Friday, September 27, 2013

NYT 5:46 
LAT 5:06 (Gareth) 
CS 6:01 (Dave) 
CHE 4:52 (pannonica) 
WSJ (Friday) 12:50 (pannonica) 

Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 9 27 13, no. 0927

On occasion, we get a themed Friday puzzle:

  • 1a. [Begin], GERMINATE, and
  • 61a. [End], TERMINATE, are partnered up. To get from [Begin] to [End], just:
  • 29a, 36a, 39a. [With 36- and 39-Across, go from 1- to 61-Across], CHANGE ONE LETTER.

That is not terribly exciting as word games go, though it’s mildly interesting that GERMINATE and TERMINATE can be used as opposites and differ by only one letter. There are other such pairs, aren’t there? Drawing a blank right now, but it feels familiar.

There’s not much in this grid to wow the themeless fan. I like to have plenty of zippy answers, and I didn’t find them here.

Five more things:

  • 12d. [Unit charge], CONDO FEE. Is that a real phrase? We have a monthly assessment in my building, not a “condo fee.”
  • 33a. [Robert W. Service's "The Cremation of Sam ___"] MCGEE. I have no idea what this is. A poem?
  • 40d. [One-two in the ring?], TAG TEAM. Professional wrestling, mostly, no? Freshest phrase in the puzzle.
  • 6d. [___ Romanova, alter ego of Marvel's Black Widow], NATALIA. I pay almost no mind to comic books.
  • 4d. [He'll "talk 'til his voice is hoarse"], MR. ED. I remain weary of the TV show/horse character Mister Ed being presented in crosswords as MRED. You can’t monkey with titles like that.

AGA plus AGAR, and TECS and OLIOS? Bleh.

I note that ASHER/ASHES, ALA/AGA, and AGNES/AGNEW are other pairs that differ by one letter. I’ll bet you a dollar that Peter was well aware of them when he made this puzzle.

3.33 stars.

Mark Feldman’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Shakespearean Poetry” — pannonica’s write-up

CHE • 9/27/13 • “Shakespearean Poetry” • Feldman • solution

Nay, I prithee now, with most petitionary vehemence, tell me who it is.

– Rosalind, As You Like It, III, ii*

Shakespeare was of course a poet as well as a playwright, but the titular reference here is to simple rhyming, specifically to the names of characters in his plays.

  • 16a. [Shakespearean jester after winning the lottery?] EUPHORIC YORICK. You can bet that there were a lot of people claiming to know him after that.
  • 29a. [Shakespearean king after a night on the town?] DRUNKEN DUNCAN. ‘Twas the chamberlains who were the worse for wear on that account, I’d say.
  • 35a. [Shakespearean Moor after a day at the spa?] MELLOW OTHELLO. I don’t think it’ll take.
  • 52a. [Shakespearean prince after receiving some bad news?] JOYLESS TROILUS. “Hey, your noble brother Hector was slain by Achilles, and the bastard’s dragging him around the city walls behind his chariot.”

Cute theme, great rhymes. Have to admit that some of them sound like rejected Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors. Obliged to note that all four personalities are male, though Shakespeare created many memorable female characters. But what’s with the huge blocks? They’re monstrous! Two six-square ELS (43a)! Two six-square Oklahomas! And a five-spot blistering the middle! I used to use xwordinfo to analyze puzzles so I could easily find out the fill/squares ratio (and check letter frequencies), but that feature is no longer free to non-subscribers. Nor do I have Crossword Compiler or a similar program, and while I may be dedicated to this blog, I’m not so in its thrall as to manually calculate those numbers.

If she be black, and thereto have a wit,
She’ll find a white that shall her blackness fit.

– Iago (to Desdemona, speaking of his muse), Othello, II, i

Worse and worse!

– Desdemona (in response, obviously)

Planktonica:

  • Slickest clue: 48d [Rises in the west] MESAS, though for it to be fair it should have had “west” capitalized.
  • Northeast: ILLER crossing REHEM; both are legitimate, but it’s clunky to see them both, so proximate.
  • Longest non-theme fill are the paired VEHEMENT and PRECLUDE, which seem to have a Shakespearean air about them. The central vertical quadrille—a curious formation brought about by the aforementioned parcelling of black and white squares—of CHINOOK, DICTATE, HEARTHS, and TRIPS UP is decent.
  • Just a little in the way of That Higher Education Vibe™: 26d [Sister of Charlotte and Emily] ANNE, 29d ["A __ House"] DOLL’S, 45d [Theater critic Barnes] CLIVE. Arguably: Zeno the STOIC (32a), Galileo’s crime of HERESY (42a), and Tanzania’s Olduvai GORGE in Africa’s Great Rift Valley.
  • Worst solving gaffe: chronic misreading of 36d [Creature in a pod] as [Creature in a pond]; that’s one immense pond if it’s going to contain a WHALE. Yes, I was all 56a ["What the …?"] HUH? And don’t give me that cutesy UK–US term for the Atlantic Ocean, either.


