or to see if someone’s explained a reference that makes no sense to me), and I really never do other crosswords other than cryptics, but this sounded worth it, and it was.

    FWIW, I’ve never seen MCQ. I’m in the college textbook business, and we do refer to MC (and T/F) but never with the Q for question.

  26. pannonica says:

    Why has no one looked this up yet? McQ is a 1974 John Wayne movie, with ol’ Marion Morrison in the title role, which is the nickname of Det. Lt. Lon McHugh. It was in part homage to Steve McQueen, especially the 1968 Bullitt.

  27. Mike says:

    @Onion. Ben Tausig’s puzzle! Fantastic! And as for the complaints over 40a–”rear” down simply clues the infinitive form “rear,” as in “to raise children,” and the “down” merely denotes direction in 28d (“torrent”). I’ll argue that Ben never intended to include the “ups and downs,” as it were, within phrases, but simply meant us to use them as CW directions. Consider both 38a and 60a. “Up/down” phrasing inclusion makes little sense, here. Likewise, the complaint over phrasing (“rear down”) has no relevance. The “up/downs” constitute CW direction, only.

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