Wednesday, 11/10/10

Onion 4:33
NYT 3:15
LAT 3:04
CS untimed

Hey, did you all figure out the New York Times crossword contest last week? The trick was to punch out the {HOLE} rebus squares in Mike Nothnagel’s Thursday puzzle, overlay the grid on Mike’s Friday puzzle, and anagram the letters peeking through. The letters spelled out a nine-hole GOLF ROUND, aptly enough.

Speaking of contests, I fear that none of you teased out the hidden contest in Sunday’s Crossword Fiend post. Even after Fiendmate Sam Donaldson gave a little nudge in the comments, there was nary a peep. Come on, puzzle people! You can find the hidden contest!

Sam Donaldson’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 1Why, if it isn’t the aforementioned Sam Donaldson! (Remember, crossword Sam Donaldson is not ex-ABC News Sam Donaldson. His hair is less scary.) Sam’s theme is (semi-)famous people known by two initials and a last name, and in each case the two initials are a double letter. There’s poet e.e. cummings, better-known-as-Saki H.H. MUNRO, Lost co-creator J.J. ABRAMS, blues legend B.B. KING, clothing and sports gear seller L.L. BEAN, [“The Monkey’s Paw” author] W.W. JACOBS (who??), Pooh-meister A.A. MILNE, and baseball player C.C. SABATHIA. Now, when I went to see if those letters would spell anything out if you anagrammed them, I overlooked the two shorter entries and came up with CHE JAW. With the L and B, though…JAW BELCH? Nah. Anyway, cool theme.

CheJawCraziest answer in the grid: 45d: ELISIR, the missing word in the Donizetti opera “L’___ d’Amore.” Italian for “elixir,” I presume? And did you know that elixir has Arabic roots? Those who solved Matt Gaffney’s latest crossword contest did. Kinda rough crossing with the L meeting LEILA. Honorable mention: BIMINI, the [Fountain of Youth site, it’s said].

Weirdest plurals: JUMBOS, ESCROWS, RICOTTAS.

Coolest fill: SNUFFBOX.

Tastiest fill: PECAN, toasted. Wins in a landslide against the ONION. Honorable mention to the verb FUDGES, which probably go better with walnuts than pecans.

Did you notice the random double letters aside from the eight names in the theme? ACCTS, MITTEN, ANNI, AARP, SWEE, PEEP, OMEN II, SNUFFBOX, RICOTTAS, BAAL, and LLAMAS join the party. Of course, this may well not be significantly more double letters than are found in the average crossword.

Shout-out to 51d: [CBS military drama]. Crossworder Bob Petitto’s daughter Jamie had a bit part in tonight’s episode of NCIS.

Naughtiest memory: 31a: LEROY is clued as [“Bad, bad” Brown of song]. I was a little kid when that song came out, and we kids giggled every time Jim Croce sang “baddest man in the whole damn town.” Because he said “damn.” And that’s a bad word.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “See the Sea”—Janie’s review

And “see the sea” you will—at the end of each of Doug’s non-aqueous theme phrases. There are four of them, giving us the North Sea, the Caspian, the Red and the Dead. All but the first find themselves into the Medieval period’s list of the “Seven Seas.” Best part, though, is the way each theme entry tops the next in the liveliness department. See if you don’t agree.

17A. [Iran-Contra affair figure] OLIVER NORTH. Catch up on this Reagan-era scandal here.

26A. [The Chronicles of Narnia” book] PRINCE CASPIAN. Have you read these? I own the series but confess to having read only The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. Yeeeeears ago. While the former made a vivid impression, I have no recall whatsoever of the latter… <Sigh>

47A. [Popular color for convertibles] CANDY APPLE RED. Ooh, that’s good fill. I’d always heard that candy apple red cars of any persuasion were cop magnets—but for a ’66 Mustang convertible…well, it just might be worth the risk, no?

