Thursday, October 17, 2013

AV Club untimed (Amy) 
NYT 4:01 (Amy) 
Fireball 3:55 (Amy) 
LAT 3:55 (Gareth) 
BEQ 7:48 (Matt) 
CS 6:17 (Dave!) 

If you’re not an American Values Club crossword subscriber but are intrigued by the idea of doing a crossword constructed by comedian Patton Oswalt and Caleb Madison, you’re in luck! You can buy this week’s AV Club xword for only $1, here. Catch the wave!

Patton Oswalt and Caleb Madison’s AV Club crossword, “Hello Donut My Old Friend”

AV Club crossword solution, 10 17 13, “Hello Donut My Old Friend”

This puzzle marks Patton Oswalt’s crosswording debut. I believe his name has appeared in the blog before, and I’m pretty sure I’ve linked to the YouTube of his classic “failure pile in a sadness bowl” KFC bit (language NSFW). The theme is derived from a hashtag Patton promulgated on Twitter, inciting people to make food-related puns on Simon & Garfunkel songs:

  • 21a. [Simon and Scarf-funkel song about Louisiana cuisine? (credit to Chris Weitz)], I INGEST A PO’ BOY. (“I Am Just a Poor Boy.”)
  • 28a, 39a. [With 39-Across, Simon and Scarf-funkel ode in praise of dining with a Rubenesque cougar? (credit to Ricky Gervais)], HERE’S TO FOOD, / MRS. BLOBINSON. (“Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson”).
  • 52a. [Simon and Scarf-funkel song about a Thanksgiving table jones? (credit to Alan Sytsma)], FEELIN’ GRAVY. (“Feelin’ Groovy.” What does gravy feel like? Don’t answer that.)
  • 60a. [Peruvian song about fettucine covered by Simon and Scarf-funkel? (credit to Patton Oswalt)], EL CONDOR PASTA. (“El Condor Pasa.”) Does this have meatballs made of vulture meat?

Aptly, this grid is plus-sized—it’s 16 squares wide instead of the customary 15. The stretch makes room for some surprisingly long, super-crispy non-theme answers:

  • 18a. [Double platinum album with "Firework" and "California Gurls"], TEENAGE DREAM.
  • 67a. [Stop-motion Adult Swim comedy created by Seth Green], ROBOT CHICKEN.
  • 12d. [First US governor of Indian ancestry], BOBBY JINDAL.
  • 25d. [Potentially smelly percussive gatherings]. DRUM CIRCLES.

Usually we don’t see non-theme Across entries that are longer than the theme answers, but 18a and 67a are both a letter longer than 52a. Mildly confusing as I worked the puzzle, but the theme answers had obviously thematic clues and the random answers did not. Nice to see these four in the puzzle, at any rate.

Other groovy gravy:

  • 16a. [Vacation isle that sounds like an old-timey car horn], ARUBA. Aggressively goofy. I approve.
  • 76a. [Pseudonym for street photographer Arthur Fellig], WEEGEE. You can delve into his work here.
  • 5d. [Trendy Aztec supplement], ACAI. A bar was unable to serve me the Marga-Rio cocktail I ordered because they were out of the açai berry booze that goes in it. The waitress pronounced it “uh-KAY” instead of “uh-sigh.” Sigh.
  • 19d. [Company whose product was first dubbed "Froffles"], EGGO. Whoa! I did not know that. Now we’re wondering at my house: Why “Eggo”? That name doesn’t make a lick of sense.
  • 44d. [Sleeping with the enemy?], HATE SEX.
  • 64d. [An old one might be bald], TIRE.

There are plenty of blah little short answers tying everything together (your ADE NIE OSA ORI ORU, for example), but the longer answers and theme were enough to distract me from those while solving. Four stars.

Gary Whitehead’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 10 17 13, no. 1017

I do like the theme here. The central revealer provides the rationale for adding -AGE to create each themer:

  • 17a. [Distance at St. Andrews golf course?], SCOTLAND YARDAGE.
  • 23a. [Cost of mail from Manhattan?], NEW YORK POSTAGE.
  • 35a. [Wing, e.g. ... or a hint to answering 17-, 23-, 49- and 56-Across], APPENDAGE or APPEND “AGE.”
  • 49a. [First-aid supply for Springsteen?], E STREET BANDAGE. Having trouble envisioning what exactly this would entail.
  • 56a. [Top-secret proverb?], CLASSIFIED ADAGE.

