WSJ Saturday Puzzle tba — Mike Shenk “Shapeshifters”
Joe Krozel‘s New York Times crossword
In this 62-worder, there are some non-low-word-count-ish cool things and some “ehhh, no” things. I like the flow from section to section, with the four stacked pairs of 15s intersecting in every corner and keeping things connected. Here are the entries and clues I was fond of:
- 15a. CULTURE VULTURES are [Some literati]. Sparkly, colloquial phrase.
- 23a. Casey KASEM is/was a [Big name in Top 40 countdowns]. “Keep reaching for the stars…”
- 27a. The clue wasn’t helpful to me, but I like to see the L.A. TIMES. It’s the [Longtime “Column One” printer, briefly].
- 29a. For [Proverbial certainty], there are two good 5-letter answers: DEATH and TAXES.
- 44a. I’m lukewarm on the definite article, but THE ROSETTA STONE is an [Aid in understanding some old pictures].
- 48a. I love and loathe STOSSEL. Don’t care for the man, but am always entertained because of his cheesiest TV line. [Former “20/20” co-anchor John] STOSSEL once did an “exposé” on prison weight rooms. He fretted that the convicts who worked out were “bigger…and scarier.” (My husband and I can always make each other laugh by quoting this.) Plus, his mustache is ridiculous. And then he moved over to Fox News, didn’t he?
- 2d. A SURROGATE MOTHER is [One making a special delivery?]. And that special delivery is a huge gift to the parents.
- 23d. I should hate this partial, but c’mon, it’s ’80s Michael Jackson! [“But the ___ not my son” (“Billie Jean” lyric)] is completed by KID IS. You can hear the bass line and see the lighted dance floor in the video, can’t you?
- 31d. Sure, it’s obscure pop culture, but it’s my obscure pop culture. TABITHA was that [“Bewitched” spinoff] starring what’s-her-name in the ’80s as an all-grown-up Tabitha, junior witch. Wikipedia to the rescue! Lisa Hartman, and actually it was the late ’70s, the Love Boat era.
Compromises I don’t much care for:
- 8a. Gah, a variant spelling? Bleah. The verb [Throttle: Var.] clues GAROTTE, a variant of garrote.
- 18a. Unfamiliar clue for crossword regular URAL: [The Sakmara feeds it]. No, you’re not expected to be familiar with the Sakmara.
- 31a. Don’t think I’ve ever seen this one before. [Bit of biblical “writing on the wall”] is TEKEL. Wikipedia tells me that Tekel is a Turkish tobacco company. This article explains the MENE, MENE, TEKEL, etc. business.
- 39a. I used to live next door to a woman named LALLY. Know nothing about this [___ column (concrete-filled cylinder)]. I can’t help thinking that Newsweek‘s Lally Weymouth is 80 times more familiar to people than the Lally column.
- 41a. No. Really? “IT’S A LULU“? Who says that? Not I. [‘This one’s incredible!”] Yes, it’s beyond belief.
- 46a. “Hearsay testimony” feels far more “in the language” to me than HEARSAY EVIDENCE, a [Court no-no].
- 3d. Eh, how do I feel about “PLEASE TAKE A SEAT“? Is this [Host’s invitation] fresh or hackneyed?
- 5d. [Bulg. relative] clues RUS. Is this about the Bulgarian and Russian languages? Meh. Though crossworder Jeffrey Schwartz has had numerous entertaining updates from his Bulgarian vacation recently, the RUS. connection has been lacking.
- 11d. [Shown up at a restaurant?] clues OUTEATEN. Ehh.
- We’ve got two arbitrary number+words phrases. First, there’s 13d: TEN-YEAR SENTENCE = [It’s better than life]. Well, that depends on your perspective. If it’s your loved one who was victimized, you’re probably pissed off about the miscarriage of justice represented by a 10-year sentence. The other number phrase is 34d: ONE REEL, or [Length of some shorts]. Ehh.
- 14d. No, ESTAMPA is not one of the Spanish words non-Spanish-speakers are likely to know. [Imprint: Sp.] hints at the cognate, stamp, but not overtly.
- 32d. I like WALLEYE, but I’ve never seen [Pikeperch]. The northern pike, sure.
Joon Pahk’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I really enjoyed this 70-worder, though (as always when it comes to the Saturday LAT crossword) I wished the clues were a bit tougher. Here are the main highlights:
- 1a. [Ripped muscles?] are SIX-PACK ABS. Not to be confused with the tearing asunder of the biceps in a male gymnast doing the Iron Cross, which, ow.
