Saturday, 2/20/10

NYT Untimed
CS Untimed
LAT 11:50 (SethG)
Newsday Untimed

It’s ACPT Day 1. Amy and the gang are in Brooklyn, so more SethG today. Yay!

Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword

nyt100220I had trouble with yesterday’s puzzle. Today’s? Well, what’s the level above trouble?

I actually started smoothly, filling the NE in short order. I knew the Def Leppard drummer was ONE ARMED, and that gave me PEDALS [Goes by foot, in a way] and [“The Essence of ___] EMERIL, [Food Network show]  to build from.

But after that section? Well, there was general stuff from European languages I don’t speak, with GRAZIOSO, NEIN doch!, DÁIL Éireann, POUILLY-FUISSÉ. I don’t remember Finding AMANDA, and that was apparently a recent movie. And then…there was stuff I’ve never heard of.

  • STARA [___ Zagora, Bulgaria] is the 6th largest city in Bulgaria. Apparently, it’s easy to get to from Plovdiv.
  • A GNOME is a [Diminutive chthonic figure]. I’ll give it “diminutive” and “figure”, but I wouldn’t have described a gnome (or anything else) as chthonic.
  • [Perfection] clues IDEALITY. At least that one’s inferably a word.
  • Cesare “Victor” BORGIA was a [Model for Machiavelli’s “The Prince”].
  • [Naja naja] is actually the scientific name of the Indian COBRA.
  • And neither I nor my dictionary has ever heard of a [Ran-tan], another word for a RIOT.

A few bits of awesomeness along the way. [I.M. not sent through AOL?] clues architect PEI. The aforementioned ONE ARMED. UNDERDOG, Indiana Jones, and USAIN BOLT. And, saving the absolute best for last, YOUR FLY IS OPEN.

Updated Saturday morning:

Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Country Boys”—Janie’s review

A quartet of country (music) kings gets a shout out from Gail today. Their last names show up at the end of the theme phrases and the theme phrases are all terrific. Here’s how it “plays” out:

  • 20A. [Having financial trouble] PRESSED FOR CASH. As in Johnny. If you’ve never seen the bio-pic Walk the Line, whaddaya waitin’ fer?
  • 34A. [Wrestling hold] HALF-NELSON. Which gives us Willie. Can you say “has led a most colorful life“?
  • 43A. [Community leader’s attribute] CIVIC PRIDE. Hello, Charley. Another extraordinary life here. When his career as a professional baseball player came to an end, he turned to music. Is the only African-American country singer inducted into the Grand Old Opry. Holy moly.
  • 54A. [Soothing streams] BABBLING BROOKS. It’s your turn, Garth. The baby of the bunch (at a tender 48…) has done quite a bit of livin’ himself.

There’s a little bit of an aural supporting-theme as well here, starting with 1A’s “PSST!” [Furtive utterance]. Then there’s COWBELL [Meadowland noisemaker]; and I also choose to include HUM even though it’s clued today as [Run smoothly]. Should these sounds prove to be too distracting, just say [“Shh!”] “SILENCE!”

Of the longer non-theme fill, FROSTBITE [Condition caused by arctic conditions] (and not wearin’ yer mittens!) is balanced beautifully by ASIA MINOR [Turkey’s peninsula]. And talk about balance, it’s especially nice to see the symmetrical placement of MUSCAT [Sweet winemaking grape] and something fitting to pour that wine into, namely a GOBLET [Fancy glass].

Thought for a moment (maybe you did, too…) that [It builds up in a channel] was going to have something to do with “earwax.” Happily, the four-letter constraint made short shrift of that idea. It’s SILT. Think “river bed.”

Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword

(Excerpted by SethG from Amy’s L.A. Crossword Confidential post.)

This puppy’s a little more rigorous than most Saturday L.A. Times crosswords. While the six 15-letter answers are casual and familiar, there are shorter answers tucked in there that are less familiar. And there are also some tough clues to give your brain more of a workout.

