Sporting a new tan and recharged batteries, Our Fearless Leader is on the way home from vacation. That means you get most of the rest of Team Fiend covering the Sunday puzzles. (Joon is busy figuring out the Matt Gaffney meta, but he sends along his wishes for a happy new year.)
David Levinson Wilk’s New York Times Crossword, “Works in Translation” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Here’s the current leader for the coveted honor of “Best Sunday NYT Puzzle of 2011.” David Levinson Wilk takes seven relatively famous titles containing “[thing] in [place name]” and clues them as how one would actually say the thing in the native language of said place name. Because three of the titles use foreign alphabets, however, those solving in Across Lite are instead served with English-letter transliterations. I’m going to follow suit here, as the insertion of foreign alphabets into an English blogpost is well outside my limited technical capabilities. With that disclaimer aside, here are the theme entries:
- The [1934 novel “Maw’id”] is APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA. Samarra’s in Iraq, so I’m guessing the foreign alphabet used in the print version of the puzzle is Arabic. (Lest you think the Arabic alphabet is much more efficient than our own, the “Maw’id” translation is only saying “Appointment,” not the full title. Get it? “Maw’id” is how you would say “appointment” in Samarra.) I know nothing of this novel, meaning it must be high-falutin’ literature. Hang on, let me check with the Receptacle of Truthiness, Wikipedia. (Pause to surf the web. Ooo, check out Justin Bieber’s new haircut! What?!? Natalie Portman’s engaged?!? As Anakin would say, “Nooooo!” Wait, what was I supposed to be checking? Oh, right, this “Appointment in Shangri-La” thingie. Let’s see here….) Yep, it’s literature alright: “In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Appointment in Samarra 22nd on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.” That’s nine spots higher than Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Take that, talking pigs!
- The [1968 hit song “Nazad”] is BACK IN THE U.S.S.R. The print version uses the Russian alphabet. That’s a handy word to know. “My nazad is killing me! I must go nazad to the doctor. His office is in the nazad of the clinic. If he questions the authenticity of my symptoms, will you have my nazad?” (What, did you just expect a link to the Beatles song?)
- The [1985 hit song “Neung Keun”] is ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK. I’m guessing the print version uses the Thai alphabet as that’s the official language in Bangkok. I’m old enough to remember this song and young enough to associate it with my high school days. The familiar part starts at about the 0:45 mark of this clip. I believe the song was supposed to be used in a musical about chess—a gambit that never really took off. You’re welcome, all three chess fans who read this blog. (Whoops, the aforementioned Receptacle of Truthiness indicates that the Tim Rice musical “Chess” did in fact appear on Broadway, though only for two months.)
- The [2003 film “Erase una Vez”] is the great Robert Rodriguez action flick, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. This is the last film in the famous “Mariachi trilogy” that started with Rodriguez’s cheap indie film, “El Mariachi,” and continued with the big-budget “Desperado.” The films are a Mexican homage to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the films in this trilogy, but “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” was the best of the bunch.
- The [1951 film “Une Personne des Etats-Unis”] is AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. The only French I know is from crosswords, and both “Etats” and “Unis” come up all the time. Accordingly, this was an easy get.
- The [1912 novella “Morte”] is DEATH IN VENICE. “Morte,” as the Italian for death, was pretty easy as it’s very close to the Spanish “muerto.” But it wasn’t until I got the crossing V from VIRILE, clued as [Manly], that I realized exactly where in Italy this particular death occurred. Yet again, I have no familiarity with the story. I’m guessing the title gives away much of what happens in the book.
- Finally, the [1943 novel “Whaddya Tink? A Sapling Stays a Sapling Fuhevah?”] is A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. Awesome punchline! A long title like this required the equal-in-length “Appointment in Samarra” to start the puzzle. I tink the payoff of the punchline was worth the more obscure start. Do you agree?
I really enjoyed the theme, especially its mix of literature, music, and movies. The fill kind of dampened my enthusiasm, however. While there are some nice touches like PHONE TAG, clued as [Failure to communicate?], and I’M WAITING, clued with the terrific [“Any day now”], there’s also a lot of ugly parts like MSGR, O IS, ANIS (my inner 10 year-old giggles every time I see that), ITALO, SRTA, OLEN Steinhauser, ISSEI, ICI, and others. I suppose the heavier-than-usual concentration of foreign words is acceptable in puzzle with this theme, but it did little to help my enjoyment while solving.
Other items of note:
- Great clue for ALAN KING: [Comic who said “A short summary of every Jewish holiday: They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat”]. Longer clues with this kind of humor are always welcome.
- There are couple of nice instances where consecutive entries get tied together well. STORK, with the fun clue [Baby bird?] comes right before STOCK, and in consecutive clues we get [Visit during a trip] (for STOP AT) and [It’s often visited during a trip] (for MOTOR INN).
