Tuesday, 12/11/12

LAT 2:49 
NYT 2:46 
Jonesin' untimed 
CS 6:53 (Sam)  

Gene Newman’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 12 11 12, 1211

Cute Xmassy theme, with Santa’s reindeer clued as other things:

  • 4a. [Mythical archer], CUPID.
  • 9a. [Bon Ami competitor], COMET.
  • 24a. [High-stepping horse], PRANCER.
  • 35a. [Figure associated with eight answers in this puzzle], SAINT NICHOLAS. Why St. Nick instead of SANTA CLAUS? Because it has an odd number of letters, that’s why.
  • 46a. [Flash: Ger.], BLITZEN. I wonder why lightning isn’t the clue word instead. I took German and Blitzen was lightning.
  • 51a. [Pale, light lager beer], PILSENER. The most bubbly of all the reindeer.
  • 61a. [Sexually attractive woman], VIXEN. Bleh.
  • 1d. [100-meter competitor, e.g.], DASHER. Do we call Usain Bolt a “dasher”?
  • 3d. [Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers], DANCER.
  • 43d. [___ Pass], DONNER.

It’s too bad that the reindeer names don’t play along with crossword symmetry rules. Not even Rudolph could have saved this.

So much unfortunate fill in this puzzle. The theme takes up 60 squares, which is sizeable but not enormous. We must grapple with [Uncommon: Sp.], RARO (!); crosswordese ARA, UTE, UAR, LOESS, EDO, and PERI; arbitrary MISS CUBA; unfamiliar ARIANA, [Actress Grande]—oh, she’s on that Nickelodeon show my son watches, but she’s less famous than Selena Gomez for sure; the always-handy measurement abbrev CWT, [100 pounds: Abbr.]. The Scowl-o-Meter was busy today, PARD.

2.75 stars from me. Realizing that I was on a reindeer hunt didn’t make the solve any more fun.

Steven St. John’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 12 11 12

Aww, I was so pleased to notice that the theme was an ELF hiding inside each theme answer. So timely, what with this being peak Creepy Elf on the Shelf season. So pleasing, what with Will Ferrell’s Elf movie being such gooey fun. And then I reach the theme revealer at the bottom … oof! Not ELF.

  • 17a. [Eponymous son of auto pioneer Henry], EDSEL FORD.
  • 30a. [Truck stop purchase], DIESEL FUEL.
  • 46a. [Colorful coral reef dweller], DAMSELFISH.
  • 62a. [True nature, and, literally, what can be found in 17-, 30- and 46-Across], INNER SELF.

The puzzle fell with Monday speed, leaving me with only a sketchy impression of it. What’s in this puzzle? Some goodies: GUERILLA (I prefer the two-R spelling), PILSNER, THE SIMS, IT’S A DEAL. Lots of L*N people—LEN, LENA, LEON, LUNA. SEARS is clued as [Catalog biggie], but I think their catalogs are now strictly online. Can you still request a printed catalog?

I really haven’t got anything else to say about this puzzle. (Do you?) 3.5 stars.

Updated Tuesday morning-ish:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Following Directions”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, December 11

It’s the end of the semester, so I’m immersed in exams and papers. As a student, I always thought the professor had it easy–students have to learn the material for the first time, develop some mastery over it, and cram it all into their brains in time to regurgitate it over the course of a final exam or paper. All professors have to do is grade the results. Now that I’ve spent just as many years on the other side of the podium, I can assure you that no one hates exam period more than professors. Yes, students have to learn and regurgitate, but professors have to read the results. As a rule, they ain’t pretty. And those with large classes have to read the same basic answers 50 or 100 times over. Admittedly, the first time you do it, it’s somewhat fun. But it loses its charm quickly. And now I’m stuck in the ooze of student papers, doing my best to tread water until it passes.

Since I’m in grading mode now, my first thought after I finished today’s puzzle was “A for idea, C for execution.” The idea is great: four answers with directions in their names (right, left, down, up), each entry written into the grid in a way that follows that direction. So the RIGHT entry reads from left to right, the LEFT entry from right to left, the DOWN entry from top to bottom, and the UP entry from bottom to top.

The problem here is that LEFT and RIGHT entries are, I believe, neither familiar nor interesting. Judge for yourself:

  • 22-Across: The [Property purchase negotiator] is a RIGHT-OF-WAY AGENT, written in the grid so that the letters move to the right. If you’re like me, you’d never heard of this job title until just now. As best as I can figure, a right-of-way agent helps determine the value of property that may be subject to condemnation. Here’s how one website describes the job: “Governments and private industry sometimes need to acquire private property for public or private use. RIGHT-OF-WAY AGENTS, also known as land agents or real property agents, negotiate with the owners or their representatives to purchase their property or obtain the right to use it. Agents may conduct field investigations to review the routes or sites to be acquired. On many projects, engineering personnel participate in the field investigation with the Right-of-Way Agents. In some organizations, agents are technical consultants to staff members responsible for selecting routes.” Now granted, this is not a bad entry simply because I didn’t know it. If that was the guiding principle, a good 30% of most crosswords would be junk. I’m saying it’s not great because: (1) this is the only theme entry where the direction word doesn’t mean its direction (it’s “right” as in privilege, not “right” as in the direction); and (2) there must be lots of terms starting with RIGHT that would be both more familiar and, more importantly, more interesting.
  • 47-Across: The [Possible road construction result] is intended to be “left-lane closure,” but because this one starts with LEFT, the letters proceed to the left, leaving us with ERUSOLC ENAL TFEL. Again, a fun idea. But isn’t there a more interesting and less contrived term starting with LEFT? It’s a legit term, sure, but you don’t hear “there’s a left lane closure” on a radio traffic report. LEFT LANE CLOSED would work just fine, but this version misses the mark.
  • 5-Down: Now we’re talking–[Destitute] clues DOWN ON ONE’S LUCK, and here the letters run DOWN, just like about half of all crossword entries.
  • 15-Down: “Upstate New York” is [Where Woodstock was held]. But since it starts with UP, we have to move up as we enter the letters. That’s what makes the answer to 15-Down KROY WEN ETATSPU. Here, “up” is part of the first word and not the first word itself. But hyphenation experts may disagree, so I won’t make a big deal on this point.