The long answers:

  • 14A. [Dating option] (DINNER AND A MOVIE). Much more popular than the “breakfast and a movie” option.
  • 17A. [Thank-you trinket, e.g.] (INEXPENSIVE GIFT). I’m not sure whether this one rises to the level of crossword-worthy fill. Is it more of a discrete concept than random adjective + suitable noun?
  • 24A. [“My mind isn’t made up yet”] (“I CAN’T SAY FOR SURE”). I can’t say for sure, but this might be the first time I’ve seen this crossword answer.
  • Hey, hey, hey! 44A. [“You’ve got a lot of nerve!”] (“WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?”).
  • 57A. [Retaliatory steps] (COUNTERMEASURES). There aren’t a ton of good 15-letter words out there. This one’s decent.
  • 61A. [Ups and downs of one’s youth?] (TEETER-TOTTERING). Now, when I was a kid, you rode the teeter-totter but I don’t think we verbed it. “Seesawing” sounds more verby to me, but the dictionary does have “teeter-totter” as a verb.

Shorter stuff worthy of note:

  • SethG . Hey, watch it, Amy.
  • 36A. [Hindu fire god] (AGNI). I seldom remember this one because the name sounds more Norse than Hindu/Vedic to me.
  • 43A. [French cathedral city] (METZ). This one is sometimes forgettable because METZ sounds German. Another sneaky French town is Dunkirk, which sounds English or Scottish to me.
  • 64A. [Capital on Upolu Island] (APIA). That’s the capital of Samoa, population 32,000.
  • 1D. [Jack Kerouac’s first wife] (EDIE). Huh? I’m not sure why one would be expected to know this. Does he write about her by name?
  • 10D. [Old Venetian magistrate] (DOGE). A worthy candidate for a future Crosswordese 101.
  • 12D. [It’s “too short for chess”: Henry J. Byron] (CHESS). I like the way Henry J. Byron thinks.
  • 13D. [Neighbor of an Estonian] (LETT). Old-fashioned name for a Latvian. Also a ripe Crosswordese 101 candidate.
  • 15D. [Solar year/lunar year differential] (EPACT). Say what? Never heard the word. For a primer on lunar years, click that Wikipedia link. A lunar year is about 354 days, while a solar year is about 365 days. The EPACT comes into play when calculating Easter’s schedule, apparently.
  • 25D. [Signaler in a box] (COACH). Which sport stores the COACH in a box?
  • 53D. [___ Mountains, which separate the Rhine and the Rhone] (JURA). Whoa. Not common in the crosswordese department. You’ll never guess when most of this mountain range’s rocks were laid down. Go ahead, guess. The Jurassic period! Which was named after the JURA Mountains! Who knew? They’re on the French/Swiss border.
  • 55D. [Caesarean opening] (VENI). As in the opening word of Caesar’s famous “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”). Not the name for the hole in the womb sliced open by an OB doing a C-section.

Adam Cohen’s Newsday “Saturday Stumper”

(PDF solution here.)

So I was all nervous about showing off my crossword “skills” to this group. And…I’ve consistently failed. I maybe could have solved this one if I had more time to sit and stare (and go away and come back to it), but I have a write-up to write-up and stuff to do. (Now, specifically broomball, a cross between soccer and hockey. I haven’t played in 15 years!)

I could list the things I didn’t know in this puzzle, but I knew almost nothing in this puzzle. Some stuff:

  • 9A. COBALT is a [Blue shade]. Straightforward enough, I just like the color. I think my chemistry set when I was growing up included cobalt chromium, and all the cool stuff used it.
  • 23A. NOIR is clued as an [Even-money casino bet]. I thought that referred to the odds, but apparently it must mean the payout. Because the green 0 makes one’s odds of winning slightly less than 1 in 2.
  • 22A. [$250 TV purchase] is AN I. Obvious if you saw it, very well done misdirect if not.
  • 29A. [Chicken ___] POX. I went with PAX for some reason. The reason is it’s an Ultimate (Frisbee) team once a year (at the Poultry Days festival and ultimate tournament), and I thought, “That’s actually a thing? Cool.” Chicken POX…is actually a thing.
  • 49A. [“When We ___ ” Janet Jackson tune]. OOOO.
  • 8D. I guess KEEP YOUR SHIRT ON is a [Chilling comment] because you’re telling someone to chill. Similarly, a TRAIN SET is a [Basement layout, at times] because you lay it out.
  • 57D. [“Les”, in Livorno] clues GLI. I know the word “in”.

