Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fireball 5:33 
NYT 4:57* 
AV Club 4:47 
LAT 3:14 
BEQ 6:40 (Matt) 
CS 5:27 (Sam) 

Have you heard? Registration is open for the 36th American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. March 8-10, a little earlier than last year. Brooklyn, same as usual (but last year, Panera opened up just down the block, freeing us all from highway-robbery hotel prices for breakfast). Visit the ACPT site for details and links for registering, etc. Also: When I called the Marriott to book my room, she quoted me a rate of $215 a night rather than the $225 the ACPT program indicates. Given how insane the airfares appear to be this year, I’ll take the $10 savings!

Also, three Barnes & Noble Puzzle Nights have been rescheduled after being disrupted by Hurricane Sandy:

  • Clifton, NJ • January 15, 7:00 PM • Tony Orbach
  • Carle Place, NY • January 15, 7:00 PM • Peter Gordon
  • Glendale, CO • February 10, 2:00 PM • Todd McClary

Kevan Choset’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 1 10 13, 0110

Okay! This is fun. Lots of overlong solving times on the applet board, suggesting that figuring out what to do with three particular squares was vexing. I had one inadvertently helpful spoiler from someone who spent 10 minutes checking all his answers before taking a stab at trying a B in those squares and lo and behold, it worked. So I knew I would be finding some squares for which the applet would accept a B. Now, this definitely gives my solving time an asterisk, although I assume Scrupulously Fair Howard Barkin encountered no such spoilers and still blazed through the puzzle in 3:22.

The theme entries are 1a: Vanna WHITE, 63a: Pat SAJAK, their game show 42a: WHEEL OF FORTUNE, and the classic contestant request, 25a: “I’D LIKE TO BUY AN ‘E’.” I did notice that some of WHEEL OF FORTUNE’s crossings weren’t quite working, but went and finished the rest of the puzzle before trying to make sense out of that. 43d: [Sign of an absent mind] isn’t ESTARE, it’s a BLANK STARE, 44d: [Nonrhyming poetry] is BLANK VERSE. And 34d: [Something to fill in] is THE BLANK. The word BLANK should appear in a single square replacing the letter E, as if the Wheel of Fortune puzzle is WH**L OF FORTUN* and the contestant crazily blows money to buy three E’s rather than just solving the puzzle. Of course, the electronic forms of the puzzle cannot abide straight-up blank squares in a solution (no “this space left intentionally blank” option), so the squares take a rebused B{lank}. Nifty crossword idea, executed beautifully.

Other Thursday-level challenges: The tripartite cross-referencing action with DISNEY, TOD from The Fox and the Hound (I think), and TRON. [Clumsy move] clues LURCH as a noun, not a verb. EHUD BARAK is not quite Monday fill, and neither is Danish Queen INGRID. Did you know SVEN, who might well be any of hundreds or thousands of INGRID’s subjects, is a [Man's name meaning "young man"]? I loved learning that WAUGH‘s [first wife had the same first name, curiously]. The really curious thing would be if this clue referred to Alec Waugh rather than Evelyn Waugh. ORSK, the [Ural River city], is one of those ucky crosswordese world cities.

In the “meh…” category, we find DEBAR, POUTER, TOR, ONE-D, -IZE, SYR., ELOI, IRAE, I-BAR, IT UP, and DO NOW. The theme mostly kept my mind busy enough not to be grousing at these while I was working the puzzle.

56d: BIS, [Ones sexually flexible, for short] reminds me that the world of Major League Baseball needs a bisexual switch-hitter. Right?

4.5 stars. Entertaining embodiment of a game show within the crossword. Next assignment: The Price Is Right.

Jeremy Horwitz and Tyler Hinman’s Fireball crossword, “Harmony of the Spheres”

Fireball solution, 1 10 13

The spheres may be harmonious but they’re not all perfectly spherical. What’s the word for the Earth’s shape, again?

