Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fireball 7:33 
AV Club 5:47 
NYT 4:56 
LAT 3:09 
BEQ 7:03 (Matt) 
CS 6:19 (Sam) 

Bruce Haight’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers, 1 3 13, 0103

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s “Themeless Monday” puzzle this week had a big “13″ drawn with its black squares. Today’s NYT has a “1″ theme with four big “1″s in the grid (plus four single-dot squares). Each “1″ stands in for a missing “one” or “1″:

  • 1a. ALL FOR {one}, [Start of a motto first published in an 1844 book].
  • 7a. APOLLO {1}, [1967 disaster].
  • 59a. MURDER {one}/murder in the first degree, [Serious rap].
  • 60a. HOLE IN {one}, [Sports coup].

32a: ACE feels like it goes with the theme too, doesn’t it?

This is a themed 66-word puzzle in which 32 of the answers have 7 or 8 letters. Uh-oh. The “aha” moment that accompanies the revelation that the four 6-letter theme answers are completed by “one” was not quite enough to compensate for the general unpleasantness of the fill. I was saying “uh-oh” by 1-Down, remembering a recent ACPT puzzle in which ex-San Francisco mayor ALIOTO was nowhere near famous enough to have anything but the most unambiguous crossings. This puzzle has a surprisingly high quotient of “uh-oh” fill:

  • 5d. OBOVATE, [Inversely egg-shaped]. Never seen that word before.
  • 26a. The rare OUTSTEP, [Go beyond], would be less pesky if it weren’t crossing LINE OUT.
  • 10d. LEISTER, [Three-pronged fishing spear].
  • 24a. NATATOR, [Swimmer]. Inferrable if you know natation, but that SION crossing won’t get you the first letter if you don’t know it. And if you don’t know SION, OME isn’t helping you much with it.
  • 34d. MARY ORR, [Writer of the story on which "All About Eve" is based]. Drew a total blank. Luckily, I know how to spell 33d: ILIESCU, [Two-time Romanian president Ion], so the corner wasn’t deadly.
  • 55a. BANDORE, [Old guitarlike instrument]?? Are you kidding me? Heck, I know of the medieval instrument the REBEC (from crosswords!) but have never seen the word BANDORE before.
  • 41d. DENARII, [Ancient Roman coins]. I lucked out. I know this old 7-letter crosswordese. If I didn’t, I’d have been dead in the water at that R crossing in the unknown BANDORE. Free preview: Rex Parker’s Thursday post is likely to single out that R crossing as the single worst crossing he’s ever encountered in an NYT crossword.
My boss Skyped me while I was blogging this puzzle. He wanted to know if the crossword was really hard, or if he was just tired. “This puzzle makes me sad,” he said.

I’ll grant you that TOSTADA, LITERARY, IMAGINES, SCRAPES, ESTONIA (with a crazy clue, [Country where marinated bear is a specialty food]!), DATA PLAN, and TEST TUBE are all good. But overall, yes, the ugly short bits (FAC OME UDO DOL SION TOPE) and the aforementioned longer stuff brought me down. 2.25 stars.

David Steinberg’s Fireball crossword, “Breathtaking”

Fireball crossword answers, 1 3 13 “Breathtaking”

This puzzle’s a one-trick pony, but the pony’s got a neat trick: 15 squares will perfectly accommodate a 45-letter word broken into 3-letter chunks. That word is the not-really-a-real-word-used-by-pulmonologists PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS. (The story behind the word is here—in short, the National Puzzlers’ League coined it, not doctors. Do check out the “See also” items at the end of the Wikipedia article.) Now, I am troubled by the other theme answer: 16a, [62-Across, e.g. ... or what 62-Across definitely isn't], MINOR AFFLICTION—oh! I see what I missed. The O could also be an E, [Graphic introduction?] being the letter GEE (g) or the prefix GEO-. So it’s a MINER AFFLICTION that isn’t a MINOR AFFLICTION.

See, now, that’s not right. Silicosis is indeed a serious condition that affects miners and other workers exposed to fine silicon dust. But the trumped-up pneumono-etc. refers to a supposed form of silicosis caused specifically by inhaling ultramicroscopic silicon particles in volcano dust. Are there a lot of volcano miners? Maybe there are, and their existence has just been hidden from me all this time.

There’s also a dupe of key word parts here. In 56d: APNEAS, the pne- part means breathing, and in 62a: PNEUMONO-etc., it refers to the lungs that breathe air. UP NEXT would have the same PNE sequence, though of course the U and X would make that corner tougher to wrangle into submission.

