Saturday, February 16, 2013

NYT 6:39 
Newsday 5:15 
LAT 3:32 (Andy) 
CS 6:21 (Sam) 

Michael Ashley’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 2 16 13, #0216

So, commenter Huda suggested I try omitting my star ratings to see if the averages ended up near my secret ratings (suggesting that I channel public opinion), or if the ratings ran away from mine because my numbers didn’t sway people to follow suit. We have a few data points now: For the Wednesday puzzle, I settled on 1.75 and the crowd said 1.93. For the Thursday puzzle, I thought 3.25 and the crowd went with 3.15. Pretty close, right? Then I dispensed a visible 3.5 on Friday, and the crowd went all the way to 3.91. I don’t think you people are sheep slavishly following my lead (but if you are, please send many cash donations right away).

Michael Ashley’s puzzle combines zippy stuff with … small prepositions. Up top, we’ve got the FIREFOX browser from MOZILLA, a LITTLE BIRD who told me, and the LET IT LOOSE album (new to me) hitting the central HAZARD AN OPINION. (I prefer to hazard guesses rather than opinions, personally.) The bottom half sparkles with FOZZIE BEAR, LOADED UP ON, and GO ALL IN.

I don’t know what XTREME GAMES means. Not extreme, and not the X Games, just some weirdly spelled XTREME GAMES? Is this a generic term?

In the “blah” category, we have the IN quintet: SENT IN, GO ALL IN, IN ON IT, AS IN, and STOOD IN LINE feel a mite repetitive. Crosswordese AGHAS crossing ADZ—heaven help the solver who doesn’t know their crosswordese when two such critters intersect. ALFA, ASA (though I see that he’s that kid from Scorsese’s Hugo, so I congratulate his parents on giving him a name that will ensure that his crossword fame is eternal), APELIKE … meh. Not sure why the very specific ONE TON gets such a generic clue: 6d. [Shipping weight]. And my vote for the single worst entry goes to 51a: [Actress Berger], SENTA. I’m sure reader John Farmer owns Blu-rays of her finest movies, but I know her name strictly from crosswords.

I disagree that AS IN is an 14d: [Alphabet book phrase]. If you’re clarifying the spelling of a word, you say “K as in knight.” But in ABC books, you’ll see “B is for Bertie the bus” or “E is an elephant eating eggplants.” (I just checked “search inside this book” for about 20 alphabet books at Amazon, and I saw no AS IN.)

3.25 stars from me.

Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review

LAT Puzzle 2.16.13 by Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson

I think it’s time to give this constructing duo a Brangelina-style combo name. Personally, I like Wilberson, but I’m open to suggestions. BradDoug reminds me of CatDog, which could be good or bad depending on your penchant for late ’90s to early ’00s Nickelodeon. Anyway, let’s blog this Wilberson puzzle.

First, some factoids:

  • 10d, SARKOZY [Chirac's successor]. My first thought: “What the hell is Carla Bruni’s husband’s name?”
  • 51a, AM I BLUE? [Ethel Waters title line following "Now he's gone, and we're through"]. A beautiful song. Waters had a fairly singular career, becoming the first black woman on a coast-to-coast public radio show, and the second black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award after Hattie McDaniel.

    Ethel Waters

  • 49a, GILBERT [The "G" in G.K. Chesterton]. At least the first letter was a freebie. The “K” stands for Keith, in Kase you were Kurious.
  • 1a, COACH K [Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, familiarly -- he holds the NCAA Division I men's basketball record for most wins]. As of the end of the 2011-12 season, only Pat Summitt had more wins with a Division I basketball team. She racked up 1,098 wins with the Tennessee Lady Vols before retiring at the end of last season; as of the writing of this post, Krzyzewski has 949 wins.
  • 29a, FUR ELISE [Familiar title of Beethoven's "Bagatelle No. 25"]. Scholars disagree about who “Elise” was, or whether she was, in fact, even named Elise. Many signs point to Therese Malfatti as the dedicatee of perhaps the most famous classical piano piece of all time.

Entries that grabbed my attention:

  • 6d, KNEW BEST [Emulated a '50s TV father?]. It’s hard to dislike the entry when the clue so readily calls to mind exactly what it’s asking for.
  • 48a, ZOT [Anteater's slurp in the comic "B.C."]. If I ever become a famous cartoonist, I promise to give my characters’ noises crossword-friendly onomatopoeias.

    To B.C. or zot to B.C., that is the question.

  • 24d, ROYAL WE [Majestic euphemism]. We were pleased by this entry.
  • 36d, SIZZLER [Over-90 day, say]. I don’t know about you, but the first thing I think of when I hear “Sizzler” is the restaurant. There was a fairly high-profile LGBT harassment suit filed after an alleged incident at a Queens Sizzler in 2011.
  • 40a, MOOD SWING [Emotional one-eighty]. Maybe it’s because it rhymes with “mood ring,” but this phrase occasionally makes me think of a color-changing playground swing.
  • 30a, HEY YA! [2003-'04 OutKast chart topper]. It makes me sad to think that pretty soon, kids are going to listen to this and not understand what “shake it like a Polaroid picture” means.

