Wednesday, 9/5/12

NYT 4:36 
LAT 6:41 (Gareth) 
Onion untimed 
CS 4:58 (Sam) 
Blindauer untimed (Matt) 

Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 9 5 12 0905

I wasn’t really speed-solving with much focus tonight, between watching DNC coverage and wrangling that bug on my keyboard (really! the nerve of that bug, to park itself between the R and T keys). And my attention remains divided, so let’s get on with it. The theme is a riff on the vowel-progression concept, with theme answers starting with B and marching from a long-A sound to a long-U sound. Someone more attentive than I noted that there’s an added constraint to the theme—the first letter after each initial B is not the one you’d expect for its sound. So 18a is BEIGE PAINT (a woefully flat, arbitrary-sounding answer) rather than BA-something. 23a is BIEBER FEVER (which I had a helluva time spelling properly in the grid—my fingers wanted to make it BIEBER FIEBER), not BEE-something. Our BI answer is 36a: BUYER’S REMORSE. 50a is BEAU BRIDGES rather than BO OBAMA. And 56a is BOOTLICKER and not BUBONICPLAGUE.

Toughest clue for me: 5d: [Crime family head]. Kept thinking it would be MAFIA DON or MOB BOSS or something semi-generic along those lines, but it’s MA BARKER.

My favorite words in the grid are 45a: RHEUMY, or [Watery-eyed], and 24d: BANYAN, [Tree with aerial roots]. (The banyan is second only to the baobab in the cool tree sweepstakes.) The UGARTE MESMER Y-SHAPE ARMA UTEP SERE corner was rather annoying, though, and I reckon a sizable number of solvers might get snagged by the crossing of 62a: SHERE/[Sex researcher Hite], whose ’80s heyday was a while back, and 52d: BIERE/[Stella Artois, par exemple]. Why is a Belgian beer in a French clue for a French word? It’s brewed in Leuven, which is in the Flemish (Dutch) part of Belgium, where “beer” is bier and not BIERE.

Three stars.
Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s monthly website crossword, “Double Trouble”—Matt’s review

Patrick throws us a nice softball this month, an easy but typically elegant puzzle titled “Double Trouble.” Seven squares in the grid begin both an across and a down answer; in each case, the unclued down entry forms the second half of the across. They are:

the theme took a wild twist

1-a/d [Bag-closing device] = TWIST / TIE
6-a/d [Saloon setting, stereotypically] = WILD / WEST
10-a/d [Quick look] = ONCE / OVER
24-a/d [Early adopters] = FOSTER / FAMILY
26-a/d [Like some calming medications] = ANTI-ANXIETY
57-a/d [Event with lots of bowing] = CURTAIN CALL
61-a/d [Nickname for a good looker?] = EAGLE EYES

From the byline one can assume the existence of multiple wordplay layers; here he’s used the first letters of these seven to spell TWO-FACE. I like that the letters spell something relevant, but I have to dock him a quarter-star here since that really wants to be either TWO FACES or TWO-FACED. Unless I’m missing something, which wouldn’t be the first time. UPDATE, 15 minutes later: OK, give the man his quarter-star back, and maybe throw an extra quarter in on top. I saw while solving but then forgot that there’s a meta here: the last clue across reads ["District 9" extras [Bonus: Which comic book character is hiding in this puzzle?] That would be a guy called TWO-FACE, probably because he has two faces. OK, I just Google image searched it and he has two half-faces. See for yourself!

Noteworthy:

14-a. [Ashlee Simpson album] = I AM ME. Top that tautology, if you can. Also, fyi: you are you.

19-a. [Characters from "The Iliad"] = ETAS. This kind of clue for Greek letters reliably fools me.

11-d. [Gp. that becomes an interjection when you inject an E] = NATO. Neato!

Excellent Week 1 meta — 4.44 stars. It’s kind of neato having no idea what difficulty level to expect from these puzzles month-to-month.

