Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fireball 6:55 (Amy) 
NYT 5:06 (Amy) 
AV Club 4:48 (Amy) 
LAT 7:17 (Gareth) 
BEQ 7:31 (Matt) 
CS 12:18 (Ade) 

David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 4 10 14, no. 0410

NY Times crossword solution, 4 10 14, no. 0410

This is a terrific theme. SIX FLAGS, the chain of amusement parks, is clued as 59a. [Popular day trip destination ... or a hint to the starts of the answers to the starred clues], and there are six theme answers that begin with words that commonly precede “flag”:

  • 13a. [*Kind of affair], BLACK TIE.
  • 19a. [*1971 song with the lyric "Helter skelter in a summer swelter"], AMERICAN PIE.
  • 25a. [*Creator of Sheriff Deadeye and Cauliflower McPugg], RED SKELTON.
  • 33a. [*Sketchy history], CHECKERED PAST.
  • 40a. [*January events], WHITE SALES.
  • 48a. [*Some illegal transmissions], PIRATE RADIO.

Black Flag is both a punk band (the one with Henry Rollins) and a bug spray brand. The American flag, you all know. Red flag, something alarming. Checkered flag, it means … something at the Indy 500, I think. White flag, sign of surrender. Pirate flag, the Jolly Roger, skull and crossbones. All six theme answers are on the lively side, and the “flag” phrases are zippy too.

This 72-worder with seven theme entries will have horrible fill by virtue of those numbers, right? You’d think so. And yet the fill ranges from flat (that little -OSE and ASTA are about it) to solid (vast swaths) to excellent (CSI MIAMI, MOPPET, MONOGRAM, PAISAN).

Favorite clues:

  • 4a. [Hardly 100%], feeling ILL. I’m at about 85% right now.
  • 17a. [Alma mater for Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston], HOWARD.
  • 30a. [Bench warmer?], REAR. Also considered RUMP off of that first R.
  • 39a. [It might come with a bill], MINT. Or, at a neighborhood Thai restaurant, you get guava hard candies.
  • 2d. [Made it?], TAGGED in the game of tag. Whereas 10d. [Hide seekers] is not about a childhood game—it’s about fur TRAPPERS.
  • 33d. [CBS spinoff that was filmed mostly in California], CSI MIAMI. Ha!
  • 40d. [Word often redundantly preceded by "from"], WHENCE.

4.5 stars. Well played, David—in an era of overstuffed themes with grids that suffer greatly, you’ve combined an ambitious theme with good fill.

(P.S. There are, I think, four squares that could be called “cheaters,” the corner blocks and the ones after 32a and before 37a. Who cares? Is anyone honestly going to say that David should have gone for fewer blocks and probably markedly worse fill?)

Byron Walden’s American Values Club crossword, “Equal Say”

AV Club crossword solution, 4 10 14 "Equal Say"

AV Club crossword solution, 4 10 14 “Equal Say”

This punny homophone theme plays out well some of the time:

  • 17a. [Sparkly leatherworking tool?], AWL THAT GLITTERS. Would you believe you can buy glittery awls in a pack with five colors? (All that glitters is not gold.)
  • 31a. [Pea-sized satellites?], MINI MOONS. Wait, what? Is this nail artist Minnie Moons? If it’s supposed to be “many moons,” those are two entirely distinct vowel sounds.
  • 37a. [Mathematicians?], SUM PEOPLE. “Some people! Hmph.”
  • 48a. [Expressions of relief?], PHEW WORDS. I get that it plays on “few words” but I’m not sure how solidly stand-alone that phrase is.
  • 61a. [Carmelite I hired?], NUN OF MY BUSINESS.

Okay, so I’m a fan of 39 squares of theme material, but the other 18 in 31a and 48a kinda lost me. Just me? Or did you share my questions?

Fave fill: 25a. ["L'chaim," in English], TO LIFE; “I’M YOUR MAN“; tangy LIMEADE; shoddy ONE-PLY TP; doggie CHEW TOY; and Eugene IONESCO.

