Thursday, 12/17/09

NYT 5:28
LAT 4:02
CS untimed
Tausig untimed

Edited to add links to a bonus puzzle: Patrick Blindauer and Michael Sharp (a.k.a. Rex Parker) teamed up on “20 Years of Detention,” available in Across Lite and as a PDF. I test-solved it and had fun with it (at a Wednesday/Thursday level of difficulty). The theme ties to pop culture, so I thought it was a hoot and you will too (unless you disdain pop culture).

Francis Heaney and Patrick Blindauer’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 7First things first: OTTER POP?!? That 22D: [Sweet frozen treat] is not something I have ever seen in a grocery store. Fla-Vor-Ice, sure; we have those here. Not the Otter Pops brand. I had OTTER PAW at first.

The theme pokes a hole in a standard convention of crossword construction: Do not repeat a word in the grid. But on NOAH’S ARK (21A: [Craft that’s the subject of this puzzle]), when there was a FLOOD ([31D: [Reason for 21-Across]) coming, he gathered up the ANIMALs (54A: [Brute]—not part of the theme, I don’t think, but distracting to include it if it’s unrelated) TWO BY TWO (51A: [How the passengers went in 21-Across]).

In each of the six NW/SE chunks of the grid, the animals appear two by two, both times clued in non-beasty contexts. How crazy is that? So crazy, it works like gangbusters. Here are the critters:

  • 2D, 3D. SEAL is clued with [It makes an impression] and [Navy commando].
  • 14A, 17A. CAT is a [Hipster] and a [Tractor make, briefly] (short for Caterpillar).
  • 38A, 41A. MOLE with two syllables is a Mexican [Spicy sauce] and with one, it’s [Marilyn’s mark].
  • 33D, 34D. HORSE is that [Basketball shooting game] and [Gymnast’s equipment].
  • 60A, 64A. DOG is a [Frank]furter and the verb, to [Follow relentlessly].
  • 65A, 68A. LION is a Detroit football player, a Minnesota [Viking foe?], as well as [Louis VIII nickname, with “the”]. Didn’t know that last one at all.

If you’re going to break the rules, it better be for a damn good reason. “I couldn’t quite get the fill to work without including two variations of the same word” is a bad reason. “Because it’s cool that so many animal names have taken on non-animal meanings and the two-by-two ark concept provides an underlying rationale for the pairing” is an excellent reason.

So what else is in this puzzle besides the theme answers and that nutty OTTER POP? Here’s what struck me:

  • 5A. ABA gets split into “A B.A.” and clued [“What Do You Do With ___ in English?” (“Avenue Q” song)]. Ha! My dad had that same question for me in college. “Go into publishing” is the obvious answer.
  • 23A. Fresh clue for LSD: [Subject of “Hoffman’s Potion”]. It’s a documentary I don’t recall hearing about.
  • 26A. Not drinking coffee led me astray here. [___ Americano] is CAFFE, but I started with LATTE.
  • 36A. CLEM who? [___ Haskins, 1960s-’70s NBA player], that’s who.
  • 39A. The [PX, e.g.] is a STORE on a military base. I believe there are still things in my kitchen that my in-laws bought us at the PX.
  • 43A. Also not about animals: [It may get food away from a canine] clues dental FLOSS.
  • 45A. Wanted GORDY instead of GORDO for [Mercury and Gemini astronaut, informally].
  • 46A. [Forename meaning “born again”] is RENÉE. That is, of course, the female version of René.
  • 49A. It’s a bowling organization, the, uh, Professional Bowlers Association? Yes, that’s the PBA. [Group of pin-heads?: Abbr.] is the clue. Why did I start with WBA? I know that’s boxing.
  • 1D. Napoleon, I presume? ELBA is the [Hundred Days campaign planning site].
  • 9D. [Allen and ___, old comedy duo] clues ROSSI, which, if you ask me should follow “Martini &.” Comedy Allen wants to be Gracie partnering with George Burns, though they went by Burns and Allen, not Allen and Burns.
  • 10A. [It fills a chest] clues the treasure called an INHALATION of air.
  • 26D. Echoing the A B.A. clue, [“New York, New York” has one] clues a comma. It’s “songs about New York” day. The answer is COMMA, and I love this clue.
  • 45D. Haven’t seen GAY LIT as an answer before. [Works stocked by a bookstore with a rainbow flag]. My local indie bookstore, Unabridged Bookstore, does indeed have a gay books section.
  • 51D. Coal-mining crosswordese goes for clever: a TRAM is a [Vehicle that makes pit stops?], as in pit mining. Don’t most people think of trams as those long, multi-trailer motor vehicles that cart us around a zoo or take us across a Disney parking lot?

