Sunday, 11/4/12

NYT 8:58 
Reagle 6:45 
LAT 8:03 
Hex/Hook tba 
WaPo untimed (Doug) 
CS 6:54 (Sam) 

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s New York Times crossword, “Frankly Speaking”

NY Times crossword solution, 11 4 12 “Frankly Speaking”

Ah! Mais oui, it is a bon thing I took an année of French in college. Brendan’s theme is built of English phrases that contain words that are also (sometimes with the addition of an accent mark) words in French:

  • 25a. MERE MORTALS, [Marseilles mothers who are not goddesses?]. Mere = mother. (Please append your own accent marks.)
  • 40a. TRAINING BRAS, [Working on one's biceps and triceps in Toulon?]. Bras = arm.
  • 59a. YELLOW FIN, [Cowardly end in Cannes?]. Fin means “the end.”
  • 80a. ONE OF OURS, [Bordeaux bear cub?]. Ours = bear, but I don’t get the ONE OF part.
  • 94a. INTERNET CHAT, [Online feline in Lyon?]. Chat = cat. Hey! Lyon is a great city name for a cat clue. Have you seen Henri, the YouTube French cat sensation?
  • 113a. OFFICE TEMPS, [Nine to five, generally, in Grenoble?]. Temps = time, but I’m not sure if it applies to this sort of usage.
  • 3d. ROMAN GLADIATOR, [Prizefighter in a Parisian novel?]. Roman = novel.
  • 5d. THE ARTIST, [Expert at brewing oolong in Orleans?]. Thé = tea.
  • 54d. PAIN MANAGEMENT, [Overseeing of a Bayonne bakery?]. Pain = bread. Hey, isn’t Bayonne in New Jersey?
  • 82d. CRIME PAYS, [French-speaking country where illegal activity runs rampant?]. Pays = country.

One of my favorite animals of the order Cruciverba is in this puzzle. STOAT! A [Short-tailed weasel]. Nobody ever anthropomorphizes the stoat, or uses it in colorful metaphors. “Oh, my god, I’m as drunk as a stoat.” “Wow, he was like a stoat in that race. So fluid and sleek.” “If you’re good, the Easter Stoat will bring you…” I’m sorry. I was going to find out what stoats eat via Wikipedia, but I got distracted by this: “When attacked or aggressive, the stoat excretes the contents of its anal glands, producing a strong, musky odour produced by several sulphuric compounds, which is distinct from that of least weasels.” (“Pee-yew! What smells like stoat?” “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s least weasel you’re smelling, fool.”)

With 10 theme entries occupying a lof of space in the grid, the fill all has to play nice with theme content. A goodly number of answers cross two theme entries, in fact. So while DARK AGES, J.P. MORGAN, BE GENTLE, and SAD LOT impressed me, some of the fill was … meh. Like RE-EMPLOY.

3.25 stars. Not quite as fun as a standard BEQ puzzle.

Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “In the Moooood”

Merl Reagle crossword solution, 11 4 12 “In the Moooood”

The theme is “phrases that include COW, which is an animal that says ‘moo’”:

  • 22a. [He wrote, "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform"], WILLIAM COWPER.
  • 30a. ["Saturday Night Fever" co-star], DONNA PESCOW. Donna Pescow! She’s been off the radar for about 33 years now.
  • 38a. [Ex-coach of the 2006 Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers who is now a game analyst for "The NFL Today"], BILL COWHER. Terrible mustache.
  • 43a. [In a disapproving manner], SCOWLINGLY.
  • 56a. [Officemate], COWORKER. You can hyphenate that as cow-orker.
  • 65a. [Ex-presidential adviser Brent], SCOWCROFT.
  • 79a. [It can make horses nuts], LOCOWEED.
  • 91a. ["Blithe Spirit" penner], NOEL COWARD.
  • 94a. [Vodka cocktail], MOSCOW MULE. Wha…? Never heard of it.
  • 100a. [Popular candies]. NECCO WAFERS. Define “popular.”
  • 113a. [What a son of the beach might say], COWABUNGA, DUDE.
  • 1d. [Often acidic critic], SIMON COWELL.
  • 69d. [What has no wheels and flies?], GARBAGE SCOW.

I predict that the typical solver will look askance at two or three theme answers. The COW crowd is not the most household-namey.

See that 23d: [Puzzling bird]? A MERL is a blackbird.

Gotta run now. 3.25 stars.

Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 135″ – Doug’s review

Trip Payne’s Washington Post solution 11/4/12, “The Post Puzzler No. 135″

Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. I’m way behind this weekend, even with the extra hour, so this is going to be a quickie.

  • 9a. [Old-fashioned lovers, maybe] - TOSSPOTS. Great clue! And I like the fact that TOSSPOTS is an old-fashioned word for “drunkards.”
  • 13d. [Home to Double-A baseball's Curve] – ALTOONA. This is one where being a constructor came in handy. I’ve written multiple clues for ALTOONA, so I know a few random Altoona facts.

More cool stuff: NO MEANS NO, SLIM JIM, STAGE LEFT, and a brand-new non-Lenya LOTTE.

Updated Sunday afternoon:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, November 4

All this week we’re dipping into the Crossword Fiend mailbag to answer reader questions! Today’s question comes from Enid in Ada, Oklahoma: How would a crossword review read on the Bizarro Internet?  Weird question, Enid, but I think it would go something like this:

Here’s a debut puzzle from someone named Martin Ashwood-Smith. Congratulations on your first published puzzle, Martin! If you keep at it, you might get a few more in the papers from time to time. Hang in there! Work hard, say your prayers, and eat your vitamins.

You can tell this is a novice construction because there’s only 64 answers and 28 black squares. Veterans can get as many as 78 or, rarely, 80 words in a single grid, with as many as 40 or 42 black squares. The pros also try to get more three-letter answers in the grid. We prefer at least 20 of them if possible, but this grid only has nine of them.

I know, I know–you’re thinking I should go easy on Martin because he’s still learning the ropes. But how will he ever get better unless we point out the glaring flaws? Someone needs to tell him, for instance, that we see quad-stacks of 15s All. The. Time. Grid-spanning entries are a little tiresome and are basically devoid of sparkle. STAYS ON ONE’S TOES has no oomph to it, and I swear it seems like we see ANTOINETTE PERRY, SEEK A SENATE SEAT, and PRIVATE DEVOTION at least three or four times a week. Try for some fresher fill next time.

The kid has potential, though. There are some gems like SEC, ENNE, OOM, the pairing of SYST and SYNS, and the delightful use of LENAS and FEDERICOS. More plural names, please!

Fortunately there were a number of entries that were immediately familiar to me. Every kindergartener knows that CALIPATRIA, California, [At 184 feet below sea level, this is the lowest city in the USA], second only to Seattle after losing the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City. And that a RADOME is [Semicircular antenna housing]. And of course we all remember IRES as the answer to [Puts out, in a way] (as in, “Get my roommate drunk and she really ires.”)

Favorite entry = ERS, the [Hospital hubs]. What a find! I’m putting that in my word list right now. Favorite clue = [Rights defender, for short] for ACLU. So true!

Yeah, Enid, it would go something like that.

Robin Stears’ syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “All Fired Up”

Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword solution, 11 4 12 “All Fired Up”

This week’s theme is concocted two-word phrases made up of words that can follow “fire.” I’d like the theme beter if the theme entries contained more humor, but they feel pretty dry:

  • 23a. [Extra-strength panic button?], POWER ALARM.
  • 29a. ["No hitting below the belt" et al.?], FIGHTER CODE.
  • 49a. [Saltine special?], CRACKER SALE.
  • 71a. [Subdivision at the mannequin factory?], ARM DEPARTMENT.
  • 95a. [First critters on a farm?], STARTER ANTS.
  • 113a. [Legion of ventriloquist dummies?], WOOD BRIGADE.
  • 124a. [Sharon's home?], STONE PLACE.
  • 43d. [Hard-to-read preliminary print?], LIGHT PROOF.
  • 48d. [Head judge on "Top Chef"?], CHIEF EATER.

Top fill: ACHILLES (10d. [Paris was too much for him]), ETHAN COEN, QUAGMIRE, “IT’S MAGIC.”

Didn’t know this:

  • 46d. [Harper Lee's first name], NELLE. Pretty sure I’ve encountered this factoid before, but I needed all the crossings to put it together today.
  • 46a. [Acronymic candy company], NECCO. Necco Wafers are gross, no? (Note that WAFER is at 22a, clued as [Host at a communion]). Now, if you don’t know that the New England Confectionery Company is the source of the “Necco” acronym, if you just don’t know the candy, and/or you don’t know Harper Lee’s real first name, that N might be a killer.

