Wednesday, 6/20/12

NYT 4:00 
LAT 3:21 
CS 5:33 (Sam) 
Jonesin' untimed 
Onion untimed 

Two announcements:

  1. Peter Broda, whom you may know as Bananarchy from his comments here, is running a month-long meta contest (MGWCC style) on his blog. Check it out.
  2. Patrick Berry has a new Rows Garden puzzle on his website. Here’s the PDF. If you crave more Rows Gardens, visit Patrick’s archives and Andrew Ries’s Aries Puzzles for more.

Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword puzzle answers, 6 20 12 0620

Fun theme, really solid fill, nothing to grouse about? I’m calling this one a 4.5-star puzzle. The theme is five famous dudes’ names spoonerized into goofy phrases:

  • 17a. [Actor's order to sock an NBA legend?], WHACK JORDAN. Jack Warden is the actor in the clue’s first word.
  • 24a. [Teammate of the 17-Across legend avoiding toilet trainin'?], POTTY SKIPPIN’. Scottie Pippen! You don’t see a lot of theme answers with cross-referenced clues, but this one works (and I grant you, I might be biased because I lived in Chicago during the whole Jordan/Pippen run with the Bulls).
  • 33a. [Old comic actor's Little Bighorn headline?], CUSTER BEATEN. Buster Keaton.
  • 43a. [Threaten a classic comedienne like a talk-show host?], MENACE DILLER. Dennis Miller meets Phyllis Diller.
  • 51a. [Writer-turned-Utah carpenter?], MORMON NAILER. Norman Mailer.
  • 62a. [Controls a prison guard like a pop singer?], TAMES JAILER. James Taylor.

There are spelling changes beyond the initial sound in most (but not all) of the theme words, which makes it a little more challenging to piece together the answers and their inspirations. The clues all provide the claim to fame of the pre-spoonerism celebrities, which is handy. The spoonerism results are mildly humorous, which is usually the best you can expect from crossword theme answers—mildly humorous is less fun than raucously hilarious, yes, but it’s a damn sight better than “that doesn’t even make sense,” “that doesn’t really work,” or “that’s totally flat.”

And despite Alan’s inclusion of six theme entries, the fill isn’t forced to eat dirt. Some of the fill is ordinary blah (LAN, AGR, ALAR) but not out of bounds for a Wednesday puzzle, and most of the fill is solid to good. JACKPOT, “FACE IT,” the LUSTY KNAVE, “MARRY ME,” ORGIES, BANJO, and SCOOB all pleased me. The blah bits did not bug me while I was solving. So yes, 4.5 stars from me.

Gary Whitehead’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 6 20 12

Eh. Nothing in this puzzle really grabbed me or rubbed me the right way. The theme is baseballish and was not obvious to me while solving:

  • 17a. [White Castle offering], HAMBURGER SLIDER. Um, they’re just called sliders, as far as I know. “What’s a slider?” “It’s a mini-burger.” In all my years of White Castle exposure (my entire lifetime) and in the recent years of non-W.C. sliders appearing on bar menus, this HAMBURGER SLIDER phrase has not presented itself to me. (Grumble, mumble, mutter…)
  • 24a. [Gadget for sharing a TV signal], CABLE SPLITTER. That’s fine, but mighty dull if you ask me.
  • 40a. [Angler's weight], FISHING SINKER. I’ve always just called ‘em sinkers, but apparently “fishing sinker” is fine as a generic term.
  • 53a. [Types of them can be found at the ends of 17-, 24- and 40-Across], BASEBALL PITCHES. The fastball, curveball, and spitter/spitball are all more familiar pitches (to me) than the SLIDER, SPLITTER, and SINKER.

If I loved the fill, I could get past the theme not working great for me. But the fill has a fusty feel to it, with answers like LAHR, ISAO, FIDO, ASTI, ILE, IDES, RHEA, TEN G, OSSO, SAGO, ENDO, and ABED (the latter being a word that pretty much nobody uses outside of crosswords, am I right?). Sometimes the longer fill provides the spice, but here, TABULATE, TIE RACKS, WINESAPS, and INSTALLS are about as exciting as that CABLE SPLITTER. And that TIE RACKS is what’s forcing the southeast corner to be so ugly. Bleah.