Top clues:

  • 1a. [Toponym that's a bogus Shoshone word invented by a lobbyist], IDAHO. Toponym = place name.
  • 60a. [Bit modifier], WEE. As in “a wee bit.”
  • 50d. [Voyager discovered its hexagonal cloud pattern], SATURN. Wait, Saturn has a hexagonal cloud pattern? Am I the last to hear this?

Not so much a household name: 9d. [Boxer knocking Jack Dempsey out of the ring in an iconic painting], LUIS FIRPO. Here’s the painting, with Firpo knocking Dempsey clear through the ropes.

I liked this puzzle but didn’t love it. 3.66 stars.

Updated Thrusday morning:

Peter Collins’ Fireball crossword, “Social Climbers”

Fireball crossword solution, 4 10 14 "Social Climbers"

Fireball crossword solution, 4 10 14 “Social Climbers”

Okay, I solved this puzzle late last night and when I started to blog it, my internet went down and I went to bed. Let’s see how much I remember this morning!

This 17×17 puzzle’s theme belongs in a Jonesin’ crossword by Matt Jones:

  • 19a, 79a. [With 79-Across, participate in a neighborhood contest, in a way (and a hint to what's found inside the answers to the five asterisked clues)], KEEP UP WITH / THE JONESES.The five starred entries have first names of famous Joneses traveling upward, hidden within longer phrases/words.
  • 3d. [*Features of many suburban homes], ONE-CAR GARAGES. Grace Jones. Singer/model/actress, still around.
  • 44d. [*Beverly Hills Hotel watering hole], POLO LOUNGE. Lolo Jones, Olympian.
  • 34d. [*Woman's name in a 1979 #1 hit], SHARONA. Norah Jones, singer/musician. The 1979 song was “My Sharona” by the Knack. True story: Knack singer/songwriter Doug Fieger’s brother Geoffrey Fieger was Jack Kevorkian’s lawyer.
  • 10d. [*Do an extraction], PULL A TOOTH. No idea what Jones is in here. Toota? Tallu? Otal? Ah, football player Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Really not familiar to me.
  • 29d. [*University of Virginia program managed by the Institute for Shipboard Education], SEMESTER AT SEA. AESTARETSEMES … looking … Star Jones, lawyer who was once on The View. I think Star has ceded her time in the spotlight and we’re not really expected to remember her name anymore.

Most confusing yet solid clue: 69a. [Mount Washington's on the left of], RUSHMORE. There is a Mt. Washington in New England, but this is about the mount that George Washington is carved on the left side of. Looks like Gutzon got tired of carving clothing details by the time he got past Washington.

Fun clue for a plain word: 61a. ["With fronds like ___, who needs anemones?" (punny joke punch line)], THESE.

Solid fill, good clues, challenging theme to work out, 4 stars.

Ray Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Bar Food”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 4 10 14 "Bar Food"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 4 10 14 “Bar Food”

Hello, hello!

Usually, I’m all about any conversation that relates to food, especially its preparation and/or consumption.  Completing this theme with the different types of ways certain foods can be prepared/served won’t make me stop talking about it now, yet most of the answers here don’t usually agree with my taste buds.

  • POTTED MEAT: (17A: [Spam cousin])- A constant in my diet as a tot was scrambled eggs mixed with Libby’s corned beef, made by my mother before school.  Kept the eggs in the diet going forward, shelved the corned beef.
  • STEWED PRUNES: (26A: [Fruity breakfast option])- Prunes, in and of itself, didn’t appeal to me.  Stewed prunes proved not to be a game changer.
  • FRIED CHICKEN: (44A: Soul-food entrée])- Um, yes!  Though I’m almost positive that I have a recipe for chicken strips that would be more popular than most food chains/restaurants that offer them.  It involves crushed corn flakes, and I’ll leave it at that…unless you ask.  Then I might break down and tell you the details anyway.
  • PICKLED EGG: (60A: [Fish-and-chips component])- Ever had a jalapeño pickled egg?  I have, and surprisingly, I wanted more after the first bite.

