Thursday, April 3, 2014

NYT 4:11 (Amy) 
AV Club 5:40 (Amy) 
Fireball 6:23 (Amy) 
LAT 4:24 (Gareth) 
BEQ 7:37 (Matt) 
CS 5:44 (Dave) 

David Benkof and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 4 3 14, no. 0403

NYT crossword solution, 4 3 14, no. 0403

At first I thought the theme was dumb, and then it dawned on me: The “CH-CH-CH-CH CHANGES” are the various sounds represented by the letter combo CH, and it’s not just “phrase that start with CH.”

  • 17a. [December display], CHANUKAH MENORAH. Sort of a “kh” sound.
  • 24a. [Mathematical field that includes the so-called "butterfly effect"], CHAOS THEORY. Hard C or K sound.
  • 36a. [One of literature's "three sisters"], CHARLOTTE BRONTE. The “sh” sound.
  • 44a. [Went from butt to butt?], CHAIN-SMOKED. The classic English CH, the “tch” sound.
  • 58a. [Chorus starter in a 1972 David Bowie song ... or the theme of this puzzle, phonetically], CH-CH-CH-CH CHANGES. Chorus and chaos have the same CH variant.

You know who wouldn’t appreciate this theme? Deaf people, that’s who. And people who have not internalized the wacky variances in how so many letters are pronounced in English—it would be tough for them as well. Great for linguists.

Highlights:

  • 6a. ["That's that!"], ‘NUFF SAID. Slangy English.
  • 62a. [Boxer who competed on "Dancing With the Stars"], LAILA ALI. I like the stealthiness of “boxer” taking you to a woman’s name. She’s Muhammad Ali’s daughter, of course. Not sure if she’s still boxing these days.
  • 1d. [Things that are tossed usually go in them], ARCS. Physically tossed,  like a ball. Not tossed away into trash CANS or BINS.
  • 4d. [Fun-size, say], MINI. As in teeny candy bars.
  • 9d. [Many a sci-fi devotee], FANBOY. There are also fangirls, of course. Nobody calls anyone fanmen or fanwomen, as far as I know, and that is a crying shame.
  • 11d. ['60s do also called a "natural"], AFRO. I like the second part of this clue. I scorn the ’60s part of the clue. There are plenty of ‘fros around and about these days.
  • 22d. ["Would you believe ..."], “GET THIS!” I associate this with Elaine on Seinfeld and my friend Kristin. The accompanying shove is entirely optional.
  • 44d. [54, e.g., in old TV], COP CAR. Crisp entry.

Awkward spot: Where 50d. [Young-adult fiction author Darren] SHAN crosses LAILA ALI. Given that Leila is perhaps a more familiar spelling of the name and that SHAN is likely to be entirely unknown to many of us (he certainly was to me), this is an unfortunate crossing. Darren Shan is Darren O’Shaughnessy, an Irish writer.

Most obscure foreign city: 41a. [City in Kyrgyzstan], OSH. Makes MINSK and AGRA look better in comparison, doesn’t it?

Most likely to be decreed absolutely wrong: 7d. [Mil. branch], USM. United States Marines? You mean the United States Marine Corps, USMC? Because when you Google USM, the first things that come up are US Steel’s stock symbol, the universities of Southern Maine and Southern Mississippi, Universal Scrap Metals, and USM Modular Furniture. If it was at all common to refer to the Marines as the USM, I’m pretty sure it would beat the pants off of Universal Scrap Metals in the Google rankings. Really. Fiend commenters pelted the 4/16/11 NYT puzzle for cluing USM as the Marines, and yet here it is again. Enough! Make it go away.

Neat theme, some zippy fill and clues, and also some really awkward fill. Let’s call it 3.75 stars overall.

Trip Payne’s April Fools Day Fireball crossword, “Cuckoo Crossword”

Fireball crossword answers, 4 1 14 "Cuckoo Crossword"

Fireball crossword answers, 4 1 14 “Cuckoo Crossword”

Yeah, this puzzle was sent out in time for April Fools Day. But I have Fireball on my Wednesday night–into–Thursday blogging schedule so here we are. Each year for the past decade or so, wherever Peter Gordon is editing crosswords, he runs one of Trip Payne’s silly puzzles around April 1. The grid is fearsome—I count 54 words, which makes it a super-low-word-count puzzle. But only a handful of short answers are legit crossword fill. The rest is playfully contrived and clued accordingly.