I appreciate a Thursday puzzle that’s Friday-tough but for a good reason (tricky clues or a clever gimmick). This sort of puzzle is the kind of themed puzzle we used to see in the NY Sun on Thursdays or Fridays.

Which reminds me—I still need to sign up for ex-Sun puzzle editor Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords, one tough puzzle a week starting in January for the low, low price of ten bucks. They’ll mostly be themeless, and I can’t wait for the puzzles to begin arriving. If you enjoy a good crossword challenge, don’t miss out on Fireball.

Updated Thursday morning:

Nancy Salomon’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Small States”–Janie’s review

Not only is Nancy Salomon the puzzle-construction-world’s generous mentor and friend, she’s a top-notch constructor herself, and today’s puzzle gives us easy insight as to why this is so. The title, the fill (theme and non-), the clues all work together to deliver a lively, lovely solve. Nancy’s “small states” are not achieved as the result of ingesting “small cakes” with “EAT ME” tags. Rather they represent abbreviations of stateKentucky, Oregon and California before Nancy trims ya down some and makes us smile lots with: names that are used to great effect in places we don’t ordinarily see ’em. Props to

  • 20A. “MY OLD KEN HOME” [Reminiscence of a dollhouse?]. Somehow, I don’t imagine this was what Stephen Foster had in mind when he published his song in 1853… You can listen to it here and read about its interesting history here.
  • 41A. UNIVERSITY OF ORE [Gold digger’s college?] And look: here’re some of the students (Class of 1933, by the looks of things), singing the the “Alma Mater” in both English and Latin. Or Pig Latin, anyway…
  • 58A. “CAL, HERE I COME!” [Heads-up to “Iron Man” Ripken?”]. Here’s the Jolson version of the song, and here’s the story behind it.

What else gives this one its GLITZ [Razzle-dazzle]? For starters, there are those physically symmetrical (as well as initial-consonants- and rhyme tied-in-) 11s each running vertically through two theme-answers: STRING ALONG [Lead on] and STRONG BOXES [Places for valuables]. Then, we get some levels-of-brightness (of the non-wattage sort) ranging from [Sharp as a tack]/SHREWD to [Downright dumb]/INANE. POOH [“Bear of little brain”], it seems, leans closer to the latter.

By using a repeated clue, we get a fresh take on two familiar ways to give a [Verbal nudge]: “PSST!” and “HEY!” These two almost bookend the puzzle and I think the puzzle benefits by having them well-separated. I even like the EVIL [Bad and then some] presence of the ICKY, RATTY GLOB… [Gross], [Torn and tattered] [Messy mass].

I guess a BART AB would be [Part of a Simpson six-pack]…, but a BAR TAB is a [Toper’s total]. To [Total badly] is not to BANG UP but to MISADD. Misadd? As with yesterday’s funfest, I can find no attribution for this word in From, however, I did find this…but omma don’ know. Feels stretchy to me, but (once again) takes away from my overall enjoyment of the puzzle not at all.

What does your ear say about including in the puzzles words with iffy etymology—like our pals funfest and misadd? Inquiring minds want to know!

