Wednesday, 9/19/12

NYT 3:08 
LAT untimed (T) 
Onion untimed 
CS 4:58 (Sam) 

Yay! Hooray! The Chicago teachers are heading back to the classroom tomorrow and my son is too.

Michael Shteyman’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers, 9 19 12 0919

Well, now. You don’t see too many Wednesday crosswords that have a simple theme packed into the middle of a 70-word, themeless-grade grid. It took me as long as a fairly easy Wednesday puzzle, but I recognize that a lot of the fill is off-the-charts non-Wednesdayish. For example, 16a: [Wassily __, Russian-American Nobelist in Economics], Mr. LEONTIEF? Never heard of him, nor have I seen the name in any other setting. Somehow 1a: ROSTOV [__-on-Don, Russian port of 1+ million], was a gimme. If you know that Michael immigrated from Russia (or USSR?) as a preteen, the Russian content is less surprising. (See also: ORNATE like the Kremlin, SAMOVAR.) He’s pursued higher education in Maryland: Here’s ORIOLE. And he’s in medicine, so [Cerumen]/EAR WAX and MOIETY tap into that.

Did you want to discuss the theme? There’s not much to say about FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU. FOOL ME TWICE, SHAME ON YOU. There is the Bushism variant, of course. Trying to read the theme answers in the grid and get them in the right order will make you sound like you’re creating your own Bushism.

I wonder how many American crossword constructors are, like Michael, not working in their first language. It blows my mind when people solve crosswords in their second or third language, but making them? It’s nuts.

The overall Scrabbliness of this grid pleases me, and I like ON PAPER, DONUTS (I was promised a donut on Sunday morning but am still waiting for it to appear), CERISE (perhaps the prettiest color name, plus it’s French for “cherry” and I feasted on cherries all summer), ROLAIDS and its clue ([Product whose commercials ran for a spell on TV?], as in spelling R-O-L-A-I-D-S), IWO JIMA, and the underused word EXIGENT. (“Pardon me, but I have some exigent blogging business to attend to.”) Underwhelmed by the Russian one-two punch in the northwest corner, ENO, MNO, DAT, ONE-CROP, ADWOMAN, and TEC.

3.5 stars.

Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword—T Campbell’s review

LAT 9/19/12“Meet GEORGE Jetson! JANE, his wife! Daughter JUDY! His boy ELROY!”

  • [Leader for whom Houston's airport is named] is GEORGE BUSH, the elder.
  • ["The Chimpanzees of Gombe" writer] is JANE GOODALL. Any time the title has a primate in it, Goodall’s a good bet.
  • ["Superfudge" novelist] is JUDY BLUME. I read her books over and over as a kid, particularly Superfudge, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Freaky Friday. Superfudge made me a lot more nervous about having a little brother than I probably should’ve been.
  • [Pro Football Hall of Famer nicknamed "Crazylegs"] is ELROY HIRSCH, who retired in 1957. Yay, another ancient sports figure like MEL OTT. My favorite thing ever. At least Hirsch seems to have had some lasting influence on the game, so there’s an argument for his inclusion on historical grounds. And there aren’t a lot of alternative “Elroys” either: Elroy Berdahl of The Things They Carried is about as good as it gets.
  • [TV series that first aired 9/23/1962 whose family shares first names with 17-, 24-, 34- and 49-Across] is THE JETSONS.

Sometimes the stars just don’t align. By all rights this puzzle should be published on The Jetsons’ 50th birthday, but that will be a Sunday, and I get the impression that even if you added ROSIE O’Donnell and ASTRO Boy, the topic still wouldn’t generate enough excitement to be worth a Sunday. The Jetsons is familiar and fun, good Wednesday fare, but the last time anybody said “Oh my God, George and Judy!!” was probably around 1987. Maybe when their latest film adaptation gets out of development? At last report, it’s been delayed from 2009 to (maybe) 2014.

