Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Jonesin' 3:19 
NYT 3:13 
LAT 2:47 
CS 6:05 (Dave) 
Xword Nation untimed (Janie) 

Diary of a Crossword Fiend welcomes Liz Gorski’s weekly Crossword Nation puzzle (available to subscribers via email and Stand Alone’s Crosswords mobile app—links provided on the “Today’s Puzzles” page above) to the fold. The ever-genial Janie will be blogging the puzzle each Tuesday. Crossword Nation puzzles are on the easy end of the spectrum and feature “themes inspired by cinema, music, art, the classics, pop culture, today’s scandals and feel-good news.”

Kurt Krauss’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 7 9 13, no. 0709

Today’s theme is MIDDLE INITIAL. President RUTHERFORD HAYES is missing his B., singer MARY BLIGE is missing her J., Dixie general ROBERT LEE is missing his E., and rich dude JOHN ROCKEFELLER is missing a D. Put them all together and they spell “BJED.” (Please provide your own juvenile joke and then keep it to yourself.) Samuel Jackson, Ulysses Grant, and Edward Murrow, call your agents; you are no less worthy than Ruthy, Mary, Bob, and John.

I was surprised to see the crossings for 14a. [Jesse who pitched in a record 1,252 major-league games], OROSCO. First off, that’s not a name everyone is going to know. Secondly, Orozco is a much more common spelling. 2d. [Tulsa sch.] is ORU, Oral Roberts University, but it would not be crazy for someone to guess OSU. 4d. ["Being There" director Hal] ASHBY is not up there with Spielberg and Scorsese in the name-recognition ranks. 5d. [Sharp-tasting], ACERB, is not such a common word. Along with 4d and 5d, the MOREL, 6d. [Gourmet mushroom], is also crossing 19a. [Songwriter Jacques] BREL, and I’m pretty sure I learned that name in crosswords. So this is a tough corner for anyone who’s uncertain about any of these crossings, particularly if they don’t know the name Mary J. Blige. Seems more like a Wednesday-grade pile-up.

Overall, the grid was a little dense with proper nouns (especially given that the theme answers already pack the grid with names) and crosswordese. OLEO ETNA ACERB ERNE SLOE EWER KEA ARIL NEE ENE? Yes, I’m calling these crosswordese. I’d prefer not to have more than a handful of these answers in any given puzzle.

I like the theme but the rest of the puzzle (except the fun “BEGONE!”) left me cold or at least tepid. The empty grid looked compelling with all the open space in the corners, but then I wasn’t excited by what filled in the space. Three stars.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Hunt and Peck”

Jonesin’ crossword solution, 7 9 13, “Hunt and Peck”

Matt’s theme answers can be said to be TYPESET (71a. [Like the four theme entries in this puzzle, as it were]) in that the letters TYPE appear in the middle, joining two words together. But “typeset” doesn’t quite describe what happens, does it? Here are the embedded-TYPE phrases:

  • 17a. [Precious coin?], PRETTY PENNY.
  • 63a. [Celebrants "in the house"], PARTY PEOPLE. Raise your hands in the air as if you do not care.
  • 11d. ["Firework" singer], KATY PERRY.
  • 35d. [Local lockup], COUNTY PEN. Uh, is that an actual phrase? I Googled it and most of the hits on the first couple pages are about farm animal pens and pen pals.

Olfactory blast from the past: 41a. [Maker of Musk cologne and perfume], JOVAN. Who knew it was still out there? The maker’s webpage mentions that 1972 debut and the 1981 sponsorship of the Stones tour. Raise your hand if you have sprayed any Jōvan fragrance on yourself in the past 25 years. Anyone…anyone?

44d. [Glover who was banned from Letterman's show] clues CRISPIN. The guy who played Marty McFly’s doormat dad is probably more famous than Crispin brand hard cider, which is a delicious potent potable if you ask me.

