Wednesday, 11/17/10

Onion 4:57
NYT 3:07
LAT 4:30
CS untimed

Robert Harris’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 32How on earth did Will Shortz manage to run back-to-back puzzles with Estonia in the grid? He was recently in Estonia for a puzzle event and appeared on Estonian TV, and then yesterday we had ESTONIAN and today ESTONIA, [Where Skype was invented]. Did you know that fact? I had no idea.

The theme is another interesting one with well-utilized circled squares. Today’s circles are on the initial letters of familiar phrases, and if you knock out those letters, the remaining ones also spell familiar phrases. What a neat wordplay find! Here’s how it unfurls:

  • 17a. BROAD SMILES become a distance runner’s ROAD MILES.
  • 25a. A BAD OMEN turns into AD MEN.
  • 37a. HAIR BRAID doesn’t feel like a “thing,” does it? A braid made out of hair is simply a braid. AIR RAID works 100%, though.
  • 52a. POP-TART into OP ART is beautiful. Have you seen the website compiling infelicitous iPhone auto-corrections? This one turned poptarts into poofarts. The OP ART change is less hilarious but more elegant.
  • 62a. A HEARTH STONE transmogrifies into an EARTH TONE.

In general the fill is quite good. I can tolerate a little AARE ARAL ENDO OYEZ ESO IRAE EDT EST HST action if there’s sparkle elsewhere, and here we have EL PASO, the OSCARS, Welsh RAREBIT, SNORTED, PUP TENT, and a SEESAW, plus the cool theme.

I’m really enjoying the week in NYT puzzles thus far. Patrick Berry’s Sunday puzzle kicked off a terrific run of crosswords!

Byron Walden’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 34Once I had the first two theme entries, I could guess the ends of the other two theme entries, though I’d never heard either of those terms:

  • 17a. EDWIN MOSES was the [Hurdling gold medalist of 1976 and 1984], and Moses is the big guy in the Torah. Judaism, check.
  • 24a. [Malcolm X mentor] is ELIJAH MUHAMMAD, and Muhammad is the star of the Koran. Islam, check.
  • 50a. [Nickname of Notre Dame’s mural “The Word of Life”] with an E fourth from the end, gotta be something-JESUS. It’s TOUCHDOWN JESUS. Christianity, check.
  • 59a. [Bong nickname in the 2010 Kentucky Senate race] is AQUA BUDDHA. Huh? Is this about Rand Paul? Yes, it is. Buddhism, check.

Great “stealthy religious figures” theme! Two people, two objects, four religions.

Toughest clues, for me:

  • 25d. [Smurf with explosive boxes] is JOKEY. My Smurf knowledge base is minimal.
  • 55a. [Clinton Commerce Secretary Mickey] KANTOR? Forgot he existed and could only think of Mickeys Kaus and Mouse.
  • 9d. Eventually I had enough letters filled in and saw that [Sparking device] was TESLA COIL.
  • 13d. [Widespread Panic specialties] are JAMS. Presumably they are a jam band and not a purveyor of fruit preserves.
  • 33d. Needed lots of crossings for DEATH RACE, the [2008 Jason Statham thriller]
  • 45d. [Capable of managing changing conditions] is an interesting clue for ROBUST.

Oniony surprise:

  • 14a. [Inside job?] clues ENEMA.


  • 35a. [Head activity?] is POOPING. Speaking of surprising entries found in this puzzle…
  • 1d. [“Buddy Holly” band] is WEEZER. Good song, but overall I’ve got to give the edge to Buddy Holly.
  • 5d. [“Teach: Tony ___” (inexplicable new reality series)] DANZA! I heard a radio discussion about this some weeks back. An education expert said Tony had the makings of a great high school teacher because he understood that you first need to build a rapport with the students if you want to reach them. I was just fondly remembering that SNL skit where Tom Hanks keeps excitedly saying “Tony Danza!” (because he has no short-term memory) but you know what? That was Tony Randall, not Danza. I always get those two mixed up.
  • 6d. [2010 WNBA champions from Seattle] are the STORM. I know this only from puzzler Mike Selinker’s Facebook posts about the team.
  • 18d. [Unenthusiastic response] is MEH.
  • And also some of the aforementioned fill, like TESLA COIL and DEATH RACE.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Flat Rate”—Janie’s review

Three strong theme phrases, all clued with the single word [FLAT] anchor today’s puzzle:

  • 20A. PUNCTURED TIRE. An ounce of prevention may be called for here. A spare, a jack, a wrench. An AAA membership… While we’re on the topic of things automotive, note that Ray has also included a CAR ALARM. Although it may be a great deterrent to any would-be thief, we’re also reminded that [It disturbs the peace]. No argument there.
  • 38A. LACKING CONTRAST. Love this one. Took a drawing class this fall and when you’re working in pencil or charcoal or India ink, the question of contrast becomes critical. We were reminded to look at the values of light to dark in anything we were drawing. For someone who hadn’t taken a studio art class since high school, this was literally an eye-opening experience. [Values] is also in today’s puzzle, but it’s clued as ETHICS—which is also filled with gray areas…
  • 57A. LOW-HEELED SHOE. Or maybe even a “lo”-wheeled shoe. Comme ça.

[Was in a rut] clues STAGNATED today, and I’d venture to say that this feels like bonus-fill to me. One may be “in a rut” because a job that has stagnated has gone flat, no?

Enjoyed seeing CINERAMA in the grid. This [Wide-screen motion picture process] was a child of the 1950s. Read all about it. It was a marvel in its day and I suspect the technology was a necessary step in capturing the wide-screen, “big picture” images we take for granted now.

