Tuesday, February 4, 2014

NYT 3:24 (Amy) 
LAT 2:34 (Amy) 
CS 5:06 (Dave) 
Xword Nation untimed (Janie) 

David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 2 4 14, no. 0204

NY Times crossword solution, 2 4 14, no. 0204

The concept behind the theme is solid: Gather famous people known by their first and middle initials and last name, all with first initial J. The execution is a little spotty, in my opinion:

  • 17a. [Author of the best-selling book series in history], J.K. ROWLING. Good.
  • 20a. [Founder of U.S. Steel], J.P. MORGAN. Not to be confused with Jaye P. Morgan of The Gong Show.
  • 57a. ["Peter Pan" author], J.M. BARRIE. So far so good.
  • 62a. [Dagwood Bumstead's boss], J.C. DITHERS. His full name wasn’t “Mr. Dithers”? I had no idea he was a J.C. and assume that’s short for Jesus Christ.
  • 9d. ["The Well-Tempered Clavier" composer], J.S. BACH. Hmm, isn’t he more commonly referred to as Johann Sebastian Bach?
  • 11d. [Reclusive best-selling novelist], J.D. SALINGER. Classic name.
  • 27d. [Pen name for Angela Lansbury's character on "Murder, She Wrote"], J.B. FLETCHER. Wha…? I only know the character was named Jessica. I guess you’d have to have watched the show to know the fictional J.B.
  • 47d. [Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher who was a 2007 All-Star with Seattle], J.J. PUTZ. Who??

It’s a nice touch that the second initial is different in each case, but I’d have preferred fewer names and only the more familiar names. I’d have liked to see fewer theme entries mainly so that the fill could have been better. 1-Across put me to sleep with HODS, or [Coal carriers], but not before it jostled the Scowl-o-Meter switch to the “on” position. And then the meter received jolts from JOJO (9a. [One-named singer with the 2006 hit "Too Little Too Late"]? Who??), ILIE, LAN, EX-JET (I hereby declare a moratorium on all EX-{sports team name here} entries), ARB, BROZ, outmoded ON KP, arbitrarily spelled-out number in ONE LB, plural ACHOOS and plural ZOES, JAI, JCTS, MMDII, three-O OOOH, three-O OOOLA, and ESTE. As I so often say, give me three or four of this type of answer and I can abide it; give me more than 10 and I find myself making a sour face the whole time I’m solving a puzzle.

Also, when Murder, She Wrote offers the only fair way to clue JB FLETCHER, it would be good not to have WROTE echoed in the grid.

Did not know: 41a. ["Inside the Company: C.I.A. Diary" author Philip], AGEE. That book was published in 1975, but I wasn’t reading a lot of incendiary nonfiction when I was in primary school. Was this a flat-out gimme for older solvers, or do you agree that it’s a mighty tough clue for a Tuesday puzzle?

2.75 stars. David would make a much smoother puzzle these days. (And that’s one of the down sides of Will Shortz accepting as many puzzles as he does—that lengthy wait to publication means that by the time a puzzle appears, the constructor may well have honed his or her skills throughout the intervening years and published markedly better puzzles in various venues, and the “new” puzzle will feel outdated and rough as a result.)

Updated Tuesday morning:

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle, “High Signs”—Janie’s review

2:4 cnBack in September, I wrote about Liz’s “Top Guns” puzzle: “Rule of thumb in puzzle construction: if the theme fill runs vertically, there’d better be a darned good reason behind the choice. Today’s theme does—and there is.” And I reiterate that sentiment in response to “High Signs” as well. Not only does the theme fill run vertically, but once again, Liz has given us a lot of theme fill: 67 squares of it by way of four 15s and one central seven. Shizola! The first word (placed high in the grid) of each zingy theme phrase is also the name of a kind of sign.

