Wednesday, 6/27/12

NYT 3:37 
LAT 3:10 
CS 7:33 (Sam) 
Onion untimed 

Mike Buckley’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 6 27 12 0627

I love the grid for this 15×16 puzzle, with the dozen PENTOMINOES pieces serving as the black squares. At first I thought the theme was the Soma Cube but these pieces (a) are mostly wrong for Soma and (b) are strictly two-dimensional (at least in this crossword). Besides 37a, the other theme answers are LACKING SYMMETRY and NON-INTERLOCKING. Well, of course they’re non-interlocking. If they were all pieced together, you’d have a giant contiguous blot of black.

However, those 60 black squares do somehow make for a little awkward fill. I’ve never heard of STORM IN A TEACUP. “Tempest in a teapot,” yes. (Apparently it’s an old movie, a few songs, and an established phrase, but it’s looking to have a British bent, no?) I’m not sure that BIG OX is a discrete lexical chunk unto itself. The clue [Penniless, in Pennington] presumably points us towards an English town and thus a British English word, SKINT, that I’ve never seen before. And the crosswordese NENE flew in from Hawaii for the occasion.

Much better are the UTOPIAN PRAIRIE, “OH, ROB!,” “TIGER RAG,” STYMIE, ELSINORE, and GO LONG. Did you know Phylicia RASHAD is directing a play here in Chicago, at the Goodman Theatre?

I’ve been waiting to see “OTIS” clued this way—[2011 Grammy-winning song by Jay-Z and Kanye West]. It is not, I assume, about the elevator inventor dude.

3.5 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “On the Road” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, June 27

The longest Across entries are two-word entries where the last word is synonymous for “excursion:”

  • 20-Across: The [Chrysler SUV] is the DODGE JOURNEY and not the DODGE CARAVAN which, alas, occupies the same number of squares. That error cost me a good chunk of time.
  • 37-Across: FANTASTIC VOYAGE is the [Asimov sci-fi novel based on a 1966 movie]. Huh, the film came before the book? You don’t see that nearly as often.
  • 52-Across: The [Executive excursion] is a BUSINESS TRIP. Why is this the only clue that ends with another word synonymous with the three theme words? This should be the case for every theme clue or for none of the theme clues, not just one of the three.

“Synonymous word” themes like this work best when the synonyms are used in ways that play to their alternate meanings and not to their thematic meaning. So DODGE JOURNEY works because the “journey” here is not an excursion but a car model. But FANTASTIC VOYAGE isn’t great because it doesn’t play off of any alternate meaning of “voyage.” The same is true for “trip.” POWER TRIP or TRIP THE LIGHT FANTASTIC would be great theme entries (ignoring issues of symmetry and length) because they use alternate meanings of “trip.” But a BUSINESS TRIP is an excursion, a voyage. So the theme comes up short here.

The fill is considerably better, fortunately. CON JOB, GET LOST, VINYL, and DIJON add some spice to the grid.

My solving time was slow even by my mortal standards. I blame BAIZE, the [Billiard table surface] that just wouldn’t switch to FELT no matter how badly I wanted it to do so. I made another misstep with RITE instead of RITZ for [Extravagant display] (I still like my answer better), which gave me AXLE as the [Figure skating leap] instead of LUTZ. Yeah, yeah, when I’m not in the heat of the moment, I know the skating move is AXEL and not AXLE. But when you’re trying to navigate quickly you’re willing to make all kinds of compromises.

Favorite entry = STANDING O, the [Informal show of approval]. Favorite clue = [Strips in a club?] for BACON. Yes, my mind went there. And stayed there. Longer than it should have.

Byron Walden’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword solution, 6 27 12 Byron Walden

Okay, here’s how to do a quote puzzle: Make the quote super-short and put it in a wide-open grid. We’ve got a 70-worder here with 6×4 corners and 7-8×3 corners and some juicy fill. Plus, there are fresh clues galore.

Theme: JIMMY KIMMEL emceed the White House Correspondents Dinner and quipped, “WE USED TO MARCH. NOW WE OCCUPY.”

Highlights:

  • 25a. BP/AMOCO, fresh fill. [Big Oil merger of 1998].
  • 43a. RITZ BITS cracker sandwiches. [Snacks filled with peanut butter (OK) or "cheese" (ick!)]. The “cheese” is in quotes because it’s really neon orange cheezoid.
  • 48a. [Trendy cupcake sprinkle], au courant clue for SEA SALT.
  • 60a. [Tail chaser?], semi-naughty clue for the innocuous GATE.
  • 1d. [It makes the fur fly], WAX JOB at the waxing salon. Technically, the “fur” isn’t going to fly through the air. It’s “fly” in the dictionary sense of “depart hastily.” Haven’t actually heard the term “wax job” but it makes for fun fill.
  • 4d. [Witty comment], BON MOT. My kid is good at the bon mot.
  • 5d. [2002 Pedro Almodóvar film], TALK TO HER. Solid, arty.
  • 9d. ["Go the F*ck to ___"] SLEEP. It’s a picture book for parents. I’ve not heard the audio version read by Werner Herzog, but the Samuel L, Jackson one was pure gold.
  • 11d. [Gallant but futile], QUIXOTIC. Like WAX JOB, a double-Scrabbly answer.
  • 35d. [ABC reality show featuring familial rearrangements], WIFE SWAP. A friend of mine was actually invited to be on the show. At the time, this liberal feminist was the proprietor of a sex toy shop. She could have used the TV money, but she figured the producers would put a conservative Christian in her house and it just wouldn’t have worked for the family.
  • 39d. [Needs a toilet], HAS TO GO. Fresh fill, but only after a spritz of deodorizer spray.
  • 44d. [Clic, for one], BIC PEN. Fresh fill, no?

