Sunday, October 27, 2013

NYT 9:19 (Amy) 
Reagle 6:58 (Amy) 
LAT 11:11 (pannonica) 
Hex/Hook untimed (pannonica) 
WaPo 11:23 (Gareth) 
CS 30+ (Dave) 

Happy anniversary to the Wordplay blog, currently shepherded by the capable and witty Deb Amlen. Wordplay is 5 now and ready for kindergarten. Congratulations, Deb and nytimes.com!

Edited to add: And congrats to Eric LeVasseur, who won the Crosswords LA tournament on Saturday! Eric won a trip to the ACPT next March. Joining him in the finals were the other SoCal puzzle powerhouses, Eric Maddy and Jordan Chodorow. (California crossword hotshots Trip Payne and Tyler Hinman were officiating at the event.)

Brendan Quigley’s New York Times crossword, “Who’s Left?”

BEQ’s NY Times crossword solution, 10 27 13 “Who’s Left?”

“Who’s left?,” the puzzle asks. The answer is found in the circled letters: each long answer contains a common first name traveling from right to left. I don’t think there’s any further link between the names; do you agree?

  • 23a. [McMansion's storage], THREE-CAR GARAGE has GRACE.
  • 37a. [Attack on sacred custom], LESE-MAJESTE has JAMES.
  • 39a. [Dotty?], PIXELATED has ALEX.
  • 50a. [Piece of road construction equipment], CONCRETE PUMP has PETER. Oh! So that’s what those doodads are called. There was one delivering fresh concrete atop the fourth level of a building under construction in the neighborhood the other day, adjacent to The Midwest’s Largest Crane. (Which I tried to Google and I got sandhill cranes.)
  • 67a. [Lot], FAIR AMOUNT has MARIA.
  • 69a. [Badgering], HARASSMENT has SARAH.
  • 80a. [What the Red Baron engaged in], AERIAL COMBAT has CLAIRE.
  • 91a. [Generally speaking], ON AVERAGE has EVAN.
  • 96a. [Famous], WIDELY KNOWN has KYLE.
  • 113a. [They may keep you on your toes], BALLET SLIPPERS has STELLA.

You’d think the names would have helped me fill everything in faster than usual, but no. A long solve. I’m not sure what accounts for that—perhaps the 6- and 7-heaviness of the fill? It’s the shorter answers that are on auto-fill when the mind recognizes the familiar clues for familiar words, but 7s don’t appear often enough to be on autopilot. And then a lot of the shorter fill is not the sort of zippy stuff you look to BEQ for—we’ve got a mishmash of things like YEE, SPEE, HIREE, OOO, and LIANES. The free biweekly BEQ puzzles at brendanemmettquigley.com are where Brendan can let his freak flag fly and give us zippy fill that can be slangy, super topical or of-the-moment, and enormously appealing. Brendan dials that back for NYT puzzles, which may not be published for years. TWITTER IPO could be a BEQ answer around now, but it would look pointless in an NYT puzzle in 2017.

Ten things:

  • 1a. [Etched computer component], PC BOARD. I didn’t know there was such as thing as a “PC board,” so this did not launch me into the zone.
  • 28a. [Remove the last drop from], WRING DRY. Do you generally wring your coffee cup dry? You are not alone.
  • 105a. [Jordan feature], SPACE JAM. Michael Jordan feature film, not a geographical feature of the Middle Eastern nation.
  • 2d. [Primitive radio receiver], COHERER. I don’t know what the hell that thing is. Actually would have preferred familiar COHERES crossing boring OSS crossing PLO. YRS and PLY are not worth the tradeoff.
  • 13d. Like the time of Franz Ferdinand’s reign], PRE-WWI. Had PREWAR at first. PREWWI looks weird in the grid.
  • 34d. [Provider of a trip across a desert?], PEYOTE. Ha! I fell into the COYOTE trap, coyotes being those people who illegally transport people across the border and have the ethics of a predator. Psychedelic trip, not actual journey.
  • 65d. [Golfer nicknamed "Tower"], ISAO AOKI. I did not know that.
  • 73d. [Cat calls], MIAOWS. I had no idea there was a W spelling with the MIA- spelling. French has miaou, German has miau. I tried MIAOUS first.
  • 100d. [Brit's diaper], NAPPIE. I’ve only seen nappy, plural nappies. Perhaps Brendan cleared this with his Yorkshire wife.
  • 110d. [Carrier that owns the airline Sun d'Or], EL AL. Who knew? Brand-new EL AL clue for me.
If the theme is actually just “random names spelled backwards are hidden in phrases,” with no further connection, I will go with a semi-disappointed three stars. If there’s more to it, mind you, I’ll reassess.

Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Opposite Attraction”

Merl Reagle crossword solution, 10 27 13 “Opposite Attraction”

I didn’t read Merl’s Notepad bit until I finished solving, and it was a sweet little dessert: “The day after Halloween is All Saints’ Day, so I thought I’d cover both bases.” The central answer hints at the Dan Brown book Angels & Demons, and the top half of the grid has an ANGEL hidden in each long answer while the bottom has DEMONs.

  • 23a. [Author of seven autobiographies], MAYA ANGELOU.
  • 25a. [Grazing ground], RANGELAND.
  • 35a. [Prepare to pass, perhaps], CHANGE LANES.
  • 38a. [Type of beet that's carved for Halloween in Wales], MANGELWURZEL. From the German for … beet-root. That is not very evocative. The word is a little familiar to me, and I’m not sure why. And I knew turnips had some jack-o’-lantern usage, but did not know beets did. Apparently not a red or purple variety of beet, which would look particularly bloody when carved.
  • 51a. [Perry White portrayer in "Superman Returns"], FRANK LANGELLA.
  • 68a. [Hint to this puzzle's theme], DAN BROWN NOVEL.
  • 83a. [How-to event], DEMONSTRATION.
  • 97a. [Actor on a junkyard set], DEMOND WILSON. He played Lamont (the son) on Sanford & Son.
  • 102a. [Popular impressionist], CLAUDE MONET.
  • 113a. [Turned a profit], MADE MONEY.
  • 116a. [Chaos], PANDEMONIUM. This is the only one where the “angel” or “demon” word root is evident. Although Angelou comes from the poet’s Greek husband, Enistasious (Tosh) Angelos, and presumably there’s an etymological connection to “angel.”

Escher’s Angels and Devils. (Hat tip, pannonica.)

Neat theme. It played out much better, and with a more interesting batch of words, names, and phrases, than many other hidden-word themes do. So often, such puzzles feel like a slog—especially in the 21×21 size—but I enjoyed working this puzzle.

A few more things:

  • 55d. [A Day in Hollywood], LARAINE. I only know Laraine Newman of early SNL.
  • 92a. [How Bostonians like their eggs?], OVA. Latinate/Boston accent humor clue/answer combo.
  • 121a. [It comes in cakes], RICE. You know what rice cakes need? Buttercream frosting. (Hold the cake.)
  • 9d. [Over the hill, in the service], AWOL. Did not know this “over the hill” sense.
  • 13d. [RLS's Benbow, for one], INN. This clue is a complete mystery to me. To the Google! Okay: RLS = Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote Treasure Island, in which the Admiral Benbow INN is a setting.
  • 84d. [Grace Jones tune, "I ___"], NEED A MAN. Three-word, 8-letter partial? That’s OK. Merl is a rock ‘n’ roll dude. Check out Matt Gaffney’s interview with Merl, complete with a link to a recording of Merl’s early-’70s rock band, Greylock Mansion. (Remember Merl’s recent GREY rebus puzzle? {GREY}LOCK was in there!)

Four stars.


