Thursday, 1/7/10

NYT 6:06
LAT 3:49
CS untimed
Tausig tba

There’s a lovely obituary for Dan Naddor in the L.A. Times. Astonishingly, there are 20 more of his crossword puzzles in the LAT pipeline, with the next one coming out this Friday.

Xan Vongsathorn’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 9This puzzle is not eligible for the 2009 Oryx Awards because it’s 2010 now (and yes, the Oryx nominating committee of me, Rex, and PuzzleGirl needs to get moving on spotlighting our 2009 faves, and I believe it is I who’s holding up the process), but the gimmick is brilliant and it’s a frontrunner for a 2010 Oryx after the end of the year.

The PEST/CONTROL theme—halfway explained in 57D, 65A: [Extermination…or what can be done to 10 answers in this puzzle without affecting their clues?]—means that there are five rebus squares containing an {ANT}, and if you include those letters in the answer or “exterminate” the trigram, the clue works both ways. Major kudos to young Xan Vongsathorn for devising and executing this theme. Here are the buggy and bugless answers:

  • 8A. [They may have titles] clues both beauty PAGE{ANT}S and book PAGES.
  • 12D. 8A’s crossing is [Something that might work on a full stomach?], which could be a natural stomach ACID or an {ANT}ACID.
  • 16A. [Enemy encounter] is either COMBAT or a COMBAT{ANT}.
  • 7D. To [Set upon a slope, say] in order to go downhill, you might SLED. An object set at a slope is SL{ANT}ED.
  • 32A. [Absolutely terrific] clues both F{ANT}ABULOUS and FABULOUS. I wonder if this was the seed entry for the whole theme. Either word describes this puzzle.
  • 20D. This one bends the rules a smidgen. [Trig function] is both abbreviated SEC and long-form SEC{ANT}.
  • 40A. {ANT}AGONIZES and AGONIZES mean [Gets upset]—one transitive and one intransitive verb.
  • 29D. Great alternate meanings in this one. A [Yankee fighter] in the U.S. military is a G.I., whereas in baseball, a San Francisco GI{ANT} is a New York [Yankee fighter].
  • 58A. Geographically, the North or South [Pole position] is the ARCTIC or {ANT}ARCTIC.
  • 45D. This one was the trickiest one for me to figure out. [Cry at a poker game, maybe] is both I WIN and I W{ANT} IN.

The nontheme fill and clues have some whimsy to them, too. Highlights:

  • 1A. The JIMJAMS are [Heebie-jeebies].
  • 17A. EROTICA is an [Unlikely section in a religious bookstore]. Heh.
  • 23A. [Teacups, e.g.] are a theme park or carnival RIDE like this.
  • 45A. [Appearance of O or W] is a magazine ISSUE.
  • 62A. No whimsy in [Congenital]/INBUILT—just a kinda hard combo.
  • 63A. ERASURE is clued misleadingly as [Name-dropping, maybe].
  • 1D. In card games, JACKS are [10 superiors]. Tell me the truth: Did you briefly wonder if superiors were a unit of currency somewhere?
  • 23D. [Cash in the music business] is ROSANNE Cash, not payola.
  • 24D. [“Shut up already!”] is a testy “STUFF IT!”
  • 31D. LEG! [Yours may be asleep while you’re awake]. Terrific clue. Kept me confused for a while.
  • 34D. What? Not Bobby ORR? [CBS newsman Bob] ORR? Don’t know him. Will make a point of remembering the name for his next appearance in a clue, though.
  • 46D. No idea how I got SHANE with one crossing. [Title film character who’s idolized by a boy named Joey]. John Wayne?
  • 50D. Least mainstream literary reference: [Georges with the best seller “Life: A User’s Manual”] is Georges PEREC. He’s the guy who wrote that French novel without using the letter E and, it should not surprise you, he also constructed crosswords.

Did you get as big a kick out of this “pest control” puzzle as I did? I hope so. A gnarly Thursday rebus challenge plus that extra oomph of the double-duty clues made for a most enjoyable solving experience—with a major “aha” moment payoff. Well done, Xan.

