Monday, 12/28/09

NYT 4:29 (Sam)
LAT 4:27 (Sam) (2 seconds faster!)
BEQ 4:29 (joon–across lite)
CS untimed

Three bloggers on today’s post – here at the Diary it’s just another Manic Monday. Wish it was Sunday, ’cause that’s my fun day – my “I don’t have to run” day.… Um, anyway, you can expect Amy back tomorrow. In the meantime, you get Sam covering the NYT and LAT, Janie and her always-superb analysis of the CS, and the hipster joon dissecting the hipster BEQ.

Patrick Merrell’s New York Times crossword

NYT 122809Terrific Monday theme! Merrell takes four familiar phrases in the form of “A and B” and clues them with reference to a single word that follows A and precedes B. The result is a fresh variation on the common “word that precedes/follows the starts/ends of…” theme that should delight everyone from the seasoned solver to the modest “I don’t go past Monday” novice. The theme entries and their clues:

  • COCK AND BULL is clued as [One word that precedes “pit,” one that follows it]. The clue refers to “cockpit” and “pit bull.” If you tried PEACH AND STOP, well, I’m not sure what to tell you.
  • ROOM AND BOARD is clued as [One word that precedes “key,” one that follows it]. College students know all about room and board and, interestingly, those living in the dorms probably have both a “room key” and a “keyboard.”
  • DOWN AND DIRTY is clued as [One word that precedes “play,” one that follows it]. One tends to “downplay” the situation when attempting to “play dirty.”
  • ROCK AND ROLL is clued as [One word that precedes “hard,” one that follows it]. “Rock hard” is pretty obvious, but I think there are multiple interpretations of “hard roll.” To me, a “hard roll” connotes the game of craps, where a “hard 8” is where the shooter rolls a 4+4, as opposed to an “easy 8” like 5+3 or 6+2. But I’m a degenerate; I suppose others will think of dinner breads. I lost a few seconds here when my inner Beavis insisted on a certain word to follow “hard.”

The theme itself makes this a great puzzle, but let’s now pause and admire the fill. You like rare letters? Merrell gives you six Ks, three Xs, and three Zs. You like juicy entries? Try PEP TALK (a [Pregame morale builder]), XRAY SPEX (the [“super power” glasses] spanning 50-Across and 13-Down), movie legend Buckaroo BANZAI, and the nearly timely DEAR SANTA (the [Start of a Christmas letter]). For a Monday puzzle, this sparkles. You like food? Have some PIZZA, TRIX, OLEAN (eww), and, for the carnivores in attendance, ELK. (Stay away from eating DONKEY, however; it tastes like ass.) Want clues with some zing, even if they’re easy? You gotta like [Hellish river] for STYX and [What a swabbie swabs] for DECK.

Now, here are some entries and clues that might vex the newer solver:

  • [Ringo’s drummer son] is ZAK. That’s almost always how you see this variation of the name clued. When it’s Efron, think ZAC. Braff leads to ZACH. And the “Saved by the Bell” lead is ZACK.
  • [Long-nosed fish] is GAR. You need another “r” to get the actress Teri. Yes, it’s obscure, but it’s also legit and three letters long, so constructors use it.
  • [Scottish refusal] is NAE. I’m part Scottish, but I tend to say “no.” Newbies have to learn this one fast: it’s three letters and two of them are vowels–crossword gold!
  • [W.W. II female] is WAC, which stands for the Women’s Army Corps. Although that’s the name for the group, an individual member of the group was commonly referred to as a WAC.
  • [Cartoonist Chast] is ROZ. Didn’t know this one at all (heck, I’m unsure if it’s Chast Roz or Roz Chast), but that’s where crossings come in handy.
  • [Plains tribe] is OTO. You’ll often see it as OTOE, too (even better as a four-letter word with three vowels!). I think they’re the same tribe.
  • [Egyptian temple site] is KARNAK, a place famous for producing magnificent comic soothsayers.

This puzzle has all the attributes of great construction. A great way to start the week!

Sharon E. Petersen’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LAT122809An easy, Monday-appropriate theme: four phrases whose first words fit the pattern S_ELL. Behold:

  • [React to one child’s achievement, say] is to SWELL WITH PRIDE. Assuming, of course, that it’s your child or a child you have been teaching/mentoring/coaching. If the child’s achievement is hitting a baseball and the victim is your window, however, one might rightly “swell with anger.”
  • A [Retail establishment with a mollusk feature as its logo] is a SHELL STATION. In my neck of the woods (the Pacific Northwest) we didn’t have many Shell stations until they acquired (or merged with?) Texaco. Now they’re all over.
  • Perhaps the best-ever [Word processing feature] is SPELL CHEKCER. Never post a blog entry withuot it!
  • An [Imminent winner’s whiff] is the SMELL OF VICTORY. I’m not sure what victory smells like, but I know the smell of defeat is bad, especially if I wear de-shoes for a long time.

