Sunday, March 31, 2013

NYT 16:40 (pannonica) 
LAT 6:25 
Reagle 7:57 
Hex/Hook 10:41 (pannonica) 
WaPo untimed (Doug) 
CS 6:24 (Sam) 

Caleb Madison’s New York Times crossword, “Special Features” — pannonica’s write-up

NYT • 3/31/13 • “Special Features” • Sun • Madison • 03 31 • solution

Were you looking for the revealer? It’s right there, at 115-across: [Hidden DVD feature … which can be found, literally, in the answers to the starred clues] EASTER EGG. So named because they are “hidden”, just like those colorful ovoids at this time of year.

The nine letters of that phrase have been inserted into the titles of nine films, spelling it out. I’ve circled the squares (easier than squaring the circles, or so I’m told) to facilitate matters. Please note that the inserted letter is always the first instance of that letter in the new, converted phrase; it’s a subtle but elegant touch.

  • 23a. [*Movie about … an intense blinking contest?] STAR(E) WARS. Non-blinking, technically.
  • 28a. [* … a housecleaner?] NE(A)TWORK.
  • 30a. [* … a sled racer?] (S)NOW VOYAGER.
  • 44a. [* … a bee during a downpour?] S(T)INGIN’ IN THE RAIN.
  • 56a. [* … actor Jason's fan club?] BAT(E)MAN FOREVER.
  • 80a. [* … Jerry Garcia's band's portraits?] D(R)AWN OF THE DEAD. Little awkward, that phrasing.
  • 88a. [* … a parent's edicts?] T(E)EN COMMANDMENTS. I decree that this one needs a “with ‘The’” specification.
  • 100a. [* … a king's brilliance?] RE(G)AL GENIUS.
  • 108a. [* … a harvester?] (G)RAIN MAN.

Cute, lateral way to provide a timely theme.

(Didn’t initially include an image, but CEREBRO has presented itself after the first comments. Apparently the device also appears in the recent X-Men movies with Sir Patrick Stewart in the role of the avuncular bald guy (who’s the casting genius who figured that one out?).)

The complementary, nearly de rigueur long downs are very impressive: DEATH METAL (I had BLACK METAL first, as I’m not exactly familiar with bands such as Possessed and Deicide), LADIES’ NIGHT, CUT CORNERS, CAROL KANE, CHEWBACCA (with the brilliant clue, [Solo companion]), and LOST WEEKEND, based on Charles Jackson’s novel. That last one’s a teensy unnerving as it’s a film title and can be seen to infringe on the theme entries.

Another film title is at 13a [1983 film debut of Bill Maher] DC CAB, but I seem to recall he was in 1977′s The Kentucky Fried Movie… annnnnd … ooh! I was apparently thinking of 1989′s Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, which I’ve … erm … seen.

Well. Moving on. Yes, let’s move on, shall we?

  • 21a/22a ERASE / ABASE.
  • 86a [It's west of the International Date Line] ASIA. Strange clue.
  • 94a [Certain extraction] ORE, which is what I’d filled in for 24d [Smelt __ ] which turned out to be ROE. Hey! They’re anagrams.
  • Didn’t care for the vague blank clue nor the answer at 84a [ __ water] IN HOT; liked them even less when I saw the clue for 112a ENRAGE [Get hot].
  • Oh wait, another film title, JAWS (9d). But it’s clued elsewise, [Vise parts].
  • ASTR., EMER,, Not to mention ATF, IMF, CDC, MCM, et al. Plus a seeming [Slew] TON of prepositional phrase quasi-partials.
  • 117a [City south of Brigham City] OGDEN, 89d [City SSE of 117-Across] OREM. Ooh, a geographical crosswordese twofer! Shows gumption to highlight it that way, so I approve. Though the gambit does undermine the less conventional cluing of 76d [CITE] as [Île de la __ ].