When I hear that Will Shortz has too many rebus puzzles on hand and doesn’t necessarily want to see too many more, I get a little {ANT}sy that the rebus has fallen out of favor at the NYT. It’s just that the Sun is no longer an outlet for rebus puzzles, so more are heading Will’s way, more than he can possibly publish given how many solvers gripe every time there’s a rebus. I’m sure glad he’s accepting and publishing gems like this rebus-plus creation, though.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Straight and High”—Janie’s review

Poker lovers, rejoice–this one’s for you! If you’re not a seasoned gambler and are less than certain of your ability to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em, that’s easily remedied with this little chart. Now you’ll see that the hand Randy deals out in the puzzle is a mighty fine one. The name of each of the five cards in it is the first word in each of the five terrific theme phrases. And what we get is not only a straight (five sequential cards), but (short of a royal flush [top five cards, all the same suit]) one that’s both “straight and high.” Behold how the cards play out:

17A. TEN-FOOT POLE [Something not to touch with, according to a saying]. I found the syntax of the clue a little confusing, but I sure love the concept. Does “touch” need an object perhaps? Regardless, this is lively fill. And look how beautifully it sits directly above

19A. JACK OF ALL TRADES [Generalist]. The “jack of all trades, master of none” shows up in almost every culture, sometimes with a negative connotation attached, sometime not. Here’s a little Wiki piece on the subject.

37A. QUEEN-SIZE SHEETS [Some linens for two]. Not yet realizing that 17A. was part of the theme fill, I was nonetheless able to see that the next theme phrase was likely to begin with KING–and my hunch was right as it turned out to be

54A. KING OF THE JUNGLE [Lion’s title]. And see how nicely that sits atop

61A. ACE BANDAGES [They’re good for sore ankles]. I don’t know why this combo makes me smile, but it does.

So not only do we have this seriously high-scorin’ poker hand (potentially a straight flush, too [all the same suit]), but look: 67 letters of theme fill in three 15s and two 11s. And there’s some excellent fill of the non-themed variety as well. This is [Kind of situation] is what we might call “NO LOSE.”

Among my favorites today–for their color, their liveliness–are ROSÉ WINE [Zinfandel, e.g.], IN A JAM [Stuck], SPACED [Loopy], TOMATO [Popular soup or sauce], RAG-BAG [Hodgepodge] and especially FOOFARAW with [Big hooha] as its complementary clue. Interesting that even with its unknown etymology, its two different contextual meanings (today’s is the second) are still very much related.

The cross I like best is at 7A. DRIED and 7D. D’ÊTRE, where there’s some wordplay action in the cluing. The former is [Like a raisin in the sun], the latter, [Raison ___]. Raisin/Raison–cute. Can’t let the former go by, however, without linking to Langston Hughes’s “A Dream Deferred.”

The I-didn’t-know-that department today includes EREBUS, that [Volcanic mountain of Antarctica] (I was aware of the name’s classical origins); and [One measure of central tendency] as a definition of MODE.

Oh–I nearly forgot: the bonus fill today is brought to you by a fitb appropriate to a game of poker. So tell me: [“Are you] IN OR [out?”]. Right now, folks, I’m out!

Robert Harris’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Picture 4Cute theme—familiar phrases get a new spin hinging on other meanings of the words in question. ANNUAL PLANT could be a factory that makes yearbooks, not just a plant that returns in the spring of each year. (Correction: Perennials come back. Annuals only last one year, unlike annual events that recur every year.) There’s the CHOCOLATE LABrador retriever, a dog, but why not ponder a CHOCOLATE LAB for research into everyone’s favorite theobromine delivery system? An exploratory SPACE MISSION could also be a religious mission where astronauts worship. And the food dish called CLAMS CASINO becomes much funnier if you picture a bunch of depraved mollusks drinking and gambling and smoking and losing their shirts. My favorite theme entries were the chocolate and clams ones.

