Wednesday, 5/19/10

Onion 4:53
BEQ 4:24
LAT 4:03
NYT 3:23
CS 4:27 (Evad)

Robert Doll’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 13Abbreviated blogging tonight, as it’s late, I’m tired, and I want to get through a couple other puzzles before hitting the hay.

The theme:  Guinness Book of World Records entries. The HEAVIEST PUMPKIN, LONGEST MUSTACHE, LARGEST MEATBALL, and HIGHEST HIGH DIVE. You know what was on TV the other week? World’s largest dish of hummus. Essentially a swimming pool full—what a lovely way to turn a healthy protein into waste, eh?

Fill’s got a bunch of stuff that won’t be obvious to a lot of solvers:

  • 5D. [Adriatic port] is TRIESTE, Italy.
  • 24D. [“The Gondoliers” girl] is TESSA. I’ve seen this in a couple other crosswords before.
  • 16A. [Bibliophile’s suffix] is -ANA, as in, um, I checked and the only literature-related -ANA word listed appears to be Shakespeareana. Are there other -anas out there?
  • 65A. Who on earth is [“Navy Blue” singer Renay] DIANE? Is that Diane Renay or Renay Diane? Diane Renay, 1964 hit song, before my time. Anyone under 50 know this one?
  • 48D. ERGOT is a [Grain disease] that was in crosswords all the time when I was a kid. Don’t see it much here these days.

Don Gagliardo’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 12THEME: “B-B-B-B-Bad to the Bone”—A record-breaking 29 Bs appear in the grid, some of ’em beginning words in the nominal theme entries

Was this one tougher than usual for a weekday LAT puzzle for you? Or is it just me?

The middle answer, B-TWENTY-NINE doesn’t have a spelled-out number anywhere but crosswords. Its clue reads 39a: [Enola Gay, e.g. (and a hint to this puzzle’s unusual feature)], and you’ll note that the clue refers to the puzzle, not to the handful of apparent theme entries. What look like theme entries but are really part of the overall grid-wide theme are these four phrases with B.B. initials:

  • 17a. [Trivial Pursuit edition] is BABY BOOMER.
  • 27a. [Luxurious soak] is a BUBBLE BATH.
  • 53a. [Party recyclable] is a BEER BOTTLE.
  • 64a. [Place for low-priority issues] is the BACK BURNER.

The real theme is the sheer number of Bs in the puzzle. The previous record for the most Bs in a 15×15 crossword was 22, according to Barry Haldiman’s page, and Don Gagliardo blew that out of the water. He’s made a habit of that—he also holds the record for most instances of the letter G (21), K (30), and W (15).

All righty, what else is in this crossword, Bs or otherwise?

  • 22a. [i follower] clues POD. With Apple’s latest product, the answer could also have been PAD…or MAC, for a less newfangled product.
  • 32a. [Très __: very little] clues the French word PEU. I find it works best to hold your thumb and forefinger close together when saying this word. “Un peu.”
  • 56a. I’m not crazy about [Tongue trouble] as a clue for SLIP. Yes, “slip of the tongue” is a common phrase, but it’s hardly ever “tongue trouble” that’s responsible. I know, I know—it’s not to be taken literally.
  • 59a. [Like many dicts.] is ABR., the abbreviation for “abridged.” In your dict., you may also encounter the abbrev OBS. (10d. [No longer used, as a word: Abbr.]), short for “obsolete.” If you’re lucky, your crossword includes words that are common enough to be found even in an abridged dictionary and not marked “obs.”
  • 3d. A BOBCAT is apparently a [Hare-hunting feline].
  • 12d. [Beatles song with “Mother Mary”] is “LET IT BE.”
  • 13d. And here’s ARETHA [Franklin of soul]. Her voice makes my scalp tingle (in a good way).
  • 39d. BAKELITE is [Collectible plastic jewelry]. Any of you own some?
  • 54d. [“… for there is nothing / either good __, but thinking makes it so”: Hamlet] is completed by the partial phrase OR BAD. Who doesn’t like a little Shakespeare?