Interesting theme but ultimately a less-than-satisfying puzzle. I sense it was more gratifying to construct than to solve

Updated Sunday morning:

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

CS solution, March 31

Today’s 66/38 freestyle Sunday Challenge features a wide-open midsection with lots of terrific answers, like ASKING PRICE, the [Sticker figure], POMEGRANATE, the [Fruit whose name means "seedy apple"], SAYING GRACE, clued as [Preparing to eat, in a way], and SEMI-PRIVATE, [Like two-bed hospital rooms]. That these long entries can intersect without any junk connecting them is just amazing.

Was I the only one who noticed some of the little echoes scattered throughout this grid:

  • SACRAMENTAL, [Like some wine], shares an intellectual connection to DETRIMENTAL, clued as [Bad]. Or am I just going mental?
  • Same goes for POSING AS, [Pretending to be], and SAVE AS, [File menu option].
  • An even better example is RHETT, [Butler of film], and BRETT, [Butler or Favre].
  • There’s less of a connection between CAN DO, the [Unofficial Seabees' motto], and CANSO, the [Nova Scotia cape], but their likeness stands out given they intersect in this grid.

I lost about a minute of solving time to the southwest corner, as I let the [Bottom line, briefly] stump me for far too long. It didn’t help that I held on to YES-NO as [Some questionnaire answers] when the answer was instead YESES, because that kept me from trying the obvious answer for [Cinematic pig], BABE. I was trying to think of a pig with a name ending in N, and that’s a hard task.

Favorite entry = LAST GASP, or [Desperate]. Favorite clue = [Tumbler of rhyme] for Jack’s companion, JILL.

Mike Nothnagel’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 156″

Mike Nothnagel’s Washington Post solution 3/31/13, “The Post Puzzler No. 156″

Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. Great puzzle by the great Mike Nothnagel. Those first three Across entries seem to form a mini-theme of sorts: BAR SOAP, PINE-SOL, and ACETONE. With that combo, I could clean most anything.

  • 21d. [Singer in 1977's Best Picture] - ALVY. Alvy Singer from Annie Hall. Love this clue! And I’m not even a big Woody Allen fan.
  • 52a. [Sch. that represents one of its initials in its logo with a pickax] – UTEP. How original! I thought I’d solved and/or used every UTEP clue in existence.
  • 33d. [Participants in sting operations?] – WASPS. I knew this was going to have something to do with bees. OK, wasps aren’t actually bees, but close enough. I hate bees, and I really hate wasps. And Wikipedia tells me there are over 100,000 species of wasps. How is that even possible? Horrifying.
  • 29d. [1977 David Bowie album whose cover was altered for his 2013 album "The Next Day"] – HEROES. A gimme for Brendan Emmett Quigley, I’m sure.
  • 6d. [Wordsmith.org founder ___ Garg] – ANU. I used to subscribe to his “A Word A Day” email, so I recognized the name.

Other good stuffz: ZEPPO MARX, ZOUNDS, PLOTZ, ORGANZA.

Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Moving Parts” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 3/31/13 • “Moving Parts” • Hook • bg, hex/hook • solution

In which the letter sequence PART is removed from some theme entries and inserted into others, always creating new wackdoodle phrases.

      • 26a. [Shepherds' claim?] O’ER THE RAMS WE WATCHED.
      • 31a. [Entertaining at Dollywood?] (PART)ON PURPOSE.
      • 62a. [Shopping for Valentine's Day?] THE DEAR DEED. My favorite, both because the resulting phrase is quite sensical and because the implied original DEPART has a meta aspect.
      • 71a. [Workout venue for Romney and Boehner?] REPUBLICANY.
      • 101a. ["You must acquit" et al?] GLOVE COMMENTS.
      • 107a. [Top chef's creation?] MEAL FIT FOR (PART)AKING ( …  a king). This entry (entrée?) included the square last to fall for me. As I wasn’t seeing the original phrase, I filled the mystery letter at the end of 96d [Gastric acid component (abbr.)] as a T, forming HCT and MEAT… HCL is of course one of the cholesterols (‘good’ and ‘bad’) that are commonly found in the alimentary canal, as well as crossword grids.