The theme is tight in the sense that there are no other common English words that fit the S_ELL pattern. I prefer the three-word theme entries because they feel livelier to me. The other two theme entries would make for lively supporting fill, but as theme entries they feel a tad flat to me. Still, I don’t think I could improve upon Petersen’s set. I might have preferred something along the lines of SHELL OUT CASH and SPELL IT OUT, but these aren’t symmetrical.

Highlights in the fill and clues include two television networks (MTV and MSNBC), ALL WET, the fun [“Outta my way!”] clue for MOVE, another appearance by TRIX cereal, and more edibles with the [Frozen waffles] EGGOS. Overall I felt that the fill was generally smooth (only one suffix, one partial, and one undisputed abbr.–I dispute considering TV networks and IDS as abbrs.) if not exactly jaw-dropping. If a grid is going to sport 42 black squares, I expect the fill to be a little more dazzling. Again, there’s nothing really wrong with the fill here, and one must keep expectations somewhat tempered regarding a Monday puzzle, but I feel there could have been a little more.

Quick Happy Birthday shout out, by the way, to my (Sam’s) older brother Jay, who today turns fif…well, maybe I shouldn’t say. What I can say is that he’s the best friend and brother anyone could want. Enjoy the day!

Updated Monday morning:

Tyler Hinman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Here We Are”—Janie’s review

In 1931, Dorothy Parker published a short story that is considered to be one of her best (and one of the best of the form if John Updike’s opinion counts for anything…) about a newly wed couple called “Here We Are.” Tyler’s puzzle has nuthin’ to do with that… Tyler’s puzzle is built on the sound of we, spelled in various ways, and as it appears in five terrific, lively phrases. Here they are:

  • 17A. WHEATGRASS [Healthy stuff sometimes consumed as a shot]. Yes, it seems that wheatgrass shots are all the rage at juice BARS (probably not the kind that are [Places to watch the game]…). I feel safe in saying, Ms. Parker never had a wheatgrass shot–unless you count all the fermented rye she probably consumed.
  • 22A. WEEKEND WARRIOR [One going on long Saturday bike rides, maybe]. Or long Saturday jogs, or long Saturday anything athletic. Because their workouts are so concentrated, weekend warriors tend to incur lots of injuries. Here’s an ounce of prevention.
  • 35A. WII-MOTE [Nintendo controller]. Imagine Elmer Fudd or Baba Wawa saying remote
  • 44A. WHEEL OF FORTUNE [Show with a head-turning letter turner]. More like a “…head-turning screen toucher,” no? Vanna doesn’t turn my head, although when I think of what she earns for what she does, she does make my jaw drop.
  • 52A. WEASEL WORD [Sneakily ambiguous term]. Great term. Advertisers use ’em all the time. Ditto spin doctors…

In the presence of that weekend warrior, there’s a bit of the sports-lover’s vibe to this puzzle. For starters, there’s Larry CSONKA [Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer who co-hosted “American Gladiators]. He was 1979’s Comeback Player of the Year, but never won the AWARD for [MVP, for one] (Most Valuable Player…). I’d heard of “Big Blue” as a nickname for the Giants, but until today, not G-MEN [New York footballers, to fans]. Nice to see a fresh clue for that chestnut. “I WON!” is the [Jubilant cry after the game]. Hmm. Clearly this was not a team-sport. A school known for its great basketball teams is U CONN, clued today as [Sch. east of Hartford]; and then there’s that Big 10 stalwart, the University of Michigan suggested by ARBOR as in [Word after Ann or before Day]. Oh, yes, and those aforementioned sports BARS.

Tyler gives us the scholar-athlete routine though by also including EDGAR (Allan) [Poe’s forename], William INGE [Playwright who penned “Picnic”], an allusion to Tennessee Williams’s A Streecar Named Desire by way of STELLA [Stanley Kowalski’s wife, in theatre] (check out this iconic moment from the film), SAKI [Hector Hugh Munro’s pen name] (seems that as a writer of short stories he was often compared to Dorothy Parker…), and even [“Enigma Variations” composer], Sir Edward ELGAR.

Other strong clue/fill combos would have to take in:

  • [“Colorful” coniferous tree]/RED SPRUCE
  • [Lid application]/EYE SHADOW
  • [Alternative to 1%]/WHOLE (that’s milk we’re talkin’ here)
  • [Piece of one’s mind]/LOBE
  • [Impossible quantity of Lay’s potato chips to eat?]/ONE

If I omitted your faves, by all means, speak up!

