Thursday, 9/29/11

Fireball 6:10 
Tausig 6:22 (pannonica) 
NYT 4:51 
CS 6:09 (Sam) 
LAT 6:49 (Neville) 
BEQ 6:08 (mg/3:58 ar) 

Ben Fish’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 9 29 11

Okay, I’m tired so I’ll make this easy on myself and go with a short NYT write-up (already covered Fireball when I was more awake, not that this will be apparent from the Fireball write-up). I solved the puzzle without consulting the “blurb”/Notepad, which sort of tips solvers off to notice the circled P, L, U, S in the grid’s corners and the giant plus sign in the black squares in the middle of the grid. The PLUS is basically the clue for GRADE BONUS, NICE QUALITY, POSITIVE END, and MATH SYMBOL—four phrases that could be used to clue PLUS if it were a crossword entry. Not generally a big fan of the “hey, let’s put the clue-type phrases in the grid!” themes, but at least this one worked a little harder with the big “+.”

Tons of 7-letter entries, and they’re all flawless. CUPCAKE, STOOGES, ECSTASY, EPONYMS, ARSENIC, SAUSAGE, THE SIMS, etc.? All great fill.

The shorter fill doesn’t much distinguish itself, but nor does it embarrass itself. Its job is to either be mildly diverting or be unnoticeable. Wasn’t Rex Parker just saying that the other day? Or maybe Puzzle Girl? This puzzle’s fill does its job.

I don’t remember loving any clues while I was solving, but I also didn’t frown at anything. So we’re good here. 4.25 stars.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Tied at the Waste” — pannonica’s review

Tausig crossword • "Tied at the Waste" • 9/30/11 • answers

I’m dating myself a little here, but—Hush! I’m not that narcissistic! I mean, I’m showing my age, because this puzzle made me think of a fashion trend in the 1990s, or possibly the ’80s, that always struck me as particularly silly. I’m talking about the t-shirts emblazoned with the letters XS in giant type. In clothing, “XS” is most immediately associated with size extra-small. I’d always wondered if the company that made them were aware of the irony; I assumed that the majority of those who sported them were not. In any event, the fad seems to have vanished in the mists of time, as a targeted Google search returned nothing appropriate, at least not in the first bunch of pages.

Here, Tausig plays on the same homophone. 73-across clues a [Surplus integral to this puzzle’s theme answers] EXCESS. Each of the five main themers are phrases or compound words have the letters X-S in sequence, close to the center.

  • 17a. [Walmart, e.g.] BIG BOX STORE. Boo!
  • 65a. [Basketball team that publicly protested Arizona’s immigration laws in 2010] PHOENIX SUNS. Bully for them!
  • 11d. [Adjustment in government revenue sources] TAX SHIFT. More like “fill stretch.” I guess it’s a “thing,” but it’s blah and seems a construction of convenience. The god Googlehuelpa returns a paltry 395,000 results and the mighty Wikitichtlan has a (meager) page devoted to it, so I can’t complain overmuch.
  • 40a. [Source of some health food store oil] FLAXSEED. Keep it refrigerated!
  • This being a Tausig puzzle, the centerpiece is of course SEX SHOP (41a), a [Place to pick up a Hitachi Magic Wand]. I’d have clued it along the lines of [Babes in Toyland, e.g.], because in that particular milieu I prefer to think of fun, independent boutiques instead of a huge multinational corporation that services numerous industries including telecommunications, transportation, construction, and financial services. Callmecrazy.

I suppose the symmetrical partner, at 1-across, to the revealer could be seen as a quasi-commentary on the theme: [Ways with words?] USAGES. With a sixsome of Xs in the grid, a few of the crossings are bound to be less-than-stellar, but they’re tolerable, to varying degrees. The good: TUXEDO [Men’s Wearhouse offering]; XYZ, clued smartly as [W’s successors?]. The meh: SEXTO [Quinto follower]. The aesthetically challenged: XOO [Letters on a love letter]—don’t the letters usually alternate? I think I’d prefer the old ‘losing row in tic-tac-toe’ clue; XIX [Year in Jesus’s life]—the absolute worst.

The rest of the fill is strong and quite smooth. Long entries are JELL-O SHOTS and TARNATION. Slightly shorter are the good TIDINESS, SOUS-CHEF (who should maintain an orderly mise-en-scène), the gustatory pairing of the colloquial ATE A TON and “EAT HERE“, ASIAN FLU, and the not-good OIL COLOR [Painter’s purchase]. Why not-good?  Because I have never used or heard that phrase. “I need watercolors/acrylics/oils,” yes. “It’s in watercolor/acrylic/oil,” yes. “This is a tube of watercolor/acrylic/oil paint,” yes. “Look at the watercolor/acrylic/oil color I bought,” no.

Not many of the clues really wowed me, so I’ll just make a few random observations:

  • New-to-me geography-type words, so I hope they’re at least semi-obscure: [Michigan tribe] SAUK, [Burgundy win mecca] BEAUNE.
  • Pop-culture things I don’t know much about: [“Arrested Development” brother whose name is a homonym for a bible character] GOB, [Spitzer girl Ashley] DUPRE.
  • SYD and NAN. Where is CEE?

