Saturday, 7/10/10

NYT 14:49
Newsday 8:48
LAT 4:28
CS untimed
WSJ Saturday Puzzle 10:52—here’s the PDF of Mike Shenk’s “Labyrinth”

Joe DiPietro’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 15While I work on writing the post, here’s the answer grid for this 64-worder. For me, it was the hardest NYT puzzle in a couple years. It was almost like finding a Newsday “Saturday Stumper”  in the spot normally reserved for my favorite NYT puzzle of the week. Weird.

Okay, we’re back. I did not like this puzzle. There are a couple really cool entries, but they’re offset by too many tortured entries. My favorite entries are the FAKE TAN at 20a ([You might have one after spraying yourself]) and 33d: INFRA DIG, meaning “beneath dignity” or [Beneath one’s self-respect]. If this term is new to you (I’ve seen it but didn’t know what it meant), read up on it here and see Eleanor Roosevelt’s usage of it.

The answers that didn’t sit well with me were legion, and some of ’em were killers to figure out:

  • 17a. YET TO SEE is clued with [Not taken in], as in a movie that is not taken in by you is one you have YET TO SEE. Isn’t this just three words that you might find in that sequence in a sentence?
  • 18a. TAPE TO, or [Stick on, in a way]. Awkward.
  • 27a. [MR. ___ (old mystery game)] clues REE. Seen this before, but forgot it. Super-common letters, but REE is not an asset to a puzzle’s gestalt.
  • 53a. GET A LINE, or [Learn about, with “on”], feels like an 8-letter partial to me.
  • 1d. Who says SAYS MORE? The clue is [Continues], and I incomprehensibly had SAYS WHEN for the longest time because I had WHINER instead of MOANER for [Kvetch].
  • 3d. UNTRACED is clued as [Not followed].

Okay, maybe five entries isn’t quite “legion,” but if you can’t make a 64-worder without such fill, I beg you, add some black squares and shoot for smoother fill.

Here’s a rundown of some more clues:

  • 9a. Sally [Field’s pair] are the OSCARS she has won.
  • 15a. ANN ARBOR, Michigan, is the [Site of a college stadium that seats over 100,000].
  • 22a. [It’s above 90] refers to an A AVERAGE.
  • 23a. [Share letters?] is one of those question-marked letdowns. The answer is OTC, as in over-the-counter stocks. That’s the payoff? Pfft.
  • 24a. [Big hand] is a great clue for OVATION. You were thinking of poker hands, weren’t you?
  • 33a. For [Pugilists’ org.], I wanted the WBA or something else starting with World. It’s the IBF, International Boxing Federation. I hate boxing.
  • 38a. [Spots before one’s eyes?] are the ADS you see. Eh.
  • 50a. A AVERAGE probably made you think of letter grades for [Inability to get A’s or B’s?]. I also pondered blood types. The answer is TIN EAR. Hey! I don’t get those A’s or B’s at all.
  • 52a. For [Aspirin and such], I plugged in NSAIDS but the answer is more chemistry-oriented. I had no idea aspirin and friends were ESTERS. Don’t really know what esters are.
  • 54a. O, good gravy! [Element of radon or xenon] is not about chemistry. It’s the SHORT O sound in those elements’ names.
  • 2d. I was so stuck on this for so long, with the three crossing 3s at the bottom not helping out at all. [Rating numbers] are the scale of ONE TO TEN. Clue would’ve been a lot easier with the word “scale” in it.
  • 6d. [London weekly, with “The”], 8 letters? Oh, that’s a cinch! It’s the GUARDIAN. Except it’s actually the OBSERVER. I prefer the Guardian.
  • 14d, 38d. I like the gemstone pair in opposite corners. [Precious ones, possibly] are STONES and AGATES are [Balls with bands]. (Mighty tough clue, that latter one.) Lake Superior agates aren’t necessarily round, but they look cool, don’t they?
  • 31d. [Badminton dinks] are NET SHOTS. Are you up on your badminton terminology? I studied badminton in college but needed lots of crossings here. Okay, I didn’t actually study it, but I did take it for a P.E. credit.
  • 39d. [Peace-loving] clues DOVISH. Not the much more crossword-friendly IRENIC.
  • 41d. I was stumped by [His last film was “The Harder They Fall,” 1956]. I had the reggae song “The Harder They Come” interposing itself in my head. Eventually I remembered a 6-letter BO**** name: BOGART.
  • 49d. [Second person in Genesis] is THEE. Dang it, I had THOU for the longest time! Got the trick, missed the right answer.
  • 51d. Yay! Local color! WGN is a [Chicago cable station]. Well, it’s just a local channel here, but the rest of you get it as a cable station.

Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 16Well! This puzzle is much easier than that bear of an NYT crossword. It’s on a par with other recent Saturday LATs, and there’s nothing that made me groan in the fill of this 70-worder.

High points:

  • 16a. [Crash] clues ZONK OUT. I almost went with CONK OUT, but ZONK is more fun.
  • 33a. Who doesn’t love BALLOON ANIMALS? I mean, aside from people with latex allergies. They are [Twisted party decorations] and so are those twisted strands of crepe paper.
  • 53a. [Not finished yet] clues STILL AT IT. That one applies most strongly to the NYT puzzle.
  • 59a. MIMIEUX is fun to spell and fun to say. Yvette M. is [“The Time Machine” actress (1960)].
  • 61a. PTOLEMY, the [Influential second-century astronomer], also has a name that’s fun. Gotta love a MIMIEUX/PTOLEMY stack.
  • 3d. I like the surprise factor of TAROT CARDS being the answer to [Justice and Temperance, e.g.].
  • 12d. [Seemingly forever] clues EONS. That’s not the only short answer with a clue I liked—
  • 13d. [Like some awakenings] means RUDE.
  • 30d. CACCIATORE means [Prepared with tomatoes, mushrooms and herbs]. “Yvette Mimieux and Ptolemy cooked chicken Cacciatore.” Now spell that three times fast.
  • 45d. [Negro Leagues legend Buck] O’NEIL is great. When I saw his many commentaries in Ken Burns’ baseball documentary, I voted him into my Honorary Grandpa Hall of Fame.

Other points:

  • 27d. [Source of some sundae toppings] clues an ALMOND TREE. And here I thought the source was the bag that the slivered almonds came in.
  • 19a. [Certain Sopwith Scout] is a TWO-SEATER airplane.
  • 30a. [Eliot’s Old Deuteronomy, e.g.] is a fictional CAT.
  • 38a. Lee IACOCCA is your [“If you can find a better car, buy it” speaker]. He pairs nicely with COCOA, an [After-school request] at 25a. “Yvette Mimieux and Ptolemy cooked chicken Cacciatore, but Lee Iacocca had cocoa.”
  • 39a. [Purported source of Revere’s historic signal] is the OLD NORTH CHURCH I could swear I’ve never heard of. It had a name? Who knew?
  • 42a. Hello, 4-letter river of Europe! The NEVA is a [Gulf of Finland feeder]. Who knew?
  • 10d. [Shakespeare title name] is ANDRONICUS. I got this with just the A in place. I can’t think of any other people with A names in Shakespeare titles.

Updated Saturday morning:

Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “War Front”—Janie’s review

“War, huh, good God, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” So the Edwin Starr lyric (1970) goes. And I mostly have to agree. The exception is the way the word lends itself to today’s theme, where the first word of each of the four theme phrases can follow it, whence the title… (Despite the song’s serious subject matter, it is by no means a DIRGE [Somber song]—but this particular video is also very graphic, as it is made up of footage from the late ’60s and early ’70s—so, fair warning…) The non-violent theme fill that Gail artfully co-opts for this before-and-after puzzle is made up of:

  • 20A. (War) ROOM FOR DOUBT [Airtight case’s lack]. The 1993 movie The War Room is a modern classic on the making of a presidential campaign. Bill Clinton’s to be exact.
  • 30A. (War) CHEST MUSCLE [Pectoral]. I suppose one could develop a mighty set of pecs by lifting a heavy war chest
  • 41A. (War) CRY ME A RIVER [Julie London’s sultry song in “The Girl Can’t Help It”]. Here’s Ms. London, and here (at the end of this very short clip) is Lucy Lawless with the Xena war cry. “Cry Me a River,” btw, was #9 among the TOP TUNES [Hit parade lineup] of 1955. No mere DITTY [Simple song] that.
  • 51A. (War) HERO SANDWICH [Sub]. Any of these would probably delight a war hero, more than one of whom, I imagine, joined the military by means of ROTC, a [University recruiting org.].

The only part of the puzzle that gave me trouble was the cross of MSRP [Car sticker abbr.] and CUPS [Coffeehouse containers]. Why? Well, first of all, I’d entered MUGS for the latter. Cups conjures up a tearoom for me. Then, even when MSRP emerged, I had no idea what it stood for… That’d be “Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.” Now that I’ve heard of, but darned if the abbreviation registered. Ah, well. This is why “the crosses” (and checking them…) become so important in the solving game. And while this blog is not really a [Publication offering predictions], you can still add that to your own TIP SHEET.