Least familiar word: 54d. [Sun helmets], TOPIS. From a Hindi word.

Not much is jumping out at me in the fill that’s fabulous or terrible. And I’m sleepy. So I’m calling it 3.5 stars and a day.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sweet P’s” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Four “sweet” confections that follow the pattern P.P.:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 07/09/13

  • [Thin chocolate-coated goody] is a PEPPERMINT PATTY – and also a character from the Peanuts comic strip.
  • [Frozen treat once pitched by Bill Cosby] clues a PUDDING POP – never had one of these, but I do recall the commercials. I tried puddin’ before pudding.
  • [Traditional Thanksgiving dish] is PUMPKIN PIE – though I like pumkin pie, I’d have to say apple or blueberry are my FAVEs.
  • [Baked dessert made with tropical fruit] is PINEAPPLE PASTRY – really? I thought I knew my desserts, but this one is completely unknown to me. Not sure if it originated in Indian cuisine, but this chef seems to imply that it did.

I think my favorite part of this puzzle was discovered at 22-Across: [This puzzle's title, e.g.,] for PUN. “Sweet P’s” is a great description for what is going on here. I just wish that final themer was more familiar. Though I didn’t notice it while solving (this is a good thing), I believe this puzzle is also a Pangram, let me check now….Seems to be short an F, which is ok. Lots of other P’s pepper the grid–PEN PALS, PARMA, PULSE, PAPA, POMP and the unfamiliar PELEE volcano of Martinique, and I’ve even been to that island!

My FAVE entry has to be [Slyly seductive female] for MANTRAP, though I do wonder if there is a parallel term for men who do the seducing. (My personal thought is that British actor and our new Superman Henry Cavill would be good at this.) STOP AND GO for [Like rush-hour traffic] was a close second. My UNFAVE was the crossword-friendly but old-timey STEN for [British submachine gun]. Would be nice to retire that entry for good, imho.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle, “Companion Piece”—Janie’s review

Crossword Nation 7/9 solution

Crossword Nation 7/9 solution

If you’re anything like me, when you see a byline that says “Elizabeth C. Gorski,” your “Ooh, That I Wanna Solve” radar starts beeping. You know that not only will the puzzle will be impeccably crafted, but more likely than not, it’ll be fun to solve. It’ll entertain. It’ll put a smile on your face. As you must have surmised by now, I don’t make that crime! Especially in an early-week puzzle. And the truth is, it’s the early-week puzzles that are most popular with the general puzzle-solving public. Quantitatively speaking, good early-week puzzles are not as readily available as one might think. Good early-week puzzles are a gift. So, thank you, Liz and Crossword Nation, for keeping the bar high and the puzzles a pleasure!

Now, if you’re new to solving (and I’m gonna bet there are quite a few lurkers out there who are), Crossword Nation (and the crossword nation…) wants you! These Monday-Tuesday level puzzles are perfect for honing and developing your solving skills: easy-enough themes, and clues that both challenge and delight. In other words, these are satisfying solves. And if you’re a more seasoned solver, these puzzles will probably remind you of why you started doing puzzles in the first place. Nothin’ like a good “aha” moment—whether it comes from having sussed out the theme or cracked the meaning of a question-marked clue—to brighten one’s day, right? So let’s take a look at the puzzle now, shall we?

First of all, we have that “easy-enough” theme. You’ll find a hint for it right there in the title, so we know from the start it’ll probably have something to do with “companions.” And sure enough, the first three of the theme-related answers bear this out:

  • 17A. [Adam Ant's first solo album] FRIEND OR FOE. Oh, gosh—besides a passing familiarity with his name, I know nuthin’ by Adam Ant. “First” solo album? So there are more?……. Yup. He’s no kid!
  • 11D. ["That'll be the Day" singer who's in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame] BUDDY HOLLY. Him I know. And love. Real rock & roll—’50s-style.
  • 29D. [Fish seen in the Yukon River] CHUM SALMON. Also new to me. But having caught on to the theme (and by checking my crosses) figured it had to be right.

