Wednesday, 11/24/10

Onion 4:15
NYT 3:40
LAT 3:47
CS untimed

Allan Parrish’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 15Wasn’t it thoughtful of NASA to give the space shuttles names that pair up in word length? There are two 10-letter shuttles (CHALLENGER, ENTERPRISE), two 9s (DISCOVERY, British-spelling ENDEAVOUR), and two 8s (COLUMBIA, ATLANTIS). If they’d spelled #6 “Endeavor,” this theme wouldn’t have worked. There are circled letters spelling out SHUTTLE in the grid to define the theme, but to my eye it’s an uneven oval orbit rather than a circular orbit. Too bad the SHUTTLE orbit doesn’t match up with reality. Is there a reason the puzzle is running on this date? Is this a notable space shuttle anniversary? And what does it say about me that I keep typing it “shittle”?

2010-04-02 15.13.02In April, my family visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a day or two before the Discovery launch. The shuttle was already parked on the launch structure. We tried to catch a launch about eight years ago, but that one got scrubbed at the last minute owing to a small cloud in the sky. Seeing a shuttle on the launch pad was infinitely cooler than being stuck in traffic after an aborted launch, I assure you.

What else is in this puzzle? Let’s have a look-see:

  • 52a. The biggest surprise is that [Tool] takes us to CAT’S-PAW. Say what? Dictionary says “a person who is used by another, typically to carry out a dangerous task.”
  • 39a, 26d. Do you know your intersecting singers? RUBEN (“Ru-u-u-u-u-ben!”) is [Singer Studdard who won the second season of “American Idol”], beating out Clay Aiken, who has been more prominent than Ruben in the music biz ever since. RUBEN crosses CECE, the [Grammy-winning Winans]. She recorded a lot with her brother BeBe, who has also won a Grammy. They’re gospel singers. In crosswords, BeBe Winans doesn’t exist—just BEBE Neuwirth and BEBE Rebozo.
  • 65a. What’s more space doing in this shuttle puzzle? THOR apparently isn’t just a Norse god, but is also an [Old space-launched rocket].
  • 9d. Really? Didn’t know that WELCH was [Laura Bush’s maiden name]. I like that Joseph Welch who put Joe McCarthy in his place, don’t you?
  • 11d. Oh! My old heartthrob from when I was 12, young Mr. GIBB, [Andy with the #1 hit “Shadow Dancing”]. Heard another of his songs on the ’70s station the other day and boy, it was not remotely familiar—or compelling. But he sure was cute. Not every fella can pull off a shirt like that, you know.
  • 34d. [“I am not what I am” speaker] is IAGO. See? Totally not a straight-shooter like Popeye, who said “I yam what I yam.”
  • 43d. PEDANTS are [Nitpicking types]. You know who you are.
  • 56a. [Orbit site] made me think of the eye socket first and the space shuttle second. ATOM? That’s a distant third.

Francis Heaney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 16The theme is such an obvious one, I’m stunned no one has thought of it before: sheep-related puns on songs of non-oldie vintage. That’s right, sheeple: It’s time to rock out ovine style.

  • 20a. The 1989 song “Pump Up the Jam” becomes PUMP UP THE RAM, [Technotronic song about a sheep’s personal trainer?]. Ah, what a song. The original lyrics, I believe, pertain to the canning of fruit preserves, using an air pump to vacuum-seal the jam jars.
  • 28a. [Lady Gaga song about sheep in love?] is BAAED ROMANCE, playing on “Bad Romance.” I only recently learned that BAAED can be pronounced pretty much like “bad” rather than “bod.” I do not like that pronunciation. Is that involved in this theme entry, or is it both a spelling change and a pronunciation change? I’ll vote for the latter.
  • 37a, 43a. [Chemical Brothers song about the sounds that make all the sheep swoon?] clues FLOCK / ROCKIN’ BLEATS. Uh…what? Googling…okay, this one was “Block Rockin’ Beats,” It was a much bigger hit in England than in the U.S., but won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Speaking of FLOCK, did you know the Flock of Seagulls won that Grammy in ’83?
  • 52a. [T-Pain song about a sheep pickup artist?] clues BUY EWE A DRANK. I’m quite fond of the phrase “get my drank on.”