My favorite clue is a bizarre geographic one: 6d. [Capital whose main street is Nezavisimosti], MINSK, capital of Belarus. No, we’re not supposed to actually recognize the street name. Are we?

Five more things:

  • 2d. [Source of the line "Something wicked this way comes"], MACBETH. I had MAC*ET* and my mind went straight to MACHETE. (Machete Kills! I may need to see that movie.)
  • 30a. [Arcturus, e.g., spectrally], K-STAR. Blech. Too much of a dupe with 39d: MY STARS.
  • 12d. [Locale of a 1956 fight for independence], ALGIERS. Know your world history.
  • 64a. [Vase handle], ANSA. Old-school crosswordese, that.
  • 22a. [Base figs.], GIS. People on an Army base, and not pHs that pertain to acids and bases. Whoops.

The theme is simple enough but the fill pushes this one beyond Wednesday territory. Can you think of easy clues for BAH, ISIDRO, ST LO, K-STAR, ORT, ENA, MILNER, ANSA, TEK, EN FIN, and TOILE? These are a little out there in terms of words and names we use in our daily discourse.

Three stars. More for the theme, fewer for the fill.

Peter Abide’s Fireball crossword, “Moves Like Jagger”

Fireball crossword solution, 10 17 13 “Moves Like Jagger”

The Dude abides. This week’s Fireball theme has nothing to do with the Maroon 5 song that shares the puzzle’s title. Rather, the theme answers are Stones songs that serve as anagram clues for the words in the theme clues. The theme clues provide the year of each song’s release.

  • 15a. ["Mooniest" (1989)], MIXED EMOTIONS. Mix up the letters in EMOTIONS and you can get “Mooniest.”
  • 23a. ["Shores" (1971)], WILD HORSES.
  • 38a. ["Mahler" (1986)], HARLEM SHUFFLE.
  • 49a. ["Title" (1972)], LET IT LOOSE.
  • 62a. [Onsets (or the group whose songs include 15-, 23-, 38-, and 49-Across)], ROLLING STONES. “Onsets” is an anagram of STONES.

I do enjoy a good anagram theme with a cryptic crossword vibe to it. The 13×17 grid is roughly the same size as the standard 15×15, so we’re not getting ripped off or having more work to do.

Highlights:

  • 13a. [Business for manicurists?], LAWN CARE. Making a manicured lawn.
  • 17a. [Either "O" of BOGO], ONE. Buy one, get one (free). Do not be bamboozled by BOGO offers that are “buy one, get the second of equal or lesser value at half off.”
  • 32a. [Blue note?], SEXT.
  • 37a. [Pack member?], LIE. As in a pack of lies. How many lies is that? Is this a six-pack? A carton of 20?
  • 53a. [Trio that included Jam Master Jay], RUN-D.M.C. Run-D.M.C. isn’t in nearly enough crosswords, people.
  • 21d. [Abide], DWELL. I see what you did there, Peter (and Peter).
  • 25d. [Smartphone photo often taken at arm's length], SELFIE.
  • 45d. [Thick as thieves, say], SIMILE.

Well-executed theme, what with carrying the concept through to the “rolling” STONES/Onsets bit. Smooth fill, entertaining clues. 4.33 stars.


Updated Thursday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Broken Promises” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Let’s see, how do I do this again? Oh yeah, now it’s slowly coming back to me…. Hi folks, back from our trip abroad to the UK, simply fell in love with Scotland and learned a lot about the history there. The photo below is of me and my partner Gary at Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness–see if you can see just the faintest hint of the fabled sea monster in the background! I would like to thank Matt Gaffney and Gareth Bain for holding down the fort while we were away as well. I brought you both back some haggis which I’ll be sending through the USPS to you shortly.

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 10/17/13

So, back to work. Today’s puzzle’s theme was revealed by 66-Down: [Promising words (and what's hidden in this puzzle's four longest entries)] or I DO:

  • The first entry is rather appropriate given the theme: [Wedding party person] was MAID OF HONOR.
  • Next we have [Common rocket propellant] cluing LIQUID OXYGEN – for some reason, I thought hydrogen was the more common propellant, but I’ve hardly done an exhaustive survey on this. Here’s an earworm for you!
  • [Put on layaway] was PAID OVER TIME – the “is that a phrase?” nerves in my brain fired a bit on that one, but I silenced them by drugging them with a shot of the 10-year single malt whisky we brought back with us.
  • ["Pipe down!"] clued PUT A LID ON IT.