62A. [“Break a leg!”] “KNOCK ‘EM DEAD!” See what I mean about the incrementally stronger theme fill? This feels like a great use of slang to me. And Doug gives us more of the same with the beautiful “IT’LL COST YA!” [“I don’t come cheap!”] combo. Love it. I also love the way the former ties in so effortlessly with the stage-centric OBIE [New York theater award] and MUSICALS [“Oklahoma!” and “Hello, Dolly!”].

There’s so very much that’s good in the non-theme fill department as well—like that euphonious crossing of SAVANNA [Gazelle’s habitat] and DASANI [Coca-Cola bottled water brand]; the sound, too, of POMONA [Suburb of Los Angeles] and POMELO [Thick-skinned citrus fruit]; the mere mention of TAHITI [“Mutiny on the Bounty” island]; and the mythological [Lover of Hero], LEANDER, whose tragic story was probably not the inspiration for [Love is a Battlefield” singer] PAT BENATAR, but whose love for Hero did prove to be a battlefield of sorts and whose watery demise ties in to today’s theme.

MON AMI is [My friend, to François]. Upping the ante State-side, HON is a [Term of endearment], perhaps bestowed by someone under the influence of AMOR, that [Bow-toting deity] of Roman mythology—who sometimes comes off as being a bit of a SPRITE [Pixie] himself. Another tied-in team, this time of the four-legged cartoon variety, gives us both SCOOBY[-Doo (Shaggy’s canine pal)] and OTTO [“Beetle Bailey” pooch]. And should you need to take the edge off a stressful day with something alcoholic, you might opt for a shot of STOLI [Absolut rival familiarly] or (moving right along the row) [Scotch go-with] SODA (and scotch, of course…).

Fave clue pair comes by way of the sequential [Star followers] and [Star with a following] for MAGI and IDOL. Looking at the first four letters of the second word, I like, too, how the preceding clue almost suggests what’ll follow (sound-wise): [Flying start?] for AERO.

Did this puzzle ELATE [Delight] you, too? Here’s hopin’!

Pam Amick Klawitter’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 2Would you believe that when I did this puzzle last night, the theme wasn’t readily apparent to me? Yeah. True story. I did figure out that the first words of the theme entries were synonyms, but you’d think I would have noticed that while solving, not just after looking at the completed puzzle in a fog.

Theme entries:

  • 18a. SWAP MEET. I have never once swapped anything at a meet.
  • 39a. SUBSTITUTE-TEACH. I know people use this as a verb, but it looks bizarre in the grid. That TITUTETE chunk in the middle isn’t helping. Minus two points for being the only non-noun in the theme. (Darn that 15×15 convention—a 17×17 grid would have permitted SUBSTITUTE TEACHER.)
  • 62a. TRADE GAP.

Five more from the fill:

  • 70a. [Texter’s sign-off] is TTYL, short for “talk to you later”—because “talk 2 u l8r” takes too long to enter on a phone.
  • 19d. [Sportscaster Albert] is MARV Albert. Did you think Albert was a first name at first glance? I sure did.
  • 29d. [Apple touchscreen computer] is the iPAD. If you haven’t played with one, ooh, you’re missing out.
  • 42d. [Play break] is ENTR’ACTE. Hey! The whole word! Usually we just see ENTR [___’acte] or [Entr’___] ACTE in the crossword.
  • 54d. AGATE is a [Colorful quartz]. Friend of mine has a kid whose hockey team is the Agates, named after Lake Superior agates.

Ben Tausig’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 3I could not for the life of me make sense out of the theme until I got to the theme-revealing answer ALCOHOL-FREE. Different types of booze have been excised, virginizing various phrases:

  • 17a. [Royalty control over “Mermaid Avenue”?] clues BRAG(gin)G RIGHTS. It would’ve helped me a tad to know that Billy Bragg has an album called Mermaid Avenue. I thought the gimmick was “delete ING” for a while, but that wasn’t working anywhere else.
  • 29a. [“Jersey Shore”?] is a super-short yet fully adequate clue for THE T(rum)AN SHOW.
  • 46a. [What a despotic molecular physicist seeks?] is (port)ION CONTROL. You know what they say: Never trust a molecular physicist.

