Sunday, 1/3/10

NYT 28:28
Reagle 25:43
BG 18:07
LAT 17:09
CS untimed

Happy Sunday, crossword fans! Sam Donaldson here with a look at most of the Sunday puzzles. Janie will be by later to chat about the CrosSynergy puzzle. So let’s get the party started–after all, today’s offerings are easily the best set of Sunday puzzles we have seen in 2010.

Jeremy Newton’s New York Times Crossword, “Antique Finish”

NYT 01032010Is this a dagger which I see before me? Nope, it’s the letter H. Newton takes eight common two-word expressions in which one of the words ends with “et,” adds an “h” to change the ending of that word to “eth” (hence an “antique finish”), and then clues the result. Witnesseth:

  • [Wins a bridge hand?] clues TRUMPETH PLAYERS (from “trumpet players”). I have played bridge only a handful of times. I know there’s a trump suit in each hand, but is it accurate to say that a winning bridge team would “trump” the other team?
  • [Fame fades?] clues CELEBRITY DIETH (from “celebrity diet”). For some, celebrity cannot dieth quickly enough. I’m looking at you, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt.
  • [Stuns experts after new findings?] clues ROCKETH SCIENTISTS (from “rocket scientists”). This one tickled me. Instead of saying “You rock,” I think next time I’ll say “You rocketh!” A nice blend of modern slang and Shakespearean swagger.
  • LITTER BASKETH (from “litter basket”) is clued as [Newborn puppies enjoy the sun?]. Aw, a clue that tugs at your hearstrings. Can we keep it? Please please please?
  • [Recruits people to sell stolen goods?] clues PICKETH FENCES (from “picket fences”). I didn’t know that a person who sells hot property is called a “fence,” so this one took me a while to figure out. I’m slightly annoyed at the clue, because I think it should read “recruit” (without the “s”). But I am hardly an authority on these matters, so if I’m wrong on that, please let me know in the comments.
  • [A lace starts to come undone?] clues SHOESTRING BUDGETH. I think I like the base phrase “shoestring budget” more than the theme entry phrase.
  • [Words escape President Karzai?] clues AFGHAN BLANKETH. Here, by contrast, the theme entry phrase is much livelier to me than the “Afghan blanket” base phrase.
  • Finally, [Rebels against military forces?] clues BUCKETH BRIGADES (from “bucket brigades”). As I solved this portion of the grid from right to left, I had “brigades” in place and, for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a word that could precede “brigades.” I kept wanting to make “Charge of the Light-eth” fit somehow. Thanks to Google, I now know that a bucket brigade occurs when firefighters line up and pass buckets of water from the source of the water to the source of the fire.

Once I caught the theme I liked it a lot. All of the theme entries read across, and Newton did a nice job of adding some juicy fill in the downs, with entries like SQUAD CAR (with the tricky little [Black-and-white] clue), STRAY CAT (anyone else try “dog” first?), TEST SCORE (sorry, but I’m a teacher, so to me that’s juicy fill), CALL DIBS, GET AN ITCH and my personal favorite, THAT’S HUGE (clued [“Wow! Congrats!”]). And I like how YOUR GRACE sits side-by-side with ARMY TANKS. Oh, and a quick shout out to [It has an expiration date] as the clue for OBIT.

Both 1-Across (ENYA) and 1-Down (EMT) start with some old Crosswordese staples, warning you right off the bat that you’ll see a fair amount of very familiar entries during the solve. It seemed a bit awkward to have GTO right after GES, and I don’t think there’s any palatable way to clue STOA. The ELOI surface in the West, and the East features the abbreviated SRTA (for “senorita”) and HTS (for “Heights”).  Maybe some were bothered by the letter string (LMNOP), but I don’t mind it every so often. On the other hand, the [Tic-tac-toe line] clue always rattles me because it could be any number of combinations of Xs and Os. This time it was OXO.

There were also a fair number of non-theme entries that gave me fits. Did any of these bog you down too?

