Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fireball 6:34 (Amy) 
AV Club 5:27 (Amy) 
NYT 3:30 (Amy) 
LAT 5:36 (Gareth) 
BEQ 9:48 (Matt) 
CS 6:03 (Dave) 

Tom McCoy’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 11 14 13, no. 1114

This theme is rather meta, circular, self-referential:

  • 20a. [Like 20-Across], PRONOUNCEABLE.
  • 28a. [Like 28-Across], UNHYPHENATED.
  • 43a. [Like 43-Across], TWELVE-LETTER.
  • 52a. [Like 52-Across], PENTASYLLABIC, having five syllables.

Peculiar, no? Certainly not a theme that’s been played out many a time already.

Five more things, quickly:

  • 47a. [October event, informally, with "the"], SERIES. Can a series of games be called a singular “event”?
  • 63a. [Spread out in the kitchen?], MAYO. Yep, I filled in OLEO first and scowled at seeing the word in the grid. Oh! MAYO, much better.
  • 8d. [Officemate of Don and Peggy on "Mad Men"], PETE. Is he the silver-haired thin guy who was once on ER? Haven’t watched Mad Men.
  • 10d. [Pat Nixon's given name], THELMA. Trivia!
  • 42d. [Extremely juicy], TELL-ALL. Who doesn’t love a tell-all peach?

3.75 stars. I didn’t love the theme, but it was an interesting concept.

Byron Walden’s American Values Club crossword, “State of the Union Addresses”

AV Club crossword answers, 11 14 13 “State of the Union Addresses”

Interesting and subtle political theme: Some senators have last names that begin with the two-letter postal abbreviation for the states they represent:

  • 1a. [R-(circled letters), since 2013], TIM SCOTT of South Carolina. Don’t know him.
  • 19a. [D-(circled letters), since 1997], MARY LANDRIEU of Louisiana. Hey! She has a MARYLAND in her name too.
  • 34a. [D-(circled letters), since 2013], MAZIE HIRONO of Hawaii.
  • 49a. [D-(circled letters), since 2013], EDWARD MARKEY of Massachusetts. He’s new, right?
  • 62a. What 1-, 19-, 34-, and 49-Across all are], SENATORS.

This 72-word grid would pass muster as a themeless, and with lively fill too. Of note: John McCain’s ONLINE POKER, a RUNAWAY HIT, SAN MARZANO tomatoes, politicians’ PRIMARY WINS, SWIZZLES, Missouri’s BOOT HEEL, and Redford’s BRUBAKER. Plus an overall politics vibe scattered throughout the fill (IKE, CSPAN, BARR, RED).

Clues of note:

  • 16a. Rules of engagement?], PRENUP.
  • 46a. Star Wars Day month], MAY. As in “May the Fourth be with you.” Just dreadful. Spoils my anniversary every year now.
  • 9d. Hits below the belt?], SPANKS.
  • 50d. Year old?], ANNO. Latin is indeed an old language.

Did not know: 59a. [Jazz drummer Richmond], DANNIE.

Four stars.


Updated Thursday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Do Not a Prison Make” – Dave Sullivan’s review

So today’s CrosSynergy puzzle is not, in fact, advice from Yoda about what one should not build, but instead quotes from Richard Lovelace’s To Althea, from Prison:

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

He wrote this in 1641 after being convicted for presenting a pro-Royaltist petition to the English House of Commons. A bit confusing why he was imprisoned for supporting the King (Charles I), perhaps someone better versed in British history can enlighten us all in the comments below.

So what does all this have to do with today’s puzzle? you ask. Well, we have four theme phrases that end with something found in a prison:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 11/14/13

  • [Boxers' protectors] clued MOUTHGUARDS – we’re talking boxers sparring in a ring here, not dogs or an alternative to briefs. (Speaking of which, can someone tell me why the plural of thief is thieves, but brief is briefs?)
  • [Energy sources] were ELECTRIC CELLS – not a very common phrase to me, I prefer the photovoltaic type.
  • [Output of Willy Wonka's factory] clued CHOCOLATE BARS – I think I would’ve preferred a reference to watering holes instead of to candy, since chocolate bars are in the shape of the bars of a cell. I also like the visual image of inmates ordering drinks while shackled to the barstools.
  • [Location of North America's only living coral reef] was FLORIDA KEYS – the singer Alicia Keys would’ve been a better entry here I think, but at least these keys are islands not real keys.

