Monday, May 12, 2014

NYT 3:01 (Amy) 
LAT 3:06 (Amy) 
BEQ 5:53 (Amy) 
CS 11:01 (Ade) 

Gary Cee’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 5 12 14, no. 0512

NY Times crossword solution, 5 12 14, no. 0512

Clever yet simple theme for a Monday: five compound words/phrases that start with synonyms for “clever.”

  • 17a. Samsung Galaxy or BlackBerry], SMARTPHONE.
  • 41a. Devious trick], FAST ONE.
  • 65a. What an optimist always looks on], BRIGHT SIDE.
  • 11d. Easily made profit], QUICK BUCK.
  • 36d. [Abrupt left or right], SHARP TURN.

Mild ding for SMARTPHONE being a single word and the other four being two-word phrases, but a very mild ding. The theme answers are mostly zippy, lively creatures, and the theme is straightforward enough to need no revealer (at least, I hope newbies can SUSS out the theme without assistance—but then, our puzzle reviews always explain the themes because even basic themes will be elusive to someone whose mind isn’t running on that track).

I’m surprised to see AGA (44a. [Turkish official]) in a Monday grid. I took a few seconds (literally—I don’t think I used even a full minute) to refill that small section with I’M SET (which I don’t much care for as fill), MEH (which I like but I think plenty of solvers would disdain), partial AT A (meh), and CARHOP (roughly on a par with BAR-HOP) crossing IMAC and MEGA. I don’t like Gary’s AGA but I don’t like my replacement much either. Your thoughts on Monday AGA with easy crossings?

Likes: HOTFOOT, BRETHREN (and what is the sisterly equivalent of this brotherly word?), BAR-HOP. Not-so-fonds: that AGA, UGLI, LILI as clued (how many crossword newbies are old enough that 1953 movies are gimmes?). Question: How broadly familiar is SUSS (29d. [Figure (out)])? I bet a lot of solvers were scratching their heads over that one. I like it, personally, but don’t know if it’s Monday fare.

Retro flashback: 15a. [Dial button sharing the "0"], OPER. “Dial”? Not “phone keypad”?

Four stars.

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Getting Your B.A.”—Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 05.12.14: "Getting Your B.A."

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 05.12.14: “Getting Your B.A.”

Good morning everybody, and happy Monday to you!

Over this past weekend, other than it being Mother’s Day, thousands of students across America reveled in their commencement ceremonies while they officially became college graduates. So this puzzle, composed by puzzle constructor magna cum laude Tony Orbach, is not just a timely grid, but a pretty fun solve to begin the week. In it, common terms, celebrities and even a historical figure has the letters “BA” attached to the beginning of the entry, creating puns. Definitely no BOOS (45A: [Razzes]) being casted down from my end after finishing this grid.

  • BACON ARTIST: (17A: [Breakfast side craftsman])- Was tempted to Google search whether there are actual artists that have use bacon as a medium, only to resist that urge and spare myself from looking at bacon art for at least an hour. From con artist.
  • BASIN CITY: (24A: [Handle for a big showroom that sells bathroom sinks])- Reading that clue was definitely an eyeful, just like the experience of walking on the Vegas Strip. From Sin City.
  • BALANCE SERGEANT: (37A: [Yoga class taskmaster])- A military head barking orders to get into a downward facing dog pose is something I would love to hear! From Lance Sergeant.
  • BAKING TUT: (51A: [Sound of disapproval from a pastry chef])-Who knew the boy king could cook as well? From King Tut.
  • BARON HOWARD: (62A: [Epithet for business magnate Hughes])- From Ron Howard.

