If you have long yearned for your very own set of the Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest pen, pencil, and notepad, February may be your lucky month. This month is Literary February, and every solver who figures out all four meta answers this month will receive those MGWCC goodies. Most months, the prizes go to only 10 randomly picked winners, and the odds are against you when a bunch of other people submit the right answers. And your odds drop to nil if you fail to solve even one of the month’s puzzles. So put your thinking toque on and get cracking!
Mark Diehl’s New York Times crossword
At last! A week where the Friday puzzle’s easier than the Saturday puzzle. All is right with the world. It just took a Midwestern blizzard with 70 mph winds to straighten things out.
I didn’t find too much to delight me here, and there were a few answers that clanged dissonantly. First up, what I liked most:
- 53a. [Operations are performed in it] clues a MATH QUIZ.
- 58a. GLISSANDOS is a pretty word. They’re [Dramatic piano effects].
- 4d. SCROLLED UP means [Moved to the top, perhaps] in a computer window.
- 7d. [Company quota] is TWO. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. As for four: Don’t ask. Might be an orgy.
- 9d. CEMENT SHOES! I wonder how many times that gruesome murder method has been used. Is it still in use?
- 32d. TV trivia I knew! The [Run of TV’s “My So-Called Life”] was ONE SEASON. Two things the show is known for: (1) It launched Claire Danes’ acting career and (2) it featured a gay teen character back when that was a rarity.
- 33d. The KIA OPTIMA has that nice Chinese-looking IAO run in the middle.
Two things I didn’t know at all:
- 24d. DREAMSVILLE, the [Ohio town where “there’s a happiness” in an old Glenn Miller song]. Huh?
- 29a. [Allan who directed “Sands of Iwo Jima”] is named DWAN. This looks only faintly, dimly familiar.
On the grumpy-making list:
- 35d: [Struck] clues XED (as in “X’ed out) while 46d: [X] clues SMACK. I think the latter one means “kiss,” but I don’t like the X/SMACK equivalency without an intermediary “kiss,” and I don’t care for the X/XED echo.
- 1a. I have never encountered the CRISPY TACO. Taco Bell has a “crunchy taco.” If [Food that makes a crunch] is a taco, it’s a crunchy taco or a hard-shell taco, not a CRISPY TACO. C’mon! Who’s with me?
- 34a. SILEX is a [Mineral in the form of quartz or flint], or part of the Proctor Silex brand name of small appliances. What it is not is lively fill.
- 64a. [Cocktail attire] clues TEA DRESSES. The phrase tea-length dresses may sound nonsensical, and yet it is more “in the language” than TEA DRESSES.
Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The second Saturday LAT in a row to take me 5 minutes and change rather than the usual 4 minutes and—am I slowing down or have the puzzles toughened themselves up lately?
I love the fill in this puzzle. You’ve got the quartet of 15s, all terrific—
- 13a. [Role for which its actor refused an Oscar] = DON VITO CORLEONE.
- 16a. [Actor who said “Some people have youth, some have beauty—I have menace”] = EDWARD G. ROBINSON. Great quote.
- 45a. [Offended parties in a long-running series of 3-Down] = THE GEICO CAVEMEN. 3d is TV ADS.
- 48a. [Experience sudden inspiration] = HAVE AN “AHA” MOMENT. What’s your frame of reference here: Oprah or crossword solving?
Also on the all-star roster (weirdly, almost all from the Downs):
- 43a. A BLAZE is an [Equine facial marking]. Hey, let’s use this term for people’s spots too.
- 1d. [Didn’t stay where it should, as a skirt] = RODE UP. What else rides up? Shirts, bras…and who can forget underwear? So much so that Hanes even sells anti-riding-up undies. The URL I clicked to get to that site was wedgiefree.com.
- 6d. [Reward for rolling over] = DOG TREAT. Love that answer. Not as a snack, no.
- 7d. [Unificationist] = MOONIE, as in a member of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.
- 11d. [Sitcom about the Conners] = ROSEANNE. Who can forget?
- 22d. [Hideous hybrid of myth] = PRIUS. Nice alliteration.
- No, not really. It’s HARPY.
- 28d. [“Lie to Me” star] = TIM ROTH. Nice, short full name there. I know him more from Tarantino movie(s) than from Lie to Me, which is…I don’t remember what it is. A pay cable series? A movie?
- 30d. [Political blog feature, often] is a weird clue for PET PEEVE. Really? Political blogs are always going on about pet peeves? Love the entry, though.