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, September 5

Thanks to 1-Across, the heavy lifting in my Name That Puzzle game has already been done for me. This month, I’m trying to solve the puzzle and determine the theme without reference to the puzzle’s title. Then I see if I can guess the title. Here, 1-Across tells me that GAMES is the [Magazine for puzzle people, and word that can follow the last words of 17-, 30-, 46-, and 62-Across]. I didn’t need many crossings for this. HUSTLER didn’t fit, and, taking a flyer that the answer to [More meager] didn’t begin with X, I knew MAXIM was out. That left only GAMES, the very first magazine to which I subscribed (while in junior high, if that matters).

Like the clue says, the last word in each theme entry can also precede GAMES:

  • 17-Across: The [State that's free from anxiety] is PEACE OF MIND. I was trying to think of a specific location rather than a mental state. I think the clue was playing mind games with me.
  • 30-Across: POP-UP VIDEO is the [Recently revived TV show with trivia-filled bubbles called "info nuggets"]. At McDonald’s, info nuggets come in 4-, 6-, and 10-packs. I recommend the barbecue sauce for dipping, though you should wipe your fingers carefully before playing video games.
  • 46-Across: The VIETNAM WAR was the ["Platoon" setting]. I never saw Platoon; instead, I decided to watch War Games.
  • 62-Across: It’s hard to make an entertaining clue out of WORLD HUNGER, but I think [Global fuel problem] succeeds. (Should there be a question mark at the end of that clue?) Speaking of entertaining, be sure to check out the recently-released-on-DVD The Hunger Games.

I love how multi-generational this puzzle is–Vietnam, The Hunger Games, OPI nail polish, COUNTESS Olivia, and SNAKE OIL I.R.A.s from C.P.A.s. Other great entries include WENT UP TO, TIP-TOE, AREA CODE, PURINA, LOW BID, and SCROOGES. My favorite clues were [Leaves home?] for TEABAG and [Suck it up?] for INHALE. Inner Beavis had a fun time with those entries, too, but Patrick’s humor here is far more appropriate.

So what’s this puzzle’s title? It can’t be something like Games People Play because that would be revealing the answer to 1-Across. But how about Play Time? On some occasions, the title to a puzzle serves as an additional theme entry. So something like Don’t Get Carried Away (as in “away games”) is possible. But I like Play Time better, so I’ll go with it.

Turns out the puzzle’s title is “Play Things.” Same idea, but different title. Close but no cigar, as they say. And that’s fine by me–I’m not a cigar smoker anyway.

Mel Rosen’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s review

Tough Wednesday for me today; in all 3 departments: some of the clues, answers and especially the theme.

Until I came across the revealer at OVER, I had no idea as to how to fill in the theme answers; even with that information I battled with two of those answers. If you haven’t fully comprehended what Mr. Rosen is up to, the theme clues should be interpreted as [Oversaw], [Overhead], [Overcome], [Overboard] and [Overdo] I think [(Over)*Head] as a noun equivalent of smash is American tennis slang? It isn’t something I’ve come across too often. I also struggled to believe the second word of DEFEATADVERSITY, even with a number of letters in place. It still doesn’t sit well with me, it doesn’t sound at all natural, although I guess “We Shall Defeat Adversity” sorta works as far as substitution goes… I dunno. Anyway, (over)all I thought concept-wise it was a clever trick and nice twist on the “definitions” theme genre; however, as always the downside of the genre is at that best you have kinda boring theme answers.

The grid is designed without many long answers. One seven-letter down answer, NOTDONE, crosses three theme answers. There are a further two across 7′s – OPENAIR serving a dual role of being a fun answer and injecting common letters into the grid. I also liked MTCOOK, though I suspect it will be a tough nut for those who aren’t geography fundis. To the right of it was BENGAY. What a weird name! Needed every cross and even then considered “BENGBY”!