Elsewhere in the puzzle, I like OUT OF AFRICA, CARLOS BE{LTR}AN, and HAVARTI. Favorite clue: 50a. [She wears very little clothing], a BARBIE doll.

3.5 stars. Fun to see every word-nerd’s favorite 45-letter word squeezed into the puzzle.

This is the first of 45 Fireball puzzles for 2013. If you’d like to subscribe (for $18.90), visit fireballcrosswords.com.

Donna Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 1 3 13

Light, playful theme: Complaints a restaurant patron/critic might have, tied to apt restaurant names.

  • 20a. [Critic's complaint about the new restaurant "Godot"?], ENDLESS WAITS. Would you say that 20 minutes for a TO-GO (54d. [Ghana's neighbor to the east]) order is an awfully long time to wait if there was no line ahead of you? Had that experience a couple days ago.
  • 28a. [Critic's complaint about the new restaurant "Charley Horse"?], CRAMPED SPACE. Haven’t been to a crowded eatery lately, but I did have a charley horse in my calf the other night.
  • 43a. [Critic's complaint about the new restaurant "Moon"?], NO ATMOSPHERE.
  • 52a. [Critic's complaint about the new restaurant "Double Fault"?], INEPT SERVICE. Tennis humor. And also? A shockingly bad name for a restaurant.

I usually like Donna’s fill just fine, and her clues have just the right amount of whimsy and fresh approach:

  • 49d. [Dressing extreme?], NINES. As in “dressed to the nines.” I am usually dressed to the fives.
  • 14a. [Land with a red, white and green flag]/16a. [One whose land has a red, white and green flag], IRAN and OMANI. We would also have accepted OMAN, but not IRANI.
  • 17a. [King whose true height is the subject of much discussion], KONG. 18th-century ruler of Laos, if I’m not mistaken. Very short man.
  • 1d. [Approves, on Facebook], LIKES.
  • 9d. [Bankrupt baker], HOSTESS. I was thinking of Mrs. Fields and Famous Amos, baked-good brand eponyms.
  • 12d. [2011 Hiroshima Art Prize winner] … 3 letters, Japanese, creative? Gotta be ONO, always. Nice to see a new clue.

3.75 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Search Party”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, January 3

Each of the four theme entries begins with a word that can mean “whereabouts unknown,” thus prompting the “search party” in the puzzle’s title:

  • 18-Across: Something [Malfunctioning wildly, as a computer] has GONE HAYWIRE.
  • 28-Across: Someone [Caught speechless] is LOST FOR WORDS. I have nothing to say about this.
  • 48-Across: Someone [Forgetful at times] may be described as ABSENT-MINDED. Said person might fare well in academia. 
  • 64-Across: Someone accused of being the [Long-sought evolutionary connection] might be teased as the MISSING LINK.

Okay, this isn’t the tightest theme ever (only one theme entry has more than two words, and only GONE has its meaning change), and it’s a bit awkward that the clue for ABBR at 1-Down is [Cpl. or Sgt.] when SGTS is the answer at 57-Down. But there are some nice elements here too, like the two longest Downs (NOT TODAY and S.S.MINNOW), SAYS I DO, BEGS OFF, COZY UP, YIPE, and I’M OKAY.

Four entries gave me trouble. I kept wanting EROS as the [Noted matchmaker] but it proved to be NOAH. I blanked on Israel’s EHUD Barak, and likewise had nothing for [Bay window] (that was ORIEL). It was especially tough for me, since [Hematite, e.g.] meant nothing to me, much less ORE, and I wouldn’t have known that [Dopp kit items] were COMBS if my life depended on it. Fortunately, it didn’t.

Favorite entry = POOP, [Information, informally]. (Like it would be anything else.) Favorite clue = [Cook book?] for COMA, though in I’m reasonably sure we’ve seen it before here in the CS puzzle.

Aimee Lucido’s AV Club crossword, “Pop Singles”

Five (variably) famous musical people who go by one name figure into this theme. (Variably) familiar phrases that begin with a not-a-human word adopt an apostrophe-S to convert them into possessive phrases relating to the musicians:

  • 17a. [The political faction of singer Dewar Barrett?], MARIO’S PARTY. Whoa. This one lost me on two counts. Have no idea who Mario, aka Dewar Barrett, is. (I know current pop names if they’ve had hits since about 2010, when my kid got hooked on top 40, or if they’re written up a lot in Entertainment Weekly. Mario’s last hit was in ’09.) Did not know there was a Nintendo game called “Mario Party,” either. (Husband looked it up. Released in 1998.)
  • 24a. [Underthing of multi-instrumentalist Alecia Beth Moore?], PINK’S SLIP. Hey! I got this one. I wonder how many Fiend readers still own a slip at this point.
  • 40a. [Hasbro dexterity game featuring singer-songwriter Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner?], STING’S OPERATION. Never knew about the two middle names; Gordon Sumner would have sufficed.
  • 51a. [The solitary confinement container of singer-songwriter Kilcher?], JEWEL’S BOX. Jewel is her first name, not merely a stage name. Needed the crossings, though. Nearly went with STEEL’S BOX because I couldn’t think of another ***EL BOX option.
  • 64a. [Where to buy produce from bassist Michael Peter Balzary?], FLEA’S MARKET. I would absolutely shop there. I bet a lot of stuff is free (“Give it away, give it away, give it away now” has got to be the market’s motto.)