Theme entries are musical performers with inner planets in their names:

  • 18a. [Motown group with the 1970 #4 hit "Get Ready"], RARE EARTH. I see white guys in the video! Not what I was expecting with the Motown label. Song doesn’t ring a bell, but the guy playing the bongos has my son’s hair.
  • 37a. [With 39-Across, lead singer on the 1978 #4 hit "We Are the Champions"], FREDDIE MERCURY.Great song. (I’m totally singing along with the chorus but I never know all the lyrics to anything unless I’ve studied them in writing.) Insanely talented singer. Phenomenal use of Lycra. Moving on to “Another One Bites the Dust” now.
  • 57a. [Solo artist with the 2010 #4 hit "The Lazy Song"], BRUNO MARS. I don’t feel like doing anything, so you’re on your own for tracking down the video. There are gorilla masks and boxer shorts galore.
  • 6d. [With 50-Down, genre for South African Mbube, Tibetan chants, etc.--or an alternate title for this puzzle], WORLD MUSIC.

Remember Tyler and Jeremy’s last trivia-collection theme? That NYT puzzle with the, I think it was World Series–winning pitchers who shared their names with Grammy winners? Something like that. Jeremy is super-duper hardcore when it comes to trivia. In the Learned League online triviaverse? He competes at the top level, the level that’s too tough for Jeopardy! champs Ken Jennings, Joon Pahk, and Tom Nissley. So I imagine there’s a multitude of potential trivia themes in their heads (Tyler plays pub trivia with Jeremy so he’s no slouch either).

No idea what 10a: [Anne's role in "One Day"] = EMMA is all about. Movie? Not ringing a bell. Like seeing GENERALS clued as the Harlem Globetrotters opponent. FLO, of course, is the [Aunt who visits monthly?]. Raise your hand if she’s visiting your house right now. Did not know this etymology: 33d: [Chili pepper whose name is Spanish for "wide"], ANCHO. Favorite answer: RUB NOSES.

Bruno Mars has gotten to me. I’m done writing about this puzzle. Too much effort. Four stars.

Jennifer Nutt’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 1 10 13

Here’s today’s theme:

  • 17a. [*Design pattern on some Irish crosses], CELTIC KNOT.
  • 23a. [*Not surprising], TO BE EXPECTED.
  • 53a. [*Ready to come clean], TIRED OF LYING.
  • 61a. [*Got some gumption], GREW A SPINE.
  • 3d. [*Intend when speaking], MEAN TO SAY.
  • 34d. [Correcting, in a way ... or what would need to be done to remove the things hidden in the answers to starred clues?], DEBUGGING.

Each one’s got a bug hidden within, spanning at least two words. Kinda cute. DEBUGGING is used punnily to mean “removal of actual arthropods.” Not sure that TIRED OF LYING and MEAN TO SAY quite reach the same level of in-the-languageness as the other phrases, though. GREW A SPINE has some real punch, doesn’t it?

9d. [Textspeak disclaimer] is IDK, short for “I don’t know.”

And now? I’m tired. You try blogging three puzzles in a row in under two hours and see if you’re not ready to hit the sack too.

3.33 stars. Not much jumping out at me in terms of “Wow!” or “Bleh,” so I’ll sign off now.

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Screen Test” — Matt’s review

Straightforward theme on Brendan’s “Screen Test” today: phrases that start with the name of a tablet.

18-a [1999 Tim Allen/Sigourney Weaver cult comedy] = GALAXY QUEST. Sigourney Weaver had to do a movie with Tim Allen? How a quickly a Hollywood career can collapse.

28-a [Mountain removal activity] = SURFACE MINING.

45-a [Every single part] = NOOK AND CRANNY. This phrase doesn’t feel stand-alone. “Every nook and cranny” would be better.

60-a [Unique numbers assigned to websites] = IP ADDRESSES. Or IPAD DRESSES, which is tablet-appropriate womenswear. Clever and silly way to sneak an iPad in there; I even daresay that it’s Henry Hook-esque.