Other clues:

  • [1983 movie about a taxi company]: D.C. CAB. I feel like this one is reaching its sell-by date: it’s Mr. T’s most obscure project (deservedly), and probably wouldn’t be used if not for its crunchy consonant combo. Let it go to its 20th anniversary and then… just let it go.
  • [Speaker with a .345 batting average]: TRIS. This one had me racking my brains for Speakers of the House who’d had sports careers. And for God’s sake, Tris Speaker retired in 1928. Hirsch is a spring chicken by comparison and he’s been dead eight years.
  • [Some McFlurry ingredients]: OREOS. Nice and current.
  • [Like many Miamians, by birth]: CUBAN. This seems like it could be controversial.
  • [Bit of background in a Road Runner cartoon]: Probably the best clue I’ve ever seen for MESA.

Three stars from me!
Updated Wednesday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, September 19

I’m reasonably sure there are four theme entries here, but after that I’m AT SEA, so to speak. At this point all I can see are four puns:

  • 20-Across: Sweet Child O’ Mine becomes SWEET CHILD O’ MANE, a [Guns N' Roses song about a colt?]. That leads me to think the theme is switching vowel sounds, perhaps from a long I to a long A.
  • 28-Across: STAGE WHISKERS is an [Actor's false beard?]. Okay, sure, but what in tarnation is that based on? The theme can’t be about changing long I’s into long A’s, only because I can’t imagine there is such a thing as STIGE WHISKERS. Maybe if I look at the others something will click.
  • 46-Across: A “dress designer” becomes a TRESS DESIGNER, a [Hair stylist?]. Alrighty, then, the theme is not about using different vowel sounds, for this is a switch in the initial consonant sound. I’m officially lost on the theme, and now I have even less of an idea of what STAGE WHISKERS is about.
  • 60-Across: An [Ocean trip for barbers?] is a SHAVE-DOWN CRUISE. Thanks to Wikipedia, I see there’s such a thing as a “shakedown cruise.” It’s “a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested. Generally, shakedown cruises are performed before a ship enters service or after major changes such as a crew change, repair or overhaul. The shakedown cruise simulates working conditions for the vessel, for various reasons. For most new ships, the major reasons are to familiarize a crew with a new vessel and to ensure all of the ship’s systems are functional.” Interesting, but not exactly helpful in getting at the puzzle’s theme, for here we replace a K with a V.

Maybe the gimmick involves the switched letters spelling something, a la a Matt Gaffney meta. But neither the old letters (I?DK) nor the new ones (A?TV) appear to spell anything, and this kind of gimmick would be a bit “out there” for a CS puzzle.

I think I have to crack the STAGE WHISKERS thing to make any headway. I’m guessing the word that’s changed here is WHISKERS, only because if the change is in STAGE it would leave SWEET CHILD O’ MANE as the only theme entry where the change is made to the last word instead of the first. Hmm, how about “stage whispers?” Hey, whaddya know–that’s a real thing! My dictionary defines a stage whisper as “the conventional whisper of an actor, intended to be heard by the audience but supposedly inaudible to others on stage.” A soft-spoken aside, if you will.

Aha, now I get it–MANE, WHISKERS, TRESS, SHAVE. We’re dealing with HAIR. And since a hairy word (gross!) replaces a regular word, the title for this puzzle has to be Hair Replacements. Yay me!

Whoops, scratch that! Turns out I missed the title after all. The puzzle’s real title is “Missing By a Hair.” Forgive the tooting sound emanating from my own horn, but I like my title much better.

I probably would have changed the clue to SWEET CHILD O’ MANE to make a more overt reference to hair, the way the other three clues do. Change the last part of the clue to something like [... colt's flowing locks?], for example, and there would be more consistency.

I admire the 8-letter corners and the long Downs like GRASS STAIN and ADULTERATE. And ICY STARE is a terrific closer there in the southeast corner. But there was an abundance of three-letter entries (27, in fact–that’s over 36% of all the answers), and many of them came from the Island of Misfit Fill (RTE, STS, TSE, RLS, EEO, SST). This left me with a stutter-stepped solving experience.

Updated Wednesday evening:

Brendan Quigley’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 9 19 12

This theme’s a simple, yet vulgar, sound-change theme. A short I sound is converted into a long E sound.