Are they always this tough or should I just have had more coffee? I’d better get in gear if I wanna not embarrass myself next year.

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12 Responses to Saturday, 2/20/10

  1. Wade says:

    I agree entirely on the NYTimes reaction, except that I was not amused by the Pei clue, and I kind of dug “chthonic.”

  2. aaron says:

    had trouble with nyt puzzle today. looking to bounce back but i am having trouble with the website. does anyone know if there is something wrong with it?


  3. sbmanion says:

    Have any of you ever been to a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game? I could not get the Secret Sauce developed by my long time employer (Delaware North) out of my mind:

    As a result, NW was the last to fall and specifically the G in BIG MAC. Isn’t the Big MAC sauce a “special” rather than a “secret” sauce. Is it indeed anything more secret than Thousand Island dressing?

    When a bank empties your bank account, it is a SET OFF, not a SEIZURE. The clue is OK though because the bank could SEIZE securities held as collateral.


  4. Wade says:

    sbmanion, you’re right, it IS Thousand Island dressing! That never dawned on me, and I haven’t had a Big Mac in at least 25 years, but I remember that sickly sweet taste like it was five minutes ago. I’ll eat almost anything and am strangely vain about how unfinicky I am when it comes to food or food-like items, but I cannot do the Big Mac. God, they are just ghastly.

  5. steve smith says:

    Steve, I’m with you on special vs. secret….Does anyone else remember the McDonalds promotion back in the 70’s where if you could say “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickle, onions on a sesame seed bun” in less than five seconds you’d get a free Big Mac? No? Maybe it was just in the Philly area where I grew up. But I’m certain it was “special” not secret…


  6. Elaine in Arkansas says:

    @Steve smith
    BZZZZT! Wasn’t it “special sauce, cheese, lettuce, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun”????

    Apparently got hacked and isn’t back YET! I am having withdrawal pangs. You can get LAT (go to the bottom and find Crosswords under Living or something like that.) It amounts to a little balm on the raw flesh remaining after you do the NTY Gamache puzzle (or after it does you.)

    I came here hoping for more puzzle update/info/reports!

  7. Tuning Spork says:

    Definately “two all-beef patties, SPECIAL sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun”.

    That’s as seared into my memory as “ZOOM, Box 3-5-0h, Bos-ton Mass, OH-2-1-3-4… Send it to ZOOM!”

    I believe Jack-in-the-Box had a secret sauce, though they called it “Jack sauce”. Kevin Meany had a funny line about it.
    “Would you like your burger with Jack sauce?”
    “Er… What’s in the Jack sauce?”
    “It’s a secret.”
    “Noooo thank you on the Jack sauce.”

  8. Becky says:

    Can anyone help with unravelling the theme in the WSJ 2/20/10? I get that MAC in all the theme answers, but there has to be more – a second meaning. I cannot see it.

  9. Tuning Spork says:


    Other than the title being a reference to the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” commercials by Apple, I don’t think there’s any deeper meaning to it.

    Pretty skimpy, as far as embedded word themes go, eh? Especially for a 21×21.

  10. John Haber says:

    Very hard for me, too, especially since two of the long entries were sports figures. When I finally got USAINBOLT, I stared at that and couldn’t figure out what it meant. Was the USA in the Olympics competing in a a sport called “bolt”? Googled when I got home.

  11. Becky says:

    Tuning Spork – Glad I am not the only one who thought it was lacking – yes, it was pretty skimpy and not up to the WSJ standards. I will quit looking for another meaning. Thanks!

  12. Sarah Graham says:

    Chicken pox is one hell of a nasty disease, it ruined my flawless skin a couple of years ago.-`’

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