Thursday, 9/2/10

NY Times 6:16
Fireball 4:23
BEQ 4:14
LA Times 2:55
CrosSynergy untimed
Tausig untimed

Patrick Blindauer and Andrea Carla Michaels’ New York Times crossword

Region capture 2Hello, Thursday! Today is backwards day. But this puzzle is totally slacking off because only the Across answers are entered backwards but spell legit crossword answers the other direction too. The Down answers are entered in the usual way.

The theme entries explain the gimmick, but are also spelled backwards: SSORCAYREVE / MORFSDAERREWSNA / TFELOTTHGIR. That’s “every across answer reads from left to right.” The 36 flip-flopped answers include some cool ones but also some pained ones. 28a: [Relative of -esque] clues ISH backwards, or HSI. I checked the Cruciverb database and yes, HSI has appeared several times in the last decade or so—clued as a Chinese river, a legendary sage named Fu-Hsi, philosopher Chu Hsi, and a Hong Kong stock index. Some of the reversible pairs include abbrevs and fragments, such as ORG./GRO, -ERO/ORE, ACRO-/ORCA, and ESS/SSE. Some fall in the category of contemporary crosswordese—ENOLA (ALONE backwards, but you’ve known that for years, right?), ENROL, ASTI…and really not much zip in terms of the across or back words. It’s phenomenally challenging to fill a grid with reversible entries, to be sure, but once the gimmick has outed itself, the joy of the puzzle, I find, dwindles.

I feel like the two palindromes are a bit of a cheat. On the plus side, ROTOR and MADAM appear opposite each other, so they don’t look as random.

68a, [Divisions politiques], clues ETATS, which is its singular English equivalent STATE backwards. This apt pairing was in a recent Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest puzzle and then in short order Ken Jennings featured it as his weekly Wordplay Wednesday poser. Ken came up with it independently of Matt’s crossword. Boy, ETATS/STATE is everywhere these days!

Among the Downs, these are particularly nice:

  • 6d. [Denis, to France] is a PATRON SAINT. I filled that in early on, but then the crossings (entered in the standard fashion) were arguing against it at every turn so I erased the letters. Should’ve kept it in!
  • 25d. To [Stage] something is to CHOREOGRAPH it, sometimes.
  • 48d. If you’re too young to remember FLO-JO, the [1988 Olympic track star, informally], you missed out on a real character.
  • 40d. [Green rocks] have nothing to do with the sort of “rocks” represented by 10d: ON ICE. They’re EMERALDS, green gemstones.

The rest of the Downs were about as “meh” as the Acrosses, but without the added oomph of “hey, they work both ways!”

I dunno. I like a backwards-spelling gimmick, and Patrick and Andrea are dedicated to making entertaining puzzles, but I was left wanting more juicy crossword goodness apart from the gimmick. Did you love it? Hate it? Want to love it, but it broke your brain?

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 27”

Region capture 1Am I on fire tonight, or is this puzzle really clued to about a Saturday LAT/Friday NYT level? I know, I know—Peter’s not shooting for the Saturday NYT level of difficulty (alas).

The main outpost of Scrabbliness is 49a: QUARK XPRESS, the [Popular publishing program]. I haven’t used that in 10 years. There are a couple other Xs, but in ordinary words.

Most colorful entries and clues, intermingled with my stray remarks:

  • 18a. An APPLETINI is a [Cosmo alternative]. Not a miniature applet but an apple martini. The crossword cognoscenti prefer the sonatini.
  • 25a. Cute clue: the TRIPLE CROWN is a [Win-win-win situation] because you have to win three of {whatever}.
  • 27a. [Feminist writer Olsen], TILLIE, saved me from leaving a DIAPHRAGM in place at 3d ([Barrier for some sex acts]). The L suggested that Peter wanted a DENTAL DAM here instead.
  • 44a. Crossword fan and actress and comedian ANNE MEARA is also your [“After-Play” playwright].
  • 59a. “OH, SUSANNA” is a [1848 Stephen Foster song]. Don’t you cry for me, for I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee. Don’t cry for me, but could you maybe recommend an orthopedist for this knee problem?
  • 2d. [John Kennedy Toole novel published in 1989, with “The”] clues NEON BIBLE. I didn’t know the title. Confederacy of Dunces, sure, but that was much less post-posthumously.
  • 11d. I immediately knew the clue wanted a Clarence [Thomas coworker], but then I filled in ANITA Hill instead of Sam ALITO. Hah!
  • 31d. I can’t emphasize enough how much distaste I have for this clue. [John candy?] = TRAMP? Gee, thanks for equating a woman who’s a sex worker with a sweet piece of candy for some jackhole to consume and calling her a tramp. Just because there’s a late comic actor named John Candy doesn’t make this one fun.