- 16a. [Flying start?] is a great clue for the prefix AERO-. Makes the entry worthwhile. I’m not sure where the line is between “cute clue that makes you feel ripped off when you get the junky answer” and “clever clue that rescues a not-terrific answer by virtue of its cleverness,” but this answer is on the good side of that line.
- 35a. Tough linguistics clue for SEMITIC: [Language subfamily that includes Maltese]. I’m reading a New Yorker article about edible songbird poaching in Cyprus, Malta, and Italy right now, but didn’t know that Maltese was a Semitic language.
- 39a. LIKE MAD is a cool answer, and [Feverishly] is its clue.
- 40a. You don’t see a lot of crossword answers with a TCHD in the middle. A WATCHDOG is a [Defense against intruders].
- 60a. Whatever you do, don’t stick your fingers in a pay phone’s coin return slot! There may be contaminated needles in there! No, not really. URBAN MYTHS are [Contemporary folklore].
- 63a. [Draws] are STALEMATES and no, this word has nothing to do with the seven-year itch.
- 3d. XANADU is a [City visited by Marco Polo]. You’re hearing the dulcet tones of Olvia Newton-John now, aren’t you?
- 12d. “GET A ROOM!” [“Not in public, you two!”] I love this answer. I don’t say this to anyone in earnest if they can hear me, but sure, I say it to groping strangers out of earshot.
- 32d. [Gogo’s pal, in “Waiting for Godot”] is DIDI. One name is short for Estragon; the other, for Vladimir. “Let’s go.” “We can’t.” “Why not?” “We’re waiting for Godot.” Spoiler alert: That bastard Godot never shows.
- 35d. A [Bittersweet farewell] is a SWAN SONG.
There were some other things that were not quite as cool, but that might be giving some people fits:
- Namely, the crossing between 56a and 56d. This was my most reluctant square. 56a: MEDINA is a [City SSW of Cleveland], not just a Saudi Arabia holy city, but I’ve never heard of the Ohio town. The M crosses MUSH, or [Cloying sentimentality]; I also considered GUSH.
- 43a. [Angelo’s instrument] is an ARPA, which is Italian for “harp.” Angelo is Italian for “angel.”
- 37d. I’ve heard of the mountain range called the Poconos, but this [Resort town W. of the Delaware Water Gap] called MT. POCONO? Never heard of it. Nor have I heard of this Delaware Water Gap. If you dig geology, check out the Wikipedia article about this gap.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Country Club”—Janie’s review
Oh, literal me… I see the word “country” in the title, paired with the word “club” and I assume the theme fill will have the names of countries in it (and think it’s a cute title). But no. Instead, each of the four theme phrases starts with a nationality, all examples of the “-ish” variety (as opposed to the “-ese” or “-ian” sort, say). No countries at all, but citizenry? Yes. And yes, I have another quibble to raise, but if you solved this one, I bet you know what it’ll be. Looking at the theme fill:
- 20A. [“Macbeth,” with “The”] SCOTTISH PLAY. I thought this would be KING OF SCOTLAND, but among other things, it’s one letter too long… Theater lore says that if you’re performing in it, this is the way to refer to this play about the man who would be king. Here’s a little backgrounder on the (colorful) superstition.
- 33A. [Beverage with whiskey and whipped cream] IRISH COFFEE. Oh, really—doesn’t that sound good?! Make mine with decaf, please…
- 39A. [Muppet whose short-lived cereal was called Cröonchy Stars] SWEDISH CHEF. Here’s a link to some of the ads, and here’s the chef preparing chocolate moose [sic].
- 53A. [Archipelago of western Europe] BRITISH ISLES. I know the British Isles are not the same as the British Islands, but I still wish the fill had gone farther afield and sounded less “country”-like. British lions? British Crown?
So the members of the “country club” are Scottish and Irish—and since Scotland and Northern Ireland are part of the United Kingdom—that makes them all British in fact. Except for those who happen to be Swedish… No matter how ya slice it, this one really doesn’t fit in. Sure it’s summertime and the livin’ is easy, but I think this is a theme idea that needs some refining and a goal of better consistency.