Odds and ends:

1-a [One's favorite decades old concert tee, in the eye's of one's wife] = RAG. One of Brendan’s a-little-too-specific-to-not-have-happened-to-him-recently clues.

46-d provides one more tablet, the KINDLE.

Tricky plural at 24-a, where you and I both had GLUTES for [Squats strengthen them] when the answer was GLUTEI.

Symmetric three-word entries: GETS USED TO and IN ANY EVENT.

And finally, SUN-RA at 41-d is clued as [Jazz bandleader who claimed he was from Saturn]. Hey, can you prove he wasn’t?

3.6 stars.

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

CS solution, January 10

If you’re seeing stars, you’re either recovering from a blow to the head or you just finished solving today’s puzzle. You’ll see the word STAR buried inside the five long Across entries. “Gee, that’s not so impressive,” you might say. But look at that grid: four of the five theme entries are stacked! That extra feat merits at least another STAR in the ratings system, no? Okay, then, how about this: the STARs are laid out in such a way that they form the Big Dipper! Alright, I made up that last one. But this is still a pretty amazing grid.

Here are your theme entries:

  • 16-Across: The [Plea from the self-conscious] is to STOP STARING AT ME! Which, of course, makes one want to look all the more.
  • 19-Across: Another way to say ["This may not be true, but..."] is to say IT’S JUST A RUMOR. I would link to the Bananarama song I Heard a Rumor here, but I shot through my monthly allotment of hyperlinks in yesterday’s write-up.
  • 37-Across: One who [Begins anew] STARTS OVER AGAIN.
  • 56-Across: An [Importer's concern] is a CUSTOMS TARIFF. As is AUTHENTICITY and QUALITY CONTROL.
  • 61-Across: I’m happily unacquainted with MUSTARD PLASTERS. Though [They can alleviate cold symptoms], I have to think they’re nearly worse than what they purport to cure.

I’m tired of reciting the nit that hidden words should consistently straddle words or be entirely self-contained, so I’ll forgo it here, especially since I’m crushing so hard on this grid. Stacked theme entries! I always admire how some of the greats like Martin and Henry Hook pull this off routinely. Only by serendipity would it ever happen in one of my own puzzles.

Stacking theme entries severely constraints what you can do with the fill, but you wouldn’t know it from this grid. TIP JAR, PATROL CAR, BALTIC SEA, and LIE BY are some of the crossings we get from these stacks, and they’re just great. Sure, in an ordinary grid we might point at GOD WE, OF ST, UPSA, and ASSNS and cry UGH. But this isn’t ordinary.

I had no idea that BIS means “Encore.” It’s normally clued along the lines of [Twice, musically], not as [Recital hall shout]. In fact, according to the Cruciverb database, the last clue like this for BIS was ["Encore!"], used in a June, 2001, puzzle by … Martin Ashwood-Smith.

Favorite entry = PUTTY, the [Silly stuff?]. Favorite clue = [Drop in the ocean?] for EBB.

Zoe Wheeler’s AV Club crossword, “Amusing Exchanges”

AV Club crossword solution, 1 10 13 “Amusing Exchanges,” Zoe Wheeler

The amusing X changes in this theme are as follows:

  • 17a. [Online service providers?], CYBER SECTS. Formerly cybersex.
  • 25a. [Nature recordings on an Internet radio station?], PANDORA’S BOKS. Formerly Pandora’s box. And now? I’m not sure. Recordings of the sounds that a springbok or reebok makes? Chickens going “bok bok bok”? Some newfangled term I simply haven’t encountered yet?
  • 46a. [Hits on people at a swimsuit competition?], BIKINI WHACKS. Formerly bikini wax. If (and only if) you don’t take offense at tawdry material, you may go read Chicago humorist Samantha Irby’s poem about Brazilian waxing. Reminded me of Wanda Sykes’ recounting of her experience with Brazilian waxing on an HBO special. Not for the faint of heart.
  • 59a. [Pimps who hang around vending machines?], PEPSI MACKS. Which began as Pepsi Max, which, like Coke Zero, is diet cola aimed at menfolks who think Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi are too girly but still want to watch their caloric intake. They’re the Axe Body Spray of soft drinks.