Lucky seven more clues:

  • 33a. ROSE HIPS are a [Fruit used in herbal tea]. Lots of vitamin C.
  • 38a. [Standard, as a menu] clues the two-X answer PRIX FIXE, though your standard restaurant menu offers a la carte pricing.
  • 50a. NEVAEH is a girl [Baby moniker that became wildly popular in the 2000s (hint: read it backwards)]. Are you shaking your head too?
  • 66a. The SIXTH is the [Amendment that mandates an impartial jury]. Aw, too bad we couldn’t take the FIFTH of booze here.
  • 2d. [Boston basketball surface] is a wooden PARQUET floor. Who doesn’t love parquet? It’s better than butter.
  • 3d. I can’t say I like the word TOASTEE ([One for whom glasses are clinked]) but it does remind me of the new OK Go video for “Last Leaf.” Who knew stop-motion animation using toasted bread could be so evocative?
  • 8d. [Phil who played with Mitchell], Joni Mitchell, is OCHS, Phil Ochs.
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25 Responses to Wednesday, 11/10/10

  1. Alex says:

    Holy $#@! I was just discussing this very theme on Twitter. Glad I didn’t spend the time to write it. Nice job, Sam!

  2. Aaron says:

    Puzzle was going just fine until that nasty, nasty SW corner. BIMINI and ELISIR crossing LEILA and ANNI (which, in retrospect, I should’ve gotten) . . . broke my time.

  3. Martin says:

    A round of golf in 18 holes. Mike’s grid was a 9-hole course, which you play twice to complete a standard round.

    San Donaldson? Shouldn’t it be Santo Donaldson? (Like San Domingo becomes Santo Domingo.)

  4. Tuning Spork says:

    Re: Sunday’s hidden contest.

    Is it rock, scissors, paper? With the drawing of scissors on paper beating (topping) the rock?

  5. ePeterso2 says:

    BIMINI? No problem figuring that out here in Fort Lauderdale – it’s the closest of the Bahamas and a very popular stop for fishing boats. But the double-opera clued crossing of LEILA and ELISIR was unfair to the opera-impaired (such as myself). The S in SMA was almost as ungettable. Good stuff otherwise.

  6. Howard B says:

    Cool NY Times theme, and also thought LEILA / ELISIR was a really, really harsh crossing. I puzzed ’til my puzzler was sore in that corner.

  7. Aaron says:

    Wait, those were scissors?

  8. Wes says:

    ELISIR should be gettable from some basic Romance-language inferencing, and LEILA is a common enough female name… there are regularly far trickier crossings in Wednesday puzzles imo

  9. Karen says:

    I was wondering why the fountain of youth would be in Minnesota, then I realized that I was confusing Bimini with Bemidji.

  10. Howard B says:

    @Wes: Was able to figure that crossing out via language interpretation as you said, but the double-opera cluing, combined with the surrounding fill (BIMINI etc.), was remarkably difficult as compared to not only the day of the week, but the rest of the same puzzle.
    ELISIR is not a word you will likely learn in a foreign-language course or casual speaking, and LEILA is also a very uncommon name, at least in this neck of the woods. Outside of the opera references I have neither heard of the first word, nor met anyone personally by that second name. Seems that’s a fair assessment judging by the overall reaction.
    That was all that was meant, I think – not unfair, as both could be inferred with some thought, which is fine (and satisfying), but just surprising in contrast.

    We sometimes are spoiled by the consistency of difficulty across a given week of syndicated puzzles, and also of the cluing within a puzzle, so that when one is a bit, well, bumpy, we notice it much more.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Howard, my best friend in 8th grade was named Leila. Her dad was from Jordan. My mom’s got a friend by the name, too. Curiously, they both love to drink elisirs.

  12. Jeff says:

    Sam, congrats on the excellent puzzle! Jill and I submitted something along the same lines, but much, much less elegant. I was impressed by the theme density, but was alas flummoxed by the crossing people have mentioned.