And tying them all together, there’s a “reveal”:

  • 61A. [1986 western comedy starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short (and a hint to the puzzle theme)] THREE AMIGOS. THREE synonyms for AMIGOS: FRIEND, BUDDY, CHUM. Get it? Good!

As for those clues that “challenge and delight,” here are some of my favorite clue/fill combos:

isolated-mutt

How much *is* that doggy in the window?

  • 15A. [Drew on a book cover?] NANCY. “Drew,” as in NANCY Drew and the Case of the… Not talking about scribbling on or otherwise defacing the cover of a beloved dead-tree volume here.
  • 25A. [Misters at a perfume counter] SPRAYS. “Misters,” as in spray devices, not FELLAS. And yes (as I learned), SPRAYS is acceptable. My handy M-W sez about SPRAY in the singular: “a device (as an atomizer or sprayer) by which a spray is dispersed or applied.” Which works in the plural as well!
  • 27D. ["Mixed" blessing from a pound?] MUTT. Making that “mixed” as in “breed” and “pound” as in “dog pound.” Awwww.
  • 39D. [Heated singles matches?] HOT DATES. Yes! So not Wimbledon’s Bartoli v. Lisicki, or Murray v. Djokovic, but maybe some (fantasy…) time with Patrick DEMPSEY (a/k/a McDreamy) or, from a previous generation, Ted Danson’s blown-dry Sam MALONE.

Want to wrap up as I feel I’m runnin’ long here and (as Polonius reminds us) BREVITY is “the soul of wit” (let’s blame it on the lengthy intro…), but hafta say, this particular puzzle has a strong feminine vibe, what with that ECRU lingerie, the EYE CREAM, the reference to the late NORA Ephron, the Rubenesque NUDE, NANCY Drew, and perfume SPRAYS (among others). And there are lots of names: DAN, TRU, DYLAN, MARTINA, DEEN and CLARE (among others). Not sure how I feel about this. Also know that this is one puzzle. And that Liz knows how to keep things fresh, balanced and surprising. Which is to say, I’m already looking forward to next week’s puzzle and hoping that if you aren’t a Crossword Nation subscriber, that you’ll visit the site, try the sample puzzles (they’re free!) and see if this isn’t for you.

Do weigh in with your own thoughts.  That very warm welcome, Amy, was much appreciated. The, uh, generally-genial one thanks you. And ’til next time, “Adios, AMIGOS!”

Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA TImes crossword solution, 7 9 13

Shhh! This theme is rather [Hush-hush] (25a. COVERT)—phrases where both words start with SH.

  • 20a. [12-gauge ammo], SHOTGUN SHELLS. Solid.
  • 33a. [Little consideration], SHORT SHRIFT. Good.
  • 40a. [Woolgatherer's tool], SHEEP SHEARS. Uhh… what? That’s a thing? It is, but it’s not a term I’ve ever seen before.
  • 49a. [Eye protection for a tot's bath], SHAMPOO SHIELD. I know the concept—as a little kid, I wore sunglasses and held a washcloth over my forehead while my mom rinsed my shampoo—but I’ve never heard this term.

The SH-SH theme made it easier to piece together 40a and 49a, but I can’t say I enjoyed having them as half of the theme.

I also did not appreciate 1a. [Pequod captain], AHAB. You know why? Because I’m 40 chapters behind in my summer reading of Moby-Dick, that’s why. I should get back to that…

Highlights in the fill: SOY MILK, SWAHILI, LET ME SEE, FRISK. Lowlights: AGASP, SMA, ONEA, ARTES, B-STAR, HOER, ARIL.

Three stars from me.

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33 Responses to Tuesday, July 9, 2013

  1. Sarah says:

    This NYT puzzle is the most pathetic pile of trash of a puzzle I’ve seen in the past 15 years.

