Thursday, January 17, 2013

NYT 6:30 
AV Club 4:02 
LAT 3:54 
Fireball 3:45 
BEQ 8:11 (Matt) 
CS 5:04 (Sam) 

Milo Beckman’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 1 17 13, 0117

I printed out the PDF for this puzzle, but man oh man, the font size and layout are a little hostile to my eyeballs. Should’ve just used Black Ink and the .puz file. You know what is noticeable in the PDF? Just how tiny the constructor’s byline is. Smaller type than the clues! And given that we have never had a puzzle with a byline as long as, say, “By Brendan Emmett Quigley and Narayan Venkatasubramanyan,” the layout really does have ample space for a larger byline font.

Cute puzzle, with the gap replacing the center column of the grid being filled with five GAPs that bridge the gap-spanning answers.

I am betting that Milo Beckman had not seen Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword last June when he constructed this. Matt’s puzzle had a central column that was left blank, but when you filled in the central white squares with MIND THE GAP, the shorter answers on both sides joined together to make new, legitimate answers. For example, OLE and ISS. straddled an M to make OLE MISS, and ONE and ALF joined up as ONE HALF. That puzzle only got five ratings at Fiend, but all of them were 5 stars. Mind-blowing, and rather more intricate than today’s theme.

Which is no knock on today’s puzzle—if you’d never seen Matt’s, your mind would be boggled by Milo’s use of the GAP capped by a final explanatory MIND THE {GAP} at the bottom. Thanks to Jim Horne for having a crisp illustration of the solution grid at xwordinfo.com—it’s prettier than a cell phone picture of my grid with no GAPs even written in.

Top fill: HOT DAMN, BEATS ME, Che GUEVARA, THE PILL, BEESWAX clued as [Private business, in slang].

Worst fill: Good gravy, did you get a load of 1-Across? RATTAT?? Really? The clue [Knock on wood, say] doesn’t take me to RATTAT. (Craziest thing: This is not the first time that answer has appeared in the NYT crossword!) Dreadful way to start the puzzle. That’s actually where I finished the puzzle, too. TEA TASTER felt ever so slightly arbitrary ([One encouraged to drink on the job]), though it Googles up as a perfectly ordinary job that people do have. Would’ve liked to have POETASTER in that spot—if for no other reason than that it would have made me look it up in the dictionary (which I just did—”a person who writes inferior poetry”—and I did not know that before but will remember it as a poet/disaster portmanteau, though it is not, in fact, such a portmanteau).

Anyone else think I popped some Benadryl capsules over an hour ago? Yeah. Losing the thread here. Four stars. Would be higher save for RATTAT and some other less savory fill, such as ANSE, WEI, ECASH, ATREE, ANNEE, IEOH, ALANS, ELEE, and DOL.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 58″

Fireball answers, 1/17/13

Was this the easiest Fireball ever or what?

Best stuff: The MO ROCCA/MOROCCO row up top. L.A. LAKERS. DAVID STRATHAIRN’s full name (I firmly believe that he and the limey Jason Statham should become a couple with a Brangelina-style name like Strastathairthamn), CBGB’S, CONFRERE, Seth MACFARLANE (no chance he’s a better Oscars host than Fey and Poehler were Golden Globes cohosts, right?), Team Fiend’s Jeffrey’s car the CRUZE, ALFA ROMEO (and not just a dangling ALFA), and tasty GINGER ALE.

New name for me: 28d. [Actor Sy of "The Intouchables"], OMAR. He’s French, it’s Omar Sy (not Sy Omar), and The Intouchables is the second-highest-grossing French movie ever, after the unforgettable Welcome to the Sticks. Uh, did either of those French flicks make it to our shores?

New French-origin term for me: 6d. [___-de-lampe], CUL. Wikipedia explains, “A cul-de-lampe is a kind of bracket-corbel supporting a vault; the term is also used for a corbel with a tapering base.”