Updated Sunday morning:

Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Yet again, Bob puts the “challenge” in Sunday Challenge, as this one took me just over the 30-minute mark.

CrosSynergy crossword solution – 10/27/13

Guess I’ll organize today’s commentary into cute clues and things I just didn’t know (hoping the first list ends up longer than the second):

Cute clues:

  • [Foiled fellow] was SWORDSMAN – we’re talking about the epee-ish foil here.
  • I had trouble losing the idea that the [Brasserie handout] clue wasn’t talking about lady’s undergarments, but instead, it’s a menu or CARTE, as in a la carte.
  • [Peter Pan place] was JAR – peanut butter. Yum.
  • [Alley goop] (not Oop!) was TAR (I’m guessing this is a street alley not a bowling alley) and the crossing [Alley's 1984 "A Bunny's Tale" role] for Gloria STEINEM (Kirstie Alley played her in that TV movie.)
  • [Face-saving effort?] was a NOSE JOB – probably the cutest of the cute here.
  • [Flight formation] had me thinking of airplanes, but it was a flight of STAIRS instead.
  • [Strip at a party] isn’t what you might think, but what might be considered [Creative paperwork] or a STREAMER. (The latter cleverly clued ORIGAMI.)

Things I just didn’t know:

  • My last letter was the B that crossed [Loot] or SMASH AND GRAB (the clue was a verb) and [Abolistionist-founded Kentucky college that charges no tuition] or BEREA. Interesting fact about the college, but I’ve never heard of it. Also, I had SMASH AND BURN at first; not confident what’s in the grid is a common phrase.
  • [Pale malt product] clued IRISH ALE – certainly inferable, but again is there such a thing? I know Harp is an ale made in Ireland, but do folks call it an Irish Ale? P’haps, or maybe it’s a lager.
  • [County that is home to Death Valley and has Mount Whitney on its western boarder] was INYO – that one was just INYO face to me.
  • [___ Mountain Landis (first baseball commissioner)] was KENESAW – complete guess on that one.
  • Speaking of mountains, [Second-highest mountain in the contiguous US] was ELBERT – I see here it’s a Rocky Mountain, but can’t say it rings any bells to this east coaster.

Even short stuff like NANA for [Gram] (like “grammy” or something you’d call your grandmother) and PAL for [Close one] meant nothing would come easily in this puzzle. Thanks again for the workout, Bob!

Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 186″ – Gareth’s Review

The Post Puzzler No. 186

I find it tough to discuss themeless puzzles. In general this played as a fairly themeless; it was mostly pretty conservative , with almost no weak answers, a few splashes of colour, and generally top-drawer clueing. There are lots of individual answers worth noting, so lets move onto those:

    • [Island east of the Virgin Passage], STTHOMAS. That clue – Oh my!
    • [Iron marks], SINGES. Clever misdirection – that’s clothes iron if you weren’t sure.
    • [Children's story that takes place in a "great green room"], GOODNIGHTMOON. Fresh answer. Never read it as a kid. I’m guessing this was Doug’s seed answer…
    • [Between-meetings refresher], POWERNAP. Very nice, punchy answer.
    • [One of four in "Double, double toil and trouble"], TROCHEE. Another great, devious clue! That area was the last to fall for me.
    • [Antebellum region], OLDSOUTH. Is there a distinct cut off for when the OLDSOUTH ends and the New South begins?
    • [Site of a controversial Ethiopian dam project], BLUENILE. Nice geography answer!
    • [Spicy Indian dish], VINDALOO. Another good answer! It makes me think of the “sitcom” Red Dwarf!
    • [Part of a fresh battery? ], STARTINGPITCHER. Obligatory DP baseball answer. I have no idea what the clue means. The PITCHER part required most crossers.
    • ["Torture porn" sequel of 2005], SAWII. Surprisingly (unsettlingly?) direct clue.
    • [Doors album with the song "Love Her Madly". ], LAWOMAN. Tricky clueing it via the album: still this was my first entry into the grid.
    • ["You can tell a lot about someone ___ they use abbrevations": Peter Serafinowicz.], BTW. While solving, that blank was a mystery and it didn’t seem grammatically possible for a word to fit there. Once the answer emerged it required further staring for me to understand. I think the joke is that although BTW still stands for “by the way”, by the way is used in a difference sense to how it usually is when it is abbreviated. I’ve never heard of the originator of this quote.
    • [Castle's rear gate], POSTERN. Nice to have some medieval history injected into puzzles occasionally!
    • [Little Golden Book about a baby locomotive], TOOTLE. A mystery answer that added to the difficulty of that super tough section! The answer complements GOODNIGHTMOON.
    • [DXLV divided by V], CIX. The only objectively bad answer in the puzzle. It’s not often you can say that.