Where the puzzle does deliver consistently, however, is in the non-theme fill, which has many first-rate entries going for it. Conscientious members of the FIFTH COLUMN [Subversive group of traitors], are certain to ENCRYPT [Make secret in a way] any message they may be sending lest their mission GO SOUTH [Turn bad slangily] (which has no connection to that [Southern honorific]/BR’ER combo…). These examples alone are worth the price of admission and definitely hit a HOME RUN for this solver.
I also liked seeing OKTOBERFEST [Annual event held in Munich], a veritable ORGY [Rowdy shindig] of food and beer. Seems the SUGARLOAF [Conical sweetener of old] is also something that can still be found without too much difficulty in Germany. If you want to sweeten your CHAI [Spiced beverage] with one, however, you may need a pair of sugar nips (special iron sugar-cutters).
Greek mythology gets a shout-out today by way of [Poseidon’s domain] for SEA, [Mars, to the Greeks] for ARES and […Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, with “the”] for FATES. These are the gals who tend to the thread of life—the spinner, the measurer, the cutter. Seems your FORTUNE is in their hands (though maybe not that [Business magazine since 1930]).
Lester Ruff’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
One thing I like about this puzzle is that there are three answers starting with RE but all three are solid words in their own right and not uninspired RE+verb concoctions. 18a: REALTOR is [One with lots to list]. 3d: REVISIT is [Consider anew], and we don’t “visit the issue” nearly as often as we “revisit the issue.” 12d: RETOOLS is [Modernizes, perhaps], and outside of the manufacturing world we speak more of retooling things than tooling them in the first place.
- 26d. a POP QUIZ is a [Student’s dread].
- 15a. [Pizzeria purchase] is OREGANO—what the pizzeria buys, not what you buy at the pizzeria.
- 20a. [Wellington, circa 1782] was an ETONIAN. I guessed this off the -IAN ending, as it’s the sort of connection often made in crosswords. Notable Englishman = likely Eton graduate.
- 33a. [Very hungry] clues SHARP-SET. Dictionary tags the word as “dated.”
- 35a. [Plutarch called her “a lover of wisdom”] clues ISIS. My first guess, off the -IS ending, was ERIS, goddess of discord.
- 46a. [Nevsky Cathedral locale] is YALTA? I’m not up on my cathedrals of the Crimea.
- 50a. EMUS are [30-miles-per-hour runners].
- 57a. Did you know this? TNT is a [Chemical first used as a dye]. Perhaps they had trouble with the dye vats blowing up.
- 60a. Usually I’m irked by the “meaning of a first name” clues, but I happened to know that MELISSA is a [Name that means “honeybee”] so I was okay with this one.
- 2d. CREMONA is a [City on the Po]. Sounds too much like Cremora, doesn’t it?
- 6d. [Government redesign of 2010] clues the $100 bill, or C-NOTE.
- 8d. Cool answer. MARIACHI is a [Musician on the move].
- 13d. P.J. O’ROURKE is an [“Atlantic Monthly” correspondent].
- 21d. [Sports semifinal] clues NLCS, or baseball’s National League Championship Series. Rough to cross this with FCC with a tough clue (29a: [Licensing org.]).
- 36d. [Pilgrim’s destination] clues ST. PETER’S.
- 38d. [Holes in your shoe] are the EYELETS your shoelaces pass through.
- 45d. I don’t like this answer at all. [Washington, e.g.] is a U.S. STATE, but how often do people within the U.S. refer to a state as a “U.S. state”?
My Manitou Heights*-educated father, who taught me how to fish, would know WALLEYE from [Pikeperch] and would expect me to do so as well…but I needed the -EYE ending to get it.
(*–an oblique reference to the other college in Northfield, Minnesota, for those not aware.)
“Mene mene tekel upharsin” always reminds me of the adage “Measure twice, cut once.”
(Jeff’s posts from Bulgaria have shown signs and names using Cyrillic characters. That’s a connection.)
I knew TEKEL from my (very) amateur card magic days. I still have a magician’s (trick) deck called a “Mene Tekel” deck.
Congrats Joe on your record-tying puzzle!
Really liked this puzzle. THE ROSETTA STONE and CULTURE VULTURES were fun.
23d was a Monday level clue. It really wasn’t necessary to add (“Billie Jean” lyric).
Anyone notice the asymmetry?
Michael, if you look closely you’ll see that it is not actually asymmetrical. It is symmetrical around the diagonal axis running from the top left to the bottom right. An unusual crossword symmetry, to be sure, but it is symmetrical.
