Monday, July 21, 2014

Fireball 8:30ish? (Amy) 
NYT 2:35 (Amy) 
LAT 3:28* (pannonica) 
CS 4:08* (pannonica) 
BEQ 4:20 (Amy) 

Peter Gordon’s Fireball contest crossword, “‘Easy’ Does It”

Fireball crossword solution, 7 17-20 14, "Easy" Does It

Fireball crossword solution, 7 17-20 14, “Easy” Does It

Well, I’d complained before that the occasional Fireball contest puzzles were usually too easy, with metas only as hard as a Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest week 1 puzzle. Then this one came along and I drew a blank on proceeding. Turns out I was making it more difficult than it needed to be, and I just needed to write down the lengths of all the words in the theme answers. They would have been 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, etc., spelling out the first however-many digits of pi, hooking up with the “Easy” in the title. Easy as pi(e)!

Nice meta, straightforward once you cotton to what you need to do. Presumably Peter tapped a database to find suitable phrases with the right word counts.

Five more things:

  • 22a. [Anthropomorphic vacuum cleaner on "Teletubbies"], NOO-NOO. The Noo-Noo is good at cleaning up stuff like large-volume pink yogurt, I believe. Been a while since I watched any Tubbies.
  • 40a. [Moen rival], PFISTER. I thought they were Price Pfister but apparently they dropped the Price in 2010.
  • 41a. [Quizás, across the Pyrenees], PEUT ETRE. Never seen quizás before.
  • 36d. [Talk show host with a self-named show on "The Simpsons"], OPAL. Didn’t know this one. I assume it’s a spoof on Oprah.
  • 10d. ["Any Last Werdz" rapper], EAZY E. I like the way the crazy-spelled title signals the crazy-spelled name, so I didn’t mind the “wait, ‘Easy’ is in the title” overlap.

Four stars.

Matt Fuchs’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 7 21 14, no. 0721

NY Times crossword solution, 7 21 14, no. 0721

A little surprised to see those fat stacks of 6s in the northwest and southeast corners in a Monday puzzle. There were just two words in those corners, plus a handful of others, that felt supra-Monday in their difficulty. The theme, though, was a basic four-piece theme that didn’t overcrowd the grid:

  • 20a. [Big name in ranch dressing], HIDDEN VALLEY.
  • 27a. [Classic of English children's literature, with "The"], SECRET GARDEN.
  • 44a. [Small paid item in the back of a newspaper], CLASSIFIED AD. “Back” is loosely used, no? Chicago’s papers end with the sports sections, not classifieds.
  • 55a. [What unmentionables cover ... or what 20-, 27- and 44-Across all begin with?], PRIVATE PARTS. HIDDEN, SECRET, and CLASSIFIED all connote privacy. I prefer “bits,” though. Your unmentionables cover your bits. Picked that one up from a South African friend.

The tough-for-Monday words are as follows:

  • 4d. [Battery ends], ANODES. Perhaps all the physics and engineering people know the word, but I know it from crosswords.
  • The other corner has 52d. [Enlightened Buddhist], ARHAT.
  • 34a. [Narrow inlets], RIAS. Maybe you live near a bunch of narrow inlets and people bandy about RIAS all the time. I don’t.
  • 32d. [Decorative cotton fabric], TOILE. The sewing crowd likely knows this one well, but I find myself wandering amid TOILE, TULLE, MOIRE, and that other 5-letter fabric I am forgetting.
  • Maybe RES (as clued) and ERG too.

Likes: CREOLE, CLAMBAKE, CREW CUT, BAR-HOP, BLEARY, DURAN Duran (I wonder if the constructor originally had this clued as boxer Roberto Duran, cross-referenced to the “No MAS!” answer), FIVE A.M., PICASSO, and D.C. AREA.

I also liked seeing ESPYS just a few days after this year’s Espys telecast. If you missed it, I hope you’ll watch Stuart Scott’s speech online. He received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award for the way he is living with cancer. This Slate article includes the video of ESPN sportscaster Scott’s speech and also unpacks the valuable ways that Scott dismantles the usual rhetoric about “battling cancer.” “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” And when your disease is kicking your ass and you can’t fight, you rest and let other people fight for you. Beautiful and eloquent speech.

This puzzle might mark the constructor’s debut. It’s actually more polished than plenty of other puzzles that get published, so Mr. Fuchs is off to a good start.

3.75 stars.

Lila Cherry’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 7/21/14 • Mon • Cherry • solution

LAT • 7/21/14 • Mon • Cherry • solution

The venerable if not hallowed vowel progression theme makes another Monday appearance. In this iteration, it’s words ending in B*ND.

