Thursday, 8/19/10

Fireball 5:53
NYT 4:12
LAT 4:08
Tausig untimed
CS untimed
BEQ—Not blogging it because it’s a contest puzzle this week

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Escapades”

Region capture 23Nobody likes Nazi Germany’s S.S., right? Here, SS is jettisoned from the end of the first word in each of four familiar phrases, changing the meaning completely:

  • 17a. [Wall decorations for dorm room revolutionaries?] are CHE PIECES. Chess pieces is the original phrase.
  • 28a. A pass/fail course becomes “PA FAIL COURSE,” a [Grim prediction from dad after bombing his grammar final?]. Pa feel sad. Pa want watched TV now.
  • 44a. Remember when Ari Fleischer was Bush’s press secretary? A teenage solver named Ari Fleischer was at Lollapuzzoola with his dad Bruce. [Assistant-in-training?] clues PRE-SECRETARY.
  • 60a. [Lackey in the lingerie section?] is a BRA MONKEY, along the lines of a helper monkey in the bra department. Hang on: What does brass monkey mean, anyway? Lots of things, apparently.

Things I appreciated:

  • 16a. [One thing to scoop up the saag with] is POORI or puri, a deep-fried Indian bread. Two friends and I will probably be having giant pieces of poori with channa masala at an Indian restaurant in the next couple weeks, as we are overdue in celebrating all three of our summer birthdays. 35a: NAAN is a less greasy alternative, but sometimes the occasion calls for deep-frying.
  • 49a. The STUARTS accounted for [Many 14th-17th century Scottish monarchs]. Anyone else thinking of royal first names here?
  • 66a. One is not a lot of something. [One is alot] clues TYPO. “Alot” as one word is such a common error, some people picture the Alot as a living creature. My favorite line from that link is “Alot no understand why sharing feelings with.”
  • 11d. YO! MTV RAPS was an [’80s-’90s video show hosted by Doctor Dré and Ed Lover]. Am I the last to learn that rapper Dr. Dre and host/actor Doctor Dré are entirely different people? I so enjoyed that movie with Doctor Dré, Ed Lover, and Denis Leary.
  • 27d. [Darlin’] clues HON. A worker emptying the trashcans at LaGuardia called me “sweetie,” which is so much better than “ma’am” on one’s birthday.

Gene Newman’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 25Dang, it took me a Fridayish amount of time to unravel this theme. What Newman has done is to take four idioms that begin with prepositions, reversed the meaning and reversed the prepositions. Like this:

  • 17a. Honest = aboveboard. So [Dishonest?] is BELOWBOARD. I temporarily neglected to notice that BELOWBOARD is not generally considered a word.
  • 26a. Sad = down in the mouth. [Happy?] clues UP IN THE MOUTH.
  • 42a. Healthy = in the pink, so [Sick?] is OUT OF THE PINK. The OF is needed to make the OUT work.
  • 56a. Adept = on the ball. [Incompetent?] is OFF THE BALL.

I do like these nutty non-phrases. I’m tempted to start using them. “He’s really…off the ball, if you know what I mean.” “My kid is a bit out of the pink today.” “Oh, I don’t like her. She’s too up to earth.” “Eh, I’m under the moon about it.” “What are you talking about? I have never been more on my rocker.” It’s a good theme that gets people spinning their own wordplay and thinking about the oddities of the English language.

Ten more clues:

  • 1a. [Boot’s meal] was a complete nonstarter for me. It took me a while to get started elsewhere in the puzzle, circle back here, and use the crossings. MESS? The dictionary tells me boot is “a navy or marine recruit.” Who knew? Not I.
  • 20a. [Winter sailcraft] are ICEBOATS. A lot of solvers get tripped up by clues with the word “craft,” because it can be singular or plural.
  • 24a. THING gets a great clue: [Specialty, informally]. “Crosswords are really not my thing.”
  • 41a. [Serious borders?] are the ESSES I’ve underlined in the clue.
  • 1d. MOBIL is a [Gas brand with a red “o” in its logo].
  • 6d. [Porridge morsels] clues PEAS, as in “pease porridge in the pot, nine days old.” Many moons ago, there was no such thing as “a pea.” “Pease” was mistakenly interpreted as a plural and “pea” is a back-formation.
  • 12d. [Coquette’s wink, say] is the PASS she makes at you.
  • 27d. [Like overused crossword clues] clues TRITE. This puzzle’s got some spankin’ fresh clues, doesn’t it?
  • 32d. [Welder’s need] is the ACETYLENE in an acetylene welding torch.
  • 54d. [Reading by a night light, perhaps] clues ABED. I just checked the Cruciverb database (now updated through August 2010!) to see the clues used the last 127 times and you know what? Nobody’s mentioned reading in bed until now. See? Not TRITE, not TRITE at all.

We haven’t had a Gene Newman puzzle in the L.A. Times since 2008 (and not in the NYT since 2006). But hey! I like this theme and I appreciate the cluing, so I’d like Mr. Newman to get busy making more puzzles.
Updated later Wednesday night:

Kristian House’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 26I solved this puzzle when wilting from an overly warm room, but now I’m wearing an ice pack as a stole and feeling much perkier. (Note to self: Ice pack first next time!)

