Wednesday, 8/31/11

Onion 4:37 
NYT 3:47 
LAT 3:15 
CS 6:33 (Sam) 

Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 8 31 11 0831

I don’t quite get the theme here. Five Beach Boys songs that were hits in 1963-’65, but not necessarily all enduring, major hits—no “I Get Around,” “Barbara Ann,” “Good Vibrations,” etc.—and running on August 31 maybe because it’s the last day of meteorological summer and Northern climes limit their Beach Boysiest days to the summer months? The songs included are the classics “CALIFORNIA GIRLS” and “HELP ME / RHONDA,” plus three songs I don’t know: “IN MY / ROOM,” “DON’T / WORRY / BABY,” and “LITTLE SAINT NICK.” I Googled beach boys august 31 to see if there might be a tie-in with the date and I found this awesome webpage documenting their 8/31/91 concert at the South Dakota State Fair. The traffic counter says the page has received 411 hits already, in a mere 20 years! C’mon, people: let’s take it over 500.

I would be more inclined to overlook the inclusion of the 60% of the theme I wasn’t familiar with if (1) three of the songs weren’t split up into multiple answers, applying a cross-reference madness overlay to the puzzle, and (2) the surrounding fill were great. When 1-Across was crosswordese LAPP, we were off to a worrisome start. I suspect that choreographer LAR Lubovitch was ethnically neither LAPP nor IBO, that he was no TEC, that his home was seldom ICICLED, and that he was no AMORIST of prefixes and suffixes—OVI-, –IATE (okay, that one’s clued as a partial, but it looks like yet another suffix here), –ARIAN, ECTO-.

2.5 stars.

Matt Jones’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 9 1 11 Matt Jones

At first I thought the theme was just changing an initial F to a T based on TACTS OF LIFE, but then I reached the second theme entry and reconsidered. A month or two after Hugh Hefner’s far, far younger fiancée called off their nuptials, we’ve got a DITCHING HEF theme. (We would also have accepted DUMPING HEF or JILTING HEF as the theme revealer, though it would dictate a different length for theme answer #1.) So:

  • 17a. [Refinements gained by experience?] turn the facts of life into TACTS OF LIFE. The base phrase is both a dictionary-grade thing and a TV show title.
  • 21a. [With 23-Across, what Bridgestone says in response to Goodyear’s history?] is WE DIDN’T / START TIRE. (“We Didn’t Start the Fire.” What is that, a Billy Joel song?)
  • 39a. [Limiting one’s legal liability?] clues HOLDING DOWN TORT (…the fort).
  • 52a. [My response to feeling bad about Maynard James Keenan’s band?] is I PITY TOOL (Mr. T’s “I pity the fool”). Maynard James Keenan? Never heard of him. I may or may not have heard of the band Tool.
  • 55a. [Sticky part of the roof?] turns the comic “The Far Side” into TAR SIDE.

Fairly big theme, occupying seven different entries in this grid.

Five clues:

  • 8d. I didn’t recall the full name of [Chinese artist and political activist Ai ___] WEIWEI, but minutes after finishing this puzzle I encountered his name again on Twitter. Do read his thoughts on the city of Beijing. Beijing sounds absolutely dismal through this dissident artist’s eyes.
  • 30a. [Go all out at a party] clues DO IT UP. Wait, can that float out there without a “big” or “right” or “Chicago style” after it?
  • 66a. [Chicken ___ Biskit], Chicken IN A Biskit? I don’t think I want to know what this is. Please let it be an indie band.
  • 42d. [Science magazine started by Bob Guccione’s wife] is OMNI. I knew it was a Guccione publication but not that it was Guccione’s wife who was behind it. Apt in a HEF-themed puzzle to have another pornographer cited.
  • 53d. [“Why don’t you discuss that with your urologist instead of me? Sheesh …”] clues TMI, “too much information.” Did I ever tell you about the time I edited a urology paper about STDs? That was 25 pages of TMI. T, T, TMI.

I like this puzzle’s bottom line: DAN SASSY ASSED. I think [Sex columnist Savage] would approve. I give it a sassy-assed 3.75 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Packing Heat” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, August 31

Three of the theme entries are “packing heat” all right, as each is a famous moniker starting with a type of gun. The closer tries to end all the gun-play with a bang:

  • 17-Across: The [Nickname of a Prohibition era criminal] is MACHINE GUN KELLY. For reasons not entirely known to me, I tried MACHINE GUN EDDIE first. Was I thinking of Fast Eddie Felson from The Hustler and The Color of Money? Or was I just not thinking? Anyway, Kelly was most famous for kidnapping tycoon Charles Urschel in 1933. Wikipedia says that “The kidnapping of Urschel and the two [ensuing] trials … were historic in several ways: 1) they were the first, last, and only federal criminal trials in the United States in which moving cameras were allowed to film; 2) the first kidnapping trials after the passage of the so-called Lindbergh Law, which made kidnapping a federal crime; 3) the first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover’s evolving and powerful FBI…; 4) the first crime in which defendants were transported by airplane.” My reactions: 1) that can’t be right; 2) interesting; 3) interesting; 4) opposite of interesting.
  • 26-Across: The [Bubblegum comic strip character] is BAZOOKA JOE. Oh, great Wikipedia, what sayest thou about Bazooka Joe? “In May 2009, it was announced that Bazooka Joe was to be adapted into a Hollywood movie.” Sounds like the perfect role for Ryan Reynolds.
  • 46-Across: The [Nickname for basketball great Maravich] is PISTOL PETE. See if you can fill in the blank from this Wikipedia note: “Maravich’s untimely death and mystique have made memorabilia associated with him among the most highly prized of any basketball collectibles. Game-used Maravich jerseys bring more money at auction than similar items from anybody other than ___”
  • 59-Across: It all comes together here with SHOOTING GALLERY as the [Place one might expect to find] the other theme answers.

Decisions, decisions. On the one hand, we really didn’t need SHOOTING GALLERY to round out a puzzle that already carries a title–that’s a little overkill. And even if there aren’t any more suitable 15-letter theme entries (RIFLE MAXIMILIAN? REVOLVER RICHARD?), MACHINE GUN KELLY can sit by itself in the grid’s center and be flanked by the other two 10-letter entries. But on the other hand, if there had only been three theme answers comprising only 35 squares, someone darn sure would have complained that, tight though it may have been, it was light on thematic content. So what’s the better option? I probably prefer Orbach’s choice, but reasonable minds may well differ.

The first adjective that comes to mind in describing the fill is “gorgeous.” The long Downs, GO CRAZY FOR and THERE THERE are both terrific, but look at all the assorted goodness lurking here: MAHALO, PHEW, PINKIE, NOT YET, and FREELOAD. There’s even a little thematic bonus with NRA, the [Powerful D.C. lobby]. Most importantly, there are no crappy entries used to make the good stuff work. The most awkward entry is probably OSIS, the [Medical suffix], and it’s barely noticeable down there in the extreme southwest. So you have a remarkably smooth grid that features an abundance of rare letters in the northern HEMI-sphere and juiciness all around. That’s solid construction, and it’s becoming Orbach’s signature.

Oh, the answer to the fill-in-the-blank question about “Pistol” Pete Maravich is George Mikan.  Did you get that right?  Me neither. I wonder if Wikipedia did.

Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 8 31 11

Fresh theme idea: XOXO means “hugs and kisses,” with the X’s standing for kisses and the O’s for hugs. So the four longest answers end with words that are synonyms for “kiss” and “hug,” in the proper XOXO pattern:

  • 18a. [Method of looking for keys?] on a keyboard is called HUNT AND PECK.
  • 28a. [Finishing by the deadline, sometimes] is a TIGHT SQUEEZE. I like that phrase a lot.
  • 48a. [Bad-mouthing someone] is TALKING SMACK about them. Great phrase!
  • 64a. [Call waiting diversion] clues MUSIC ON HOLD. This has nothing to do with household “call waiting” service.

Three faves:

  • 3d. [Penultimate element, alphabetically] is ZINC. Zirconium is the ultimate.
  • 26a. [Working parts] are INNARDS. Thank you, Gareth and/or Rich Norris, for STEERing clear of the viscera for this clue. Appliances have innards that are considerably less gooshy.
  • 20a. The term for a [Relay race closer] is ANCHOR. Could also go with a newscast reference without running afoul of my “not another nautical clue” griping. Yay for eschewing the nautical!

Four stars.

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17 Responses to Wednesday, 8/31/11

  1. Hey, the SD State Fair page is up to 424 views! I think we may make it to 500.

    IN MY ROOM is a great song, as is DON’T WORRY BABY. Agree on the randomness of the puzzle. This week’s puzzles could go straight into the next AARP collection, what with the Purple Onion, the Beach Boys, and *ahem* Tuesday’s puzzle *ahem*.

  2. Dave G. says:

    Whereas they were before my time I actually am a Beach Boys fan and have a good memory for songs, so I had no problem with the theme. It did seem a little random though. I filled in LITTLE DEUCE COUP for 57A (OK so it its spelled COUPE) but that fixed itself quickly with crossings. My issue was with the SW crossing of ABOU IBO and LAR.

  3. Pete says:

    Well, if it means anything to anyone, the reason for this puzzle’s existence is that The Beach Boys formed in 1961, making this their 50th anniversary year. I had that fact embedded in my clue for OHIO (home of the R&R Hall of Fame), but I see that that bit of information didn’t make it out of the editing room.

    I think I’ll post this at Wordplay and Rex Parker, too.

