Wednesday, 12/1/10

NYT 4:21
Onion 3:51
LAT 3:21
CS untimed

Caleb Madison’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 2First off, I can’t believe nobody mentioned my link in yesterday’s L.A. Times writeup, the one for Buford EWER’s pretty face.

Moving on to the Wednesday NYT: Caleb is a big-time film buff and has made movie-themed crosswords for the Directors Guild publication, DGA Quarterly. And while he’s still in his salad days, he’s got some major construction chops. So it’s no surprise that Caleb’s packed in, what, 80 theme squares relating to WOODY ALLEN and his movies on the event of Woody’s 75th birthday. No, Hannah and Her Sisters and The Purple Rose of Cairo don’t fit here, but MATCH / POINT, RADIO DAYS, ALICE (??), MANHATTAN, BANANAS, SLEEPER, ANNIE HALL, ZELIG, and INTERIORS do. Nine movies plus the filmmaker’s first and last names? That’s a whole lotta theme going on.

Numerical answer of note:

  • 27d. B-TWELVE, a.k.a. vitamin B12, is clued as a [Vitamin involved in cell metabolism].

Highlights in the fill:

  • 14a: AS I RECALL, 7d: ELYSIAN, 25d: COHABIT

Lowlights, which abound owing to the theme’s constraints:

  • Crosswordese sort of words: STOLA, AMAH, ELOI, [Celtic sea god] LER, ANEAR
  • Foreign vocabulary: Spanish OSA, AÑO, MAS; French AVION, AOUT…Scottish NAE?
  • Abbrevs: CST, KAN, ANC, MSRP, RTE, SYN, and plural TDS and OTBS
  • Fragments OID, DRI, A TO

Cognate alert!

  • 63a. [Feverishness] is FEBRILITY, and both words derive from the Latin febris. Which is not to be confused with Febreze spray.

Let’s not get into the “Do we think Woody Allen is icky personally? Are we fans of his movies? Does the one offset the other?” discussion. There’s not much new to say on that front.

Tyler Hinman’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 3

If I were going to give this puzzle a title, it would be “It Is What It Is.” The theme entries are three similarly asinine and meaningless tautologies:

  • 17a. “HATERS GONNA HATE” is a [Tautology meaning “I don’t care what they say”].
  • 35a. “RULES ARE RULES” is a “duh” [Tautology meaning “that would be wrong”].
  • 56a. “SEE YA WHEN I SEE YA” is a [Tautology meaning “later”]

I’m fairly certain that this puzzle was put to bed days or weeks before Leslie NIELSEN died. Nice, respectful psychic shout-out to him at 48a: [Ebert called him “the Olivier of spoofs”]. Cute to have it crossing the [First name on “60 Minutes”], LESLEY Stahl. On Twitter, it vexed Tyler that so many people posting “R.I.P.” messages about Leslie Nielsen misspelled the last name that the misspelling was a trending topic. Paging Lesley Nielson…

Favorite clues:

  • 50a. [The bird, for one] is a GESTURE, that of “flipping the bird” with one’s middle finger.
  • 49d. [Fuck-all, to Flavius] clues the Latin NIHIL, meaning “nothing.” Most alliterative crossword clues eschew the F-bomb.

Shout-out to Tyler’s job:

  • 44a. Google created the Android phone operating system. [Android Market purchases] are APPS.

Note on the construction: Aided by the inclusion of just three theme entries, Tyler was able to keep the word count down to a themeless-grade 72. The six-pack of 8-letter answers and those 6×4 corners are the result, and lend the grid a wide-open feeling.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 4You know William Steig’s childhood wordplay classic, C D B!? One of the sound-out-the-letters pages reads “P-T S N N-M-E.” I think that means “Petey is an enemy.” That’s sort of lurking beneath the theme in this crossword: The ENEMY at 56d is hiding in the four long theme answers in the form of the letter string NME:

  • 20a. GERMAN MEASLES is a [Viral illness associated with a rash].
  • 35a. [List that comes from the top] is a DROP-DOWN MENU.
  • 43a. [Possible response to “Gotcha!”] clues “THAT’S ONE ON ME.” That’s…one I would never say. “You got me,” sure. “You got one over on me,” yes. Not sure I’ve heard “That’s one on me” before.
  • 57a. LEMON MERINGUE is a [Pie with a fluffy topping].

I’m mostly sour on themes that have letters hidden in them like this. For now, anyway. Maybe I will be enchanted by them again someday.