- 31d. [Mrs. Norris in the “Harry Potter” books, e.g.] is a tricky (for those who haven’t paid close attention to Pottermania) clue for a HOUSECAT.
- 35d. FRACAS and [Donnybrook] are both awesome words.
Mysteries and challenges:
- 28a. [Gardener’s soil hauler] = TIP CART. Never heard of this term.
- 32a. For [Albéniz piano work], I suspected it would be something Spanish and rousing, like ESPANA, but it’s IBERIA. That suspicion was not based on any actual knowledge of Albéniz’s music.
Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Dig Deeply”—Janie’s review
What a nice way to close out the CS week this is. Gail’s given us a synonym puzzle, but lest you think that equates with “ho-hum,” think again. The word that’s the focus of attention is “dig”—in the jazz era and hipster sense of “like,” and something you “dig deeply” is something you might treasure, value, love or prize. You’ll do all of those today but you’ll do so by way of some mighty lively fill. Dig? I’ll spell it out:
- 20A. TREASURE MAP [Guide to a pirate’s spoils].
- 11D. VALUE MEAL [Fast-food restaurant offering]. Oh, man, good ol’ capitalism at work. Let the buyer beware…
- 34D. LOVE APPLE [Tomato]. I mean, really—what’s not to love? Seems this name derives from the French appellation pomme d’amour and may go back to their belief in the tomato’s powers as an aphrodisiac.
- 61A. PRIZE WINNER [Successful competitor]. Also the way I’d describe this entire theme set. There’s even a suggestion of bonus fill with ESTEEM [Think the world of].
You know what else is nice? Well, for starters there’re the rhymed pairs in the first and last rows across: “PSHAW!” and GNAW (clued as [“Fiddle-faddle!”] and [Nibble away]), and then TREY and PREY (clued as [Low poker hand] and [Quarry]). Speaking of poker, the Gail also throws in BETS, clued as [Pushes in some chips]. She’s not talkin’ Fritos and guac DIP [Bash bowlful] here.
For their assonance, I love the inclusion of AVALON and IVORY, [Arthurian paradise] and [Off-white color]. Almost sounds like “Ebony and Ivory,” no? (But what is with the dancers in silhouette in this video??) Which somehow gets us to [Two-tone treats], our old fave OREOS (whose singular form we saw earlier this week). APPS, IAGO and ALOE, all seen earlier this week as well make encore appearances today. But let me not be PETTY [Small-minded]…
Let me say instead that the pleasures of PIE SALE and HOT ZONE and FLAT-TOP and WEB ART more than compensate and (in conjunction with all of the examples above) make this puzzle a fresh-fill-lover’s treat. Hope you felt the same way!
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I believe Stan likes to reserve his “S.N.” byline for his toughest puzzles, but there were so many Stumpers in 2010 that were harder than this one! It’s still this week’s most challenging offering, but not a killer.
The big cats messed me up today. For 2d, I knew [Ben Stiller in “Madagascar”] was a LION. I left that answer in place far too long and thus made no headway in that corner. Then down at 58a, I made the [Liger’s mother] a LIONESS, without regard for that LION. Both, of course, were wrong. The cartoon lion is named ALEX and the hybrid cat’s mom is a TIGRESS.
- 1a. MA AND PA is crazy-looking 1a. I like it. They’re your [Folks], unless, of course, your parents are a same-sex couple.
- 15a. [Undistracted] clues ALL EARS, but I spent my time checking to see if the crossings would work out if 15a ended with -OUS or -LESS. Uh, no.
- 21a. [Winter remedy of a sort] is a hot TODDY. Warm and drunken and sweet? I survived the Chicago Blizzaster this week. I even have a friend who was one of the hundreds stranded on Lake Shore Drive—she wasn’t rescued till 4 am but had left work at 3 pm the previous day. So I should have a toddy on her behalf.
- Double clue action, reminiscent of Matt Ginsberg’s Thursday NYT puzzle: [Skillful] clues both 24a: NICE (as in “Nice job!”) and 51d: NEAT (as in…I don’t know what). And then there’s [Shania Twain, e.g.] for both 3d: ALTO and 47d: VIRGO. The latter is mighty random. Twain’s birthday is not remotely a well-known household fact.
- 33a. Would like a different clue, something in quotation marks, for IT DOESN’T MATTER. [Dismissal] feels a hair inadequate here.
- 52a. A.C. NIELSEN is a [Big name in the TV business] of ratings.
