Wednesday, 4/21/10

Onion 5:06
LAT 2:56
NYT untimed
CS untimed
BEQ untimed

For another take on last weekend’s Chicago Crossword Tournament, read Ben Bass’s write-up.

Pete Collins’ New York Times crossword

If you missed Pete’s April 16 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, you can find that puzzle (and this week’s CHE puzzle) here.

Region capture 24This crossword was puzzle #3 at the Chicago tournament, so I did it last week. And loved it! I’m not sure if it’s tougher than the usual Wednesday NYT because I did it off the clock. The most notable achievement here is that even though six areas of the grid contain diagonal fill that markedly constrains the constructor’s leeway in filling those sections, the fill is pretty standard mid-week fill. There’s one ugly Roman numeral, but that’s the worst offense. All too often, puzzles with three-way checking for diagonal answers have such unpleasant fill. Now, it may be true that most puzzles with diagonal action have more than one orthogonal theme answer constraining things, and this one’s just got the central 15 and the diagonal bits. Better to do a lesser thing well than to do an incredible thing poorly—at least in crosswords. Not everyone agrees with me on that. Some love the incredible things even if they’re embedded in clunky fill, but I say fill is king.

Pete’s theme is DIAGONAL PARKING (40A: [Easy way of pulling in…and a hint to the six circled words]), and he’s parked six cars in diagonal spots that parallel one another. When those cars pull out, they’ll drive down 40A to leave the parking lot. Heading down and to the right from square 1, we have a FORD. The DODGE is next, starting in square 5. We get an import at square 9, a FIAT. In the next row of cars, there’s an AUDI (square 52), LEXUS (starting below 48), and SAAB (beside 60). Word to the wise: If you’re bad about opening your car doors and denting adjacent vehicles, stick to the first row. You don’t want the driver of the luxury car catching you dinging her door.

Let’s check out a handful of clues:

  • 5A. Ripped from the headlines, [No longer insure] clues DROP. Were you trying to fit a verb form of rescission in here, rebus style?
  • 24A. [Command to Rex] is SIT.
  • 29A. Crossings! I needed ’em. [Rigel or Spica]…those are stars. What kind is each? BLUE STAR.
  • 34A. [Protection: Var.] clues EGIS, variant of aegis. Okay, nobody likes a variant spelling in a crossword. I barely noticed this one because I’ve seen it so many times before. The E joins it to crosswordese STEN, [British submachine gun].
  • 49A. Sigh. SCOOPERS are [Items for urban dog-walkers]. I’m continually astonished by the disregard so many of my neighbors have for the state of the sidewalks. I think the worst offenders come out of the back driveway for the high-priced building on the next block. If they don’t walk on that sidewalk, why would they care if it’s a minefield of doo? I tell you, it’s worse than Paris.
  • 56A. Okay, nobody likes plural names either. EZRAS are [Pound and others].
  • 68A. My husband bought a great-looking pair of SANDALS (52A: [Toga go-withs) from ALDO ([International shoe company]), but only wore them twice.
  • 1D. Fresh clue of the day: FLOW is a [Rap component, to a rapper]. Does the movie title Hustle and Flow relate to this?
  • 6D. RON REAGAN is a [Liberal pundit with a conservative father]. Someone recently told Trip Payne he and Reagan the Younger resemble each other, and I have to agree. (Also: terrific entry.)
  • 35D. Reagan’s partner in the grid is SPACES OUT, or [Visits la-la land].
  • 59D. LXVI, or 66, is [M years before the Battle of Hastings], which was in 1066. Odd clue. I completely ignored the clue and worked the crossings.

Anyway, I liked piecing together the car makes and having that extra back-and-forth, looking to see how the words interlaced. How about you?

Donna Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 23“WHAT’S THAT RACKET?” That’s what this puzzle wants to know: 55A: [Complaint from one trying to concentrate, perhaps—and this puzzle’s title]. The other three theme entries are so noisy:

  • 17A. [Consequence of the subprime mortgage fiasco] is the REAL ESTATE CRASH.
  • 25A. [Exit spectacularly] clues GO OUT WITH A BANG.
  • 42A. [Punished severely, with “on”] is LOWERED THE BOOM.