Updated Thursday morning:

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Prepositionally Phrased”—Janie’s review

Ah, prepositional phrases—those preposition + noun or pronoun or gerund or clause combos that function as adjectives or adverbs. IN BUSINESS [Cooking with gas] qualifies. Tony’s variation on this idea is to give us phrases in which a verb + a preposition = an adjective which, in turn, modifies a noun. Do we have a rich (and confusing) language or what? To clarify any confusion I may have stirred up…:

  • 17A. [Hungry motorist’s convenience] DRIVE-THRU WINDOW. I’ll spell this one out; the rest are up to you. Drive (a verb) + thru (a preposition—here, short for through) = the adjective drive-thru, which modifies the word window. See? Easy!
  • 29A. [Civil disobedience in the workplace] SIT-DOWN STRIKE. As Labor Day approaches, it might interest you to know that it was the (more than) 40-day Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37 that ultimately led to the unionization of the domestic U.S. auto industry. This method of protest is not unique to U.S. workers and has been a practice of laborers for about a century or so.
  • 49A. [Middle America to some snooty intercoastal travelers] FLY-OVER STATES. I’m sure the folks who are flying—say, from Boston’s Logan to San Francisco’s SFO [Bay area airport …]—don’t mean any disrespect! I’m mean if these same travelers motored across the country, the territory would become drive-thru states, no? Alas, one can’t always take the time to stop to smell the roses. Or the coffee.
  • 64A. [Garret flat, perhaps] WALK-UP APARTMENT. How picturesque. Like the atelier shared by those artistes in La Bohème.

There’s a tad of a “foreign affairs” feel to the puzzle with BHUTAN [Himalayan kingdom], KIEV [Ukraine’s capital], TONGA [Island nation east of Fiji], and Wales, by way of WELSH [Like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey]. And there’s more than a sprinkling of foreign language, too, with QUI [Who, in Quebec], TÊTE [Cabeza, across the Pyrenees], [When it’s warm in Waterloo] for ÉTÉ, ALEF [First Hebrew letter (var.)], UZI [Israeli submachine gun], [Ending for señor] ITA, OJO [Señor’s eye] and OLÉS [Cheers for matadors].

Tony’s word-playful, image-inducing way with a clue can be seen in such examples as:

  • [Beholder of a “hump like a snow-hill”] for AHAB (looking at Moby-Dick)
  • [Bunyanesque] for BURLY
  • [Barfly’s binge] for TOOT
  • [Wine and dine] for REGALE
  • [Knight fight] for TILT
  • [Serpentine swimmers] for EELS
  • [Baby boo-boo] for OWIE.

HEINIE clued as [Rear, slangily] reminded me that my dad could always make my brother and me laugh by calling skater Sonia Henie “Sonia Heinie.” (Oh, to be in third grade again…)

Fave cross today would have to be CRIME STORY [’80s TV drama that starred Dennis Farina] with ELMORE [“Get Shorty novelist Leonard]. Though his first books were Westerns, versatile genre-writer Elmore Leonard has also become one of the great practitioners of the crime story.

Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 3Whew. It’s already noon? Better go with cursory write-ups for the three (!) remaining puzzles.

This theme probably would have taken me a lot longer to figure out if I hadn’t recently done Patrick and Andrea’s backwards NYT puzzle. I saw the STINK lurking in DOUBLE-KNITS right away and filled in PALINDROMES once I read the central clue, 36a: [Three pairs of them end the answers to starred clues]. RAISE A STINK pairs with DOUBLE-KNITS. OVERSTRESSED and JUST DESSERTS feature my favorite reversible word. And the dull CHIN STRAP flips your AUTO PARTS.