At first, I thought I was looking for two word answers in which the first word started with a B and the second with an A, and after Bacon Artist, totally was locked into that. Went down to the rest of the theme answers, and once I knew that wasn’t the case, definitely wanted to GO CRAZY and know what the trick really was (26A: [Let it all hang out]). Other than that, had a pretty smooth go of it. No answer was better, in terms of looks and nostalgia inducement than MARKY MARK, even without his Fun Bunch (34D: [Old sobriquet for Wahlberg]). Another pretty good actor is in this grid with the presence of Marisa TOMEI (11D: [“My Cousin Vinny” Oscar winner]). Have rarely heard of a dollar referred to as a SMACKER (48A [Buck]), but have heard smackeroos and smackeroonies more often.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: OVAL (27A: [Racetrack shape])- The month of May is a HUGE month for sports that take place on ovals. Two of the three legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown, The Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, are on ovals, as well as American motor sports premier event, the Indianapolis 500, which takes place on the Sunday before Memorial Day.

It’s a short write-up, so my apologies. A busy day running around on my end, but I’ll make sure to come back with more meat and harder-hitting stuff for tomorrow!

Take care!

AOK

Jennifer Nutt’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 5 12 14

LA Times crossword solution, 5 12 14

This theme plays out much better than most of the “These words can precede that other word” themes I see.

  • 18a. [*Pre-performance audio test], SOUND CHECK.
  • 25a. [*Area marked with police tape], CRIME SCENE.
  • 50a. [*Disturbing potential, as of a gory film scene], SHOCK VALUE.
  • 61a. [*Best possible poker hand], ROYAL FLUSH.
  • 3d. [*Lasers at a rock concert, e.g.], LIGHT SHOW.
  • 36d. [Cause a sensation, or what the first words of the answers to starred entries may do], MAKE WAVES. Sound wave, crime wave, shock wave, the royal wave as seen when Queen Elizabeth greets her subjects, light wave.

The theme answers themselves are a zippy batch of phrases (although SOUND CHECK and LIGHT SHOW had me thinking the theme was about rock concerts), and the “waves” they make include three from physics, one from the social sciences, and one from waggish royal-watchers.

Top fill: YAHOO, HOT AIR, ACROSTIC. The fill I didn’t care for was rather sparse—ELL, plural abbrev WTS, SLOE, partial A TO, NACRE, and the possibly troublesome crossing of proper names RAVI and AVIA. Given that the puzzle’s got six 9- and 10-letter themers intersecting so much fill, I would not have been surprised to encounter much more scowl-worthy fill.

I don’t like the ATTN clue: 15a. [For whom the memo is intended: Abbr.]. Seems awkwardly worded to me.

Four stars. The theme’s a winner and we even get that bonus ACROSTIC.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

BEQ crossword solution, 5 12 14 "Themeless Monday"

BEQ crossword solution, 5 12 14 “Themeless Monday”

Lots of smiles for me in this puzzle:

  • 42a. [Big balls], AUDACITY. I started with TEMERITY and when the correct answer worked its way in, I couldn’t help but think of The Big Balls of Hope. (Disclaimer: Women, who usually have no testicles at all, can have more fortitude and daring than men.)
  • 51a. ["Long time no see"], “WHERE YOU BEEN?” Yes, people do talk like this. No, it’s not the apocalypse.
  • 57a. [Guys who have extensive collections of colorful toy horses], BRONIES. Male, non-child fans of My Little Pony, which I hear is a really good show as such things go. My son has a brony friend who’s an honor student.
  • 60a. [Poker night location], MAN CAVE. That’s where all the big balls are stored, I assume. Excellent crossing with the CLUB CAR.
  • 4d. [Depresses], BUMS OUT. Is it wrong that this pleases me?
  • 11d. [Brand that sets your locks], AQUANET. The essential hair spray for ’80s big hair.
  • 12d. [Sign of spring], BUD. Botanical sign, not zodiacal. Yay, flowers! My crabapple trees have burst into bloom.
  • 27d. [Disney Channel offering], ZITCOM. If I knew this term (for teen sitcoms), I forgot it. Love it!
  • 31d. [Site for anal examinations], UFO. Now, I had the central F in place, and all I could think of was KFC.
  • 35d. [China's home], SIDEBOARD. Little-C china cabinet, not big-C China in Asia.
  • 53d. ['70s classic that begins "Young man, there's no need to feel down"], YMCA. People! If you never saw the Village People movie Can’t Stop the Music, check out leatherman Glenn Hughes singing “Danny Boy” as the “Indian chief” and Steve Guttenberg.