Likes: iCARLY, GUAVA, ASCII clued as [Format of "Star Wars," as viewed in a Linux terminal], SARCASTIC clued as [Totally meaning exactly what one says, uh-huh], SIREN clued as [Killer in a myth that's pretty misogynist, if you think about it], PAPA DOC, REMIXES, AIR HOCKEY (does the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott have a game room with an air hockey table? Because if it does, I need to play), GIRL clued as [Nonspecific dedicatee in many a boy band song].

Dislikes: EDER, a couple partials. Really quite a minimal amount of badness.

It’s not the puzzle’s fault that the Mario references were utterly lost on me. Mario had a #1 hit in 2004, and “Mario Party 9″ came out last year (apparently the Mario Parties keep on coming, but have not announced themselves to me ever). Four stars.

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Packing on the Pounds” — Matt’s review

Brendan’s just back from Christmas with the in-laws in Blighty, a time during which he amply stuffed his piehole. This theme riffs off that: his puzzle is called “Packing on the Pounds,” and its five theme entries feature base phrases + LB. Themes like this hinge on whether or not hilarity ensues, so let us fire up the laugh-o-meter and take a look:

16-a [Pastimes enjoyed by Napoleon during his exile?] = ELBA SPORTS, not EA Sports. Erik Agard’s athletic company. Just kidding.

25-a [Golf shot by one of the Heatles?] = LBJ STROKE. That’s a Lebron James reference, not a presidential one. Riffing off J-stroke which I think is a canoeing reference? Yup.

36-a [Mastermind behind "The Hobbit"?] = BILBO-ENGINEER, as opposed to a bioengineer. Or maybe that’s only a verb, not sure.

50-a [What happens when you turn off the blinking Christmas lights?] = BULBS STOP, not bus stop.

59-a ["I'm wearing some outdoorsy clothes I bought from a catalog"?] = LL BEAN ON ME, instead of the song “Lean On Me.”

That’s an acceptable set; the last one featured the expected hilarity, and #2 and #3 were smile-inducing. So we’ll say thumbs sideways/up on the theme.

Quirky features:

***The Serbo-Croatian (I guess?) spelling on tennis deity Novak Djokovic’s last name at 23-d (“Ðokovic”)

***XES and its reversal SEX crossing at 43-a and 44-d

***At 1-across, mystery (to me) band ALT-J, mercifully double-clued as ["Fitzpleasure" band whose name is a Mac keyboard command].

3.62 stars, .01 for each day remaining in the new year. Also, today is the last day to hit Brendan’s tip jar: a $10 shot gets you his new 21×21 themeless plus a chance to win a copy of his new book.

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29 Responses to Thursday, January 3, 2013

  1. RK says:

    A point taken off the NYT for your boss, Amy?

    EPIGONE, TERRINE, DENARII, BANDORE crossing was too much for me. Otherwise a decent puzzle.

  2. Jason F says:

    NYT was too tough for me today. I tried BANDOLE/DENALII in that crossing. Seemed reasonable…

    The NATATOR/LEISTER crossing also was very hard for me. I had to walk through all the letters before guessing (right as it turned out).

  3. Evad says:

    Exactly the same two trouble areas for me as Jason. I was struggling to figure out how many stars to give this puzzle and then I looked at the black square formations and I had my answer. At the very least, the 1 part of the right hand phrases (APOLLO and HOLE IN) should have preceded the entries to use the black 1 that was there in the grid.

    Are EPITOME and EPIGONE antonyms?

  4. Bruce N. Morton says:

    The bandora (which I think is the preferred spelling) is one of those lute-like instruments (sort of a bass lute, I think) which 16th century English composers were enamored of. I admit, it’s pretty specialized. It’s a good thing I knew it, or I never would have gotten ‘denarii’.

    Lackluster puzzles today, I’m afraid, except for the stunning Fireball. Crossing 15 consecutive trigrams like that seems like a staggering feat to me, though perhaps I exaggerate it.