Another serendipitously backwardable answer is the clunky REDRAW, which turns into a British prison guard, or warder. The drawer/reward pair is better, though.

With seven theme entries running in the Across direction, there are some clunkers in the Downs (ARD, AINU, HIT A, SSTS) but we also have the lovely EVANSTON, Illinois.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “I Kid, I Kid”

Region capture 4Theme: PREGNANCY typically follows ORGASM and the ensuing union of the SPERM and EGG, here nestled together in adjacent entries PEGGY SUE/LEARNER’S PERMIT and REGGAE/WORDS PER MINUTE. Cute!

Favorite clue: 45d. [Robin vis-á-vis Kermit] is a froggy NEPHEW. I forgot there was any Robin and had a muddled group of Kermit, Fozzie, Batman, and Robin in my head.

Isn’t 28a: CON CARNE an 8-letter partial, really?

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

Region capture 5Okay, I test-solved this puzzle within the last couple weeks and it still took me a minute to remember how the theme worked. FLOUNDER CUSTODY (62a. [Ability to have fish on the weekends, perhaps?]) was the most obvious one—change the fish SOLE, completely unrelated to “sole custody,” into a FLOUNDER and reclue accordingly.

So PARMESAN TRIPPER (17a. [One who uses Italian cheese as a race course obstacle?]) is based on, let’s see here, some other kind of cheese? I know this made sense a couple weeks ago but now I can’t remember the original phrase.

A codpiece becomes HADDOCK PIECE (23a. [Song composed by an Atlantic Ocean fish?]). Dateline is FIGLINE ([39a. [Joke at a dried fruit convention?]). And a squash court is PUMPKIN COURT (52a. [Site of Halloween justice?])

In each case, the original phrase contains a non-food sense of the changed word.

Oh, Jack! Monterey Jack cheese is often called Jack cheese, and Jack Tripper was John Ritter’s character on Three’s Company.

Fun theme, isn’t it?

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35 Responses to Thursday, 9/2/10

  1. joon says:

    whatever the opposite of on fire is, that’s me tonight. i figured out that a bunch of answers went backwards early. like, immediately. then i mucked up everything by entering SRESSERP at 5d and waiting to see what was going to explain which ones went the right way and which ones didn’t. it took me forever to work out the actual (very simple, and blindingly obvious in retrospect) rule.

    DENTAL DAM is one of those things i wish i hadn’t looked up. squick. when did the fireball go alt.weekly on us?

  2. NYT was a long, slow slog, but I enjoyed solving it.

  3. Kelly says:

    This:” 25a. To [Stage] something is to CHOREOGRAPH it, sometimes.”

    Should be 25d. :)

    And I totally had no clue on this NYT.

  4. janie says:

    loved the nyt. maybe it’s more a feat of construction, but i was dazzled by it. caught on to the gimmick pretty early on and then savored how it all played out. fairly smooth solve, all in all.

    enjoyed the fireball lots, too. APPLETINI made me laugh. this may make you gag: at the ahwahnee hotel in yosemite, they serve an “el capitini.” really. any mixologists out there? this one’s for you:

    El Capitini – The First Ascent (Classic Size Only)
    Absolut Vodka, Cointreau & Pomegranate – “Topped Off” with celebratory Champagne, Sugar Rim & Orange Twist Climber’s Knot
    This drink “ROCKS”. Created by our bar staff to commemorate the first ascent of El Capitan fifty years ago in November 1958. The climbing party included Wayne Merry, the founder of the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Served with a keepsake carabineer.

    bottoms up!


  5. Doug P says:

    Put me in the “loved it” camp. One of my favorite puzzles of 2010! Even after figuring out the gimmick, I really enjoyed filling in all the reversible words.

  6. Will Nediger says:

    Well, I learned something new about dental dams today.

  7. Plot says:

    I figured out the gimmick about 15 seconds into the puzzle, and I’m still not sure how it happened so quickly. I think that, by chance, I initially focused on the easy down answers and instead of the across ones. I got SIE and PATRONSAINT without any crossings, so once I saw the across clues corresponding to P__S and A__I, everything fell into place.