  • 17a. [Illegally imported goods] CONTRABAND. Always a fun word.
  • 26a. [Squatting exercise] KNEE-BENDContra the other four themers, this entry isn’t a single word, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt as a hyphenated noun.
  • 37a. [Enchant] SPELLBIND. More often seen in adjectival form, as spellbound. Despite this, it’s the only non-noun in the quintet. A brief investigation turns up no appropriate alternatives.
  • 53a. [Wanderer] VAGABOND. “Bond, Vaga Bond. Notorious bindlestiff.”
  • 62a. [Tuxedo accessory] CUMMERBUND. Hindi & Urdu kamarband, from Persian, from kamar waist + band band; First Known Use: 1616 (m-w.com).

Despite the well-evident theme, my biggest impression both during and after the solve was that this crossword was a compendium of names and abbreviations.

Names: People: 21a [Dada artist Jean] ARP, 23a [Director Affleck] BEN, 29a [Author Victor] HUGO, 40a [2014 French Open winner Rafael] NADAL, 60a [Christian of fashion] DIOR, 68a [Davis of "Thelma and Louise"] GEENA, 2d [Author Umberto] ECO, 6d [Slugger Ruth] BABE, 8d [Sir Arthur __ Doyle] CONAN, 9d [Guitarist Segovia] ANDRÉS, 47d [Tarzan portrayer Ron] ELY; 56d ["Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" playwright Edward] ALBEE; honestly, I’m surprised that 49d [ __ bubble: Internet stock phenomenon] wasn’t clued as [Megaupload founder Kim] for DOTCOM. But perhaps I’m being 55a SNARKY (which I’ve never used in the sense of the clue [Irritable], but which m-w gives as the first sense; I prefer the second sense, of sarcastic and impertinent). Fictional people: 19a ["Star Wars" princess] LEIA, 10d [Diner owner in "Alice"] MEL. Also, a sizable smattering of place and product names, which I’ll spare you and me the litany of recitation.

Abbrevs.: ECCL, BPOE, UAL, ARG, ETO, PAC, CIA, RBIS, HMOS, MLS, NNE, DAS. Come on.

On the positive side of the ledger, I appreciated the triple-seven stacks vertically in the northeast and southwest, though the collection of letters isn’t exceptional: ICEBERG/SCIENCE/SLANDER and NEVADAN/AVARICE/DOGGONE. KOOL-AID is kind of nifty centered in Column 8.

Minor flourish with repeated clue [Shade tree] for a pair of three-letter vertical answers, ELM and OAK.

Alas, the ledger doesn’t balance, is weighted by the distractive frass, and this was a disappointing solve overall.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

BEQ crossword solution, 7 21 14 "Themeless Monday"

BEQ crossword solution, 7 21 14 “Themeless Monday”

The last surviving member of the Ramones, Tommy Ramone, died last week. Brendan’s got Tommy’s faux brother JOEY RAMONE right up top in his grid.

Brief notes:

  • 27a. [Some pyramids and torpedos], CIGARS. I had some crossing letters in place and somehow knew this had to be CIGARS, though I have no idea how pyramids relate.
  • 35a. [They'll put you down], INSULTERS. I’ve never used this form of the word insult.
  • 49a. [People may act badly in it], B MOVIE. My first thoughts were STRESS and DURESS.
  • 55a. [Panthers' home: Abbr.], N. CAR. Among my least favorite pretty-much-only-in-crosswords state abbrevs.
  • 65a. [Social threads], PARTY DRESS. Good clue.
  • 7d. [Great conductor], METAL. Raise your hand if you opted for MEHTA first.
  • 11d. [Women's clothing store with an initial in its name], J. JILL. I’ve shopped there in the past.
  • 40d. [Enjoy a night out with the guys, say], BRO DOWN. Totally new to me. Have we had DUDEBRO in a crossword yet? I appreciate that dismissive term for hard-drinking, obtuse guys. Young d-bags.
  • 45d. [Like a beach that doesn't get much coverage], TOPLESS. Ah! I was thinking of the sand, shade, or news coverage.

Blah zone: ALBS, ACELA, USP, N CAR, ETON, AT WT, ERTE, INSULTERS. A bit much for a 72-worder, mayhaps?

3.66 stars.

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Making a Comeback” — pannonica’s write-up

CS • 7/21/14 • "Making a Comeback" • Mon • Hartman • solution

CS • 7/21/14 • “Making a Comeback” • Mon • Hartman • solution

Tidy little theme here, one of those “anagram-this-bit” crosswords. With revealer and everything! 55a [Making a comeback (and a hint to the starts of 20-, 34-, and 41-Across] TURNING THE TIDE. As you can see, the puzzle’s title refers not to the theme itself but to the clue for the revealing entry. To parse that entry: the letters of the word TIDE are literally turned this way and that—okay, fine, they aren’t rotated about their central point or reflected across the Y-axis or anything, but they are rearranged, which is to say they’re anagrammed in various configurations—for the other three theme answers. Now that I’ve hopelessly complicated the tidy little theme, let’s continue:

  • 20a. [Where opinions are stated] EDITORIAL PAGES.
  • 34a. [Roughage] DIETARY FIBER.
  • 41a. [Some hippie garb] TIE-DYE SHIRTS.