    • Bruce N. Morton says:

      Replying to myself, it came to me belatedly that the denari must be the ancestor of the dinar, which makes that answer amenable to the rational process. I too noticed that “murder” would do just as well without the “one”, and thought that was a slight weakness. But I did not think the puzzle was all that bad, in fact I was one of the top raters. Unfortunately, the top rating isn’t that high. I definitely prefer this somewhat arcane fill to endless cliché and repetition, not to mention my 3R bugaboo, which we encountered elsewhere today. (I’m reminded of an international piano competition, where the jury bemoaned the overall weakness of the field, and declined to give a first prize. The highest prize they gave was second, won by a friend of mine, who put on his resumé “Top prize winner ——– Competition.”

  5. Huda says:

    NYT: the design is very cool, the idea is interesting, having ACE in the center is spot on. Too bad the fill suffered in service of the theme. Two days in a row, but it seems less necessary today, in terms of constraints placed by the theme.
    One thing I also liked was that some of the answers seemed to stand alone, although the ONE made them complete: MURDER and APOLLO. I think it would have been cool if the others had followed suit.
    I interpret the ratings as a strong signal to Will that obscure fill is not acceptable to modern day solvers– he is being held to the standard he has established.

  6. sbmanion says:

    This is somewhat of either a novel or a throwback week. I have sensed an odd feel to the fill, not really Maleskaesque but definitely different. Frankly, I have thoroughly enjoyed this week as it is proving far more difficult than the norm. I am rarely upset by crosswordese as many of you seem to be, I think because I probably do far fewer puzzles and thus do not see the repetitiveness.

    I knew NATATOR immediately, but did not know BANDORE. I guessed correctly on the R. I like to learn words like Bandore.

    Steve

    • Huda says:

      I too like to learn new words, and I agree that there were several cool ones in this puzzle. OBOVATE.. wow, who knew?

      But, I feel that crossing them winds up being frustrating, especially in a grid where there are really 4 mini puzzles, giving it a trapped feeling.

      Amy’s comments about her boss resonated with something I’ve been thinking about… that puzzles elicit moods, through some combination of visual patterning, sense of difficulty, sense of novelty, discovery, surprise. I’m wondering how much constructors do this in a conscious way, or whether their style evolves to reflect a certain vibe that they like to communicate.

  7. Victor Barocas says:

    I knew BANDORE from my days as a Dungeons and Dragons player and DENARII from my time on the Latin team (you can imagine how popular I was in high school), so I actually kind of liked the NYT today. The theme did nothing for me, but if I pretended that it was a themeless, I enjoyed it. Sure, I could have done without some of the forced fill, but it was not as bad as some others (maybe I just liked it because I liked a few words).

    Fireball felt like a knock-off of the ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM puzzle in the NYT (1 July 2011), a gimmick that I didn’t like then and didn’t like now. An impressive feat of construction, no doubt, but Steinberg and Gordon both have produced puzzles that I found much more fun to solve.

  8. sbmanion says:

    Victor, I was laughing at the reference to the Latin team–Dungeons and Dragons was not part of the nerd in me, but Latin definitely was. I had the unusual combo of being the quarterback on the football team and the head of the chess and Latin clubs. I got a 99 on the Latin 2 Regents. The idiom I learned for wage war was bellum gerere. The question I missed was bellum incipere. My teacher expressed mock outrage that I couldn’t figure it out. It still makes me angry, he said nerdily.

    Steve

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      My cousin Alison was participated on her high school’s math team and chess club, as well as being a cheerleader. She majored in engineering at USC. Do you think there were a lot of other gorgeous cheerleaders in her engineering classes?

      • sbmanion says:

        Sadly, our chess club was all male. We did have some cute girls in the Latin club. A gorgeous math geek cheerleader. Kind of makes me envy Benjamin Button.

        Steve

      • Bruce N. Morton says:

        Please forgive this totally self-indulgent reply.

        Michele was Prom Queen (literally, not metaphorically) her senior year at Roosevelt HS, Honolulu. Her Junior year, she was head cheerleader. Her senior year, she had to give up cheerleading, when she was offered, and accepted, the position of Editor in Chief of a Hawaii wide HS literary magazine. She also had a gig writing a semi weekly column for the Honolulu Star — (not a HS rag). In addition, she had a weekly show on local Honolulu TV as a chanteuse and cocktail pianist. Can you imagine me, the quintessential, disaffected, surly High School outlier and nerd, before there was such a word, ending up with the Prom Queen with a hibiscus behind her ear? Dec. 21st, a couple weeks ago, the end of the 13th Baktun of the Mayan calendar, would have been a major birthday for her. Again, please forgive this off topic post.