Joon Pahk’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

What crazy world is this, where an 8:48 Stumper is the intermediate-difficulty themeless of the day?

Good puzzle, with plenty of lively entries. Let’s take a walk through the clue list and see what we’ve got:

  • 1a. [“Case closed”] clues “THAT’S THAT.” That’s a good 1-Across.
  • 16a. [First African-American major-league coach] is Buck O’NEIL. Hello! Today is Buck O’NEIL Crossword Day.
  • 17a. Not crazy about “I’M IN FOR IT” as [Words anticipating comeuppance]. I feel like “you’re in for it” and “he’s really in for it now” are more in-the-language than the first-person usage.
  • 24a. [“No problema!”] has a casual Spanish vibe like DE NADA.
  • 26a. CYR is clued as [Saint-___ (French military academy)]. Uh, does anybody know this? Usually CYR is clued by way of Lily St. Cyr. Not a desirable entry.
  • 27a. [“The Man Who Knew Too Little” director] is Jon AMIEL. I have seen none of his movies despite his entire movie-directing career taking place in my adult years. I’ve heard of most of his movies—just didn’t want to see any of them.
  • 31a. Today’s Least Familiar Answer: [Artilleryman, informally] is a REDLEG. Redleg has other meanings too.
  • 38a. [“Let’s blow this joint!”] clues “CHEESE IT!” Fifteen years ago, I had a Mac version of Yahtzee that had a “Cheese it, the cops!” function to hide the game when your boss walked into your office.
  • 51a. LA BREA is also an [Avenue west of Grauman’s Chinese].
  • 60a. To [Essay] something is to UNDERTAKE it.
  • 65a. [Won a tennis match, perhaps] clues HELD SERVE. A friend of mine saw Andy Roddick and Venus Williams play at Wimbledon recently.
  • 1d. I don’t know why a [747 alternative] is TRISTAR. Googling…it’s the Lockheed L1011, which I’ve heard of but not with the Tristar name.
  • 2d. I slowed myself down big time by having YES OR NO instead of HIM OR ME for [Request to one who’s torn].
  • 4d. [Word after big or top] is TEN. I had that early on but took it out when nothing else was working, but it was YES OR NO that was the problem.
  • 6d. [Subject of interest] clues T-BOND. Meh.
  • 9d. [Bird or beast] clues TETRAPOD. Did you know wings count in the -pod count?
  • 12d. A LEXICON is a [Set of words]. Cool word.
  • 30d. [“Wheels when you want them” company] is ZIPCAR.
  • 32d. GRETA Garbo played [Anna in “Anna Karenina” and “Anna Christie”].
  • 34d. [Diner offering] is VEAL? Gross. I think of food like patty melts, grilled cheese sandwiches, BLTs, burgers and fries, a meatloaf special, and cherry pie when I think of diners.
  • 36d. To AIRBRUSH is to [Alter, in a way]. Great entry, apt clue.
  • 44d. Trivia! Vladimir NABOKOV is an [Author who was also an entomologist].
  • 45d. [Two-way, as a sprinkler] clues SIAMESE, a very non-plumbing-sounding word.
  • 48d. SEIDEL is a [Large beer mug] I know about thanks to crosswords.
  • 61d. TRE, or three, is an [Italian cardinal] number.

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Labyrinth”

I love the variety puzzles that Patrick Berry makes (for the WSJ, for Games and World of Puzzles, and in the hardcover Puzzle Masterpieces), and I love the ones Henry Hook made for Terribly Twisted Crosswords. Very few puzzlemakers hit Patrick and Henry’s level of quality when it comes to variety grids. I see other people’s offerings in the Games publications, online, and in the NYT. Usually there are a couple entries that detract from the overall experience, a couple compromises I don’t like.

Mike Shenk generally achieves the same high quality in his puzzles, though, which is one reason Brendan Quigley refers to him as one of the “Crossword Jesuses.” (Patrick Berry and Frank Longo are the other two main Jesi.) This puzzle bears that out: No answers clanged and no clues clunked. Some of the entries are quite lively, too—you’ve got your CRANK LETTERS, a CON GAME, an expert’s TRAINED EYE, B STUDENTS, a CHANGE PURSE, and OBLIVION. It would be a lot easier to fill a Labyrinth grid with boring words like REENTERED and DISINTER, but where’s the fun in that? In non-Jesuses, non-Hook variety puzzles, obscurities and boring words invariably seem to crop up, so the puzzles just aren’t as interesting.

(Note: I haven’t done Brendan’s NYT “Marching Bands” puzzle yet, so I can’t say whether he reaches the Berry/Shenk/Hook bar in my mind.)