Fun theme entries that all consistently split between the D and O.(Guess the alternative of splitting at the I and D would be difficult, except perhaps a CHILI DOG anyone?) I found myself wanting one fewer letter for [Nada] or JACK SQUAT, but then I remembered I wasn’t solving BEQ’s Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll Crosswords. My FAVE goes to SNOOTY for [Hoity-toity], as I love saying both the clue and its entry. On the other side of the fence, I bristled a bit at the clue for IDLE as [Useless], it seems to paint a negative light on something I pride myself on being, particularly on vacation.

Julian Lim’s La Times crossword – Gareth’s review

I’ve never in my life heard the phrase this puzzle is based on. Eventually, I typed “chief cook bottle washer” into Google and apparently this is something people say somewhere, just nowhere near me: CHIEF, COOK and BOTTLE-WASHER. The theme answers themselves are very nice. I especially like the spanning CHIEFCRAZYHORSE and BOTTLEFED (as in an abandoned kitten). COOKISLANDS and WASHERDRYER are also solid.

Julian Lim is an extremely proficient grid filler. Today’s puzzle is chock-full of great answers. My favourites were: ABCNEWS, ZORRO, POSTDOC, CASHCOW, and METIER. Consider there’s virtually no junk answers and further that theme is 59 squares and what that amounts to is some serious gridding!

The grid itself is 4.5 star territory, but I feel incapable of evaluating the theme itself so I leave you sans star rating. I will however leave you with a clip from the sitcom MIRANDA, in case you have yet to discover it…

Gareth

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Cut Down” — Matt’s review

Brendan shows off his cut physique with a clever idea. A 6-pack of abdonminal muscles, a.k.a. ABS, runs down the middle of the grid, requiring the rebus ABS in each square:

28-a [Avoid doing] = (ABS)TAIN
32-a [Like Ionesco's plays] = (ABS)URD
39-a [Away] = (ABS)ENT
42-a [Lamb snacks] = KEB(ABS)
47-a [Post-surgery places] = REH(ABS)
49-a [They get settled at the end of the night] = BAR T(ABS)

And then defining the row:

28-d [Gym rat's goal, so to speak] = ABSABSABSABSABSABS, or a 6-pack of ABS. Nice. I do wonder if it would’ve been possible to stack the ABS in a 2×3 arrangement like they are on the body, probably making the rebus squares AB instead of ABS. But this linear arrangement is still very nice and cool-looking, and it’s crystal-clear to the solver what’s going on, so big thumbs-up.

And there’s more theme, too: in a pinwheel formation around the edges we have four abs-related entries:

18-a [Rock collection?] = CORE SAMPLE. As in the core of the body.

63-a [Honeycomb alternative] = CAP’N CRUNCH. As in the ab-strengthenin exercise called crunches.

3-d [Be right behind home plate, say] = SIT UP FRONT. We all know what a sit-up is.

33-d [Average dude] = JOE SIX-PACK. Great kicker entry. There’s that 6-pack we talked about.

That’s a really good crossword. 4.65 stars.

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28 Responses to Thursday, October 17, 2013

  1. JFC says:

    I can hardly wait for Sarah’s comment. I remember that old slogan: If you like peanuts, you’ll love Skippy’s. The only problem is I can’t tell whether Wednesday or Thursday is the peanuts.

  2. Sarah says:

    I think it’s important to point out that this puzzle was accepted 4 years ago. That’s why there is a lot of junk in the grid. Standards certainly gone up since then.

    I liked the theme, and the stacked 7′s were good. MY STARS!

    • JFC says:

      Words I would try to avoid in a Thursday: 1D, 5A, 10D, 22A, 29A, 34A, 43D, 48D, 53D, 55A and definitely 64A.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I’ve been blogging the NYT crossword for more than 4 years. I still see plenty of blah fill in this year’s puzzles, even the ones that were constructed more recently.

      Given the NYT’s reputation as the “gold standard” in crosswords, shouldn’t the puzzles be better overall? In the last two months, only 9 NYT puzzles have garnered average ratings of 4.0+ stars; in the same period, 10 NYTs were rated in the 2.0-2.99 star range. The other two thirds of the puzzles fall into the 3-star range, which is decent but not excellent. Puzzles like Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest and Peter Gordon’s Fireball are usually rated in the 4+ star range, and yet that “gold standard”/”best crossword in the country” reputation accrues to the NYT.

