Saturday, 11/27/10

Newsday 13:05
NYT 6:44
LAT 4:18
WSJ Saturday Puzzle 22:27*—Patrick Berry variety grid, “In Boxes” pdf
CS untimed (Janie)

Xan Vongsathorn’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 23I dunno. Xan Vongsathorn’s a young (still in college, I think) constructor, but a lot of this puzzle skews old. TARE and SNEE in a one-two punch? ECARTE and ELIA? The puzzle certainly wasn’t all clunky, but hitting an [Old dirk] tends to take me out of my solving groove. It makes me look askance, being wary of what other Maleskanisms are lurking.

The highlights were pretty sweet:

  • 16a. IDLE RICH, like Paris Hilton unless she makes work for herself. It’d be nice to have the option to be IDLE RICH, wouldn’t it?
  • 22a. SENIORITIS is clued as a [High-class affliction?], but it’s not the social class mentioned in 16a’s clue, it’s an academic class year. My senior year of college, two of my three classes were “Baby Shakes” (introductory Shakespeare class, and class met outside on the grass when the weather was nice) and French 3. Did I have senioritis?
  • 32a. THE BIGGEST LOSER is that reality [Show in which many pots disappear?] because the contestants are losing weight (and potbellies).
  • 47a. BOBBLE HEAD is a great entry. So little do I know of the finer points of baseball that I first went with BOBBLE BALL for [Bouncer in a sports stadium?].
  • 57a. Great literary trivia clue for THE RAVEN: [It uses 20 different end rhymes for “ore”].
  • 6d, 47d. FREE-RANGE is [Like some chickens] and BRAVE is [Unlike chickens].
  • 7d. FIRST ONE TO BLINK is excellent.

Second time recently that I’ve seen RITZES clued as the plural of a Ritz crackers. There’s a flag on that play. Saltines, yes. I just got distracted while Googling to confirm that people talk about Saltines but not “Ritzes.” Have you heard of the Saltine cracker challenge? It’s to eat (and completely swallow) six Saltines in 60 seconds, without the benefit of any beverage. Apparently it’s quite difficult, as the cracker absorbs all your saliva.

Speaking of football terminology (“flag on the play”), there’s a new DRE to supplement rapper Dr. Dre in football clues: [NFL cornerback ___ Bly]. No idea how well-known Bly is. I’d like to see his full name in a grid: DREBLY. What would that mean as an adverb?

Peter Gordon of Fireball Crosswords likes to use Roman numeral arithmetic clues. I don’t know that I’ve seen French arithmetic clues before, but here you go: At 22d, [Deux into quatorze] is 2 into 14, or 7, which is SEPT.
Updated Saturday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “No Ifs, Ands … Just Buts”—Janie’s review

I really wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. Would “IF” and “AND” be removed from some phrases and “BUT” added in their place? No. Nothing so overwrought. Instead, Randy has woven into the grid five (count ’em—five) familiar and fabulous 15-letter theme phrases, each containing the word “BUT.” Behold:

  • 17A. ANYWHERE BUT HERE [NIMBY sentiment]. Also the title of a (deservedly) well-received first novel by Mona Simpson. (And everyone knows that NIMBY stands for “Not In My BackYard,” right?)
  • 28A. SLOWLY BUT SURELY [How the tortoise compete against the hare]. This is the sometimes-seen translation of the moral of one of Aesop’s timeless fables. Sometimes it’s “steady but surely,” sometimes (as in this version) it’s “slowly does it every time.” No matter what it is, slowly but surely is certainly recognizable and more than captures the spirit of the sentiment. And where accuracy in puzzle solving is concerned, these can be words to live by!
  • 33A. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR [“That was a real good try“]. Ouch. By not heeding the slowly-but-surely principle, this would be the description of some of my results at the ACPT…
  • 43A. LAST BUT NOT LEAST [Words often said before a final honoree is announced].
  • 57A. SEEN BUT NOT HEARD [What good children should be, in an old saw]. So for how many generations now has this principle been out of favor?… This one also plays into BEHAVED [Made it easy on the babysitter].

All that long theme fill has limited Randy somewhat in keeping the remainder of the puzzle as lively—but with the aid of some sharp cluing he more than manages to get some other good stuff in there. Like [Creatures on a slide]—which gives us not WEE ‘UNS, but AMEBAE; or [Something to put your drink on], which is a BAR TAB and not a NAPKIN…

WINS and SPEEDY almost tie into the lesson at 28A, but they’re clued today in conjunction with baseball [Pitcher’s stat] and the world of animation [Gonzales known as “the fastest mouse in all Mexico]. Speedy is one of any number of names in the puzzle and shares the stage with the likes of [“Working” author Studs] TERKEL, BONO [Musician/activist born Paul David Hewson], ELKE [Sommer on the screen], UMA [She played Emma in the movie version of “The Avengers”], SELA [Ward with several Emmys], HAUER [Actor Rutger of “Blade Runner”] and ERNESTO [Che, to his mother].

