Wednesday, January 8, 2014

NYT 3:40 
Tausig untimed (Amy) 
LAT 4:19 (Gareth) 
CS 5:19 (Dave) 

Day 18—Eight degrees outside; finally we approach a double-digit temperature that’s not negative. The boy has abandoned his education, and the teachers have forsaken the schools. Our food supplies are running low and we’re burning the books for heat. We hear the wolves howling at the door, and we clutch the baby closer. How many of us will survive this cruel winter?

Sam Ezersky and Vic Fleming’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 1 8 14, no. 0108

NY Times crossword solution, 1 8 14, no. 0108

College student Sam and his constructing mentor, Judge Vic, team up for an adorable theme:

  • 18a. [Tub accessory], BATH SPONGE.
  • 24a. [Doohickey], THINGAMABOB. You know how you pause after filling in THINGAMA because you don’t know if you need a JIG or a BOB?
  • 36a. [Channel for the character named by the ends of 18-, 24-, 52- and 59-Across], NICKELODEON.
  • 52a. [New Year's Eve hot spot], TIMES SQUARE.
  • 59a. [2011 Tina Fey autobiography], BOSSYPANTS. First Kindle book I read on my iPad.

I know there are people who loathe SpongeBob, and I don’t understand the objections because (a) the show is funny, (b) the fish living at the bottom of the sea go to beaches with lifeguards … still at the bottom of the sea, and (c) my kid picked up a lot of classic American idioms he wouldn’t have learned elsewhere. Plus, the villain is named Plankton, Sheldon J. Plankton; he’s tiny and his wife is a computer, an underwater computer (Spike Jonze’s new movie Her is a total ripoff of SpongeBob).

The grid looks more like a Thursday puzzle, what with those chunky corners. Highlights in the fill include BYOB kicking off 1-Across the right way, Spanish “I love you” or YO TE AMO, BRATTY, OVER IT, “BE MINE,” RAN OUT ON, SIGN FOR a package, IRKSOME, and a weird NUTJOB.

Iffiest crossing: 20a. [Outfielder Hunter with nine Gold Gloves], TORII, crossing 21d. [Supermarket franchise chain], IGA. IGA may be headquartered in Chicago but it has next to no retail presence here; there are three suburban “Joe Caputo & Sons IGA” stores I’ve never heard of. Other tough fill includes 26d. [Church choir song], MOTET; 33d. [U.N. workers' agcy.], ILO; 36d. [Initial public offering], NEW ISSUE; 55a. [She, in Salerno], ESSA; and 13d. ["Gee, I think you're swell" girl of a 1960s song], ELENORE. That last one, I don’t know; it’s only familiar from an SNL skit mocking The McLaughlin Group (“Eleanor, gee, I think you’re swellenor”), and the ELENORE spelling is unusual.

3.8 stars from me. Love the theme, like a lot of the fill, dislike some of the fill.


Updated Wednesday morning:

Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy /Washington Post crossword, “Diversion Tactic” – Dave Sullivan’s review

A what may be considered timely quip from “skater/film star” SONJA HENIE with the Sochi Winter Olympics about a month away:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 01/08/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 01/08/14

  • JEWELRY TAKES
  • PEOPLE’S MINDS OFF
  • YOUR WRINKLES

A couple of thoughts as the quip fell into place–that first Sonja may be Jewish (actually, just the opposite seems to be the case, as she was accused of being a quisling for Nazi Germany in her home country of Norway), since I got the first three letters of the quote early on, and second, that the jewelry in question would help distract judges from her skating performance. Neither ended up being the case, and I’m wondering if she said this more due to her acting career than her sports one. I didn’t realize how successful she was when acting; Wikipedia says she made $2 million/year at the height of her career. Tragically, she died in her late 50′s from leukemia.

Speaking of stars, the fill in this pangram was stellar–how often do you five-letter entries of just consonants such as today’s JFK, JR.? You also have QTIP crossing QATAR, AZUR and OUZO and the fun [Enemy org. in some Bond films] for SMERSH. If you enjoy quip puzzles, I think YULE love this one!

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Double-O”

Chicago Reader crossword / Ink Well crossword solution, 1 8 14 "Double-O"

Chicago Reader crossword / Ink Well crossword solution, 1 8 14 “Double-O”

This week’s theme is rated R: 31d. [Climax that may be simultaneous, as in three places in this grid] clues ORGASM. There are three pairs of answers in which the letter string CUM appears in both words, stacked together for maximum simultaneity.

  • 17a. [Ocean floor dweller that vomits in self-defense], SEA CUCUMBER.
  • 20a. [Chili pepper, e.g.], CAPSICUM.
  • 38a. [Fluffy clouds], CUMULI.
  • 41a. [Sharpness], ACUMEN.
  • 54a. [Jerks], SCUMBAGS. The “scum” portion is semantically related to (but etymologically separate from) the CUM theme. Originally, the term meant “condom,” or a bag for … scum. This I learned only when the NYT crossword horrified older solvers by including SCUMBAG.
  • 60a. [Pre-configured Windows folder], MY DOCUMENTS.

