Wednesday, 5/16/12

LAT 3:33 
NYT 3:18 
CS 5:23 (Sam) 
Onion untimed 

Kevin Adamick’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 5 16 12 0516

Today’s theme is 4/4 word pairs stacked together in a pinwheel formation around the edges of the grid. Structurally, it’s a tad weird because then you have a third 8-letter answer in each quadrant to fill out the stack, and those answers are entirely unrelated to the 4/4 gimmick.

1a: MAHI MAHI is good, while 15a: “AMEN, AMEN!” strikes me as weird (not one of those churchGOERS so I wouldn’t know if this is actually solid). Really wanted 13d to be WINK WINK to go with the elbowing “nudge, nudge,” but it turned out to be “HINT, HINT.” Its partner, 14a: “YADA, YADA,” is better. The movie 64a: LIAR, LIAR is solid, while the 8-letter partial 66a: SERA SERA is misbegotten. 35d: AGAR-AGAR is the longer name of our crosswordese friend AGAR, and doubling it sure doesn’t make it go down easier. 36d: BORA BORA is good and shares 1a’s Pacific vibe.

Sing Sing prison would’ve been decent, and choo-choo would’ve been fun. I’m sure you can think of other 4/4 options for theme entries.

Lots of odd fill here. 9a: HITCHY is obscure and oddball. 20a: NENE is crosswordese and mildly distracting as a 2/2-structured answer. Nobody in sports commentary would ever call a 28a: [Tennis whiz] an ACER. I’ve never heard of 38a: LACERTA, [The Lizard constellation]; with mostly common letters, you’d think it might show up in the occasional Saturday puzzle if it were at all familiar; Cruciverb’s database shows its last appearance as a Sunday NYT in 2000. Not sure that tanned leather can be 52a: RETANned, but those “tanorexic” types who are addicted to tanning beds might possibly be said to RETAN. And possibly the worst 3 of the month, 61a: LAR, [Actress ___ Park Lincoln]. Who?? Wikipedia explains, “She is perhaps best known for her roles in the 1987 film House II: The Second Story as Kate, and in the 1988 horror film Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood as Tina Shepard.” O-o-okay, then.

The word count of 70 is low enough for a themeless puzzle, but when you’ve got a Wednesday puzzle rather than a Thursday one, it would be nice to rejigger the grid layout to loosen things up in a 76- or 78-word puzzle.

2.5 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Calling the Pied Piper” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, May 16

Interesting that I solved today’s puzzle using only my keyboard instead of my keyboard and mouse. It’s interesting because the puzzle is already full of RATs. You’ll find a RAT added to the ends of four different two-word terms that get re-clued as new expressions:

  • 17-Across: The Brat Pack (Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, et al) becomes the BRAT PACK RAT, a [Hoarder with an attitude?]. Have you ever seen Hoarders, the cable show that features the homes of real-life hoarders? It seems many of them indeed have attitudes, but I suppose I would too if I felt my way of life was about to be challenged.
  • 28-Across: A Navajo rug becomes a NAVAJO RUG RAT, or a [Native American toddler?].
  • 49-Across: The jungle gym, a playground staple, becomes a JUNGLE GYM RAT, or a [Bodybuilder from the rain forest?]. This one’s easily my favorite, though the other two just mentioned are also strong.
  • 63-Across: Finally, the Red River morphs into the RED RIVER RAT, a [Rafter who got too much sun?]. This one induced more of a “Meh” from me, but it’s hard to compete with JUNGLE GYM RAT.

This is the second consecutive CS puzzle to feature stacked long Downs in two corners, and I still admire it. MOVIE ROLE and the very lively UP AND AT ‘EM in the northeast are awesome, but even ANNULMENT (with the terrific clue, [Union buster?]) and GINNIE MAE, the [Organization that assists with home ownership] are solid.

I kinda wanna deduct a half-point for the presence of RATTAN, but it’s not really a duplication. It’s just a larger word that starts with the R-A-T letter sequence. So I’ll leave the points as is.

Other great clues in this puzzle included [Garden party?] for EVE and [Something beaten up while hanging around] for PIÑATA. I liked how the grid included both ALTER and EGO, allowing for the fun cross-referenced clue of [Spider-Man, to Peter Parker]. That’s all for now. Excelsior!