    ICE COLD!

There was a lot of good stuff in this one: MOON BASE, the resonance of the symmetrical entries DOWAGER and DOWN, BOY!, MAUDLIN crossing MADOFF, FOOT SWEEP, CORAL SEA, HALF CAF, SLY FOX. Even the abbreviations were delightful, BFF and mtWTF? among them.

I’m knocking off a quarter-point each for OREL, UTA, and KPS. So 4.25 overall from me. Until next week!

Updated Saturday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Classified 4-F”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, February 16

Each of the three theme entries in today’s puzzle contains four Fs (more precisely, each has two pairs of double-Fs):

  • 20-Across: To be [Like some Equity Showcase productions] is to be OFF-OFF-BROADWAY. I know the expression, but not Equity Showcase. Wikipedia gave me this information: “An Off-Off-Broadway production that features members of Actors Equity is, of necessity, called an Equity Showcase production; not all Off-Off-Broadway shows are Equity Showcases. The Union maintains very strict rules about working in such productions, including restrictions on price, the length of the run and rehearsal times.”
  • 39-Across: One who HUFFED AND PUFFED either [Showed signs of fatigue] or followed through on threats concerning the consequences of a little pig’s not answering the door.
  • 53-Across: The [Common TV western set] is a SHERIFF’S OFFICE. But you might also see it in the occasional sit-com like The Andy Griffith Show.

The theme necessarily requires at least twelve Fs in one grid, and it’s not always easy to incorporate the same rare letter a dozen times. (Heck, some puzzles don’t have 12 rare letters of any combination!) That probably explains the little nasty section that consumed more than a minute of my solving time, as I couldn’t figure out the ends to both LOUPE, the [Watchmaker's aid], and LEFSE, the [Norwegian bread]. If only I could have seen REELED as the answer to [Wobbled] more quickly! I tend to think of “reeled” as more synonymous with “recoiled in horror” or “reacted with shock” or “in stunned awe,” but earlier this week I took this test and learned that my vocabulary is far below the average of those in my age range. So I can’t trust myself when it comes to the meaning of many words.

FOLK ROCK was an intuitive enough term based on the clue ([Medium for some social protest]), but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it before. The rest felt very smooth and natural, a great feat given the 12-F constraint noted above.

Favorite entry =WINDSURF, to [Take out a sailboard]. Favorite clue = [Former number?] for ETHER (“number” rhyming with “bummer,” not “lumber”).

Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (as “Anna Stiga”)

Newsday crossword solution, “Saturday Stumper” 2 16 13, Anna Stiga

It’s been a while since we had a Stumper that was easier than the Saturday NYT puzzle, no? I really liked this one. The Scowl-o-Meter is in the shop being retrofitted for that 1981 puzzle David Steinberg sent me to blog for him, but luckily it wouldn’t have been called into action even once in this puzzle. Super smooth stuff, Stan!

In addition to tricky Stumperesque clues leaning on multiple meanings, there were also some Klahnian echo clues. Let’s go through the clues of note:

  • 8a. [Mobile home], ALABAMA. The city’s cruise ship port has seen only one Carnival ship since 2011, and it was a doozy. Was going to put TRAILER here but caught myself. That word pops up in the 1d clue [Trailers and fliers], for PROMOS.
  • 16a. [Car collector], REPO MAN. Collecting cars with unpaid debts, not refurbishing them in his driveway. See also 44a: AUTODIDACTS, [Self-taught group].
  • 19a. [Word as rhymeless as ''pint''], MONTH. Almost went with COUGH off the H.
  • 20a. [See to it], MAKE SURE. Echoes 8d: [See to], ARRANGE.
  • 30a. [Tip or top], END. Same clue at 34a yields EDGE.
  • 58a. [One from Rhodes], HELLENE. My mind went straight to SCHOLAR even though Rhodes Scholars are from Oxford.
  • 59a. [Punchy?], PLEASED. As in “pleased as punch.” No idea what sort of punch the idiom includes.
  • 60a. [Makes known], IMPARTS. 2d: [Make known] is REPORT.
  • 13d. [Causing audience tears, quite possibly], MARRYING. I do tend to cry at weddings.
  • 33d. [Stretchy part of Pirelli's logo], CAPITAL P.
  • 37d. Biting], PUNGENT. See also 41d: BIT, [Started on dinner].

The fill doesn’t have any “Wow! Look at that funky answer!” highlights, but I enjoyed wrestling with the clues all the same. Entries like SPACE BAR, MARIACHI, CAROUSE, ACTING UP, STRAPHANGER, and SAUNTER are all lively language. I’ll give this 68-worder 4.5 stars for its buttery smoothness. I like the zest of curry, but butter is delicious too.

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17 Responses to Saturday, February 16, 2013

  1. john farmer says:

    Our shelves runneth over with Senta Berger movies, right next to our Senta Note and Senta Broad collections. Which is to say, no Berger in the house. Without looking I couldn’t have named one of her films, but I see she’s a big star in Germany. I do know her name from way back, though, probably from her TV roles here a long time ago.