See? This is why I sometimes grouse about ambitious themes that fill up 60 or 80 squares, or stunt grids (think quad stacks) that prevent the constructor from packing the grid with juicy stuff. QUIXOTIC, TALK TO HER, RITZ BITS—those are, to me, a bigger payoff than “Wow, there are 10 theme answers in a 15×15″ or “Wow, look at the low word count.” I like interesting and fun fill. A wee theme of 35 squares, and a quote theme to boot? Not a problem if the other 67 answers entertain me.

Mystery answer: 65a [Journalist Octavia canned by CNN for a tweet sympathetic to Hezbollah], NASR. I missed the entire story and I’ve never heard of her.

The “no, that’s not a lexical chunk, not at all” answer: 33d [Snap, crackle, or pop, say], EMIT SOUND. No, no, no. Now, if the answer had been EMIT GAS or BLOW A FART, I would be more forgiving.

4.5 stars.

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

LA Times crossword solution, 6 27 12

Don and C.C. are back with a theme I couldn’t figure out without the revealer at 45d:

  • 20a. [Cause a major snafu], GUM UP THE WORKS.
  • 32a. [Spacely Space Sprockets employee], GEORGE JETSON.
  • 41a. [Pioneer 10 or Voyager 1], JUPITER PROBE.
  • 57a. [Umbrella-carrying Disney character], JIMINY CRICKET.
  • 45d. [This puzzle's title, based on the starts of 20-, 32-, 41- and 57-Across], BYLINES.

“By gum,” I may have said in jest. “By George,” very familiar. “By Jupiter”…say what? I know “by Jove” is an expression, but Jove’s equivalent Jupiter sounds wildly unfamiliar in the phrase. “By Jiminy” is all right. “Criminy” is not a mashup of Jiminy and Cricket, which is a shame.

Haven’t heard the phrase SPIN JOBS, I don’t think (38d. [Damage control efforts, imagewise]). Or maybe I have.

Two answers made me scrunch up my face. 29d: [Lambs: Lat.], AGNI, and 55d: [PayPal funds], ECASH. I see how AGNI was encouraged by the theme answer layout that put a *G*I space here. The choices are AGNI, AGRI-, and UGLI, and the latter two are better in my book. I’ve yet to hear the word ECASH in any conversation, spoken or written. The ECCL/ELIHU crossing is uninspiring, but I do like LL COOL J and SNAPPLE to the right and left of it. ENE, SSE, LLD, EELY, and EDA are also on my “meh” list.

Three stars.

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31 Responses to Wednesday, 6/27/12

  1. joon says:

    loved this puzzle. it’s ambitious, it breaks all the rules (including the unchecked letter there at 59a—it comes amazingly close to literally breaking all the rules of grid design), but it’s for a good purpose and the fill is pretty darn clean. i’d love to see more puzzles this original.

  2. Martin says:

    Ditto what Joon said.

    Also…

    STORM IN A TEACUP is not awkward if you are British. It’s a common expression (in the UK) meaning exactly the same thing as “tempest in a teapot”.

    -MAS (ex-Brit)

  3. Foodie says:

    Interesting, self-referential puzzle! Certainly breaks a lot of rules in terms of design. I think NON INTERLOCKING means that the PENTOMINOES are not capable of interlocking, as a group. Because part of the original impulse is to see if they represent scattered parts of a visual puzzle that can be reconstructed to create, say, a full rectangle. But one must not have a ONE TRACK MIND, now must one…

  4. Foodie says:

    Oh, cool! I stand corrected!

  5. Jared says:

    Somebody less dumb than me: Please explain 33A.

  6. larry says:

    A caret says, “insert a letter here”.

  7. Jared says:

    Ah, of course.

  8. Bananarchy says:

    Agree with foodie on several points. Think you hit the nail on the head with your NON-INTERLOCKING interpretation, and I also love a good self-referential puzzle. When done well, as in this case, it has a unique sort of elegance and cohesion that could never quite be captured in another puzzle without it being a direct rip-off.

  9. Jenni Levy says:

    So for once I have time to do the puzzle early in the day and discover that I am (so far) the lone dissenter. I wasn’t crazy about this puzzle. I like a good self-referential puzzle, too, and “LACKING SYMMETRY” was my favorite entry. I’ve never heard of pentominoes, though, so once I figured out the theme, it left me cold.