Mystery word: 1d. [Golf shot that hits more ground than ball], BAFF. I suspect I have seen this before and been mystified by it before.

Mystery name: Didn’t read the news stories about this last week so I needed the crossings for 13d. [Marshall who was the voice of Tony the Tiger], LEE.

Four stars.

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20 Responses to Monday, May 12, 2014

  1. Thomas says:

    Re Brethren: Cistern

  2. Tracy B says:

    My LAT is by Jennifer Nutt, not Bruce Venzke. I couldn’t get anything via the Across-Lite option at Cruciverb for the LAT, so I went straight to the HTML version and printed from there. Something’s up.

  3. Gareth says:

    I don’t believe there is such a thing as a word not suitable for a Monday but suitable for later in the week. I have to play ball with editors because they disagree! Consider that one can either know an answer or not, and the fact that you’re in a set of 80% or 10% is irrelevant to you the solver who doesn’t know that answer. I’ve observed less capable solvers (especially my mother!) a lot and realised this. AGA is something most older people will know outside crosswords because of the time when the AGA Khan was a genuine celebrity. I knew it B.C. (before crosswords) because I listened to the song “Where Do You My Lovely?” as a kid and probably from other places as well. It’s that far back that I’m not sure. These younger solvers may not know LILI either. Solvers who ignore T.V. might not know NCIS. You may be surprised, but I can think of older people who have managed to tune such things out and don’t know who SHREK is. As many people who don’t know AGA won’t know OLSEN I’ll bet. I probably learnt him from crosswords, and definitely learnt AIMEE Mann. I can find quite a lot of people who will struggle with KLEES too. The point is, no crossword will have no unknowns for no-one, and if it did, it’d probably pretty uninteresting too…

    I’m surprised two BARs were allowed though!

    • john farmer says:

      What Gareth said.

      Just one note to add, having had a conversation with some crossword solvers at a party over the weekend. The population of daily solvers is a lot broader than you may think, and a 1953 movie is a gimme for some as much as a 2013 movie is for someone else. And it’s not all about one’s age either.

    • tom says:

      Excellent thread Gareth, and one I would like to expand upon.

      Consider a measure of how pedantic a specific fact is. Also consider the density of a multitude of specific facts. A puzzle section with one highly esoteric specific fact with lots of crossings that can be reasoned out is often solvable. Same result with a high density of specific facts, but all pretty tame.

      When I seriously downgrade a puzzle, it is when there is a high density of obscure specific facts that give me no toehold other than resorting to Google just to get started.

      I’m sure that there are many other solvers out there that have experienced the following phenomenon also. A large section of impenetrable white space utterly dominated by the arcane. One or two strategic Googles, and the white space shortly disappears.

      If I could get just one message through to the constructor community, it would be to consider the effect of the density and the obscurity of specific facts on the quality of the solving experience.

      • Gareth says:

        Agreed. Editors & most constructors are definitely aware of this, although it can be subtle sometimes, because one isn’t actually solving the puzzle! I’ve had to retool many a grid because of a particular area with too many difficult answers!

    • Gary R says:

      Gareth,

      My understanding (and I’m not a constructor) is that in the NYT, the Monday puzzles are supposed to be the easiest/most accessible and then they get progressively harder/less accessible through Saturday. I think this is intended to be the case “on average.” That is, across a large sample of solvers, a Monday will contain answers that are mostly familiar words/names/phrases and clues that are perceived as relatively straightforward.

      As you indicate, for any individual solver, certain words may be more or less familiar and so, the individual’s solving experience may not line up with the “average” (the equivalent of the “your mileage may vary” disclaimer used in American car advertising). But I don’t think that’s the point – what the NYT is looking for is what works for that average solver.

      Is there a word that is absolutely unsuitable for a Monday but is suitable for later in the week? Maybe not – I suppose it’s always a matter of degree and of the entire collection of clues/answers in the puzzle. The challenge for the constructor and the editor is trying to figure out what’s reasonable on average.