2.5 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Starting to Fly” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, June 20

What’s with all the buzz over today’s crossword, you ask? It’s probably because of all the flies hovering about. The four theme entries in this puzzle end in words that can precede “fly:”

  • 18-Across: A [Pomelo or kumquat] is a CITRUS FRUIT (“fruit fly”). I was pretty good at sexing fruit flies in junior high biology class. That was about the only thing I could do right in biology class; my destiny as a liberal arts major basically showed itself years in advance.
  • 28-Across: A [Tragic military mistake] is FRIENDLY FIRE (“firefly”). Anyone reading this a fan of Joss Whedon’s show, “Firefly?” Some friends tell me I would like it, but I feel like I have enough shows to catch up on as it is. I still have yet to see The Wire, for crying out loud. And yes, this paragraph was written in 2012 and not 2002.
  • 47-Across: The [Goober-shaped sandwich cookie] is NUTTER BUTTER (“butterfly”). Those close to my age will no doubt remember the TV ads urging kids to “have another Nutter Butter peanut butter sandwich cookie.” Check out that ad–someone in the production of that ad just had to be high.
  • 62-Across: And speaking of high, there’s Puff the MAGIC DRAGON (“dragonfly”). At a young age I believed dragonflies could breathe fire, but I was led to believe it wouldn’t hurt very much if you came into contact with one because they are so small–the flames were very tiny. Sometimes I wish things like that were true–it would be pretty cool.

There’s not too much here that should trouble newer solvers very much. I slowed down with SIBYLS, the [Fortunetellers], as FRAUDS seem to fit pretty well too. For whatever reason, I always seem to try YENTA as the ["Fiddler on the Roof" matchmaker] before getting to YENTE. MASAI, the [Indigenous Kenyan], also felt tricky.

Favorite entry = BEEF STEW, the [Dinty Moore product]. Favorite clue = [Detach, as a cat's claw from a sweater] for UNSNAG. That’s a most evocative image, no?

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “I See London”

Jonesin' "I See London" crossword solution, 6 19 12

Brilliant gimmick! The central column of squares can be left blank, as there are no clues for any words that might fit there. The puzzle’s title coincides with GOD SAVE THE QUEEN and ALL OVER THE WORLD clued as [Where Olympic athletes come from to convene in London], suggesting a London twist. You ride the Tube in London and you get warnings to MIND THE GAP and not fall right into the gap between the train and the platform. And so the gap in the puzzle can be filled with MIND THE GAP, and the answers surrounding the gap combine with the gap letters to form valid fill. OLÉ and ISS. take an M to make OLE MISS, TOR and ADO + N = TORNADO, LAUGH-IN and OUT LOUD + G = LAUGHING OUT LOUD.

I don’t remember how I started figuring out the trick. I think it must have been the TOR_ADO. AMI_BLY was fairly obvious to me too. But OLE_ISS and CAR_RIP, both two-word 7-letter answers, were less suggestive than the 7-letter one-word gap answers.

So the middle of this puzzle must have been an absolute bear to construct. Matt had to come up with 7-letter words and phrases (plus two 15s!) that could be split 3/1/3 with valid 3s and with the MIND THE GAP letters fitting into the /1/ spot. And if that isn’t enough, he got two vertical 15s that point the solver to London’s MIND THE GAP. Tell us, Matt: How many hours did you labor to birth this one? Was it three times longer than your usual puzzles take?

There is some ugly fill in here, yes. DESTINE(D) TO GLORY feels weird to me. HDS, A WEE, ANS, TAE, AN IN, IN AT, and TAL also triggered the Scowl-o-Meter. But the surprise factor when I figured out MIND THE GAP buys a lot of forgiveness. 4.5 stars for a memorable trick, pulled down from the 4.75-5 range by that fill.

Deb Amlen’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword solution, 6 20 12 Deb Amlen

If you don’t know what PARKOUR is, you should watch the insane, death- and gravity-defying maneuvers in this video. There is running (to get a running start when jumping across a chasm between buildings, say, or running up or across the broadside of a wall). There is rolling (after you jump off a building, you need to roll on the ground, leading with the shoulder of course, to do something with all that energy other than shattering your bones). There is jumping (up, down, over yonder, back and forth, like Spider-Man but without web assistance). And there are flips (a lovely back-flip off a wall closes out the David Belle video). So RUN A FEVER, ROLL IN THE HAY, JUMP THE SHARK, and FLIP A COIN all use those verbs in other, less athletic ways (but not boring ways). Fresh theme, and perfect for the Onion’s younger readership (vs. the older readership of a daily newspaper, somewhat less likely to be hip to parkour).

