Wednesday, May 22, 2013

NYT 3:17 
LAT 4:10 (Gareth) 
CS 5:53 (Dave) 

There’s no new Ink Well puzzle by Ben Tausig this week. Ben is a real mensch and he spent too much time with a friend in the hospital to make new puzzles last week. We wish Ben’s friend well and will return to Ink Well blogging next week.

Kevin Christian’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 5 22 13, no. 0522

Cute theme. A word ending with X is paired with its -CKS homophone:

  • 17a. [Complaints about a Kentucky fort?], KNOX KNOCKS. No Amanda Knox reference here.
  • 36a. [Place a levy on pushpins?], TAX TACKS. I believe office supplies are subject to Illinois’s standard sales taxes.
  • 42a. [Security for smoked salmon?], LOX LOCKS. Hey, some of that stuff is pretty spendy.
  • 62a. [Piles of old soul records?], STAX STACKS. Could also have gone with those Pringles knockoffs, Stax chips.
  • 11d. [Say no to some pro basketballers?], NIX KNICKS.
  • 35d. [Critic Reed does major damage?], REX WRECKS. It’s so meta! You make a six-piece theme that lards the grid with X’s and K’s, thereby making the grid harder to fill with smooth answers. And then the puzzle is published, and Rex has no choice but to remark upon said compromises in the fill. He just might wreck it.

3d: ["Sicko" documentarian] clues Michael MOORE. Coincidentally, a horrifically large and powerful tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma on Monday. If you can spare a few bucks, please support the American Red Cross. If you never did get around to obtaining the fund-raiser American Red Crosswords PDF/e-book, you can turn a Hurricane Sandy fund-raiser into a Moore twister fund-raiser. The money goes to the Red Cross’s disaster relief fund, and the puzzles are good. Click here. Kudos to Rex Parker, aka Michael Sharp, for putting that project together and raising thousands for disaster relief. (Rex wrecks and Rex also helps.)

Fill in the category of 21a: STINKER:

  • 23a. ["Winter's Bone" heroine ___ Dolly], REE. Jennifer Lawrence’s character? Yes. Don’t recall hearing the character’s name when she was nominated for an Oscar. Judging by the movie’s box office figures, less than 1% of Americans saw the film.
  • 24a. [Hebrew letter before nun], MEM. Did not know that one.
  • 52a. ["Take Me Bak ___" (1972 Slade song)], OME. Ouch.
  • 61a. [Mid 13th-century year], MCCL. Just a few more letters and we could’ve had Bruce Willis’s Die Hard lead character.
  • 65a. [Eyelid malady], STYE. The more commonly encountered eye-related disorders, CONJUNCTIVITIS, GLAUCOMA, CATARACTS, and SCRATCHEDCORNEA, get so much less play in crosswords than the eyelid pimple.
  • 28d. [Double-check the addition of], RETOTAL. Kinda roll-your-ownish.
  • 54d. [Glacial ridge], ESKER. I don’t live by any glaciers, so this is crosswordese to me.
  • 63d. [Firth of Clyde port], AYR.
  • Not to mention SKEE, TSAR, SSRS, ALEE, TERR, TTOP, CCNY, SAV, AROO (I want to combine those two and open a dollar store called Sav-Aroo), and KEA.

I’m okay with finding a handful of these answers in the same puzzle, but this is a bit of a pile-on.

While I really do like the theme, I judge a puzzle just as much (sometimes more so) by the caliber of the surrounding fill. I can’t help wondering if limiting the theme to four entries would have retained all the fun of the theme but allowed the grid ample breathing room for the rest of the fill. 2.9 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Soil Samples” – Dave Sullivan’s review

If someone were to ask me to build a daily puzzle around synonyms for soil, I’d be pretty hard-pressed, but constructor Hamel rises (or is it sinks?) to the occasion:

CS solution – 05/22/13

  • [Frédéric Chopin's paramour] clues GEORGE SAND. Apparently her birth name was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. She took a male pseudonym to give her more latitude in her writings and public persona in those patriarchal times. I read that she smoked tobacco and wore male men’s clothes in public. Quelle horreur!
  • We really get down and dirty with the alliterative [Telling tabloid tales]or DISHING DIRT. I suppose “telling” is a verb in the clue to match the entry, but I prefer to think of it as an adjective in its “revealing” sense.
  • Another alliterative clue, [Home of the Hobbits] clues MIDDLE EARTH. Earth here isn’t a planet, but another word for soil.
  • [Military advantage point] clues HIGH GROUND. Well, it’s only an advantage if it’s higher ground than your opponent.

A bit of a hit-and-miss for me; the first two (SAND and DIRT), have different meanings than soil in their original phrase (DIRT as in gossip is arguable, I suppose), but the EARTH and GROUND of the latter two are pretty much the same meaning. I learned two new entries today, so my FAVEs are SUNDOG for [Partial rainbow] and DOGIE for [Motherless calf]. (Is the latter like the Immaculate Conception?) My UNFAVE today was Lord ZEDD from the Power Rangers. Suppose I needed to have children who watched that to get that one.

Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

So from constructor yesterday (hope you all had a good time!) back to blogger today. This puzzle’s by another fiend blogger, Doug Peterson. It’s a common enough theme type, so I’m sure you all figured it out… FRAMEOFMIND means that the four preceeding answers all have the pattern MI…ND: MILLISECOND, MIDDLEGROUND (enlivened by the brilliantly subtle mis-directing clue [*Compromising position]) , MICROPHONESTAND (ooh, a grid spanner – stylish!), and MILLEDAROUND (fun phrase!).

61 Theme squares is pretty darn high, but that didn’t phase Doug! Outside of the theme there’s only two 8′s, but another 10 6′s. HOMILY is a fun word to start with at 1a. If you’re going to have EUDORA or ENDORA in your puzzle why not have both? LOLITA and LETFLY are also nice answers. For ROURKE, I had ROONEY off the RO… Seemed like an obvious answer! Only two answers I dislike: ADES and LII and I’m resigned to both. At least the LII clue was easy arithmetic! Really for that amount of theme space you expect and tolerate far, far worse!

Solid, well-executed early-week theme, plus an expertly-filled grid (what did you expect?) rates a “4″ in my book!
Gareth

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26 Responses to Wednesday, May 22, 2013

  1. bencoe says:

    The theme was cute, but beyond Monday-easy.
    The short fill made me grimace a few times.
    Using my IPad for these easy puzzles makes me spend more time searching for and correcting typos than I do solving.

  2. Evad says:

    If, as you say “You make a six-piece theme that lards the grid with X’s and K’s…”, can we say that the puzzle was lardy? Or even suety?

  3. Huda says:

    I agree that should have been run earlier in the week. I’ve decided that my rating will primarily reflect my view of the puzzle itself. I can see how one can make the opposing argument, that one is rating the combination of construction and editing. I just find it hard to penalize the constructor when a puzzle is misplaced.

  4. sbmanion says:

    Winter’s Bone was an excellent movie. John Hawkes was also great in it. It never got a wide release.
    Rent it!!!

    I had some difficulty with this one for a Wednesday. I have a lot of old school R&B albums and listen to Underground Oldies on the local soul station, but STAX is new to me every time I see it.

    I think I was confused by my inability to make each entry grammatical.

    Having said that, I did greatly enjoy the puzzle.

    Steve

    • Bencoe says:

      STAX STACKS was my favorite theme entry by far. As a record collector and soul fanatic, Stax is one of those legendary names that inspire automatic passion in my heart…
      Founded in Memphis, it was the first record label anywhere to put black and white musicians on equal footing within the company. Booker T. and the M.G.s were their house band, playing on many of their records. Steve Cropper, guitarist of Booker T., was their musical director. Isaac Hayes was one of the main in-house songwriters. So many classics of Southern Soul…records by Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave…just magic.

      • Bencoe says:

        Also check out the documentary footage of the legendary WATTSTAX concert, hosted by Jesse Jackson. The company would go under only a couple of years later and this was their last big moment.

      • Bencoe says:

        actually…Aretha was sent to record at a place that had Stax’s sound by Atlantic,records, who had sent Wilson Pickett to Stax to record his biggest hits with Booker T and the MGs. Staple Singers also recorded for Stax.

        • Huda says:

          Thanks for all this information, Bencoe! I only had the vaguest of ideas.

          • Bencoe says:

            No problem! Like I said, it’s something that gets me going. I could rant about music all day long.

  5. john farmer says:

    REE isn’t great fill when clued “Riddle-me-____” but I like seeing it as clued for the Jennifer Lawrence character. More current, if nothing else. I had used it once, and ditto for JEM clued as Jeremy Renner’s Oscar-nominated role in “The Town,” which still tends to get the OK-but-we’ve-see-it “Scout’s brother” clue.

    “Winter’s Bone” … Judging by the movie’s box office figures, less than 1% of Americans saw the film.

    Possibly true ($13.8 U.S. box office, or about 1.76 million tickets sold at theaters, not counting DVD sales, rentals, Netflix, etc.), but you say that like it’s a small thing. For the sake of comparison, an album is platinum (usually a sign of great success) when it sells 1 million copies. Many TV shows have an audience <1% of the population, and anything bigger than 2% to 3% is a huge hit. Let's not even mention book sales. Lots of our so-called popular culture, even some things "everybody knows…," isn't seen/heard/read by more than 1% of Americans.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      One of those is a straw man. People hear songs from those albums on the radio even if they haven’t bought the album, so actual penetration into the public hivemind is different for popular music.

      • Karen K says:

        1.76 million tickets is peanuts for a movie.

        Even though the film did win some awards. To quote Calvin Coolidge, “unrewarded genius is almost a proverb”

        • john farmer says:

          About the same box office as “The Hurt Locker,” for what it’s worth.

