Thursday, 10/6/11

Fireball 5:20, 1 error 
NYT 3:55 
LAT 4:57 (Neville) 
CS 7:08 (Sam) 
Tausig 5:48 (pannonica) 
BEQ 8:55 mg/4:35 ar 

Aww, R.I.P., Steve Jobs. The crossword world thanks you for all the 4-letter device names (iMac, iPod, iPad) that help us fill in our grids, and for designing the first phone we could solve crosswords on. And then the first tablet we could solve crosswords on even more easily.

On a brighter note, yay, Joon! Crossword Fiend’s resident blogger of the Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest puzzles won his third Jeopardy! match on Wednesday in a real nail-biter, upping his winnings to six figures. Yowzah! He is one smart guy (and has solid buzzer reflexes).

Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 10 6 11 1006

We’ve got a quip theme for Thursday, and a rather corny one at that. The theme entries unfurl the following joke: “Did you hear about the lawsuits between Hanes and BVD? Briefs were filed.” I’m no lawyer, but isn’t “briefs were filed” a rather nondramatic part of any lawsuit? Briefs, underwear, HA HA HA. Rolling in the aisles here.

Okay, so we established years ago that quote/quip themes usually don’t float my boat. Well, then! It’s up to the non-theme fill to win me over. I like BABYSIT, SEVEN A.M., and “CAN’T BE!” well enough, but the Scowl-o-Meter’s bell kept ringing with crosswordese (ASTI, MOA, AMAH, literary initials TSE, AGUE, STENS), a suffix (-ATIC), and a partial (A TIME).

If you appreciate the joke, then this was probably a fun puzzle for you. And if not, then…2.5 stars.

Frank Longo’s Fireball crossword, “Big Mix-Up”

Fireball 2(34) answers

Frank’s theme is ANAGRAMs: CHRISTIANSTED, IT’S IN THE CARDS, HARD SCIENTIST, and DENTIST’S CHAIR all have the same letters. I’m particularly pleased to see CHRISTIANSTED, as my husband and I honeymooned three miles east of it.

The surrounding fill isn’t as juicy as one usually expects in a Longo or a Fireball. Who is this ESMEE with a lengthy clue, and why is her M crossing the uncommon word IMPARADISE? I disregarded the verb nature of the clue for 27d and tried IN PARADISE, which would make a much better entry, if you ask me. So that M is the square I got wrong.

Never heard of the ARI clued as 38d, [Photographer Marcopoulos]. I like to think he got the commission to photograph ESMEE Denters for her first album cover.

I usually know my trees, but had no idea that [Fagaceous flora] referred to OAKS (and also beeches and chestnuts). It’s really not a good sign when two of the words in this puzzle (fagaceous and imparadise) are not to be found in the Mac widget dictionary (which is extracted from the New Oxford American Dictionary). Hmph.

I liked seeing 5d: IRISH SEA in the puzzle. (I bet Joon did, too. Jeopardy!)

Oh! Factual error. O’BRIEN is clued with [Lopez follows him on TBS]. I guess Peter Gordon didn’t hear the news that George Lopez’s late-night show was canceled back in August.

2.75 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Vowel Play: Four of a Kind” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution October 6

Here’s a vowel progression theme on steroids (minus the bouts with rage and the protruding veins). Today’s crossword from Tony Orbach gives us six theme entries, each containing exactly one vowel used four times. As if that’s not interesting enough, the entries are presented top to bottom in alphabetical order by vowel, with the A entry on top and the Y entry on bottom:

  • 20-Across: The [Bing Crosby hit about an Irish group] is MCNAMARA’S BAND, featuring four As and no other vowel.
  • 28-Across: It doesn’t take nearly as many letters to get an entry with four Es–here, it’s PEE-WEE, clued as [Miniature].
  • 30-Across: Brand names come into the picture with INFINITI, the [Nissan luxury line] with four Is.
  • 44-Across: A CHOO-CHOO is a [Tot’s train]. I actually lost some ground here because for the longest time, for reasons I don’t know, I read the clue as [Tot’s brain]. Perhaps it was a good description of my own mental state.
  • 47-Across: The [Loose dress at a luau] had my mind wandering for a moment, but I quickly recovered and entered MU’UMU’U. (Well, sans apostrophes.)
  • 54-Across: Vowel progression themes are just that much more impressive when they include Ys, and Orbach doesn’t disappoint, using LYNYRD SKYNYRD, the [“Gimme Three Steps” southern rock group], and its four Ys.