Five more clues:

  • 2d. [Shining brightly] clues AGLEAM. Sometimes it’s AGLARE. ABLAZE tends to mention fire or burning in the clue. Six letters and [Shining brightly], I plunk an A in the first square, suspect a GL thereafer, and wait for the crossings for the rest.
  • 10d. [Place with bars] is a CAGE. Not so much where the 20-somethings head on Saturday night.
  • 34d. [Dijon honey] isn’t, thank heavens, about mustard. It’s a French sweetie, or AMIE.
  • 37d. [Red, white or Blue Nun] clues WINE. I’ll take a white or a Blue, please. Hey! I passed three nuns on Wabash Street yesterday in the Loop. Two were surprisingly young. None was blue…though I haven’t heard them do comedy. For all I know, they work blue.
  • 40d. [Gambler’s favorite woman?] is the hypothetical LADY LUCK. Terrific answer!

Updated Wednesday morning:

Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Inside Dope”—Janie’s review

Well, glory be—a(nother) themed Klahn that was also a reasonably smooth, easy solve. That “inside dope” of the title refers literally to the appearance of the word “dope” inside each theme phrase, straddling the two words. And here’s the inside dope (or “the 411”) on how Bob does it:

  • 17A. [Guacamole source to some] AVOCADO PEAR.
  • 28A. [Occasion for a ribbon-cutting ceremony] GRAND OPENING.
  • 45A. [Far from automatic] HANDOPERATED.
  • 60A. [Role for Robert Redford as a stunt pilot after World War I] WALDO PEPPER. Not to be confused with Waldo Salt (or even daughter Jennifer)…

As a theme set, I find the fill a tad dry; not bad, mind you—it definitely holds together—but in accommodating that embedded word, not especially sparkly. By means of the intricate cluing, however, the non-theme portion of the puzzle has a great deal of life. For example, we get a range of housing options. There’s IOLANI, a [Palace used as a police headquarters on the original “Hawaii Five-O”] (and to complement that, a [Palace topper] or TIARA. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s [Hardly a palace] for HOVEL, and its relative, the [Jungle bungalow] or HUT. Interesting to see that in the 19th century King Kamehameha slept in a grass hut before Iolani Palace had sleeping quarters…

That [Garden spot of Greater London] is KEW; YEWS are [Topiary trees]. Behold these teddy-bear-shaped yews of Kew Gardens.

While the fill ain’t all kids stuff, the language of the clues suggests otherwise. How else to explain [Gloppy stuff], [Hoppy stuff] and [It’s black and blobby]? That gives us GOOP, ALE and TAR (sloppy stuff…).

We get a pair of “two-‘e'” ways of keeping people/events at bay: one may [Give pause to] DETER or even [Hold off] REPEL an enemy.

And we get several pairs of sequential clues with repeater words:

  • [Modern money] and [Hardly modern] for EURO and RETRO;
  • [Ready for action] and [Auction action] for ON ALERT and BID;
  • [Political battlefield] and [Political group] for ARENA and PARTY; and
  • [“Take a Chance on Me” quartet] and [Chances of success] for ABBA and ODDS.

While ABBA is a [Group with many hits?], that question mark in the clue is telling us to think outside the box, which is why THE MOB fills the bill this time, and [Proceed naturally?] is GO NAKED. Same with [Per bottle of soda?]. Adding “of soda?” underscores the wordplay since the correct fill is A POP (and pop is another word for soda…).

And that, so to speak, is all the “news on the RIALTO” [Venetian marketplace].

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25 Responses to Wednesday, 12/1/10

  1. ArtLvr says:

    Ha ha, no icky discussion! I did complete Caleb’s clever compendium of WOODY’s works, even if I’ve seen only one or two of them. And I like your inclusion of the diacritical mark in the Spanish word, but check out the French spelling for August… le circonflèxe ^ goes above the U. I can’t find it on my keyboard? Got it, Août. It’s over the i…

  2. Howard B says:

    Haven’t been up on the LA Times puzzles in a while, but I haven’t given them up either ;). Earning those devil horns, aren’t we?

  3. ArtLvr says:

    Nice write up!

  4. Jeff says:

    But doesn’t ones interest in Woody Allen directly relate to whether this is a enjoyable puzzle or not?

    I’ll get to work on a very well crafted puzzle that features nine films you don’t care about and we’ll see what you think.