Fine puzzle.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 44”

Fireball Themeless 44 answers

I dunno, people. Was this one fun for you? I didn’t really enjoy it. Here were my favorite parts, and none of them were “Wow!” or “Ha!” moments:

  • 16a. I learned that EEYORE’s French name is Bourriquet. He’s friends with, if memory serves, Winnie ille Pu.
  • 20a. I have been fond of the word RAMEKIN ever since my mom came into possession of a set of ramekins when I was a kid.
  • 11d. POP-TARTS are kinda gross, but nice to see in a crossword puzzle.
  • 40d. WASABI! A little spice for our puzzle.

I didn’t know the word DEIPNOSOPHIST, so that answer wasn’t entertaining to me. Here’s Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words entry for the word.

I sure as hell didn’t know DOYLE BRUNSON, the poker term. Kinda low to cross the B with one of those “IN _” music answers. BRUNSON looked more plausible than completing _RUNSON with A, C, D, E, F, or G, but I really never feel my life is enriched by learning poker or nautical terminology from a crossword. If all the poker nuts would sink at sea, we could ditch both categories of words, couldn’t we?

I also didn’t know that GANZ is the [Maker of Webkinz]. Luckily, my kid is too old or too cool for Webkinz. I know GANZ better via Joan Ganz Cooney and the German word ganz. Oh, and Bruno Ganz, from Wings of Desire.

66 words? It’s pretty smooth for a fairly low word count, but I can’t say it was fun. 3.5 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Baby Talk” — Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution September 29

Let’s keep this review on the Q-T: a quick take on a quip theme so I can spend some quality time curling up with a book manuscript that is due tomorrow.

The puzzle features a three-part [wife’s remark]: MY HUSBAND WASN’T / BORN YESTERDAY, HE / JUST ACTS LIKE IT. Sounds like something straight out of The Lockhorns, no? I suppose there’s a segment of solvers out there that would find this more than just amusing, but it didn’t do much for me.

I was much happier with the fill. I love SUGAR RUSH, the [Chocoholic’s sensation]. (Anyone else try SUGAR HIGH first?) The other long non-theme entries (SEVEN SEAS, NAMESAKE, and BRASILIA) were rock-solid.

Other items of note from the fill and clues:

  • At first blush I was appalled at [Dogfight venue].  “How insensitive,” I scoffed. But then I realized the answer was SKY. Oh, okay. Never mind then. Move along people, nothing to see here.
  • [Phenomena in food courts] is an evocative clue for AROMAS.
  • Trivia buffs out there know that ENOS was not only [One of Eve’s grandsons] but also a deputy in Hazzard County.
  • I liked MAKE ME, the [Defiant reply to a command]. In my experience, those that I challenged to “make me” do something almost always succeeded.

My favorite clue was [They have torches on their tails] for DIMES. Okay, time to hunker down with the manuscript. Much to my chagrin, the elves that are so willing to help shoemakers don’t seem to have the same sympathies for academics.

Don Gagliardo and C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword solution 9 29 11

Los Angeles Times crossword solution 9 29 11

Did you know that CHINA [celebrates National Day on October 1]? Did you know that China was responsible for the following inventions?

  • 1a. [*Rock conqueror?] – PAPER. You know – Rock Paper Scissors (and Lizard and Spock, in the expansion pack).
  • 10a. [*Soy milk brand] – SILK
  • 17a. [*Dental checkup freebie] – TOOTHBRUSH. You’re paying that much for dental insurance – I’d hardly call a toothbrush a “freebie.”
  • 28a. [*Wile E. Coyote buy] – GUNPOWDER
  • 35a. [*Gets creative] – NOODLES
  • 39a. [*Extent] – COMPASS
  • 45a. [*Flashy display] – FIREWORKS
  • 59a. [*Beginner’s piano piece] – CHOPSTICKS
  • 64a. [*Forged check] – KITE. I have never heard of a forged check being called a kite, but Google says that it’s a thing. Of course, I’m not in a position to regularly discuss forged checks.

So that’s the theme – simply a list of Chinese inventions. Nothing too out there, but it’s not bad. There’s some fill that I like a lot – SKIP OUT (not a snow bunny’s sad look – SKI POUT) – YOU’RE UP and the 10-letter verticals of IN GOOD PART and FLOOR LIMIT are all nice. However, there were far too many abbreviations, parts of words and the like for my taste: EPH.NEC, PLO, BMI, EDT, SER.KTS., USNA, EGERCCC-ISH, and -AROO. Between you and me, I though that the [Stink ending] was -EROO – because stinker(oo) makes sense to me.  Does that make sense to you?

  • COTY is the world’s largest fragrance company. Naturally, I had no idea what it was, even from the clue [Maker of Kate Moss fragrances].
  • [Webber’s partner] is PAINE. PaineWebber was a brokerage firm formed by those two mean back in the late 19th c., but they’ve since been bought out by UBS.
  • [Derby prize] is ROSES. I get it, but the pluralization of the answer still confuses me. In the Kentucky Derby, one of the prizes is a blanket of roses – hence the “Run for the Roses.”

