Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Jonesin' 5:11 (Amy) 
NYT 3:12 (Amy) 
LAT 2:50 (Amy) 
CS 6:37 (Dave) 
Xword Nation untimed (Janie) 

Stay warm, people! The polar vortex is unleashing its fury upon us, unless we live in Florida.

Mark Bickham’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 1 7 14, no. 0107

NY Times crossword solution, 1 7 14, no. 0107

I don’t quite have a handle on the theme here.

  • 18a. [Aggressive swarms], KILLER BEES.
  • 24a. [Facilities with padded walls], INSANE ASYLUMS. No hint in the clue that this is a woefully outdated term.
  • 33a. [Square root symbol], RADICAL SIGN.
  • 43a. [One of two figures in "The Wizard of Oz"], WICKED WITCH.
  • 50a. [1969 platinum record for Creedence Clearwater Revival], “BAD MOON RISING.”
  • 62a. [Question posed while pulling leftovers from the fridge ... or a query about the initial words of 18-, 24-, 33-, 43- or 50-Across?], IS THIS GOOD? “Is this still good?” or “Is this any good?” feel more natural to me.

Okay, so I get that killer, insane, radical, wicked, and bad can all be used slangily to mean “good.” (Sick is a more contemporary version of a reversed word.) But some of these words don’t mean “bad” the way that WICKED and BAD do. KILLER means “thing that kills,” and if it’s a virus killer, that’s not a bad thing. And RADICAL—well, extreme doesn’t mean “bad.” INSANE doesn’t mean “bad” either. So it’s a pair of synonyms plus three unrelated words, and the five can mean “great” in slang? While I like the general concept of a theme playing with words that take an opposite meaning in slangy usage (bad, wicked, sick), I don’t know that this is the best execution.

Alas, the inclusion of six theme answers squishes the grid’s flexibility, and we end up with a busy Scowl-o-Meter. Right off the bat at 1-Across, we have boring SACS, 1a. [Anatomical pouches], and now I’ve Googled my way to learning of a scrotal sac handbag. And then we have the partials IT RIP and A SCAR, N-TEST, SLO[___-pitch softball] (um, it seems to be spelled SLOW by the softball people), AUST, ARNO, EZIO, EFT, AIRE, OLIO, STET, ENTR, IDI, OOOLA, NO OIL, KIEL, and APSO. I generally don’t want to see more than a handful of these answers in a single puzzle. More than 10 and I begin wishing fervently that the theme had been lightened up the second that this is what filled the rest of the grid, in the pursuit of smoother fill and a happier solving experience. There are also more than 15 proper nouns, plenty of them intersecting, which generally causes trouble for a lot of solvers.

2.66 stars from me.


Updated Tuesday morning:

Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy /Washington Post crossword, “Crass Conscious” – Dave Sullivan’s review

The title is a play on the term class-conscious; here, we have four phrases that begin with a synonym of the word “crass”:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 01/07/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 01/07/14

  • [Graded bundle of strands for buffing] clued COARSE STEEL WOOL. You mean people haven’t always used SOS or Brillo pads? Perhaps this is more of a thing in the furniture industry than in the kitchen anymore.
  • [Revenue before deductions] clued GROSS INCOME. Funny how “gross” can mean crass, before taxes and twelve squared. What do they all have in common?
  • [Countertop support] was a BASE CABINET. I had a real hard time coming up with this one. I don’t really think of cabinets supporting a countertop, but I suppose in some kitchens (where they store the Brillo pads?), they do.
  • [Exxon Valdez, e.g.] was not, as I first suspected, SOURCE OF GRAVE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE, but CRUDE OIL CARRIER. I believe “crude” in this sense means unrefined or raw.

Am I in your base cabinet?

It could’ve been I was distracted by the BCS Championship last night (Go ‘NOLES!), but I had a hard time with this one. The V of V-CHIP and VACS at 1-Across/-Down had me flummoxed for a while, and COARSE STEEL WOOL just didn’t appear to me–I had TASE instead of LASE for [Zap with a beam] as well. I wondered too about TIE GAMES and thought it should be TIED, but I suppose both are in common parlance. Throw in an unususal spelling of SUSANN and I was toast.

My other tough area was the central east, having SATYR before SATAN, as the [Figure with horns and pointed ears] seems to describe the former more than the latter. The adjoining CRATE for [Jalopy] was recently a theme entry relating to broken-down cars, and I wasn’t familiar with the term then and have of course forgotten about it again today. On the plus side, I did enjoy DRAW LOTS and GAL PAL, which our blog hostess definitely is to me, although I wonder do you have to be a gal to have a gal pal or can guys have gal pals?