  • 20a. [Croak after consuming a whole lot of acid?], EAT SHEET AND DIE. This one rewards the solver for a familiarity with LSD terminology as well as a hidden potty mouth. A two-fer.
  • 34a. Little birds by the shore?], BEACH TITS. How I wish beach teats were the base phrase, but alas, the vowel change goes the wrong way for that.
  • 43a. [Device on which Usain Bolt hangs his shoes?], CLEAT RING. That Usain Bolt sure is a fast runner!
  • 52a. [Finding a dozen veggie burgers in the dumpster?], BIG FREEGAN DEAL. Hey! Friggin’ is a euphemism rather than an outright vulgarity. Freegan is the word for a person who doesn’t spend money on food, instead scavenging from dumpsters and whatnot.

Fave fill: CHEAP DATES, the subversive ROALD DAHL, the Wiggles’ FRUIT SALAD, THE ALPS with a definite article.

Short on time–wanted to blog the Fireball before the Thursday NYT comes out, but that gives me only 6 minutes. Eek! So: Three stars.

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26 Responses to Wednesday, 9/19/12

  1. John E says:

    Holy cow – who switched the Wednesday NYT out for the Friday one? I don’t think I have ever been so beat up by a Wednesday puzzle.

  2. Jason F says:

    It’s very nasty to put ROSTOV and LEONTIEF parallel to each other in the same Wed. grid section. I felt lucky to guess ONPAPER very early. Otherwise, that section would have been incredibly frustrating.

    Rest of the puzzle was fun, though.

  3. Huda says:

    NYT: At first, this thing felt like a fortress, unassailable. I had to scan all the way to SAMOVAR before I got a foothold, and built from there. As soon as I got FOO, (from the first FOOL) the whole thing crumbled in one fell swoop and I filled in most of the grid except the NW. I simply had to cheat for that corner. ROSTOV, and LEONTIEF, crossing ROLAIDS –not that the latter is intrinsically hard but the way it’s clued, it just would not come. I kept trying to think of something magic-related. Very clever clue when I finally tumbled to it. So, that corner– not a Wednesday.

    But a good puzzle, and a nice education, thank you, Mr. Shteyman. I’m embarrassed at my ignorance, especially that I grew up reading a lot of Russian literature –translated into Arabic, so probably lost something in that translation. Obviously didn’t help. Except I knew SAMOVAR!

  4. NYT felt more like a Thursday to me. I had a lot of trouble just getting a toehold into the puzzle. Once I finally pieced together enough of the top-right to get the FOOL, the theme answers went in in one fell swoop, which opened things up, but finishing up was still a challenge.

    The ROSTOV/LEONTIEF combo was a big WTF for me. Also did not know MOIETY. But with the exception of WPA and MNO, the short fill is surprisingly clean (with a very clever clue for DAT at 46A which I only just got now).

  5. Michael says:

    While I have 10 minutes, just wanted to make a few comments regarding today’s puzzle. The feedback I’m seeing here and elsewhere is pretty much as expected: a Friday puzzle in Wednesday’s clothes, a couple of Russian WTF references, a straighforward theme, etc. Not all of this was by design, though. The original idea was to run this on Friday, April 1st, 2011, as your regular themeless with a bonus theme. I was running behind schedule, so ended up submitting it as a regular Friday with an easyish theme. While ROSTOV, LEONTIEF and SAMOVAR were semi-deliberate Russian references, ORNATE’s Kremlin clue was totally Will’s touch. My submitted clue for TEC was an x-rated double entendre that you can figure out on your own (let’s just say it used the word “dick”). As for the theme, someone on the Wordplay blog commented that he missed the clue for the last part of the saying, which could have been a Thursday gimmick. I got so fixated on (and excited about) having the answers intersect that I completely missed the opportunity to take the theme to the next level and literally fool the solvers. Oh well, maybe next time…

  6. Evad says:

    ACK! ONE CROP? And how many remember the old ROLAIDS commercials that it “spells” relief? That NW was a killer. Also, kept expecting to be fooled somewhere (other than by tough entries). Too bad Michael didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.

  7. Huda says:

    Thank you Michael, it’s great to hear the background on this. Solving it on April’s fool day would have been great fun! It would also have given it a certain context that was missing– re embedding a well known saying in a complex setting, like using and ornate frame on a simple line drawing.
    I meant to say earlier that I really appreciated the interwoven design of the theme. Very impressive!
    And CERISE, EXIGENT are fantastic and highly gettable.

