Thursday, 4/14/11

NYT 4:58 


LAT 6:55 (Neville) 


Fireball untimed 


CS 6:12 (Sam) 


BEQ 3:48 


Pete Muller’s New York Times crossword

4/14/11 NYT crossword solution 0414

Pete enhances the usual “all four theme entries have the same clue” by hiding the clue in a picture in the grid. When you finish the puzzle, trace the letters in the circled squares to spell out UMBRELLA and you’ve got a drawing of a bumbershoot. And those “[ ]” clues need to be filled with your magic word so that you have the following four UMBRELLAs:

  • 21a. TRAVELERS LOGO refers to the insurance company’s trademark red umbrella. (Link is a good Slate article about Travelers reclaiming the umbrella logo after splitting from Citi.)
  • 28a. An umbrella is a SHADE PROVIDER.
  • 44a. And also a GENE KELLY PROP from Singin’ in the Rain.
  • 52a. Plus, “Umbrella” was a huge HIT FOR RIHANNA a couple years back. I confess I have not actually listened to the song all the way through. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t find this answer to be what really sold the theme and made it “pop.”

The extra oomph of the visual aspect gave a good, solid rationale for the flip-flop theme. Can we use that label for this type of theme, where not-in-the-language phrases that would normally pass muster as clues, not answers, show up as theme answers for one-word clues? I’m going with flip-flop theme. Usually I feel a flip-flop falls flat, but this one worked for me.

By the way, the 15th column that was missing from Monday’s puzzle? It’s been added to the side of this puzzle, which is 16×15.

Overall, the fill felt rather ordinary, what with the constraints posed by needing to have specific letters appear in specific places to map out the umbrella connect-the-dots.

Favorite clue:

  • 40d. A TAP DANCE is a Shirley [Temple performance]. Most religious temples do not, I don’t think, offer tap dances with any regularity. And isn’t that a cryin’ shame?

Daniel Finan’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

4/14/11 LA Times crossword solution

Every little part of this puzzle messed with me, and I like it! Did you figure out what’s going on? Each clue is a part of the answer, and… well, let me just show you. This is hard to explain.

  • 20a. [Pan?] – COMPANION PIECE. Okay, so PAN is a PIECE of COMPANION. Got it? Good!
  • 33a./44a. [Ten?] – SENTENCE FRAGMENT
  • 54a. [Kin?] – SMOKING SECTION

Rejected theme entries include [Ick?] for CHICKEN NUGGET and [Age?] for BAGEL BITE. Hey, we could’ve had a junk food theme integrated into this as well! I can think of a few more that don’t quite pass the breakfast test – I’ll leave them as an exercise to the reader.

All of the theme clues end with the letter N – that was one of the things that threw me off in this puzzle. Some other tricky clues that made this feel like an NYT Thursday:

  • 1d. [Really smart] is CHIC, like “Hey, that’s a really smart scarf you’ve got on!” I wanted WHIZ, which doesn’t really pass the substitution test.
  • 9a. One [Hyphenated dessert name] is JELL-O. Another is FRO-YO, or frozen yogurt, which is incorrect.
  • 19a. [High humor] is JINKS, as in “high jinks” or “hijinks” – I use the latter, so this one eluded me until the end. Also, that new film Your Highness kept jumping out at me. I hear it’s terrible.
  • 23a. [Relative of -like] isn’t -ISH but -OID. Yes, this was a New York Times Thursdayoid puzzle for me.
  • 45d. [Hall of fame] is ARSENIO. I could’ve used a question mark here, and definitely a “(sp. var.)” – the generally accepted spelling is ARSENIOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
  • 50a. [Radius, e.g.] is always an ARM BONE in crosswords (usually as an entry), but the mathematician in me wanted it to be a line SEGMENT. This was before I had FRAGMENT filled in above it.

What’s great about this puzzle – in addition to its difficulty – is the fill! WAX POETIC, JUJITSU, A LA KING and TOMBSTONE are all symmetrically placed great fill entries. This really was a great puzzle – thanks, Daniel!