Bonus theme answers, maybe?

  • SOFT ROE: (21A: [Sushi ingredient])- Never had sushi in my life.  Not even once.  Let booing/hissing begin.
  • LARGE OJ: (51A: [Breakfast order, briefly])- Or what a former Buffalo Bills running back looks like now.  As for the drink, I’ll have a glass.  No pulp!! (Again, let booing/hissing begin.)

Still not sure if there are four or six theme answers (my guess is four, with the past-tense pattern  with the first four I mentioned), but very curious the SOFT ROE and LARGE OJ entries are symmetrical.  Could be part of the theme, or could be a way to make me stop thinking about stewed prunes. (Note from Amy: The puzzle title provides a hint: “Bar Food” means these foods start with slangy synonyms for “drunk.” Mind you, I’ve never actually used any of the four words to mean “drunk.” They feel rather 1940s to me.)

As per usual, I ERRED (18D: [Committed a faux pas]) early while in the NW, putting in ONE-A instead of A-ONE (14A: [Top-grade]).  Because of that, ended up having GALA where FETE should have been (4D: [Big bash]).  Had the “meat” part of the first theme answer, once I saw the clue, knew it had to be some derivation of canned meat (it could have been exactly that, canned meat).  “Potted” popped into my head just in time before frustration set in.

Going back to A-ONE (and for those who do eat meat), am I weird for not liking steak sauce when I eat steak?

Now adding OLD SOD (5D: [Ireland, affectionately]) to the list of nicknames/aliases of Ireland I have to remember, bringing that total to 26 unofficially. (Honestly, the number of alternate names for Ireland is astronomical!) The III’s don’t have it when seeing them in a grid together, especially when referencing a movie that I’m sure none of my friends, nor your friends, have ever seen, OMEN III (36D: [With 38-Down, movie subtitled “The Final Conflict”]).

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: EDGE (55D: [U2 member, with “The”])- This is more like where sports and music come together to create one of the most indelible moments of my life.  I had the absolute honor to be in person at the Superdome in New Orleans in February 2002 for Super Bowl XXXVI (36).  I thought the game was going to be the pièce de résistance, but U2, the halftime music entertainment, absolutely floored all of us in the stands when they projected the names of all of the people who lost their lives on 9-11 on a big screen behind their stage while they were performing “Where the Streets Have No Name.”  There have been very few moments when I have felt in awe (IN AWE is also an answer in this grid), but that was surely one of those times.

Thank you for your time, and hope you all have a fine day!  And also hope you’re asking the same question I’m asking myself now: would FIGARO (44D: [Rossini’s barber]) ever need a STROP (12D: [Barbershop item])?

AOK

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website puzzle, “A+” — Matt’s review

beq410

Brendan is coming off an A+ month of March, where he published a number of remarkable puzzles, two of which were nominated as (and one of which won) my pick as Crossword of the Month.

Only fitting, then, that he would add a long-A sound to five phrases, after which hilarity ensues:

17-A [Diploma only slightly more difficult than Underwater Basket Weaving?] = QUILTING B.A. I couldn’t quilt to save my life. From “quilting bee.”

20-A [Bribe a gin company?] = OIL TANQUERAY. From “oil tanker.”

38-A [Bring in a piece of steak?] = LAND FILET. From “landfill.”

58-A [Indecent suggestion to consider?] = RISQUE FACTOR. From “risk factor.”

64-A [Slang that's out of vogue?] = PASSE WORDS. From “passwords.”

We’ll give that a grade of “B.”

Highlights:

***59-A is an example of a novel (to me) clue enlivening a familiar entry: [Only sport where the entire body is a legal target area] = EPEE.

***5-D [Lake that never fails to make grade schoolers laugh] = TITICACA. Yes, I recall hearing about that lake and this one for the first time in Mr. Linkins’ geography class in 7th grade. Hilarity ensued.