- The [Constellation next to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor] is DRACO. If that was a bear for you, keep in mind that all three constellations are in the Slytherin Belt.
- Help! How is [Brilliant display] a clue for RIOT? I realize I’m about 75% off now (and according to this puzzle, once I’m [90% off?] I’ll be SENILE), so I appreciate your help in the comments.
Merl Reagle’s “Pardon the Winterruption” Crossword – Jeffrey’s Review
23A. [1983 film about a reunion] – THE BIG CHILL
25A. [Tainted cache of cash] – SLUSH FUND
39A. [They can’t be readily cashed in] – FROZEN ASSETS
44A. [Store owner’s hope] – BRISK SALES
61A. [With 64 and 69 Across, a quote from 74 Across] – I USED TO BE SNOW WHITE BUT I DRIFTED/74A. [Hollywood legend] – MAE WEST
90A. [Interviewer of seven U.S. presidents] – DAVID FROST
93A. [Snub] – COLD SHOULDER
113A. [1950s TV star] – GALE STORM
115A. [Film spoof of 2003] – A MIGHTY WIND
One line review for those in a hurry: The answers may be frigid but my pencil is smoking in a very quickly solved puzzle.
47A. [Before, to Iago] – ERE. Iago didn’t believe in words starting with consonants.
48A. [First name in fashion] – COCO Laboy.
81A. [Big name in soups] – KNORR. The K is not silent. Did you k-now that?
83A. [“Because ___ so”] – I SAID
87A. [Serengeti stampeders] – GNUS
10D. [Presidential middle name] – DELANO. Barack DELANO Obama I believe.
52D. [Drs.-in-training] – PRE-MEDS. Aren’t they maybe-doctors in training?
54D. [Creator of James and Q] – IAN. Fleming. Ian Fleming.
55D. [Mr. T’s cut, once] – MOHAWK. I pity the fool who got this wrong!
60D. [Old cry of despair] – O WOE. You never see Mr. T saying O WOE. Why is that?
76D. [Sequel starter] – SON OF. And how would you clue it?
86D. [Opera set in Memphis] – AIDA
95D. [Actress on whose show “The Simpsons” first appeared] – ULLMAN. Did they know?
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe Crossword, “Border Crossings” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Regular solvers know that quality crosswords conform to several basic rules, including diagonal symmetry, maximum word and black square counts, and avoidance of so-called “unchecked” squares (that is, every letter in the grid must be used in both an Across and a Down entry). The rule against unchecked squares is, in my view, less about elegance and more about fairness to solvers—every puzzle should give the solver two chances to get the correct letter in each square. Inexperienced solvers who see ?ARE clued as [Swiss river], for instance, can use the crossing to suss out the correct first letter. If that first letter does not have a crossing, however, the solver has no choice but to shrug shoulders and guess, and that’s a little less satisfying.
Here we have a puzzle with eight unchecked letters along the border of the grid (two on each side), but that’s intentional. How is one supposed to know what goes in those squares? Well, 65-Across gives a hint: [What the eight uncrossed border letters do, reading clockwise] is SPELL CHECKERS. Indeed, starting in the northwest corner, the uncrossed letters in the 19-letter entries that form the borders of this grid spell the word C-H-E-C-K-E-R-S. Let’s check out those entries:
- [Op. 214 by Johann Strauss] is the TRITSCH TRATSCH POLKA (not to be confused with the White Trash Polka). Thank heavens for the theme hint in 65-Across, because otherwise I would have had absolutely no idea what letters to place in those squares. Heck, I needed practically all of the crossing in TRITSCH and TRATSCH just to figure out what the heck this was. I know the tune, but I never would have been able to name it. The clue is not especially helpful—Jeffrey would call this an “Olaf.” And he’s right—telling me it is Strauss’s 214th work is not really any more informative than [Strauss opus].
- [Opposite shades] are COMPLEMENTARY COLORS. Today’s confession: I cracked this one before uncovering the hint, but I spelled it as “complimentary.” I wish I had a defense, but it’s not like I think of colors as being especially polite.
- [Reserves, as of oil] are STRATEGIC STOCKPILES. What a nice, fresh term. I have strategic stockpiles of Popchips, sea salt and vinegar flavor. They are my crack, and my local Safeway runs out of them all the time. I make sure my pantry has a two-week supply just so I am not caught off-guard. (This is not product placement in a crossword blog–I mean it.)