    Can’t help you with XTREME GAMES. It looks familiar though I have no idea where from, and fwiw it does look good in the grid.

    STOOD IN LINE vs. STOOD ON LINE. Only the locals will think twice about that.

    • ArtLvr says:

      SENTA was my entry point into the NYT — without which, maybe nothing! However, the Stumper took me longer to complete and I’d therefore rate it more difficult! Also the most terrific of the day…

  2. john farmer says:

    Quite the awesome LAT. Can you tell Brad’s half-grid from Doug’s, or Doug’s clues from Brad’s, or have their minds assimilated into the collective? BradDoug = Borg Duad. Resistance is futile.

  3. sbmanion says:

    Only moderately difficult puzzle for me. My last letter was the R in Rubato/Ragu.

    I was completely wrong about SENTA Berger, even though that was one of my first entries. I was sure she was the female lead in CONAN and RED SONYA. It turns out that was Sandahl Bergman. At least I had the right initials. I looked up Senta and did not recall ever seeing any of her movies. At least I did not confuse her with Sonia Braga.

    I do not know who if anyone holds the trademark for XTREME. I thought the answer was at best some generic term as the two X events are the X Games and the World Extreme Games. By the way, I think wakeboarding may be up to be a new Olympic sport. It gives me a chance to rant about the truly astonishing decision to eliminate wrestling as one of the 25 sports that are guaranteed slots in the 2020 Olympic Games. I have always thought that sports whose most important championships are outside the Olympics: tennis, golf, soccer to name three, should be the first to go if a sport is to be excluded. Sports like track, wrestling, and swimming belong in the Olympics because Olympic gold is the ultimate accomplishment. I know times change, but to eliminate such an ancient sport just seems wrong. And wrestling is such a demanding sport in terms of fitness.

    One of the sports that was kept in at the expense of wrestling was Modern Pentathlon. Surprised the jerks who made that decision didn’t vote in polo or perhaps court tennis as well.

    Steve

  4. HH says:

    Headline/subhead on an article in the 2/22/13 Entertainment Weekly: “How We Transformed Into Nitpickl Nation — We can all agree that TV dramas are the best they’ve ever been, so why do we spend so much time tearing them to shreds?”

    And by “TV dramas”, I mean “crossword puzzles”.

    • pannonica says:

      “Nitpickl”?

      • HH says:

        Typo — sorry. My proofreading eyes aren’t as good as they used to be … and they were never as good as they should have been.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      The ones we tear to shreads are the ones that we feel fall short of “the best they’ve ever been” and should have been better. People in the olden days, they had such low standards.

      David Steinberg just sent me a 1981 puzzle to write a review of for his Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project site. This could be rather informative.

  5. Huda says:

    Amy, you’re such a scientist (this is a compliment, in case you’re wondering :). You provided evidence in both directions and I agree with your conclusions. Your savvy raters likely come with a number in mind based on their solving experience, but as Bruce suggested, it might be your written comments that help confirm it or modify it. I imagine that this subtle influence may be most relevant when the puzzles are middling, while the extremes are easy to agree on.

    The combination of the ratings here and the data that sanfranman (on the Rex Parker blog) tracks on difficulty levels is actually very interesting information that Will Shortz et al could use to keep fine-tuning the quality of the puzzles.

    Having recently tried my hand at some of the older puzzles, it’s definitely the case that the standards are higher now, and the puzzles just plain more fun.

    • Huda says:

      PS. At one point I tracked how well Rex’s difficulty ratings predicted the independent ratings of difficulty that sanfranman provided based on solve time. I had lots of data there, and Rex’s predictions were generally spot on.
      So, both Amy and Rex, even though they are XTREME solvers, are remarkably good at assessing the enjoyment factor and the difficulty level of a puzzle.

  6. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Thanks, Huda!

  7. Bit says:

    Stumper – “Great deal” : LOT

    I laughed at this one, because I distinctly remember a super-intense high-school teacher smacking her desk with a ruler and correcting us: “A lot is something you park cars in! A great deal is a royal flush! If you mean ‘many’ or ‘much’, say it!”
    Teehee.

  8. Gareth says:

    Like John’s anagram “Borg Duad”: FOOTSWEEP (ala Mortal Kombat), FURELISE, MOODSWING, DOWNBOY and HALFCAF – Am I correct that all of those are 100% fresh and 100% wonderful? Great puzzle!!!

  9. Evan says:

    Amy, isn’t it an IN sextet? That is, if you count INXS, which is pronounced “in excess.”

    As I posted on Rex Parker, there’s also a GO duo (GO MAD, GO ALL IN), an IT duo (IN ON IT, LET IT LOOSE), a ONE duo (ONE TON, ONE’S), and an ON quartet (ON A RANT, IN ON IT, LOADED UP ON, STEP ON). Each word of IN ON IT is repeated elsewhere — yuck.

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