Thursday, 1/14/10

Fireball 9:37 (subscribe here)
NYT 4:27
LAT 4:05
Tausig untimed
CS untimed

Quick link today: John Farmer, crossword constructor and member of the Fiend community, has a new website, Minute A Day About Movies. To celebrate the launch, there’s a three-part contest including a 23×23 crossword with a meta final answer and a cool movie trivia challenge. In the latter, there are 100 movie titles and 25 categories (e.g., “biopics about people who are namesakes of U.S. presidents,” “films with protagonists named McQueen”) in which to place most of the movies. The contest runs through January.
I’m a little tardy tonight. I was working on Patrick Berry’s variety cryptic, Day at the Races, while my son was falling asleep. Just as the snoring began, I made a couple breakthroughs in the puzzle so I kept at it past NYT puzzle time. Not done with the cryptic yet, but the end is reachable. If you like the Cox/Rathvon Atlantic (and soon to be WSJ) cryptics, you’ll love the Berry too.

New York Times crossword by Caleb Madison and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Region capture 12Last fall, teen constructor Caleb Madison taught a class about making crosswords at J.A.S.A. (the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged). This puzzle is the output.

The theme hinges on COMMERCIAL BREAK, clued as [TV movie interruption…or feature of 16-, 21-, 31-, 43- and 49-Across?]. There is an AD inserted into each of five movie titles:

  • 16A. ADDRESSED TO KILL is clued with [Like a poison pen letter?]. Don’t lick the envelopes you get in the mail, people. Safety first.
  • 21A. The goofy movie Spaceballs becomes SPACE BALLADS, clued wonderfully as [“Fly Me to the Moon” and others?]. There are not a lot of plausible “space ballads” out there, but that song is so well-known, it works.
  • 31A. RADIO BRAVO could be a [Ham operator’s “Hurrah!”?]. (Wow, that’s a lot of punctuation marks I just typed. It looks like I’m swearing, doesn’t it?)
  • 43A. [Yes-man’s biography?] is TOADY STORY. Toy -> TOADY is a good leap.
  • 49A. [Like a superlatively sneaky sleuth?] clues BEST IN SHADOW.

Highlights in the grid:

  • 1A. “THAT’S HOT” is a [Paris Hilton catchphrase]. Wait, I thought she spelled it “hott.”
  • 67A. STARDATE is a [Time on the Enterprise], in Star Trek.
  • 27D. [It might come with the mail] clues MACE, the medieval weapon that someone clad in chainmail might wield.
  • 36D. This is just silly: The word ATOM is to be parsed as the three-word A TO M, [Volume 1 of a two-volume encyclopedia?]. Why split the atom?
  • 38D. STYX! The lead singer of this [Hit 1970s-’90s band with a mythological name] hails from Chicago’s south suburbs and he was a customer at the video store where my sister used to work. True story!

Updated Thursday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Well-Schooled”—Janie’s review

“KUDOS!” [“Great job!”] to our constructor for this beauty of a puzzle. And I’m referring here not only to the theme fill, but to the non-theme fill and the grid that made it all possible. It looks almost like a segment of a Navajo rug, doesn’t it? That strong graphic appearance also allows for open corners and lots of long fill–and Martin has indeed risen to the challenge.

Looking first at the lively theme fill, each of the three phrases begins with an adjective that’s a synonym for the title word “well-schooled,” though, of course, none is literally about going to school. In this way we get:

  • 17A. EDUCATED GUESSES [Reasonable conjectures]. I made one at 1A, confidently entering OPENINGS in response to [Gallery events]. That’s reasonable, no? Hah! Correct fill is ART SHOWS. Oops…
  • 35A. CULTURED PEARL [Oyster farm product]. Hmm. It occurs to me that someone who’s cultured is probably very “well-schooled”; but that someone who’s “well-schooled” may not necessarily be cultured
  • 54A. INFORMED OPINION [Knowledgeable viewpoint]. My fave sources? The New Yorker, The NYT, NPR and PBS. I know. You’re shocked. Shocked.