Ben Tausig’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 14Cool theme: MALCOLM is the 65a: [First name of a civil rights activist who would turn 85 today, and whose adopted last name is a hint to this puzzle’s theme]. That last name is X, and the other seven theme entries are made by adding an X to the end of assorted phrases. Despite the uncommonness of the letter X constraining the options for theme crossings—not to mention the inclusion of a commanding 66 theme squares—the fill is decent and even finds room for double Zs (PALAZZI) and Xs (ZAXXON).

The theme plays out like this:

  • 1a. A [Souped-up Duncan?] yo-yo is a YO-YO MAX, which builds on cellist Yo-Yo Ma. This one was the toughest for me to figure out. The only Duncans I could think of were Isadora, Sandy, and Tim.
  • 27a. [Trebek after seeing a ghost?] is a PALE ALEX (pale ale).
  • 47a. [Drink-mixing tome?] is the BAR CODEX (bar code).
  • 9d. To [Massage a condom?] is to WORK LATEX (work late).
  • 11d. [Tailless cat that don’t got no place to call home?] is a RAMBLIN’ MANX (“Ramblin’ Man”).
  • 25d. [Fancy watch that only comes in pink or blue?] might be a GENDER ROLEX (gender role).
  • 32d. [Summit for clothes-free climbers?] is the NAKED APEX (naked ape). Yo, don’t forget the sunscreen. I hear the sun’s rays are stronger up where the air is thin.

Isn’t that a great batch of theme entries? Especially because the original X-less phrases are themselves lively language. That’s the goal in a theme like this—for the base phrases to sparkle and for the modified theme answers to be both plausible and entertaining. This puzzle passes the test in flying colors.

Answers that made me work for them:

  • 14a. [“Well, sir, it’s this rug I have – it really tied the room together” speaker] is THE DUDE. I hear he abides, but I’ve never seen The Big Lebowski.
  • 44a. [Fireweed] is ROSEBAY. This is, the dictionary tells me, a chiefly British term for a pink-flowered willow herb, Epilobium angustifolium, that is a common fireweed. My next question is “What’s a fireweed?” The dictionary comes to the rescue once again: it’s a plant that sprouts on burned land, particularly this pink-blossomed Epilobium.
  • 30a. [Fancy Italian structures] are PALAZZI, plural of “palazzo.”

Updated Wednesday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “With Pencil in Hand”—Evad’s review

So what can you do with a pencil?
Raymond Hamel answers that question with the ends of 4 theme entries, none of which have anything to do with using a pencil:

  • “Unique identifier for dogs” is a NOSE PRINT. Not a paw print? I’m curious how a vet might actually take one of these.
  • “Patriotic American song” is not “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but YANKEE DOODLE. Some interesting etymology of the terms in that song courtesy of our friends at wikipedia:

    As a term Doodle first appeared in the early seventeenth century, and is thought to derive from the Low German dudel or dödel, meaning “fool” or “simpleton”. The Macaroni wig was an extreme fashion in the 1770s and became contemporary slang for foppishness. The implication of the verse was therefore probably that the Yankees were so unsophisticated that they thought simply sticking a feather in a cap would make them the height of fashion.
  • COMEDY SKETCH is an “Improv piece.”
  • QUICK DRAW is a “Gunfighter’s talent.” Seems like the duels of the Wild West and Tolstoy are a thing of the past; hopefully now a quick wit is the preferred way of settling a dispute.