Favorite clue: 64a. [Moses, for one], HURDLER. Track and field star Edwin Moses. Runner-up: 46d. [Company whose logo is six stars and whose name is Japanese for the Pleiades], SUBARU.

Four stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “To-Do List … Not”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, January 17

Today’s theme is [Very clever]; indeed, as 33-Down would say, it’s INGENIOUS. It features four common expressions that usually begin with “Don’t,” and each is clued as a piece of helpful advice:

  • 18-Across: [Don't do this, if you want to heed a colonial flag] is TREAD ON ME. I always liked that yellow flag with the rattlesnake.
  • 55-Across: [Don't do this, even if I'm an unruly student at a political forum] clues TASE ME BRO. I love this entry, though I’m afraid it’s juuuust a wee-bit outdated now. 
  • 4-Down: [Don't do this, if you want to retain friends] clues BE A STRANGER. Very in-the-language and fresh-feeling to me. The Cruciverb database says we’ve seen it a half-dozen times, likely because the full version with the DON’T attached is the magical 15 letters. 
  • 26-Down: [Don't do this, even if you're upset with Bart Simpson] clues HAVE A COW, MAN. Well, if DON’T TASE ME BRO is outdated, DON’T HAVE A COW MAN is near antiquity, being a good 20 years older. But I still liked it.

I love that these expressions are clued as pieces of advice. It avoids the dullness of repeated words in the grid and offers a nice twist. The grid also offers an ELEPHANT, JUST A BIT, UP FRONT, HAMHOCK, SOIREE, and a CORPSE (with the fun clue ["Law and Order" role with no lines]).

Things got off to a rough start in the northwest, with T-BAR, RELS, STYRO and the rather artificial TEN B.C. to get things started. Fortunately things smoothed out once we got out of that section.

Favorite entry = HOAGIE, a sandwich also known as a [Grinder]. Anyone else first read the clue as looking for a word meaning “one who grinds?” Favorite clue = [Something you might see on a dance floor or a snack table] for SALSA. Yeah, I thought it might be odd to see SPINACH DIP on a dance floor.

Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 1 17 13

The theme is “double trouble” for double-phobics:

  • 18a. [Double trouble ... for a hydrophobic teetotaler?], WATER BOTTLE. I think this one is equating the word bottle with booze, as in “hit the bottle.”
  • 29a. [... for an arachnophobic hermit?], SPIDER-MAN. Scared of spiders, doesn’t like people either.
  • 36a. [... for an acrophobic wallflower?], SUMMIT MEETING. “You want me to climb to the top of that mountain—and then I have to socialize? Eek!”
  • 42a. [... for a xenophobic couch potato?], ALIEN RACE. RACE doubles as “group of similar beings” and “speed competition.”
  • 53a. [... for an agoraphobic soldier?], PUBLIC ENEMY. This soldier is best suited for working with drones.

It’s a fresh and interesting theme, though it doesn’t quite grab me. Is it the theme, or is it me?

Least expected clue: 9d. [Yaroslavna's spouse, in a Borodin opera], IGOR. Crosswords have taught me that Borodin’s famous opera is Prince Igor. Yaroslavna?!

Best clue: 25d. [Mice and men], MAMMALS.

Best fill: EXIT ROW, BATTED IN.

Worst fill: TUN right there at 1-Across; OLEUM, [Pharmaceutical oil]; NLER; EELPOT.

Iffiest clue: 7d. [3-Down trio], TRE. 3d is NAPOLI, TRE is “three” in Italian. But three ≠ trio. They are indeed closely related, but I don’t think they’re directly substitutable for one another.

3.33 stars.

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “The Hunger Games” — Matt’s review

I dreaded this one being about the title book/movie which was unread/unseen by me, and LOGO at 13-a [Mockingjay holding an arrow in a circle for "The Hunger Games," e.g.] and AXE at 19-a [Johanna Mason's weapon in "The Hunger Games"] had me worried further.