- 1d. This is what finally broke open that corner for me. I kept thinking “[Like cobs], what could that mean?” Corn cobs, cobwebs—MALE swans!
- 5d. I sure didn’t know that Salvador DALI was the [Designer of the Mae West Lips Sofa], but just had to Google that after solving to see what the sofa looks like. Looks comfy!
- 7d. Last time I saw a clue like [Willow-tree derivative], it was the horrible answer SALICIN, so I put that in. (Yet another reason I was stuck in the northwest corner for so long.) Hey! It’s the chemical cousin ASPIRIN this time. Much better. Fixed the headache SALICIN gave me.
- 13d. General Mills, Kellogg, and [Post stuff] is COLD CEREAL, my breakfast most days. Today’s selection: Corn Pops. (Previously known as Sugar Pops, an infinitely superior name.)
- 34d. [Some wet bars] are SOAPS.
- 42a. Etymology clues are good, unless they’re for first names whose meaning I don’t know. TSUNAMI is [Literally, “harbor wave”].
- 57a. Given how many first-name etymology clues the Stumper has had in the past year, I was delighted with [Friend of Lars and Sven, perhaps] for NILS. Super-easy with the N in place, though, which will probably make Stan vow never to to use such a clue again.
In the not-so-fond-of-it category, we have the following:
- 39a. MARGARET TRUMAN was the [Christener of the “USS Missouri”]. I could only think of Harry S and Bess. Margaret was their daughter, and…boy, I know pretty much nothing about her. She wrote lots of books I never heard of. Apparently she christened the boat at age 20, while her famous-Missourian dad was still president. Did the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, get to christen any boats?
- 12d. I thought IN A DILEMMA ([Torn]) sounded clunky, but apparently it’s a totally solid phrase.
- 14d. This clue has a question mark and wants me to find it clever, but I can’t even tell what it’s getting at. (Please explain it so I’ll feel dumb.) [Moved away from the stern?] clues SWAYED. Does “the stern” mean “stern resolve against something”? (Because calling that “the stern” is utterly weird.) Does it mean “back of the boat”? Is this physical swaying or not?
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Seven Sages”
Shoot! I forgot to blog this puzzle. Here goes.
I don’t know how he does it, honestly. It would be interesting enough to have the 36 words intersecting, but to further constrain things by having a quote spelled out in the outermost ring? A lovely touch, since I needed to figure out the quote (Fred Allen: “Television is a medium because anything well done is rare.” Nice steak-related wordplay there) to fill in some letters that would help me get the last couple answers.
Not a single one of the 7-letter answers is a real clunker, many are fairly lively, and a few have hall-of-fame clues:
- 26. [Capital O?] clues the BELTWAY that encircles Washington, D.C. Brilliant! I halfway considered WINFREY first.
- 33. [Online clip joint?] is YOUTUBE, full of video clips.
- 36. [One with a job opening?] is a DOORMAN, whose job includes opening doors.
- 10. The NEWSEUM is a [D.C. tourist attraction featuring the Journalists Memorial].
- Honorable mentions: AUNT BEE, DAS BOOT. We seldom see those two-word entries in crossword grids.
i remember that ONE SEASON of “my so-called life.” but you forgot (3) crossword immortal jared LETO.
I actually found this one easier than yesterdays, but both were very enjoyable.
The [Operations are performed in it] didn’t sit right with me. I really like the answer, but feel like [Operations are performed on it]. Just seems to me you do your work on a test or quiz, not in it. Small quibble, great puzzle.
With you on CRISPY TACO. They’re not called that in these here parts. But the clue did give a helpful nudge towards the answer. I really liked the challenge of the rest of the puzzle, though.
DREAMSVILLE was just a bit mean. Rather a niche factoid for a long answer. If it’s the keystone that anchors the rest of the puzzle, then it’s an interesting tidbit, though, and I do like the sound of it. But why not go for the gusto with Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel QUENNEVILLE, while we’re in NicheVille ? ;). Oh yeah, that pesky ‘Q’.
Anyway, this was fun to work through, and I learned a bit along the way. Plus, GLISSANDOS! A favorite musical word of mine.
Re: NYT: With you, Amy, on tea dresses. Was this composed by my granny, who may have owned several? Not a 2011 clue, not even close. Ick. Also, silex. Yuk. And X clues smack, which somehow means kiss? Quite a stretch. I’ve heard the phrase smacked her on the lips, meaning kissed her as opposed to domestic violence, but I’m pretty sure I “heard” it in a 1930s crime noir novella. I certainly haven’t heard it from a live person in 20 years, not in the sense of kiss.