    Unoriginal fill (ADOS???? TOOWN???????), unoriginal clues, and a theme that’s only slightly more interesting to me than “people with last names”.

    Still waiting for a clever “SAVEAS” clue.

    • Sarah says:

      Such a waste of a perfectly good theme idea as well. Better ideas would have had the initials spell something meaningful, or literally used people with “middle’ initials.

      • Deb Amlen says:

        I wonder if Sarah has ever, ‘y’know, tried to actually *make* a crossword puzzle.

        • HH says:

          Of course, what % of people who post here have ever tried to make a crossword?

          • Gareth says:

            On this blog? a very high %! I don’t know the identity of “Calm Down”, but apart from her only Pan, Sarah and Huda aren’t published constructors; and Pannonica is on record as having tried to make at least one puzzle…

            PS: Which is one problem with this blog; a high percentage of constructors and “top” solvers leading to an echo chamber-y experience…

          • pannonica says:

            Oh, Gareth, “tried” is too strong a word. “Vaguely considered” or “halfheartedly diddered at” would be more accurate. If I actually put my mind and hands to it, I’m certain I’d succeed.

    • Calm Down says:

      Wow–lighten up. Was your day that bad?

    • I didn’t love the puzzle either (it was my first Tuesday DNF in a long time, due to that horrendous top-left corner), but I don’t think it’s anywhere near the worst NYT puzzle in the last 15 years (and I’ve only been solving the NYT for about the last 4 years).

    • Howard B says:

      Think and review before you post.
      I know because I have written follow-ups to my own posts, where I have apologized for my own words in retrospect. Sometimes writing with strong emotion, little sleep, or other factors leads to a bit harsher tone than we first perceive.
      There’s a human being behind the puzzle, so even if it wasn’t your cup of tea, a “pathetic pile of trash” is strong. It’s certainly your right to express it, but even from an objective point of view, having solved a great deal of puzzles, that is simply not true.

      Now, a pathetic pile of trash might have clues in the style of “_in___ rice” for MUTE (filling in random missing letters of a word, which is similar to what I saw in an airline mag puzzle once), “RAN” clued as “past tense of run”, etc. That is to say, several instances of lazy, simplistic or nonsensical cluing that would not meet today’s syndicated standards.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Right, Howard. It’s the pathetic pile of trash that doesn’t meet newspaper puzzle standards that I generally reserve a 1-star rating for (meaning even my most hated puzzle here typically gets 2 stars).

  2. pannonica says:

    CS: PEN PAL poops ‘pon the theme.

  3. Peter Collins says:

    My biggest surprise was that “vessels” was used in the clue for AORTAS, which crossed the entry VESSEL.

  4. Martin says:

    Even though I completely disagree with Sarah’s comments… I can’t completely agree with Deb’s rebuttal either. For example, I’ve seen loads of movies I dislike, but I’ve never tried to make a movie.

    -MAS

    • Papa John says:

      Spot on, Martin.

      I’ve heard this same confab on many occasions and it’s always the same – someone slams a puzzle and the wagons circle around not only the constructor in question, but all constructors.

      Your movie analogy is apt, and it can be applied to many different productions; from teaspoons to computers, from magazine ads to old masters paintings, from high school newsletters to the Holy Bible. They all have critics, some harsher with their words than others. Somewhere in that litany are the crossword constructors, who, by the publication of their works, put themselves in a position for criticism – harsh, bitter, sweet or otherwise..

      Are constructors really so thin-skinned that they can’t stand a bit of extreme censure? Certainly on this forum they receive much more high praise than ridicule. I say, buck up! If you want to dispute Sarah’s contentions, then you’ll have to do better than, “Yeah, oh yeah? Well, if you think it’s so easy, you do it!”