One area of fill was IMO quite iffy: where the two dubious suffixes, ITES and STER, cross and are joined by the abbr. SSA. This could be refilled quite a lot more inoffensively if one were to lose ZITI (e.g. MOB for ZIP and KNIT for STER). Was the trade-off for that fairly crosswordesey Z-answer really worth it?

To close, some further clue/answer pairs I found tough:

  • ["Coming Home" actor] for DERN meant nothing to me. Actor suggests this isn’t Laura we’re dealing with. It’s Bruce. The film from 1978. Further tidbits from Wikipedia include: “starring Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern”… ” Fonda and Voight won Academy Award [sic] for their performance.” Poor Bruce missed out!
  • I had EGGED instead of URGED.
  • AFOOT clued as [In progress, to Sherlock] – I wanted “Sherlock” to be a generic “British spelling/vocab” indicator here.
  • [Letters for Louis Quatorze]. Looking at the clue with the power of hindsight I can infer that Quatorze means “fourteenth”, but it was pretty inscrutable at the time.

Updated Thursday morning:

Ben Tausig’s Onion AV Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 9 5 12 Ben Tausig

Funky theme: Ben takes NIXON’s Watergate COVER-UP as inspiration for a theme in which ONs are NIXed and UPs are COVERed, in both clues and answers.

  • 1a. [September 8, 1974 pard recipient - and what the constructor did throughout this puzzle], NIXON. The ON in “pardON” has been nixed.
  • 18a. [Partner in toenail maintenance?], CO-CLIPPER. Coupon clipper loses its adjoining UP and ON.
  • 22a. [Tee ball, e.g.?], CHILD SPORT. Child sUPport.
  • 37a. [Part of a 1-Across scandal - and what the constructor did throughout this puzzle], COVER-UP. There is an ON in “constructor,” which I just noticed now. Throwing in “cstructor” might have made it harder for solvers to fully understand the theme.
  • 51a. [Autograph hound's vehicle?], SIGNING BUS. Signing bONus.
  • 56a. [Web developer's elegance?], CODE GRACE. CoUP de grace.

Other clues affected by the ON- and UP-lessness include 6a ([Huge name in electrics] <- electrONics), 21a (["Judge ___": 1995 Stalle film] <- StallONe), 36a ([Clothing with a cats stain, perhaps] <- catsUP), 67a ([Colic procedure] <- colONic), 11d ([Disposable c material] <- cUP), 16d ([Sal's splies] <- salON sUPplies), 30d ([Annoyance for an holsterer] <- UPholsterer), 54d ([Prima dna features] <- prima dONna), and 61d ([Band with the album ""] <- “UP”).

I like how the conjunction of Richard Nix-ON and his cover-UP inspired this theme. 28a could similarly inform another theme: An IT-less LOSES IT puzzle would change 28a’s clue to [Goes apesh].

Four stars.

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22 Responses to Wednesday, 9/5/12

  1. Huda says:

    I usually really enjoy Paula Gamache puzzles, but this one did not speak to me… May be it’s just the timing since we had a recent puzzle with a progression based on sound not spelling. And may be it’s because the first theme answer I got was BIEBER FEVER, which I really liked, and I started looking for phrases that rhyme, and then phrases that start with a B and rhyme… which made BEIGE PAINT particularly anticlimactic.
    At some point, I got the drift and near the bottom of the puzzle, I was expecting a U, so I had ButT LICKER for a while. I cracked up, and thought way to go, Paula!, and was disappointed to have to replace it with a BOOT.

    My guess at a Natick would be the UGARTE-ARMA cross.

    • Evad says:

      I met my Waterloo Natick at the crossing of SHERE and URKEL. (Had an I instead.) Man, what an ugly crossing that is.

  2. Anoa Bob says:

    I hesitated when I got to 12D “Three after K”. It looked like LMN would fit. But I couldn’t imagine that happening unless it was essential to the rest of the entries in that corner.

    I didn’t find anything there that warranted resorting to LMN at 12D. And the corner looks so easy to fill. I can see a couple of options that would avoid a three-letter alphabet run.

