Monday, July 22, 2013

NYT 4:17 (Matt) 
LAT 3:42 (pannonica) 
BEQ 5:09 
CS 4:55 (Evad) 

Ian Livengood’s New York Times crossword — Matt’s review

Matt Gaffney here, filling in for pannonica.

Now, how hard was that? For two weeks in a row, the New York Times publishes a Monday puzzle justifying the public’s general perception of their crossword. Last week it was Jeff Chen and Angela Halsted’s above-average vowel progression theme; this week’s it’s Ian Livengood’s straightforward paean to the city of BOSTON with some subtle touches.

Again, this is straightforward, as the four pinwheel themers are:

17-a [Expensive neighborhood in 43-Across] = BEACON HILL

61-a [43-Across stadium] = FENWAY PARK

11-d [43-Across patriot who went on a "midnight ride"] = PAUL REVERE

29-a [Popular food in 43-Across] = BAKED BEANS

And then in the middle:

34-a [Nickname for 43-Across] = THE HUB

And then, in case you hadn’t guessed the revealer:

43-a [Theme of this puzzle] = BOSTON

And then the cute M-A circled squares for Massachusetts. I’m pretty anti-circle, but for some reason these work for me. Maybe it’s because the constructor just got married in the past month and I was fortunate enough to meet both him and his bride at Lollapuzzoola last year? Maybe.

Let’s look at the five toughest entries in this grid: OSSIE, HALER, THO, TRIB, SKAT. That’s about what you want first thing in the week. Compare them to the five toughest from the Monday, July 8th puzzle, which are: ELHI, LABAN, RUHR, BARA and ENZO. This set is way too tough for a Monday (and BARA/LABAN crossed at the second A) and would likely turn off a solver trying the New York Times puzzle for the first time. Today’s puzzle would make a new solver want to try Tuesday’s.

A lot of lively fill like: EXCUSE ME, ST. LUKE, HOBNOB, MOUSEPAD, FOXY, SAY AH, ACT NOW, STAN LEE and THEORY. And there’s not a single word where nobody in a group of 3 or 4 people will know it.

4.20 stars. Solid theme and fill go a long way for the easiest puzzle of the week, so, for the second week in a row, above-average Monday.

Updated Monday morning:

Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Call to Account” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Four phrases that end with a word that has something to do with money (but, significantly, not in the phrases chosen):

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 07/22/13

  • [Bonus added to a lobbyist's account?] clues SPECIAL INTEREST – wouldn’t that be special interest’s interest?
  • [Wealth accrued in a government account? clues STATE CAPITAL - the "-ol" spelling of "capitol" is the building, right?
  • [Amount deposited in a student's account?] is COURSE CREDIT
  • [Debt owed from an educator's account?] is SCHOOL PRINCIPAL – another oft-misspelled word with “-le” instead “-al” for “principal.”

I think more than the theme, I enjoyed the medium-length fill of I PROMISE, CROP UP and WORSE OFF. My biggest smile, though, was reserved for the pairing of [Body shape of the abdomen-heavy] for APPLE with [Body shape of the hip-heavy] for PEAR, so those would be my FAVEs today. The eyebrow-arching [Houston guy who plays the field] refers only to the MLB Houston ASTRO team. I’ll award my UNFAVE to the missed opportunity of cluing MANIAC as this song from Flashdance instead of [Wacko].

Billie Truitt’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 7/21/13 • Mon • Truitt • solution

An unexpectedly interesting spin for this puzzle. Instead of the commonplace schtick of phrases beginning with a certain pair of letters, constructor Truitt has selected some that finish a particular way, and the revealer itself reflects—or more likely suggested—that approach. 38a [Some fight endings, and a hint to the word endings in 17-, 25-, 46- and 60-Across] KNOCK-OUT PUNCHES.