I got mired in the upper right corner for too long by having AMEND instead of ALTER for 3b: [Revise]. That mucked up the emergence of the LEGAL TEAM. Probably cost me a good minute or two, so a sizeable chunk of my total solving time. Overall, though, certainly not as tough as a Berry “Rows Garden,” not as easy as one of those “Snake Charmer” grids.

My answer grid:

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29 Responses to Saturday, 7/10/10

  1. INFRA DIG was a new term for me — never seen it before. I’ve also never seen that many multi-word or word+letter answers in a single puzzle.

  2. Wow. This guy’s ass was kicked fifteen different ways to Sunday. Stunning grid, tho.

  3. Deb Amlen says:

    I think we did the same puzzle with the same brain. I also had THEE instead of THOU, WHINER instead of MOANER. Never heard of INFRA DIG, but now I know.

    You studied badminton in college?

  4. Howard B says:

    Wow. I had 3/4 of a good time wrestling this thing. The phrases you described were bizarre but eventually fell, and it did feel much like a Newsday Saturday, a resistant but crunchy challenge. FAKE TAN, A AVERAGE, there’s some really nasty cleverness around. As Brendan said, liked the look and feel of the grid. Flowed pretty nicely up to those corner cul-de-sacs… Also did not fully understand the clue for OSCARS until reading here. Thanks!

    But that bottom-right corner? I’m not really a MOANER, I always find enjoyment in the puzzles whether in the clues, editing, etc. and all that. But that corner… I mean, I won’t rehash it all, but I spent most of my solving just swapping letters in there. The eventual payoffs were IBF/INFRA DIG (!!!), SWARDS, and NET SHOTS. Now personal ignorance of a word or phrase isn’t something to hold against a puzzle. But all squashed together, with the arbitrary GET A LINE? I was feeling a bit of Maleska malaise (Maleskaise?) on the fill there. If I hadn’t known Friz FRELENG, I would still be entering symbols ( @%#$(*! ) in the fill.
    I do appreciate the subtlety in crafting a difficult but fair puzzle. It’s not easy.

  5. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Deb, I also studied bowling. We called it Beer for Credit. Most people drank in the beer frame, but some opted for cocktails rather than beer. And we started well before the 7th frame. The smokers smoked all the while. We all got P.E. credit for this (needed 4 credits to graduate).

  6. Amy — the college 50 miles west of yours also offered badminton for PE credit, and I partook thereof as well.

  7. Anne E says:

    I was OK in the INFRA DIG corner (that phrase turns up in British novels now and then so I’d seen it before), but the upper left was killer for me… not a single one of those 8-letter entries would fall. Thank goodness for PATON, which was a gimme for me since I’ve read that book – otherwise I’d still be working on that corner, I’m sure. Very impressive grid, though, and overall I thought it was a fair puzzle.

    But this happens to me a lot in disconnected grids like this — I’ll get all but one of the disconnected pieces fairly easily and then come to a screeching, frustrating, time-ticking-away halt in the the last one. Gaaa!

  8. Martin says:

    I have a coupla comments and questions on Joon’s Stumper, but I guess the rules say not yet. I’m heading out so probably later.

  9. Gareth says:

    I found it hard, but not impossible. These heavily compartmentalized Saturdays are always bears for me so was expecting it! Even once sorting out one section you’ve got very little help with the next.

    Bottom-right was one pocket of v. easy, thanks to THEMAGI, which had met recently when totally bamboozled me! Hand up for IRENIC and NSAIDS off the S’s, but the bottom and middle were fairly mild. The top and esp. the top-left though… Really love the clue/answer of FAKETEN and the entry AAVERAGE (which looked so wrong with 2 As from middle in place!). Was left with only top-left and just OFF and VER to build from. Stimied for forever until NOES, then eventually dredged up OBSERVER, a flurry of answers and left with 3X3 area – severely mired again – I too had WHINER instead of MOANER and realising this sorted that out! Whew!

    Me I thought OSCARS’ clue referred to WC not Sally – gong! for me. My mother is fond of the phrase INFRA-DIG. I think it belongs to her generation…

    Also disliked YETTOSEE. But the rest are at least tolerable, so I’m going with a thumbs up here for tough but doable.

    Also found the LAT hard though… Nowhere specific, everywhere, though top-left again last to go. BALLOONANIMALS a fave! Loverly stuff though!!

  10. sbmanion says:

    My anchors in the SW and NE were IRENIC and AA Rating, so you can imagine how long it took me to unravel those quadrants. I did have ANN ARBOR as my first entry, but even so, the NW was the last to fall.

    The center was easy for me, but I wasn’t even sure I got the puzzle correct when I was done, as my mind saw INFRADING instead of a word ending in DIG. I never did parse it as INFRA DIG until reading the blogs.