* The Shakespeare concordance I consulted returned six instances of the in-grid VEHEMENT, but this single occurrence of vehemence seemed far more apt.

Nancy Cole Stuart’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Military Invasion” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 9/27/13 • “Military Invasion” • Fri • Stuart • solution

Brace yourself for an influx of general infantry, because they’ve abseiled their way into a bunch of base phrases, to completely subvert them.

  • 22a. [Staples at a young mouse's birthday party?] MA(GI)C AND CHEESE. Really, is there any other way this could possibly be clued? Well done.
  • 32a. [Juniors and sophomores on a Texas campus?] MIDDLE AG(GI)ES. Aggies, nickname derived from “agricultural.” Many schools have adopted it but the most famous is probably Texas A&M University—that’s agricultural and mechanical. Has it ever broached crosswordom in its TAMU form? Let’s hope not.
  • 43a. [Maker of towering tables?] CARPENTER (GI)ANT. Carpenter giant? Giant carpenter? Canteger paint?
  • 64a. [More grimy bill of fare?] DIN(GI)ER MENU.
  • 75a. [Bedtime remark in a Gale Storm sitcom?] ‘NIGHT MAR(GI)E. Vaguely recognize actress’ name, but not the show.
  • 97a. [Ron Moody in "Oliver!" compared to others who played the part?] NUMBER ONE FA(GI)N. So I guess he originated it. London stage? Broadway? Don’t know, don’t care.
  • 105a. [Green, for Spock's blood, of course?] LO(GI)CAL COLOR. Clue doesn’t make sense as it is. It’d have to be longer, but if it mentioned that the blood contains—what, copper?—instead of iron, then maybe we can talk.
  • 121a. [Waiter's question to a chef concerning a mushroom soup order?] AIN’T WE GOT FUN(GI)? More like a rhetorical demand than a question, no? Or maybe it just seems that way to me because it’s alien to my way of speaking.

So. Not the most exciting of themes, but fairly well executed for what it is. For instance, pretty good variation of the infiltration point (though it would have been nice to have at least one with the GI at the beginning of one of the phrases—ideally at 22-across—to complement the one finishing 121-across. Or perhaps one that spanned two words? A good amount of the new phrases are entertaining.

Perhaps it doesn’t bother other solvers or commenters, but I dislike when aspects of the theme mingle with the non-theme sections of a crossword. Such as ANGIE at 16d. Obviously, the GI-less “ANE” is not much of a thing, but the presence of the one critical theme element elsewhere is distracting. See also 103a YOGI and 107d GIRLS.

Give It!

  • The longest non-theme entries, both downs, have particularly playful clues: 14d [Work done on the convertible?] EVANGELISM, 76d [Reunion shows?] HOME VIDEOS. I do wonder if the former is a bit too much of a stretch, even with the question mark.
  • Toughest section to complete: left-of-center, with [Chesterfield, e.g.] OVERCOAT, [You may part with it] COMB, [Alternative to noir] AU LAIT, themer ‘NIGHT MARGIE, [Personal sketch] BIO, [Part of many email addresses] AOL, [Field pest] LOCUST, [Bookbinding leather] ROAN. Sure, some are obvious in retrospect—or even with a crossing letter or two—but as a whole it was difficult this solver to break into.
  • 32d [Patrick of "Barry Lyndon"] MAGEE. He changed his name from McGee for some reason unknown to me. Had been looking forward to experiencing that film for years, finally saw it in 2011 and was disappointed once again by Kubrick. Aside from Dr Strangelove, I find his oeuvre (what I’ve seen of it) to be tedious and uninteresting, unstimulating, unprovocative, and not a little pretentious.
  • 26a/117d [Crikey!] GOSH / EGAD.
  • Most temporarily bewildering clue: 52a [Fat mule marking, perhaps] EEE.
  • Crosswordesiest fill: INRŌ. Think of it as a Japanese sporran.
  • A lotta alliteration littering the clues.
  • 40d [Frigid forecast] TEENS, which happened to be my first guess for 107d [Many Justin Bieber fans] before I sussed out that that was GIRLS.
  • Most snarkily ironic clue: 122a [Piece-loving org] NRA.

Typically strong fill and cluing (Shenk standards) throughout keep this one in the above-average zone.

