Wednesday, 12/14/11

Onion 4:40 
LAT 3:35 
NYT 3:34 
CS 5:19 (Sam) 

Tim Croce’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 12 14 11 #1214

I love a good 1-Across! MAN BAG is a great term. Now, you don’t have to be a metrosexual to carry a MAN BAG, but it helps.

I don’t love a fusty old crosswordese place name 14-Across, though. AMARNA is a thing I learned from other crosswords. And a 6-Down I also learned from a crossword, Alphonse and GASTON of old, old comics.

Anyway! The theme. It’s add-a-Q. A traditional (non-Roth) IRA becomes TRADITIONAL IRAQ, clued perfectly as [Mesopotamia?]. Gymnastics equipment yields UNEVEN BARQ’S. A few weeks ago, we took my kid’s friend out to eat with us. Friend ordered root beer, I ordered diet Coke. Waitress mixed up our glasses. Kid made a disappointed face, whereas I kept taking sips, thinking “something’s not quite right here, but this is delicious and I would like to keep drinking it.” COUNTY FAQIR and QATARI COMPUTERS (“Atari Computers” is barely a thing, am I right?) make the theme three-quarters Middle Eastern Qs.

Good stuff: PHYSIQUE, MEH, HIT A SNAG, MOJO, JOHN MAYER (the crossword entry, not the singer), ANTIGUA of “Antigua and Barbuda” fame (thank you, geography quizzes, for firmly planting that in my brain). Less good stuff: plural Spanish OROS, boring soapy OLEIC ACID, “what are those?” T-STOPS, Peter “I know your cartoon career from crosswords” ARNO. I wouldn’t like AEF, except I think my maternal grandmother’s uncle served in the American Expeditionary Force.

Overall experience, 3.5 stars.

Ben Tausig’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 12 14 11 Tausig

I made a couple wrong turns in figuring out the theme here. With 1a: AOL OK, I decided it would be phrases in which each letter was pronounced separately. Then I got 20a: AREOLA FIFTY-ONE, and I saw clearly that it was an add-LA theme. Except that it’s not: it’s add OL. Like so:

  • 1a. [Headline the day after an internet company narrowly avoids bankruptcy?] is AOL OK. A-OK adopts an OL here.
  • 20a. [Wardrobe malfunction covered up by the government?] clues AREOLA FIFTY-ONE. Funny! You know what I learned on Facebook this week? That I’ve been pronouncing that word wrong my whole life. Apparently it’s “uh-REE-ola,” not “AIR-ee-ola.”
  • 36a/66a. [Graduation present for a dinosaur?] is a TYRANNOSAURUS ROLEX. It’s big, it’s got to be durable, it’s a Rolex. What do you think it’s priced at?
  • 54a. [Goof-up during a cult ritual?] clues SACRIFICE FOLLY. See? That’s what you do with baseball terminology. You meld it with human (or maybe goat) sacrifice, and then you’ve got something interesting.

The highlights:

  • 25a. DON’T GO! [“I can’t stay in this godforsaken place all alone!”]
  • 31a. [“Only You” band] is YAZ, the one with Alison Moyet. Not the other one (singer Yazz) I only heard of recently and was irritated to learn about. How I loved “Only You” when I was in college! Go have a listen.
  • 45a. [Thai curry type] is PANANG. This is a highlight because I plunked it in the grid with either one or no crossing letter.
  • 7d. [Language spoken by M.I.A.] is TAMIL. I like this one because it was also a gimme. I don’t know hermusic at all, but I know her linguistic background. Thanks, Wikipedia!
  • 12d. [Certain dumpster divers] are FREEGANS. Technically, “Dumpster” is a trademark and should be capitalized but I’m partial to the lowercase d.
  • 48d. GAY SEX was the [Subject of a groundbreaking 2009 “One Life to Live” scene].

Who is 10d: [Anticolonialist author Frantz] FANON? To the Wiki! You gotta read this guy’s life story.

Who are 37d: YEASAYER, the [Brooklyn band with the album “Odd Blood”]. “Experimental rock, psychedelic pop.”

Four stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Wise Guys” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, December 14

It’s simple really: Fun theme + good execution = superb crossword. Fellow Fiend blogger Doug makes it look so easy, doesn’t he? Let’s look under the hood to see what all goes into the construction of this puzzle.