I’ve been up for almost four hours this morning and I’m feeling quite ready for a nap, so I’ll move along to Ben’s puzzle now.

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22 Responses to Thursday, 1/7/10

  1. joon says:

    holy cow, this was amazing. just tremendous. wow wow wow.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Yes, triple wow.

  3. Sam Donaldson says:

    I wish “brilli” was a word, just so I could say “this puzzle was BRILLIANT” and be consistent with the theme. Guess I’ll just have to be inconsistent, as usual.

  4. miguel says:

    This puzzle inhabitant thought the offering was a nice relaxant and I am sure the praise will be rampant. I guess this makes Xan a myrmecologist and the NYT an ant bed. Really enjoyable and yet pretty hard. Well done.

  5. John Price says:

    One of the best puzzles I’ve seen in a long, long time.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Very, very nice.

  7. Doug says:

    How can I have 4 empty cells (37, 40, 31/37, 31/40) and not finish this thing?

    Hard, but in a good way and not a slog. I’d like to know where this started: I’m guessing ANTagonizes or ANTarctic created a “Hmmm” moment and then the lightbulbs went on very rapidly.

  8. LARRY says:

    This was a Wednesday puzzle, right?? I found it really hard until I figured out the rebus, but then it went smoothly. I too loved it.

  9. ledfloyd says:

    i agree with all the accolades. but i can’t remember the last time a thursday puzzle gave me this much trouble. in fact i couldn’t figure out the IKEBANA/DABO crossing. wasn’t familiar with either answer. despite all the frustration it gave me, it’s a f{ant}abulous puzzle.

  10. Gareth says:

    Just wow! Considering this is only 7 Jan, it doesn’t do the puzzle justice to say puzzle of the year! Would be seriously interested in the anatomy of this puzzle too. We seem to have run into a whole bunch of rebus Thursdays… which is awesome!

  11. janie says:

    IKEBANA (because my mother had studied it a little) was my one gimme in what felt like a thursday i wouldn’t finish. sw was the toughest for me to sort out and fell last, leaving me one battered but satisfied COMBAT{ANT}.

    clues, fill — tough, twisty and all *top-notch*.

    more vongsathorn, please!!


  12. Evad says:

    Another “huzzah” for today’s puzzle. Long live the rebus…great aha moments on this one.

  13. Zulema says:

    Orange, thank you for the TEACUPS explanation and link.

  14. Will Nediger says:

    Jan 7, and already a shoo-in for a 2010 Oryx! This crossword is almost as good as “Life: A User’s Manual.”

  15. ===Dan says:

    SHANE was Alan Ladd, not John Wayne. Great, classic film.

  16. Howard B says:

    Rebusy goodness, evil cluing, and an amazingly clever trick all rolled into one.

    You got rebus in my Friday puzzle!
    You got Friday puzzle in my rebus!
    Two great tastes that taste great together, as the old ad goes.

  17. bruce n. morton says:

    As someone who sometimes bitches about rebus and gimmick puzzles I thought this was
    amazing. (I can’t even think of anything remotely clever like “It launched my pant boat”–I’m missing a ‘t’.

    I’m not much of a TV watcher either, but if you get a chance find a rerun of Olivia D’Abo playing her repeating character (named Elizabeth, I think) on L & O Criminal Intent. She is one of the most charismatic evil, heroic, psychopathic genius – nemesis – villainesses to ever appear on screen, both in terms of the writing of her character and her performance.


  18. Ann Marie says:

    What a great puzzle! I love rebuses… or would it be rebi? Wow!

  19. Xan says:

    Hey Orange and everyone, the puzzle story is a little long for the comments section, but if you’re interested, come on over to my blog:

    That includes a link to a bonus puzzle I just posted in Orange’s forum.

  20. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Xan, thanks for walking us through the process and giving us another puzzle in the process. I love an “anatomy of a crossword” story for any tour de force puzzle.

  21. Amazing construction. Wow, Xan, just wow.

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