Lee Glickstein and Patrick Blindauer’s Fireball crossword, “Phonetic Call”

I am a big fan of both Lee and Patrick’s work, but this puzzle was mostly unpleasantly vexatious. If you do not know the 1958 song “WITCH / DOCTOR,” then you are left working the crossings. If you have a faint familiarity with, say, “WALLA WALLA BING BANG” (I thought it was “walla walla bing bong,” but close enough), you can get partway there. I Googled the phonetic syllables that appear at 40-Across because I did not have a stinkin’ clue what the hell was supposed to go there. Hey! Here’s an idea: When your rebus is kinda obscure nonsense syllables, maybe you try to keep the crossing clues more accessible! Who the hell knew 36d was L{AH}R based on the clue? Or that the Pilgrims ate, among other things, {EE}LS? That middle section was just ugly. And {OO}{EE}{OO}{AH}{AH} is a ridiculously impenetrable bunch of nonsense to stick in the middle of a puzzle.

When there are puzzles with a lot of names, some people grumble because those answers have a “you know it or you don’t” dichotomy. Well, Peter Gordon adds an extra layer of that by emphasizing newness of clues. I didn’t remember the name of the Superman II villainess and tried ILSA instead of URSA. What the heck is that monstrosity at 7a, Lee and Patrick? BIG BAMBU does not help anyone iron out the crossings. And what the hell are the “flea-flickers” that LATERALS are part of? Damn football terminology I’ve never heard of. Don’t get me started on [Crwth cousin], either.

So with the nutty nonsense syllables surrounded by overly tough clues, weirdo fill like BIG BAMBU, arcane clues about flea-flickers and the 1964 Broadway musical Foxy, I am almost tempted to give this puzzle 2 stars. At best, it’s a grudging 3 for me.

Not wild about the “Hey, WITCH / DOCTOR won’t fit in symmetrically, so we’ll make 1a be SWITCH and clue 2a as its last 5 letters” approach.

Updated Thursday morning:

Nancy Salomon’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Alien Invasion”—Sam Donaldson’s review

Okay, let’s get something out on the table right now: I’m a big Nancy Salomon fan. I’m not aware of anyone in this activity who has devoted more time to mentoring novice constructors than Ms. Salomon. I have read dozens of testimonials from constructors over the past three years, all crediting her for helping them get their start in crossword construction. Although I never solicited her help by email, and although she wouldn’t know me from Adam (though I bet she’d correctly surmise he was the one clad only in a fig leaf), she had a big influence on me too. I devoured all of her tips that she helpfully memorialized in writing and made available to everyone through Kevin McCann’s Cruciverb website. And one of my proudest moments came when she commented favorably on my second NYT puzzle over at the Wordplay blog. So I won’t pretend to offer the most objective or detached review of this crossword.

Instead, allow me to use this puzzle to illustrate Ms. Salomon’s own words of advice. In her article, “Constructing Tips,” Ms. Salomon offers extremely important and helpful advice to new constructors. She first lists the most theme problems made by rookies:

  • “Strained theming. Your theme entries have to be familiar.…” In today’s puzzle, Ms. Salomon adds “-ET” to the end of four common phrases, so “bike rack” becomes BIKE RACKET, clued [Hog hullabaloo?]. Likewise, a “lottery pick” from the NBA draft becomes a LOTTERY PICKET, clued [Protest of a numbers game?], and “pass the buck” becomes PASS THE BUCKET, clued as a [Bailer’s request?]. (I would have been tempted to clue it along the lines of [Cookie tosser’s request?]. but she has more class.) Finally, “punk rock” becomes a PUNK ROCKET, clued [Dud of a firework?]. The four base phrases are all very familiar, I think, with the possible exception of “lottery pick” (that one worked easily for me, but I’m a sports fan in general and a basketball fan in particular).
  • “Theming inconsistency. If you have three singular entries and one plural, you’ve probably got a problem. If three of your entries begin with verbs ending in ING and the fourth doesn’t, again there’s a problem.” This puzzle seems perfectly consistent to me. Nit-pickers might observe that only one of the theme entries has three words and the others all have two, or that the three-word entry is based on an expression while the two-word entries are based on nouns. But since PASS THE BUCKET is the liveliest of the bunch anyway, I’m pretty forgiving here.
  • “Theme looseness. You need a unifying factor to tie all your theme entries together–the tighter the better.” The unifying factor here, the addition of –ET to the end of phrases, is sufficiently tight. Looseness would have been an issue, for instance, if the –ET was added after the first word in some phrases and after the last word in others. Here, it is consistently added at the end. It makes for an elegant touch.
  • “Repeated word themes. These are frowned upon by many editors.” And solvers! No repeated words here, so all is good.
  • “Overdone themes. If you’re not a frequent solver, it’s a good idea to check with someone to see if your theme idea has been done to death.” I know I’ve seen the “-ET addition” gimmick before (and as I recall, it even made reference to an “alien invasion” like this puzzle’s title) but can’t recall exactly where (anyone else know?). And sure, the “add-a-letter-or-two-or-three” gimmick is one of the most commonly used in crosswords. So today’s theme may not be revolutionary in its novelty. But the theme entries themselves seem fresh and interesting, so again I’m forgiving.

Next, on the topic of “overambitiousness,” Ms. Salomon observes: “New constructors often try to cram an unrealistic number of theme entries into a puzzle or to create grids with very low word counts. I’ve learned something the hard way. Solvers don’t give a darn how many theme squares you have. Editors, for that reason, aren’t overly impressed either. A good solid theme with a lively, colorful fill will get you sales. A marginal fill in a puzzle loaded with theme squares or with a low word count will get you rejections.” Sure enough, today’s puzzle has a solid theme, and some of the fill is terrific. There’s MEAN STREAK, the [Trait of a nasty no-goodnik] (the clue itself is terrific!), PHISH (clued [Scam, modern-style]), OK OK (clued as [“Enough already!”]) and the wonderful [“Mind your own business!”] imperative, “BUTT OUT!” Note too the near absence of abbreviations and suffixes (only ETTE, the [Kitchen add-on?], stood out to me, perhaps because it’s dangerously close to the puzzle’s theme).

On the subject of fill, Ms. Salomon writes: “For the shorter entries in your puzzle, some crosswordese is usually unavoidable, but if your grid is filled with STOAS and ANOAS, and ORONO, etc., you’ll probably have a hard time selling it. Even worse are very obscure entries with which most solvers will be unfamiliar. Also, foreign words should be reasonably common. You can’t expect solvers to know the Portugese word for ‘tablecloth.’” Sure enough, there’s little crosswordese in the short fill of this puzzle. AL-ER, ANISES, OTOE, STEN, and ATRAS, perhaps, but that’s about it. On the foreign word front, there’s just TRES, clued [___ bien], and TOALHA DE MESA, the [Portuguese tablecloth]. (Okay, I made up that last one.)

There’s many other helpful tips in Ms. Salomon’s article, and I highly recommend both this article and the other nuggets of “sage advice” on the Cruciverb site. Even if crossword construction seems like a pipe dream or something you’d never want to try yourself, you’ll learn to appreciate the crossword form more when you see how much goes into the construction.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “What’s the Hub, Bub?”—Matt Gaffney’s review

BEQ 323 answers

Brendan’s theme entries today each have a familiar three-letter airport code ensconced in them.  Hilarity ensues.  Witness:

  • 17a. [Strong feelings towards the Milky Way] = GALAXY PRIDE (gay pride + LAX)
  • 27a. [Morally reprehensible Roman Emperor] = SORDID CAESAR (Sid Caesar + ORD)
  • 44a. [Research money given to a Canadian city?] = CALGARY GRANT (Cary Grant + LGA)
  • 59a. [“We’re really lost without a book of maps”?] = ATLAS NEEDED (as needed + ATL)

LAX and ATL you probably know, and I’m guessing LGA is LaGuardia and I believe ORD is O’Hare.  Just looked them up, and that’s correct — so intuitive, even if you didn’t know all four.  And the results in each case are funny, so thumbs-up on themage.