That’s 54 squares of theme entries (I’m pretty sure I got the math right, though I wouldn’t have the guts to make it a true daily double), and yet the grid is not riddled with awkward fill.  Indeed, there’s good stuff aplenty, like LEAD PIPE, WARM-UP, MAYTAG, OH YEAH, GELATI, MY EYE and , well, SAM.  The weak stuff is limited to UNROBE (c’mon, in everyday conversation it’s “disrobe” or “unclothe,” not “unrobe”), ULT, and that near-equatorial row of CYL, GIF, and PED. (And, speaking just for me, I can go a long time without seeing both UHRY and RIIS in a single grid.) But hey, given the heavy concentration of themage and the restrictions imposed by the theme, I thought this was pretty darn impressive.

The Outstanding Achievement in Cluing Award goes to [Christmas eave hanging, perhaps] for ICICLE.  The clue is both evocative and a fun bit of word play.

Peter Collins’ Los Angeles Times crossword—Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword solution 10 6 11

Los Angeles Times crossword solution 10 6 11

Did you see this coming? There’s a SURPRISE ELEMENT (element of surprise?) in each of the other four theme entries of this puzzle:

  • 18a. [Health enhancer, so it’s said] – APPLE A DAY
  • 20a. [It “is no problem. You just have to live long enough”: Groucho Marx] – GETTING OLDER. Hey, it beats the alternative. Am I the only person here who enjoyed last night’s half season premier which continued an arc about getting older? Yes? Moving right along, then.
  • 51a. [“A Moon for the Misbegotten” playwright] – EUGENE O’NEILL. Joon, has he played on your baseball team? (More congratulations to Joon on his third Jeopardy! win, and continued luck on “future” episodes.)
  • 56a. [Longshoremen’s aids] – CARGO NETS

So there’s a different element hiding inside of each of these entries. Good entries, nice execution, and wait – what’s this? Two unrelated 11-letter down entries? Wonderful! I love seeing BATTLE CREEK, Michigan in this puzzle, and I’m glad that REVELATIONS isn’t clued with regard to the last book of the Bible – it’s a frequent Jeopardy! error to add the S to the end of that book. (I hope you didn’t do that, Joon.)

  • 6a. [Slip a Mickey] – DRUG. Really!? This clue made it into an LA Times crossword? Unbelievable.
  • 16a. [Half of 10?] – ZERO. Ugh. I don’t care if one digit is a zero and the other isn’t – I didn’t like this clue. Didn’t find it punny.
  • 2d. [“Writing on the wall” word] – MENE, as in “Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin,” which was written on the wall in the biblical Book of Daniel. Could not have told you this – fortunately, I’m a fan of Apolo ANTON Ohno (by which I mean I watch the Winter Olympics).
  • 51d. [Vandalizes, in a way] – EGGS. So many bad influences in this puzzle, Peter A. Collins. Naw, I’m just kidding. Mischief Night is just around the corner!

Nice puzzle, Peter – 4.21 platinum stars.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Double Switch” — pannonica’s review

Ink Well crossword • 9/7/11 • "Double Switch" • Tausig • answers

The most striking aspect of this puzzle, initially, was the blackness. There are 45 blocks in the grid, paired with 75 words, which comes across (and down) as mildly anemic.

The title might well have been “Double Double Switch,” because it’s more intricate than it appears at first. It isn’t simply that doubled consonants in the theme answers are replaced with a different duo; each sequential pair of themers swaps their letters.

  • 17a. [Gang of rabbits?] NIBBLE RING (nipple ring). The Bs come from…
  • 22a. [Pennsylvania butcher’s surface for extra parts?] SCRAPPLE BOARD (Scrabble board). The Ps were borrowed from 17-across.
  • 29a. [One who knowingly sells faulty scratching posts?] CAT SCAMMER (cat scanner). Cats are savvy consumers; it’s their doting ‘owners’ who get scammed. But am I really parsing a nonsense phrase?
  • 40a. [What the priest yells when someone faints during confession?] SINNER DOWN! (simmer down). Typically preceded by a shout of  “Cleric!” instead of “Medic!”
  • 47a. [Lotsa high voices in the choir?] MESS O’ SOPRANOS (mezzo-sopranos). Not to be confused with The Daily Show’s “Mess o’ Potamia.”
  • 57a. [Little chick taking down a worm, e.g.?] FUZZY EATER (fussy eater). Before I understood the theme fully, I’d thought the original was “funny eater.”

A relatively low CAP Quotient™ and pangrammatic fill helped make  for an enjoyable solve.