3.5 stars. A fun work-out.

Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Cooperation” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 10/27/13 • “Cooperation” • Hook • hex/hook, bg • solution

My solution grid has Xs in the crucial squares because I neglected to read the instructions in the .puz file’s notepad: “For a complete solution, use a question mark for any square not filled with a letter of the alphabet.” Heck, I didn’t even look at the title. Anyway, I’m glad for not looking, because it made teasing out what was going on in the grid much more challenging and more rewarding.

The first long across answer, 23a, isn’t quite a revealer but a strong hint: [Key to answering the theme clues] THERE’S NO “I” IN TEAM.

But while working the grid the full team names that constitute the theme answers, all instances of the letter I seemed normal. Meanwhile, some other entries in the grid didn’t seem to be happening for me. What was going on? Took a while to notice that these various problematic fill coincided with, in fact intersected with the theme answers. The trick is that those Is are to be taken as nonexistent for the crossing entries. Had I been primed by the solving note, this would have been evident much sooner.

  • 15d. [They're 0-for-4 in the Super Bowl] MINNESOTA VIKINGS, (IVAUX, OBTUSIER, IMOOR).
  • 17d. [Camden Yards squad] BALTIMORE ORIOLES, (MOTOREDI, KAIVA).
  • 31d. [Reggie Miller spent 18 seasons with them] INDIANA PACERS, (SLEDI, ED IAMES).
  • 32d. [Squad aided by Ace Ventura] MIAMI DOLPHINS, (IHANES, STRADIS, MIXESI).
  • 36d. [Formerly Canadian squad] MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (IKWANZA, SLIUR, URISA). Note the fortuitous crossing of 100-across.
  • 37d. [Gashouse Gang's squad] ST LOUIS CARDINALS (KIWANZA, ZEIBRASS).
  • 101a. [One of the NHL's "Original Six"] DETROIT RED WINGS, (IOR, DIAN).

Each of the themers contains at least two Is, though none contains as many as four. All four of the major North American sports are represented. These are good for both variety and consistency in assessing a crossword’s appeal and hopefully satisfaction. Also impressive is the way the vertical entries (six of the seven themers) form parallel pairs: the same length separated by a single column. That’s some serious constructifying.

Longest non-theme fill is a quartet of 8-letter entries, and behind those there are well over a dozen of 7 letters. It holds together well despite the significant real estate occupied by those team-themers, which isn’t to say there aren’t some compromises but that’s to be expected and is accepted.

Nevertheless, here’s a list of some of the material that was especially unusual or unknown to me: 1a [Ben-Hur's chariot-race rival] MESSALA, 80d [Some 1980s Dodges] MIRADAS, 89a [Equine hybrid] ZEBRASS, 52a [Gulf of Finland city] ESPOO, 60d [Kin of anil and indigo] WOAD, 25a [ ___ prosequi) NOLLE. I imagine other solvers may have been put out by entries such as, say, 90d [Red dye] EOSIN, 77d [Tetrad, in genetics] BIVALENT, 107a [Trompe ___ ] L’OEIL (or L’ŒIL), and 59a [Money of Angola] IKIWANZA.