78 entries in the grid and 36 black squares (no cheaters), which are on the high end but 100% OK. Quigley takes full advantage, as the fill is both clean and JAZZY (22-A).  The only two slight blots are GM CORP at 5-A (easy to figure out, but I’ve never heard it called that and it doesn’t Google very well) and the crosswordy SERE at 39-D.  I bring those up right away not to quibble but to illustrate how clean the fill is; if those are your two worst entries, you’re doing quite well.

As usual, Quigley goes 4-for-4 on three-point shots (7-, 8-, and 9-letter entries), hitting with Oscar-winning Susan Sarandon role Helen PREJEAN, director Gus VAN SANT, BEELZEBUB and PIZZA SHOP.  Much else to like, too:  NO IDEA, XEROX, CCNY, MVPS and GEYSER.

Top three clues:

  • 23d. [Time of your life?] for AGE.
  • 46d. [Big Bowls?] for ARENAS.
  • 41a. [A quarter of four] for ONE.  Clue number: 41. Word in clue: four. Answer: ONE.  The universe is speaking to us.

Also, let’s not forget that Brendan just ran a contest puzzle: each member of the Brady Bunch family (CAROL, MIKE, CINDY, JAN, MARCIA, BOBBY, PETER, GREG, ALICE) hid in the grid, and in their exact spot from the show’s introduction.  Brendan even got the dog TIGER in the grid!  See Brendan’s post for results.

Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ, and have a pleasant Thursday, everyone!

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30 Responses to Thursday, 4/14/11

  1. Al Sanders says:

    Very clever, I love the Gorskiesque visual aspect of the theme. 6A was the last to fall for me, which took a full minute to crack.

    I wonder if this was inspired by the Glee mashup of “Umbrella” and “Singin’ In The Rain” which I thought was absolutely brilliant. Joe Bob says check it out:

  2. Rex says:

    Yeah, I just don’t get the Fireball puzzle, esp. that S/WITCH thing (I mean, I got that part easily enough, but if you’re going to do something so preposterous, there should be a thematic reason). The chorus / sounds … ugh. At some point I had enough of the chorus that I pieced together the sounds (why that chorus is in my head, I don’t know—I certainly have never heard of a song called “Witch Doctor”). BAMBU / URSA was a flat-out no-hoper. Unusually shoddy crossing for such accomplished puzzle makers.

    NYT was fine except for the UMBRELLA handle, which is clownishly large and oddly-shaped.

  3. Al says:

    I enjoyed the Fireball, although it was definitely very tough. I missed the BAMBU/URSA crossing, although I probably should have got it since I could picture the album, just couldn’t remember the name. The song was familiar enough to piece out the middle section after a struggle. Since I’m posting YouTube videos, might as well put up this one from “The Alvin Show” 50 years ago. Pixar, it’s not :-)

  4. EsmesValet says:

    I had hAt for rihanna and nasan didn’t jump out as being wrong on the crossing. I thought to myself, hmmmm, this Rihanna sounds cool, wearing an umbrella for a hat. . .

  5. Bruce S. says:

    I guess I am one of the few who really enjoyed the fireball. Both the original song and thanks to my young kids, the chipmunk version, are in my head. Really enjoyed making my way through that puzzle.

  6. Karen says:

    In the FB I had a misspelling where MAXENE crosses RHAMES at that E. Plus I need to reread the poem about the days of the week virtues. Wednesday really loses out; I wanted her to have WIT, not WOE.

    In the NYT I had a very hard time where RADO crosses ORECK and VALSE. I’m glad those letters were double-checked.