  5. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Jeff, I don’t care about most of these Allen movies (I’ve seen just two or three of the nine), but with the exception of “Alice,” I consider them all famous movies that are definitely in the American film canon. Gather nine movies from 1937 or 1962 that I’ve never heard of and I’m pretty sure the theme would not impress me as it would feel like a film-heavy themeless.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Tyler’s Onion grid is extremely elegant. Standout entries all over the place and only 72 words.

  7. Karen says:

    Personally only four of those nine films reach name recognition level for me.

    In the Onion, the pot of PETUNIAS saved me from the error of OUTEATS (finishing a course first). Thank you Douglas Adams. I’m not sure what the JANES refers to.

  8. joon says:

    i thought this puzzle was really, really hard. certainly much tougher than xan’s saturday puzzle, for one. i didn’t know RADIO DAYS, MANHATTAN (i thought it was MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY?), BANANAS, ALICE, SLEEPER, or INTERIORS. and ZELIG i only know from crosswords. so i was a) working the crosses pretty hard, and b) literally clueless on what seemed like half the answers in the puzzle for at least 2 minutes, because i couldn’t solve the NW corner without knowing the theme, since WAR, -OID, and YEOMEN were pretty stubborn. so… yeah.

    anyway, i’ve seen precisely one of these movies (ANNIE HALL), plus two other woody movies (antz and mighty aphrodite). well whatever. the puzzle wasn’t for me, was it? happy birthday, woody.

  9. Tuning Spork says:

    Re: NYT
    Too bad my favorite, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, wouldn’t fit. Otherwise, very cool puzzle for us Woody Allen fans.

    Re: CrosSynergy
    Not for nothin’, but someone **ahem** beat Bob Klahn to that particular punch back in July.

  10. Tuning Spork says:

    Of course, my version sucks.

  11. Matt says:

    Not happy with the NYT, crossed the too-much-crosswordese line, IMO.

    And, I-suppose-it’s-a-nit about 7D ‘Heavenly’, ELYSIAN. It’s an allusion to Elysium, the classical abode of the virtuous/heroic dead– but classical mythology didn’t really have a concept of ‘heaven’, and virtuous classical pagan souls end up in Limbo in Christian iconography– which is in hell, not heaven.

  12. Howard B says:

    @Matt: Perhaps, but be careful about overthinking clue references – if it were a direct mythology reference, you’d have a point. But the main reference for standard words here is usually Webster’s Dictionary (or some similar standard, not sure), where that word indeed has a second definition of “blissful, delightful” and a listed synonym of “heavenly”. So in standard usage it is correct.
    Don’t forget that “heavenly” itself commonly = “blissful” and doesn’t necessarily have any religious connotations. It’s easy to analyze some of these, but step back and consider usage in the language.
    I’m going to have to read up on Elysium tomorrow, and probably get myself lost in some Greek mythology – love that stuff. Thanks!

    Where most of the (rare) clue mistakes are made in the Times seems to be more when they delve into specific scientific info, where definitions are very exact and have less room for interpretation.

  13. Matt says:

    @Howard B

    I’m not really arguing about the clue definition– I know that real errors are very rare and freely assume that all clues in the NYT crossword are checked against the dictionary. It’s more about having an unintended collision with a clue immediately after my morning dose of caffeine.

    Btw, did you know that Champs-Élysées is ‘Elysian Fields’ in French? I only realized that the other day…

  14. T Campbell says:

    I’m a bit nervous about continuing to offer any dissent here, since Amy is so generously hosting “Callin’ Them Squares,” but none of the four “asinine and meaningless tautologies” Amy cites strikes me as asinine or meaningless, though I would have clued them differently.

    “It Is What It Is” is roughly synonymous to “C’est la vie.” “Haters gonna hate” means “someone will always be unhappy.” “Rules are rules” means “stop cheating.” And “see ya when I see ya” means “I’ll meet you again, friend, at an unspecified date.”

    Sure, these statements are all tautologies in a strictly logical sense, but I think they offer up a lot more meaning than the truly wretched “free gift,” “first introduced,” etc.

  15. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Oh, I fully agree that, based on what little I know of “tautology,” these don’t exactly fit that label. But if people mean “hey, that’s life” when they say “it is what it is,” why don’t they say that instead? “It is what it is” still strikes me as useless filler and vacant explanation.

  16. T Campbell says:

    It’s sort of a cogito ergo sum. The statement invokes a nearly inarguable “A is A” principle to ground its somewhat-implied assertion.

    “This exists in reality, therefore you shouldn’t focus on what it might have been.”
    “Haters exist, therefore you shouldn’t worry about pleasing everyone.”
    “Rules exist, therefore you shouldn’t act as if they don’t.”