***46-A [Group of Death team in the 2014 World Cup] = USA. Yes, our draw is about as difficult as it can be: perennial powerhouse Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal, and African superstar Ghana, who have knocked us out in the past two World Cups. I have a $20 bet with someone that we won’t make it out of the group stage. So if we do make it out I’m happy, and if we don’t, then $20.

***NE and SW corners are lovely and squeaky-clean. Elsewhere I liked HOFFA, TUCSON and KHAKI.

3.75 stars.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140410

LA Times
140410

I had my usual experience with definition themes: even with 80%+ of the right letters and a general idea of where the definitions were going, I found them hard to complete; and when you do complete them, it’s not a very satisfying sort of a victory. Concept-wise this one’s solid: “-berry” answers get defined by their non-berry uses. In the end, barring [BLACKBERRY] WIRELESSDEVICE being frightfully vague, the theme definitions are pretty functional. The other three are [RASPBERRY], SOUNDOFDERISION; [HUCKLEBERRY], TWAINCHARACTER; [STRAWBERRY], REDDISHSKINMARK.

The most striking feature of this puzzle outside of the theme are the pairs of ten letters that intersect 3 theme answers apiece. That’s certainly ambitious! WIDOWSPEAK is nice, but IGOTANIDEA and ABITSIMPLE are on the cusp of being non-answers for me. Outside of that, it’s solidly-filled.

[Miniscule lake plant], ALGA is very awkwardly clued. Alga is more a morphological term than a taxonomic one, typically referring to microscopic water organisms that form coloured masses in their environment, plus organisms found to be closely related to them. Blue-green algae are bacteria, and most others are simple eukaryotes that are vexing for scientists to classify! In most modern classifications, no algae are placed within the Plantae, although some do consider green and red algae to be closely to plants. [Miniscule lake organism] would avoid most of the disputedness of the clue.

Anyway, 2.5 stars.
Gareth

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24 Responses to Thursday, April 10, 2014

  1. Joe Burke says:

    “If it’s supposed to be “many moons,” those are two entirely distinct vowel sounds.”

    Not for everyone! See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_English_high_front_vowels#Pin.E2.80.93pen_merger

    • Jonesy says:

      Thanks for that! I was going to say ‘many’ definitely has regional variants of pronunciation and to my southern ears both “men-ee” and “minn=ee” sound like things people would say…

      Gets a pass (maybe even bonus points for including oft-excluded southerners in the northeast-centric crossworld) from me.

  2. Brucenm says:

    I was going to make the same point without the scholarly reference. This reminds us of how relativized and regionalized vowel sounds are — c.f. the Mary – marry “confusion.” For many of us it sounds as ludicrous to refer to Mr. Houdini by the name “Hairy” as it does to sign a contract with a pin.

    This illustration arises from an amusing vignette. Shortly after moving to the Detroit area, I heard a brief news story relating to “a hairy fisher”. The context was minimal, and I wasn’t listening carefully, and I couldn’t figure out what a hairy fisher was. I thought maybe some kind of bird. Turned out to be a guy named Harry Fisher.

    • pannonica says:

      Seem to recall a punny image of Rodin’s Le Penseur, but hirsute. Might have been from Games in the 1980s.

  3. Stan Newman says:

    Congratulations to David on a very nice, thoughtfully made puzzle. Yes, one can make a low-word-count, theme-packed puzzle and keep out the dreck at the same time. It all starts with one simple notion: WANTING TO.

    • Brucenm says:

      Excellent, well-crafted puzzle by David; I was shocked to see the mediocre ratings.

      • janie says:

        a regular beef of mine. think we’ve got a troll or two? (hah! they’ll show us!)……

        ;-)

        • Gareth says:

          I think it’s because some people want a complicated Thursday mystery theme every thursday. If this ran yesterday, it may have been received more warmly?

          • animalheart says:

            I don’t usually comment on Thursday puzzles, but the Steinberg was terrific, I thought. Fresh from beginning to end.