So pretty tight theme, and also my fastest solve of the CS puzzles so far this week. Let’s look at some of the far from SHODDY (“Not built very well”) fill:

  • The French import CONSOMMÉ is related to our words CONSUME and CONSUMMATE, or to finish off. In this case, one finishes leftovers to create a “clear broth.”
  • Who knew “Indy winner” ARIE Luyendyk? Pas moi. Apparently the wins by this Dutchman are pretty recent–1990 and 1997. I’d prefer a reference to India.Arie, only because I love that period in between her first and last name.
  • Oh, so close to getting our blog hostess in, missing ORANGE by one letter with ORANGS (“Great apes, briefly”). The other 3 groups of great apes are chimps, gorillas and us puzzle solvers.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Wednesday”

Region capture 15Turns out there’s a mini-theme in this puzzle, plus two allied entries. All I saw was the impetus for the puzzle, RONNIE JAMES DIO, the metal legend who died the other day at 67. His band, BLACK SABBATH, occupies two entries. And the Greenpeace ship the RAINBOW WARRIOR apparently has something to do with Dio, but I have no idea what.

In other rock news, BRIAN JONES is also in the fill.

Not crazy about the fill here, I’m afraid. The first corner is stuffed with INURN, EENIE, CIERA, ANEAR, ARCSEC, and RUNIC, none of which do anything for the puzzle besides work with that RAINBOW WARRIOR entry. Elsewhere in the puzzle ERNE and ORIEL and ONER and ENIAC and APSE feel like a crosswordese parade. Sure, CBS NEWS and TUXEDOS and JANE DOE are great, as is the thematic material. And VEX! I always like a little vexation. But overall, meh.

Time to go to school and do arts and crafts with the fourth graders now!

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19 Responses to Wednesday, 5/19/10

  1. Wes says:

    I had TIME OUT for DEMERIT – incredibly frustrating since, if you have OCTET for OCTAD, then both Ts, the M, and the E all cross with no problem. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who got hung up there.

  2. Gareth says:

    Standard LAT difficulty for me (a few seconds faster than yesterday) but not much else to say – but I do know it’s a rare day that I’m faster than you Amy!

    NYT: Last letters were to complete THIGHDIVE. Never heard of one… Oh wait HIGHEST/HIGHDIVE. Now I feel very very stupid. (A really only figured this out while writing this message…) Still waiting for CHAI to be clued re Slumdog Millionaire (or else it has and I missed it…)

    (Never heard of that DIANE.)

  3. ArtLvr says:

    Another -ANA that comes to mind is Holmsiana, all things Sherlock! As for YOYOMAX, I still don’t get that. Hoping someone will fill me in there…

  4. Howard Barkin says:

    Although the Times puzzle wasn’t a “tight theme”, as conceivably any number of 2010 Guinness entries that fit the grid could be entered as theme answers, I loved the sheer quirkiness of every one of those answers. As a kid, I used to read through the Guinness world record books with my sister and marvel at the insanity of it all (“Oh my god, look at those fingernails!!! Ow, quit scratching me!”), as well as try to figure out which records we’d be the most likely to try and break. So a good vibe there. As for some of the fill, well, I’m very glad I never saw the clue for DIANE in that corner. That’s just mean :).

    @ArtLvr: YOYOMAX = a Duncan yo-yo + MAX = Famed cellist Yo Yo Ma + ‘X’. I guarantee that you will see YO YO MA’s name in many more puzzles. Besides being a world-renowned classical musician, in defense of immaturity, his name’s also fun to say aloud.

  5. David H says:

    We used to play word games with our kids when we went on car trips in NJ. There’s a town in North Jersey called “Mahwah”; and a convenience store chain called “WaWa”. Therefore, if a certain cellist decided to go into the fast food biz around here, we’d maybe have a “Yoyo Ma Mahwah WaWa”. Funny – our trips always seemed longer than they actually were.

    I thought that as a group, today’s puzzles were top notch. Interesting that the NY Times is ABOUT records, and the LA Times SETS a record. It was fun finding out all those obscure Guinness Records – both puzzles had me saying, “Hmmm. Imagine that!”.

    They were all “Just Right”.

  6. joon says:

    i thought the LAT was a bit easier than usual, and the NYT about average for a wednesday. but man, check out al’s time on the NYT. have you been reading the guinness book, al? :)

    i liked seeing DOODLE in ray hamel’s pencil theme, because it reminded me of one of my favorite clues i’ve ever written: {Using a pencil without a point?} for DOODLING.

    david, what if the chain were run by the cellist’s mom?