Favorite clues and fill:

  • 16a. LABIA, clued here as [Sexy lips?]. Only one appearance in the Cruciverb database, in a puzzle by Manny Nosowsky, M.D., a urologist who surely encountered plenty of labia in his line of work. Those Michigan legislators would probably freak out about this word, too. This here blog comes down firmly on the side of “Yes, it is fine to say ‘vagina,’ but don’t be juvenile about it.”
  • 44a. SANRIO, ["Hello Kitty" maker]. It’s a gimme, right?
  • 53a. PEG, [Use a dildo on a man, as a woman might]. Crosswords by PuzzleSocial solvers got a different clue referring to Al Bundy’s wife. The usage here was illustrated for me most memorably on The Sopranos, when Janice and Ralph were in the sack. He did some insulting name-calling throughout (“You hoo-er!”), which was hardly good manners. Or he had her call him that? It’s not clear to me. Who can clear this up?
  • 2d. CLUE, ["Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick" game]. Who doesn’t like Clue?
  • 27d. OK GO, ["Needing/Getting" alt-rock band]. Don’t know the song, but I love OK Go’s treadmill and Rube Goldberg paint videos. Here’s their similarly odd and surprising video for the song in the clue.
  • 47d. UVULA, [It's often enlarged in cartoon depictions of screaming]. Note: It doesn’t say VULVA, it says UVULA. I know. It’s hard to be sure given the other fill here.

Nice theme. 3.5 stars, because some of the fill (e.g., OBEAH, EEE, OOO) isn’s so hot.

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32 Responses to Wednesday, 6/20/12

  1. Jeff M. says:

    Merely a coincidence that amoral, orgies and on tap crossing Mormon? I think not!

  2. Jared says:

    Agreed that today’s NYT is great – made greater in my mind, I think, in contrast with my exceedingly unfun experience with yesterday’s puzzle.

    This is another one of those times, Amy, when I’m envious of your star-rating flexibility, what with not being tied to whole numbers and all.
    I can’t rate it 5 stars but it’s better than 4.

  3. Gareth says:

    Couldn’t figure out the theme – I had to come here – which made closing this one out challenging. Not too sure who most of the spoonerised people are; everyone except Keaton and Mailer, in fact. Oh and James Taylor is a singer. I’m sure this is just a knowledge failure on my part. To Wikipedia we go! Still, MORMONNAILER is awesome! And this puzzle has 70 letters of theme answers and still has room for MARRYME and JACKPOT – also awesome!

  4. Todd G says:

    TIERACKS doesn’t force the lower right corner to be “so ugly.” The corner can be improved as shown below:

    A T E R
    C H E S
    K U R T
    S D S U

    And personally, I’d have used TIETACKS instead.

  5. Howard B says:

    I have to humbly admit here that I couldn’t parse the spoonerisms and so had no idea what was going on until visiting here (I don’t know who Jack Warden is, so that really threw me off the scent). But Scottie Pippen should have assisted me; I guess he’s far enough outside his basketball career that his name didn’t come up on my radar.
    (Norman Mailer, of course. It’s plain to see now :(. )

    So yeah, I have trouble with spoonerisms. Celebrities too. Nice puzzle, fun fill, really clever theme (in the “Wish I’d thought of that!” category), yet definitely not my cup of joe.

  6. ArtLvr says:

    MOI aussi, I thought the NYT was clever, even if the first two theme people were unfamiliar, and I also appreciated the sparkling fill. LURKING was especially apt, as the downplayed news of last night was the return home to Russia of the huge ship halted off Scotland which had been carrying attack helicopters to Syria… Congrats to our President and allies who deftly and quietly managed a potentially horrendous situation!

  7. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Todd: I’m not sure EERS, RSTU, and SDSU are any better than OSSO, TENG, and SAGO!