        • ArtLvr says:

          Beef, no — but POTTED MEAT is great to have on hand in the aftermath of dental surgery!

  4. Ben Tausig says:

    Just a note on Byron’s AVCX in case solvers missed it – the punned-upon phrases move in descending order of quantity, from ALL to MANY to SOME to FEW to NONE. That constraint accounts for the lack of pure homophony.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Ben, I did indeed miss that angle completely! Thanks for spelling it out.

    • john farmer says:

      I missed that too.

      My biggest miss of the day was guessing ["Yo" relative] in the FB had to be MAMA. Not so.

      Very good puzzles all around today.

  5. Papa John says:

    Amy, I think I’ll never be able to completely follow your critiques.

    You begin today’s post by saying the theme is “terrific” and conclude with calling it “ambitious”. What makes it so good?

    I found the theme to be quite commonplace in style and not very interesting for a lexophile. (It reminded me of the episode in “The Big Bang” when Sheldon is taping his all-about-flags for a podcast. Only Sheldon, in his odd, childlike way, had any enthusiasm for the subject). Sure, there’s something to be said for national banners being evocative, but the only flag in today’s theme that has any verve at all is the pirate flag. I cannot see why you would call them “zippy”

    I don’t see what you find “lively” about the theme answers, either. Four of them derive from almost definition type cluing and the remaining two are specific knowledge types. None of them are punny or in any way tricky. The same can be said for the cluing, which, on the whole, was rather straight forward.

    Themes with a fill-in word preceding the first words are not that unusual or fresh, certainly not ambitious. In fact, I don’t see it as befitting for a Thursday gimmick. (Unless there is a more subtle gimmick and I missed it. That does happen.)

    I understand and agree with your assessment of the fill, but I get lost again as to what influenced your selection of favorites (I would have guessed you to wince at the inclusion of WHENCE). It’s curious why you did not extend your list of “flat” fill to include ATV, PTA, ONS, AMSO and GLO. These, along with AREA, OMG, TINE, LEER, LIE, EMT, CPAS, DEE, SEAMS and OOF seem pretty dull and all too familiar.

    Overall, I’d say it was a good puzzle, but no more than that, and surprising in its ease of execution and the lack of a Thursday gimmick.

  6. Gareth says:

    Second the remarks on the theme, especially the revealer – perfect revealer-fodder answer that! A black flag is also a disqualification in motor-racing.

    Anyone else have POPPET before MOPPET?

    • Winnie says:

      I did. And a bill for a pint.

    • Bencoe says:

      A black flag is also the symbol for anarchism, which is one of the reasons the band chose the name.
      A friend of mine when I was younger tattooed the Black Flag black flag logo on his arm.

  7. Paul Coulter says:

    If you haven ‘t done it yet, don’t miss today’s BEQ. The theme and execution were top notch, with all theme entries done to a T (or is that an A?) and not a bit of bad fill in the entire grid. It was fresh but very accessible, one of the best puzzles I’ve done this year. Five stars from me.

  8. Scott says:

    Black flag, white flag, checker flag: All may be seen at Indy.

  9. Lois says:

    Hurray, Amy and Brucenm. I thought today’s NYT puzzle was one of the finest I ever tried to solve. I don’t at all agree with Papa John, because I found the clues tough, interesting and surprising. Different strokes for different folks. It’s hard to know, certainly, but of course some may have thought that the puzzle was too easy today and that it should have run earlier in the week, as Gareth says. I, on the contrary, found it really hard and slow, but unlike how I usually feel when that happens, I was thrilled each time I figured out an answer. I found many clues and answers, not just the theme ones, to be unusually amusing and, yes, lively. I’m also wondering whether some of the lower ratings were from people who found it too hard – whether they never heard of Red Skelton or INXS (I’m in the latter camp). I thought the “whence” clue was fantastic, and so many others, such as the MINT that comes with the bill, delightful. Crossing SHE and HER was also good, particularly as the clues for those were not throwaway but solid.

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