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle, “Let the Games Begin!”—Janie’s review

1/7 Crossword Nation

1/7 Crossword Nation

They’re only a month away, so tempting as it might be to conclude that this puzzle is Winter-Olympics related—or even a harbinger of that event—said conclusion would be wrong. Taking a more sedentary approach (though perhaps a little more active than plopping oneself on the couch to watch world-class athletes demonstrate their dazzling prowess), today’s puzzle instead is a tribute to four different board games—whose names begin non-game-related phases, two of which span the grid. And once again, we’re treated to a most impressive theme set.

  • 17A. RISK/REWARD RATIO [Investing formula used by a portfolio manager]. This term gives a whole new meaning to the “3 Rs.” Me, I’ll stick to “reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.” And while I’m willing to look beyond CDS [Conservative investments, for short], I’ll leave the cagier investment ploys to the far more qualified CFOS [Money-managing execs]. Oh—and the game in question? The strategy-driven competition for world domination “Risk,” which has been around since the late 1950s.
  • 26A. TROUBLE SPOTS [Zones cited in State Department travel warnings]. Republic of South Sudan? Honduras? Libya? (Unless you absolutely have to) Don’t Go There!! (Reminder to self, however: renew passport.) As for the game “Trouble,” this was the first I’d heard of it. The fact that it was released in 1965 might have something to do with that (combined with my not being someone who retained much interest in board games beyond her mid-teens…). Still, given the way it’s packaged and promoted (with that PopoMatic die-rolling bubble [!]), this definitely caught my attention. Even if it does emulate the game in the next entry.
  • charlie44A. “SORRY, CHARLIE!” ["Forget it!"]. Love this colloquial clue/fill combo and recollections of the way the phrase worked itself into pop culture. YouTube, of course, has about a gazillion old StarKist ads, but for the uninitiated, this one’ll give ya the drift. The game “Sorry!” has a long history (being based on the ancient game of Pachisi [among others]), originating in 1929, in England, and coming to the States some five years later. Yes. This was a staple in our house.
  • 59A. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL [Roberto Begnini's Oscar-winning film of 1997]. Lovely—for recall of the film, for the positive vibe of the phrase, for the way the best was saved for LAST. Wow. Just learned that “Lifethe board game dates back to 1860 and that it had a major overhaul in 1960 (and that it continues to be adapted to the times). Who’da thunk?

Then, in addition to these marquee games, we get SCRABBLE as a bonus [Word freaks play it with tiles and racks]. This one I still play. On occasion… Looking at the opposite fill, we encounter TEAMSTER. Now this isn’t actual bonus fill—good luck finding “Teamster—the Board Game!”—but board games are sometimes played in teams; and…there’s also “The A-Team Board Game.” (I was going to say “Ya can’t make this stuff up,” but apparently someone did…)

Other standouts in the grid would have to include OPERA STAR (though my first entry here was OPERA DIVA…) and its opposite number, INK ERASER with its wonderfully punny clue [Wipeout for pen-wielding crossword solver?]. MARS has an exceptionally sly and layered clue in [Rover's favorite candy bar?]. Is our constructor suggesting you feed your dog Rover a chocolate bar? No, no. And please, don’t! But she does get us to think about both the Mars rover and the Mars bar at one fell swoop. And what can I say? Seeing both HI-HO and HULU on the same turf (and repeating those syllables out loud) just makes me laugh.

And with that, I leave you till next week. Hope this first week of 2014 has treated you well!

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Words That Never Were”

Jonesin' crossword solution, 1 7 14 "Words That Never Were"

Jonesin’ crossword solution, 1 7 14 “Words That Never Were”

Matt’s inventive theme coins words by portmanteauifying a “word of the year” with a portmanteau “word of the year” (here’s one group’s list of nominee words; it doesn’t include everything in this theme):

  • 20a. [They stand up for a cause by bumping and grinding?], TWERKTIVISTS. Twerk is twerk, and a slacktivist is someone who feels they’re helping a cause (like fighting cancer) by clicking and sharing things on Facebook.
  • 28a. [The act of working out a national budget with new fried desserts?], CRONUTSTRATION. Cronuts, doughnuts made of croissant dough, and sequestration.
  • 42a. [Came up with a rational reason for taking one's own picture?], SELFIE-SPLAINED. Selfie, cell-phone self-portrait (aren’t we glad it isn’t spelled “cellphie”?), meets mansplained and the other -splaining words.
  • 47a. [Giant swirl of Buzzfeed posts?], LISTICLENADO. Listicle, list-in-lieu-of-article, meets Sharknado.