Didn’t realize—and was interested to learn—that HAREMS are not only rooms for women only, but can also be the women themselves [Sultans’ wives]. Live ‘n’ learn!

Vic Fleming’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 24I like this puzzle. A few dry spots, sure, but lots of cool clues and a nice literary vibe. I slept late today, so I will just share a few of the highlights:

  • 1a. Most surprising clue/answer combo: [One is in the Guinness Book for its 1,728-word vocabulary] refers to a PARAKEET.
  • 17a. [South-of-the-border sunblock?] is a SOMBRERO, which does indeed keep the sun off one’s face and neck.
  • 60a. [One may be civil] is a great clue for ENGINEER.
  • 7d. [One of a swimmer’s pair] is an EARPLUG. Earplugs are inherently amusing to me.
  • 12d. I suppose that people going to methadone clinics or rehab aren’t “customers” per se, but that’s the line of thinking I had here. [Some clinic customers] are PET OWNERS.
  • 27d. A FIEND is an [Evil sort]. I concur.
  • 31d. SPIDER-MAN is the [Superhero first introduced as a teenager].

Literary fill includes TEXT, EPODES, BOURNE, TITANIA, A ROOM and I AM (if you gotta have partials, why not find literary clues for them?), and SARTRE.

Merle Baker’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Region capture 25Well, two weeks ago Doug Peterson’s Stumper struck me as the year’s toughest themeless puzzle. This week’s offering from Merle Baker took me almost two minutes longer. I will elevate this one to the year’s toughest (to date) if others concur.

Let’s run through the clues that gave me the most trouble:

  • 9a. [Torpedoes] clues HITMEN. Not familiar with that slang. Figured it was a plural noun with an S (nope!) or a verb with the ***S ** or *****S form (nope!).
  • 18a. [Culturally significant] clues ICONIC. Had O in the first spot, since I had BOOST instead of HOIST.
  • 20a. [Sports ploy] is TRASH TALK. Had the TRASH part but kept erasing TALK because I couldn’t get the crossings to work.
  • 28a. [It may cover your dog] means a hot dog with CHILI.
  • 30a. [Room service] is a HOTEL that’s a service with rooms. Meh.
  • 31a. [Disorder] clues TOUSLE. I don’t like this clue. First, TOUSLE is most commonly a verb. Secondly, it mostly relates to hair. Who the hell is going to refer to messy hair as “disorder”?
  • 32a. [Father] clues GENITOR. Uncommon word, that.
  • 35a. [Shows of approval] clues HOORAYS. Who ever pluralizes “hooray”?
  • 45a. [“Waging Peace” author’s initials] is DDE.
  • 52a. Needed enough crossings for SICILIAN to emerge as the [Romance language]. “Spanish, French, Italian, too short. Romansch, too cognatey. What else fits?”
  • 55a. [Name in the news since 1992] is a tough clue because “name in the news” usually means “famous person” and not “foreign news agency name” like ITAR-TASS. Seeing that in the grid, I see “I, Tart Ass.”
  • 1d. [Frame], noun, is BAD RAP. Same three last letters for [Frame], verb, ENTRAP.
  • 12d. [Warhol serigraph subject] is MONA LISA. Tried SOUP CANS earlier.
  • 13d. [Gelatin-capsule innovator] clues drugmaker ELI LILLY. Pfft.
  • 14d. Why are NECKTIES a [Thrift-shop display]? That seems an arbitrary pairing of concepts.
  • 29d. [State of urgency] is a HURRY.

Loved NEW MONEY (57a: [Dot-com tycoons, e.g.]). Like the old occupational word FLETCHER (7d: [Arrow artisan]), which is where that surname comes from. BLOWHARDS (46a: [Big talkers]) is also a great entry.

Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “In Boxes”

Another brilliant turn from Patrick Berry! Intricate construction that scarcely anyone else in the puzzle business can pull off, a cool hidden extra phrase in the unused squares, and terrifically lively phrases in the Boxes.

I do have a blank patch, alas. I’m sure I’m missing something fairly obvious. Where [White House bill?] intersects with the [Reviewed (4,4)] box, I got nothin’. I had the 4,4 as READ OVER, but that makes the White House thing TREADY, which isn’t a word. And TREATY could work, though the question mark is unexplained and REAT OVER means nothing. Okay, I asked for help on Eric Berlins’ Facebook page, where he was talking about the puzzle. He sent a hint: What bill depicts the White House? A TWENTY has the White House on the back, and WENT OVER works. Duh. That TWENTY clue is tricky! (Thanks, Eric!)

You gotta love a puzzle that works MING THE MERCILESS, J. EDGAR HOOVER, a DOBERMAN PINSCHER, and beautiful phrases like CLEAR SAILING and CURRIES FAVOR into the mix. I suspect anyone else who tried their hand at constructing this sort of puzzle would resort to affix-heavy words like REASSESSMENT for the Boxes, or obscure names or words in the Rows, but Patrick manages to avoid those. Nobody seems to know how Patrick works his magic. Could be black magic, am I right?