  7. D_Blackwell says:

    I did not notice RAIN directly above the top of the UMBRELLA drawing. Very nice plus. Should my position be that the upper-level solvers who noticed this are the ones who deserve the benefit of catching on and too bad for the rest of us – or should I continue to be disappointed in second-rate software and third-rate attempts to present a crossword at its best? Even if current software won’t allow for specially shaded squares, special border colors for squares, et cetera, to hint at special extras and tertiary bonuses, it ain’t that hard to whip up a first class PDF to do the job. (And I don’t mean the half-assed typical NYT offerings, but a dedicated file with just the crossword.)

    (Too bad about the umbrella handle. It suckity-suck-sucks and is unfortunate.)

  8. ArtLvr says:

    The FB was definitely not my thing… I did like the JZ, even with odd JHERI CURLS and near-Natick VASHON/ANCHO… Nancy Saloman’s CS with the Alien Invasion was cute!

  9. Matt says:

    I had the same MAXINE/MAXENE, RHAMIS/RHAMES error that kept me from completing the FB. Both really obscure, IMO. Also, I agree that the (S)WITCH thing at 1A/2A was ugly, and the ‘Cheech & Chong Meets Superman’ was a sorta weird intersection of trivia, although somewhat guessable, etc. The payoff entry in the middle was a good one, but I’m not persuaded that it really made up for the flaws.

  10. Howard B says:

    I actually didn’t understand the “Travelers Logo” clue/answer connection in the Times without a lookup, nor did the Rihanna hit ring a bell while solving, despite hearing it before; so the theme answers kinda fell flat for me, although the visual aspect was pretty cool. As said, really liked the payoff and the “unclued” theme answers, just not my favorite puzzle since the wavelength didn’t click. Just how it works sometimes ;).

  11. pauer says:

    But how did you *really* feel? ;)

  12. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Patrick, my family can attest that I was cussing at the puzzle last night. :-)

  13. Gareth says:

    Didn’t get theme till after the puzzle, way cool!! Why does this puzzle remind me more of a Gorski puzzle than yesterdays! What is the normal protocol with notes, do we read ’em or not? I didn’t! PS had to look up BUMBERSHOOT, thought you were making it up!

    Two areas really stymied me today, partly through not seeing the theme. Like Karen, the area below PROVIDER was one, with ORECK (no idea) and VALSE (vague bell, what actually unraveled the area), and writing RATES instead of RADON. OK, why are American homeowners concerned about RADON!? Never met a body round here who was! RADO was very slow to come to mind and REELIN had a great “huh?” clue.

    Also, despite nailing ILION I couldn’t see the prosaic SIEGE and HALOS from those clues plus not having …LOGO or ARIEL and having APING rather than APISH added to the confusion!

    Complaint: BANTU is not a language. A language group, yes, though the politically correct will insist on isiNtu.

  14. Alex says:

    I believe BIG BAMBU is the powerful panda lobby in D.C.

  15. Matt says:


    What’s with radon? Radon is a product of some kinds of radioactive decay in some building materials. The problem is that radon is heavy, so it diffuses down to basements and bottom floors and then tends to stay there– so, over the long term you can get a significant amount of radon all collected in one place. This, in turn, raises probabilities of bad effects. According to Wikipedia, in fact, radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

  16. Gary says:

    I finished this, after a bit of a struggle. Thought the theme was just “okay.” I don’t particularly like connect-the-dots tricks in crosswords, and in this case, I think it takes a good bit of imagination to see this as an umbrella. (Maybe my thinking is too “linear.”)

    Also didn’t much care for SHADE PROVIDER. @Amy: seems I’ve seen you criticize answers that are not lexical chunks – I think shade provider falls into that category.

    I had trouble in the center of the grid. I’ve seen David ORECK in regular commercials for his vacuum cleaners, but didn’t know he did “infomercials.” And VALSE and RADO were both unfamiliar.