  • Early on I stuggled with the [Thicket of trees], COPSE. In my part of the country, we call them forests.
  • The [iPod sound?] clue for LONG I is a terrific clue but it had me baffled for way too long.
  • [Western capital: Abbr.] clues USD. I know USD as the University of San Diego, but here I think it’s meant to refer to the United States dollar.
  • I clung to “erratic” as the answer for [Not moving smoothly] for way too long before realizing that it was supposed to be SPASTIC.
  • [Spray-can art] is TAG. Huh. I guess I don’t get out much. I needed all of the crossings for this.
  • I had “nino” and “nina” for the [Tiny addition to la familia] before landing on BEBE.
  • I’m mildly embarrassed to have struggled with PILAR, clued as [Pertaining to hair]. In college I had a crush on a woman named Pilar, and all this time I never knew the word was anything other than a lovely name. Come to think of it, she did have nice hair.

Like I said, this was a fun start to the Sunday. Jeremy and Will, you rocketh!

Merl Reagle’s Syndicated Crossword, “Doing 60”

Reagle01032010The note accompanying the grid says “This puzzle goes out to all of us–I mean, all of you–who are right around the corner from a certain age.” As a member of Generation X, I worried that the theme entries would cater more to Baby Boomers. Turns out that solvers of all ages can crack this one–eventually. Each of the theme entries, clued as [60 = ___], requires a mix of trivia and math to get the desired result:

  • STATES PLUS FINGERS (50 + 10) makes 60, assuming one is blessed with a full complement of digits.
  • OLYMPIC RINGS TIMES NOON (5 x 12) does the trick, too. There are five rings on the Olympic flag. My recollection is that each ring represents a continent. North and South America share a ring, no doubt because we all get along so well. It used to bother me that Antarctica is left out entirely, but now I can accept it (by treaty, no one claims sovereignty over Antarctica, so it’s not a country and doesn’t contain any countries).
  • THIEVES PLUS QUESTIONS (40 + 20) adds the “40 thieves” from the story of Ali Baba (himself a recent crossword answer) to the common guessing game of “20 questions.”
  • SUNSET STRIP / MINUS STALAG (77 – 17) requires two entries. “77 Sunset Strip” was a TV show that ran from 1958 to 1964. That’s before my time, and I have never seen it, but the title was still familiar to me. “Stalag 17” is the famous Billy Wilder war movie of 1953; also before my time but also familiar.
  • A CALIBER PLUS A CALIBER offers multiple ways to reach 60. The references are to bullets, and I figured the numbers were supposed to be (38 + 22). But a little research indicates that (43 + 17), (32 + 28), and (30 + 30) might also be valid caliber combinations.
  • U-TURN DIVIDED BY WISE MEN (180 / 3) is my favorite of the bunch. A u-turn is a 180-degree turn, and the three wise men put the “myrrh” in “Myrrh-y Christmas.”
  • MINUTES PLUS MOSTEL (60 + 0) combines the “60 Minutes” news program with actor Zero Mostel.

I enjoyed piecing the theme entries together, but I found portions of the fill most vexing. There was lots that was new to me. A small sample:

  • [Joseph Campbell’s “The Power ___”] OF MYTH. I kept reading this as “The Power of My ___.” My B.O.?
  • [“Ach du ___!”] LIEBER. This apparently translates into something akin to “Oh dear me!” How fitting.
  • [Author Ambler] is ERIC. Because there are no other famous Erics, apparently.
  • [Paradise of “On the Road”] is SAL, the main character in Jack Kerouac’s novel.
  • [Actress Lanchester] is ELSA.
  • [Poker Flat creator Bret] HARTE. Harte wrote “The OUtcasts of Poker Flat.” Never heard of him. Bret Hart the professional wrestler, on the other hand, I know. That last sentence may cost me my blogging privileges.