  • 3D. NUMBER CRUNCHERS ["Calculating" people]. Accountants and actuaries and CPA-types. Great clue/fill combo, no? And what does that number sign look like? Well, from the look of things, it bears a strong resemblance to the sign used in 5A. [#, in sheet music]. This gives us SHARP, which I take as bonus fill, lying as it does at the top of/high in the grid itself. Same sign (by appearance); two distinctly different meanings. (Keep this in mind for later on…)
  • 5D. STOP MAKING SENSE [1984 Talking Heads film hailed as "one of the greatest rock stopmovies ever made"]. Terrific. Didn’t realize it had been written and directed by a pre-Silence of the Lambs Jonathan Demme…
  • 26D. PLUS ONE [Wedding invitation term that means "You may bring a guest"]. And what a generous and polite term that is to see! Now. I’m thinking this particular entry may have been an afterthought of sorts. A meta plus one, if you will. Because I don’t see any real difference between a plus sign (+) and the sign that follows (in the physical grid, not numerically…).
  • 9D. POSITIVE OUTLOOK [Upbeat attitude]. Another terrific phrase (imoo…). But when we’re talking about actual, graphic symbols (and not the more figurative type ["The sun has come out—that's a positive sign"]), a positive sign (+) looks exactly like our friend the plus sign. One is used in chemistry, the other in mathematics, but I don’t see a sharp enough difference here to warrant the inclusion of plus one. (Sorry, plus one!! No offense intended!) Am I splitting hairs too finely here? Any thought on this?
  • 11D. DOLLAR DIPLOMACY [Business-driven American foreign policy]. Wow. Another fabulou$ phra$e. Hadn’t realized this term (which we continue to use today) emerged some hundred years ago in the Taft era. And it’s remained great fodder for political cartoonists to boot! (Also, I think I love the fact that the name of Taft’s Secretary of State was Philander C. Knox. That’s a name right outta Al Capp-land!)

Other highlights:

  • The matched marine pair (and grid-complements) of NAUTILUS [Captain Nemo's submarine] and FORESAIL [Jib on a wind-driven vessel]. I also like the homophone action as CD SALES crosses FORESAIL.
  • Then, if you add an “E” to CD SALES and do some anagramming , you get DECLASSÉ [Socially inadequate]. Which someone guilty of a [Societal no-no] TABOO might be called. [Declassé sidebar: yet another word I learned by way of musical theatre. In Carnival!, magician's assistant The Incomparable Rosalie complains in song to Ringmaster Schlegel about Marco the Magnificent (in "Humming"): "I'm tired of being...declassé./He lies and he cheats and that's...not fair play./You don't treat a mistress...quite that way./The dirty rat, he treats me like...a wife!"]
  • The colorful and specific language of TIPSTER and AIRHEAD.
  • The double-duty, cryptic-style clue [Poke fun at big hair?] for TEASE. (Tease=”Poke fun”; and it’s also a way to achieve a “big hair” look.)

Small mysteries: Dave STIEB, ELSA Benitez, SAL Masakela, [Old Testament book: Abbr.] HAB. All inferable (though Stieb and Habakkuk were complete unknowns to me). Nice and fresh, too, where Elsa and Sal are concerned.

Larger mystery (or, as I’ve been thinking of it, “Stump the Blogger”): the clue/fill combo of [Companion whose nickname is "Fang"] and PET SNAKE. I can’t find any reference to a pet snake named “Fang.” What am I missing here? Anyone? I get that snakes have fangs, but if this, in fact, doesn’t refer to some actual pet snake, perhaps “is” in the clue should be swapped out for “might be.”