    I got a quick start on Fireball, but eventually stalled: I probably spent half my time on a fifth of the puzzle. This was in part due to my stubborn refusal to consider EON instead of ERA. Also, some of the clues were deceptively easy; I was hesitant to fill in INDIA for one-across because I thought the clue might have been asking for a specific city or province.

  8. Matt Gaffey says:

    That NYT theme is quite a feat!

  9. EJ says:

    Thanks for explaining the “John candy?” clue. Even after solving, I had no idea what it was supposed to mean. I agree that it’s pretty lame.

    Loved the NYT for the very nice aha moment.

  10. Anne E says:

    Probably slight advantage for paper solvers today for the NYT? I would expect it would be harder to type in the reverse answers than to write them in.

    Exact same time as you, Amy, on Fireball (4:23), FWIW. :-)

  11. Jan (danjan) says:

    I agree, Anne – and then, after getting my mind and fingers in gear for the reversals, it was disconcerting to me to do another puzzle right away and just type all the across answers from left to right!

  12. Matt M. says:

    Put me in the “loved it” camp for the NYT — and that was even before I noticed that the words were reversible. Wow.

  13. Chet says:

    What a mess. I saw that some words were backwards, but couldn’t figure out that it was only the across ones.

    Worse yet, I use a pen…my paper looks like an ink blot! (Erasing a pencil often tears the paper anyway, that’s why I use a pen.)

  14. Howard B says:

    Loved the NY Times today.

    The Fireball was really tough – the NW block of ONT / NBA / TILLIE crossing the completely inscrutable, ungettable NEON BIBLE magically turned a 4-minute solve into 8. And though I’m usually light on criticism, I really dislike the TRAMP clue, now that I’ve seen the explanation for it, since I didn’t get it at all during the solve. Thanks. So a mostly fun puzzle there with a couple of sharp edges.

  15. Steve Salitan says:

    Today was Christmas/Hanukkah in September. Andrea and Patrick broke the conventions and did so in a still truly deliverable solve. (!taef llams oN.) The rotor/madam and etats were additional icings on the gateau. What can we expect next from these two?

    Tony’s O’s CS was clearly a winner. Cerebral and global in scope. Great theme and word usage. A total joy. A+.

  16. ePeterso2 says:

    Loved the NYT. Can’t believe they found enough words to pull it off.

  17. Meem says:

    Add me to the “loved it” camp for NYT. I’m a dead tree solver, so no slowdown on entry speed. Jaw dropped when I looked at completed puzzle and found right-reading words, too.

  18. Jeffrey says:

    Put me in the “loved it” camp. One of my favorite puzzles of 2010! Even after figuring out the gimmick, I really enjoyed filling in all the reversible words.

    (Yes, that is exactly what Doug said. But this needed more than just “Ditto”)

  19. Matt says:

    I’ve worked a few puzzles where the answers have to be entered backwards, and I always find them irritatingly difficult. Maybe it’s just an idiosyncrasy, but for me, the pleasure-to-pain ratio in this sort of puzzle isn’t quite high enough for unqualified approval.

    In this particular case, the fact that the reversed entries are almost all real words is quite remarkable, and I appreciate that. But I still have a headache.

  20. Mitchs says:

    Thanks for the tramp explanation. Agree with the hissing and booing and hands up for not having any idea what was meant.

    Howard B, I DNF because of the crossings you mentioned. But up until then, pretty easy…I hope Mr. Gordon will toughen things up. Remember the first few? Yikes.

  21. jmbrow29 says:

    I absolutely loved the NYT! I like many others figured out the gimmick fairly quickly but it still took me a long time to finish. Typing backwards was not easy for me. In retrospect, I should have just focused on the downs to speed up my solving time but I was having just way too much fun with the backwards across answers.

    One of my favorite puzzles of the year! Thanks Andrea and Patrick!


  22. Howard B says:

    Somewhere just shy of those first few puzzles would be a nice Fireball difficulty. It’s really tough to find that “sweet spot”, though, as difficulty is so subjective.