The grand unifying answer for the theme is 33a: HEAD FIRST: [Impetuously…or what can go on each part of the answer to each starred clue?]. HEAD can go FIRST, or before each half of these things:

  • 16a. [One on safari] is a GAME HUNTER. Usually we get head games in the plural. Headhunter works fine, though.
  • 20a. A SET PIECE is [Part of stage scenery]. Headset, headpiece.
  • 26a. [What a cell doesn’t need] is a PHONE LINE. I call foul on the singular headphone, which cries out for a final S. Headline is rock solid.
  • 43a. If you’re [Absolutely] sober, you’re STONE-COLD sober. Headstone, a head cold.
  • 49a. To LANDLOCK…wait, is that a word? Without the -ED at the end? I can’t say I’ve seen it. It’s clued as [Cut off from water]. Headland, put in a headlock.
  • 54a. [Person with a baton] is ELLEN RIPSTEIN. Head Ellen, Head Ripstein. No, wait. BANDMASTER. Headband, headmaster.

The overall word count is a kosher-for-themeless 72, what with the open corners and center of the grid. I like some of the fill but wasn’t crazy about all of it. Before I get to that—did your eyes do the same thing mine did, transposing two squares and turning LEEZA Gibbons into LEEZY-rhymes-with-Young-Jeezy and ENEMY into ENEMA?

Selected clues and answers:

  • 1a. [Dish that might come with mole sauce] clues TACO. I’ve never seen a mole sauce option for tacos. Is this for fancy fish tacos or something?
  • 13a. ON AN is a partial completing [___ open road]. Memo to puzzle constructors: There’s a newcomer on the movie scene named Ryan O’Nan. I’m pulling for him to become super-famous in the next year so we can get a break from [___ even keel].
  • 38a. [“Calm down, big fella”]. “EASY. Don’t bite.”
  • 2d. Hmm. ANARCHY [“___ is the only slight glimmer of hope”: Mick Jagger].
  • 9d. [Targets of salicylic acid] wanted to be ZITS, but the answer has 5 letters. Based on the R in the middle, I tried PORES, but it’s WARTS. Eww! I want my crossword WARTS to be clued with relation to toads.
  • 23d. Whoa. ELMA, I see, is a [Town outside Buffalo] that is not famous enough for me to have heard of it.
  • 33d. HANGDOG is a great word, meaning [Abject], as in “hangdog expression.” Vivid imagery. I picture a dog that knows he’s made a mess of your favorite things.

Patrick Blindauer’s Fireball crossword, “Crossword Show-Off”

Region capture 27Ooooh…that’s what you’re saying, right? OOh, whO’s tOp dOg nOw? The only vowel used in “Crossword Show-Off” (the title and the puzzle) is O. The grid appears to break the constructing rule against having a section of the grid completely cut off from the rest of the puzzle, what with that big black-square O in the middle—but Patrick has addressed the cut-off problem by cluing two diagonal answers that join the central box to the outside.

COOl plOy, but I don’t find myself with much to comment on. Didn’t know STONO, used the crossings for DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO, not excited to see the stuff like OSSO, ONO, MHO, OR NO, and ST. LO. Or ON TOP/ON LOW/O.D.’S ON. Or abbrevs OPP., OCT., HMOS, and ORCH. Or NOP and the OHOS and the OWS. What can I say? I like having the other vowels around, too.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Check Your Punctuation”—Janie’s review

Back on September 14, 2000, CS-anchor Bob Klahn published a puzzle not unlike this one entitled “Mark My Words!” The similarity? The beginning of the first word of the theme fill names a punctuation mark. The differences? Bob’s puzzle had 41 spaces of theme fill (in one 15 and two 13s); Randy has 56 (in two 15s and two 13s). That’s a big difference! And Bob’s fill was made up of three names; Randy mixes it up. Regardless, what’s important is that this came across as a very fresh solve—one that I enjoyed. Take a look at how Randy does it:

  • 17A. DASHIELL HAMMETT [Author who created Sam Spade]. Spade’s the detective of The Maltese Falcon fame. Randy also includes a Spade-contemporary icon of the tec trade and that’s PHILO [Detective Vance] whose stories are related by “S.S. Van Dine.” Each of ’em had great records for aiding the police by nailing the PERP [Cop’s collar]
  • 25A. COLONIAL TIMES [Part of early American history]. Gail Collins has an eye-opening account of the role of the female colonists in her book America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines. So glad to live that life only vicariously and to live instead in modern times when the [Head of the House] is Nancy PELOSI. Yes, MA’AM [Polite address]. While we often see her [IN HEELS], I be hard-pressed to say she’s ever [Wearing stilettos]. Publicly…
  • 45A. PERIODIC TABLE [Chemistry class chart].
  • 59A. COMMAND DECISION [Joint Chiefs’ judgment]. And heavy the heads that wear those crowns caps.