And finally, thank you, Google Images. No, it’s not “neon-pink,” but this “crossword-patterned tie” is still pretty darned LOUD—and guess what. It’s available on ETSY!

xword tie

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Whoops!” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Four theme entries which end with something you might say “Whoops!” after:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 02/04/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 02/04/14

  • [Sour candy] was LEMON DROP
  • [TV intermission] was STATION BREAK
  • [Unintentional revelation] clued FREUDIAN SLIP
  • [Ticket purchase] was ROUND TRIP

I liked how these theme entries had a slightly different sense than the action that might cause one to say “Whoops!” That is, lemons aren’t really dropping, stations aren’t breaking, etc. Funny to see JIMI Hendrix in today’s grid as we were just talking about the singer with the last name HENDRYX the other day. Other nice entries included CUNARD, FAIR GAME and SPINOFFS. Beginning solvers may not be that familiar with mystery writer NGAIO Marsh, who hailed from New Zealand and went by her middle name, instead of Edith which was her given name. I wonder if I would’ve made the same decision?

Kevin Christian’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 2 4 14

LA Times crossword solution, 2 4 14

This stealthy reptilian theme slithered across the puzzle:

  • 17a. [Hosiery support item], GARTER BELT. I might’ve gone with a wedding-related clue, as so few people use garter belts outside that setting.
  • 23a. [Barbecue veggie eaten with one's hands], CORN ON THE COB.
  • 31a. [Snorkeling site], CORAL REEF.
  • 40a. [Ice cream drink], MILK SHAKE.
  • 47a. [1988 U2 album and movie], RATTLE AND HUM.
  • 60a. [Wimbledon feature], GRASS COURT.
  • 67a. [Kind of reptile found at the starts of 17-, 23-, 31-, 40-, 47- and 60-Across], SNAKE. I dispute this “kind of” clue, as MILK and GRASS are not “kinds of snakes”; milk snakes and grass snakes are. Granted, the revealer clue would be more stilted and awkward as [Word that can follow the starts of 17- {etc.} to create reptiles].

I would probably have liked this puzzle better with four snakes instead of six. OLEO crossing ALERO, ITALO- beside DENEB, RAE and REA, AN I, ENE, SESS, and ALAI? Dense themes too often usher in such blah filler.

On the other hand, the LAMPOON VATICAN KITTENS bit is lovely. Speaking of kittens and lampooning, if you like beefcake (occasionally somewhat nude) and cats, you may enjoy the photo blog Des Hommes et des Chatons. Photos of male models and cats whose poses evoke those photos are paired to good effect. (N.b.: There is no Vatican content implied here.)

LIRA, when clued as Italian currency of yore, feels like dated fill. I like the clue here, though: 3d. [Coin once tossed into Italian fountains]. Evocations of “Three Coins in a Fountain.” (However! Let’s try not to include ITALO- in the grid and “Italian” in a clue. Might it have been better to clue ITALO as author Calvino here?)

Three stars.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Supplemental Outcome”

Jonesin' crossword solution, 2 4 14 "Supplemental Outcome"

Jonesin’ crossword solution, 2 4 14 “Supplemental Outcome”

Supplemental income is extra money coming in. “Supplemental Outcome” is the result when you cook up phrases using only the letters of the commonest nutritional supplements:

  • 17a. [Roasted on a skewer], KEBABBED. How legit is this verb?
  • 25a. [Built onto the house, maybe], ADDED A DECK. Arbitrary combination of words.
  • 39a. [10 years ago], A DECADE BACK. Somewhat arbitrary and not-ready-for-crossword-entry-prime-time.
  • 53a. [Did some birthday party work], BAKED A CAKE. Also contrived. So I imagine the theme is “contrived phrases and verbifications you can make using only the common vitamin letters” and not “familiar phrases consisting of only the common vitamin letters.”
  • 63a. [What the theme entries are full of], VITAMINS.

Random anecdata: I’ve been taking a little vitamin C (500 mg) every day this fall and winter, and I have escaped the colds (knock on wood) that have befallen the rest of my family and been in better health overall. Am now too superstitious to stop the vitamin C. And I take vitamin D, but only get whatever A, B, E, and K is in food and multivitamins. Very hard to come up with theme answers that contain only C and D, though.

Favorite fill: 35d. [Imps], SCALAWAGS.