My favorite bits are these:

  • 12d. [The fact that his brother Scar was trying to kill him, for one], MUFASA PROBLEM. From The Lion King. I spaced out and tried A SIMBA and SIMBA’S in place of his dad MUFASA.
  • 11d. [Eat only edible things], GO ON A DIET OF FOOD. Daring!
  • 14a. [Result of a bumper crop in Idaho], SURPLUS POTATOES. So close to being Idaho’s state motto.
  • 12a. ["                    "], best possible clue for MIME QUOTATION.
  • 4d. [Resembling a person on a horse], EQUESTRIANESQUE. Two Q’s! How unexpected for Trip to include them.

As always, a delight. If you enjoyed this but somehow haven’t already devoured Trip’s four old “Something Different” crosswords at Triple Play Puzzles, go get ‘em. (Scroll down to Variety Crosswords.) Five stars. One star is for TOP RAP. One is for the NEW COKE in 13d. Two are for MARSUPIAL ODOR. And the fifth star is for the 7-letter partial ISN’T SKA.

Ben Tausig’s American Values Club crossword, “Head Disorder”

AV Club crossword solution, 4 3 14 "Head Disorder"

AV Club crossword solution, 4 3 14 “Head Disorder”

Russian and Soviet leaders get anagrammed here, with the surname and a possessive S preceding the anagram:

  • 17a. [Etsy shop with tablecloths and bedding that eviscerate the bourgeoisie?], LENIN’S LINEN.
  • 23a. [Patented maneuver in the communist sport of air dressage?], TROTSKY’S SKY TROT.
  • 35a. [Fan club for South Americans who like thick mustaches and propaganda?], STALIN’S LATINS.
  • 49a. [Issue of a U.S. beauty magazine historic for being the first sent to post-Soviet Russia?], YELTSIN’S IN STYLE. Pretty!
  • 56a. [What this puzzle's theme (and some of its clues) received?], PUTIN’S INPUT.

The snarky Putinesque clues amused:

  • 11a. [AVERAGE ONE IN RUSSIA IS 200, COME LIVE HERE IT IS FINE], AGE.
  • 16a. [THANK YOU TO THIS GP. FOR A GREAT TIME IN SOCHI], IOC.
  • 41a. [KEEPS SELFISHLY, AS UKRAINE HAD BEEN DOING WITH CRIMEA], HOGS.
  • 55a. [PLACE A MAN CAN WEAR JEWELRY, IF HE WANTS US TO PUT HIM ON A WATCHLIST], EAR.
  • 33d. [ABUNDANT RUSSIAN RESOURCE THAT ONLY NICE, NON-SANCTIONING NATIONS CAN HAVE], OIL.
  • 60d. [COUNTRY WITH FEWER MEDALS THAN RUSSIA AT SOCHI, ALSO FEWER REAL MEN], USA.

In Soviet Russia, crossword solves you.

Five more things:

  • 31a. [Forensics show considering a Quantico spinoff], CSI. News to me. I hope they do it; we could always use a fresh source of CSI clues.
  • This is particularly … airy. There’s 42a. [Word before Lingus or Arann, in Irish aviation], AER. And 11d. [Leave hanging?], AIR-DRY. And also 45d. [Use a Sodastream on, say], AERATE. Basically three versions of the same word.
  • I like the over-the-counter pharmaceutical start and finish: 1a. [All-night-long pill], NO-DOZ, and 67a. [Pill taken to go?], EX-LAX.
  • Unusual to see any typos in a Tausig-edited puzzle, much less two. Credence is a common noun, but 37d. [Credence Clearwater Revival song about a California city], LODI, needed to have Creedence Clearwater. And 6d. [Keane who was a contemporary of Charles Schultz], BIL, should have referred to Charles Schulz. (Not to be confused with one-time US secretary of state George Shultz.)
  • 32d. [Gets blown by a gust of wind, as a door], FLIES OPEN? Indeed! Monday was super-windy in Chicago and I encountered a lot of doors that were keen on flying open.

3.5 stars from me.


Updated Thursday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Foul Play” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Kind of a smelly puzzle today as each phrase begins with a synonym of FOUL:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 04/03/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 04/03/14

  • [Fled] was TURNED TAIL – I think of food “turning” bad in the refrigerator if left past its expiration date.
  • [Babysitter's bane] was a SPOILED BRATspare the rod…
  • [Newbie] clued RANK AMATEUR – amateurs are particularly rank after a tough competition.
  • [Curse of the jinxed] was ROTTEN LUCK

I’m thinking this puzzle would be well served by a “scratch-n-sniff” version to add the olfactory component these theme entries deserve! Fun northwest corner with four short two-word phrases next to each other–ACTS UP, TRUE TO, NO ROOM and OWN UP. I’ve never heard of the [Feature of some fedoras] or a SNAP BRIM; the answer here at the Fedora Lounge site implies that the brim can be snapped up (for storage) or down (for wear). Less happy to see [Alley Oop's girlfriend] OOLA making a return appearance, as they should be well into their married life by now. Two other quick things–what did you think of the ELISHA (Cuthbert) and ALICIA (Silverstone) pairing? A bit too similar for my tastes. And finally, how about SMALL O for [Lowercase vowel]? Could you similarly clue LARGE D as [Double feature?].