  8. loren smith says:

    Michael – thanks for commenting. It’s always so interesting when the constructor weighs in. In retrospect, I liked this one as a Wednesday. Nice job.

    Gareth – terrific puzzle!!! Loved that show! Your ASLEEP clue reminds me of the old joke

    “When I die, I want to go peacefully like my Grandfather did — in his sleep. Not yelling and screaming like the passengers in his car. “

  9. ArtLvr says:

    Thanks, Michael — My first try for the 19A Comics outburst was EEK! but it gave me SPOKANE, so the rest wasn’t as difficult as expected. Your Pro FORMA tickled my fancy, for some reason, after going through pro tem, pro rata, ?

  10. Aaron Brandes says:

    Where is the CrossSynergy forum?
    I haven’t been able to find it since last Friday.

    • Dan F says:

      It appears to have been removed, without a notice on this site or that one. Fortunately, the CS .jpz is easily accessible via the “Today’s Puzzles” link above (or the URL that is linked therein). (“Easily” meaning “after 15 minutes of trying to figure out what the hell happened to CrosSynergy”.)

    • janie says:

      aaron — the puzzles were posted thru monday of this week, but as amy mentions on one of the forum pages, the folks at crossynergy have now asked her to remove the puzzle forum and its contents from her site. that doesn’t mean you don’t have access to the puzzles though! as dan mentioned, that “today’s puzzle” link really does make things easy. give it a go. your “.jpz” awaits!

      ;-)

  11. cyberdiva says:

    I really enjoyed today’s NYTimes puzzle. The main theme was easy, but a lot of the fill was more of a challenge. But not LEONTIEF. That was the very first answer I put in. Had no trouble with MOIETY either, as soon as I realized that I had misread the clue as “halt” rather than “half.” I liked the fact that so many of the clues seemed fresh to me, but not impossible. Like Amy, I’m astonished that someone can even DO a puzzle in another language, never mind CREATE one. Bravo, Michael! (I wish I knew how to say that in Russian.)

  12. Zulema says:

    Just a great puzle! And Amy, yes, I may solve them, but I would never attempt to construct one, though I am getting better at helping some constructors clue, sort of.

  13. Howard B says:

    That was quite a…. Russian puzzle.
    Nice way to fit the quote, enjoyed the challenge, though did not enjoy stumbling through the top-left as much.

  14. Cryptojazz says:

    STAGE WHISKERS comes from STAGE WHISPERS. Theme is: change a letter in a common(?!?!?) expression to get something involving hair. Pretty poorly executed IMHO.

  15. Gareth says:

    Yes, I think Rich Norris initially planned to coincide it with the film, but it has been in development hell, so the “sort of” anniversary had to suffice.

    I think I like Michael’s puzzle a lot more as a Friday themeless than a Wednesday puzzle. There’s actually quite a high number of great non-theme answers considering! ROSTOV was a gimme, but that corner was still hard as I wanted ROgAIne not ROLAIDS

  16. RK says:

    If I didn’t “see” the theme phrase at a certain point I’m not sure I would’ve finished the NYT. Still kinda’ liked it, though I suspect I’d feel different if I didn’t finish. Teen Pop, is dat really a genre?

  17. twangster says:

    In the NYT puzzle, can someone please explain the connection between “Red Cross hot line” and VEIN. I get that the Red Cross takes blood from people’s veins, and the tube is goes through is a kind of line, but what’s the “hot”? Maybe it’s another Russian reference…

  18. Got the economist of the day easily, as his principles were important to the quantitative methods classes for my graduate public policy degree. Wassily LEONTIEF is well-known among economic scholars for input-output analysis — namely, predicting the amount of production output that will occur from the insertion of specified inputs. This theory provides an academic foundation for when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (or a political interest group) estimates the economic growth resulting from a certain industry or project.

  19. Jesse says:

    I think there was an error in The Onion. Kate Middleton’s mother-in-law is Diana, not QEII.

  20. Shafty says:

    @Jesse: agree. The version of the puzzle that was at BEQ’s website is correct (clue is grandmother-in-law), but the Onion has it wrong.

Comments are closed.