Now let’s look at that grid. The great thing about the corners are those columns of sixes and stacked eights in the NW and SE, and then those eight-columns in the NE and SW. Not to mention the many sevens that find their way in there. And what great fill resides within:

  • MARIACHI [Mexican dance music]
  • MIST OVER [Fog up]
  • EVEN KEEL [Symbol of stability]. Ironically, that stability might even apply to [How flamingos often stand], which is ON ONE LEG. But like other [Birds at times], they are also NESTERS.
  • SEE STARS is clued not in relation to Hollywood celebs or even a visit to the planetarium but more viscerally as [React to a strong punch]. Kinda like our pal Sylvester here…
  • The alliterative and symmetrically placed TRUSTY [Reliable] and TORPOR [Lethargy].
  • MOHAIRS [Goats’ coats].
  • REEFER [Short jacket]. Wow. Never knew that, but here’re some pix. I get the sense this term can refer to almost any kind of short jacket, but you’ll see, some are naval uniforms, some look like pea coats, and there are some that are for women in “fashion” colors. I tell ya, what you’ll see is veritable reefer madness!

A word that was completely new to me was MASERS [Electromagnetic wave amplifiers]. This is an acronym for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Or as I now choose to think of ’em, LASERS with an M…

I place the blame for where the puzzle disappoints with the higher-ups at CS. You know what’s coming. Martin’s puzzle repeats fill and clues almost verbatim from each of the three constructions that preceded his this week. Perhaps we’re to understand that this is the “compilation puzzle” and that all this repetition is intentional. But I have trouble buying that. In case you aren’t aware of the culprits in today’s puzzle, I’m referring to: YALE, clued exactly as it was on Monday as [Harvard rival]; POKE clued today as [Place for a pig] and on Tuesday as [Pig’s place]; and (because it’s so unusual, most egregiously) USERS FEE, clued today as [Charge for garbage collection, e.g.] and yesterday (when it was USER FEE) as [Garbage collection charge, e.g.]. Does this kind of repetition detract from your solving experience as well, enhance it (by getting you to re-use vocabulary, giving you more gimmes), or are you unfazed by it?  Does it depend on the which published puzzle it is?  It’s a serious editorial challenge to be sure, so I’m not entirely unsympathetic here.  Just wondering if there isn’t a way to inject some better monitoring before publication…

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 13If I’m being honest, I did not care for this puzzle. When you start right out at 1A with geographic crosswordese like BARI ([Italian port on the Adriatic]), the rest of the puzzle has to work harder to win me over. BARI sat atop ADEN, and over yonder is the ORNE ([River in NW France]); the combination is not a lively one. Yes, the fill has those corners of 7-letter answers; overall, there’s not enough sparkle to offset the low points. Like ATARIS, the plural, clued as [Classic video games]—I don’t think I’ve heard Atari games referred to as ATARIS. They’re…Atari games.

Then there’s the theme. The [Animal family hidden in 17-, 35- and 57-Across] are SHEEP, and a EWE, LAMB, and RAM are hidden in these answers:

  • 17A. “HAVE WE MET BEFORE?” is clued as a [Hackneyed line]. Just 3 letters embedded in a 15?
  • 35A. CLAM BROTH? Yuck. It’s a clam [Chowder base].
  • 57A. MASCARA MELTDOWN is a contrived phrase. I Googled it and got about 2,000 hits, which is teeny. If you’re going to use a borderline phrase like that, use it to hide the CARAMEL that’s in there, not a mere RAM. [Summertime cosmetic mishap] is the clue. Really? Does mascara melt on a warm day?


Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 1”

Region capture 15I confess: I Googled the Beastie Boys to get 9D and break open that corner. Didn’t know the hockey player, didn’t know the neutral particle—but with MCA in place, everything else from the middle on up fell quickly.