Did not know: 41d. [Company behind "Mega Man" and "Street Fighter"], CAPCOM. Crossings were all clear.

Likes: SNIPPY (a useful word), B.B. King’s BLUES, RUN AMOK, the awkward-by-itself EATER clued in a perfect and totally in-the-language way, [Picky ___]. Not so much with the liking: OLEO, A GUT (I think it’s the only partial in the whole puzzle, though, which is a plus), AGRA, CEL, singular ALP, behind-the-times DEY.

3.5 stars.

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19 Responses to Tuesday, February 4, 2014

  1. My entirety of my knowledge base of Murder She Wrote facts is the name Jessica Fletcher and the location Cabot Cove, Maine. Up to this point, it’s served me just fine. How dare them ask a middle initial of me?!

  2. Stan Newman says:

    That’s Julius Caesar Dithers. No kidding.

    • Jeffrey K says:

      My favorite real name is former Expo pitching coach Cal McLish: Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish.

  3. Corey says:

    In response to the J.S. Bach clue, the maker of this crossword was correct. He is most commonly referred to as J.S. Bach in the music community, as there are also famous composers C.P.E. Bach and J.C. Bach as well as the lesser known W.F. Bach. However, I do agree with you. A very shoddy puzzle.

  4. Tracy B says:

    Naticks for me at the B shared by ARB and JBFLETCHER and the Z shared by BROZ and JJPUTZ. I narrowed it down correctly in the second case, but had the total guess ARR for the clue “Wall St. operator.” Now I know, for next time.

    I was so hoping for JJABRAMS to appear!

  5. HH says:

    “David would make a much smoother puzzle these days. (And that’s one of the down sides of Will Shortz accepting as many puzzles as he does….”

    Does he accept more than the Times can accommodate? If so, what does he do with them?

  6. Gareth says:

    I like the puzzle in concept, but agree with Amy that it could’ve done with fewer, better entries. I played Civililisation as a young child where along with SETI you can also build “JS Bach’s Cathedral” so at least for me JS Bach was inculcated as his standard name at an early age. In turn this would’ve meant hopefully that the rest of the puzzle wasn’t so overfilled with other names. Last letter of JJPUTZ/BROZ I went with an S but as soon as MHP didn’t appear I changed it to a Z.

  7. Ethan says:

    J.J. Putz is perhaps best known for this hilarious moment:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPuCIfpNtA4

  8. Matt J. says:

    Orange, when are you going to be in this neck of the woods? Because if I knew you were coming, I’d-a [contrived phrase redacted].

  9. Lemonade714 says:

    The books were published by J.B. Fletcher; there were plot lines where people were surprised to learn the author was a (sweet old) lady. Sadly, I read and watch almost everything mystery related.

    So two puzzles with too many theme answers…is there a theme there?

  10. Steven R. Stahl says:

    17a. [Roasted on a skewer], KEBABBED. How legit is this verb?

    That definition isn’t legit, according to a simple Google search. Would describing “Supplemental Outcome” consequently as a failed puzzle be too extreme?

    SRS

  11. Lois says:

    Amy, re the NYT, Philip AGEE is “a flat-out gimme for older solvers.” I’m sure of that because I knew it. I hardly ever know popular books (nor so many others), so I figure it must be a gimme. I suppose it wasn’t just the book, but also related to news at the time, as it was about the CIA. I thought the clue for AGEE was a nice change from James Agee, though I’ve read a lot of James Agee’s movie criticism and did not read Philip Agee’s book.

    Talking about flat-out gimmes and not flat-out gimmes, I must be the only solver to not know the “K.” in J. K. Rowland today. I couldn’t think of it. I only read a few chapters of the first Harry Potter book.

    I enjoyed the NYT today. Yes, there was a lot I didn’t know, and several blank or wrong squares and unpleasant crossings. Yet I enjoyed the “J.”s, visiting the names I did know, and the large quantity of theme answers. I like some rough edges sometimes.

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