- The [Play with an anagram in the title] is THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP. Boy, did I misread this clue. I read “play” as a verb, not a noun—so I thought I was supposed to “play with” the title of the puzzle and anagram it into something else. Yes, that’s right, I spent time trying to figure out how in the world I could anagram the title of the puzzle (“Border Crossings”), a 15-letter title, into a 19-word answer. Alas, my stupidity was not short-lived. When I realized the answer started with THE, I knew something was up since “Border Crossings” lacks both a “t” and an “h.” Yet I briefly convinced myself that the THE was just a precursor to the anagram itself. As letters like “y” and “f” fell into place, though, I just got lost. When I finally had the complete answer, it made no sense to me. Only after googling “the mystery of irmavep” did I realize that this answer is the title of a play (a noun), and that “Irma Vep” is the title character with the anagrammed name. I won’t spoil the surprise of what her names anagrams to, except perhaps to say that it looks like this play sucks.
This is a great example of how seasoned puzzle makers like Cox and Rathvon can make a difficult construction look easy. Their gimmick uses eight unchecked letters, two per side. Those unchecked squares appear five letters in from the start and end of the theme entry, meaning the two lines immediately adjacent to the theme entries must have double stacks of six- and seven-letter entries. A lesser constructor (I have in mind myself) would have to resort to more awkward six- and seven-letter entries to pull it off, but the choices here are generally so smooth that most solvers probably don’t even see how challenging it must have been to construct. The constraints, coupled with the use of relatively few black squares, make for a grid with a very open feel.
The only rough patch was in the southwest, where one must conquer ATACAMA, the [Desert in Chile], AMANITA, the [Poison mushroom genus], DACHAS, the [Russian country homes] and AO DAI, the [Da Nang dress], to claim victory. Fortunately my mother used to tell me the tale of the Vietnamese girl who, while donning a traditional ao dai, accidentally ingested some amanita ‘shrooms while staying at her Russian friend’s dacha, causing the girl to have hallucinations about roaming the Atacama. The moral, of course, was not to ingest ‘shrooms at a friend’s house—advice I have followed to this day.
Speaking of the southwest corner, I liked the shout out to NPR personality and [Travel writer Rick] STEVES. He’s a Seattle boy, too. And I love any reference to GLEE, the [Series about a choir]. Jane Lynch’s cheerleader coach, Sue Sylvester, may have the best zingers, but Heather Morris’s wonderful portrayal of ditzy Cheerio Brittany steals the show.
My new word of the day is OROGENY, clued here as a [Mountain-making process]. Let Wikipedia tell you more: “Orogeny refers to forces and events leading to a severe structural deformation of the Earth’s crust due to the engagement of tectonic plates. … [It] is the primary mechanism by which mountains are built on continents.” Climbers will tell you that the peaks around orogenous zones are breathtaking and toe-curling.
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 39″—Janie’s review
Now, see that clue/fill combo at 9-Down? [Completely unfamiliar]/ALIEN? Well, that’s what a lot of today’s clues ‘n’ fill were to me. Mind you I started off decently enough with grid-opposite gimmes MESSIAH and DAUPHIN, then DAHLIA and PALISADES off of the latter. But the easily gettable stuff basically ground to a halt right there. I made some well-calculated guesses (STIRRINGS, TEA CAKE, IODINE) and by chipping away and chipping away brought this down (mostly) sans artificial intelligence. As in the best challenges, so much was (gratifyingly) inferrable. What clues were alien to me? Well, the list would have to include:
[Rich Danko’s group]. But yeah, I know THE BAND. “The Weight,” anyone?
[Its soccer team is nicknamed La Verde] for BOLIVIA. I know Bolivia, but not by its soccer team… Nice, too, how Karen’s included its administrative capital city LA PAZ [Illimani overlooks it]. And while we’re in that part of the world, nope, never heard of [Quiteños, for example] either. But they’re ANDEANS. Ohhhhh—people from Quito. D’oh.
[Old name for Kazakhstan’s former capital]. Uh-oh. More unfamiliar geography. I don’t even know the new name for Kazakhstan’s former capital—not to mention its present capital… In order, that’d be ALMA-ATA, Almaty and Astana. Not that I’ll remember… This was double hard for me as I drew a blank at the crossing of [Berkeley’s] HAAS [School of Business].
[Comic strip girl with a winged helmet] HONI. Never hearda her, but have hearda her mom dad (and the strip) “Hägar the Horrible.” Visually speaking, she does pair up nicely with [Cow-horned goddess] ISIS. And while we’re in mythology-land, say hey to ARES [Son of Zeus and Hera].
But look at all the beauties that inhabit the grid. For this I gotta start with the fabulous “I” that anchors the grid as a whole: the grid-spanning SNIDELY WHIPLASH [1999 role for Alfred Molina], the vertical WARM FUZZIES [Good feelings] and the bottom grid-spanner (a fave phrase of my father’s) “DON’T BE A STRANGER” [“You’re always welcome“]. Terrific stuff all.