  7. ArtLvr says:

    @ Howard B — I know Yo Yo Ma, but if Duncan is a brand of yoyo, I guess that’s what I needed to know…

  8. Evad says:

    With LARGEST M???BALL in place, I thought MOTHBALL before MEATBALL. I wonder if there is a Guinness record for this? If not, I’ve got my ticket to being immortalized in the records book!

  9. Howard Barkin says:

    David – Went to college in Mahwah, and grabbed coffee at WaWa this morning. It’s a small world, after all.

    Now all you need to do is listen to Lady Gaga while driving there (or Radio Gaga by Queen, if it suits you).
    (Unfortunately, WaWa ranges as high as Central NJ, so I don’t believe a WaWa can be found in Mahwah, yet… but hope springs eternal).

  10. pannonica says:

    ArtLvr: That would be Holmesiana, but it’s more often rendered as the more recognizable Sherlockiana. In either case, the suffix is –iana, not –ana. Our hostess, I believe, was specifically questioning the three-letter version of the suffix. Good old Merriam-Webster tells us

    Main Entry: –ana
    Variant(s): or –iana
    Function: noun plural suffix
    Etymology: New Latin, from Latin, neuter plural of –anus –an & –ianus –ian
    : collected items of information especially anecdotal or bibliographical concerning

    Indeed, Amy’s example of Shakespeareana is just as often seen as Shakespeariana. It seems to me that –iana is more common than –ana when it comes to literary and artistic collecting: Dickensiana, Mozartiana, Bachiana. Straddly cheats include Victoriana (already ending in –ia and Bukowskiana (already ending in –i, virtual dumpster diving to find that one), and—why not?—Lawrenceferlinghettiana. Joyceana is the only other “pure” bibliophilic –ana that I can think of offhand.

  11. pannonica says:

    Baba Wawa?

  12. ePeterso2 says:

    @Amy – Dio was in the band Rainbow before joining Black Sabbath.

    I loved the Onion puzzle today – BAR CODEX was my favorite entry.

  13. Amy Reynaldo says:

    There was a band called Rainbow?

    Pannonica, thanks for the -ana business! I knew someone would come to the rescue with answers.

  14. Howard Barkin says:

    If there were, hypothetically, a related term for a collection of historical banana writings and memorabilia, I’m not sure if I would ever be able to stop typing or speaking that word. Just saying.

  15. Evad says:

    And if there were, could we dare to hope that bananarama would set it to music?

  16. ePeterso2 says:

    You might actually know a Rainbow tune or two. Dio sang on “Man on a Silver Mountain”, and they had post-Dio hits with “Since You Been Gone” and “Stone Cold”, the latter of which went to #1 on one of Billboard’s US charts and whose video was an early MTV staple.

  17. Al Sanders says:

    Another “Rainbow Connection” for Dio is that one of his two big hits is “Rainbow in the Dark”. I actually took my kids to a concert with Dio a few years ago, so that was a pretty easy theme for me. Joon, doing well on today’s NYT was small consolation after whiffing on the MGWCC meta. Have you ever *not* got a meta? How would you blog it if not? I don’t think I could handle the pressure of having to get the meta every week, knowing my blog audience was waiting for the answer :-)

  18. pannonica says:

    Lolafalaniana? Copacabaniana? Cassabanananiana?

  19. joon says:

    al, i blew the meta two weeks ago! it wasn’t so bad to blog, because i did figure out what was going on, but then i just miscounted the letters. last week was kind of the opposite: i got it right, but i wasn’t at all sure so i didn’t know how to blog it.

    i’ve only outright whiffed on one meta from 2 years ago (#8). that was a few weeks before i started blogging the MGWCC. and it was such a tough meta that only fourteen people got it right (admittedly there were fewer people doing the contest back then). anyway, i assume it’ll happen again some day, and i’ll have to blog my ignorance and ask the readership to enlighten me.

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