      • 3d. [Luxury-shunning quarterback?] S(PART)AN MARINO.
      • 57d. [Sad game bird?] BLUE (PART)RIDGE. Hmm.

As there are eight theme answers—half that lose PART and half that gain it—the four quartets can be seen as simply being transferred from one set to the other: literally moving PARTs.

  • The second-most vexing square for me to fill was at the intersection of 18a [Roman dictator, 82–79 B.C.] and 5d [Torso armor]. It didn’t help that I wasn’t sure if the abbreviation for the Canadian province Alberta at 6-down was ABTA or ALTA. The necessary letter was U, for SULLA and CUIRASS.
  • 114a ARTIC, which looks like an illiterate rendering of arctic, is short for articulated lorry, which is apparently what ‘Brits’ call an 18-wheeler. In this country we also call it a tractor-trailer, a tractor-semitrailer, or simply shorten that to SEMI, which is another crossword mainstay. Of course, in the UK semi is short for semidetached house.
  • If you’re going to put a partial in a crossword, may as well gussy it up with Shakespeare. 49a ["___ is out of joint." : Hamlet] THE TIME. Yet another of the bard’s phrases that have inspired book titles, in this case (1) a science fiction novel by Philip K Dick, (2) a memoir of leaving Nazi Germany for Britain, (3) a catalog of a recent show at the Whitney Museum of Art, and (4) an analysis of Shakespeare himself as a “philosopher of history.”Alas, there’s no help for 82a GOT FROM.
  • 118a [Necrophobe's fear] DEATH. My sense is that necro- more precisely refers to dead bodies, whereas thanato- references death as a concept, and that thanatophobia is the more prevalent term. A little digging shows that I’m both right and wrong; necro- does indeed suggest corpses, but its meaning has grown to encompass death in general. A Google Ngram search shows that “thanatophobia” has historically been more common than “necrophobia” but also that the two have been converging in recent years. And anyway, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”
  • The list you’ve been dying for: ORAN; ST LO; -ERN; AH, ME; SHOR; ANIL; HAD A; LDS; SOO; URU; OR I; ’EAD; SYN; HCL; AT AN.
  • PLUMPISH is a fun word. (7d)
  • Favorite clue, with the merest of reservations: 27d [Woman with will power?] HEIRESS. Wouldn’t executrix be more accurate? Nevertheless, I can see how an heiress can be empowered by a will, hence my qualification.
  • Last, 13d Without A PEEP is how I’m gladly experiencing this Easter.

Good puzzle.

Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Real-World Palindromes”

Merl Reagle crossword answrs, 3 31 13 “Real-World Palindromes”

This week’s theme is palindromes:

  • 23a. [Retracted, perhaps], DRAWN INWARD. I am more fond of drawing pupil’s lip upward.
  • 25a. [A few notes], SOME MEMOS.
  • 35a. [Did a little church maintenance], SWEPT PEWS.
  • 38a. [First TV appearance], TUBE DEBUT.
  • 52a. [Wooden bed of a sort], BIRCH CRIB.
  • 56a. [Handfuls for Hollywood nannies], STAR BRATS.
  • 70a. [Answer to "Should I use a rubber band?"], NO, TIE IT ON. Harder to parse with the comma your mind’s eye needs to insert there.
  • 85a. [Fundraiser sponsored by hospital employees, perhaps], NURSES’ RUN.
  • 87a. [Containers for cashews or hard candy, e.g.], SNACK CANS.
  • 97a. [Words after "It's a wand"], NOT A BATON.
  • 101a. [Swapped Dalis, e.g.], TRADED ART.
  • 116a. [Good name for an Asian airline (possible slogan: "The same great service coming and going")], AERO KOREA.
  • 119a. [Bit of "Perry Mason" dialogue], DELLA CALLED.
  • 40d. [Lotion for shoulder pain, perhaps], BURSITIS RUB.
  • 44d. [Aerialist's buy, perhaps], TRAPEZE PART.