Updated Friday morning

Matt Skoczen’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s Write-up

LA Times
130927

The [Celebration suggested by words that end answers to starred clues] in Matt Skoczen’s puzzle is ANIGHTONTHETOWN. The six answers spell out TOP, HAT, WHITE, TIE, TAILS – or “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.” OK, now is the part when you get to mock me for being an uncultured lout. I’ve never heard the phrase in my life before, but google spat this out. I don’t know if the crossword is referencing the song, or if the song and the crossword are both borrowing an old-timey phrase. I do admire the way Mr. Skoczen finessed the middle two theme answers into the grid using a 7/7 arrangement: having six answers with two locked in at 15 apiece is no laughing matter! As it is this comes in at a hefty 68 theme letters! Another symptom of this plus-size theme is, paradoxically, a near themeless block/word count of 35/74; to explain, this is because one mostly can’t introduce more black squares without dividing a theme answer: Mr. Skoczen’s options were limited to corner/side helper squares, which he eschewed. OK, now; here are the theme answers themselves:

  • [*Doing more than is necessary], GOINGOVERTHETOP
  • [*Where secrets are kept], UNDERONESHAT
  • [*"The Elements of Style" co-author], EBWHITE. Better known as the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little in my world.
  • [*"We're even!"], ITSATIE
  • [*Words before a flip], HEADSORTAILS

As I said yesterday, high mean your main goal thereafter is containment. The two big splashes of colour outside the theme answers are symmetrical YESMAN and PATAKI. PIGEONS and NUTTY were also somewhat fun answers.

There were a couple of names I flat-out didn’t know (as opposed to PATAKI who I vaguely knew, and could regurgitate once I few letters had appeared) were [Former and current Yankee Alfonso], SORIANO – baseball, no surprise there and ["Show Boat" (1936) standout], ROBESON: old-timey plays/movies (Wikipedia whispers that he was one of the supporting actors), again no real surprise there. I struggled at the junction of that answer and the trickily clued [Toledo thing], COSA.

For better or worse there’s a whole Roosevelt era theme going on in the short fill… OSS, the partial INOLD clued as ["__ Chicago": 1937 Tyrone Power film], the aforementioned ROBESON, [Actress Massey], ILONA. [Dog star's first name?] for RIN is slightly before Roosevelt, but gets an honourable mention.

The abbreviated rogue’s gallery today included two partials: the previously noted INOLD, plus ONEI; ENURE (without a var. tag for some reason, possibly because it’s Friday), awkward ISHOT (not clued as a partial because there were already the LAT maximum of two), already-noted OSS, plural name LOEBS, and GOR (like Amy, I’ve mostly seen COR, although I think it’s a regional thing. My encounters with COR were mostly in Beano and Dandy as a child.) Not the longest list, and as I said a result of a very dense theme.

My unfamiliarity with the phrase means I’m abstaining from voting; suffice to say, if it is familiar phrase, it’s a good theme concept and execution – but that the rest of the puzzle was slightly drab. It would be nice if these could be 17×17′s but I realise the logistical and slippery-slope problems this implies.

Gareth


Updated (later) Friday morning:

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Reaching Nirvana” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Ah, this one brought me back. It’s a tribute to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 09/25/13

  • [Stops being oblivious, idiomatically] was SMELLS THE COFFEE – I read the clue as “obvious” before “oblivious,” so I was thinking of how one might hide something.
  • [Sound way to sleep] clued LIKE A ROCK – I wonder what rocks dream about when they sleep? Do you think they dream of the parent rock they were chipped from?
  • A great entry, ["Rebel Without a Cause" affliction] was TEEN ANGST – funny how both James Dean (24) and Kurt Cobain (27) both died in their twenties. Well, not funny, but sad really.
  • [Lucky Lindy's craft] was SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS – I was looking for some indication in the clue to abbreviate “saint” as “st.” unless that’s how it was normally referred to?

Excellent theme idea and great fill to boot. I enjoyed the K action of [Culottes kin] for SKORTS as well as the appropriately musical (for this theme) [Card game that sounds like a style of singing] for SKAT. But my FAVE was the [Words on a Wonderland cake] or EAT ME, as I can imagine KURT Cobain saying that a few times in his short life. My only nit with this puzzle was to have the revealer at the end as I had figured out the theme before then and felt it wasn’t necessary.

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22 Responses to Friday, September 27, 2013

  1. Peter Collins says:

    Amy,

    You owe me a dollar.