I cost myself a lot of time by mixing up my comedy directors. I put Ivan REITMAN where Harold RAMIS belongs in row 5, and that whole zone was slow to come together as a result.

Anyway, I appreciated the mental workout of a puzzle that doesn’t tell you exactly where the words go or (for the Rows answers) how long they are. The clues included some tough stuff, too. And spelling out the hidden phrase was also rewarding—STYROFOAM PEANUTS are packed into the grid between the Boxes, quite aptly.

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14 Responses to Saturday, 11/27/10

  1. joon says:

    peter gordon also was the first to clue DRE using dre bly, in the sun puzzles of 12/31/04 and 8/29/08. bly was a pro-bowler a few years ago, but his career sort of tanked after being traded from detroit to denver. i think he’s actually already out of the league.

    not really sure there’s an explanation for it, but this was my fastest saturday solve ever, by quite a bit. maybe it helps that there weren’t three full-length answers i had to scratch and claw for every letter of. xan graduated from pomona a year ago, i think, but still, yay for youngish constructors!

  2. The Zs and Js were helpful in getting footholds in their respective corners, as was CALAMARI discerned from just the M. Mmm, calamari.

  3. D_Blackwell says:

    “. . .At 22d, [Deux into quatorze]. . .”
    I was very disappointed with the English ‘into’ on this clue.

  4. Neville says:

    Slow day at work yesterday (most people took vacation) so I attempted the Saltine Challenge – took me 1:25 to eat 6 of the crackers. A coworker nailed it in 1:10.

    Double yay for young constructors!

  5. Matt says:

    True that there’s some dull fill, but there’s also a lot of good stuff– 1A is great, IMO. ARFARF to you too, Mr. Vongsathorn.

  6. Meem says:

    Slowed down by sneeze before wheeze and sensed before seemed. Really wanted basketball for bobble head but the crosses said not! Love Moose Drool Ale from Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, Montana. Overall a good puzzle.

  7. sbmanion says:

    I started with TAB leading to BRIDGE. I wonder if Will knew that solvers would fall into this trap. Jim Horne had an interesting discussion of BEAR TRAPS. My first thought was the old ski bindings, called bear trap bindings. They hooked around the heel of your boot.

    Typical Saturday for me–looked impossible and solved slowly at first, then quickly at the end.


  8. Sara says:

    I so wanted The Big Lebowski for the pot show, but it just wouldn’t fit, no matter how many spellings I tried….

  9. joon says:

    nope, i thought doug’s stumper was much tougher than this one. (not that today’s was a cakewalk, mind you!)

    loved PB’s “in boxes”! i figured out that the TWENTY clue was asking about a dollar bill, but didn’t know which denomination featured the white house. only after i got the Y from figuring out the meta did TWENTY reveal itself. i was thinking something like EYED OVER or the ridiculous SEEN OVER, but WENT OVER is great.

    re: vic’s LAT, i can’t remember seeing {Elbows on the table} as a clue for anything other than PASTA before. nice double-cross!

  10. Deb Amlen says:

    Wants Neville Fogarty’s job.

  11. John Haber says:

    I got the left side very quickly, almost Wednesday time. I struggled for a bit to get further, but guessing the long down answer helped, giving me a foothold in the NE. Still, the SE just would not move for a long time.

    I just hadn’t heard of THE NEXT BIG LOSER or a BOBBLEHEAD (and am grateful to Amy for explaining both, including that sense of “pot,” also new to me). I got the puzzle but didn’t really understand it. It hurt, too, that I started with “basketball” for the bouncer and with “sensed” for SEEMED (meaning “felt”). Didn’t know JERI or ANITA, and didn’t recognize either ALE (and here I thought I was an expert on micro brews). I was grateful for once to the crosswordese ELIA.

    But very good start for new setter. Congratulations to him.

  12. Charles says:

    In Randolph Ross’s “No Ifs, Ands … Just Buts” my final entry was the second E in TEEM (67 across, clued “Come down hard”) which was also the second E in ERIE (55 down, clued “Part of HOMES”). I guessed E only because it produced two recognizable words. But obviously there are holes in my knowledge because I don’t understand how either word relates to its clue. Could someone help me understand why TEEM and ERIE are correct? Thanks.

  13. Doug P says:

    Charles, HOMES is a mnemonic for remembering the names of the Great Lakes. Check out the initial letters: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.

    As for TEEM, one of the definitions is “to pour in torrents.” Yeah, not a common definition, so that’s a tough one if the crossing words are stumpers.

  14. Charles says:

    Doug P. – I don’t remember ever learning the HOMES mnemonic for the Great Lakes. What is more useless than a forgotten mnemonic? :>)

    As for TEEM, with your explanation I can make the connection between “come down hard” and a hard (heavy) rainfall and then on to “pour in torrents” as in a torrential rainfall. But how often does one speak of a teeming rainfall? Obscure indeed.

    Thanks for your help.

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