There’s a lot of 7-letter fill in the grid, of the very lively variety I’m pleased to report, and among the liveliest: “MY MAMMY” [Song performed by Al Jolson]; PROPMEN [Some stagehands] (very well-paid stagehands, too, I should add…); OBOISTS [Members of the wind section]; the crossing CAR TRIP and TIC-TACS clued respectively as [Long drive] and [Pellets for the palate] (a clue which summons up The Court Jester’spellet with the poison‘s in the flagon with the dragon” moment); “I MEAN IT” [“Don’t try my patience”]; and UPTEMPO [With a lively beat].

The two eights are mighty fine as well. There might be a DRAMATIC [… pause that gets one’s attention] in [Response to “Things might go wrong”] and “I HOPE NOT.

Some fave clues today include: [Beginning to care?] for MEDI (as in Medicare); [Quickly, quickly] for ASAP; [Drudge on the Internet] for MATT (so that first word is a proper name and not a noun); and [It’s said while smiling] for “CHEESE!”

Nothing too OUTRÉ here [On the fringes, in a way], but all of it really good ‘n’ really solid.

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9 Responses to Thursday, 8/19/10

  1. KarmaSartre says:

    Van Gogh used a headphone.

  2. Plot says:

    Google Maps tells me that I grew up about 20 minutes from ELMA, so it’s pretty embarrassing that I’ve never heard of it. I initially thought the answer was ELMIRA and wasted some time looking for a rebus.

    I further embarrassed myself today with a mistake on the Fireball puzzle. I normally don’t get too upset with typos while trying to speed-solve, but you’d think I’d be suspicious of an ossE/dotE crossing when that E is the only vowel that isn’t an O. Sad to say, I never figured out the theme, even though I was staring at that giant O in the grid’s center the entire time.

  3. Gareth says:

    LAT: What threw me somewhat is I’ve actually come across “below board” in that context… But a fresh idea none the less. Don’t need reminding at 13A about ORALS – I’ve got my final chicken exam tomorrow – it’s an oral!

    NYT: 7 theme entries (incl. the revealer) plus super-open grid = win!! Ok it’s 72 words too – now that’s just insane! JEANNES/ATRAINS/ULSTERS is a little ugly but not too… Request for ONAN to be clued via the Biblical coitus interruptus practioner and not the partial, but maybe that’s just me. (but Ryan O’nan’s fine too.) Anyone else want ELMA to be ERIE… As a person with one functional ear a headphone would be useful, but I’m not sure how it’s gonna stay on! (Have been known to cut off one of a pair of earphones though…)

  4. Howard B says:

    I’d call him Potrock Blondooor as an honorary title just for today, but that’s just me. Consider the fill you mentioned in the Fireball as a cover charge for finding the pretty cool gimmick. Also a winning tic-tac-toe across.

    NY Times was a bit tricky, and I had to pause to spell ERAGON correctly. It’s also a pangram, for those scoring at home. NOFAT also had many possibilities (LOFAT, LOCAL, NOCAL…), so that crossing PHONE LINE actually tripped me. (PHONE…. cord, wire?). The fill and clues weren’t that hard, but the multiple paths for many answers seemed to make this trickier. Very subtle.

  5. Evad says:

    Loved PB’s Ode to O, including the nice O depicted by the black squares in the center. It certainly helped narrow down the choices at the STON? / HON?R crossing! Is this the Pussy we’re talking about? I was in a Sopranos mode.

  6. joon says:

    lots of interesting puzzles today, that’s for sure. the NYT was a tour de force. seven theme answers, which is really 13 theme answers because six of them are pulling double-duty? color me impressed. nice fill, too, for the most part. i don’t really care about pangrams, and i kind of wish this one hadn’t been. can we agree that if you have to trot out poor ERIQ la salle again to make it a pangram, it doesn’t count? still, a very cool puzzle.

    i’ve seen O’NAN clued as such in a puzzle from simon & schuster mega 8. the bible character is fine, too, though.

    very nice subtle wordplay in the LAT. original and elegant. nice cluing, too.

    i have some fondness for the CS theme, as it was the same one i chose for my first newspaper-style crossword, almost two and a half years ago. it never got published anywhere, but actually, i just looked at it again and i can’t quite figure out why nobody wanted it. maybe i’ll post it to the forum.

    i thought the fireball was kinda easy. i’ve seen this theme done with E and A, but not with the extra visual feature (and diagonal clues). PB2 is always thinking of that one extra layer of theme, isn’t he?

  7. Ajaxman says:

    I thought a better clue for ONAN would have been “Builder of largest gold-plated object in North America”, referring to the six-story gold-plated pyramid located just north of Chicago. Has anyone outside of the Midwest heard of this, or is this just a local thing? You can see the pyramid from miles away (esp on the interstate from Chicago to Milwaukee).

  8. janie says:

    yikes. there really is a gold pyramid house… check it out. bee-zarre…


  9. John Haber says:

    I hate to disagree with Joon, but I thought the NYT was a real loser. Forced fill all over. I’d heard of “on the open road,” or “hit the open road,” though I wouldn’t classify either as an idiom. But the actual fill? There was trivia everywhere, as in MYA/LEEZA crossing. And like Amy I don’t by head-GAME. For that matter, I have lots of associations with SET PIECE, but as scenery? not.

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