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Hard to Swallow” — Matt’s review

beq

A little bawdy zeugma humor from BEQ today, as he cites an unfortunate recent sports headline in the Wall Street Journal:

METS BLOW A SAVE / AND FAN 18 TIMES / IN OPENING LOSS

So if you read the word “fan” as a noun meaning “game attendee” and not as a verb meaning “to strike out” then you might think there were some crazy things happening in the dugout.

Nice mini-grid (14×14), though the filthy, degenerate ASS CLEFT was new to me. The bottom right is especially nice, as are LAST LEGS, AS I SAID, GIAMATTI (a baseball reference, since the actor’s father used to be MLB commissioner , QUEEG, and the J. LO / JPEG crossing elsewhere.

Mystery entry: OEO is [War on Poverty org.]. Also part of the chorus to “When Doves Cry.”

4.20 stars.

Don Gagliardo & C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140403

LA Times
140403

I’m sure the first thing everyone here noticed was the unusual, striking grid. It’s very pretty, in its own way, and also very unusual – with 4 3×3 square black squares. It’s a 49/68, with the 49 black squares being way over the usual maximum, but 68 words being way below the norm, even for a themeless puzzle! Eyeballing the grid, it looks a challenge to fill, especially with the 4×5 diagonal theme answers, which seem to put much more pressure on the grid than horizontal ones.

The theme seems to be ADVANCING / THERUNNER in baseball, which together occupy the lines above and below the centre. The circles then list 4 things that advance the runner: STEAL, ERROR, HOMER and BLOOP. Are these the only things that advance a runner? That would make it super tight, but I have no idea! I can’t even figure out how a homer advance a runner! Surely if you can get back home then all the folks on bases will too? I follow a lot of sport, but not baseball. The grid is a stylised baseball diamond. Even for someone who has no interest in or knowledge of baseball all these aspects together are very pleasing!

As I suggested, the grid itself looks a bear to fill. There do seem to be some probably incidental bonus answers: SELIG, HITADRIVE, ALEAST and YANKEES. [Carrier with a Maple Leaf Lounge], AIRCANADA will no doubt please a few too! Three of the four corners show some evidence of strain: FLUORO/ASCOOL/ORLON; POMACE (never heard of it!)/MLXI/COAXER; BAILEE. A bit awkward, but not quite beyond the pale.

Other remarks:

  • [One on a ladder, to a kitten up a tree], COAXER – PSA, kittens up trees can get down on their own! So can tree dassies!
  • [His last blog post ended, "I'll see you at the movies"], EBERT. Very sad clue.

Definitely an ambitious puzzle! Given the downsides, I’d consider this around a 4 star puzzle!

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28 Responses to Thursday, April 3, 2014

  1. Amy Reynaldo says:

    *tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on?

  2. Man in audience says:

    [cough]

  3. Evad says:

    I’ll comment on the Fireball–everything was clear to me except the -fte- entry for “Rafters’ center” since I was confusing Rafters for (the Toronto) Raptors and thinking basketball!

    I really enjoy these annual events…EQUESTRIANESQUE had Trip written all over it!

  4. susan says:

    Thanks for going after 7D and its clearly wrong or at minimum incomplete answer USM. I initially wrote USA, for Army, and resisted replacing the A with an M until I could hold out no more. As the daughter of a Marine veteran, this one chafed; otherwise, a fun puzzle.

  5. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Why not change ASIAN_FLU to AVIAN_FLU (same clu)? UVM = Univ. of Vermont is not recognized by xwordinfo but must be at least as well known as USM.

    • placematfan says:

      Interesting suggestion. UVM (as the school) gets scads of Google hits. It’s probably not attractive to an editor, though, as the UVM stands for “Universitas Virdis Montis” rather than mimicking the typical school-name pattern of “University” + “state name or something derivative”–thus negating any inferability for a solver who didn’t know the Latin for “Vermont”.

      • Noam D. Elkies says:

        Interesting – I’d noticed that UVM had a strange choice of initials but never looked up the reason.