Not your everyday, run-of-the-mill crossword theme. Why, you only see this once every seven or so years—I Googled a couple theme answers and found out this puzzle’s a rerun from May 2006. (The person who commented on the puzzle in a palindrome discussion thread praised Merl’s palindromes for being much more plausible phrases than, say, “God! Nate bit a Tibetan dog!”) Obviously, Merl freshened up the clues, as OBAMA hadn’t appointed Justice Kagan back in ’06, and ANG LEE had not directed Life of Pi.

I liked the theme okay, but the overriding vibe I felt was “these are words I learned from crosswords way back when.” OVOLO, TOSSPOT, SENTA, ESSO, URIS/ARI, MOAS, ALAI, EDOM … that doesn’t look like very many entries, but I still felt an ’80s-solving vibe. (Not a horrible Maleska vibe, mind you. I keep hearing about the crossword atrocities that people are discovering in ’70s and ’80s NYT puzzles via the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, and it kills any curiosity I might have had about older puzzles.)

3.25 stars.

Andrew Ries’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Support Group”

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 3 31 13 “Support Group”

Nice reveal in the center of this puzzle: 69a. [Event where the number 12 is important, and a feature of 12 two-word answers in this puzzle] clues AA MEETING. Each of the 12 “steps” in this theme is a two-word phrase in which the words meet at an A and A.

  • 23a. [Tibetan breed], LHASA APSO.
  • 24a. [Cinematographer's concern], CAMERA ANGLE.
  • 30a. [First Bond girl], URSULA ANDRESS.
  • 45a. [Orange County seat], SANTA ANA. I would’ve guessed one of the bigger/more famous cities in the O.C. was the county seat.
  • 47a. [Max Ernst, for one], DADA ARTIST. Slightly less a “thing” than most of the other theme answers.
  • 55a. [Crimson Tide's home], TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA. Mesa, Arizona, you need a new agent.
  • 80a. ["The Voice" coach], CHRISTINA AGUILERA.
  • 87a. [Interactive website plug-in], JAVA APPLET. I disabled Java in my browsers back when there was that warning about Java vulnerabilities. Any reason to enable Java again?
  • 91a. [Unusual thing], RARA AVIS. Hardcore crossworders know this is Latin for “rare bird.”
  • 106a. [Its largest hub is in Atlanta], DELTA AIR LINES. Okay, this one is officially three words, so there’s also an RL meeting. (When you go to RL meetings, you have to wear Ralph Lauren or Polo clothes.)
  • 113a. [First Japanese car to be produced in the U.S.], HONDA ACCORD.
  • 116a. [Mozart highlight], OPERA ARIA. Is this a “thing”? Dictionary says an aria can also be in an oratorio and thus is not exclusively an opera thing.

The grid design means that there are 9-letter answers stacked beside the top and bottom 9-letter theme answers. There are a couple 8-letter theme answers. This didn’t actually discombobulate anyone, did it? I found the puzzle tumbled so fast, I didn’t have time to gaze at ICE SKATER and LHASA APSO and try to find a connection.

Didn’t know 56d. [B.J. or Justin of baseball], UPTON. Is that the last name of model Kate, too?

As for 74d: ['60s defense secretary], Robert MCNAMARA—if you haven’t seen the Errol Morris documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, do make a point of tracking it down. It was fascinating.

70d. [US Open champ between John and Mats] tricked me. Four letters, tennis, starts with I? Gotta be ILIE Nastase. Except, of course, when it’s a little later on and for a more extended run, and it’s IVAN Lendl.