      I didn’t have any trouble solving today’s puzzle, but there were a few answers I was surprised to see in a Monday puzzle: I’ve heard of ‘Til Tuesday, but I don’t think Aimee Mann is a particularly well-known singer; I don’t think Lili was a particularly celebrated movie (and if the movie is 60 years old, it had better be celebrated); I liked seeing rarebit in the puzzle, but I’m not sure that’s in the average solver’s vocabulary. As for Aga, I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of people have heard the term, but would they come up with it based on the clue (I don’t think the Aga Khan is Turkish, is he?).

    • Nick says:

      SUSS is a “word”, instead of a proper noun, and if Shortzian logic – even newbie solvers appreciate learning such – is remotely valid, I think words are fine, assuming no Naticks.

      I also suspect that if LILI had been clued “properly” (“Actress Simmons of ‘Banshee’”, e.g.), many more people would complain much more loudly than the relatively few are about its current clue.

  4. golfballman says:

    where O where is the friday WSJ write up? I’ve finished it and even checked a couple of answers by printing the solution. But I would still like to hear your bloggers opinion. I thought a couple of the puns (?) were horrid.

    • Martin says:

      I thought they were all great. A couple of them don’t “look” right but when you pronounce them out loud have perfect aural fidelity. “Vitamin A” + tee equals “Vitamin eighty,” for instance. The clues took some thinking too. “Supplement taken around the start of spring, in a yearly supply?” is an example. A riff on “One-a-day Vitamins,” a version you only take on the 80th day of the year (like the once-a-year osteoporosis medicine), I thought this clue was weirdly cerebral in a fun way.

      Mike Shenk does some of his best work when “Judith Seretto” comes out to play.

  5. ArtLvr says:

    Yesterday I caught a BookTV segment with Paul Dickson speaking of his recent book, “Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers” and it sounds like great fun. He and others trace back the first written appearance of words and phrases we often hear now; of course the first with the mostest was Shakespeare… including “beast with two backs”. Next most frequent contributors to English were writers who were creating new worlds, from Milton with “pandemonium”, “satanic”, and “all hell broke loose” to Sir Walter Scott “Robin Hood”, Kipling “white man’s burden”, “rookie”; Sinclair Lewis “shotgun wedding”, Twain, Dickens, Orwell, Cooper “the right stuff”. Warren G Harding coined “founding fathers”, L M Alcott “coed”, Huxley “agnostic”. Also, that wickedest of wits, Dorothy Parker, came up with Knock-knock jokes! I think it’ll be of interest to many of the word-nerds among us.

  6. Gareth says:

    Royal wave among all the other waves was a nice cherry on top in the LAT!

  7. ahimsa says:

    NYT: I was sure it was Gigi, not LILI, so that NE corner was slow. I’ve only vaguely heard of LILI. The movie year did not help at all (they were so close together) but eventually I figured it out! By the way, I’m 53, so it’s not like I’m a youngster. And I often know old movies.

    Gareth, what you say makes sense. It must be hard for editors to decide what is widely known and where to draw the line. For me, NCIS would be impossible without crosses. I don’t even know what it stands for. I’ve learned NCIS, CSI, SVU, and several other TV show acronyms only from crossword puzzles. Whereas I see UGLI fruit (UGLIs?) in the produce section regularly. I’ve even bought them.

    CS: I enjoyed it! I didn’t recognize LANCE SERGEANT but the general idea came through. And I knew all the other “before” theme entries.

    I had a vague recollection of the name MARKY MARK but I had no idea that it was a younger incarnation of actor Mark Wahlberg. Huh.

    I think SMACKERs (plural) is more common. I don’t remember seeing SMACKER used for just a single dollar.

  8. Martin says:

    In the BEQ, did cluing FALSEDILEMMA with “fallacy” bother anyone else?

  9. About The Same says:

    @Martin: Yes. As did “cume” for cumulative, for different reasons: it’s CUM GPA in my books (and most forms I’ve seen).

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