Aimee Lucido’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword, Aimee Lucido 5 16 12

I only understood half of phrases-with-Santa’s-reindeer theme:

  • 17a. DONNER PARTY, [Theme of a reindeer's birthday celebration?]. Word to the wise: Skip the cake.
  • 28a. CAPTAIN COMET, [Reindeer commanding a ship?]. He’s a comic book character I’d never heard of.
  • 46a. CUPID SHUFFLE, [What a reindeer does before dealing?]. No idea what that is. Googling… It’s a 2007 song and its associated line dance, by Cupid. Catchy.
  • 62a. BREAK DANCER, [Destroy a reindeer's will?].

Seven clues:

  • 1a. ["Fortune" turner] is VANNA White. Never heard anyone call it “Fortune.” “Wheel,” sure.
  • 11a. VAT, [Brain container in a thought experiment]. Is this about Schrödinger’s cat?
  • 20a. AREOLA, [Painful thing to pierce]. Is this a first? For a crossword to clue AREOLA as the nippular ring rather than a vague “colored ring” or “pupil surrounder”? And more importantly, is there any body part that isn’t painful to pierce?
  • 57a. [Constructing crossword puzzles, arguably] is an ART. As with all art forms, sometimes the result is schlock and more rarely you end up with something transcendent.
  • 7d. OPAL, [Jeweler's mineraloid]. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that clue for OPAL before.
  • 33d. [Giant Jesus] is Jesus ALOU. [Ex-Cub Moises] would not be nearly as fun.
  • 47d. [More than fast] isn’t supersonic, it’s STARVE.

3.5 stars.

Don Gagliardo and C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 5 16 12

The PHONE is an [Instrument used to give someone the end of 18-, 27-, 43- or 55-Across], those words being BUZZ, JINGLE, CALL, and RING. As in “give me a buzz,” etc.

  • 18a. OSCAR BUZZ, [February Hollywood speculation]
  • 27a. RADIO JINGLE, [Station-branding tune]. “Ad jingle” feels more in the language to me than “radio jingle,” but then, I’m not in the radio business.
  • 43a. CURTAIN CALL, [Applause acknowledgment]
  • 55a. CLASS RING, [School souvenir]

I started this puzzle with 1-Down through 5-Down, and two of those clues felt off-base to me. 2d: ERRATA aren’t [Manuscript mess-ups], they’re mistakes that made it into the final printed product and may or may not have been present in the manuscript. And while 3d: COINED is a valid verb for what goes on at the mint, I’m a wordy person who prefers the “coin a new word” angle over the literal, metal-being-stamped [Made cents].

Favorite clue: 12d, [Round item in a square box] for PIZZA PIE.

11d: ABUTMENT is a boring word, but I appreciate the Dr. Scholl’s insole mislead of [Arch support]. The Tower Bridge in London has a South Abutment Arch featured in videos here. And if you are looking for great insoles, the Official Insole of Crossword Fiend is the Powerstep. Costs a lot more than Dr. Scholl’s, but my feet say it’s worth every penny.

Could do without plural COES, ORONO, and the boring 3s (ETE ORL VHS TAI LAN DOL), but I like POLAROID (did you hear about Kodak’s stash of weapons-grade uranium?), IRONCLAD, and BANGED UP. Overall rating. 3.25 stars.

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20 Responses to Wednesday, 5/16/12

  1. pannonica says:

    This NYT rubbed me the wrong way. While solving, my feelings coincided Amy’s complaints regarding HITCHY, NENE, and RETAN (which degraded the crossing RETOOLS). HINT HINT eluded me for a while because I interpreted [Comment made while elbowing someone] as elbowing someone aside or making elbow room; would have preferred the clue to have read nudging instead (it is only a Wednesday).

    Further, ET ALIA clued [And so on], apparently trying to be clever in echoing the clue for YADA YADA ["And so on"], misleads to ETC ETC (if one hasn’t yet nailed down the symmetry of the theme answers). This is cruel and too much of a stretch since ET ALIA means “and others.” And so on can have that meaning, but only in strained circumstances.

    Very lame fill-in-the-blank partials [AT AN early age] and ["The Heat IS ON"] Blech. The sour taste in my mouth from those carried over to ON LOAN TO.

  2. Jason F says:

    Have I just been unfortunate to have tried the wrong old crossword(s) lately, or is the doubled word theme a bit repetitive? I could swear I’ve seen it before at least once (but likely more than once before). No access to fancy databases to check on this, however.

    I suppose that stacking pairs of them increases the degree of difficulty.

    I had “MINEMINE” off the”IN” for [Comment made while elbowing someone] which amused me until I realized it was wrong.

  3. Doug says:

    Puzzle was a little hitchy, dawg.

  4. ArtLvr says:

    I too had the feeling of déja vu — mahi mahi, etc. Someone will locate the recent example!