          “Winter’s Bone” was made for about $2M, so it made a lot of money for the people who made the film. Not entirely peanuts.

      • john farmer says:

        I don’t claim those examples are perfect measures of popularity, but I don’t think the music example is a straw man. Songs get air play on radio (and elsewhere) but even the most popular radio stations (in big cities, at least) are lucky to get more than a few percent of the listening audience. I’m not so sure “penetration into the public hivemind” is driven much by radio.

        More than air play or ratings or box office, it’s other media that tends to drive who and what is well known. Taylor Swift is on “60 Minutes” and lots of people who never bought her music or listened to her on the radio know who she is. People who never go to the movies know George Clooney and Brad Pitt. “Rizzoli & Isles” has a bigger audience than “Mad Men” but it’s the latter that gets the press.

        Footnote: “$13.8 U.S. box office” should have been “$13.8 million….”

    • Pete says:

      Actually, two are straw men. CBS had an *average* viewership of 11.9 million, approximately 4% of the US Population, each and every hour of prime time last year. The last place network had an average of 7 million, more than 2.5%. Any TV show that gets less than 1% of the audience gets cancelled at the first possible moment.

      Further, we all would complain about the character on a show that lasted one season or less. So, for any TV character we would likely accept as a xword answer, we’ve had two years to get to know about.

      • Karen K says:

        Don’t forget Pete, also that:

        1) The viewership changes from week to week, meaning far more Americans know about it than 4%.

        2) Many of these shows get aired on different networks during first run, and some go into syndication, where everyone else hears about it.

        I think as long as the show put up decent numbers (8 million avg minimum, say), and the show has found its way into syndication, I think it’s fair game for a crossword.

        Sorry REE, but you aren’t good fill.

        • john farmer says:

          Syndication! That’s the key!

          I thought this discussion was about relative measures of popularity. I was not trying to define how much “popularity” is needed to qualify for crosswords.

          For that matter, popularity is only one factor of what makes good or bad crossword fill. This is not about a puzzle in People magazine.

          I’d comment on the “8 million avg minimum” threshold but I’m not sure where to begin.

          • Karen K says:

            There are other factors (significance, appropriateness, currentness, contrivance, the guidelines of the place you’re submitting a crossword to, and “is it a partial?”), but popularity is the one that is most important. If it’s not popular, it’s crosswordese. And if it’s crosswordese, people feel cheated.

            My guidelines were more of an estimate of how popular something has to be, not the end-all.

          • john farmer says:

            Karen,

            Yes, there are other factors. If the Best Actress-nominated role from a recent Best Picture-nominated film is too far afield for crosswords, then I think we need a new rules committee. That’s not to say most people know the name. I’d guess most do not. But so what? We’re all entitled to learn something.

            One point I was looking to make about popularity is that we can overestimate how popular even “popular” things are. That 99 out of 100 people might not have seen a movie doesn’t surprise me. More than 93 out of 100 people don’t watch NCIS, and that’s the most “popular” show on TV. The ghosts of Lucille Ball and Milton Berle are laughing as we speak.

          • Karen K says:

            We are all entitled to learn something, John. But you need fair crossings.

            With 15 + crosswordese, and, 5-6 unfair crossings, the puzzle becomes very difficult for some solvers. Any more than 3 crosswordese in a reasonable grid is just wrong IMO

      • john farmer says:

        Pete, Most TV shows get fewer than 1% of Americans tuning in, and many of them are considered popular successes that run for years. Television is more than just primetime network TV.

    • Gareth says:

      There’s also a Welsh singer-songwriter called Jem. She’s current(ish). I’m not sure she’s better than Scout’s brother though… I only know her because she’s a guest artist on my Vusi Mahlasela album Naledi Ya Tsela.

    • HH says:

      It’s too bad these guys aren’t better known — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams_and_Ree

  6. John from Chicago says:

    I am always struck whenever Rex and Amy agree, almost word for word, except Amy carries the iron fist in a velvet glove, while Rex wields an axe. Today is one of those examples. OK theme, but too much, resulting in lousy fill. Also, more Monday than Wednesday. Of course I love lousy fill. I feed off that. I did get a little sick of those homopuns. And this was too easy. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

  7. Lois says:

    I agree with John Farmer regarding the arguments in favor of 23a, REE. I’d like to add that in addition to favorable reviews and awards, Winter’s Bone is probably available via Netflix and cable TV, so that would be similar to wider appreciation of a pop hit over the airwaves and online than is obvious from its sales. Furthermore, the answer was gettable from the crosses (I did not remember hearing the name “Ree”), despite the fact that BOX SEATS are not always good seats and are sometimes very cheap compared to regular seats.

    I would say that the clue was not easy, and that the tough fill made the puzzle appropriate for a Wednesday. For me, “PREZ/ZESTA” was a tough crossing, because I didn’t know “ZESTA” and thought it could be “PRES.” “OME/ESKER” was another toughie, but I guess “ESKER” is known to you all as crosswordese.

    Anyway, the theme was a lot of fun.

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