Amy, when your review of a Saturday NYT puzzle is, “I didn’t find too much to delight me here, and there were a few answers that clanged dissonantly,” what’s left to say?
I wonder if the premium site for crosswords is the last profitable department at the NYT. It would be typical of them to take it for granted. They had better up the pay scale and the level of crosswords they offer, or I think I won’t be the first person to give up on them. I already subscribe to or “tip” much better sites with much better puzzles.
Mr. Shortz, six out of the last seven crosswords the NYT ran were just awfully blah. You can’t expect a top constructor to spend hours on a puzzle for your current rates. At a minimum, you need to pay 10x your current rates so your constructors can eat, and your subscribers don’t drop you.
“You can’t expect a top constructor to spend hours on a puzzle for your current rates. At a minimum, you need to pay 10x your current rates so your constructors can eat,….”
Couldn’t let go of EXTRA ROOMS and how is SPELLED “Took the place of”?
@EVAD I think of someone sitting in for, or substituting in a basketball game when they are tired as SPELLING them. I assume that is the use they were going for.
I had EXTRAROOMS briefly too.
I seem to recall from my time in the deep South, that if you “spelled” someone, you took his place for a while, i.e., a spell of time, in short, gave him a break.
Haven’t done any of today’s yet, so I’m studiously avoiding the comments, but I just did yesterday (Fri) NYT, and am amazed at the comments to it. I’m back to my usual contrarian stance. I blew through the bottom like nothing, but actually thought I was going to have to give up on the top, until it finally started coming.
Loved the LAT puzzle today. I agree with you Amy, great fill. Wrestled with it over coffee and enjoyed every minute of it.
Started with the applet Friday night and finished Saturday morning, completing approx. 1/2 of the grid per session. A lot of missteps in the left half of the grid: BLIND for BEAUS, HOKIENESS for HOKEYNESS, DREAMS FALLS instead of DREAMSVILLE…I was glad just to finish without resorting to Google or Wikipedia
@Jamie, HH, et al. NYT pays by far the highest rates of any regular outlet. Still, it’s true, the puzzle is worth So Much Money to the NYT—alllllllll out of proportion to what constructors are paid. W/o puzzle, dead-tree subscriptions would plummet—and the online-only puzzle subscription money would of course disappear (this $ alone far more than pays for all constructor fees). This is to say nothing about residuals from book sales and related products. It’s a very f’d up system for constructors, and, frankly, those of us who continue to submit puzzles are at least in part complicit in its continuation. This is why I pay BEQ at least as much as I pay the NYT each year. Money straight to the constructor. Innovativeness encouraged. Gotta support independence.
Smack = kiss = X = completely legit Saturday clue. This grid is clean as hell. I didn’t love it, but I liked it.
Also, today’s Stumper killed me. Or maimed me, I guess, as I did somehow survive. Rarely has Shania Twain tortured me as much as she did today… RP
Agnes Moorehead and cement shoes went in first which gave me a lot to work with. Keep up on before keep step slowed me down but sorted it out.
Both the LAT and CS were fun to solve.
Pet peeve: cement is not the same as concrete. Rather, cement (almost always Portland cement) is just one ingredient, commonly along with sand, aggregate, and water, that goes into making the goop that will eventually become concrete.
That notwithstanding, I’ve liked all the themeless offerings we’ve seen so far this weekend.
I was going to make a similar “cement and concrete are two different things” comment– but was dissuaded by the Wikipedia article on the subject:
According to the article, the classic technique is to place the victim’s feet into the spaces of a cinderblock and add cement. So, it really isn’t concrete.
Matt, that is some excellent nerding!
Nope, Matt, gotta go with Peter on this one. Wikipedia notwithstanding, the goo that goes around the victim’s feet is wet or unset concrete – cement is still just an ingredient of the goo, not the goo itself. It doesn’t make the clue/answer wrong, though: CEMENTSHOES are still what they’re called.
Kind request to Mr.Newman: Please, please do not make me guess at the Zodiac signs of celebrities without a hint in the clue, nor the names of not-so-famous animated characters. Tough puzzle, but those in particular were killers.