If you’re into all the new and buzzworthy terms that arise each year, as I am, this theme is right up your alley.

What’s a BAIT CAR? (9d. [Not a good thing to hotwire].) Is this a car the cops are using as bait to catch car thieves?

Seven things:

  • Top center, with SUNTZU, ESAI, EDTV, and MASI? Four proper nouns sandwiched together isn’t ideal.
  • 9a. [Potato chip flavor], BARBQ. Who does that? Are any chips actually labeled “bar-b-q”? Barbecue, yes. BBQ, yes. BARBQ, possibly only/mostly in crosswords.
  • 24a. [Rare batteries], A CELLS. Is that even a thing? Yes, it is, according to this list of less common battery sizes. See also: AAAA, B, F, N. Also see also: not great fill.
  • 41a. [Where much of "Torchwood" takes place], WALES. I guessed this off the W, but sure didn’t know it.
  • 29d. [Mr. McDonald], RONALD. Mr. Pennywise is scarier.
  • 38d. [Digital annoyance?], HANGNAIL. I tried HANGTIME, thinking of browser lag, but it’s the finger sort of “digital” here.
  • 44d. [Former "America's Funniest People" host Sorkin], ARLEEN. Who??

Four stars for a theme with real scrunchitude.

Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 19I’m just shattered by this theme:

  • 17a. [Colorado Gold Rush motto], PIKE’S PEAK OR BUST.
  • 34a. ["How stupid do you think I am?!"], GIMME A BREAK. I had half a Kit Kat bar last night.
  • 42a. [Diet-busting ice cream treat], BANANA SPLIT. The banana part is not bad for you—it’s the sheer volume of ice cream.
  • 61a. [One who's not easily convinced], TOUGH NUT TO CRACK. Great theme answer.

These four theme entries, which are a lively bunch, all end with words meaning “break.”

Favorite fill: POP GUN, HUBBUB, SKI BUMS, RITZY, and DOES TIME.

Five more things:

  • 57a. [Sounded delighted], AAHED. “Oohed and aahed” is a thing, but I’m not convinced that AAHED by itself is a thing.
  • 68a. [Tofu beans], SOYS. Iffy plural?
  • Crosswordese vocab: STETS, AGUE, IRAE.
  • 3d. [Elderly caretaker in TV's "Hot in Cleveland"], ELKA. I went with ELSA at first; forgot the name of Betty White’s character. Have never seen the show.
  • General older-audience vibe: MAMIE Eisenhower, the OAS, AMATI (for our 400-year-old solvers), crooners BING Crosby and NAT “King” Cole.

3.5 stars from me.

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23 Responses to Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  1. Martin says:

    An INSANE ASYLUM may be very dated as an institution, but it’s still very much a staple of horror movies. I think there are lots of things/places that don’t exist anymore, but are still very much in our collective cultural memory (good and bad).

    -MAS

    • Bencoe says:

      I think the mention of “padded walls” is a hint in the clue that this is an outdated term. Psych wards that I know of do not have padded walls anymore.

  2. Huda says:

    NYT: I liked the inversion quite a lot. I do agree with Amy that INSANE does not mean bad, but it’s a bad/unfortunate thing to happen. To me, RADICAL is the odd man out in the series. “Sick” would have been better in that it would echo the INSANE in the way it’s the opposite of GOOD.

    I think solvers who are not surrounded by young people are going to be a little confused about this puzzle. But maybe everyone has heard the usage of these terms in this way? I remember the first time I handed a Xmas present to my daughter’s boyfriend (now fiancé) and he said “Oh, sick”… I hoped that it was one of these crazy inversions…

  3. Howard B says:

    All of the theme words work as loose, slangy synonyms. Try them in a short phrase, “That’s ___!”, to some degree; all usable at some point in more recent times.
    While not as perfectly tight as some themes, it works here. Slang is looser by nature. Discussion of the fill I leave as an exercise to the bloggers :).