  • Longish downs in the colloquial “I AM SO DEAD” [OMG! My parents are gonna ground me for a million years!] and the erstwhile persona for rapper Eminem, SLIM SHADY.
  • Further pop-culture in British band THE XX, television’s PUNK’D, “proto hip-hop group” ESG (originally Emerald, Sapphire, Gold) which I’d never heard of (which isn’t saying much) and didn’t particularly care for in the puzzle.
  • Boring three-letter entries spiced up by long, colorful fill-in-the-blank quotes: LIE [“So you’re just gonna sit there and __ to my face?”]; APE [“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty __”].
  • Druggy misdirections: [Charlie Sheen town with lots of powder] ASPEN, [Lines done by musicians] LYRICS.
  • Hardcore crosswordese: XEBEC [Old-timey sailing ship with three masts], AREPA [Columbian snack], ETAPE [Military camp].
  • I’m guessing that some younger solvers will have no idea how ISO is a setting on an SLR camera, especially since the clue for the cross-referenced answer specifies a digital model. It refers to film speed and stands for International Organization for Standardization. Similarly, FTP (for “file transfer protocol) is seen less often these days.
  • Not sure how PAM spray is a [Preserver of muffin tins]. It doesn’t make them last longer, it just makes them easier to clean. Does it preserve the integrity of the tins? I don’t buy it.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s blog crossword, “Pop Quiz”

BEQ 373 solution

Brendan’s a little busy with his newborn baby girl, so today’s puzzle is a reprint from his “Time Out” days.  But it’s still new to you and me, so let’s have a look.

Themage: six phrases whose final word is a brand of soda: RUNNING TABSTAY-AT-HOME DADS (root beer), NEW HIRES (root beer), MAN (I’ve got my orange) CRUSHANIMATED SPRITE, and KIMBO SLICE.

Seven observations:

  1. Only BEQ would use KIMBO SLICE as a theme entry.  Excellent.
  2. Is ANIMATED SPRITE a thing?
  3. 53d (IN BED) is an outstanding entry/clue.
  4. So is 43d (NAME ONE).
  5. I got 59a (NEPAL) with just the A. When it comes to vexillology, step off if I’m in the room.
  6. When I see a clue like 64d (CLI), I never take the time to figure it out unless I really, really, really need those letters.
  7. Humorous to see 37d (VAR) as an entry instead of in a clue.

Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ, and have a sugar-filled Thursday, everyone!

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20 Responses to Thursday, 10/6/11

  1. Tuning Spork says:

    Just watched Jeopardy! and holy moly what a finish. Well done, Joon!

  2. Tuning Spork says:

    Re: Fireball: Same thing at the ESMEE / IMPARADISE crossing.

    Now why is it, whenever I do a letter roulette, that I start at Q through P, then the L through A and, finally, Z through M when I know that the correct letter is nearly always B or M?

    Don’t answer that, HH.

  3. Gareth says:

    NYT: Monday/Tuesday clues, pushed to Wednesday difficulty by having to parse a quote. Had to change fIELD to YIELD and NEwMAN to NEUMAN to make sense of it. Blah. Also why LAWSUIT>s<?!

  4. Matt says:

    Wasn’t overjoyed with either the NYT or the Fireball… A nit on 49D (Behind on payments) in the NYT: you are INDEBT even when your loan payments are on time as long as the loan has an outstanding balance, you are in arrears when a payment is late. And, for what it’s worth, I always have trouble with Longo puzzles– there’s just some sort of a mismatch between his way of constructing and my way of solving…

  5. Martin says:


    For someone who, say, normally pays off a credit card balance every month but runs into trouble, the clue is accurate. (If they met the minimum payments, they are not even in arrears, just behind relative to their usual payment practice and now in debt.)

    A good clue on Thursday has a path to correctness but isn’t a simple definition. As HH says, that’s why they’re called clues.

  6. Matt says:

    Martin– I’m not going to argue over a nit, but I do think that a ‘clue’ is more than “any collocation of lexical units that may, arguably, induce a reader to think of a different collocation of lexical units.” But it’s a judgement call, and opinions may differ.

  7. MD Solver says:

    The black squares in the Taussig bothered me as well – there’s a reason the extra blocks are called “cheaters,” after all. It looks more black than white. The Fireball didn’t have as many black squares overall, but it also used cheaters. Tsk, tsk. If a theme is worth doing, it’s worth doing within the rules.

    The 66 theme letters, pangrammtic fill, and relative smoothness of the Taussig unfortunately could not overcome the problem of the cheaters. And 75 words (?) is also on the high side for my taste. CATSCAMMER was pretty funny, but SCRAPPLEBOARD doesn’t pass my breakfast test … in any sense of the term. 2.5 stars for that as well as the Fireball.

  8. jane lewis says:

    in my area jeopardy is on the cbs affiliate at 7:30. they had just reached the answer to which the question was “what is the north sea?” when jeopardy was interrupted for the steve jobs story. so thanks to the person who posted the broadcast from chicago so i could see the end and gutsy move by joon. congratulations. i do feel sorry when someone has won a lot of money but finishes second but so it goes.

  9. Zulema says:

    One more solver caught by IMPARADISE, which I actually thought of first but rejected.