The freshest fill includes a CUSHY JOB, FLU VIRUS, DENIM JACKET, QUANTUM LEAP, and the Wheel of Fortune‘s RSTLNE. RC CARS (34d. [Driverless racers]) is also uncommon fill; if you or someone in your household enjoys remote-controlled vehicles, then “RC car” is entirely familiar vocabulary. We’ve also got DR. OZ clued as 12d. [Noted TV snake oil salesman].

Most unusual fill:

  • 34a. [Safe time to eat shellfish, in an adage], R MONTH. Does anyone call it “R month” rather than “a month with an R in it”? I eschew all shellfish so I don’t engage in many conversations about which shellfish is safe.
  • 49a. [Island in the East China Sea], MATSU. Always, I try MACAO and MACAU first. Note to self: Macau is a peninsula attached to conjoined islands, and it’s not in the East China Sea, it’s near the South China Sea.
  • 18d. [205, to Septimius Severus], CCV. When Ben brings in a Roman numeral, one assumes that the grid was hard to fill. Those puzzles with stacked letters that lock down big chunks of grid do tend to be challenging for constructors.
  • 32d. ["Go ahead," archaically], BE IT SO. Whoa. New to me.
  • 51d. [Burmese politician/activist Aung San ___ Kyi], SUU. Three letters, two vowels—it would be in crosswords a lot more if the vowels weren’t U’s, but those are key to this theme.

3.66 stars.

 

Daniel Nierenberg’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

lat140108A simple theme: the first words can begin with BLOOD, as implied by the clue of BLOODTIES. SPORTFISH makes BLOODSPORT (see also TALLYHO). MONEYTREE makes BLOODMONEY. REDDWARF makes BLOODRED; REDDWARF is clued as the star type here, but it’s also a classic sci-fi satire!
WORKSHIRT makes BLOODWORK, the most surprising and pleasing blood phrase for me – that’s bloodwork as in the analysis of blood by labs as part of a medical work-up.

Six themers is often considered a lot, maybe one too many, but here the choices of answers are short and the grid arrangement deft to mitigate the effects on the rest of the grid.

Other bits:

  • CARB-loading: I’ve never heard that phrase without a terminal “o” on CARB myself!
  • ASPEN. Here’s a somewhat linked musical interlude
  • SUGARRUSH . Best answer in the puzzle, but I wish there was something in the clue to point out its status as basically scientifically disproved (inasmuch as you’re able to disprove anything). (And it’s against all logic when the time frame it’s meant to occur is compared to the time frame of absorption of nutrients…)

An unassuming sort of a puzzle, but very well-executed (this sounds like damning with faint praise, but really it isn’t). 3.75 stars.

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20 Responses to Wednesday, January 8, 2014

  1. Phil says:

    You know when it’s everyone for themselves when mothers start referring to their children as “the boy”. It’s the demarcation of detachment just before you start the cauldron to bubbling for a hearty stew.

    • Bencoe says:

      Isn’t that passage about the boy from the Cormac McCarthy book The Road? I haven’t read it but I saw the movie.

    • Deb Amlen says:

      Amy is one of the least detached parents I’ve ever met.

      And I refer to my kids online as The Boy and The Girl not because I don’t care about them, but because I do. It so happens that someone who reads my stuff tried to contact my daughter at one point and scared the bejesus out of us, so I stopped identifying my children publicly.

      But, hey, stew. Yum.

  2. Bencoe says:

    Don’t have IGA here and don’t know anything about baseball after the 80s. So probably my only Wednesday DNF of all time.

  3. Avg Solvr says:

    The wolves are howling at the door because they’d like to be invited in for some shelter and hot soup.

  4. Matt says:

    Agree about the theme making the puzzle. SBSP is my fave.

  5. Jill says:

    What is “Atob”?

  6. Huda says:

    NYT: loved it! It has a rhythm and you can dance to it.

  7. Brucenm says:

    Does anyone recall that there was a SpongeBob etc. puzzle some years ago by Nancy [Schuster?] — one of the Nancys) — ? I had never heard of him then, and it’s the only reason I’ve heard of him now, (though I guess I have seen the title in TV listings.)

  8. Tom says:

    Speaking of Vic Fleming — Anyone have the inside scoop on why his ‘I Swear’ puzzles aren’t on Puzzle Pointers anymore?

  9. Nick says:

    LAT: DONORCARD and SUGARRUSH are also theme entries

    • Gareth says:

      Ah… That’s what I get for not looking at what answers are actually starred and just basing things on where theme answers “should” be. I had an insane workday… That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

  10. Huda says:

    Would be too geeky to ask for a measure of variability on the daily scores?

    To me, one of the remarkable things about the puzzles is how some are splitters and others are uniters. This NYT is a uniter– over half the raters (to this point) gave it 4 or 4.5 and the rest did not stray too far down. This is really different from a puzzle that garners 1′s and 5′s and lands somewhere in the middle on average.

    I guess it would be… too geeky, I mean. But I wonder if the constructors amongst you look at that aspect as you are contemplating the feedback on your puzzles?

  11. ruth says:

    Dave –

    Really enjoyed Bruce’s puzzle today –

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