    So the question that begs asking is “Why?” The cynic in me spots two possible reasons to keep LMN in that corner, one at 10D IPAD and the second one PUMA at 16A. Makes me wonder if the NYT gets any $ for product placement in the crossword puzzle. How else can you explain LMN?

    • Gareth says:

      Was wondering about that corner too… Although after having a similar complaint in the LAT I didn’t want to be a nagger! No money for product placement, that’s definitely not the reason. My guess is the allure of the hip iPad answer, even though it’s already (inevitibly) quite well-used IMO.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    This one spoke to me, but it said “yuck!” Least favorite NYT puzzle in a long time.

  4. M says:

    Gareth, I agree with you about DEFEATADVERSITY. Plus, the verb “defeat” is a straightforward synonym of “overcome”. Certainly, one can overcome adversity, and defeat foes and overcome foes, and so on.

  5. David L says:

    Can someone explain XIN in the NYT? I’m guessing it should be read as X IN, but that still doesn’t mean anything to me, cluewise or otherwise.

    • Martin says:

      You can tick a box on a form with a check mark or an X.

      • David L says:

        Thanks — but does anyone really say or write ‘did you X in all the boxes on your TSP form?’

      • Howard B says:

        Yes, I have heard X IN “in the wild”, but it’s a bit slangy and not the most common thing you might hear. A bit iffy as fill but it’s somewhere in the language.
        By the way, you are aware of the changes to the TPS reports, right? We’re check marking instead of XING now. If you could remember to do that during your next solve, that’d be greaaaat.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Howard means XING IN, of course. Maybe in a few more decades, we can morph the verb to XINING.

      • Martin says:

        Howard’s XING is in the dictionary, unlike XING IN.

  6. Ruth says:

    At first I thought OSLO was in 2 puzzles the same day with the same clue! But on review–no–two different museums. Such a useful town it is.

  7. Gareth says:

    Really, really liked four of the five answers in the NYT today! BIEBERFEVER is pure gold! But not much else.

  8. backbiter says:

    Sam, we consider Name that Puzzle more difficult than Name that Constructor, and are cutting you slack. As far as we are concerned you have correctly guessed “Play Things” and “NoW You Know!”

    That’s two this month. C’mon make it eight for me.
    BTW, I am an avid cigar smoker. Go Sam!

  9. Lois says:

    I really liked the NYT puzzle today. I liked that Will seemed to place it in response to our comments about the similar vowel progression puzzle next week. The consistency of the representation of the a, e, i, o and u sounds by surprising vowel combinations not starting with a, e, i, o and u was just what a few of us were asking for.

  10. Gareth, chalk BenGay difficulty for you as cultural.
    Those ads were unbiquitous growing up…i could “hear” the ad before I came up with the name.
    But that combined with BenGay jokes would be more a gimme for an American. I’m still floored you can solve as much as you can, given subtle disadvantages like this.
    Anyway, bad bad naming …not trying to drum up work, but that product could definitely use a new name!
    Love guess the title! Well done Sam! I still wish all puzzles had titles, would eliminate the need for a reveal within the grid…and what fun in general!

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      What?? C’mon, “BenGay” is awesome! They need to really embrace it and hold a BenGay Pride Parade.

    • Gareth says:

      There’s not as much of that sort of answer as you’d think, especially if you pay attention to references in American films/TV/songs etc. etc.

  11. Ps hope to see folks at the newly renamed BAC Fill this Saturday! Downtown Oakland…fundraiser. http://Www.bayareacrosswords.org. Chance to meet the legendary Manny Nosowsky, if all goes well.

  12. Sean P says:

    Can’t believe it’s been that many years, in re the Onion puzzle. Feeling old indeed.

  13. Lois says:

    About the NYT puzzle, I also thought that the French word biere was fine when talking about the French name [Stella] Artois, despite the brewing of the beer in a Flemish-speaking town, since after all French is one of the official languages of Belgium. After all, Belgian beer is a bit better known here than any French beer.

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