  6. Lois says:

    Funny, I didn’t even realize I had UVM – I forgot to check that clue and answer.

    Amy was surprised at the slow responses today. Her NYT review was so good, though she underrated the puzzle according to my tastes, that I didn’t think I had to write in. Yes, perfect for linguists. I’m not a linguist, but I love pronunciation themes.

    I ordered a Darren Shan book for my great-nephews just now.

  7. Gareth says:

    Best revealer ever! I would have had no idea that the official lyrics of that song were 15 letters though! And the fact that all the CH sounds are different makes it even more impressive!

  8. Michael Hanko says:

    Didn’t Elaine [also] accompany her shoves with “Get OUT!”?

    That was quite a pile-up of punctuation.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      You’re absolutely right. It’s been too many years since I was watching tons of “Seinfeld.” My friend absolutely specializes in “Get this!” rather than “Get OUT!,” though.

      I see your !”? and raise you a !,”.

  9. Animalheart says:

    Anyone care to give the penny a shove down the slot and enlighten me as to why COT is a Sin relative?

  10. David L says:

    Sin = Sine, Cot = Cotangent.

    Although it’s also true that some kinds of sin can take place in cots.

  11. Animalheart says:

    Thanks. I suspected that might be it, but it seems crazy to abbreviate a four-letter word to three letters.

  12. WeThotUWasAToad says:

    CH as in Jeff CHen

  13. placematfan says:

    I loved the NYT theme. Pretty. It’s hard to have that much theme material without something to gripe about in the fill. Interesting constructor’s choice to go with the wide-open NE and SW; I think the LAILA ALI/SHAN cross is awful enough to warrant a revision or a another pair of black squares. Still, beautiful theme.

    As an earworm (not to qualify the piece, just to say it has a supercatchy chorus), this David Bowie song is doubly irritating to me, as I can never remember how many “ch” utterances precede “changes” in the chorus; so what I hear in my head sounds like something from a Grease dress rehearsal. If anyone out there’s tabulating the Number of Appearances of a Song in Film and Television, surely this song would be near the top.

    I grew up with Bowie in my periphery: were I to say I “am not a fan of” him, I’d really be saying I “have not been exposed to enough of his work to have an informed bias about” him. I think I kinda always lumped him in with artists I consider too exhibitionist or theatrical for my taste; I have a strong penchant for a singer-songwriter with an instrument and a mike, and I migrate towards that sensibility and away from overproduction and histrionics. In that vain, it’s really cool to be able to hear via the glory of YouTube things like a “Quicksand“ demo or a stripped-down version of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”. Oh, and I can’t mention Bowie without touting his and Bing Crosby’s version as the best version of “The Little Drummer Boy” ever.

  14. David R says:

    This was even worse now they pluralized NEVADA, so they are saying the range of snows. I’m trying Amy but it is personal now, I will fight the lonely battle to treat our mountains with the respect they deserve.

  15. ahimsa says:

    NYT: Cute puzzle but a bit easy for a Thursday. I was not sure whether the repeated syllable would be CH or CHa but that was sorted out quickly.

    I had UVM/AVIAN FLU and resisted changing the V to S for a long time. Although I could not parse UVM as some military group the alternative, USM, just seemed wrong. I can hardly even type USM without adding that final C. So I’m with those who think USM should be retired (or clued differently? Univ. of Southern Maine? Univ. of Southern Mississippi?).

    LAT: I’m not a huge baseball fan but I know a little. My father and I used to watch the Cincinnati Reds on TV. He was a big fan back in the days of Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. So 3 out of the 4 theme answers in circles made sense.

    But I did not know how a BLOOP was part of ADVANCING/THE RUNNER. After looking it up it seems to be a fly ball that is not caught and gives the batter a single. Any baseball fans want to confirm that? Or correct my ERROR?

    By the way, that POMACE/HEATON/OEO area was too tough for me.

    CS: This puzzle was “bad” but in a good way! :-) I enjoyed it.

  16. ant says:

    ahimsa/Gareth,
    Re: LAT
    I might be pointing out the obvious here, but the circled words were literally ADVANCING THE RUNNER. He started out at bat (home plate), got a BLOOP hit to get to first base, a STEAL advanced him to second, while an ERROR got him to third. Then a HOMER by a subsequent batter advanced him home.
    The circled words were his trip around the base paths.

    • ahimsa says:

      Thanks for the explanation! It was not obvious to me and it enhances my enjoyment of the puzzle. Much appreciated.

  17. Kraig says:

    Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it

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