But it’s not: the five theme answers are clued simply as [Hunger game #1], ["Hunger game #2], etc. They’re games with a food in them: the old arcade game BURGER TIME, recent tabletop hit BANANAGRAMS, enjoyable group game APPLES TO APPLES, and then the two mystery entries HI-HO CHERRY-O and FRUIT NINJA. Looked them up: the first is an old-school Milton Bradley game, the second is a big-time phone/tablet hit. So both are 100% legit, though my loyalties here lie with Candy Land and Angry Birds.

Are you a SUPERHUMAN PIZZAHOLIC? How about a MARINE who went to GROTON? Do you shout PLAY ON to your ECARTE partners? If so, then these symmetrically-placed entries will seem like amazing coincidences to you.

Highlights:

1-a [Yankee who had hip surgery yesterday, for short] = A-ROD. Who needs ESPN when you can get your sports news from BEQ?

22-a ["Overturned Blue Shoe With Two Heels Under A Black Vault" painter] = Hans/Jean ARP. Precise title there.

31-a [One of India's 28] = STATE. I think Mexico has 33 or 34. These countries need to get on the ball with a nice round number like us! You don’t even need to conquer any new territory; just some administrative shuffling will do it.

3.75 stars. Slight demerits for the oddness of the food distribution (one BURGER, a bunch of fruit, and then the word FRUIT itself), but a typically fun BEQ solve.

Tyler Hinman’s AV Club crossword, “Uncivil Service”

AV Club crossword answers, 1 17 13 “Uncivil Service”

Some people love restaurants where the staff is abusive to customers. Some people write one-star Yelp reviews for bad service. Chacun à son goût, baby. Tyler gives us a 74-worder with three restaurants famed for their abuse:

  • 17a. [Real name of the restaurant run by a "Nazi" on "Seinfeld"], ORIGINAL SOUP MAN.
  • 36a. [Chicago hot dog stand known for late-night vitriol between staff and patrons, with "The"], WIENER’S CIRCLE. I think of this place (and the fries with melted cheddar) when I see Tyler’s book, Winner’s Circle Crosswords. Do click through to read the entertaining Amazon customer reviews.
  • 58a. [Restaurant chain where servers throw napkins at customers], DICK’S LAST RESORT.

This may be the first puzzle in which Will SHORTZ intersects ZZ TOP. Other good fill includes ARMOR-ALL, BANSHEE, BOOBOISIE, MCRIB, IT’S ON, WILD SIDE, and non-S plural HASIDIM.

Favorite clues:

  • 28a. [Clichéd cheer word], RAH. Yes. Have you ever shouted “Rah!”? (See also: 19d. [Popular bone in crosswords], ULNA.)
  • 40a. [Quarters' face?], HIND. As in hindquarters.
  • 4d. [Game that may involve "freezing"], TAG.
  • 6d. [Morissette who covered "My Humps"], ALANIS. That is my favorite version of the Black Eyed Peas song. Also? I wish that band used a hyphen.
  • 10d. [Guitarist's doohickey], CAPO. “Doohickey” is underused in crossword clues.
  • 38d. [Quarterback Tony who chokes in big games, to the delight of this puzzle's Giants-supporting author], ROMO.

Four stars.

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18 Responses to Thursday, January 17, 2013

  1. pannonica says:

    I still say TEA TASTER is quite arbitrary, as the clue is so generic. There are wine tasters, beer tasters, spirit tasters, and so forth. Perhaps the intended answer is the only one with three letters, but that doesn’t seem enough for a Wednesday puzzle, especially with the dubious one-across that it intersects.

    • pannonica says:

      Erm, Thursday puzzle. But the point stands.

    • Evad says:

      Not only that, but ICED TEA sits just a few squares away to the right of TEA TASTER. Can someone be an iced tea taster?

      Creative idea (I unfortunately had missed MJ’s take on this), but it seemed a bit arbitrary to have the GAPs only on the lines that it appeared.