      On the other hand, if you put the importance of various things I listed in their proper order, crossword puzzles are certainly closer to school newsletters than the bible. So it’s back to what I said the other day – I’m glad I take it only as a game. I’ll reserve my Sarah-like passion for more important issues. Life is just too short…

    • Jeff Chen says:

      Challenge accepted, I’m going to make a movie! It’s going to feature Mary (J) Blige as a wise-talking, gun-totin’ tough-girl in a hard-boiled crossword-related mystery/adventure/horror/comedy/tragedy.

      Brad Pitt’s production company, please contact me ASAP.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        I would see that one on opening day! Unless, of course, I get an invite to the Hollywood premiere, in which case I’m walking the red carpet. Make this happen, Chen.

        • Papa John says:

          Hang on! Hang on! Don’t I get “Created by” credits?

        • Jeff Chen says:

          As I mentioned to Neville on Twitter, this movie is also a buddy flick, with Robert (E) Lee co-starring as an uber-menschy but self-hating zombie/zombie killer.

          Let the bidding begin!

  5. Huda says:

    NYT: I loved the clue for VESSEL! Although I agree with Peter that the word should not have been used in cluing AORTAS. I have seen this happen before. It seems to me that one should be able to write a simple program for checking the answers against the clues to ensure that there is no repetition?

    The NW was definitely a mine field if you did not know the collection of names there. Tuesdays may be the trickiest days of the week in terms of hitting the right note of difficult and liveliness. I think if this were a Monday and the NW was reworked, it would have been rated much more highly.

    I agree with Howard B’s statement: “there is a human being behind the puzzle”. There are ways to express disappointment without being quite so extreme (e.g. giving the puzzle a low rating). When criticism is that emotional, it loses credibility and says more about the commenter than the subject.

  6. RK says:

    How many constructors use software to help them create puzzles?

    • Mr Roboto says:

      They are all computer generated by Will Shortz. No real constructors exist.

    • Andy says:

      To give a real answer to this question, I think it’s fair to say that nearly all constructors use some computer assistance. At the very least, most constructors use software that automatically mirrors the black squares they enter into a grid to ensure symmetry (some, but very few, still construct their entire puzzle by hand), but fill their grids without any computer assistance. At the very most, constructors could use a stock grid from a grid library and have a computer auto-fill the entire thing (generally constructors at least have to come up with their own themes, but I suppose an extremely lazy constructor could have the computer auto-fill a themeless grid). And, of course, there are degrees of computer assistance in between (i.e., referring to a word list to come up with ideas for fill but eschewing auto-fill; having a computer automatically fill only the most difficult sections of a grid; etc.)

      That said, there’s a reason some constructors are highly regarded and are published more often than others: they are consistently able to come up with unique grids, clever themes, and fresh entries that don’t appear in any word lists, and they can fill a grid more adeptly than any computer. Constructors who use only auto-fill almost always get results filled with crosswordese, partial entries, abbreviations, and antiquated vocabulary.

      For more on the subject of humans vs. computers in crossword construction, I recommend this Slate article Matt Gaffney wrote: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2006/07/the_ultimate_crossword_smackdown.html

      • sbmanion says:

        I would think that it would be possible to create a consistently excellent computer-generated themeless puzzle if you could take the time to create a database that had no crosswordese and was entirely self-created. If you had a good database such as the words that had been used in previous NYT puzzles and supplemented it with a few thousand additional entries, it would probably have little originality as the overwhelming number of entries would still come from the previously used NYT puzzles. But if you could create your own database, then take a standard grid from a program like crossword compiler and supplement it with a few new au currant entries each time, then press autofill, it would probably fill the grid nicely most of the time.

        When I was creating puzzles for my own amusement seven or eight years ago, my favorite grids were ones that had 62-68 words with four quadrants each of which was its own puzzle. I created a 156,000 word database that had so much dreck in it that I never did succeed in creating a very good puzzle, although occasionally I created a quadrant or two that were excellent by any standard. Bruce might have liked some of my efforts as I would find a list of artists, composers and philosophers and sprinkle three or four into one of the grids, then press autofill. I was also big on unusual vocabulary words that I frankly have never understood why some solvers don’t like them.