On the bright side, I learned a lot. On the dim side, however, I suppose I have confirmation that I’m a moron. Despite my slower-than-usual solving time, however, I got a kick out of this puzzle.  Some favorite clues and fill: YEAH YEAH, clued as [“I heard ya the first time”]; [Most earthlings] as the clue for ASIANS; [Like SpongeBob’s tie] cluing RED; [It goes with a Martini?] as the clue for ROSSI; and [Energy shortage?] leading to ANEMIA.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe Crossword, “What It Is”

BG01032010Cox and Rathvon’s puzzle has the same title as Reagle’s puzzle from last week, but the theme is different. With apologies to Forrest Gump, this puzzle is like a box of chocolates. Each theme entry is a slightly different take on a literal application of the same clue, [What this is?]. This is what it is:

  • The first theme entry, at 23-Across, is, well, TWENTY-THREE ACROSS. Ah, I thought, all of the theme entries will spell out their positions in the grid.
  • But the next theme entry, at 44-Across, turns out to be AFTERSHAVE, which makes sense because the answer to 43-Across is SHAVE. Thus, 44-Across is “after” SHAVE. Cute, ay?
  • The third theme entry, at 63-Across, takes yet another spin: SELF-REFERENTIAL. Sure enough, that’s one way to describe the “What this is” clue.
  • Next, at 90-Across, is TEN LETTERS. Yep, “ten letters” has ten letters.
  • The next theme entry starts at 16-Down and continues into 74-Down. That’s because it is CUT INTO TWO / PARTS.
  • Symmetrically opposite that entry is 71-Down, UNDERPANTS. That works because the answer to 37-Down, the word immediately above, is PANTS.
  • Finally, 112-Across is THE LAST THEME ENTRY. No argument here.

The grid comes alive with some sparkly fill, like DON’T MOVE, SNEAK PEEK, SUIT UP, HAVE-NOT, SAD TO SAY, and FLAMERS. I liked the clue [Apt anagram of “my car”] for the Toyota CAMRY.

Here too there was lots of proof that I have much to learn. I had to play the alphabet game on the crossing of LEKVAR, the [Pastry filling with prunes] and ELVER, the [Wee wet wiggler]. That “V” was all that stood between me and the Happy Pencil on Across Lite. Too bad I started at the wrong end of the alphabet. Elver?? “Eelet” seems like a much better word for a baby eel, don’t you think? Baby owl = owlet, baby eel = eelet. At least the clue is great–“wee wet wiggler” seems delightfully tawdry.

I was also at sea with LAMIA, a [Female vampire], TOGUE, the [Lake trout a.k.a. namaycush], and Clifford ODETS, the [“Awake and Sing!” playwright].  Oddly, I was on board with most of the other names in the grid. You needed to know baseballer COCO Crisp, “Welcome Back Kotter” and poker commentator Gabe KAPLAN, former Egyptian leader ANWAR Sadat, actress AMANDA Plummer, giant Giant Mel OTT, Phillies legend Larry BOWA, Yankee catcher Jose POSADA, Sir GAWAIN, and the enchanting HALLE Berry, among others.

Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times Crossword, “51 Pickup”

LAT 01032010As most of you know, the crossword community lost one of its most entertaining and prolific constructors with the recent death of Dan Naddor. Today’s puzzle is a fine example of all of the qualities we admire in Naddor’s work: high density of theme entries (11!); a simple letter-addition theme that not only produces funny results but also provides an assist in solving; wide-open corners of nontheme fill; and the odd “Oh no he didn’t!” entry. (In this case, HORNY.)