In fairness, Randy did himself no favors by picking long theme entries as it forced him to have them intersect. But if that required those two sub-optimal theme entries, I’m not sure the extra elegance of cross theme entries was worth it. The fill had an interesting mix of fun stuff (IN HOCK, NO DICE, I TRY, ZELIG, CLAW AT) and clunky entries like DST and CWT. It was a bit jarring to see those columns of three-letter answers at the top and bottom, but I can live with

Did anyone else wonder if that was a Star Wars tribute puzzle at first? In the northwest corner we had ALEC Guiness playing OBI / WAN Kenobi over three Across entries. At first I sensed a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. But luckily it was just a temporary migraine.

Favorite entry = KLEPTO, the [Sticky-fingered type]. Favorite clue = [Billy, jack, or Billy Jack?] for MALE. Sure enough, I thought there was a typo there at first.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Paired Up”

Jonesin’ crossword solution, 12 11 12 “Paired Up”

Some things are conventionally paired up, and some things aren’t. For example, “avocadoes and goalposts,” no. “Crosswords and seismology,” no. The words with the circled letters within this puzzle’s longest answers, yes.

  • 20a. [PepsiCo beverage introduced in 2001], AMP ENERGY DRINK. Pen and ink. We would also have accepted pen and paper or pen and pencil.
  • 27a. [What Ali wore in a historic match against Liston], WHITE TRUNKS. (Fairly arbitrary answer, that.) Hit and run. Horrible combination. So shameful when people leave the scene of an accident.
  • 44a. [Used delaying tactics], STONEWALLED. One and all. We would also have accepted one and only or warts and all.
  • 51a. ["Mary Poppins" song refrain], CHIM-CHIM-CHEREE. Him and her. Did you see the sweet pictures from all the weddings in Seattle? We would also accept him and him or her and her.

Matt does his usual good job at making his long non-thematic fill sparkle. I almost fell asleep when the 9s in the LA Times puzzle were EASED UP ON and INTERLINK. Contrast those with Matt’s SMACKEROO, ESPIONAGE, IN A LATHER, fresh TOY RECALL, and big ol’ IRON PILLS. You get enough of these puppies, you might even forget stuff like ODIST, I SENT/IN ON/IS OF, and ELSA, the Born Free lioness.

I like how the circled letters give the solver a leg up on filling in the theme answers. You get one of the words, then you start thinking about what its partner will be and might even be able to fill it in without knowing the long answer. It’s also nice that the paired words are all a consistent 3 letters long. Low word count (72) for a themed puzzle, too. 3.75 stars.

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8 Responses to Tuesday, 12/11/12

  1. Huda says:

    NYT: The solving experience felt very uneven, with some areas falling like Mondays and others feeling rougher, though nothing was intrinsically hard.

    It was interesting that there were neighborhoods that were only connected by one opening– i.e. the entire NW and the entire SE were connected to the center diagonal by a single square each. I think this might have added to this sense of heterogeneity.

    I had IN A SEC before HANG ON, and crossed it with ATONAL in lieu of NEW AGE. Which meant I stared for a good while at that professorship clue, which was embarrassing given that I do this for a living…

    Nice shout out to Artlvr!

    • ArtLvr says:

      Thanks, Huda — you too! I also had the same false starts before HANG ON & NEW AGE…
      even if “atonal” wasn’t a logical match. It was my stubborn streak kicking in, I guess.

  2. Bobby says:

    “Fish-eating creatures” is far too broad a clue for sea lions. Countless creatures eat fish.

    “Blitz” is closer to “flash” as it’s singular. “Blitzen” is plural. But “blitz” it lightening, not merely a “flash”.

    Maybe I’m dumb but what’s the connection b/w “pilsener” and reindeer?

    • Huda says:

      Bobby,
      I’m thinking Amy was kidding… PILSENER goes so well with BLITZEN! May be she’s missing Rudolph, who’s not part of the poetic octet but would have been fun to see.

  3. john farmer says:

    PILS(E)NERs all over the place today. St. Nick probably wishes he had one. Or a case.

    About symmetry: the reindeer names don’t make it easy, but not impossible. With two 7s, three 6s, and three 5s, the way to “save” symmetry would be to switch from normal symmetry to left/right and have one of the 6s run down the middle and one of the 5s across (either above or below the center 6, since the letters don’t lend for crossing). Also, you’d probably need to switch SAINTNICHOLAS to SANTA and CLAUS. Not to say that would make for a better grid, or that symmetry is necessary, just that’s it’s possible.

  4. mike says:

    That CS puzzle was evil. It looked like a bunch of gobbledegook until I realized two of the long answers are backwards.

  5. Gareth says:

    NYT: Spotted theme at 3d. A bit listy, if dense. Glad I wasn’t the only one thinking Pilsener sounds like a reindeer too!

  6. J. T. Williams says:

    Hmmm…. No LAT puzzle for yesterday, and Jonesin’ link isn’t working for today. As much as I hate to seem like a complainer, especially after the fooferaw on Sunday, is there any chance at least one of those might be fixed?

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