Sam Donaldson’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 8On the heels of Wednesday’s NYT crossword by David Kahn, Sam’s theme offers another riff on the “heads and tails”/words-before-or-after theme. This time the [Heads of the tails of 18-, 23-, 36- and 48-Across] are the U.S. Cabinet SECRETARIES, and they really are the heads of those agencies—the crossword lingo “head” would be “secretary of,” but here the “heads” are bosses. The Cabinet departments are here:

  • 18A. [Court strategy] is ZONE DEFENSE. Knowing that Sam teaches law, I assumed this would be a legal term like SELF-DEFENSE but it turned out to be basketball. Robert Gates is the Secretary of Defense. He is not to be confused with Reggie White, the Minister of Defense for the Packers.
  • 23A. [Some contractions] are FALSE LABOR. Who’s the current Secretary of Labor? I lost track after Robert Reich and Elaine Chao. Now it’s Hilda Solis, and I missed noticing Alexis Herman after Reich and before Chao.
  • 36A. [Mid-Atlantic nickname, with “The”] is QUAKER STATE, for Pennsylvania. I briefly entertained the idea that the theme was brands of motor oil. Hillary Rodham Clinton, of course, is now Secretary of State, following Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice. It’s a shame that women keep getting pigeonholed like this, isn’t it? Three quarters of the most recent Labor and State secretaries have been female. Maybe some day they can try the presidency.
  • 48A. [Like hikers’ snack food] is HIGH ENERGY. The Department of Energy bores me.

Best fill: 11D: [Midway attraction] is a FUNHOUSE. 5D: GOOD LOOKS are clued thus: [They usually aren’t enough, so it’s said]. 36D: [Many a Canadian francophone] is a QUEBECER, also spelled Quebecer or Frenched up as Quebecois. FAKE ID, JOUSTS,

Worst fill: 16D: I LUV U, clued as [Part of a Valentine’s text message]. If you’re texting, you can save a character by using <3 (a sideways heart) instead of “love/luv,” not that I condone such things. RYDERS are 46D: [Comics cowboy Red and others]; I like to think that Red is Winona’s grandpa, though I’ve never heard of this comics character. I don’t think I like SAY AAH, a medical [Checkup request], but I just Googled it and it’s the title of a song by Trey Songz (featuring Fabolous) whose lyrics rhyme “pronto” with “Toronto.”

Yikes, look at the time. That’s all for this puzzle.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Turn ‘Em Up”

Region capture 10Read the title as turn M up and you’re mell on your may to understanding the thewe—an M is flipped upside-down to become a W, changing the meaning of the base phrase:

  • 18A. “Damn skippy” becomes DAWN SKIPPY, or [Peanut butter at the break of day?].
  • 24A. [One who sets a VHS of “The Crying Game” precisely to the money shot?] is a CRUEL REWINDER (reminder) who spoils the movie’s ending.
  • 53A. [Cash carrier for lawn game enthusiasts?] is a CROQUET WALLET (mallet).
  • 61A. [“You’re rich, with cabbage delish/Once tried, always on my side,” e.g.?] is SLAW POETRY. Slam poetry is what’s read at a poetry slam.

Highlights: C-less HUTZPAH is 42A: [Balls: Yiddish]. 12D: [They’re usually left after dinner] clues TIPS. 52D: [Prepares the pot?] is about tea, not marijuana—STEEPS. But not to worry, the Ink Well puzzle’s not going all square—the very next clue is 54D: [One way to be high], or ON POT. Technically, POT shouldn’t be in a clue and an answer, but I love the resonance between 52D and 54D.

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19 Responses to Thursday, 12/17/09

  1. joon says:

    loved it! different and awesome. i can’t believe i solved the NW and didn’t realize i’d put SEAL in there twice… when i got to 21a i thought “craft” was referring to something like NEEDLEWORK, and i knew it ended with RK, but of course it didn’t fit.

    great puzzle.

  2. mnemonica says:

    Never heard of OTTERPOP; also wanted GORDY; never figured out how COOP answered its clue. A very difficult knothole there for me. Loved, loved, loved the theme.

  3. Jim says:

    Who else noticed James DOOHAN at 8D paired asymmetrically with his Star Trek role SCOTTIE at 39D? Great puzzle.