It starts with the theme. Here, we add a “Y” to the end of common two-word expressions to get a new two-word expression that ends with the name of a famous man—hence we have “Y’s guys.” Here are the theme entries:

  • 20-Across: [Stengel, after joining the CIA?], would be a FEDERAL CASEY.
  • 28-Across: [Marciano, after being convicted?], is a JAILHOUSE ROCKY.
  • 42-Across: [Guthrie, after seeing a ghost?] is a PETRIFIED WOODY. My inner 10 year-old loves that entry for reasons that have nothing to do with Mr. Guthrie.
  • 48-Across: [Crystal, after missing his flight?], is an OVERDUE BILLY.

To make this theme work so well, you can’t just slap a Y onto the end of any ol’ expression that happens to make a guy’s name.  BALSA WOODY, for instance, wouldn’t be as elegant because it just doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone term. Yes, it’s all about wackiness, but the best kind of wackiness is the wackiness that’s almost believable, as if you can imagine a situation where someone might actually use the expression. That’s what makes PETRIFIED WOODY (and the other theme entries) so good.

Then there’s the grid. It sports only eight 3-letter entries, and six of those are shoved into the corners. The rest of the grid is nice and open with lots of 6-letter entries and a few 7’s and 8’s to boot. I liked PRAY TO, BLUE NILE, and AUTEURS best. There’s quite a bit of pop culture here (consider TAMMY Wynette, the hilarious and hot JAIME Pressly of “My Name Is Earl,” the COENS, Steffi GRAF, XENA the warrior princess—as if there are other Xenas with whom she could be confused, Rona or Sam JAFFE, and Lee J. COBB, et alia), but that’s fine by me. More importantly, there’s no clunky abbreviation and little in the way of foreign terms (a little DREI now and then never hurt anyone).

In the clue department, I especially liked [Returned a call?] for ECHOED. I also liked [Adjective for Olive Oyl] as the clue for SKINNY and [Word with pocket or socket] for HIP.

So there you have it—a well-executed theme, an open grid devoid of junk, interesting answers and good clues. That’s the whole enchilada right there. Mmm, enchiladas. Time to eat!

Richard Mausser’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 12 14 11

The retro theme answers are fun, but the theme is missing a step by saying that 23d: DIGITAL is the [Word that can bring the ends of the starred answers up to date]. I think the theme would have worked much better without the DIGITAL tie-in.

  • 17a. [*Retro viewer] clues BLACK AND WHITE TV. A regular analog color TV with a picture tube is what was supplanted by digital TVs as well as high-definition sets and flat-screen technologies.
  • 28a. [*Retro imager] clues POLAROID CAMERA. A regular film camera is even more retro than a Polaroid, no?
  • 43a. [*Retro recorder] clues EIGHT-TRACK TAPE. What is “digital tape”? It’s nothing anyone is using now, right? Or are we to take “digital tape recorder” from this? There are digital voice recorders that use no tape. Eight-tracks were replaced by cassettes, which in turn were replaced by CDs, which have now largely been supplanted by digital downloads. The focus on tape/digital tape just feels wrong.
  • 57a. [*Retro dialer] is a ROTARY TELEPHONE. So, what’s a “digital telephone”? Are we talking about the newest cordless phone systems here, or cellphones? This doesn’t make any sense to me.

I would have enjoyed the theme much more if it were presented as a collection of retro technologies that people younger than 35 or 40 may never have encountered in person.

In the fill, I liked BEESWAX and POTPIE but hardly anything else. Starting out with 1- through 5-Down, we have ARBS, RELO, URAL, BUCO, and ANKARAN. Any of those grab you? No? I fret that the constructor consciously pursued pangrammatic fill, but is it worth it when you get your Q and Z via REQ and TZUS? I say no.

I love the four Across theme answers as a set, but the DIGITAL twist and the fill left me cold. Is two stars too harsh a review?

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30 Responses to Wednesday, 12/14/11

  1. Gareth says:

    Finished in 4:03 with 2 careless errors, not that they took much time to find: PHiSIQUE, UNt. Then had to guess that QoM was in fact QUM; I just checked, QuM is a variant, MEH. This particular interpretation of add a Q was interesting, I liked the QATARI/ATARI and FAQIR/FAIR changes a lot! One other crossing I was little wary of: BRODY/YGOR! I’d be hesitant to call AMARNA “fusty old crosswordese”, it’s pretty important in archeology, but it did feel there were a few less desirable answers, I guess four Qs adds to the construction challenge a bit…

  2. ArtLvr says:

    Fabulously funny — AREOLA FIFTY-ONE…

  3. John Haber says:

    This one had way too much I just didn’t want to know, especially for a Wednesday. I’ve never heard of MAN BAG. (I carry a bag a lot, but it’s cause I go to the gym after work.) Below that, I didn’t recognize AMARNA, and it was especially hard crossing a proper name I only vaguely remember (Adrien). The other end of the theme clue needed EZRA (crosswordese), RAZR (new to me), a little Spanish, and a factoid about the basketball player. Don’t care for JOHN MAYER at all, so not at all said I don’t recognize him from the song title. I myself say bronco rather than BRONC, but whatever.