Celeb trivia can be fun and interesting, but having to know their birthdays requires an IMDB.com lookup, or enough crossings to eventually realize that, “Oh, this is another zodiac sign clue. Yay.”. Respectful thanks from a humble solver. :)
Otherwise, the extra weekend challenge is appreciated. Any snarkiness is not intended.
Why not contact Martin Scorsese and find out how he would direct a scene wherein some hapless soul is about to take up residence with the fish. I am sure that his prior personal contact with “the people” would render a true and correct fitting of the shoes, including what they used for the permanent inner soles.
“This is why I pay BEQ at least as much as I pay the NYT each year. Money straight to the constructor.”
Is there a way I can get in on this w/o the IRS finding out?
@HH: You certainly could, but it would make you a tax-evading criminal. Now, you could set up your own puzzle website (like those belonging to Brendan Quigley, Matt Gaffney, Trip Payne, Patrick Berry, and Patrick Blindauer) or try your hand at selling your work by subscription (like Peter Gordon/Fireball). Maybe people would even tip you every time you insulted them.
Add to the subscription/tip jar income by setting up an Amazon Associates account so you get a commission on Amazon sales of your books (or anything else at Amazon bought by someone clicking through from your site), and promote your backlist. You’d own copyright and have editorial control.
C’mon, Hook, do it!
I’m with you on CRISPY TACO Amy, sheesh, that tops WET SPONGE.
Further grumpy-making for me: Baba Looey never wore a red ASCOT. It’s a neckerchief or a kerchief or a bandanna and was almost always yellow. Feh.
@HH: You’ve been my favorite love-to-hate constructor for as long as I can remember, and I’m no spring chicken. Set up a site or a subscription and I’m there!
@Rex – Darn those ol’ supply and demand curves!
@HH, Rex, and all you star constructors: I am reading Berry’s Crosswords for Dummies – thank Rex for the recommendation, Mr. Berry – and at the end, he listed what the major sites pay for a puzzle. (I got updated info on a site he recommended.) I was absolutely astonished, even at the updated rates.
Somebody please tell me if the source I read was incorrect, but the NYT pays $200 for a weekday puzzle (including Saturdays!) and $1000 for a Sunday? AND they get all rights of reprint? I am amazed that any constructor would work under these conditions.
You uber-smart constructors suddenly don’t seem so smart to me. I mean, fine, get published by the NYT once or twice to establish credibility. Then set up your own sites, or gang together and set up a combined site with real puzzles every day of the week. I don’t need Monday-Wednesday NYT-type puzzles. I recently “tipped” BEQ more than I pay for the NYT site, solely because he has a real puzzle on Mondays.
If you get organized, you will own copyright so you can publish books, you will make more money than you currently do, and the NYT “premium site” will be syndicating puzzles from USA Today.
Or Shortz will cave and 10x his fees. Unfortunately, my NYT subscription (don’t get the dead tree edition, just pay for the xwords) expires Dec 30. (Guess who got bored two years ago over the holidays?)
I apologize if I have over-stayed my welcome here. I didn’t start commenting here to create issues. I am a relatively slow solver who loves great crosswords, and I am astonished at what I have learned about how this business works. Like Rex, I pay for my entertainment. It costs so little to set up a website. There’s no excuse for your collective lack of business acumen. Rex is right on one thing – you are all complicit in aiding the NYT’s exploitation of your work. Get over being published in the NYT.
@Rex: Smack = kiss = x, completely legitimate clue. I disagree. Aren’t you a specialist in noir fiction? It may sound legit to you, but to most solvers, surely a smack does not equal a kiss.
Regarding the NYT, the other Hollywood DWAN is Robert Dwan who directed all of the Groucho Marx radio and television episodes of “You Bet Your Life”. I knew him; his son was a college roommate of mine.
This came close enough to defeating me that I had to set it aside till this morning with most of the left (between the three car answers — not for New Yorkers) undone. Obstacles for me there were MATH QUIZ, CRISPY TACO, DREAMSVILLE, the possibility of three months with an E in the middle for Peace Day, SMACK, and my having “post” for the door part and “set up” for the dates. And of course without crossings there are a lot of rock bands. (I wouldn’t say “on” a quiz, though, rather than in. During or for a quiz, I guess, is closest to what I’d say.)
Not sure how I got the right side last evening despite DWAN, TEA DRESSES, and SILEX.
I thought this was a lazy puzzle. So many clues ending with prepositions. And a plural for dot -.
I disliked many of the clues noted about. I don’t go to cocktail parties, but I guarantee you, if tea dresses are required, I would be improperly dressed.