Five more clues:

  • 1a. [Kneel before the porcelain throne], 4 letters? Huh. Better start checking the crossings. Will it be PUKE, BARF, or HURL? BARF wins. REAL Housewives confirmed the R, and I thought of BUTT for 1d: [Joke subject].
  • 21a. [Basic skating trick], OLLIE. Skateboard, not ice skating.
  • 23a. [Like fifteen-year-old computers], ANCIENT. Yes. Whenever I see that a mere software update will require 85 MB of space, I recall that mid-’90s Mac I used at work, with a generous 40 MB hard drive.
  • 41a. [2012 hashtag popularized by Drake's "The Motto"], YOLO. “You only live once”—words that every teenager needs to embrace, because kids these days just aren’t foolhardy enough and never take enough risks. I listened to the song once. There are, uh, bad words in it.
  • 27d. [Screw], NAIL. This is not about small pieces of hardware. Or it could be, if you catch my drift.

3.5 stars.

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17 Responses to Thursday, January 10, 2013

  1. Best NYT I’ve done in recent memory.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Tired of lying about his years in ELO

  3. Christopher Jablonski says:

    No NYT for me yet, but I got a kick out of the Fireball. Modest theme, but it made for great fill and cluing throughout. It’s nice to do a puzzle that’s not ambitious except to provide a solid solve.

    Oh, and Amy, you may have been looking for oblong spheroid, though I’ve heard a couple others.

  4. Tuning Spork says:

    What the hell does Glendale, Colorado have to do with Hurricane Sandy, Todd?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      The folks at Puzzlewright in NYC couldn’t send Todd’s Puzzle Night pack of books and puzzles to the CO store when their lower Manhattan office was shut down in the days ahead of the originally scheduled Glendale Puzzle Night.

  5. Huda says:

    NYT: Very cool! And very deceiving since you pop along for the longest time without needing to think rebus, and then Bam! Blank!

    I like the cluing of poor ole battered SYRia with a crusade reference.

  6. Jeffrey says:

    If you book the Marriott using the link on the ACPT site, you also get the $215 rate.

  7. Matt says:

    The Earth is an ‘oblate spheroid’– ‘oblate’ means squished down, so that the pole-to-pole distance is less than a diameter across the equator. The opposite distortion is ‘prolate’, meaning ‘needle-like’. As usual, Wikipedia explains the whole thing:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Geodetic_System

  8. Howard B says:

    Yes, this was a fun one. Original, clever, and it felt as if something was just a bit off during the solve, until the trick was revealed. Nicely done.

    Amy, I ran into this applet quirk a while back in a similar puzzle with a “holes” or “blank” theme. The Times app has a requirement to enter something in each square, at least the first letter of a symbolic or rebus entry. So for numerals, ‘O’ for 1, ‘T’ for 2, etc. I tried the expected E’s first, paused for a bit, remembered that “first-letter rebus” quirk, and entered B for blanks. If that didn’t work, I was going to resort to the scientifically proven technique of randomly smooshing the keyboard with my hand.

    N.b. My initial solve time was probably somewhere in the 3:10 range before correcting those blank entries. That info is worth about 10 gherkins or 3.14 maleskas, at the current exchange rates.

    • pannonica says:

      It works the other way around, too. You can replace an ‘O’ with 1, ‘T’ with 2 or 3, et cetera. If you want to be perverse.

  9. HH says:

    “Clever and silly way to sneak an iPad in there; I even daresay that it’s Henry Hook-esque. ”

    Perhaps, but I would’ve probably used IPADMYBRA or some such.

  10. jane lewis says:

    galaxy quest is a rather clever movie. it concerns actors who starred in a star trek -like series and now the only jobs they can get are at conventions. beings from another planet need help and think the actors are who they portrayed. actors help the beings defeat the meanies. i haven’t seen the movie in a long time so i am relying on my memory (which is a very dangerous thing to do).

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