      • Zulema says:

        Amy, it seems to me you are judging ratings that you have established and that most of your readers contribute to (I am a reader and I have only rated two puzzles here ever) , but there is a whole world out there who work the puzzles and solve them. Many of them look at Wordplay when they have a question, many others don’t look at any of the blogs, but they are out there, they exist. You are looking at a very circumscribed group of people who follow your rating game, if I may call it that, and you seem to think that this group is the gold standard of puzzledom. Now I hope I am not kicked out of here for pointing this out. I mean no offense to any of my fellow solvers.

  3. Tinbeni says:

    Julian Lin’s LAT was my favorite theme and solving experience of the year.

  4. Huda says:

    NYT: I liked the fact that the revealer was punny. That made the whole theme for me.

    I’ve been thinking about why theme options seem to be limited, for the most part. Adding a letter or a set of letters, a vowel progression, scrambling letters, etc… Could the definition of a theme be broadened somehow? Does the focus have to be on the nature of the language as opposed to more on concepts? I realize that sometimes it’s a quote (not my favorite), and sometimes it’s song names or a tribute of sorts. But considering the breadth of human thought, could there be other options? If it’s fair to have a puzzle about the Beatles, why not one about Yoga or cheeses or Freudian ideas? I’d be curious to hear from constructors how they select their themes.

    • Brucenm says:

      A big thumbs-up to your post from me, and I could add many other topics and themes. I guess it’s related to what I posted below about expectations, before I read your post. I think there is a very narrow, restricted, provincial, tendentious attitude towards the universe one is “expected” to be familiar with in the crossword world. The idea that crossword puzzles exploit a wide range of human knowledge and activities is a myth. One is expected to be acquainted in intimate, elaborate detail with about 1% of that universe. That detail gets repeated and reiterated over and over again; the rest is excluded and off limits, and anything that strays from that narrow world, which threatens to broaden that universe, is met with howls of protest. Even the world of words and etymologies, is frowned upon if an entry is considered too remote from the tiny inner circle of accepted norms. I’m not suggesting a return to “Maleskaism”, whatever that means; it was an even more restricted, myopic universe. But I would love to see puzzles be more exploratory, more expansive, more outward looking, less directed at feeding our egos, as we gain greater and greater mastery over a world which seems to be forever shrinking into repetition and triviality.

      • Gareth says:

        These puzzles are made by a considerable number of constructors from a variety of backgrounds. I don’t think you fully realise how much of what you rail against is common knowledge for most people. You may not like it, but the consumption of mass media has resulted in a mono-culture. The fact that you are out of step with this mono-culture doesn’t mean that crosswords shouldn’t reflect its pervasiveness.

    • sbmanion says:

      As competitive as I am, I enjoy almost all crossword puzzles in the NYT, probably because it is usually the only puzzle I do. For me, a cleverly clued crosswordese word is still cleverly clued.

      Having said that, my favorite type of puzzle is the $50,000 (I don’t know actual number) Pyramid type puzzle—”things that [do or are something]. I remember one by HH that had Mr. Peanut and a couple of other entries that I never would have thought to connect that I found exceptionally clever-I think it had something to do with monocles. Still, my all time favorite was some years ago when there were four 11-letter synonyms for boasting, including JACTITATION, my all-time favorite word learned from crosswords.

      Steve

    • lorraine says:

      I started doing crossword puzzles at the tail end of the “Wengian” era, around 1976. However, my most formative years of learning HOW to do crosswords was during the *gasp* Maleskian era. While sometimes the puzzles sometimes leaned a bit to the pedantic side, I didn’t see anything wrong with them. I actually learned a lot doing these puzzles! Often, new facts/factoids gleaned from the puzzles sometimes sent me to do some reading about whatever bit of knowledge I hadn’t previously known. I didn’t do too many puzzles between about 1979-83 and 1987-89 (college, grad school), so perhaps I missed some of the more egregious examples of Maleska’s puzzles, but I’ve never quite understood what seems to me to be a deep animus towards his work. Sure, wordplay was rare, but utterly delightful when we got it. Puzzles today seem to be only about wordplay and so (to me) the delight has developed some patina on it.