As advertised, yes, this is indeed a tough themeless! I like that. Tons of terrific fill accompanied by twisty clues? I like that too. My favorite answers and clues are these:

  • 7A: ARM CANDY/[Side dish?] atop 16A: LOCAVORE/[One concerned with food miles].
  • 28A. [Kid’s meal place] is a LEA, where a young goat might eat. No McNuggets.
  • 35A. [Grandnephew of Scrooge] had me pondering Dickens, but it’s Scrooge McDuck and LOUIE.
  • 54A. Didn’t know the [Backslash key sharer] is called the PIPE. When an editing client instructed me to use that symbol, they didn’t call it that. Gotta be up on my typographical terms, though.
  • 24D. [Dick part] was easy. DARRIN Stephens! Husband of Samantha on Bewitched.
  • 44D. Lionel Richie’s “YOU ARE.” Heh.

Now that Peter’s not constrained by the refined sensibilities of a daily newspaper, he’s free to have condoms (1A: TROJAN) and farts (1D: TOOT). I’d been wondering if he’d stick with the newspaper standards or loosen up into the Tausig/Onion/Jonesin’/BEQ category, and he seems to be choosing the latter.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “G Spots”

Region capture 16In this theme, Ben takes familiar phrases and substitutes silent-G words for the starts-with-N words in the phrases:

  • 17A. “Mr. Nice Guy” becomes a [Male geologist?], MR. GNEISS GUY. This one’s my favorite answer in the puzzle.
  • 26A. [What some astronomers did with their teeth when the remotest planet in the Solar System was demoted?] is the PLUTO GNASH. Remember the poorly received Eddie Murphy movie, Pluto Nash?
  • 41A, 65A. Prince’s backing group, The New Power Generation, become GNU / POWER GENERATION, or [the process of harnessing energy from wildebeests].
  • 50A. [One who rotates pests] might be a GNAT TURNER. (You’re gonna need a small forceps for that.) Nat Turner led the famous slave rebellion.
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23 Responses to Thursday, 1/14/10

  1. joon says:

    this gets a major “wow” from me. huge number of theme squares, all good answers, tight theme with nice cryptic-style interpretation (an AD “interrupting” a movie), great reveal phrase, stacked 8s in the corners, rock-solid fill, and knotty thursday cluing. good grief, how much more can you ask for in one puzzle?

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Oooh, Babe! Great puzzle.

  3. Tuning Spork says:

    I haven’t read your review, yet.

    Still solving. Thinking that this is either the greatest puzzle ever or the most annoying puzzle ever.

    Back in a few.

  4. Tuning Spork says:


    I’m looking at –TMFHT- and can’t find a wrong turn.


  5. Nice. Very nice. Challenging for Thursday though.

  6. Gareth says:

    I’d like to give it 2 thumbs up, mostly for the reasons stated above (beautiful puns, lots of acreage devoted to them, but also some elegantly thorny clues). Hands up anyone for ONEMANSHADOW instead of BESTINSHADOW (ignoring the superlative part!).

    Am I the only one wondering how ridiculously small the paycheck is gonna be when it’s divided by an entire crossword class!

  7. ledfloyd says:

    fantastic puzzle. great theme, the cluing is superb and there aren’t any real knotty spots. feels like they’ve been doing this for years.

  8. Gail says:

    What a great puzzle! I’ll even accept my terrible solving time. It was worth it for the Sunday-like theme. Where can I take one of this kid’s classes?

  9. Jon S. says:

    This puzzle made up for my near hysteria after last Thursday’s puzzle.

    I was especially happy with the touchstones of my youth – STYX, ubiquitous radio stream, TEXAS TEA, old Jed’s a millionaire, and STAR DATE, did William Shatner ever look that young?

  10. cyberdiva says:

    Janie, I agree with you about the disappointing repetitions in today’s CS puzzle. I don’t understand why they permit that. Indeed, perhaps even welcome/encourage it. Blech!

  11. Martin says:

    cyberdiva writes:

    “Janie, I agree with you about the disappointing repetitions in today’s CS puzzle. I don’t understand why they permit that. Indeed, perhaps even welcome/encourage it. Blech!”