My father says “It’s a lulu” and “It’s a doozy”, but he’s 85. I’ve never heard anyone else use it.
I noticed the not-the-usual-crossword-symmetry only when I went to count the black squares after reading MAS’s comment—had assumed the central line of black squares was in the middle but it’s not. Two notes:
(1) I believe it goes in the record books only with an asterisk because of the symmetry variant.
(2) Dropping the black square count doesn’t do anything to enhance the solver’s enjoyment.
NYT: Mostly easy with 2 impossible squares here. A 62-worder you say! Well I’ll cut it some slack then, cos the rest did feel all THAT forced… And there’s quite a bit of cool stuff! After 6 minutes: had done whole bottom (as high as TEKEL/BITMAP) with 2 mistakes that could’ve been anything for me – PLOSA/PALLY and MARTEA/STOASEL, but only PLEASETAKEASEAT/ITAL/ARAL at the top. That also proved less resistant than at first. Second last letter was ARAL to URAL. Also had to ditch ROM which was where RUS should’ve been. Two thumbs up for: CULTUREVULTURES and the clue for TENYEARSENTENCE. THE THE for ROSETTASTONE actually sounds right to my ears. “Mene, Mene, tekel, upharsin” is a pretty famous bit of the Bible, came up in a clue about 2 days ago (without the actual quote.)
LAT: Wait, that took me longer than the NYT… Clues were plenty tough for me! Started off in the top-right pretty quickly and then got totally mired. Stuff I don’t know is limited to HGTV, ORD, DIDI, MTPOCONO, VOLSTEAD. Rest was just because were clued in near inaccessible (35A, 38D, 52D) or vague (36D, say) ways, which is what I expect on Saturday, in the NYT at least. Confused @ the “?” at 1A – turned out to be completely literal. And who moved MEDINA from Saudi Arabia and why didn’t I hear about it?? MODENA, Italy also fit. Looking at the grid now, it’s pretty darn crazy having SIXPACKABS at 1A.
Enjoyed the NYT a lot, couple of missteps tho–HAVE A SEAT for TAKE A SEAT and not sure of the L crosser between LALLY and LLOSA. Did get John STOSSEL though–pretty familiar name in primetime TV.
AGEMATES is new to me. I’ll try to use it today if I run into anyone else who remembers that Pat Morita of the original “Karate Kid” was also the owner of “Arnold’s” diner on “Happy Days.” (I mentioned that to some guys I work with on a call yesterday and got silence from everyone else on the call, all notably 20 years my junior.)
I liked this one better than Amy did. Didn’t like TEKEL and the LALLY column, OUTEATEN was admittedly lame, and as a rule I’m not crazy about variant spellings, but the long entries were great. (I think I’ve heard HEARSAYEVIDENCE plenty of times. And ITSALULU was a pretty common expression among my parents’ set.)
One question: For ALIS to be a “noted ring family,” more than one ALI would have to have been a boxer, no? Is there another ALI boxer besides Muhammed?
“Is there another ALI boxer besides Muhammed?”
His daughter Laila.
Thanks, HH. I didn’t know about her.
Keep an eye out, LAILA appears in many crosswords, clued that way.
*sigh* Those poor Walesish people.
I found the Stumper very easy and the LA Times hard. Bizarro Saturday.
i found the stumper very easy, too. my fastest ever by over a minute. i can’t say how hard the LAT was, though. seemed easy enough to me, but i knew all the trivia. :)
MENE has appeared 14 times in the Shortz era. This is the first for TEKEL. We need UPHARSIN for the hat trick.
I don’t recall complaints about the many MENEs, which last appeared in a Wednesday puzzle by — Joe Krozel. Why the tekelism?
I disagree with the comment about the black square count and solvers’ enjoyment. For many solvers, a puzzle with a very open, white grid (i.e., low block count) is daunting, and solving one can be especially satisfying. The challenge for the constructor is filling the grid with answers worthy of a good themeless, and l thought today’s NYT did an excellent job of that. Is everything in the grid great? No, but you could say that about virtually any puzzle with an ambitious theme or grid design. For me, it’s all right as long as the compromises are kept to a minimum and there’s an ample supply of good stuff. Here, I thought all eight of the intersecting 15s were good, or better than good, and the puzzle had some other good, notable fill. I know you’re on record of disliking low word count puzzles, but let me say, completely unfairly perhaps, that it feels like you’re really reaching to make your point. When answers like HEARSAY EVIDENCE, ITS A LULU, PLEASE TAKE A SEAT, and TEN YEAR SENTENCE, and clues like the ones for WALLEYE and RUS, are listed as “compromises,” then I don’t think you’re being completely fair to the puzzle.