  • 17a. [Genre with listener participation] TALK RADIO.
  • 25a. [Homeric protagonist] GREEK HERO.
  • 46a. [Three-time Masters winner] NICK FALDO. Despite his successes, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of him. But then again I can’t say I’m a golf fan.
  • 60a. [Enter forcibly, as a home] BREAK INTO.

These are on the short and bland side, which undermines somewhat the freshness of the theme turnaround, as well as the stunning 15-letter revealer.

Jabs:

  • Temporarily had REWORD for REWORK at 18d [Edit considerably], and thought to myself that that didn’t seem so drastic.
  • Row 10: I’M A | BELL seems like an embodiment or response to the Frank Loesser standard, “If I Were a Bell.”
  • Despite the relative brevity of the (across) theme answers,  there isn’t any exceptionally long fill among the downs, just a few solid mid-length words: FOOTMAN, REWORK, BECAUSE. Oftentimes a crossword without flashiness will be dead-solid, really strong, throughout, but this one is pervaded by a middling, workmanlike aura. One of the reasons, no doubt, it’s a Monday offering.
  • Appreciated the echo of 3d and 10d: [Place for a dental crown] MOLAR, [Incisor, for one] TOOTH. On the other hand, the explicit cross-reference of the flimsy 61d IT’S and the mundane partial A DATE does nothing to enhance either. 42a [Have a bite of] TRY and 58a [Have a bite] EAT fare better in lifting those unremarkable threes to a more interesting plane.
  • Seemingly a lot of fills-in-the-blanks and partials.

IN ALL (62a), an average puzzle, not quite deserving of the quantity specified in the clue for 53-down.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

BEQ 7 23 13

It’s got more good stuff than the usual 60-worder, but I definitely prefer the elevated liveliness of Brendan’s 68- to 72-worders to what you get in a low-word-count puzzle. The good stuff:

  • 32a. [1986 R.E.M. hit with the prechorus line "And tell the sky and tell the sky"], FALL ON ME. Love that song. Instant gimme.
  • 5d. ["That's never going to happen"], YOU’RE CRAZY.
  • 37a. [Pop star who married Ryan Adams], MANDY MOORE.
  • 9d. [Spots for needles], TONE ARMS.
  • 23d. ["She's Not There" group], THE ZOMBIES.
  • REMINI crossing DISCIPLE. Leah Remini just left the Church of Scientology.
  • 42a. [Singer who did the theme for the Bond film "Thunderball"], TOM JONES.

Least favorites:

  • 16a. [Womanly], MATRONAL. Never seen this word form.
  • 11d. [Fruit cup items], MELONS. The items in a fruit cup are melon balls or chunks of melon, no? Plus, I hate fruit cups with cantaloupe and honeydew.
  • 39a. [Art of the playing field closest to the cameras], NEARSIDE. No idea what this means.
  • 44a. [Bloop relative], BLEEDER. Again, no idea. Is this baseball?
  • 29d. [Crown of light], AUREOLE. Not sure I’ve ever encountered this outside crosswords and Scrabble vowel dumps.

3.5 stars. Bring on the 72s!

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27 Responses to Monday, July 22, 2013

  1. Sarah says:

    One of the best-filled NYTs I’ve ever seen. Well done constructor!

    Have the same complaint as the Wednesday June 5 NYT though, except this time it’s blatently unacceptable. JIBS is esoterica. A FADE/FIBS crossing is far more Monday-ish, and does not compromise the fill at all.

    • Matt says:

      but find me the person who doesn’t know what JADE is

      • Sarah says:

        but find me the person who doesn’t know what FADE and FIBS are.

        FADE, for reference, has only appeared 28 times since Will Shortz took over; certainly hasn’t been overused filler.

        • Matt says:

          I follow you, but worth the J there IMO

        • Will Shortz says:

          To me the goal of a Monday puzzle isn’t necessarily to have all everyday words. A Monday puzzle should, of course, be easy, but it can include a hard word (or two or three) if all the crossings are readily gettable.