  8. Deb Amlen says:

    @Howard B: Jack Warden was one of those character actors that you’ve seen in more movies than you realize. Here’s his IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0912001/

  9. John Haber says:

    I’m fond of spoonerisms but didn’t recognize Scottie Pippen and Denis Miller, so came here to find out who they were (and how to spell the first). Of course, that took a lot of the fun out of the puzzle’s heart, its long theme entries. (The play between names in some of them made me think all would require name recognition to that degree, which discouraged me, finding only later that some were just phrases.)

  10. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I’m astounded by the lackluster (or worse) reactions to today’s puzzles. Sometimes I think I’m so far out of sync with the rest of the world that it would take a space craft to get me anywhere near the sink. About the funniest, best collection of Weds. in a long time. Alan’s NYT was great. For whatever reason all the spoons were immediately obvious to me and as a non-Chi. Bull fan, I loved the mini-theme. How can anyone not like Custer Beaten and Mormon Nailer. (The Columbia students used to say “Help mail out Norman Stamper.”)

    I’m often indifferent towards the Onion Puz. (Byron’s are usually an exception), but Deb’s was about the funniest, with some of the most creative, amusing clues ever. It hasn’t been blogged, so I’ll hold off, but a Valerie Solanis sighting, and who could possibly not like a puzzle with the clue at 53a. (Actually I’m not sure that I entirely get. . .but PLEASE–don’t anyone try to explain it to me. :-)

    Even the LAT– yes, it was very easy–More Mondayish than Tues. by NYT standards, but what a clear, elegant, nicely themed, well-realized puzzle. I would have thought that if this were a NYT Monday, everyone would have been raving about how a puzzle doesn’t have to be hard to be excellent. Oh Well.

  11. MM says:

    The ugliest thing in the LAT is INSPOT (wtf?). Hamburger slider is oddly specific, but I think it works (see here, e.g.).

  12. Daniel Myers says:

    ArtLvr,

    What’s more than a bit droll about your “downplayed news” item is that it’s ultimately down to the British insurance firm’s withdrawal of coverage whilst the ship was off the coast of Scotland. Never underestimate the power of maritime insurance, or the withdrawal thereof.

  13. Martin says:

    Ok, what’s wrong (or ugly) with IN SPOT in today’s LAT?

    -MAS

  14. Howard B says:

    @Deb – Thanks! Deb and IMDB to the collective rescue.

  15. Andy K. says:

    The only fill for that corner I can think of that’s even marginally less ugly is this,

    A T E D
    C H E S
    K E N O
    S O Y S

    where the N in KENO can be replaced with an L for KELO/EELY if so desired. SOYS is vaguely ugly, as is DSOS, but they’re both better than the TENG/SAGO crossing, imo.

  16. Andy K. says:

    Also, don’t forget that tonight at midnight (if I’m interpreting the rules correctly; otherwise, the deadline was eleven hours ago) is the deadline to submit for the Twenty Under Thirty Contest.

  17. Greg says:

    Besides being kinda dull, although I like baseball entries, is the error on 39d. Skeet-shooting
    And trap-shooting are two completely different things. They are cousins but have different fields, different guns, different rules, formats, and the list goes on.

    A better clue might reference pigeon shooting. Then again, why would we expect an editor of a California paper to know anything about guns?

  18. Jeffrey says:

    It appears Dennis Miller did meet Phyllis Diller on his show in 2005. Can’t find a clip, though.

  19. Tuning Spork says:

    In the Jonesin’, the bottom-most fill-in answer I imagined, at first, was HOT LINK and wondered what MIND THE GAL could be refering to.

  20. Zulema says:

    I just have one objection to a NYT clue, and it’s a perennial bugaboo for me. I do understand that KITING is just about impossible in the internet age and so we have forgotten what its actual meaning was. It has nothing to do with “falsifying” a check. It has to do with ckecks deposited in one account and cashed through another before the check has cleared. This is the very short definition. The checks are perfectly legitimate, but there is no money underlying the deposit. I cannot even remember any more exactly how it was done.

    Otherwise, an awesome Wednesday. Couldn’t figure out the theme till I got MORMON NAILER.