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s themeless blog crossword (joon’s review)

hey everybody.beq091228 long time no see, eh? (crosscan, there’s your canadian content.) i’ve been pretty out of it for the past week, what with swine flu and then traveling. i haven’t really done any puzzles since last tuesday, although last night i was feeling somewhat better and tackled the sunday NYT in the actual paper (well, the magazine).

oh yeah, this one. let’s see. i liked this puzzle. it felt on the easy side for a BEQ themeless, but maybe that’s just me? i haven’t looked at the other times on brendan’s leaderboard yet. the highlight of this 68-word grid is a triple stack of 15s at the center, and i loved 2 of ’em:

  • THE GLOBE THEATRE was the {Home of Lord Chamberlain’s Men}. and yes, they were all men in shakespeare’s day.
  • AIREDALE TERRIER is the {Breed that was once used as police dogs in England}.
  • and finally, {Achiness, sneezing, etc.} are the ubiquitous FLU-LIKE SYMPTOMS of pro sports injury reports. (nobody ever has the actual flu; it’s only ever described as “flu-like symptoms.”) now this one i could relate to. maybe it’s just flu on the brain recently, but i put this one and THE GLOBE THEATRE down with no crossings and it really blew the puzzle open for me.

other stuff i liked a lot: INITECH, the {“Office Space” company}, just because that’s a hilarious movie that still resonates with me even going on ten years since i had a job in a cubicle farm. right below it is SÃO TOMÉ, but i think there’s a mistake in the clue: the {Island nation off the coast of Gabon} is são tomé and príncipe, but são tomé by itself is not a nation but actually the capital of said nation (or the island on which the capital lies). the lovely word ERUDITION, of which i am overfond, crosses both.

i had a little mistake where i had plopped AD REM down where IN REM belongs, and i didn’t really notice that the DRAB and ADO crossing clues weren’t right. on the other hand, i like DRAB and ADO a bit better than DRIB and ANO, so maybe i’ll chalk this one up to “i shoulda suggested this alternate fill to brendan.”

totally unfamiliar word: {Comment, in linguistics} is RHEME. whoa. my dictionary says: “the part of a clause that gives information about the theme.” it’s all perfectly clear now, isn’t it? be that as it may, i’m going to start using RHEME to mean “the part of a crossword blog post that gives information about the theme.” alas, this post is rhemeless, but i’ll be back tomorrow with the last MGWCC of 2009.

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10 Responses to Monday, 12/28/09

  1. Aaron says:

    Though I had to guess on the cross of ROONE and KARNAK, I’m pretty sure this was my fastest Monday yet, and might have been even faster were I not distracted mid-solve and then tripped up over OLEAN and WAC, two clues that should’ve been gimmies. Still, fun puzzle, fine theme, a great mid-holiday solve.

  2. Wes says:

    I agree – the ROONE/KARNAK crossing is too hard for Monday. But it was a fun easy puzzle otherwise.

  3. Spencer says:

    ROZ Chast is a New Yorker cartoonist. I’ve been enjoying her cartoons since her debut in 1978. (Although I didn’t remember the date — I have Wikipedia to thank for that detail.)

  4. Grapefruit surprise says:


  5. Gareth says:

    That was indeed a very fine and different take on a Monday theme, though I missed most of it focussing on downs… As noted was punchy all over the show, DEARSANTA’s impact was lessened by it appearing somewhere else very recently (no surprise though.) KARNAK was a gimme but ROONE was today’s “mystery person with a weird surname”. Interesting fact to know The LABREA Tarpits are a cross-language tautology… GAR i know originally from a picture book of endangered animals I had as a kid: it also had the GAUR which I’ve yet to see in any puzzle, surprisingly.

  6. janie says:

    yep — it’s SPELL CHECKER, but i do believe our host was being facetious. take another look. the very next sentence sez: Never post a blog entry withuot it!

    and good catch, gareth. DEAR SANTA appeared ten days ago in gail grabowski’s 12/18 cs puzzle.


  7. Doug G. says:

    I’d have thought ROONE Alredge is a prominent enough TV figure that he would have passed a Monday test. He’s certainly been hanging around the grids recently.

    Did anyone else find the anatomical “disk” rather than “disc” an annoyance? Easy enough to get it with the cross, but that seemed a little off, especially with many ways to clue DISK in a more standard fashion.

  8. Sam Donaldson says:

    @Doug G. – I had DISC at first too, but my understanding is that DISC and DISK are entirely interchangeable, at least within the United States. So I wasn’t annoyed, but maybe that’s because Kris Kristofferson is well within my pop culture wheelhouse. Of that I am not especially proud.

    @Grapefruit surprise – Janie’s right, the typos were intentional. Hey, when the comedy’s free (there’s not even a drink minimum), you can’t expect much.

  9. Sam Donaldson says:

    Glad you’re feeling well enough to blog about crosswords, joon. I hear the flu is good for weight loss but not much else. Welcome back.

  10. Issac Maez says:

    Hey, just thought I would drop a line to tell you that your site took a little while to load… are you using a caching plugin? I don’t know if they have caching plugins for BlogEngine, but I know they do for WordPress and it makes my WordPress sites load A LOT faster! Maybe it is just my internet though, check your webmasters tools and see what it says the load time is.

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