    Must… find… hidden… contest! So much for the rest of my plans for today…

  13. joon says:

    sam, nice job on the puzzle. i probably had an advantage because i remember alex musing about the idea only a week ago, but you came up with more good theme answer ideas than we did, and arranged them all symmetrically. eight is enough! :) i didn’t have any problem with your ELISIR/LEILA crossing, btw; the donizetti is one of the best-known operas around. (not really true for the bizet, but hey.)

    i also loved your sunday post but i was totally mystified by the idea of a hidden contest. even knowing that there was a hidden contest, i went over it with a fine-toothed comb and came up with nothing.

    doug’s CS puzzle got me good. i can’t be the only one who fell for SISKEL instead of SHALIT, right?

  14. Zifmia says:

    Never heard of the name “Nevaeh” but a quick internet check with SSA claims that it has been almost the 30th most popular name for girls in the US over the past 3 years (31, 34, 34).


  15. Howard B says:

    Feel better about LEILA, thanks! Maybe a regional thing or sheer chance. Learn something new every day.

  16. Alex says:

    Is this contest hidden in the way that there’s a hidden contest in every “Fill Me In” episode?

  17. Meem says:

    Still trying to catch up after a four-week parade of out-of-town guests. Loved Sam’s puzzle. 46A totally unknown to me, but 38D unlocked it quickly. Joon: there was an article in the Chicago Tribune (home town) paper this morning about Gene Shalit, so easily avoided the Siskel (also home town) trap. And with a cup of coffee in hand, sped through the Onion. Smile!

  18. Sam Donaldson says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments. As always, the puzzle benefited greatly from the caring work of Will and, I’m sure, others. Alex, Jeff, and Jill, I know the pain of seeing someone else publish a puzzle that uses the same theme you just conceived, so I feel for you.

    Yes, there is a hidden contest in my BG post from last Sunday, and no, Tuning Spork, the answer is not rock, paper, scissors (nor rock, paper, phallus)–though I very much like the guess. I thought for sure if I announced a hidden contest up front someone would find it way too quickly, and that would be bad because, as you will see when you figure it out, the first to find it and follow the instructions is the winner. So I kept mum about it, figuring someone would have to notice it. When no one did, Amy suggested I toss people a bone, so I announced it (rather cryptically, I admit) in the comments to that post. Knowing a contest was there, I figured someone would uncover it right away. But even joon and his 127 consecutive meta-spotting streak on Matt Gaffney’s weekly contest can’t find it after thoroughly reviewing the post? Uh oh. I think the contest has to be considered an epic fail.

    Let me try one more hint: The first title I gave to today’s NYT puzzle when I submitted it to Will was “Initial Impressions.” (I know weekday NYT puzzles don’t run titles, but I like to give titles to my submissions because it makes it easier to refer to them in the accompanying cover letters.) Coincidentally, in a loose way that could be a suitable title for the hidden contest. To those still inclined, happy hunting!

  19. Mary O says:


  20. Sam Donaldson says:

    Well done, Mary O! Send me an email at sdonalds(AT) to claim your prize!

  21. Tuning Spork says:

    Okay, Pretty Mary-O, how’d you get that?

    Even with that solution in front of me, I’m still not seeing it. With the “initial impressions” hint, my best guess would have been “T’wait c’w WACB”.

  22. Sam Donaldson says:

    I will explain the hidden contest in this Sunday’s BG post, but not right now, as there may be some folks who want to find it on their own first (even though Mary O is the official winner).

  23. Howard B says:

    (facepalm, head hits desk, now knuckles hurt).
    I never would have seen that before. Now I get it. Nice.

  24. joon says:

    oh, i missed this thread. well then.

    sam, i’ve got a superdimaggian streak going in the MGWCC, but it’s not quite at 127. i whiffed on the meta in week 8, “Y Not.” i wasn’t alone, as there were only 14 correct answers that week. and i was very close. but i’ll content myself with a streak of 119 (and counting). i don’t know if that’s a record. i guess i have no particular reason to think it is. i wouldn’t put it past jangler to have gotten all 127.

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