The grid nastiness puts me off, especially when we’ve seen some much nicer grids from this pair. 3.5 out of the Chinese flag’s 5 stars.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Bookends”—Matt Gaffney’s review

BEQ 371 solution

Subtle theme from BEQ today: can you figure out what EMPHYSEMARIDING BOOTSWALLED GARDENKING’S RANSOM and HAM OMELET have in common? I was perplexed until going back to the puzzle’s title, “Bookends,” which literally describes the entries: Jane Austen’s Emma, Alex Haley’s Roots, H.D. Thoreau’s Walden, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and Shakespeare’s Hamlet each bookend one of the theme entries. Snappy idea I’ve never seen before, and the title is of course perfect.

Seven observations:

  1. Puzzle took me 6:08, which is lightning-fast for a BEQ. I suspect I may have even finally beaten Amy this week. In fact, I’ll bet her $1 that I did. (Matt, you owe me a buck: 3:58. Although I did have to read your post to understand the theme.—Amy)
  2. 41-Down entry is good and clue is better.
  3. The NW-SE axis of the grid is especially good, from SPIRAL down to ELMORE.
  4. I just now realized this is a 14×15 grid. I always try to complain when people go non-square, but I overlook it half the time anyway.
  5. 43-Across, as in Magnus Øen Carlsen, currently the #1-ranked chessplayer in the world. He lost a game yesterday, but luckily for him the #2 player in the world also lost (!) so Magnus keeps his top spot.
  6. 63-Across: so now we know Brendan didn’t hide his initials in the puzzle.
  7. Almost forgot the star fill: LAYUP, NIPPLE, DROWNS IN, ALL DAY, ACADIA, TRENTA, SLOGAN, C’MON.

Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ, and be MAgnanimoUS on this Thursday, everyone! (I get no credit for that; it was one of Brendan’s themestorming ideas.)

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8 Responses to Thursday, 9/29/11

  1. john farmer says:

    Impressed with the debut from Ben Fish. Nicely done theme, and loved all the semi-long fill. “The shorter fill doesn’t much distinguish itself, but nor does it embarrass itself. Its job is to either be mildly diverting or be unnoticeable.” That’s been true all along. Which is why I’m often surprised so much attention is paid to it.

    Liked the FB, with its major league intersection in the middle. That said, never heard of DEIPNOSOPHIST, which is not a bad word to know. Not so much DOYLE BRUNSON, and had to guess on the crossing IN_. “If all the poker nuts would sink at sea….” If you say so. And yes, if it’s GANZ, let it be Bruno.

  2. ArtLvr says:

    Yes, congrats to those whose debuts are featured this week… I don’t watch the poker tournaments on TV much any more, but Doyle Brunson was the granddaddy of the Texas Hold’em clan and quite a memorable twinkly-eyed character. And I admired Peter Gordon’s tasty toastmaster, wondering if it was presented to him as a worthy challenge? He certainly rose to the occasion, if so. Also liked the LAT, with clues like “transparent personality” and “amount needing credit card authorization” — More amusing ramblin’ and gamblin’ than in the stock market these days! (Footnote: thanks to Gareth again for another freebie!)

  3. Gareth says:

    Agree that the choices of 7’s were superfun! Kinda strange to have a “notepad” and NOTEPAD in one puzzle! I never know whether I should look at that or not for a puzzle ito spoileriness: sometimes it’s a necessary tip, sometimes an outright spoiler. Could’ve done this in 6ish minutes if I hadn’t gone and drop NamEQUALITY in before I grokked the theme, and didn’t take it out after, for some reason. Had OlD duck before ODD too! (Pleasure, ArtLvr!)

  4. Matt says:

    Enjoyed the Fireball, even the long-horizontal-entries-that-I-never-heard-of-before. Gordon has his style– and I’ve decided, after a struggle, that I like it. NYT was good too– though I’d say that ‘Irish’ was Samuel Beckett’s ethnicity, his home was Paris.

  5. AV says:

    Liked the NYT, got the theme immediately from the four corner circles + the +, and wondered if Ben already had a GOOGLE+ clue! Unfortunately, such timely clues can only be found @ BEQ and MG’s.

  6. Karen says:

    I’ve heard the act of forging checks (or perhaps writing deliberately bad checks) as kiting, and the one who does it as a kiter, but I’ve not heard the checks themselves called KITEs.

  7. Howard B says:

    NY Times was clever today, with very good fill. A nice debut!

    Fireball wasn’t my thing – I like Peter’s fearless, challenging clue style. But those two long middle answers, ungettable except through 1) poker knowledge and 2) grinding almost every single letter out from crossings, just didn’t do it for me. Bold, but not my taste. Since I don’t know poker beyond the basic rules, no spark of recognition there, although that’s karma payback for the hockey player clues, I suppose.
    But the Fireballs hit more than they miss, so c’est la vie.

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