  10. joon says:

    eugene o’neill was my starting left fielder for 10 years. he had a fine career, although he fell slightly short of reaching hall-of-fame standards. here are his career stats.

    also, thanks everybody! glad you’re enjoying the run as much as i am.

  11. Gary says:

    Was it my imagination, or did I see capital letters in Joon’s Final Jeopardy response yesterday? Could it be an imposter?

  12. Alex Trebek (not really) says:

    joon: “… as much as I am.”

    Hmm, present tense? AWESOME!!!

  13. AV says:

    @MD Solver: Wow, that’s a bit harsh don’t you think? Smooth fill, nice theme, pangrammatic … but the 75 words and the “cheater” squares made this a puzzle not worth constructing?

    My, how sophisticated we have become as solvers that we actually notice the 75 words (ooh, three extra words, how dare they?), and are so sensitized to the “cheater” squares that the entire point of the puzzle (the theme, theme density, smooth fill, etc) is no longer important?

    OK, more constructively (NPI), I have tried to go back and see how a 6-themed 15×15 could be constructed (with 13×2, 10×4 theme structure). And it is not easy. You pretty much need a cheater square to avoid bad fill.

    In general, a constructor needs to decide which of the following take priority, and, as a solver, I will always vote for the theme quality, then theme density, followed immediately by smooth fill. Cheater squares, number of words, etc. are technical details I leave to the caviling critics.

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    LA Times crossword editor Rich Norris calls ’em “helper squares.” Sometimes that’s all they are: extra black squares that help the constructor make a better puzzle than if she left those squares white. Given my strong preference for good fill and good clues, above all other considerations, I’m OK with helper squares. A great theme surrounded by junk fill is just a disappointment, so I’ll take a modestly less impressive construction in exchange for more enjoyment. (This is starting to sound euphemistic, like “it’s not the size of the wand, it’s the magic in it,” isn’t it?)

  15. Martin says:

    I’ll continue to call them “cheaters,” thank you. They’re no big deal, contrary to what a euphemism would convey.

    The Tausig has two pairs of cheater squares, same as the Longo. If you’re gonna critique the grid, at least know what you’re objecting to.

  16. MD Solver says:

    @AV I didn’t say it wasn’t worth constructing, just that it should have been done without all those black squares. In fact, I gave it some stars. Just not a lot.

    I think of this site as a venue for serious criticism. I guess we could all just be nice to each other, avoid picking nits, discuss mostly puzzles we enjoy and that speak to our sensibilities, identify elegance, humor, and other positive things first, try to be fair to and respectful of the hard work and time that constructors put into their creations for the purpose of entertaining people and building community without much compensation … but where would all of that get us? I guess we would all be happy and friendly and play in the fields. But if you go to art school, that ain’t how it works. Serious criticism identifies flaws. That’s how we learn to correct mistakes and deficiencies, whether it’s repeating a word in both clue and answer (as recently happened in USA Today), using a distracting number of black squares, cluing IST as a verb, or employing inconsistent or tortured cluing methods. Let’s not forget the didactic virtues of harping on minutiae.

  17. Gareth says:

    75 is NOT 3 more it’s 3 LESS than the prescribed 78. 72 is the maximum for a themeless.

  18. larry says:

    Back to Joon’s great stint on Jep’dy, in the many years I have been watching the show I have never before seen a reversal of Alex’s ruling just before the Final Question which resulted in a reordering of the two top players, in this case moving Joon from 2nd to 1st and making him the odds-on winner instead of an also-ran. As for me, while I knew the Rumba was a Cuban dance, I had never heard of solos being called “shines”. Live and learn!!

  19. Howard B says:

    @MD: I think the only issue here is the position that extra squares = flaws. This is not consistently the case, and editors allow them as long as the theme and puzzle are not greatly compromised.

    It is likely that a puzzle with minimal squares, with a more open grid and everything else equal (however that could be quantified) might stand a better chance of publication, but it’s not necessarily a fatal flaw.

    Collectively, the community here definitely observes and comments “post-cruciverbem” on what can be improved; your review is valid. The only point at issue is: “Tsk, tsk. If a theme is worth doing, it’s worth doing within the rules.” – I think that’s a tad condescending, and implies that rules were broken; none were. Squares are the constructor’s (and editor’s if any) discretion, and 75 words is within the higher end of standards, although personal taste on word count is subjective and just fine.

    I do agree with some of your observations (and also pannonica’s writeup) on that puzzle, but I’ll leave it there. Nothing personal, just really boils down to word choice, I think.

  20. Jan (danjan) says:

    I’m almost a week late, but in catching up with the CS puzzles this morning, I thought today’s by Tony Orbach was a real standout.

    I also reacted in surprise to see joon using capital letters in FJ!

Comments are closed.