I do like Donna’s clueing style. Among my favorite clues are these ones:

  • 10A. [One of Hammett’s Charleses] is NORA, of Nick and Nora and their dog Asta fame.
  • 20A. ESS is a “meh” answer, but [Start of something?] sounds like something more interesting.
  • 36A. [Blin, in Blois] is almost incomprehensible. The plural of blin is blini (which feels much more familiar to me), and a single blin is essentially a CREPE. Blois must be some place where French is spoken, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard of it. Oddball words in a standard alliteration clue—not the usual.
  • 51A. [Hit or miss?] is a VERB. Yep, I usually fall for the clues that want you to come up with VERB or RHYME or SYNONYM but use words that have another meaning that sits in the forefront, distracting you.
  • 6D. [Zippy watercraft] is a JETSKI. I love the word “zippy.”
  • 7D. Trivia clue: [Like about 20% of Israeli citizens today] means ARAB.
  • 24D. [Engage in retail therapy?] clues SHOP. I don’t shop for therapy. I shop because I want to acquire things.
  • 36D. More trivia: The CORVETTE is a [Sports car named for a small warship].
  • 41D. [They usually have strings attached] refers to the noun TEA BAGS.
  • 53D. [Things for hanging things] are PEGS. I’m always glad to skip a [Cribbage scorekeeper] clue.

My favorite answer is BEEFCAKE (9D: [Stud muffin photos]), though I prefer chocolate cake when it comes to dessert.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Three Questions”—Janie’s review

Today’s theme put me in mind of family road trips and “car games”–in the days before each family member (besides the driver…) had a personal DVD screen… “Auto Bingo” was a fave at our house–as was “20 Questions,” which (as I recall) allowed only one question that couldn’t be answered “yes” or “no,” and that was “Animal, mineral or vegetable?” These words are also the first in today’s theme phrases and are delivered by way of:

  • 20A. ANIMAL CRACKERS [Popular children’s cookies]. A classic, whose packaging has always managed to delight. Animals in today’s grid (human sort excepted) include ASPS [Horned vipers] and ENA [Doe in “Bambi”] a/k/a [Bambi’s aunt].
  • 38A. VEGETABLE MEDLEY [Mixture in a Birds Eye bag]. Another classic of sorts. When eating out, you might get something like this À LA CARTE [Ordering option in a restaurant]. Too bland an option? Try spicing it up with some TABASCO [Hot sauce] or including it when enjoying a dish AU JUS [How roast beef may be served]. And, yes, ROLLS are often […served with salads], but they’re also mighty handy for sopping up that jus!
  • 54A. MINERAL DEPOSIT [It’s found underground]. TITANIUM [Steel toughener] is one terrific “element class” example; and while it’s clued in connection with a laundry-day chore, IRON [Pressing need] otherwise fills the bill as well.

Speaking of laundry day, we get not only OLEIC, the [Acid type used in the manufacturing of soap] but also LYE [Strong cleanser].

Hafta say, I’ve never heard of [“The Cloister and the Hearth” writer Charles] READE (or the book), but it seems that was the book Reade was most famous for. I only know what I read in Wiki

I liked seeing (hearing?) both SPLAT and SLAP in the grid; and fave clues today include [Chip in a chip for starters] for ANTE (it’s fun to parse this one) and the rhyme-y [Digs of twigs] for NEST. Wish there could be more like those!