The middle zone has a pile-up I don’t care for. 37d: NCOS is clued fairly nonspecifically, 38d: TREPID is not a word in every dictionary, 50d: ANISES is an odd plural, and 60d: CAPA isn’t clued as a Spanish word (this [Bit of bullring gear] is a cape in Spanish). They cross ["Magic Hour" author Susan] ISAACS, who may be less famous than Lucius Malfoy portrayer Jason Isaacs at this point, and two theme entries, and ASPIC (which I’m not sure most non-regular solvers are familiar with). There’s also the southwest corner, with OREL/OONA/A-RONI.

2.75 stars. I wish the theme had packed more of an entertaining punch, and I wish the overall fill were zippier. Perhaps using seven or eight theme answers instead of nine would have helped?

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14 Responses to Sunday, 11/4/12

  1. I only think of stoats as being one of the things that badgers eat. Sadly, whatbadgerseat.com no longer seems to exist (it just redirects to thesimpsons.com), but it used to look like this.

  2. Angela says:

    Lots of fun. I got the “Mere Mortals” immediately, but had to put away the puzzle because our grocery store finally opened after three days of no power. We’re slowly beginning to see subway and bus service in my area after the hurricane Sandy smacked the East Coast hard. But when I finally got around to picking up the puzzle again, I was stumped and really had to fill in a lot of spaces before it began to come together again. A grand distraction from the disaster all around us.

  3. Martin says:

    Smelly stoat becomes regal ermine in winter. There has to be a lesson in there somewhere.

    Don’t forget your extra hour of sleep.

  4. Karen says:

    I just talked to the Barnes and Nobles in Warwick today about the Puzzlewright Press crossword contest, and it looks as though it’s called off due to Sandy–I’m guessing the puzzles were supposed to be sent from NYC. Dan, please comment if otherwise.

    • joon says:

      it is indeed off, at least for now. they’re working on rescheduling it.

      you could always come to burlington instead … :)

  5. Huda says:

    This puzzle reminded me of my college days, and the crazy way my friends and I would string words from Arabic and English in the same sentence. I had a linguistics professor who actually studied these concatenations to determine which grammatical framework they would follow. It turns out that the first word of a sentence determines the grammatical structure to follow… I know you’ve been wondering…

    But speaking of grammar, that first clue and theme answer bothered me. The grammar felt totally off. The clue is plural: Mothers– and mothers are females, as I hope we can all agree. So, I thought it should be MEREsMORTALeS. As I went on and realized that only one word was French, I revised it to MEREsMORTALS. But the singular MERE is simply not MotherS.

    Still, I enjoyed it a lot, but wonder if it would be nearly as enjoyable to someone who speaks no French.

  6. sandirhodes says:

    Reagle: Wait a minute. Betty Friedan founded NOW, not NEW. A newspaper division is COLumn, not cel* — right?

  7. Howard B says:

    Clever Times theme construction, with interesting fill. As French is a poor language for me, not having taken any classes and with no working knowledge in it outside of simple reading and context, not knowing many of these basic French 101 words did hurt the experience.
    That said, I appreciated its construction, despite a significant bit lost in lack of translation.

  8. Papa John says:

    “…lost in lack of translation.”

    Exactly! I never cottoned to the theme until I came here. By then, all the glitter was off and the puzzle sunk into a matter of “who cares?”

    I’ve complained again and again against the use of foreign words in Xwords. Is there another word game that allows them?

  9. backbiter says:

    LMAO at Sam’s Bizarro review. This could have been a great April Fools gag where all the reviews are like that. Now that I’m mulling it over it would be great to have a day where every constructor reviews his/her own puzzle under another blogger name. “This is a five star puzzle all the way”, etc. Just to see how many readers catch on.

  10. Dumb Anglo says:

    I’m sorry, but were it not for the constructor’s cred, I don’t think Shortz would have thought twice about publishing “Frankly Speaking.” It’s an awful theme that makes no sense to the majority of us who don’t speak French, and it’s filled by clues that make even less sense. Abbreviated Greek letters are a solution? Since when? And is there anyone outside of the Middle East who knows what Turkey’s third-largest city is? And not to be picky, but erasers don’t contain traced of lead; they contain traces of graphite. Anyone else think “Dead ringers” for nooses was simply disgusting. Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings and extremely obscure fills and clues, I was able to solve it completely, which I suppose gives it some redeeming value.

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