  9. Dave C says:

    Didn’t remember that a bandoleer is an ammo belt, so I weakly surmised that a bandole could be an instrument played by a bandoleer. As Denali is a proper name, I also threw in the L for bandole/denalii as my final letter.

    Picked up on the four 1′s in the puzzle right as I printed….although the theme idea is a fun one, I didn’t like that the right side answers read as ONEAPOLLO and ONEHOLEIN.

  10. Alan says:

    My biggest problem with the NYT is that you could answer those 4 acrosses without the “one” and they would still be correct. Because of that I didn’t even get the gimmick. Kept looking for something elsewhere. That’s a “fail” to me.

  11. Meem says:

    I am surprised that Will accepted this puzzle as it stands. The fill doesn’t come close to the grid’s promise. Hand up for Evad’s observation and rating.

  12. ArtLvr says:

    I too had DENARII okay (too bad one doesn’t get Latin much in high schools any more). Checked out the present day’s “dinar” at wiki, & wonder if our Fort Knox has any tucked away with the ingots?
    “The dinar is the official currency of several countries. The history of the dinar dates to the gold dinar, an early Islamic coin corresponding to the Byzantine denarius auri. The modern gold dinar is a modern bullion gold coin.”

  13. Papa John says:

    What am I missing? (From the sounds of it – it’s not much.)

    Okay, the theme entries on the top and bottom of the puzzle sort of work, ineloquently, with the upside-down, out-of-place figure 1’s in the grid. I get it, although I don’t think much of it. What about the figure 1’s on the sides of the grid? Are they both supposed to work solely with 32A: ACE? That’s it – 1 ACE 1?

    Unless I’m missing the big picture, this has to be one of the most awkward, ill-conceived themes in NYT history, albeit with a cool grid.

    • Huda says:

      NYT: I think that things aren’t meant to be very spatially literal… i.e.direct proximity of the number 1 to the answer was not intended. I took the theme to be that the word ONE is missing from 4 answers (located in each corner of the grid) and there were 4 numbers 1 strewn elsewhere in the puzzle that could be tacked on.

  14. Zulema says:

    Bruce, remember the British system with Pounds, Shillings, and “d” for pence, from denarius? NATATOR, DENARII, OBOVATE, those were easy for me, but I ended up stuck in the NW blanking on APOLLO and the three-pronged fishing tool which I thought should start with PSI. And put in BANDURA, which is a sort of Ukrainian guitar. Turns out they are related, obviously. Most of this puzzle was quite interesting, and what’s obscure to some is not obscure to others and viceversa, of course. I ignored the “ONE” trick, wasn’t needed.

  15. Daniel Myers says:

    Since some of us seem to be a bit fixated on DENARII – Latin was mandatory for all us lads at Winchester – I’d thought I’d point out that the original silver Roman denarius was set at the value of ten asses – for whatever that’s worth.

  16. john farmer says:

    I had to check the blogs today to see how HOLE IN [ONE] could possibly be the answer to “Sports coupe.” Not a peep from anyone … hmm. Then the aha came. Somehow I added an “e” to the clue and couldn’t get cars out of my mind. Nice one, guys.

    I did enjoy that clue, much of the solve, and especially the theme idea. It’s a tough rating crowd today, and I’d guess many of the voters are bothered by some iffy fill. I lean toward giving more credit for a relatively novel idea, though I had a few problems in the SE. Three wrong letters, so my hopes for a perfect solving year have been dashed. I’ll live. Better to lose that now than in December.

    In any case, congrats to Bruce Haight on the debut. Stronger fill will come with time, but good ideas are hard to find. Hope Bruce keeps the puzzles coming.

    Congrats also to David S. on the FB. I hadn’t heard the story behind PNEUMONO…CONIOSIS before. Maybe it’s just an NPL creation with no real practical use, a long word known only for being a long word, but it’s still a word that appears in dictionaries. The Kardashians are celebrities famous only for being famous, but they still show up on my teevee. I think the 45 letters make for a nifty gag in a crossword (the K klan, though, I can live without).

  17. ktd says:

    Count me among the people who had a lot more fun solving the LA Times today than the NY Times!

  18. bonekrusher says:

    ROXANNE fits in 11 Down (“Steve Martin romantic comedy”). And if you think 10 Down (“three-pronged fishing spear”) is TRIDENT, they both set you up to think that 29 Across (“bookish) is LITERATE. Oops.

  19. Tyler says:

    I went to high school with Jewel. Actually, her pre-fame name was spelled Juel. I have the yearbook photo to prove it. But you wouldn’t know it from her Wikipedia entry…

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