Favorite fill: 105d [On the other hand]. Way to sneak in a two-letter entry!

Very enjoyable crossword.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Catching Some Zs” — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 10/27/13 • “Catching Some Zs” • Sun • Sessa • solution

Into each of the seven theme entries the letter Z has been shoehorned, changing singular nouns to plurals phonetically yet by virtue of radical spelling alteration creating new words and hence wackified phrases.

  • 24a. [Really big hangover] A DAZE LIKE NO OTHER (day → days daze).
  • 36a. [Mythical siren's boast?] I CALL ‘EM AS I SEIZE ‘EM (see → sees seize). Hm. Would make more sense if it were “I seize ‘em as I call ‘em,” but of course that can’t be arranged in context. Also roiling the waters is that there’s a folksier version of the original phrase which goes, “I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em” Popeye-style.
  • 50a. [Couch potato's preparations?] LAZE-AWAY PLANS (lay → lays laze). Work hard, play hard, laze hard.
  • 66a. [North Pole resident's motto] LIVE FREEZE OR DIE. (free → frees freeze). Um, how should this one be parsed? Are those three options? Live, freeze, or die? Because living and freezing aren’t mutually exclusive, nor are dying and freezing. It seems like too much of a stretch to consider that it’s intended to mean (live frozen) or (die) because the grammar’s all wrong. A centerpiece entry shouldn’t be freighted with problems.
  • 89a. ["You might want to clean your glasses"] THAT AIN’T HAZE (hay → hays haze). Cute clue. Though, technically, one could have a haze on the surface of one’s spectacle lenses, but I’ll … uh … overlook that.
  • 100a. [Harvest time in the Corn Belt?] MERRY MONTH OF MAIZE (May → Mays → maize). Kind of wants a “the” to start phrase.
  • 117a. ["L, XL, XXL—who cares?"?] A SIZE IS JUST A SIZE. (sigh → sighs size). Okay, so this one apparently ends the proceedings with a flourish: a double-dose of Z infusion, and the greatest spelling transformation. But—more so than the previous entry—it feels incomplete without another word at the beginning. The original phrase isn’t so assertively declarative: it’s “sometimes a sigh is just a sigh,” or perhaps “a sigh can be just a sigh.” Though, again, a cute clue.

As you may have perceived, I’m a bit nonplussed by, and than a little underwhelmed by the theme, taken in total.

The ballast fill isn’t as bad as one might be expect, considering the many Zs lying about. COZIEST, GEEZ, ZEAL, OZONE, ZOOT, LANTZ, DOZEN, and ZEN function well as transitions to other entries. It should be noted and applauded that there aren’t any extraneous—that is, non-theme—Zs in grid.

The long fill is pretty good, though there is an underrepresentation of the Scrabbly letters (excluding Z of course, though it doesn’t appear in them anyway): ANTIMATTER, AT ANY COST, ALEXANDRA, LATE START, EAST OF EDEN, RUNOFF VOTE, ERUPTIONS, ELDORADOS, BEANIE BABY.

  • Favorite clue: 93a [Commercial developers] AD MEN. Runners-up (as a pair): 77a [Belarusian bread] RUBLE, 129a [Breads for Reubens] RYES.
  • Speaking of which, not sure how I feel about 49a [Better part of a loaf?] HALF, because half a loaf is better than none. But does the clue actually make sense?
  • “Why’d they do it that way?” clues:
    • 114a [Big name in bookselling] NOBLE. Take a perfectly fine entry and clue it essentially as a partial?
    • 62d [R&R component: Abbr.] REC. Instead of the commonplace shortening of recreation, use an awkward one for recuperation?
    • 126a [Nixon fundraiser Maurice] STANS. Who? Much better to pick a couple of guys named Stan, adjusted for whatever level of difficulty is desired for a Sunday. Seriously.
    • More of a mundane inaccuracy: 85a [Nasal airways] NARES, which are better described as openings, though air does make its way through them.
  • Too much blah short fill, including ITER, ANAS, ARME, AES, LPN, TELE-IRT, ILEA, and so on.
  • Nifty quote: 84d “THEY are the we of me.” – Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding (1946)

In sum, the crossword fell flat for me, but at least it didn’t put me to sleep.