I have never used “turtledove” as a term of endearment, so 109a. [Turtledove] baffled me. DEARIE, term of endearment? Okay, then.

Not so thrilled with fill like PURRER, RIA (although my cousin’s new baby is named Ria, and I want her to become a child star so we have a fresh way to clue RIA), ARME, RIATA, ODA, AAR, and ORT.

Overall rating, 3.33 stars.

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24 Responses to Sunday, March 31, 2013

  1. RK says:

    CEREBRO/BREAM/MYA was a bad crossing.

    You really saw Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death? How’d that happen and was it any good? lol

  2. Angela Osborne says:

    72 across – Cerebro – what in the world is that? Stumped me so I just did the fill around it.

  3. Sophronisba says:

    I got Cerebro relatively quickly, because my 12-year-old son leaned over my shoulder and told me the answer.

    I thought the Lost Weekend answer was very timely, given that Blake Bailey has just published a massive biography of Charles Jackson.

    • pannonica says:

      (Radio interview with Bailey already linked in the post. I think some other of Jackson’s books have been reprinted to capitalize on it.)

  4. dook says:

    Really unpleasant NYT. And, its THE Ten Commandments, not Ten Commandments.

  5. janie says:

    for me, the ongoing mystery about the rating system is this: are folks noting their assessment of the puzzle or responding to their experience of the solve? or is it something in-between? are detractors seeing 4s and 5s and thinking “well, w/ only one chance to rate the puzzle, i’ll enter a score that’ll lower the high rating” — or are they entering a score that genuinely represents their own assessment of the experience?

    i had *such* a good time solving caleb’s puzzle today because the combination of the witty, altered movie titles, the execution of the meta and the timely payoff knocked my socks off. i knew something was afoot with the added letters when they seemed, at first, to be arbitrary. but then… but then…

    what i’m getting at, though, is how/why would anyone rate this a “2″ — unless s/he is responding *only* to the experience of solving and not to the puzzle itself (and/or deliberately undercutting the higher ratings by entering low ones). i understand from “diff’rent strokes” — but (imoo..) the concept and execution of this particular theme is mighty fine. not liking a particular kind of puzzle is one thing. rating it on that basis seems like a misdirection of one’s energies.

    have at — (and i know i’m not the first to voice this opinion) but i just had to say it (too)!

    ;-)

    • RK says:

      People rate for different reasons, not all fair, although even honest ratings are somewhat biased because they’re inevitably tied to how one did I believe. But, yes, some ratings are clearly ridiculous and not about the puzzle itself. If ratings mattered I suspect Amy would have to step in.

  6. Karen says:

    CEREBRO was a gimme for me, but ERROL Morris? I got stuck up there for a while. No help that we don’t have URBAN Outfitters around here.
    I loved the theme reveal at the end.

  7. mitchs says:

    Before I began reading these blogs, five years or so ago, puzzles for me were either solved or not. That was the only evaluation I considered. I succeeded or failed. It never ocurred to me in 30 years of solving the NYT that the puzzles themselves were good or bad. (with the exception of ridiculously obsure crossings)

    Then, through this blog and Rex’s, I began to recognize things like crosswordese, partials, snappy or boring fill, etc. So I when I rank a puzzle here, it’s from a point of view of what you might call a
    “blogsolver”. A mix of points of view, as you suggest.

    The problem is when someone like me confuses reading Amy or Rex with being as knowledgable or discerning as Amy or Rex. Once or twice a week over at Rex a puzzle will be described as the “worst ever” or “terrible” or some such. That’s probably the same mindset of those who feel compelled to rate solid to really great puzzles with a “2″.

    It’s gonna happen with an open system.

    • AV says:

      Methinks the blogs are getting a little too picky with all this cavilling about partials and crosswordese (especially given how few and far between these are encountered in the modern-day puzzles).

      But then the critics are required to compare to the highest standards and explain the subtleties. So I take their opinions with that perspective in mind and I don’t let that affect my solving experience.