          The Times crossword is not aimed at Star or TV Guide solvers. It’s intended for a Times audience, which is educated and, in my estimation, doesn’t mind learning a thing or two.

          In this particular instance, JADE/JIBS is slightly preferable to FADE/FIBS, because the former is livelier.

          • Jon Delfin says:

            Could we please make Will’s comment about the occasional harder word having all gettable crossers a sticky note at the top of every crossword blogging page from this day forward?

          • Martin says:

            I’m often struck by comments by bloggers and their readers at odds with Will’s observation about learning a thing or two.

            I have always enjoyed learning new words or cultural refererences in puzzles, and it happens on a daily basis. But the theme of so many criticisms (again, by bloggers and commenters) is “I never heard of that so it’s not a thing.” Or we have enumerations of least favorite entries, many of which were unfamiliar to the author.

            I hesitate to even ask this question out loud, but I wonder if this is an artifact of solving for speed? Not having heard of an entry is clearly going to slow you down. I don’t mean this in any way to be a criticism of the many solvers who enjoy solving for time but I can’t help but compare the “traditional” solver, filling in the grid while enjoying coffee and a danish with the speed-solver totally focused on the puzzle. It only seems natural that the one might be more amenable to discovering a new usage than the other, who might have saved 20 seconds had it been clued differently.

          • Gareth says:

            Most lists of disliked entries actually tend to be ones we’ve only seen in crosswords and/or contrived answers. Excess numbers of these are a major barrier to new solvers, even well-educated, widely-read ones. It has absolutely nothing to do with solving “for speed.” Most “speed solvers” don’t actually “solve for speed” they just solve fast. The only way they could solve slowly would be to deliberately not write answers in, which would be absurd…

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            I second everything Gareth said.

            Actually, the most competitive speed solvers will take note of anything unfamiliar so that it won’t stymie them in the future.

          • Martin says:

            The speed-solving “hypothesis” was really just an open question, and not an opinion I’d defend particularly.

            But I do disagree that unappreciated entries are limited to contrived words or crosswordese. Consider the “Least favorites” in today’s BEQ. They’re mostly “I didn’t know that” comments, and this is not a constructor who we normally accuse of contrivance or crosswordese. Consider in particular, “BLEEDER.” It’s baseball argot, but not made up and certainly not crosswordese. Would it have made the list if it had a medical clue? Maybe (perhaps for yuck factor). But this entry seems a poster child for two possible reactions, “I didn’t know that and don’t like it” versus “I didn’t know that but now I do.”

          • Evad says:

            As a reviewer who posts his “unfave” almost daily, I reserve the right to not like an entry (or its associated clue, as in today’s CS review) for whatever reason I want. Favorites and unfavorites are completely from one solver’s perspective and the reason we have an open comments section on this blog is for others to agree or not, as is their wont.

            Long live the freedom to not like what you want to for whatever reason you choose!

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            Martin, I seldom appreciate learning any inside-baseball terminology. The clue didn’t even make the context clear—I had a vague sense that “bloop” was a baseball term but honestly I was thinking more of bloopers. Why “bleeder”? That word sounds painful, whereas “bloop” sounds ungainly. I have learned nothing from the clue and answer other than “a bloop is also called a bleeder.” No idea what either one is. Don’t care.

            And Martin, don’t act like I am always including things I don’t know in “least favorite fill.” Have you not seen a gazillion instances of “Didn’t know:” introducing a clue/answer pair? This morning I had 10 minutes to blog the puzzle before leaving for the rest of the morning. So sue me for not itemizing things in more detail. Would the readership rather have a longer post at 4 pm or a short one at 8 am?

          • Martin says:

            Bloops and bleeders are weakly hit balls that, nevertheless, become successful basehits. A bloop is a fly and a bleeder is a grounder.

            And I wasn’t speaking only, or even mainly, of you, Amy. And anyone can dislike a clue or entry for any reason.

            I only note that some people can’t rest until they understand an entry they don’t get (maybe it’s OCD) while others say “Don’t care.” Neither is better. But they’re different.