I enjoyed Joon’s puzzle in my sprinkler-soaked LA Times paper today. (Hey, LAT, why can’t you tie the ends of your plastic bags, like every other newspaper?). Great 1A, and lots of good stuff from there. If it were up to me, I’d have been tempted to go with PINSTRIPES for 17A. But then, I’m a Yankees fan and don’t live in Boston.
john, i thought about it, but i didn’t feel there was much of a difference in fill quality between PINSTRIPES and PINSTRIPED. (maybe i’m in the minority here?) but i liked the evocative SADE a lot better than SASE, which feels like a dated abbreviation to me even though it’s still a crossword repeater well into the 21st century. as it happens, i’m an A’s fan living in beantown, although i probably dislike the yankees as much as i like any team. weirdly, though, i’m just much less of a baseball fan in general than i was two or three years ago. crosswords have essentially supplanted baseball in my hobby hierarchy.
thanks for the nice words. i’m glad you enjoyed the puzzle!
“We open in Venice. Our next stop’s Cremona. Then on to Verona….”
Speaking of Cremona, it’s the town where the three violin kings plied their trade hundreds of years ago: Amati, Stradavari and Guarneri. All treasured today.
@John Farmer: I should stand up for Amy because she is quite balanced in her reviews.
But to expand on your thought, every time I see the caviling critic (Rex Parker, who I have stopped reading because of his negativity toward some really fine work by some accomplished constructors), I am reminded of this classic quote from Ratatouille:
Anton Ego: In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.
And I am waiting for a review that goes:
“… Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary offering from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the puzzle and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cruciverbalism is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core.” (with apologies to Pixar’s writers)
That’s why I like the Wordplay blog the best. The subtleties, the fine character of a puzzle, the beauty of the fill and the charm of the theme are all presented in a wonderful narrative by Merrell and Horne.
I thought it was a quite good and also very hard puzzle, between small tricks, a grid that made it tough to get far without cracking the long fills, and long fills that used more than one word, making it easy to get a corner and still not get the fill to break out to the next. (TRANSMIGRATION is one word, but I still had “migration” for some time while wondering what the first word would be!) Similarly, MA_ could have been “macho” or MANLY, and I needed crossings to decide.
Many of the details were tough but interesting. I especially liked the cluing for ROSETTA STONE and SOS. I fell into traps, intentioned or not, a few times. I had “reseated” for OUTEATEN and “bra” for BOA. (I also misremembered the novelist as LHOSA, but that’s my fault. I thought I had a gimme, in fact.) I also had the wrong spelling for GAROTTE for a while.
I think Rick’s right, Amy, that IT’S A LULU is perfectly idiomatic, just very dated. (Took me a while.) I’ll also disagree with Amy’s admiration for KASEM, which to me was just an annoyance and the S my last square to fall. Also didn’t know another TV item, HAMEL. My only “eh?” though, was LALLY. Thus, on balance an interesting grid and good challenge.
Sorry Cole Porter. My bad! Actually: “Our next stop’s Verona. Then on to Cremona. Lotsa quail in Cremona….”
Amy, why does the diagonal symmetry disqualify this puzzle from the record? I don’t understand.
Joon, I like SADE better than SASE too. Except in NY, Yanks haters probably outnumber fans, so not sure a baseball answer would have been a plus for many solvers anyway.
TimS, there’s lots to say about the role of the critic. I’ve written some about critics at my movie site, though I don’t think movie critics and crossword bloggers are doing quite the same thing. In any case, you may enjoy Mel Brooks’s take.
No one comments on the LAT’s 62 across?
Clue: Shuffle alternative
Karen, this sort of symmetry breaks the usual rules of crossword construction. Is it fair to give equal weight to puzzles that do and don’t follow the rules, or are the two in separate categories?
Rey, the iPod is available in several models, including the Shuffle, Nano, and Touch.
Rey, two kinds of iPod.
Thanks for the shuffle/nano explanation.
I’m falling behind on tech, tho I expect to get an Ericophone this year.