Each of the theme entries inserts a Roman 51 (LI) into a well-known phrase. With 11 theme entries, get ready for a lot of bullet points:

  • [Space cadet’s selection?] is an OBLIVIOUS CHOICE. I’m sure this was an “obvious choice” for a theme entry.
  • [“Let’s go, Mr. North”] clues COME ON, OLIVER. A fun variation of “come on over” that incorporates Oliver North from Iran-Contra fame. Maybe the reference is a bit dated, but it’s more recent than the other Oliver that comes readily to my mind: Cousin Oliver from “The Brady Bunch.” I wonder why this clue lacks a question mark.
  • The [Fish-eating bird’s dessert?] is PELICAN PIE. That’s one way to ruin a pecan pie–add pelicans.
  • [Powell’s portrait painter?] is a COLIN ARTIST, playing off “con artist.” Likely, Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State (among other things), has sat for a few portraits in his day.
  • The [Badly neglected vehicle?] is a SQUALID CAR, based on a term familiar enough (SPOILER ALERT!) for those who completed today’s NYT.
  • [Scores kept by Cinderella’s godmother?] are FAIRY TALLIES, from “fairy tales.” I like the imagery from the clue.
  • The [Ultimate caterer?] is THE LAST SUPPLIER, from “The Last Supper.” Easily my favorite theme entry of the bunch, but also my least favorite clue.
  • Add 51 to Victoria Beckham (nee Posh Spice) and you get a [Seasoning for kielbasa?], or POLISH SPICE.
  • [Sarah’s campaign strategist?] would be a PALIN HANDLER, from “panhandler.” Going from a panhandler to Sarah Palin – there’s a joke in there somewhere but I’m not hip enough to dig it out.
  • [Lassie’s luggage carrier?] is a COLLIE PORTER, from the songwriter Cole Porter. That’s a pretty creative theme entry, I think.
  • Finally, the [Analgesic for a post-snorkeling headache?] is CORAL RELIEF, from “coral reef.”

Naddor impressively pairs two of the down theme entries with triple-stacked 9s in the NE and SW corners. Those corners feature ILL AT EASE, AMINO ACID, and RIDE-SHARE, but they weren’t the only sectors with good fill. Other sparkling entries included CAN’T FAIL, LENT A HAND, HEPTADS, SPOILER, and Tennyson’s poem, THE EAGLE.

Lots of names are scattered throughout the grid, which always pleases me. We have the great CLORIS Leachman, MAMIE Eisenhower (clued as [Ike’s mate], which had me thinking of running-mate at first), Susan SONTAG, [Vatican Palace painter] RAPHAEL, recent Kennedy Center honoree Robert DE NIRO, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony ROMO, former NBA center Vlade DIVAC, [Jazz flutist Herbie] MANN, and crossword staple Omar EPPS, among others. If you read my writeup of Merl Reagle’s puzzle above, you won’t be surprised to know that I got [Wrestler Lou] ALBANO right off the bat.

Only a few tricky spots for me, probably because most all of the names came to me quickly. I was expecting a funnier answer for [Valley Girl’s home, perhaps] than ENCINO. I dunno, something along the lines of LIKE MY TOTALLY AWESOME CONDO. I resisted LEANT ([Inclined]) because its first letter crossed with LENT A HAND. Didn’t know the [Dadaist collection], ARPS, but the crossings were easy enough. Same with DAL, the [Indian lentil dish]–foreign to me but easily gettable through crossings. Amy might be disappointed in me, but I didn’t know NILES as a [Chicago suburb]. I only know the character Niles Crane from “Frasier.”

There you have it–another in the long line of fun and lively Naddor puzzles. While we mourn Dan’s passing and offer condolences to his family, we must also celebrate and be thankful for the many hours of wit, wordplay, and challenge that he gave us over a relatively short period. Thanks, Dan, for sharing your talents with a wide audience.

Updated Sunday morning:

Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washinton Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Janie’s review

If you were to [Play a critical role?] and RATE this puzzle, what would you say? Would you say it delivered the challenge it promised? I would. And then I’d also have to say that while the SW and the NW knocked me about some, it was a fair solve and it was a fun solve. But it was a puzzle that took me three main passes: once for the NE, SE and CENTRAL (here clued as [Chief] and not in connection with location) areas; again for the SW (even with GRAPPA [Italian pomace brandy] as a gimme); and one mo’ time for the NW.

I love the grid’s various sections: the NW and SE with their triple eight-columns; the stacked pairs of nines crossing four columns of six in the NE and SW; and the triple seven-columns at center (flanked at either side by overlap sevens).