    A Bob Peoples from many years ago caused me to break the mythical two-hour barrier. This was the second toughest NYT Saturday I can recall at a positively cheetah-like 1:45 after a come back this morning refresher.


  11. Matt says:

    Gosh– I found this one about average for a Saturday, and thought yesterday’s puzzle was somewhat harder. And if I didn’t at first have IRENIC rather than DOVISH for 39D, I might have even beat Amy’s time. Well, chacun à son goo, as Baby LeRoy used to say.

  12. Karen says:

    I got completely stuck on the top half of the NYT. Favorite wrong answers were ROSEMARY for 1A (at least I figured out the clue) and WHINGE for kvetch, which I tend to think of as a verb rather than a noun. I didn’t want to give up QUARTO at 9D either. I agree that FAKE TAN gave me the best aha, but INFRADIG? Bleah. That word is infra dig. I fell into the IRENIC trap too.

  13. Deb Amlen says:

    @Amy: Wow. I obviously went to the wrong university :)

  14. janie says:

    in addition to WHINER for MOANER, i confidently entered TROJANS for THE MAGI… but first to go in (and correctly — as gimmes): REE and (i’ll never quite understand how, but) ATELIER.

    did this one in several passes. *very* hard, but fair — and ultimately, fun.

    brendan’s “marching bands” is another goodie!


  15. Martin says:

    Question on the Stumper: is “Word after big or top” (TEN) at all kosher? I get “Big Ten.” Does “big ten” mean anything?

    Comment on “Member of the lily family” (AGAVE): this kind of clue is not a good idea anymore. Genomic studies make taxonomy very fluid. In fact, Agave has been moved twice since this clue was correct. In 1998, the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group system moved them to their own family, Agavaceae. In the 2009 APG III system, genus Agave was again moved, to family Asparagaceae.

    So today agave is a member of the asparagus family, but it’s sure to change.

  16. joon says:

    i can’t say too much about the AGAVE clue, as i don’t know anything about it. the TEN clue is, as you say, probably faulty. i did not really think about the lowercase b. perhaps it’s because, when i talk about the conference, i would spell it big ten. :) mea culpa.

  17. sbmanion says:

    Martin, the conference is not very good at football these days. big ten seems right ;)


  18. pannonica says:

    janie: As I’m sure you know, the Trojans were famous receivers of a gift. Sometimes the brain just plunges in a bit too quickly! ATELIER appeared in a puzzle (I forget which one) just a day or two ago, so perhaps it was still fresh in your mind for this one?

    Martin, I continue to find a kindred spirit in your systematic ramblings.

  19. janie says:

    pannonica — yep — done in by that T (where i’d initially entered THOU). so many ways to go wrong in this one. one of its great pleasures! and nope, no recent connection w/ ATELIER comes to mind.


  20. Martin says:

    Thanks, Joon, for the response. I hadn’t thought about your e.e. cummings style. That’s a hoot.

    “Big or top follower” FTW.

  21. joon says:

    yes, that would’ve been better.

  22. Sara says:

    Janie, I pulled ATELIER out of the air, too, but I doubted it over and over because I was surer of FAIREST and couldn’t reconcile the AAetc. for a long time.

  23. Martin says:

    Ramblings indeed :).

    To explain the magnitude of the agave/lily family error for the 1 or 2 who might have missed the significance, agaves are now placed in a different order from the lily family. That makes them as distantly related as mice and men.

    Asparagus gets no respect.

  24. Jeffrey says:

    It appears joon wants to replace Sam as my mortal enemy. i may never finish the stumper. sigh

  25. John Haber says:

    YET TO SEE, INFRADIG, IBF, whatever. I hate to be rude, but I’d have sworn I was reading a mistranslation from a foreign language, apart from whatever else I hadn’t heard of. I’ll just count it largely as an accident that I actually got this one without mistakes.

  26. Zulema says:

    It took me forever, since I just finished it. I wondered about WGN as I knew it as a Network channel. I have never seen an AGATE that’s a ball.

    Just laid this one aside and solved the LAT, which I thought was a beautiful puzzle with very interesting and literate fill and a shortage of puns, and the Sunday NYT, which was on the easy side but enjoyable.

  27. pannonica says:

    Zulema: In this case, I’m thinking the ball in question is a marble.

  28. Joan macon says:

    Amy, I am thrilled to discover that I had some of the wrong answers you did (whiner, Guardian) and that it took you a while. I have yet to finish a Saturday NYT but I am doing pretty well on the other days so I will keep on! Thank you!

Comments are closed.