  5. Brucenm says:

    Excellent, creative, lively NYT. Again, I am puzzled by the general disapproval. Yes, I *do* know the street name, but it was gettable from the crosses at any rate. There’s a lot of subjectivity in “expectation.” As is obvious, I’m often nonplussed by things I seem to be “expected” to know.

    I guess I was making the AV Club more complicated than it was. I certainly know the songs — e.g. Feelin’ groovy, El Condor Pasa, aka I’d rather be a hammer than a nail, etc. Mrs. Blobinson is a bit of a stretch, though.

    As an aside, Paul Simon and I would occasionally play the piano for each other in the late lamented Ferris Booth Hall of Columbia University (any takers?) during my Juilliard days in the 60′s. Each of us had great regard for the other’s playing. He would improvise early prototypes of Bridge over Troubled Waters and the like, and I would say, “I wish I could do that.”

  6. Sara says:

    With the exception of the three puzzles at the Pleasantville tournament last month, this the first puzzle I’ve solved, or even looked at, since the ACPT in March – and it was my fastest Thursday ever. I’m not going to bother patting myself on the back; this was not even close to being a Thursday puzzle – even with the whatever fill. Nice average Wednesday, though!

  7. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Welcome back, Dave! We missed you. If Matt and Gareth are getting haggis, I can’t wait to see what the mail carrier brings me.

  8. sbmanion says:

    I was about to nit that St. Andrews, the holy grail of golf, would never deign to measure holes in that distinctly American concept of yards. But, horror of horrors, the scorecard posted on the St. Andrews website lists yardages in yards. Old Tom Morris must be turning in his grave. By the way, if you were playing golf in Europe, could you ask “What’s the meterage?”

    I thought this puzzle was excellent and quite tricky until I caught the theme. I also thought APPENDAGE was brilliant.

    Steve

    • Bencoe says:

      Huh? Brits don’t use the metric system, they use the Imperial system. We learned the nonsense of feet, yards, and miles from them.

      • pannonica says:

        They’re mostly metric, but inconsistently cling to some imperial units, though usually in tandem with the prevailing, official metric system.

      • Evad says:

        I was surprised to see petrol sold in litres when we were in the UK. I mean if we didn’t learn the gallon thing from them, from whom did we?

      • sbmanion says:

        I was thinking just about golf at the time I posted. The European Tour is always on the Golf Channel and distances are usually posted in meters then occasionally translated into yards by the commentators. Achievements like a 300-yd. drive, which used to be a big deal and no longer are because of equipment changes and skill advances, do lend themselves better to yards than meters.

        Steve

  9. bob stigger says:

    That Minsk street name means “Independence”. But it sounds more impressive in Russian. Pretty much everything sounds more impressive in Russian.

    • Brucenm says:

      Right. The Russian Independence Day, June 12, (invented recently after the fall of the Soviet Union), is Dyen’ Nyezavisimost’. (I’m sure there’s some way to get my computer to speak Cyrillic.) I was there pretty much every year for many years. It was amazing how meaningless and uninteresting it was to most Russians, even in Moscow.

  10. Sarah says:

    LAT: AMAT, ONEA, OTOE, STE and maybe CAPO…that’s basically all the crosswordese in the grid. I don’t think I’ve seen a cleaner puzzle with so much theme density ever!

    THIS is the bar I wish more crosswords would reach.

  11. arthur118 says:

    There may be no way to find out, but the question lingers, why did today’s exquisite Julian Lim puzzle come to us as an LA Times offering, rather than being published by the paper with the “gold standard” reputation?

  12. ArtLvr says:

    Re NYT’s [Locale of a 1956 fight for independence], ALGIERS. “Know your world history”… It happens I was I studying abroad in 1956, first in Paris where the father of the family I stayed with was absent, leading troops in Algeria. Soon after that I was in Geneva, where the lunchroom was bristling with Arabs & Jews glaring across the room at each other during the 1956 Suez crisis. Within weeks, we were also involved with Hungarian students fleeing from the invasion of Russian tanks in Budapest, so 1956 is a year I won’t soon forget! A few years later, I was plucked up and twirled in the air while on the Princeton campus — it turned out to be a Hungarian grad student I’d helped with translation of his school transcripts, and they’d been key to his getting to the U.S. with full scholarship! Wow.

  13. pannonica says:

    BEQ: Ab-salaam, ab-salaam?

  14. Adam Thompson says:

    I suppose I’ll be the one to point out that “I am just a poor boy” isn’t the title of the song. Sorry for the pedantry.

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