The grid’s fill and cluing is even finer, and I’ll list a lotta the highlights:

  • WIKIPEDIA with its etymological clue [Reference from the Hawaiian and Greek for “quick education”].
  • EAST RIVER [Rikers Island setting] and a gimme for this Law & Order-watching Manhattanite.
  • [Now or never?] for ADVERB. Ouch. This kinda parts-of-speech clue almost always gets the better of me.
  • [Service closer] for POSTLUDE. Ah. The musical end of church service and not, say, Ms. Williams’s match-ending tennis serve.
  • À L’ORANGE [Saucy duck tail?]. Get it? Duck à l’orange
  • [Annular cake] for BUNDT. Annular is a 25¢-word meaning “forming a ring.”
  • The beautiful PIANO ROLL for that [Perforated performance product]. The double “L” made me think this was going for some kind of pill–but then again, a pill is more scored than “perforated.”
  • [Numbers before or after each break] for PAGINATES. This was a mean one. “Numbers” is a verb here, not a noun. Got me again.
  • [Lock up in a bar room?] A cage is a room with bars, so the word in question is ENCAGE. The clue is not, then, a reference to being held against one’s will at Rick’s (Bogey’s Casablanca establishment), for example.
  • [Bars shown in almost every romance anime] are KARAOKE. Are karaoke bars as popular as ever? (Shudder…)
  • [It’s a wrap] x 2 = FEATHER BOA and SARONG.
  • Penciling in P.D.Q. [Bach intro] lightly let me pencil in DELHI and QATAR (lightly). POOP DECKS for FORE DECKS [Floors in front of bridges], however, really put a crimp in things. Fortunately I re-thought [Queue] and entered PLAIT, which opened my mind to the superb “I HATE YOU” [Malevolent mouthing].
  • And the pièce de résistance? I [Make no bones about it] and AVOW it’s [Moon droppings?] for TROU. Works every time.
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17 Responses to Sunday, 1/3/10

  1. Crosscan says:

    Sam, how did you get stuck with 4 Sunday sized puzzles to blog? :)

    I think the colours of the Olympic rings were chosen because every country’s flag contains at least one of the colours. It will be all Olympics, all the time around here soon.

  2. Sam Donaldson says:

    Yes, Crosscan, how did I get stuck with four 21x puzzles? That’s OK, though–I’d happily blog a dozen 21x puzzles instead of the Stumper. I think I got the good end of the deal.

  3. ArtLvr says:

    Sam, congrats on getting all that blogging done so fast! I thought the NYT theme was a fresh one, and knowing early on what to look for, -ETH, only helped a teensy bit. You’re probably right about wrongness of the first one, in that one doesn’t usually say that a winner in a bridge hand trumps the players. They can be reneged on, though! As to your other question, I’d say “recruits” or chooses for picketh (fences) is okay. Loved the party coming-out — GENIE!

    I didn’t agree that the grid was overloaded with tired crosswordese: on the contrary, the 3-letter answers were mostly not the most common ones — rather a neat bunch, in fact:
    EIN, SKA, SKI and SKY
    LIL, KID, PET and EYE
    NAE, NAM, HTS and RIV
    TUG, TAG, CUT and LAG
    ESO, FOE, GTO and TSO
    GNU, COO, USD and IZE
    INI, ARI, AMY and ANA
    NTH, ETH, EST and ETE
    RAH, BAS, SGT and GES

  4. Joseph Tomczyk says:

    If’n any of y’all din’t hear via NPR WEESun today — and may wanna comment on it — Bruce Hornsby asked whether
    the possessive for “Shortz” (singular -:) oughtta be
    “Shortz’ ” or “Shortz’s”.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Ps: How can one add an avatar herein?

  5. janie says:

    did someone say “avatar”?

    here’s the site that should help, joseph!