    To answer your questions:

    We obviously don’t encourage this type of theme repetition! The reason this probably did not get caught was because the puzzles were not all submitted and reviewed/edited within the same week. Our bad!

    -Martin Ashwood-Smith

  12. Brian says:

    I actually *did* know PIPE, but also Googled MCA. Of course, I Googled about twelve other things too.

  13. joon says:

    doozy. i knew PIPE (i think it’s mostly unix programmers who call it that, or really, who use it at all) and MCA and ETA MESON, but not: HENRIK LUNDQVIST, LOCAVORE, DARRIN, ALDO, KERI, MORRIE, SEED CASE (still not sure what that is?), SEINFELD, or ROTATION. great fun to solve, though.

    should we put up a fireball leaderboard somewhere? i’m morbidly curious how brutal this was for other solvers. (took me 14:12 on paper.) if nothing else, i can post my time on peter gordon’s facebook wall, which doesn’t seem to be in use for anything else.

  14. Alex says:

    I wish Caleb had gone with “Caleb Madison Avenue” as his byline for this one.

  15. Jeff in Chicago says:

    Orange: You thought Paris could spell????

    Liked the NYT today, except for ZEE. The puzzle’s back story helped up my grade a tiny bit.

    LAT tried too hard to hide very short words. Otherwise, it was just OK.

  16. Zulema says:

    The question mark on the clue for A TO M I found misleading. It was a straight clue.

  17. John Farmer says:

    I used to follow the Rangers, but now have no idea who their goalie is (or most hockey players) anymore. Knowing probably wouldn’t have helped. I’m sure I’d have spelled the name wrong anyway. PIPE, otoh, I did know. Very few toeholds, though, and very tough cluing. Liked the GRAMPS clue a lot. I was glad to get this one done. Good to have Peter back.

    Thanks for the intro note.

  18. Howard B says:

    You know, had Fireball come out a few months ago, the even lesser-known Rangers backup goalie (LUNDQVIST’s understudy, as it were) STEVE VALIQUETTE could have been an alternatively legitimate 15-letter answer, with the ‘Q’ one position off from being an even nastier misdirection.
    He’s been sent down to their minor-league team since then, though. Such is professional sports.

  19. Entropy says:

    In the LAT there is another Ram in A-FRAMES.

    I do my puzzles in pen on paper. Your times are amazing. I have not said that to many over the years. Oh, I don’t mean a lot of people aren’t smart, they are. But they just are not amazing!

    How do I get my clown fish avatar to appear?

  20. janie says:

    >We obviously don’t encourage this type of theme repetition! The reason this probably did not get caught was because the puzzles were not all submitted and reviewed/edited within the same week. Our bad!

    martin — thank you so much for speaking out! you and your cs colleagues are highly esteemed here. i know this is a cs snag and that it was not your personal intention to create or publish a puzzle with clues and fill that had appeared earlier in the week. your beauty of a puzzle, however, caught the short end of it this time…

    in a perfect world… of course, as the last few days have reminded us, it’s not — and there are problems in it of greater and graver magnitude. thank you, though, for exhibiting such good humor under (apparent) fire. and for puzzles i consistently look forward to solving!


  21. Evad says:

    @Entropy, you can associate a “gravatar” with your email address here.

  22. Quentinc says:

    Late to the game, but it took me 2 days to do the Fireball, and even then I had to Google two answers and, then, even with Google couldn’t find eta meson. I liked/loved about 75% of the clues and fill but a few were too brutal for their own good. If a LOCAVORE “ETA” MESON, would it taste like ARM CANDY? Good grief, never heard any of those in my life.

    I do have to fault myself on one, though, because I did know that MCA was one of the Beastie Boys handles, but I kept thinking of the bassist as Adam Yauch and wondering how I could fit that into three squares.

  23. Evad says:

    My favorite Fireball clue was “Tours with”. Classic PG.

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