    Re: “flip-flop” theme – I think of this kind of theme as a “Jeopardy” puzzle – the answers are really the “questions” which, in this case all have the same “answer.”

  17. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Gary, in a flip-flop theme, NONE of the theme entries generally make the “lexical chunk” grade. They read more like clues, which can be merely descriptive phrases.

  18. cyberdiva says:

    Well, even after finishing the puzzle, I still don’t get the umbrella bit. Shouldn’t the letters be in some kind of order? Yes, the oversize handle is OK, as is the umbrella stem, but after going up from B to R, where do you go from there? I would have thought that from R, you’d either go to the immediate right (to A), or to the left (to L). But to skip over the A to get to E?? That just doesn’t seem legit.

  19. Zulema says:

    Amy, felt the same as you about the FB puzzle. Give me Themeless anytime, but this one was beyond bizarre.

  20. Howard B says:

    Yep, did the Fireball, and agree. Actually remember seeing Superman II as a kid, and a troika of bizarrely silly villains (URSA, ZOD, and some other poor third-banana that I’m sure I can Google in a second but won’t). So that wasn’t too bad. The other names were insane, and trying to spell out the rebus syllables was even stranger. That middle section was a beast.
    I do admire the attempt, though it fell a bit short. Also had Ting Tong / Bolo for a bit, because I never can seem to tell bolo from bola. I mix that one up a lot…

  21. Jeffrey says:

    General Zod, Ursa and Non.

    Also agree on the Fireball.

  22. sandirhodes says:

    Hmm … an umbrella may provide shade, but is it not primarily a precipitation shield? A parasol would be the shade provider, no?

    Perhaps a square is always a rectangle, I guess.

  23. Amy Reynaldo says:

    When I see people (mostly born outside the US, I bet) carrying something to shield themselves from the sun, it’s a garden-variety umbrella. Where does one even buy a parasol?

    And then non-Midwesterners are the ones you see using an umbrella on a snowy day.

  24. pauer says:

    FWIW, today was Nancy’s last puzzle for CS. I can’t speak for everyone in the group, but I miss her terribly (and I’ll bet everybody else does, too).

  25. Jan (danjan) says:

    I have a parasol – I bought it at an estate sale. I did have that reaction to the shade clue (unbrella, not parasol?), even though I don’t use my lovely antique.

  26. arthur118 says:

    Not all umbrellas are handheld. There are beach umbrellas and, of course, there is the ultimate California born and bred shade provider, the Santa Barbara umbrella.

  27. AngelSong says:

    I’m surprised that no one has said anything about Pen, e.g., being SHE. That made EELS even more ungettable than it already was!

  28. pannonica says:

    Although parasol may literally mean “for the sun,” and may most often (in English) denote a shade provider, it is also interchangeable with umbrella, which itself comes from the Latin for “shadow.” Consider related words such as penumbra, adumbral, and umber.

  29. Howard B says:

    Could I remember that 3rd name? Non! Thanks, Jeffrey!. Now I know why that name was a non-starter for me.

  30. John Haber says:

    I’m on the side of the minority who found it just ok. To be more like Gorski, I wanted there to be a reason why those squares were circled, other than that it’s the only way to drop in a picture of an umbrella. (Say, if they were all the only Q’s in the diagram, although that still would be lame as there’s no connection of Q to umbrellas. Or better, if somehow reading from L to R they spelled out UMBRELLA, and I was looking for precisely a word to emerge.) I also drew it wrong, with the line directly from the E at center right to the B at bottom center, giving a tilted umbrella, which didn’t seem unreasonable (or thus easy to rule out unless you truly remember the Traveler’s logo) and required less doubling back.

    I also didn’t care for the fill. Besides that I found it flat like Amy, I am proud to say I couldn’t have got the last theme across except with most every crossing. The car stuff NISAN, AERO was also hard for me. ORECK is one I got only because it had been in a puzzle before.

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