  6. Angela says:

    A late comer to crosswords, I bemoan the fact that I haven’t yet developed that veteran’s “crossword” brain that sees answers I can’t see. However something clicked this Sunday and I somehow got the “eth” answers almost immediately. I do have one question. Although I got 101 across by filling in the squares around it I still don’t get how “Afghan blanket” connects to the clue “Words escape President Karsai.”

  7. Evad says:

    Welcome Angela, you join an elite set of Angela’s here Chez Fiend. (Well, at least PG13!)

    If you think of the intransitive verb “to blank” (e.g., “My mind blanked for a second”), blanketh would be the “antique” form to have words escape you.

  8. Gareth says:

    CS: Was a grand, but much tougher than normal puzzle, thanks to it’s Bob Klahn by-line. If all the Sunday themeless puzzles were at this difficulty it’d be awesome! Duck A’lorange reminded me of the Only Fools and Horses joke “How do they say duck a l’orange in French then?” It’s a stupid joke really… You didn’t mention 40A Janie, which was my personal favorite clue (but there are so many, so I really can’t hold it against you!) mostly because I just saw quarterback and gave up…

    BTW. Driving back to another year of varsity tomorrow. Gotta look forward to 1150km of driving!

  9. janie says:

    gareth (or is it really “garet…”?) — re: 40a — how right you are, it’s absolutely mention-worthy. thank you for doing so yourself and understanding why i didn’t! and your “stupid joke” is right up my alley, i confess.

    safe travels and happy studies!!


  10. Jon S says:

    Are ELOI and ENYA becoming the new ORT and ESNE? Just wondering if the puzzle masters go through a cycle of banishing answers that are, oh so overused. I’m a somewhat fan of the ethereal singer, but maybe it’s time to find another fallback answer. And does H.G. Wells get a commission every time ELOI is used?

  11. Sam Donaldson says:

    Hi, Jon S:

    ENYA and ELOI are very important tools for constructors, as are all four-letter words with three vowels (AREA, AQUA, ARIA, ASIA, etc.). They’re the building blocks that permit constructors to squeeze theme entries closer together or pair-up some longer, juicier words. These two in particular have prefrred status over entries like AARE and ALIA because they are familiar to more solvers and, thus, considered less obscure.

    You’re right that a steady diet of ENYA and ELOI gets tiresome. I’m hardly, hardly a puzzle master, but when constructing I do try to avoid words that, in my view, have been cropping up a little too much lately. (Besides, it’s hard to write a fresh clue for a word that has received lots of recent use.) But I’ll use a tired familiar word like ENYA and ELOI over pure Crosswordese like AARE and ESNE anyday.

  12. joe burke says:

    can anyone explain KID to me? I got it right (thank you, crossings!), but I have no idea how it satisfies the clue [A little butter?].

  13. Jon S. says:

    Thanks for the elucidation, Sam. I completely agree that if I see AARE or ALIA, it’s time to head for the hills.

    Joe: GENIE – comes out of a bottle; KID, since it’s a baby goat, and goats are often viewed as recalcitrant creatures, tending towards kicking or head butting.

  14. crosscan says:

    Joe- a kid is a baby goat. Goats butt.

  15. LarryK says:

    Lately Larry here, from Arlington, VA. Nice writeup, Sam. “Recruits” needs the “s” to indicate third person. This “-eth” we’ve been playing with is an olde, cutesy holdover from the middle-English verb ending indicating the third person. As in: I quibble, thou quibblest, he quibbleth. Good puzzle.

  16. Mr Sandy says:

    Argh…”U-Turn”….completely flummoxed by that one. BTW, Reagle’s intro in the Washington Post read differently than the one you saw: “A puzzle I made last year about turning 40 drew quite a bit of positive mail, so I thought I’d up the ante and do another one.”

  17. Weezy says:

    Moon droppings = Drop trou!!!!!
    Duh. It took me a month to get it, even after I saw the answer. Shame on me. That was a popular nasty expression when I was in college in the sixties. And I thought that studying Latin was a better investment in my crossword solving future!

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