  4. Brucenm says:

    In BEQ’s puzzle from yesterday, 25d, {Classical music structure with three movements}, for “Sonata form” qualifies as inaccurate, not merely misleading or incomplete. Sonata form is a characteristic of a *movement* not a characteristic of an entire, several movement, piece. The number of movements in a sonata is irrelevant to determining whether a movement, (usually the first movement), is in sonata form.

    Sonata form movements can vary considerably amongst themselves, but briefly, a movement in sonata form, consists of three sections — exposition, development and recapitulation. The exposition consists of a main theme, and a second theme or themes, which are in a different key, (usually but not always the dominant), from the main theme. (The “dominant” is the tone a 5th higher than the main tonality of the piece, so for a sonata movement in C Major, a second theme in the dominant is in G Major.) In the recapitulation, the second theme or themes are repeated in the tonic (or the “home key”) of the movement — the same key as the first theme.

    Many, perhaps most, Classical and Romantic era sonatas (using “Classical” in the narrow sense of music from the latter half of the 18th century), have three movements, but, as I say, that is inessential and “accidental” to their being in sonata form. The composers who wrote the most piano sonatas are Haydn and Beethoven and some of the sonatas of each comprise 2, 3 or 4 movements. (I exclude composers like Scarlatti who wrote many pieces he called “sonatas” — (he is usually credited with 555) — but they are not in “classical” sonata form in the narrow sense, though some people (including myself) have argued that one can see anticipations of later sonata form in some of his sonatas.

  5. Martin says:

    Who needs Groves when we have Bruce;)

    -MAS

  6. Alan D. says:

    Just wanted to say that I thought today’s Wall Street Journal GNY puzzle (http://blogs.wsj.com/puzzle/?mod=WSJ_topnav_na_lifeculture) was very entertaining and appropriate, given that 3/4 of the country is freezing! This weekly, Mike Shenk-edited puzzle is always very good and often great and I’m giving it a shout-out since you never hear about it.

    • Huda says:

      “given that 3/4 of the country is freezing! ”
      Freezing, to me, means 32F. There needs to be another word for -14F…Can you talented folks invent one please?

      I was supposed to be in 70F weather today, in Beirut, but they’ve gone crazy and started blowing up car bombs. There’s no word for that insanity either. Can’t win for losing.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Why are derogatory terms for mental illnesses still acceptable in crosswords, while those for physical illness are taboo? We can use loon, wacko, loco; so let’s use lame and cripple to describe the handicapped. What’s the difference?

    • bananarchy says:

      That’s a problem with a much larger scope than crosswords. Words like schizo, spastic, and retard are thrown about carelessly (and they’re often used incorrectly to boot) by people who would never dream of calling someone a cripple. To me, those are very offensive terms.

      However, I’m not sure that I agree that your particular examples are problematic. To me, loon, wacko, and loco can all be used fairly innocuously to describe someone in relatively fine mental health behaving in a questionable, irrational, or unconventional way. They may still be derogatory to the target individual, but I rarely actually hear these words directed at those with mental health problems. I may refer to a person behaving wildly as “crazy” but that word takes on a different connotation when used to refer to someone with a mental illness.

  8. Gareth says:

    I don’t see the problem with the “looseness” of the theme… For me, it’s enough that all the answers are in some way “not good” in their original sense. Very nice! I agree with the general “compromisedness” of the fill, although my list wouldn’t include the same answers: I can’t see why one could possibly complain about SACS… But then squeezing certain SACS is a part of my job description! (I didn’t squeeze any today, but I did pop a nice othaematoma :))

  9. pannonica says:

    Loved the Jonesin’ theme, very refreshing.

    “[Potato chip flavor], BARBQ. Who does that? Are any chips actually labeled “bar-b-q”? Barbecue, yes. BBQ, yes. BARBQ, possibly only/mostly in crosswords.”

    At least two semi-major chipmakers use that spelling. Snyder’s and Utz. Some other, more limited regional brands, do as well.

  10. pannonica says:

    NYT: No issue whatsoever with the revealer IS THIS GOOD. In addition to the “any” and “still” qualified permutations Amy mentions, I employ this base, or RADICAL if you will, version as well. They each have nuanced meanings, convey different questions.

  11. hirschho says:

    “Oohed and aahed” is a thing, but I’m not convinced that AAHED by itself is a thing.
    Amy,
    When the doctor says “say aah” do you always ooh first?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Massive difference between “saying ‘aah’” and “aahing.” I’ve never aahed at the doctor’s office.

Comments are closed.