Francis Heaney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 25This theme will give you a buzzing in your head, but you’ll hum along with it. Each theme entry is a song title that’s been apiarified by changing a word to a similar-sounding bee-related word:

  • 1A, 17A. [With 17-Across, Doors bee-side] is RIDER / ON THE SWARM. “Riders on the Storm” is the original title.
  • 21A. [Michael Jackson bee-side] is YOU ARE NOT A DRONE. “You Are Not Alone,” is that the original title? I don’t know that MJ song.
  • 31A. [Dire Straits bee-side] is HONEY FOR NOTHING. While it is true that bees pay no currency for their honey, they do work their stingers off to make it. Remember the ground-breaking computer-animated video for “Money for Nothing”? Ha. Interesting editorial choice to make Mark Knopfler’s cheesy headband far more prominent than his guitar work.
  • 37A. [Savage Garden bee-side] clues ULEE, MADLY, DEEPLY. I had the last two words and couldn’t think of a bee word that sounded like “truly.” Crossword stalwart ULEE! Hello again.
  • 49A, 68A. [With 68-Across, Nirvana bee-side] is SMELLS LIKE QUEEN / SPIRIT. “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Tragically, Teen Spirit is now a youth-oriented form of Lady Speed Stick in woeful fragrances like Sweet Strawberry. I just took the quiz for “Which Teen Spirit Are You?” It’s bullshit. The last question is something like “You forgot your deodorant at home. After gym, there’s a table with free samples of Teen Spirit. Which fragrance would you reach for?” and the choices are the four available varieties. Congratulations! You’re Berry Blossom!
  • 58A. [Tom Petty bee-side] is FREE POLLEN. Ah, saved the best for last! “Free Fallin'” is the original title.

If only these remakes had all been on the soundtrack for Bee Movie.

Clue roundup:

  • 12D. [“FlashForward” cocreator Braga] is named BRANNON. Missed that in Entertainment Weekly.
  • 14A. [Hipster’s zip-up garment] is a KNIT HOODIE.
  • 37D. [Draw attention from, as in “Hamlet”] clues UPSTAGE.
  • 11D, 34D. [Family members?] are MAFIOSI, while [Fam. member] is a REL.(ative).
  • 48A. [Orville P. Snorkel of the comics page, familiarly] is SARGE, as in Sgt. Snorkel.
  • 15D. [Singer Pallett formerly known as Final Fantasy] is OWEN. Who??
  • 28D. [Letters after Senator Judd Gregg’s name] are R-N.H.

Edited to add: Francis blogged about his puzzle, and mentioned a few key numbers. “Of the nonblack squares, 92 are themed and 91 aren’t. The word count is low too (74 words).” Holy cats! It’s mostly theme! That’s impressive. My excuse for not taking note of the theme density is that I was bamboozled by the theme’s lightness and smoothness. It didn’t feel like a puzzle that was trying too hard. You know, between Francis’s puzzle and last week’s Onion puzzle by Byron Walden, these two gents are ruining it for everyone. People will start to expect 90+ theme squares amid good fill.

Brendan Quigley’s blog—diagramless crossword, “Creature Feature”

Turns out the Black Ink application (a Mac program) doesn’t yet treat diagramlesses differently than other crosswords, so when I clicked the icon to open the puzzle, the black diagram was visible. D’oh! Big-time spoiler. I’ve let the good folks at Red Sweater (makers of Black Ink) know, so maybe the next update will handle a diagramless differently.

The theme is borne out in the diagram: the black squares draw a picture of a SPACE INVADERS alien from the video game. Aw, isn’t that cute? That title is in the grid, as are MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, GREEN MAN, STAR TREK, AREA 51, a UFO, and some ETS.

The grid’s got a ton of 3s and 4s, needed to draw the space invader. Though 3s and 4s are seldom anything special, three of them are thematic here. There are 18 long answers (7 to 17 letters) to liven things up, and only four of those are thematic. Most of the long entries are stacked together with other long ones, which is cool.

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16 Responses to Wednesday, 4/21/10

  1. jmbrow29 says:

    Did the Wednesday and Tuesday NYT puzzle get switched? This one fell in a Tuesday time for me. I enjoyed this one a lot even though there was that pesky Roman numeral.


  2. ktd says:

    Average Wednesday time for me, but I nearly got snagged in the NW–felt like an easier themeless with the cluing in that sector. Amy, belated thanks for the writeup on the Chicago Crossword Tournament, and for providing the link to Ben Bass’ writeup as well. I’d like to be there for next year’s–same place same date?