    In general, I personally like when the difficulty factor is increased by cleverness and misdirection in clues, maybe with a bit of interesting but inferable trivia, as opposed to obscure names and titles. Every tough puzzle is bound to have a few obscurities or words that fit nicely into your knowledge gaps, but a few subtly difficult clues here and there can make all the difference.
    Bob Klahn, for one, is a master at this. Even with some obscure fill, some of his completed grids appear fairly solvable in retrospect, until you try to solve them using his clue set. Then reality sinks in, but eventually you can get through most of them. Even his easier themed CrosSynergy puzzles have some extra challenge to them just through the cluing.
    Now I like Peter’s style and puzzles a lot – but I really struggle with an answer like NEON BIBLE, for example, since on it’s own it’s kind of a nonsequitur, and not inferable as a phrase. Those who haven’t read/heard of it (raises hand) are going to need almost every single crossing letter to parse it out. And in this case, some of the fill around it was downright nasty.

    As I mentioned above, though, it’s all subjective. This area still offered little resistance for others. I threw HENRIK LUNDQVIST down in a Fireball puzzle once without crossings because that was in my wheelhouse, but that was the roughest answer in the grid for most others that day. So your mileage will always vary.
    Also, don’t forget Fireball can include those sponsored fill words, which Peter manages to weave into the grids. Can’t be easy to clue some of the trickier ones.

  23. I was impressed to see that the backwards answers in the NYT were legitimate puzzle words in the opposite direction. Count me among the delighted and amazed.

  24. Martin says:

    This comment intentionally left blank.

  25. zifmia says:

    I was a complete failure on the Ink Well puzzle. I completed the puzzle and understood what the theme was, but only understood one of the answers. So not such fun here.

  26. zifmia says:

    Is the use of 42D “1984 Peace Nobelist” as a clue, and “Nobel” as the answer for 43A “Prestigious prize” in the Cross Synergy puzzle a cruciverbal faux pas?

  27. janie says:

    when it’s time for the oryx noms, i do hope patrick and andrea’s puzzle will be held in consideration for “the peoples’ choice” award!

    and you raise a fair point, zifmia. just seems that editors will bend the rules every now and then. have come to the conclusion that at times like this, “ours is not to reason why…”


  28. Ric Q says:

    Today’s NYT is a tour de force of construction, and very impressive, but not fun to do.

  29. Pauer says:

    I don’t know, I thought it was pretty fun. Of course, there *were* 3 prefixes and 2 suffixes, which is inexcusible and unforgivable. I hope these two constrictors (sic) think about all of the extra trees they killed today because of this little shenanigan.

    Seriously, tho, thanks for all of the nice comments about this one, which took over a year to see the light of day. We knew it wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea, and pretty much called that HSI and the palindromes would draw the most fire.

  30. Meem says:

    Patrick, you are too funny. Looking forward to seeing what you and acme conjure up for next year. Thanks for helping start what turned out to be a long day with a grin. Saved a dreadful meeting with the tale of your puzzle.

  31. Samuel A. Donaldson says:

    Is there still room in the “loved today’s NYT” tent, or has it become overcrowded? If y’all can squeeze me in, I’d appreciate it.

  32. ajaxfam says:

    I loved the NYT puzzle. Even after I entered a third of the across clues forwards and had to go back and reverse them all. And to make all the across clues valid fill in both directions certainly took a lot of time on the part of the constructors. Kudos!

  33. dr. bob says:

    Regarding Ben Tausig’s “Food Substitutions”, maybe PARMESAN TRIPPER could’ve been based on “round-tripper”?

  34. grinch says:

    Re Tausig: Fun theme? Sure, if you like arbitrary and loose themes. Sort of cute idea, but unless the replacements have a logic I’m overlooking, not well executed.

  35. Spoonybard says:

    @grinch: I feel the same way. Even after I figured out the theme, not knowing what sole is or who Jack Tripper was pretty much took the fun out of it.

    At the same time, I was glad to see that the theme entries weren’t crossed up by anything that couldn’t be figured out intuitively. This is the same guy who once based an entire puzzle around an obscure quote about George Steinbrenner, so I’m happy to take what I can get.

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