    • sps says:

      I wasted mucho time trying to think of what else it could possibly be b/c of ICEDTEA. No way TEA appears twice in the same puzzle, right? BTW, I did this in Across Lite no problem…no need to print it out.

  2. Matt says:

    I’ve seen easier FBs. At least for me, the amount of popcult made it somewhat harder than your average NYT Saturday puzzle. But still doable for me, despite generally getting the names from crossings–suggesting that there was some effort to avoid crossing impossibles.

  3. ArtLvr says:

    HELGA’S PICTURES led me to try a GASP! before seeing the GAP in the rest. Duh…

  4. Evad says:

    I might also mention Patrick Blindauer has a similar puzzle in his Las Vegas Puzzlefest suite. Check it out!

  5. Martin says:

    TEA TASTER is actually a real job. The big tea companies use them all the time when they are purchasing the “raw” (or whatever it’s called) tea from various areas. The taster’s job is to ensure that the resulting blends are consistent.

    The only reason I know this otherwise obscure factoid is because I saw something on TV within the past couple of years about tea-tasters.

    Also, as a native Londoner, I’m amazed that Americans are familiar with tube station warnings!

    -MAS

  6. sbmanion says:

    Amy,

    Poetaster is a great word that apparently rhymes in a forced way with disaster:

    (from Wikipedia)
    And as for my inflammatory writ?
    Well, I wrote it and I was not inflamed one bit.
    Advice from the master derailed that disaster;
    he said “Hand that pen over to me, poetaster”

    I did not have a problem with TEA TASTER, which strikes me as legit rather than arbitrary, proximity to another tea notwithstanding. In business, one could have a new type of product that might call for an APP TASTER and in the drug world, users are often invited to “have a taste,” which might include PCP, LSD, or THC, although you would have to be drug-addled to use these in a puzzle.

    A great puzzle today.

    Steve

  7. Howard B says:

    I really enjoyed the Times puzzle and its trickiness for the most part. Just had fun working my way through the grid, leaping the gaps, and actually working bottom-to-top and finishing at that unusual 1-Across.
    Had a very different experience with the Fireball. Since I’m unfortunately rather Hollywood-challenged, there were what felt like entire blocks of names and clues devoted to this area. Across, Down, all around. “Actor…” “Director…” check it out. A bit too much of that for my taste and I did finish it, but it was a hell of a grind. DAVID STRATHAIRN needed every single letter and (Hollywood) crossing to scratch it out.

    So that’s not a knock on the puzzle (other than the specificity of subject matter), but just how much one’s knowledge tints the experience of a puzzle.

  8. Cole says:

    I saw Welcome to the Sticks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bienvenue_chez_les_Ch%27tis) on an airplane (Air France, of course) and it was quite funny. Allegedly Will Smith was under contract to do an American version but that seems to have fallen through. In brief, it’s the story of a postal official who must leave beautiful Provence to go to the French equivalent of say North Dakota and how he ends up falling for the place.

  9. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I found the Fireball not easy, with all the densely packed trivia, and not especially enjoyable. But boy have I become a fan of Marti D-C; and today’s LAT is no exception. What a clever set of theme clues and entries. She and Bob Peoples, (whom we haven’t heard from in a while), could team up as my favorite mystery couple in the Construction business.

  10. Just saying … there’s a pretty good chance you will see a puzzle with the byline “By Brendan Emmett Quigley and Narayan Venkatasubramanyan” soon.

  11. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Having (I think) once bitched about one of Tyler’s puzzles, let me say that I liked his AV Club a lot. For some reason I found the quirky theme hilarious. I could contribute a few more theme entries. Wide-ranging, unhackneyed fill and cluing. And the clue for 38d was worth the price of admission alone. (Big fist bump.) :-)

  12. Lois says:

    Les Intouchables just finished a run in New York City, and it might turn up again one of these days.

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