  3. pezibc says:

    Loved the theme. Given all of the bells and whistles with the theme, I would have still loved it with a reasonable trade-off with the fill. Not much was given up here, IMO. Outstanding.

    I agree that awesome themes are often not worth the cost to the puzzle. It’s only a great idea if one can see it through to a solid finished product.

    Yesterday’s puzzle was harder. Today’s was better, but I would like for it to have been clued to a greater degree of difficulty, which would have made it better still.

  4. Gareth says:

    Totally awesome, off-beat theme. Agree: this looks like it should be highly constrained fill-wise, but didn’t feel too bad solving. A partial or 3, and a few bad’uns, but nothing that made me cry. SCOOPERS does sound weird as a stand-alone word without POOPER? Under 5 minutes on Wednesday = fast for me.

    Oh and me I’m parked in the top-right!

  5. NinaUWS says:

    Amy, sorry that my fellow dog owners are not as courteous in Chicago as they are in NYC. Do you have the same kind of doggy-doo pickup law there?

    Anyway, I agree that scooper never appears without pooper–and moreover, the pooper scooper device has pretty much gone the way of the buggy whip among “urban dog walkers.”

    Here in NYC we use discarded plastic grocery bags.

  6. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @ktd: I think Marbles is keen on continuing the tournament each year. Though the event is outgrowing the meeting space they have in their store—they may need to find a bigger space next year.

  7. ArtLvr says:

    I agreed with your write-up of the NYT, also that it could have been switched with yesterday’s as far as difficulty went. Cute and well done, not too exciting. Not a car fan!

    Same with the LAT, it went fast but was amusiing. ROOK as swindle (verb) was tricky, and Hunan pans might have been misread as human except WOKS were there already. OINGO was a stitch, ditto FLUNKY and BEEFCAKE. I was glad CORVETTE came through okay as I could only think of a Caravel, which wouldn’t fit.

  8. joel says:

    Charles Peale????it was Reade..a common crossword name

  9. janie says:

    it was correct in the grid, joel, and now the post has been edited to correct mr. READE’s name. the name may be common to you (and others), but it was new to me.

    and so it goes, eh?


  10. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I bet a lot of solvers faintly recognize the names of READE (author, aptly) and MEADE (Civil War general, something like that) but know them only from crosswords. I know I’m in that group.

    Nina, I had a rare sighting last weekend of a pooper-scooper in use. Gray-haired man, last of a dying breed. Too old to bend down with a bag? The Chicago non-baggers/non-scoopers are absolutely in violation of a city ordinance, but there’s never a cop around when the sidewalk needs one.

  11. joon says:

    MEADE is legitimately very famous. he was the commanding general of the army of the potomac for the last couple years of the war, and was the victor at gettysburg, among other places. prior to the rise of grant, he was the top general the union had, and even when grant took over, MEADE was still technically in charge. he’s a big deal, but i actually don’t recall seeing him in the grid very often. i’m sure i’ve seen him, but not disproportionately often.

    READE is a different story. i had definitely heard of the cloister and the hearth before crosswords, but he’s one of those people whose grid importance seems to outstrip his non-crossword fame. i associate him with george ADE, whose name i did first learn from crosswords, even though they’re not particularly similar writers.

  12. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Joon, I can’t be the only one whose Civil War–related education included only the names of Lincoln, Grant, and Lee, plus a handful of place/battle names.

  13. Jeffrey says:

    Re Onion: I was hoping for Beauty and the Bees.

  14. John Haber says:

    I thought very easy but got caught up on the triad of NERDS, ALDO, and KOI. AUDI solved one of the two letters but not the other.

  15. Teen Spirit has been a deodorant for years. The title “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was intended to be used as an insult. Example: “BEQ smells like Teen Spirit,” i.e. smells like a girl.

  16. Alex says:

    I loved Brendan’s puzzle and I was thrilled to see the grid come to life since there aren’t enough video game-themed crosswords. With that in mind, I finally made an puzzle I’ve had in my head for a while. I posted it at the forum. Enjoy.

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