Ditto EXPEDITES, TONE DEAF, (the previously mentioned) TEA CAKE (clued today as [Scone alternative], but resonant of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, too), and the snappy ZOOT SUIT with its snappy clue [Reet pleat’s place]. Speaking of Ms. Hurston, here’s a link to her Glossary of Harlem Slang. Be sure to scroll to the end (where zoot suit and “reet pleat” live).
All in all, one challenging and terrific puzzle. Love the Sunday WaPo team!
Theme: Add an “E” sound to famous literary titles with funny results.
23A. [Specific item in a sleepwear collection?] – TWELFTH NIGHTIE
47A. [How a rock band’s equipment damage was blamed?] – ON THE ROADIE
68A. [Amazonian oddsmaker?] – THE JUNGLE BOOKIE
95A. [Dressing room sprite?] – VANITY FAIRY
120A. [Fabric softener delivered overseas?] – WATERSHIP DOWNY
17D. [Goat’s friend?] – BILLY BUDDY
74D. [Aboriginal Walkman?] – NATIVE SONY. Please explain Walkmans to the kids and joon.
90D. [How a youngster might watch a parade, with “on”] – TIPPY TOE (not really a theme answer, and yet…)
One line review for those in a hurry: FairlY amusingie themey answersies.
27A. [Robert who played Roderigo in Welles’s “Othello”] – COOTE. When it takes that much explanation, you are in obscureville.
37A. [Indy car’s lack] – REAR SEAT. Wouldn’t you like to see a race with the driver’s mother-in-law in the REAR SEAT?
56A. [Jazz trumpeter’s nickname] – SATCH
60A. [Jazz trumpeter’s nickname] – DIZ
66A. [Fax forerunner] – TELETYPE. Please explain to the kids and joon.
87A. [Kathy of country] – MATTEA
99A. [__ Trophy: biennial European golf event] – SEVE. Named after the famous golfer Arnold Trophy.
3D. [Smooch in the shadows] – STEAL A KISS. Cool answer.
7D. [Narcissus snubbed her] – ECHO
8D. [“The Nutcracker __”] – SUITE
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Evad’s review
Very smooth 64-worder from constructor Randolph Ross; a mere 27 black squares were used in the 15×15 grid. (I know that’s not in record territory, but impressive all the same. Kids, don’t try this at home!) The challenging areas were the triple stacks that frame the top and bottom of the grid:
- “With no way to go but up” is AS BAD AS BAD CAN BE. I find “…as it can be” a bit more true to my ear, but both are certainly bad-ass phrases that are welcome.
- Something I hope to be offered later this decade from my employer is a GOLDEN PARACHUTE. The “ax” in the clue “It’ll make the ax not feel so sharp,” is the one wielded by your boss.
- At first, I wasn’t a big fan of GAINED ADMISSION (“Got in”), but it’s growing on me as a stand-alone phrase. Thumbs up or down O Citizens of Rome?
Continuing our Roman theme, the bottom of the grid, like Gaul, is divided into three parts:
- Here’s a million-dollar word for you, EGOCENTRICITIES. I’m familiar with the adjective EGOCENTRIC, but never knew you could make a plural noun out of it. The clue “Causes of star wars?” is cute; too bad the “star wars” couldn’t be capitalized as further misdirection.
- “Publication in which Column One appears” is the LOS ANGELES TIMES. Also the home of editor Rich Norris and some great puzzle constructors.
- Clothes that are CREASE RESISTANT are more likely called “permanent press” aren’t they? The clue “Unlikely to produce a clothing line?” reminds me of Bravo’s Launch My Line hosted by identical twins Dean and Dan Caten. Man (or should I say Iman?), how many reality fashion shows does the world really need?
Four other 11-letter entries hold the center in place: two names (DAISY MILLER from the brief novella by Henry James of the same title, and wife of Bush 43 veep LYNNE CHENEY), TOASTMASTER, clued by actor George Jessel, and what I think would make a great drag queen name, LOOSE CHANGE. The nickname MEL C for “Sporty Spice” (née Melanie Chisholm) was new to me. The rage that was the Spice Girls seems so long ago, you only hear anything about Posh these days, mainly due to her association with Becks and appearances on American Idol. Finally, why is an Arnold Palmer considered LEMONY you ask? Well, it’s because it’s a drink made of half lemonade and half iced tea. What, no alcohol? I can’t see that being very popular in the clubhouses. Small demerits for B-TO-B (short for “Business-to-Business”), the well-past-its-prime comment from Mr. Moto, AH SO, the overly sibilant PSSST and one of the oddest of “odd jobs” SHADER.