Probably not my FAVE theme (I try not to dwell on what can be found in a prison), but I did enjoy the literary tie-in in the title, so it sort of balanced itself out for this solver. ADDUCE for [Cite as pertinent] was tough to come up with; it’s opposite (impertinent) is used to describe unruly (inappropriate) children. Didn’t know the actor CYRIL Ritchard of Peter Pan; I see here that he played Captain Hook to Mary Martin’s Peter. Bret HARTE, who wrote about pioneering in California in the turn of the century (1900, not 2000!) was also hard to dredge from my aging memory banks. The more famous author E.L. DOCTOROW and Slovakia’s capital BRATISLAVA helped to bring the fill back into more familiar territory.

Peter Collins’ Fireball crossword, “European Agreement”

Fireball crossword solution, 11 14 13

Despite the title, it still took me a long time to suss out the theme. Each of the four long answers has “yes” in a European language added to a familiar phrase:

  • 17a. [Vessel for a fictional sailor?], SINBAD RAFT. That’s Spanish SI appended to NBA DRAFT.
  • 27a. [Colorful wrap belonging to comedian Anderson?], LOUIE’S SERAPE. That’s French OUI inside a LESSER APE.
  • 45a. [Swap involving a farm animal and the old man's garden implement?], OX FOR DAD’S HOE. That’s Russian DA inside OXFORD SHOE.
  • 59a. ["The narrator of the 'Fifty Shades' trilogy's a stealth assassin"?], ANA IS NINJA. German JA inside ANAIS NIN.

I struggled to parse the first three, but the ANAIS NIN part jumped out strongly and cracked the code. Note that the addition of each 2- or 3-letter “yes” splits up the words in the base phrase and changes the pronunciation, obscuring the original phrase. SINBAD is such a unit that SI + N.B.A. + D— did not occur to me. —SER APE into the three-syllable SERAPE? Well played, Peters.

I solved the puzzle last night but then was too tired to blog it, so let’s eyeball the puzzle and see if anything jumps out as something I’d noticed last night.

  • 37a. [Defeater of Superman in a 1978 comic book], ALI. Muhammad Ali? If so, how odd!
  • 41a. [Meager], LENTEN. Haven’t seen this equivalency before.
  • 58a. [Language of the national anthem "Qaumi Tarana"], URDU. You don’t say. I could not have guessed what country had that national anthem.
  • 2d. ["That invisible bone that keeps the neck stiff," according to Stephen King], PRIDE. Interesting clue.
  • 33d. [Free solo climber Honnold], ALEX. Did not know the name at all, so I Googled him this morning. Here’s a National Geographic video (warning: the video begins playing automatically with a short and loud ad, and the ad plays again at the end of the video, possibly even louder). I don’t know about you, but my palms got sweaty with vicarious terror during the climb.
  • 34d. [Big red], ZINFANDEL. Your fresh breath goes on and on while you chew it.

4.25 stars.

Mark Bickham’ Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times
131114

Mark Bickham gives us an atypical vowel progression puzzle today – five answers begin with homophones for E’s, I’s, O’s, U’S and Y’s respectively, when they are pronounced as letters. THEAS, which apparently didn’t play ball in terms of forming a viable theme answer, is then relegated to sitting on one side and acting as a revealer of sorts. The answers themselves had a slightly quirky feel to them, but I did enjoy them nonetheless:

    18a, [*Make it not hurt so much], EASETHEPAIN. Musical interlude.
    23a, [*Marching order], EYESFRONT
    36a, [*Has unfinished business with the IRS], OWESBACKTAXES
    51a, [*Entice with], USEASBAIT
    58a, [*Sagacious], WISEASANOWL
    53d, [MLB team, familiarly (and what's missing from the sequence found in the answers to starred clues?)], THEAS