          • sbmanion says:

            I think this blog is the closest there is to the old NYT Forum and my main reason is that it does not contain a group that is any way constrained by Amy’s opinion. I mean that as the sincerest compliment to Amy. I personally have only noticed that she is quick to point out crosswordese, but have rarely noticed her complaining about a new word.

            As to BLEEDER, I always thought that it was a term of sarcasm suggesting that the ball was hit so hard it bled when obviously it was barely hit at all. However, there are lots of other explanations:

            http://books.google.com/books?id=ceeU7xSLw5kC&pg=PA116&lpg=PA116&dq=bleeder+in+baseball&source=bl&ots=7SPmDGSnG_&sig=j6m3U7OwUdqxyax_VzxFZxaCKI4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=kaPtUcqZI8KiyAH5sIDACg&ved=0CGAQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=bleeder%20in%20baseball&f=false.

            Baseball has tons of expressions for wimpy, seeing eye hits: squib, nub, scratch, bloop, etc.

            Steve

          • pannonica says:

            I usually—or at least more often than not—appreciate learning new words or terms, but, as Amy said, have no qualms about highlighting fill that in unfamiliar to me. That, however, shouldn’t be taken to mean that I disapprove of such answers.

            As Gareth said, contrivedness and/or awkwardity is what’s most likely to get an entry cited negatively, or to receive a verbal moue. At least by me, and despite Martin’s rebuttal.

      • Papa John says:

        Hey, Martin! I’m not sure I agree with your assessment.

        Certainly speed solvers will be slowed down by unknown fills – we all are — but I don’t think that’s what they’re saying when they mention words that they don’t know. It may be they’re complaining because it’s an obscure or esoteric word, not so much it’s “not a thing”. The speedsters need to wade in for a more accurate answer, though.

        When I work a puzzle I try very hard to “totally focus on the puzzle”. I’ve said this before: it’s a way of centering myself, of letting the rest of the world go by. It’s a form of cheap meditation. Despite my total concentration, I am in no way a speed solver. Truth be known, I often don’t want the puzzle to end too quickly because I do enjoy being in a world of my own or, as some may say, being spaced out.

        Here’s a question for all you speed freaks – is your time based on when the puzzle is completely filled or when it is filled correctly? If you do have an error, how do you go about correcting it? Is there a speedy way to do that?

  2. DB says:

    Ian, I like the cut of your JIB.

    I didn’t mind JIBS. With JADE so easy, if won’t hurt the Monday folk to learn themselves something new.

    Several choices:

    BIDS / BADE
    I would love to work up a set of matched clues for this choice. Really awesome opportunity that they let pass here.

    DIBS / DADE

    SIBS / SADE

  3. Huda says:

    NYT: Very good Monday Puzzle– smooth and beautifully constructed. It’s interesting to see the combination of clues that immediately evoke BOSTON.
    I was roaring along in high gear until I was slowed down by 2 entries: HEELTAP and the clue for HORSE. May be it’s because I did not grow up here (though I’ve lived here for decades), or may be it’s simply general ignorance– but I did not know and could not imagine a combination spelling/basketball game. After I inferred it and completed the puzzle, I had to look it up.

    I like the JIB/JADE combo– I think that expression: “I like the cut of your JIB” makes it accessible to the Monday crowd.

  4. Davis says:

    No mention of HEELTAP? I would consider that the #1 hardest word (but a fun one)–I’d neither seen nor heard it til this puzzle. And I’d bet money that in a typical group of 3 or 4, no one would know that one.

  5. Stan Newman says:

    For all you crossword historians and archaeologists:

    I believe I am responsible for the first published matching-last-letter theme, in Newsday maybe a couple of years ago. Having seen so many “matching initials” theme submissions that I would be delighted to never publish another one, I asked a constructor to send me one with matching last letters (with a clever title to go along with it), and have published a few since then, including one with title EMPTY ENDINGS. Have also published themes with initial TWO letters matching, including Fred Piscop’s TUBERS (BREAK BREAD, etc.) and one I made myself called TUBA TRIO, with answers like BATTERY BACKUP and two others.