    That last one– “See you when I see you”– is iffier. It conveys awkwardness to me: “You’re a good enough friend that I don’t want to leave you hanging about when we’ll meet next– but we’re not so close that I actually know when that’ll be.” (And yeah, yeah, there’s “Later!”, but that doesn’t feel as conflicted.)

  17. joon says:

    i liked the tautologies very much. i largely agree with T on the matter: the surface sense of all of those phrases has very little content, but each one certainly carries a definite connotation and i think that adds to the richness of our language. the fact that you can say HATERS GONNA HATE and be pretty much universally understood to mean “you can’t please everyone” is pretty cool, i think. plus, that one and SEE YA WHEN I SEE YA are very fresh, 21st-century phrases to my ear. IT IS WHAT IT IS i feel a little differently about—that one’s less fresh and feels more of a cliché to me. it’s to the point where even if it did mean something before, it doesn’t any more because people just say it when they don’t know what else to say. luckily, it wasn’t in the puzzle!

    amy, i know my 1909 athletics and i knew you were making a little joke, but i was still curious about your buford EWER link. argh! i shouldn’t be falling for this in 2010.

  18. John Haber says:

    Joon, Manhattan came right after Annie Hall, and critics and film scholars often call them his two most successful movies. I agree with Amy that Alice is obscure, and that sections crossings of ALICE, AMAH (crosswordese), and RAMON was sticky, as indeed was PERGOLA, ARAZRIA, and LER. But I do realize he had a lot of theme clues to pack in, so some stretches are needed.

  19. Andrew R says:

    NYT: Talk about a puzzle in my wheelhouse. Anybody else get 1-Across (and 66-Across, for that matter) right away with zero crossings? Woody’s birthday is a bit of a holiday around my house, and it doesn’t hurt that I can list his filmography in order. So, yeah…pretty easy puzzle for me.

    One minor stumbling block…my gut reaction to the 1987 movie was SEPTEMBER, also nine letters and released the same year as RADIO DAYS. That would have been an elegant touch if Caleb were able to get both of those in there with the same clue. INTERIORS is one of the 4-5 Allen films that I don’t care for, so I would have welcomed it if it were scrapped.

  20. Cheeseblab says:

    A lagniappe in the NYT puzzle: Walter Alston, the 8-Down fill, is also a 12/1 birthday. I know this for the same reason I didn’t hesitate in filling in 1- and 66-Across: so am I. Seeing Alston, I thought maybe some other 12/1s would turn up–Bette Midler, say, or Richard Pryor, or Lee Trevino. But no, none of the other people in the grid are 12/1s, as far as I know–anyway, I hope Idi Amin isn’t!

  21. Howard B says:

    Gotcha, Matt. Sometimes I see a clue and it kind of jars me in that way for a second, as I think, “I wouldn’t have seen it that way” or “That just sounds odd”.
    Guess it can be tough to differentiate between “a little off” and “too misleading” for any given clue that isn’t definitive. Sort of like when that carton of milk in the back of the fridge is nearing the expiration date…

  22. ePeterso2 says:

    NYT: I also got 1A/66A very, very quickly, not because I know anything about Woody Allen, but because They Might Be Giants posted a note about his birthday on their Facebook page before I began the puzzle. Were it not for that, it woulda been a while comin’.

    I imagine that non-fans of Woody Allen probably felt about today’s puzzle the same way as the non-fans of Lewis Carroll felt about the Jaberwocky puzzle in the NYT ca. Fill Me In Episode 100.

  23. Jenni says:

    I did not like the NYT today at all. FEBRILITY? ick. I figured it out easily but still, ick. I don’t think the theme is worth the very high crossword-ese quotient . It was easy enough, but unsatisfying. Sorta like a Twinkie.

  24. Ladel says:

    Avid WA fan, couldn’t wait for each new gem, I even tried to take the bad ones in context of his oeuvre but it just never was the same after the Soon-Yi Previn event.

    I’m afraid he’s just like a lot of the psychologically damaged characters in his movies, the ones he claimed were pure fiction. After all that analysis he should know better, at least that’s what my shrink told me.


  25. ===Dan says:

    I have seen all the movies, all but Match Point in the theater. I agree that Alice was less notable than the rest.

    Joon, MANHATTAN had Woody playing a character, mid-40s at the time, dating a high-school student. You might remember that references to this movie resurfaced when the real-world events Amy alluded to garnered a lot of attention.

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