      To answer the rating question, as a solver, I rate the puzzles based purely on my enjoyment – for instance, in today’s puzzle, the partials and crosswordese did not bother me one bit. I do sometimes wonder (as Janie does above) as to what would possess someone to give a puzzle a 2 or a 1 (and sometimes the same can be said about a 5), but I don’t get affected by others’ views – I simply plonk down my rating based on my individual assessment.

      As an infrequent/ex-constructor, I feel for the constraints imposed on the constructor – as I have commented elsewhere in this thread, to include 9 theme entries and a revealer in a Sunday is not that easy so the critic should understand that a perfectly clean grid is nigh impossible.

      My only hope is that these blogs are drawing more people to solving crosswords and enjoying them. I worry that by focusing so much on the nits, the partials, the naticks, etc., some of the bloggers are not accentuating the positive, the beauty, the elegance of the themes, and in the process driving solvers away (hopefully, just from the blogs and not the puzzles!)

  8. Chard says:

    I think that Pannonica is confusing HCl (hydrochloric acid) with HDL (high-density lipoprotein aka “good cholesterol”).

    • pannonica says:

      You’re right! I get so flustered about never remembering the acronyms for the cholesterols that it blinded me to the obvious gastric “juice.” Also, chemistry—especially lab work—always caused me to lose my common sense.

  9. cyberdiva says:

    I enjoyed the NYTimes puzzle, but I only fully appreciated it after reading pannonica’s explanation about the extra letters actually spelling out EASTER EGG. Until then, I was mystified as to why the clue said the answer could be found “literally” in the answers to the starred clues. Yes, after finishing the puzzle, I should then have taken a closer look at the extra letters, but it took me so long to solve, and I was so pleased when I finally put in the last answer (for me it was the M in BREAM/MYA), that it didn’t occur to me that there was more to the puzzle than just filling in the answers. Thanks, pannonica; I owe you one several A TON.

    I’m always interested to see what people find hard and what for them are gimme’s. Today, I was the opposite of Karen. I had no idea about CEREBRO and filled it in mostly because of CEREBRO also being Spanish for brain; ERROL Morris, OTOH, was a gimme, since I had seen and liked at least two of his documentaries: The Fog of War and Tabloid.

    • pannonica says:

      He made a splash in 1978 with Gates of Heaven, about pet cemeteries, pioneering many of the peculiar but effective filming and interviewing techniques that would come to be the hallmarks of his style. It holds up well.

  10. AV says:

    I personally enjoyed the puzzle since I am clearly on the same wavelength as the “under 30″ crowd! :-)
    Nine theme entries + a revealer leads to a tight grid, which requires some partials and crosswordese so I guess that is not a big demerit.

    For those who loved this puzzle, check out Kevin Der’s elegant NY Times, Thu, Feb 19, 2009 offering.

  11. John Haber says:

    I’m in the camp for which ERROL was a gimme and CEREBRO not something I recognized even with the fill in place. That said, the hardest section was the NE with DC CAB and DEATH METAL. (I actually tried “heavy metal” first. I also initially had “eau” for the contents of la mer.)

    Perfectly ok puzzle, I guess, but for my taste way too many three-letter words.

    • cyberdiva says:

      John, we seem to be on the same wave length here, not only about CEREBRO and ERROL but also about DEATHMETAL (I too had “heavy metal” for quite a while) and SEL (I stuck with “eau” for far too long).

  12. Howard B says:

    I rate based on my overall solving enjoyment, as soon after solving as possible. For the NY Times here, I recognized a few unpleasant crossings that were solvable for me, but enjoyed the theme answers, overall theme, and the clues and answers overall, so rated it highly. No rubric used, no statistical analyses performed. Strictly on subjective, gut experience.

  13. klew archer says:

    LAT 102a should have read “Beastie Boys album on which Tony Orbach appears.”

Comments are closed.