Bullets:

  • 26d, [Type of cranial nerve], OPTIC. The “type of” in the clue sounds weird. It is more “a” cranial nerve than “a type of” cranial nerve, CN II to be specific. The ribald vet school mnemonic for these nerves is “ooh, ooh, ooh to touch and feel vet girls vaginas and hymens”. For what they stand for see here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranial_nerve
  • 65d, [Yeats' "The Wild __ at Coole"], SWANS. A beautiful poem about being forever-alone (I think?).
  • 2d, [Strike zones?], ALLEYS. Nice fake-out – bowling not baseball.
  • 6d, [Hip joint], INSPOT. Another elegant dupe – joint as in nightclub.
  • 36d, [Orthodontic concern] OVERBITE and 37d, [Ride the wake, say], WATERSKI. Nice pair of answers that!
  • 44d, ["Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?" speaker], LEIA. Flavourful quote clue, and an answer that strikes as ripe for such quotes!
  • 48d, [Any of the top 25 NFL career scoring leaders], KICKER. I see NFL suffers the same imbalance as rugby union. The big difference being in rugby union the kickers have to stay on the field where they can be flattened by props…
  • A bit different, but refreshingly so. 3.5 stars
    Gareth

    Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Seeing Spots” — Matt’s review

    This puzzle took me almost 10 minutes to finish. Tricky cluing combined with last night’s birthday celebrations (I turned 41 yesterday, thanks) don’t make for a quick solve.

    Started with HIJAB at 1-across (always forget if that word is HIJAB or “hajib”) but couldn’t crack the upper-middle section for a long time. At 8-d [Many a ? crossword clue] looks like an answer-specific trap, since everyone including me put PUN there even though it’s GAG. And PUN fits with the incorrect SPUR for [Urge on] even though the answer there is COAX.

    Other mistakes: had KEBAB instead of the correct KABOB at 49-a, which made [Jezebel's husband] the incorrect crossword stalwart ESAU instead of the correct AHAB. And then I hadn’t fully grokked the theme when I was trying to fit a Ritz into 45-across, clued as ["Ms. Kardashian ... have an orange cracker"?]. It was KIM, CHEEZ-IT.

    So on to the theme: classic BEQ, going where others fear to tread. No nice way to put this, but you have to add a ZIT to four base phrases to get wacky new phrases. Like so:

    16-a [Soprano autoharp feature?] = ZITHER HIGHNESS, from “Her Highness.”

    24-a [All the actors on any Disney channel show?] = ZITCOM CAST, from “Comcast.”

    45-a was the above-mentioned KIM, CHEEZ-IT, from “kimchee.”

    57-a [Elvis with a bowl of pasta?] = THE KING AND ZITI, from “The King and I.”

    Referring to this puzzle, Brendan writes on his blog:

    When it comes to making a ?-themed clue puzzle, it always boils down to one crucial point: how funny are the theme answers?

    I think they’re funny, and it’s inherently funny to put a ZIT in four places, so we’ll give this a thumbs-up. In particular ZITCOM should be a thing. Let me check and see if it already is. Yes.

    Highlights:

    ***KIBITZ is clued with a dirty word [Shoot the shit] but it’s also a term in chess. You kibitz when you make unwanted recommendations on a game still in progress.

    ***Did you notice while solving that the grid is a 14×15? The tipoff for me was when I saw a six-letter entry across the middle of the grid. A central entry with an even number of letter means someone is messing with the system.

    ***at 6-a, EDGE is clued as [Most likely place you'd find REASSESSES in a themeless crossword grid]. Specifically the bottom edge. Friends you’ll also see there: ESSAY TESTS, STRESS TESTS, MEAN STREETS and SESAME SEEDS. Any of those is almost a free row to constructors.

    Good stuff, 4.20 stars.