    On the other hand, I hadn’t heard of T-STOPS before (entered F-STOPS) and thought that was something I really should learn. Oh, and for me Peter ARNO was a gimme, not because I like him, but because “The New Yorker” was just a part of literacy for me for a long time.

  4. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I appreciate all the recent responses to my LAT printing woes. I am away from home and printer, but avec computer, typing this from a wifi Barnes & Noble store. I will try your suggestions when I return home.


  5. Jamie says:

    Re: LAT: Is this the first time this blog has suggested a 2-star rating for a puzzle? Given the number of constructors who post here and the fact that the bloggers are frequently acquainted with the constructors, I’ve come to expect grade inflation here (by both bloggers and reviewers).

    IIRC correctly, the ratings guidelines are (roughly):
    5 stars – a superb puzzle that will be remembered for months; a candidate for xw of the year

    4 stars – an excellent puzzle suitable for the day of the week and the publication venue

    3 stars – an acceptable puzzle suitable etc. (see 4 stars, above)

    2 stars – a puzzle that falls below the standards expected

    1 star – probably should not have been published

    So if Amy – I think it is Amy, no one else signed the review – says 2 star, which I interpret as meaning 1.X star after grade inflation, then yes, I would say way too harsh. This applies if Amy wasn’t the blogger also.

    I didn’t find the LAT noticeably worse than any of the other puzzles here. I agree with the quibble that “digital” may not apply to tape or telephones – digital age might have been a more apt reveal, but that doesn’t, imo, ruin the crossword.

    It was fun to run across B&W TV, 8-tracks, Polaroids, and rotary phones as the theme answers. It’s a big step up from vowel progression themes.

    Incidentally, you raters must have incredible memories. There are way too many 5-star ratings here. 5 stars should be used more sparingly, for instance, for Patrick Berry’s week-long meta puzzle.

    Someone rated today’s NYT 5 stars. No disrespect to Mr. Croce, but I had to page up to look at the grid. A perfectly acceptable puzzle, but not a 5.

  6. Daniel Myers says:

    Does that mean that you don’t agree?

  7. Gareth says:

    LAT: I’m ignoring the DIGITAL part and giving it four stars! (It was me who gave the NYT 5 stars, but that was an accident, I was trying to give it 3 stars and my mouse slipped! Alas, there’s no way to take your vote back…)

  8. AV says:

    I am one of the stingy graders who hangs between 2 and 4 stars, and offers a 5 star only to the most creative themes (something in the puzzle has to sparkle for a 5-star).

    But, today was different.

    After seeing AREOLA FIFTY-ONE and PETRIFIED WOODY on the same day, MY “inner 10-year old” (thanks Sam) went ahead and gave both those puzzles 5 stars!

  9. Jamie says:

    @Gareth: Have done that a couple of times. Never with a 5, I know what puzzle I am talking about when I rate it a 5. But on Sundays when there are three types of WP puzzles I sometimes mix them up. There was an incident recently where the NYT Sunday puzzle and the the Acrostic defaulted to the same rating. I couldn’t vote on the NYT puzzle once I’d voted on the Acrostic first.

    Thanks for fessing up to the five star error. Again, no disrespect to Mr. Croce. An acceptable puzzle in the NYT is a great accomplishment.

  10. Jamie says:

    @AV – Sam’s reviews are all 5 stars in my book. He’s hilarious and sometimes I beat his solving times. My kind of xw blogger. There are other kinds, ones who need you to know that they are smarter or greener (as in eco) or fret obsessively about age, but Sam’s just cool and funny.

    And neither of the puzzles you gave five stars to will be remembered. Sam’s comment on petrified woody will. For a week. Sorry, Sam.

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Jamie: A 1-star puzzle is the sort that is almost never seen in the crossword venues reviewed here. Go to Twitter and do a search for the “#badpuzzles” hashtag to see examples of dreck that can be found in 1-star (or <1!) puzzles. Extreme obscurities, cluing a word with another form of the same word, themes that are flat-out horrible (boring, inconsistent, poorly conceived), intersecting obscurities, outright errors. So no, today's LAT is not remotely a 1-star puzzle. Everything in its fill has appeared in countless other crosswords, but so little of it pleased me—I can handle humdrum fill if it's offset by enough sparkle. I found little sparkle in this puzzle, aside from the four retro theme answers. (Pretty sure I've handed out a few 2-star ratings.) If DIGITAL had been clued as just a fill entry, I would've graded this 2.5.