    I also really don’t like STORM IN A TEACUP. OK, it’s a British expression (I’d kinda figured that), but this is an American puzzle. It’s too close to TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT, and it just sounds wrong. And what, pray tell, are RUN-ONS in at 47A? I had “INS” there for a long time, and when I changed it, I was very confused. Run-on sentences? Or what?

    I will say that “What a wide receiver or an Oscar broadcast might do” is one of my favorite recent clues.

  10. Howard B says:

    Loved the ingenuity, rule-breaking, and design. I was also thinking Tetris at first, until I realized that the blocks had a little extra something…
    Really struggled with the unfamiliar Queen’s English here. Perhaps I should spend some more time across the pond, or at least refresh myself on the BBC.

  11. Daniel Myers says:

    SKINT, in my experience growing up in the UK, was known to me but not much used. It was, as my mother was wont to say, rather “infra dig”, a bit like “C’MON” here. There are several Penningtons in the UK, all rather “out the way” citing Mums again, fitting the clue.

    Jenni,

    I did take Run-ONS to be run-on sentences, but there may well be other uses. I haven’t investigated.

  12. Martin says:

    “Skint” is very common on “Eastenders.” My guess is you and Mum are not Cockneys.

  13. Daniel Myers says:

    Quite, Martin. Right toffs, we are. :-)

  14. janie says:

    >Huh, the film came before the book? You don’t see that nearly as often.

    nor this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001:_A_Space_Odyssey_%28novel%29

    ;-)

  15. ArtLvr says:

    Loved seeing SKINT, but tried RIOT (of color) before RITZ. Also agree that the grid was great! ARENA standing alone was timely, as stock traders await a momentous FDA decision today on the company’s application to market its weight-loss drug. If approved, it will be the first in that field since ill-fated Fen-Phen et al. This little biotech saw a bubble of cult mania over the past month! (I took my profit yesterday).

  16. Martin says:

    Another possible meaning for “It makes the fur fly” in Byron’s Onion is found in the slang meaning of “fly,” adj. If you remember “In Living Color” and the Fly Girls (especially Carrie Ann Inaba!) you know that “fly” means attractive, sexy, hot.

    I wouldn’t put anything past Byron.

  17. loren smith says:

    I LOVED the puzzle! Obviously never heard of PENTOMINOES, either, but what a cool grid. I also got a kick out of the reverse-feeling clue and answer for RAID.

    Never heard of SKINT, but the following is one of my favorite Monty Python skits, where they’re outSKINTing each other.

    http://youtu.be/13JK5kChbRw

  18. Daniel Myers says:

    Yes, loren, probably their most well-known – and most-parodied – skit. But you just try showing that skit to young people NOW…They just won’t laugh at it!

  19. Jeff Chen says:

    Cool puzzle! Love the innovation. If it only had a two-letter word so it could smash all conventions.

  20. loren smith says:

    Daniel – the one I posted is right up there with, “Hello, I’ve come for an argument.” “No you haven’t. . .”, the one where the guy wrestles himself, and hearing Mao say “Great Balls of Fiyah” in a Chinese accent.

  21. pannonica says:

    Predates Monty Python. Original “At Last the 1948 Show” version here.

    p.s. Hello everyone.

  22. Daniel Myers says:

    Welcome back, pannonica!—They do the North Country accents much better in that version.

  23. Martin says:

    @Foodie et al.,

    I have to walk back my earlier comment. While pentominoes can be densely packed in any number of rectangular arrangements, the puzzle probably means “interlocking” in a stricter sense, which you can’t accomplish. None of those packings are “locked,” meaning that no single pentomino can be removed without moving another. I assume that this is what the entry is asserting, correctly so.

  24. loren smith says:

    Pannonica – wow. I had no idea it wasn’t their material. Thanks!

  25. Martin says:

    It was written by Cleese and Chapman, (who usually wrote as a team) for the earlier show. They reused it for Python later. So even though this predates Python, it’s still very much their own material.

    MAS

  26. loren smith says:

    Martin – Doomo arigatoo. I feel better about things now!

  27. Martin says:

    … and if you look closely, you’ll see both writers, Cleese and Chapman, as the middle guys in the sketch.

    MAS

  28. loren smith says:

    I went back and looked. You’re right! Thanks again. I really enjoy Monty Python, but I don’t know a lot about the guys.

  29. Daniel Myers says:

    Since we seem to be on an MP stretch, I’m compelled to mention something that’s always bothered me a bit about the famous Latin Lesson scene in Life of Brian. John Cleese is wrong about “domus”. Yes, it should be in the Locative, but the Locative is domi, not domum, which is Accusative. I’ve always wondered whether this faulty Latin lesson was intentional or not. Such things keep yours truly awake at night.

  30. pannonica says:

    Martin: I thought the presence of Chapman and Cleese (and the connection to Monty Python) was obvious, but also didn’t know for sure that it was only those two who wrote it, since the show’s writing is credited to all four.

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