Further remarks:

  • L.L. BEAN, KIBITZ, ROOMBA, and [“No shit, ___”] SHERLOCK.
  • I like OBAMA‘s clue at 17a, [He really, really wasn’t born in Kenya, yeesh]. But Francis, did you really have to cross OBAMA with IMAMS? You know how people get to talking.
  • The 48a clue is great: [It’s non-PC] isn’t about what’s politically correct, it’s about a MAC.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Also-Rans”—Janie’s review

No, this is not a tribute puzzle to the gentlemen and ladies who did not find themselves among the “ins” earlier this month. Instead, Patrick has attached the word ran to three well-known phrases, turning them into winners all. I really enjoyed the way:

  • King of Beasts morphed into RANKING OF BEASTS [Zookeeper’s hierarchy?] at 17A;
  • Sack race turned into RANSACK RACE [Contest to determine the fastest pillager] at 39A; and
  • Sonny and Cher became SONNY AND RANCHER [Cattleman with his boy?] at 62A. While the placement of the added syllable isn’t consistent here with its two predecessors, the concept here, the way the pronunciation of Cher (“share”) changes to “chur” and the way the meaning of the new phrase differs so much from the base phrase all go to making this a keeper.

The non-theme fill is smile-making as well, starting with YOSEMITE [California national park]. Am always happy to be reminded of my visit there this summer. I also like the symmetrically balanced and assonant ENTROPY [Degradation of the universe’s energy] and EGGHEAD [Studious sort]. ESKIMO [Pie or dog follower], EXTRA [Uncredited actor] and EX-CON [Past prisoner, for short] strengthen that chain of assonance.

The very clinical [Membrane with rods and cones] clues RETINA; but the EYES in today’s puzzle are not anatomical—they’re meteorological, [Cyclone centers]. And that [Lipton rival]? My first fill was NESTLÉ. But no. NESTEA it is—a Nestlé product. I had to laugh when NESTLE did put in an appearance as the verb meaning [Press affectionately]. “GEE!” [“Imagine that!”].

We get a brief respite from word puzzles to think about logic puzzles, specifically sudoku: from the [Highest sudoku digit] to the [Lowest sudoku digit], or NINE to ONE. For a change of pace, there’s also alphabet sudoku.

Sweetest cross? The shared “U” of IN FUN [For a laugh] and GURGLE [Happy infant’s sound]. The veritable sound of music…

Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 17The theme is slang terms for JAIL:

  • 17a. [Song involving body parts] is the HOKEY-POKEY. You put your right foot in and you shake it all about,
  • 25a. [Driveshaft component] is the UNIVERSAL JOINT. I know about “the joint,” but know nothing of universal joints.
  • 41a. [Gulped-down Mexican cocktail] is a TEQUILA SLAMMER. I forgot that drink existed. It’s been a while since my college days.
  • 55a. A FELT-TIP PEN is a [Marker].

You know what’s funny? Evad’s post from last week decrying a similar slangy-jail-synonyms theme in CrosSynergy. That puzzle, by Randy Ross, included partial COOLER HEADS, CLINK GLASSES, JUG BAND (“the jug”??), STIRFRY, CELL DIVISION (is “cell” shorthand for jail, or just a component thereof?), the JOINT CHIEFS, plural CANCANS, and a PEN NAME. I’ll give the edge to Gareth’s theme for the liveliness of HOKEY-POKEY and TEQUILA SLAMMER, though the UNIVERSAL JOINT puts me to sleep.

Toughest clues, for me:

  • 3d. [Golfer’s need, at times] is a RAKE. For the sand traps, I think, but I’m not sure.
  • 24d. [Standard] clues FLAG.