    Too bad there’s no one blogging Newsday Monday-Friday and Sunday. Just yesterday, the Newsday Sunday was FUNNY FOLKS, with the theme of celebrity names containing two HAs (such as ANNE HATHAWAY and JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS).

    • Billie Truitt says:

      I’m one of Stan’s regular contributors, and I’m happy to give him full credit for the idea of an ending-letter theme. I’m not sure I would have come up with it otherwise.

  6. HH says:

    A Boston theme in a NYC puzzle — I like it. Clearly the Times is aware that the average crossword solver has a considerably higher IQ than the average Yankees fan. Of course, that’s not saying very much.

  7. Martin says:

    “Could we please make Will’s comment about the occasional harder word having all gettable crossers a sticky note at the top of every crossword blogging page from this day forward?”

    Seconded.

    -MAS

  8. Brucenm says:

    Of course Evad is right that faves and unfaves are completely from one person’s perspective. But again — it’s the total disproportion that annoys me. What’s the expression? — Swallow a camel strain at a gnat? In the BEQ we have one — count them, one — sketchy, marginal, not very idiomatic baseball term, “bleeder.” The term doesn’t do much for me either. But it seems that the norm is that to be generally approved, a puzzle must have been lifted almost verbatim from the last 12 months of ‘People’ magazine, and its ilk, to the maximum possible degree.

    In the “bleeder” puzzle, there is so much total crap, (yes, from my point of view), as to put this in the oft-encountered”puzzle from another planet” category, — e.g. 32 & 37a, 23d. That was enough to totally wipe out the bottom of the puzzle for me. And recently we had a puzzle where the complaint that it sounded like it was written for “people in the 55 – 70 age range.” Well, I didn’t know a lot of the stuff in there, either, but at least it was a little different. It’s not enough that 99.8% of puzzles have to be lifted to a ludicrous extent from People mag.; 100% of them have to be. Like I’m supposed to have heard of Ryan Adams, let alone who he is supposed to have married — whoever Mandy Something is. I don’t want to go back to the old Maleska days of bizarrely obscure words dredged from the pages of some 50 year old dictionary. But this increasingly disproportionate focus of modern puzzles feels like a kind of backtracking — a kind of “reMaleskazation” to me.

    I sympathize with Amy’s comment about not being interested in memorizing obscure baseball terminology. I think Amy and I both have a very wide range of interests, and are curious about most things, and interested in learning most things. In general, I emphatically like it when I find words, facts, ideas that I do not know in puzzles. But if there is anything that I do not have the slightest interest in learning or hearing about, it is this vapid “People magazine” aspect. I’m not in the least bit interested rote memorizing another 600 song titles from 100 more bands and “artists”. At some point I really will admit defeat and walk away from puzzles as something I used to enjoy, but it was time for a separation. I guess it’s the straw and the camel’s back metaphor (which I don’t much like.) Today’s BEQ is pretty close. And I just emailed BEQ about how much I loved his reverse psych. puzzle. Both are true.

    • Gareth says:

      You’re in the very small minority who has managed to ignore the entire canon of popular music (which is called popular because it’s well popular) of the last 30 years (est.)…

      That said, looking at BEQ’s puzzle (which I didn’t actually solve), although I’ve personally heard of 2 of those 3 (I’m only really familiar with REM’s post-Document stuff, i.e. from the time they became hugely successful). I can totally see how many people less familiar with music could not have heard of any of the 3. THEZOMBIES had a few big hits, the biggest the one named and “Time of the Season” but are not really as well known as their songs and MANDYMOORE was probably a 2nd tier teen idol (i.e. not quite Britney Spears / Christina Aguilera) although she’s since starred a few biggish films as well…

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