  5. Howard B says:

    Fell into the ETCETC trap here, due to the cluing. I also think a related theme has been done, in a different manner, and possibly in a different publication.

    It is true that there was quite a bit of rough stuff in this puzzle that really threw me off rhythm. But putting aside my solver hat, I liked the off-kilter theme design (symmetrical and yet still unexpected), using the concept of open corners for the purpose instead of stretching theme answers across the puzzle.

    Aside from the fill, I think I want to take this one in and adopt it. Feed it some Oreos, take it for walks, etc. There’s a syncopated, quirky vibe to this puzzle I find endearing. Maybe unintentional crossings pairs like the odd ZULU / MATZOS or the unpleasant ABSORBS / SECRETES contribute to this.

  6. Tom T. says:

    This is a debut puzzle with 8 theme entries in an unusual manner. There are only 70 words and 29 blocks. I would like to see more unusual puzzles from new constructors. I’m tired of puzzles where the constructor changes one letter in a common phrase: “smell the roses” becomes “spell the roses.”

  7. Gareth says:

    Anyone else try GeaRS before GOERS? Thought that was a good trap. I also fell for ETcetc, but I thought it was another good trap! There are two perfectly legit clueing options for ACER; why do we keep seeing the one completely artificial one?

  8. Cmm says:

    That one hurt, I’m usually pretty good on a Wednesday… This felt like a Saturday… I had no guess as to theme until some cross fill got me to MAHI MAHI… I really wanted ASHE to be the (Tennis Whiz) which added more difficulty… RETOOL?? RETAN?? 3 word answer ON LOAN TO?? Ugh… The only thing that can be said is QUE… SERA SERA

  9. The Dude says:

    @Doug

    You have won the thread.

  10. Winnie says:

    My sister’s name is Hitchy. I thought this was a fun puzzle and one I could finish for a change. I too went for etc etc. I don’t comment often but have found the puzzles harder and harder!!

  11. pannonica says:

    LAT: RADIO JINGLE is fine with me. It’s the station identifier: while an advertisement of sorts, not really an AD JINGLE.

    Point of contention: 20a [Flat-bodied bottom feeder] MANTA RAY. Despite what the Wikipedia page says, manta rays are not bottom feeders. All other rays have ventrally located mouths, but the two species in the genus Manta have their mouths located anteriorly. They are filter feeders in need of zooplankton and process intake water through their gills, in a similar way as their relatives the whale shark and basking shark. As such, they’re pelagic rather than benthic while feeding. They can sometimes be seen spending time near coastal sea floors, but it’s for the purpose of visiting “cleaning stations,” where wrasse ET AL. will remove dead skin and parasites.

  12. Aaron Brandes says:

    The “vat in a brain” is used by some philosophers in thought experiments. I first encountered it in Daniel Dennett’s book “Brainstorms.” Are the brain’s experiences coming from the “real world” or are its inputs generated by a computer?

    There’s a wikipedia page for that of course
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_in_a_vat

  13. Aaron Brandes says:

    As a Massachusetts resident who get’s a day off for “Patriots’ Day” in APR (frequently with extra tax filing time) I was thrown off by the AV Club 6D. Patriot Day mo. = SEP.
    The latter holiday commemorates 9/11/2001, the former the Battle of Lexington and Concord on 4/19/1775.

    A last minute update would have allowed cluing of 1D as “Late hairdresser Sassoon” or more challengingly as “Mia’s hairdresser for ‘Rosemary’s Baby’”

  14. jefe says:

    Re the AV, on the Facebook app, AREOLA is clued as [Part of what was seen in Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction].

  15. ArtLvr says:

    p.s. Congrats to Kevin Adamick on the NYT debut! I learned something new: the Lizard constellation, LACERTA!

  16. maikong says:

    very clever, Sam.

  17. Tisa says:

    This is debut crossword puzzle! WOW!

    Amy you are so cynical and mean.

  18. John Haber says:

    I started with ETC ETC as a theme entry, too, but actually I liked that deception. Must say it never occurred to me that AGAR could be doubled, why I needed a Lizard constellation, or who LAR was, but ok.

  19. Cmm says:

    My apologies for earlier comments concerning the NYT… It was a great puzzle for a debut, you (the author) were trying to make a name for yourself. I enjoyed the theme, but as previously stated I felt as it played more like a Saturday… I blame the editors… I wish you all the beat and hope to confused/intrigued/delighted by you in the future

  20. Zulema says:

    I first new AGAR as AGAR AGAR in Spanish. Count me on the pro side on this one, perhaps because I like themeless puzzles the best. It was fun to do and different, and that says a lot on a Wednesday.

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