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    25 Responses to Thursday, November 14, 2013

    1. Michael Hanko says:

      The theme idea was pretty cool. Would’ve pleased me more if each descriptor applied *only* to the referenced word. But we get 4 pronounceable theme words, 3 that are unhyphenated, 2 with twelve letters, and 2 with five syllables. Kinda takes the edge off.

      I love the word DEMUR, but feel a little pompous using it. That’s self-referential, I guess!

      Congrats on the debut!

    2. sbmanion says:

      I thought the theme was excellent. I didn’t have any problem with the Series describing an event, but hasn’t it extended into November on one or more occasions recently with the expansion of the playoffs?

      THELMA was a gimme, but CAROB was new.

      Steve

      • Davis says:

        There was a period during my childhood when it was trendy to use CAROB as a substitute for chocolate, based on a now-discredited belief that chocolate was bad for you. In my case, I experienced it in the form of carob-flavored chewable vitamins that my mother forced upon me. To say this substitution was inadequate is to put it mildly. If I may steal a line from Douglas Adams, carob is a substance almost, but not quite, entirely unlike chocolate.

        • Huda says:

          Carob is a crime against the soul of choclitude.

        • Gareth says:

          For a while as a kid I was allegedly allergic to dairy. I got carob and not chocolate, and I loved it then and still do now. Having said that I rarely actively buy either.

    3. Davis says:

      The NYT puzzle reminds me of the Grelling-Nelson paradox. The word that was coined for words that describe themselves—such as PRONOUNCEABLE and UNHYPHENATED—is “autological.” Words that don’t describe themselves—like “blue” and “tetrasyllabic”—are “heterological.”

      The paradox comes into play when we ask the question, is “heterological” a heterological word? Logical hilarity ensues.

      (Curiously, if we ask the analogous question about “autological,” the answer can be either yes or no without any paradoxes or logical contradictions arising.)

      • Matt says:

        My favorite ‘word whose meaning is its description’ is ‘emordnilap’, which is a word that is not a palindrome.

      • Brucenm says:

        c.f. Bertrand Russell’s Ramified Theory of Types, as a solution to the heterological paradox problem.

        Bruce < – – – competing for Nerdiest Post award

    4. Pamela Kelly says:

      I accidentally rated the AV puzzle with 2 stars when I meant to be rating the NYT puzzle! I haven’t even finished the AV. But found the NYT very un-Thursday and boring. Sorry AV puzzle!

    5. Tracy B. says:

      Both the NYT and the LAT pleased me more than usual today. I have no beef with the discrete nature of each entry in the NYT. Unusual puzzle, nifty debut.

      I went through a series of changing expectations while solving the LAT, right up to the revealer (is that what it’s called?), which came at the perfect time, just as I was finishing. At first I thought it I was dealing with a straight-up vowel ladder, while noting the oddity that the first entry didn’t quite fit that expectation. The literal, phonetic twist on the vowel sequence, and the aha moment so nicely tucked into the far SE corner—so satisfying. This felt like a puzzle that has the solver in mind every step of the way.

    6. animalheart says:

      Hmm, I can see the cleverness of TWELVE-LETTER and PENTASYLLABIC, but since most words in the language are UNHYPHENATED and all words in the language are PRONOUNCEABLE, I’d say that the answer to a clue reading “Like this theme” would be LAME…

    7. John from Chicago says:

      Nobody else watch mad men here? Pete is not the silver-haired character. Pete is the young, ambitious, deceitful SOB.

    8. Tony says:

      The World Series is definitely an event, just like a lot of other sports contests. The decathlon is considered an event comprised of 10 separate track and field games. There is one winner in each, though in the decathlon, second and third are awarded as w rell.

    9. Zulema says:

      I remember making CAROB fudge which my kids loved. There were many CAROB trees in my childhood and in theirs in California also.

    10. Jeffrey says:

      Superman Vs Muhammed Ali does (and did) sound odd but it turned out to be one of the best comic books I have ever read.

    11. deneb says:

      But the theme entries are NOT unhyphenated! E.g., 28-Across.

    Comments are closed.