  4. Bill from NJ says:


    Think two syllables – CO-OP board. I had the sneaking suspicion that the theme had something to do with “Star Trek” but I was soon disabused of that notion. It was a fleeting notion, after all, but it was there.

  5. Deb Amlen says:

    @ Mnemonica: If you think about it as a co-op board, it makes a lot more sense.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Very clever and original theme.

  7. Jim says:

    Arggh, it’s spelled SCOTTY, not Scottie. Carry on.

  8. larry says:

    I remembered GORDO only from “Apollo Thirteen” where it must have appeared in dialog 50 times.

  9. ledfloyd says:

    fantastic puzzle. i had CAT and CAT on top of each other and was thinking ‘something has to be wrong here’ then i got the SEALs and it all started coming together.

    and i love OTTERPOP as an answer.

  10. Gareth says:

    Another fantastic innovative puzzle! In my wandering away I saw the two long clue answers early and that helped most of it get filled in relatively easily. But that middle section was something else. Eventually settled on OTTERPOT/TBA – no clue… Add to that CLEM/GORDO/weird clues for STORE and COOP and you have a cranium crushing centrepiece, at least for me.

    Was I the only a bit confused by the weird symmetry exhibited by the MOLE/HORSE and SEAL/LION pairs?

  11. Matt says:

    Great puzzle. Weirdly enough, I got NOAHSARK early on, but didn’t notice any of the doubled animal entries until I got to HORSE/HORSE, which was the last pair for me.

  12. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I did some research (read: Googling) and discovered the differences (size, packaging) and similarities (same mfr., ingredients) between Otter Pops and Fla-Vor-Ice. So far on Facebook, friends in Boston and NYC had never heard of Otter Pops, and cursory Googling shows that Otter Pops are in stores in DC, CO, and CA.

  13. Howard B says:

    I’ve heard of Otter Pops before, although I don’t recall seeing them for sale in my neck of the woods. Or the nape. Or the general thorax area, come to think of it. But somehow I have encountered them, somehow. That helped ease the solve a bit.

    Did I mention I love puzzles that break rules with good reason? Pretty sure I have. This one was no exception.

  14. Nancy says:

    Aside from OTTERPOP, two surprises for me in this puzzle were EBOLI and ADELIE.

  15. Martin says:


    Otter Pops were aquired by the Fla-Vor-Ice company in 1996. Before then, they were competitiors.

  16. Martin says:

    To find Fla-Vor-Ice or Otter Pops near you, use this convenient store locator:

    It will also find other Jel-Sert ice products, like, Frootee Ice, Hawaiian Punch Freezer Pops, Pop Ice, ICEE, Slush Puppie and Wyler’s Italian Ice. Apparently, the key to success in the frozen sugar water business is diversity.

  17. Zulema says:

    Monica may not be too familiar with the ubiquitously lamented NYC and suburban COOP Boards. I escaped mine by moving to a non-Coop building.

  18. ledfloyd says:

    i remember eating the honest-to-goodness otter pops as a kid. but i haven’t seen them in quite some time. 10 years or so. (maybe since the 1996 merger?) however, we still refer to flavorice as ‘otter pops’.

  19. joon says:

    janie, i’m late to the party, but FANFEST is legit even if it’s not in any dictionary, because it’s the name of an attraction. actually many attractions. when caroline and i went to the world cup in 2006, there was a fanfest in every city that hosted games. thousands of people got together at the fanfests to watch the matches together on huge TVs, with many booths selling refreshments and souvenirs. it was a terrific way to experience the world cup on the (relatively) cheap. i’m kind of bummed that i won’t be repeating the experience in south africa. (gareth, tie one on for me!)

    as for MIS-ADD, it’s in the OED, albeit with a hyphen. i’m not sure why it doesn’t make the cut for (free) web-searchable dictionaries, but the citations go as far back as 1657 and the word is still very much in use today. at any rate, the word is legit, and even if you’ve never heard of it, it’s so obvious what it means. i’m not a big fan of awkward inflected forms of words in the fill, but this one seems totally fine to me.

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