  • 5d. [Execute a high jump?] clues SKYDIVE. Good answer, better clue.
  • 7d. [Valley girl word] is, like, LIKE.
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14 Responses to Wednesday, 11/24/10

  1. Started with SNAKED instead of INCHED at 1-Across. Worked for a while, until I noticed a shuttle beginning with AHA. So came the “aha” moment of the puzzle (I’d figured out the shuttle theme early on). That, and wondering how STEMS could be [twosomes]…

  2. joon says:

    that ATOM clue made me grumpy. {Orbital site}, yes. {Orbit site}? not the way i understand it. i’m not going to fault the NYT (at least not principally), because dictionaries still list “the path of an electron around an atomic nucleus” as a definition for orbit, but that’s because the dictionaries are wrong—there exists no such path. it’s been 84 years since the quantum theory of the atom supplanted the bohr model, and yet we still have atoms represented graphically by little electrons whizzing around nuclei, dictionary definitions that a high-school chemistry student could recognize as wrong, and crossword clues that inspire terrifically boring and lengthy complaints by 43-downs like myself.

    i’d be interested to hear martin’s take on this clue.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    I’ve been lucky on shuttle sightings. The one time we visited KSC, we lucked into a shuttle landing while we were on the tour.

    I’ve also seen two night launches from Disney World.

    The Earth’s orbit is not perfectly round. I wonder if the shuttle is similar.

  4. Ladel says:

    The shuttle “walks” a bit during launch, sort of like when you balance a stick on your finger and walk after it to keep it verticle, that’s why the launch people always are relieved when it clears the tower.

    We have been in low Earth orbit with what amounts to a truck for so many years, we shoud have had a city on the moon by now, shame on us.


  5. Jeffrey says:

    CS: STAN Lee is a comic book writer, editor and creator but not an artist.

  6. janie says:

    but not all “artists” — comic (book) or otherwise — are the people who draw, no? stretchy though it may be, it may be best to think of the word in its broader sense.



  7. Matt says:

    I also winced at the ORBIT clue. I know, déformation professionnelle and all that… But it’s still just plain wrong.

  8. kratsman says:

    Some of the comments over at Wordplay say that the black square just to the left of 35A appears as a circle in the newsprint version of the puzzle. And, in Jim Horne’s XWordInfoSolution, that square appears as a miniature earth image. So if you connect the circled letters, you get a rough representation of a space station orbiting the earth. Pretty cool.

  9. ePeterso2 says:

    NYT – The puzzle left out the Pathfinder:

    When the skies have been clear, I’ve been able to see the shuttle launch from my backyard, even though I’m 200 miles south of KSC.

  10. John Haber says:

    I, too, was going to post to complain about an ATOM with orbits. First, the whole puzzle was not one of my favorites. It has a mammoth number of proper names, almost every one from silly land. And that’s even if you don’t count the space shuttles as proper names one might not know by heart.

    Second, it’s one of those with circled letters without symmetry (well, ok, mildly circular), which allows one to spell anything one wants. Thus, two of my biggest objections to puzzles. And much as I love Shakespeare, it’s been seeming recently that one can’t find a puzzle without IAGO.

  11. Meem says:

    Endeavour takes the British spelling due to the way it received it’s name. A contest open to school kids sought a name that represented adventure. Endeavour, the winning entry, was Captain James Cook’s ship that made so many discoveries in the South Pacific. Got Challenger right away along with a good start on Discovery. When Columbia surfaced, it became a question of how fast could I write? Agree that the clue for atom is off, but that did not impede the solve. Thanks to Allan Parrish for an enjoyable puzzle.

  12. Karen says:

    I thought the space shuttle orbits were sine waves. That’s what they look like on the projection maps.

    On the Onion crossword, the crossing between parodied rap song and broadway song (funny boy) was a block for me. Not helped by misspelling the soccer star’s name as AYERS.

  13. Jeffrey says:

    Karen, the projection map is a two dimensional representation of the Earth, which is a sphere. Try imagining that line on a globe and you get a circle/oval.

  14. Per a NASA historical webpage:

    “On November 24, 1980, NASA moved the Shuttle out of the Orbiter Processing Facility and into the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building, where it was mated with an external tank and two solid rocket boosters.”

    This was apparently the public debut of Columbia, which was used for the first shuttle flight the following April. Not sure how significant this debut is in the annals of space travel, but it’s the 30th anniversary thereof.

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