    - Peter A. Collins

  2. RK says:

    Kinda tough NYT for me at the start. Missed the “e” on EST/ETRE , liked the theme answer in the middle, and might like this puzzle more than I should because I thought it would break me. lol

    • Maggie W. says:

      I recently did a trek in the Icelandic wilderness and was wishing I had memorized The Cremation of Sam McGee — as my high school physics teacher was apparently forced to do when he was a kid — so I could repeat it to myself as we walked through the freezing rain. Great poem.

  3. Gareth says:

    I pretty much agree with Amy; I did like the clue for PAGODA.

    @Pannonica: All those black squares are by far the better option as far as making a 14/13/13/14 goes; the worse option is to move the 14′s a row closer to the middle, which then puts them closer to the 13′s making the grid harder to fill. It also forces two wide-open corners, which, you guessed it, makes the grid harder to fill. Prettier fill wins over uglier diagram every time for me.

  4. Loren Smith says:

    Amy – I noted those three pairs as well as MET/VET and ARP/ARS.

  5. Matt says:

    I definitely pay a CONDOFEE, and it says that on my monthly bill. Maybe it’s a regional thing. I liked the puzzle, though maybe it’s just that any reference to ‘The Princess Bride’ makes me happy.

  6. Tracy B. says:

    The “Princess Bride” reference made me happy too, Matt! I enjoy mini-themes inside themeless puzzles, rare as they are. I also like relationships among clues. That’s a nice clue-connection between 33- and 37-Across, two clues naming the same poet. Thanks to Anon for the link to that poem. It brought back a memory of sitting around a campfire one October night while a gifted storyteller recited it. Occasionally he’d light up his face with an upturned flashlight to add to the spookiness. He had the whole story memorized.

  7. Brucenm says:

    Pretty much agree with Amy. The puzzle was fine; very easy; nothing wrong with it, but somehow, I found the “payoff” not very interesting. I guess I was expecting something a little more Aristotelian, along the “generation – corruption” axis. Overblown expectations, as HH would say.

    *The Cremation of Sam McGee* is a companion piece to the more famous *The Shooting of Dan MaGrew* [A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute Saloon . . .] Dramatic plot tension, leading to the explosively tragic termination celebrated in the title, provided by the charismatic “Lady known as Lou.” Doggerel, but amusing, charming doggerel.

    I paid annoying condo fees — so termed — for years.

    Speaking of the word “axis” There was a clue in yesterday’s very good BEQ, (the “She’ll fish” puzzle) something like {Trig lines}. But doesn’t “lines” clue “Axes”, not “Axis?” Shouldn’t the clue have been singular? (This actually did slow me down a bit, wondering what “Shellfesh” meant, until I got the theme from the other entries.)

    • Martin says:

      AXES did the same to me. One little typo really upset my solve because the theme was hidden far too long. It was interesting how a messed-up first theme entry could effect all the others for so long.

      It was just a typo so I chalked it up to an interesting experimental finding.

  8. Twangster says:

    Bill Kirchen has a song, “Womb to the Tomb,” that includes a bunch of this type of rhyme at the end:
    From the womb to the tomb
    From the basket to the casket
    From the nurse to hearse
    From the birth to the earth
    From the sperm to the worm

    Here’s a live version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WThqW7IX21w

  9. pannonica says:

    It betrays my background that I’m more aware of George Gaylord Simpson’s very posthumous novel, The Dechronization of Sam Magruder than the Service poem.

    Brucenm: I encountered the AXES/AXIS issue yesterday but didn’t feel it was worth bringing up. Had I been writing up the puzzle for the blog, I would have mentioned it as an unfortunate typo.

  10. Jeffrey K says:

    Our strata Treasurer (oh, wait, that’s me) assesses Condo fees.

  11. Zulema says:

    What a delight to find “The cremation of Sam Magee” in the NYT. The answer to what he wrote is in the clue above. I loved Service and his doggerel (I was very young) and totally empathized with Magee’s feelings about the cold because I had just come to the US and specifically to Chicago. And also because I was young, the title of the poem remains with me when later ones don’t so easily.

  12. Papa John says:

    Amy, what can you tell me about sitemeter.com and analytics.js? Lately, as I navigate this site, a message appears at the bottom of my screen asking me if I want to run or save analytic.js. Thus far I’ve cancelled it.

  13. Joan Macon says:

    Paul Robeson was a famous African American singer who was a football star at Rutgers and later did concerts; he sang “Old Man River” in the original Showboat. My dad loved Robert Service poems, and I can recite “The Northern lights have seen strange sights, but the strangest they ever did see, was the night on the marge of Lake Labarge when I cremated Sam McGee.” It is always nice for the senior citizens among us to come upon clues we know instantly, just as it is nice for the younger solvers to know the latest TV/music names that we have to Google. We all have different strengths!

Comments are closed.