    – Pete Collins

  4. Steve says:

    I think everybody is being way too hard on today’s NYT. Granted, it wasn’t a GREAT puzzle but I quite enjoyed it. I will agree that the SW crossing of ABOU, LAR, IBO was poor.

  5. ArtLvr says:

    Great thanks to Gareth for giving us two bonus themeless puzzles yesterday — the links are in the comments for Tuesday, in case anyone missed them!!!

  6. Jenni says:

    I know all the songs, although I tried to fill in WOULDN’T IT BE NICE at 57A. I liked the crossword better than you did, Amy, although I did wince a bit at AMORIST and ICICLED. Still enjoyed it – I don’t mind a bit of Beach Boys in my head on a nice summer day.

  7. Howard B says:

    Respectable Times puzzle, but just not in my area.
    Didn’t know the lesser-known song titles, and so I needed Rhonda’s help with all the cross-references. Nice homage, but not my favorite today. Personal preferences and all that. Thorny fill too, although I liked ICICLED for some reason.

  8. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Pete, perhaps this puzzle would have been better served by a venue with titled daily puzzles. “Happy 50th Anniversary to the Beach Boys” doesn’t give anything away and provides the rationale up front. Or maybe a different grid layout would have accommodated a FIFTY with a revealer clue.

  9. Duke says:

    I think this was a great puzzle. In My Room is no minor Beach Boys song. If you know the BB, then you know that this song was really the first in which Brian Wilson was taken to be a serious songwriter. It’s very beautiful, sad and lonely and tells you a great deal about the Brian Wilson to come. Don’t Worry Baby was big hit and a notorious one as well. I like the BB and think they have a unique sound. But they ripped off other artists to a greater extent than other bands. The Rolling Stones and Beatlies did covers of Chuck Berry songs. The Beach Boys re-wrote Sweet Little Sixteen and turned it into Surfin USA. Chuck Berry was furious and rightfully so. Don’t Worry Baby is either Brian Wilson’s rip off or homage to the Ronnette’s Be My Baby. TOday, Brian is sitting pretty and Ronnie Spector is playing small clubs to get by. Really liked the way the words cascaded in the down column too. Finally, Little Saint Nick has same letter count and spelling as Wouldn’t It be Nice, so a nice little trick here. The year doesn’t work for that song though, so knew it was wrong. I’ve seen math related puzzles rated very highly here and that reflects the knowledge base of the rater. If you know rock and roll, this was four stars.

  10. Bruce N. Morton says:

    One of my Little Secrets, surprising to some of my friends, is that I love the Beach Boys, so this was a smooth, enjoyable puzzle for me.

    I guess this question is OT, but I’m curious: Is the Grayson Chance person who allegedly sang at the US Tennis Center last night someone I’m expected to have heard of? Is she a threat to be appearing in a puzzle? I thought she was so horrible as to perhaps be a joke, but everyone seemed to take her seriously, and she certainly gave the impression of having a very high opinion of herself. Is she an ‘American Idol’ person?


  11. joon says:

    i like the NYT puzzle a bit better now that i know there was a reason for it. to be honest, though, tribute puzzles tend to bore me even if they do commemorate some particular anniversary. i realize that may just be personal preference, and i’m not advocating that they cease to exist. but “wouldn’t it be nice” to see some more famous songs, perhaps at the expense of interlocking theme answers?

    gareth’s puzzle was really nice—a cute theme i’m sure i’ve never seen before, and some fun fill and clues. a practically perfect midweek puzzle. i enjoyed tony’s gun men theme, too, and i didn’t mind SHOOTING GALLERY in the slightest. better than including somebody much less famous like mark “the scud” philippoussis.

  12. John E says:

    I thought the NYT puzzle was a good challenge but the fill to support the theme was on the tedious side. I thought that DOL could have been clued differently, perhaps as something relating to the Department of Labor. I could have done without RAKER too. But I do like the Beach Boys, especially IN MY ROOM.

    I had to write an essay on LAPPLANDERS in college – don’t ask – but I still smile when I see LAPP in puzzles.

  13. Tuning Spork says:

    Good gravy, how does anyone not know “Don’t Worry Baby”? :-O

  14. joon says:

    i certainly don’t smile when i see LAPP in puzzles, because the one and only time i used it in a puzzle, i was politely informed that it’s considered derogatory by the people it describes, who prefer the term “sami”. it’s been since deleted from my word list.

  15. Jan says:

    I liked the fresh theme of Gareth’s puzzle, and got it done with no Googling, but with so many tough clues it took forever, and seemed more like a Friday puzzle than a “perfect midweek” one.

  16. lexicon fan says:

    Nit of the day:

    “Fresh theme idea: XOXO means “hugs and kisses,” with the X’s standing for kisses and the O’s for hugs.

    Wouldn’t that be “kisses and hugs?”


  17. Mike says:

    I must say that the Onion’s puzzle is consistently, IMO, the most clever and funny weekly puzzle out there.

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