        The one puzzle that I created along with Vic Fleming that was published on a Tuesday did not use an autofill and took so much time and effort that I decided to retire for the time being. The puzzle was cheered in the old NYT forum and I believe largely panned as inconsistent by Rex Parker (whom I did not know about at the time), but I was so elated to be published that I frankly did not care about the comments good or bad. I figured it had to be good enough to be published in the NYT, which means that it was quite good by any objective standard.

        Steve

  7. Brucenm says:

    The contretemps over today’s puzzle did motivate me to download and solve it. I thought it was a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable, easy, not all that noteworthy, early week puzzle.

    1. I think there is a point about the theme which hasn’t been mentioned. These are all people whose name is strongly identified with the middle initial. If someone mentioned Robert Lee, unless the context was obvious, it wouldn’t hit me immediately who they were talking about, and the same re John Rockefeller. I think I know who Blige is, though I thought it was Mary T. Does she have short, bleached blonde hair? Or am I confusing her with that Nikki person?

    2. To the best of my recollection, I have never seen “toown” in a puzzle, and the slightly startling effect of the doubled oo’s I regard as a plus, not a minus.

    3. “Save as”: {‘Enregistrer sous’ å New York}. (except I don’t know how to get an accent grave.)

    4. Wouldn’t a better clue for 21d be {Well-known X-wd constructor}? Of course if that’s a serious recommendation it would have the defect of ingroupiness.

    5. I say negative things about puzzles too, and I certainly don’t want to legislate what others can and can’t say, but I too think we would be better off without expressions like “pathetic piece of trash.” It is important to remember the human beings behind things that we only see on the computer screen. I think the invidious erosion of basic human courtesy and decency is one of the most regrettable and offensive side effects of the Internet, with all its blogs, commentary sites, etc. etc. I try to confine my negative comments to the form “I disliked this puzzle for the following reasons” which I often admit to be idiosyncratic, even a personal prejudice. I also wish people would begin thinking about confining their online remarks to and about a person to things they would be willing to say to that person face to face.

  8. Frances says:

    Who can predict the consequences when a blistering and sharply targeted criticism finds its way into print. Years ago, very early in my professional career, a book that I authored was sent, by the publisher, to a respected, but completely inappropriate, journal, whose reviewer gleefully tore the book to shreds. The journal’s field, as it happened, was the one in which I was just beginning to be active. A year or so later, when I was introduced to this eminent figure and mentioned the sad fate to which he had consigned my work, he apologized for his immoderate language, agreed that the journal should not have reviewed a book of that sort—and thereafter proved to be a charming and helpful mentor.

  9. Phoebe says:

    On a totally different note, how nice to have Janie back on a regular basis!

    • Evad says:

      I’ll second that!

    • janie says:

      hey, you guys — thx for that! where amy gets her blogging stamina i’ll never know. these days, making a weekly contribution on behalf of xword nation — and a monthly one for the wapo — however, is just about perfect. i enjoy the process — and, lucky me, i get to take a close-up look at puzzles constructed by some of the very best. this is a good gig!

      ;-)

  10. Amy, thank you kindly for allowing the Crossword Nation puzzle to appear on Crossword Fiend each Tuesday! I’m elated beyond measure. I so appreciate this opportunity to connect with solvers, many of whom are old friends. (Hello!) Phoebe — I, too, am glad to read Janie’s unique “voice” again and it’s doubly sweet to see her preside over the CN puzzle. Today’s theme revolved around three friends. Coincidentally, three friends — Amy Reynaldo, Janie Smulyan and Dave Sullivan — joined forces to make today’s launch happen. Thank you, dear ones! Until next time, I bid you adieu. xoxo

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