  21. Martin says:

    Yes, great gimmick from Matt today. FYI the “mind the gap” warnings are only posted on tube stations that are located on sharp curves, of which there are many. (I’m originally from London)

    -MAS

  22. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I don’t understand those low ratings for the Onion puzzle. Are they from people who were mystified by the PARKOUR theme? From people aghast at the racy aspects? Because the theme is pretty tight and lively, and the fill is decent overall.

  23. Martin says:

    Now that I think of it, didn’t Games Magazine back in its glory days have a similar themed puzzle? Instead of “mind the gap”, it had “San Andreas Fault” running down the center. Although, I’m not sure that the old Games puzzle went the extra mile and split the across words up.

    I can’t remember the constructor, but it was under Will’s Pencilwise editorship.

    -MAS

  24. Jeffrey says:

    @MAS – Are you thinking of Andrea Carla Michaels’ debut NYT puzzle? It had a jagged line in the print version. She described it on a Fill Me In episode.

    http://www.xwordinfo.com/Crossword?date=6/12/2000

  25. Martin says:

    No Jeffrey, this was definitely a Games magazine puzzle from the early ’80s. The “fault” ran vertically down through the middle. I’ve got it in an old Games collection (book) somewhere. It may have been by Stephanie Spadaccini.

    -MAS

  26. *David* says:

    I offically wave the white flag, I can’t keep up with all the puzzles coming through. I need a crossword filter, please someone tell me which puzzles I have to do and which can slip between the cracks. You can tell me in code so we don’t insult any constructors.

    5:44, damn you Sam or maybe I’ll start calling you Newman.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      @David*, that’s what the star ratings are for! It was Pete Muller’s idea. He was hoping to have a shortcut guide to which puzzles were most worth doing.

  27. joon says:

    lovely bunch of puzzles today, especially if you include the jonesin’ as a holdover from yesterday. i like PARKOUR and was first introduced to it by the spectacular opening chase scene in casino royale. crossword constructor xan vongsathorn is a parkour enthusiast; there used to be some photographs floating around the web of him putting his head through his kitchen ceiling, but i can’t track them down right now.

    sam, give firefly a try. there are only… what, 14 episodes? but it has all of the jossy goodness you might hope for: an excellent ensemble cast, gravitas, wit, action, and (most importantly) perfect pacing. the movie (serenity) was good too, but also kind of poignant in that it made me realize how shortchanged we were by only getting 14 episodes of this (plus a movie) instead of, say, 6 or so full seasons.

  28. john farmer says:

    Greg: “Then again, why would we expect an editor of a California paper to know anything about guns?”

    Cause nobody knows nothing about guns in California! (“Which way you supposed to point that thing? Oops.”)

    Seriously, no one’s an expert on everything. I have no idea what the editor knows about guns, but editors (and anyone writing clues) tend to rely on references. Like the dictionary. Mine, for example, says skeet is a form of trapshooting. Maybe it’s wrong. The crossword databases have dozens of clues that use “trapshooting” as a clue for SKEET and I don’t remember hearing a fuss about it before. Maybe the whole crossword community has been living in ignorance the past couple of decades.

    For all I know you could be right about skeet and trapshooting, Greg, but if the clue is wrong I don’t think California has anything to do with it.

  29. ArtLvr says:

    @ Daniel Myers – I know the coup hinged on the withdrawal of the UK maritime insurance, but the ploy had to be orchestrated with the US because of Obama’s careful treatment of his Russian counterpart before the cameras that same evening. The negotiations and threat behind them to the safety of the ship remind one of JFK’s solution to the Cuban missile crisis. It will all come out eventually, but diplomatic face-saving for all concerned is paramount for now…

  30. Martin says:

    “Labia” is just Latin for “lips.” The “inner” surface of your teeth is the labial surface, because terms like anterior and dorsal are useless on the curving jaw. A labial consonant doesn’t take any special talent for ventriloquism. One name for the mint family is Labiatae, for the lipped flowers. You have dirty minds.

    The beautiful Clitoria ternatea is in the pea family, which has different lipped flowers.

  31. Daniel Myers says:

    ArtLvr,

    Yes, of course. I’m not denying for a moment that there was much more to it than maritime insurance! Indeed, that’s what makes the current reportage, as I put it earlier, such a DROLL read.:-)

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