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15 Responses to Sunday, October 27, 2013

  1. John From Chicago says:

    Agreed.

  2. Davis says:

    I also made the COYOTE mistake, but I blame Homer for that.

  3. Tracy B. says:

    I’ve only done the opening corner of the NYT, but lost my appetite at 20-Across. Breakfast-test fail there.

  4. Huda says:

    NYT: Yeah, I kept thinking they were all in a movie that I had missed.

    GREEK GODS fits perfectly where IMMORTAL sits- a first guess that went nowhere fast.

    Santa MONICA took forever to appear even though I lived in Santa Monica for 3 years, in my youth. It was so much fun being 3 blocks away from the ocean, even though I lived near a janitorial service. I wonder how many millions of dollars that place goes for now…

    But for me tumbling to the names early on was immensely helpful– e.g. in figuring out the CONCRETEPUMP off the P and looking backwards to fill in PETER. MARIA, JAMES, CLAIRE were similarly helpful, making it a relatively faster solve.

  5. pannonica says:

    Loved the BTW quote in the WaPo. Was new to me and the originator is likewise unknown to me.

    • Dan F says:

      (re WaPo) Peter S. is a British comedian, known to me as a costar of the disappointing sitcom Running Wilde, and I’m guessing the quote was from Twitter.

      Re LAT theme: you’ve overcomplicated it. It’s just “add a Z sound” — not sure where you got the intermediate step of pluralizing. That final entry, “a sigh is just a sigh”, is a lyric from the song “As Time Goes By”. Re Hook, I wish I hadn’t checked the Notepad, but there was still enough challenge figuring out what was going on.

      • Bencoe says:

        Peter Serafinowicz is the comedian responsible for Look Around You, which is an amazing series based on educational children’s television, but extraordinarily surreal. He appears in Shaun of the Dead, and plays the robot on NTSF: SD: SUV.

    • Doug says:

      I’ve got to give credit to Peter Gordon for finding the BTW quote, which is fabulous.

      Gareth: In baseball, “battery” means the pitcher and the catcher considered as a unit. And I love “Red Dwarf”!

  6. Zulema says:

    In 1A in the NYT, the PC preceding BOARD stands for Printed Circuit.

    The circled letters added absolutely nothing to my experience of the puzzle. I’d just as soon have it themeless. Almost every time a crossword has circles, I forget about them once I solve the puzzle.

  7. Sam Donaldson says:

    For the XIXth time, Roman numerals are not “objectively bad” as crossword fill. One may think they are comparatively worse than abbreviations, partials, and the like–and subjective opinions like that are fine for reviews. But we are not in a position to label things as “objectively” bad.

    • Gareth says:

      OK. make a case for any general Roman Numeral greater than XII (hmm, maybe greater than XVI rather, I’d accept a Louis ___ clue) that proves it’s anything other than a contrived, arbitrary answer.

  8. HH says:

    BTW, the “question mark” idea was introduced because the online version of the puzzle couldn’t accommodate my original idea, which was to simply leave the “I” squares blank. (I’ll do anything I can to thwart modern technology.)

    • pannonica says:

      Yes, that was obvious at least to me. On the other hand, I used technology to my advantage in the write-up!

    • Brucenm says:

      I loved the puzzle, left the ‘i’ squares blank, and heartily endorse attempts to thwart computer-related modern technology.

  9. Tim S says:

    PCBOARD = printed circuit board, motherboard e.g.

Comments are closed.