Another of the grid’s strengths: those triple 6-columns NW and SE, with fill liked ELOPES [Takes flight to unite], ROBUST [Very healthy], ROOKIE [New player] and TWEETS, clued not in relation to Twitter (thank-you-very-much) but as [Bird sounds]. Other strong sixes in the grid include STRAWS [These may be grasped at], “NO, DEAR” [Spouse’s refusal], ON FILE [Already in the books] and (my fave) ASTRAL [Kind of projection].

The relatively low word count (74) allows for other longer fill, like IVAN LENDL [Tennis star of the 1980s] with that consonant smash-up at the end of his last name; SWEAR TO [Make a promise regarding] and TEARFUL [Noticeably sad].

A [Jeweler’s magnifying glass] is a LOUPE, which might be used to carefully examine an AGATE [Semiprecious gemstone]. It’ll be useless, however, where [Diamond covers, sometimes] are concerned, because these refer to a baseball field’s TARPS.

Fred Piscop’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 35Super-quick because I’m short on time:

Theme is WURST PUZZLE EVER, and the other three theme entries begin with sausage prefixes. LIVERPOOL ACCENT -> liverwurst, KNOCK ABOUT -> knockwurst, the hitherto-unknown-to-me BRAT FARRAR -> bratwurst. Brat Farrar?!? Surprised this puzzle didn’t run on a Friday for that alone. Clever theme, but LIVERPOOL ACCENT feels a tad arbitrary to me and that BRAT FARRAR—surely I’m not the only one who has never read Josephine Tey’s book about this “title orphan”?

Encountered lots of old-school fill, the stuff I cut my cruciverbal teeth on in the ’70s and ’80s. E.g., OSS, EMILE, TERN, ODIST, URIS, ANITRA, and ODER.

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16 Responses to Wednesday, 11/17/10

  1. Peat says:

    When you reach a certain age, you have to be wary of the poofart. You can’t just let a fart rip anymore:))

  2. Tuning Spork says:

    I’m watching your solving times, Amy. By Saturday you may break 2:00.

  3. Howard B says:

    Need NY help: Got really torn up in the upper-left, on: “Worrier’s handful” = BEADS. Is this a trick? I know I’m missing the boat on this one, and that along with RAREBIT and the IRON AGE clue froze me for a while.

  4. Wes says:

    Yeah, northwest was tricky for me too, as I’d never heard of RAREBIT or worry BEADS. Still got it all though :)

  5. Bruce S. says:

    I just assumed they meant Rosary BEADS.

  6. Gareth says:

    Weird I thought BEADS of sweat… I now realise that’s ridiculous!

  7. Angela says:

    “Worry” beads are similiar to rosary beads, (without the cross, of course). According to my husband whose been to Kuwait, it’s a common sight to see Arab men constantly fingering the beads as they go about their daily lives. One can also see them hanging on the rear view mirrors of some mid-eastern cab drivers in New York City. He brought some of those beads home to show my children.

  8. Howard B says:

    Wow, that’s an insanely tough clue for a Wednesday. Never heard of that in my life – which by itself doesn’t make it hard, but I’m glad I’m not the only one confused by that. My first impressions were beads of sweat or rosary beads, but neither seems to mesh completely with the clue, in the way a clue normally does.
    I was almost to the point of convincing myself, with BEA-S finally in place, to enter BEANS, or even BEARS – which would be a completely legitimate cause for worry.

  9. Ladel says:

    I’m a native nu yawkah, but I met my first worry beads at my endodontist’s office hanging from his chair light. I inquired if they were for me or for him, he replied they were for me.


  10. John Haber says:

    I vague remember WORRY BEADS as a fad 10 or 15 years ago, enough that I recognized the NW once I finally got it. Welsh RAREBIT was definitely in my vocabulary, although it hardly sprang to mind and I think (or hope) I’ve never actually seen it in reality.

    What slowed me up in that corner was leaping at first from C_ to “casa” (not recognizing CRIB in that sense) and from there to “Stone Age.” Oops. Also first had the wrong unread book series, trying “Raj.” But straightened out.

    I didn’t know STYLET. I liked the theme. At first I wanted to demand more, such as the same pair of letters in each case. But it’s more than good enough.

  11. Evad says:

    Interesting, the annual hajj to Mecca began a week ago (Eid Mubarak!), and see picture # 4 of a pilgrim with the beads Angela mentions:

  12. Ladel says:

    I wonder what Alfred E. Neuman would have thought of the beads.


  13. pannonica says:

    Ladel: Since they make themed worry beads (e.g., miniature dice for worrying gamblers), I think worry beads shaped like Alfred E. Neuman’s head is a brilliant idea! You should go patent or trademark it.

    John Haber: The Apu Trilogy are highly-regarded films from the late 1950s.

  14. Karen says:

    I wonder how old I was before I discovered that RAREBIT did not, in fact, contain rabbit meat.

    I was happy to see EMMA Bull in the LAT, representing some of the newer sf voices (newer than Pohl and Asimov, at least). Plus, Bone Dance was a good book.

  15. Ladel says:

    Karen: I was 26 and having lunch in a bistro thinking how cool is this, I’m finally going to know if it does taste just like chicken.

    pannonica: too late, by now the word is out and you can probably get them on eBay.

  16. NinaUWS says:

    I liked the theme too, but I kept wondering if the circled letters were meant to spell something or have some independent significance? I guess not . . . I did the Across Lite printed puzzle, so there were no notes or explanations.

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