Very pleased that all of the theme answers are strong, in-the-language phrases. Impressed also that the TIDE letters, although they spell complete words in each of the three instances, are components of longer words—it’s an elegant touch.

  • Peeve averted! ODOR clued in a non-pejorative manner, 47a [Olfactory stimulus].
  • Not thrilled with 9a [Abbey Road Studios output] ALBUM. Certainly, recording and mixing would be done there, and the ultimate output is (was, would have been) released in the form of a record album, but the studio doesn’t do that. The record company, with its graphics and promotional department—not to mention the press that manufactures the vinyl records (plastic CDs, etc.)—puts out the ALBUM. The studio produces the master recordings, but that isn’t equivalent to an ALBUM.
  • If 1a [Squawk box?] COOP gets a question mark, I feel 26a [Element in advertising] for NEON deserves one too; NEON signs are only a small part of the advertising world, and of course there’s the pun on “element.”
  • 44d [Tax-sheltered nest egg] ROTH IRA. It’s like seeing a full (person’s) name in a grid! So often we see one or the other part of this investment vehicle, but rarely both.
  • Favorite clue: 64a [Ape a lion] ROAR. Runner-up: 8d [Rocks after getting rocked] REELS. Honorable mention: 13d [Big trap] MAW.
  • Sports will make you smarter: Now, normally I’d riff on a clue/answer like 50d [Permian Basin city] ODESSA and talk about the Great Perm (which is not a stunning hairdo), the ancient kingdom of northeastern Europe. Because the majority of the scientists writing about early Earth history were from Britain, most of the geologic periods have names derived from locales or peoples thence. The Permian of the Paleozoic is an exception. Moreover, there are two areas known as the Permian Basin, one in Europe and one in North America. In this case the ODESSA is the one in Texas, named after the city in the Ukraine (which is not part of the European Permian Basin, got that?). However, I will try to honor Ade’s trademark feature, in my own way, of course. From 2011 to 2013 there was a Ukrainian soccer club called SKA Odesa. SKA ODESA anagrams to ADE SOAKS, which can be interpreted as our colleague getting a bit of sybaritic relief. But I assure you, he’s very busy with his professional obligations and only projects  the appearance of a blogging reprieve.
  • Okay, fine. 32d [Hockey Hall of Famer Dryden] is KEN. He played his entire NHL career for the Montreal Canadiens of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. Wade REDDEN (49d [Blush]) played the bulk of his NHL career for the Ottawa Senators, also of the Atlantic Division. Ken Dryden was born in August, 1947 and is currently 66 years old. Two sixes. Wade Redden’s sweater number was 6, and he’s exactly half Dryden’s age, at 37 (I’m terrible at arithmetic, okay?). So as you can see, sports will make you smarter crazier.

Very good crossword.

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9 Responses to Monday, July 21, 2014

  1. Evad says:

    Fun Fireball, but you really just had to get the first theme entry to get the meta. (How many know the value of pi past the ten-thousandths digit?)

    • bananarchy says:

      I once learned the first 200 digits in a day after being bet that I couldn’t do it. I can only remember the first 15 or 20 (along with a few memorable sequences later on) now, though.

      • sbmanion says:

        On Facebook yesterday, someone posted a memory contest site. It contained a link to an article about memory palaces. Apparently, the basic technique is relatively unchanged from the one developed by a Greek poet who survived some kind of natural disaster then was able to recount where everyone was sitting in the building that was destroyed.

        One of the winning types had a memory figure for every number from 0 to 999,999. The upshot of the article was that the people who develop their memories for these contests for the most part do not score any higher than average in most cognitive areas, but know how to create memory palaces then simply enter them to view the long list of numbers, words, etc.

        Steve

        • bananarchy says:

          Yes, that’s always been my understanding; it’s all technique. I used the memory palace method (or method of loci, if you’re into the classical definition) for memorizing the digits of pi, although I’m no expert at it.

  2. Matt says:

    Here’s Kate Bush on the subject of Pi:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZSHr5E7fZY

    I was pleased to see Bethesda, MD turn up in the NYT– my home.

  3. pannonica says:

    Thanks to Amy for covering for me on the CHE and today’s NYT. Retroactive write-ups for the Friday WSJ and yesterday’s CRooked are up now.

  4. JohnV says:

    CS not a Monday. Much challenging stuff.

    • pannonica says:

      The CS doesn’t hew to the NYT/LAT/Newsday Monday → Saturday increasing difficulty paradigm.

  5. Noam D. Elkies says:

    The Fireball looks like a nice addition to a long tradition of encoding digits of π in word lengths, ranging from “How I wish I could recollect pi…” [not "…could remember pi"!] to the thousands of words of the Cadaeic Cadenza. Also timely, anticipating the date that much (most?) of the Western world writes as 22/7.

    For a musical take on this task, see my Steganographic Étude (MIDI here, explanations and further commentary here).

    NDE

Comments are closed.