  12. Lois says:

    I just gave the NYT puzzle a 5, which I surely don’t very often. I am a relatively inexperienced solver, so my reactions might differ from those of others here. The puzzle might fall short of masterpiece, but my rating was only very gently inflated if it was at all. Remember that we cannot rate with fractions. So many puzzles get so many 4-star ratings, and this puzzle tickled me more than most puzzles have over a several-week period. The solve was delightful, the reveal (as I saw it) of Q.E.D. was very cute, and the things I didn’t know – I don’t know pop music over the last three decades, science, cameras, sports – were gettable from the crosses without Googling. A great solving experience.

    I do find that sometimes there is a bandwagon of low ratings for some puzzles. For instance, the royal wedding puzzle was wonderful, with clues and answers that had relationships to the theme that I didn’t even understand until a day later. That puzzle seemingly was bashed because of anti-royalty feelings (though the constructor was probably not pro-royalty), and a bit because of easiness, I guess. But the thought that went into it was complex.

    Sorry I don’t have time today to do the LAT puzzle, so I can’t go into that fray. Because I guess Jamie’s main point today is comparative. But, please, Jamie, I’m sure Amy doesn’t solicit people for any particular vote! She explained her reasoning and that’s all! Be satisfied with those who agree with you today, and trust our nice lead blogger!

  13. Jamie says:

    Amy. Your readers don’t agree. I’m sure you can get people to post 2 stars to bring the ratings down. I hope you won’t. Respectfully, the LAT was not a 2-star puzzle.

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Jamie, are you kidding me? My goal is not to have the overall star rating reflect my opinion of the puzzle. Reviews of any form of art are necessarily subjective (though there are objective factors that come into play). Sometimes I love a puzzle and give it 4.5, and then I read the Rex Parker review and he hated it. Some people hate every rebus puzzle on principle and slap even an excellent one with a low rating.

    In January, I’ll be doing a post that features 2011’s highest-rated puzzles—they won’t always be ones I loved, but they’ll be the ones that resonated best with a cross-section of solvers. (Only a teeny sliver of Fiend readers cast votes on ratings, so it’s hardly a statistically valid sample, but it’s surely more representative than my votes alone, right?)

  15. Daniel Myers says:

    Jamie, respectfully, Amy can rate any puzzle howsoever many stars she jolly well pleases, as far as this reader is concerned. It’s her bleeding blog, don’t you know. Every crossword solver has her/his own standards which fluctuate with moods, sun, stars and who knows what all else. The experience of solving a crossword is not dictated by algorithm.

  16. John Haber says:

    I don’t have a stake in the stars here, as I don’t do the LAT. (I do agree with Jamie that there’s usually serious grade inflation here, but it’s understandable coming from crossword enthusiasts.) But for what it’s worth, Polaroid stopped making instant film and instant cameras, so yes, that’s indeed less current than other film, even with digital cameras everywhere.

    And there really is a precise meaning to “digital telephone” and “digital tape.” You can look it up.

  17. Jamie says:

    @Daniel Myers: So what you are saying is that Amy’s ratings as the blog owner fluctuate with moods, sun, stars, and who knows what else. You’re making her sound like a nutter and doing no help to her. Four or five crosswords a day, I generally agree with Amy’s ratings. I didn’t today on the LAT. I stated why.

    Reasonable people disagree. Some just suck up to Amy. Case in point.

  18. Daniel Myers says:

    Lovely language, Jamie. Why don’t you start your very own, ever so reasonable, blog in which everyone agrees on rigid standards and suck-up nutters like myself are vigorously excluded? Suggested Title: Papers Please!

  19. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Children, quit squabbling. You’re setting a terrible example for the others. :-)

  20. Jamie says:

    Okay, done squabbling with a neener like that.

    In corner with dunce hat.

  21. Jeff Chen says:

    It’s an interesting discussion re: the LAT puzzle, although perhaps we could use a rally to restore sanity and or fear!

    Fear would be my choice.


  22. Lois says:

    Sorry to be boring after all the excitement, but I guess everyone realizes that posts sometimes seem to be a bit out of sequence because of going back and editing.

  23. Daniel Myers says:

    Oh well, this particular enfant terrible was so looking forward to pistols at dawn, but shall henceforth both cease and desist. :-)

  24. Robert Cain says:

    I gave this puzzle one star also. There was not a choice for “no stars.”
    LEY- seriously ? My OED lists two definitions, neither of wich has anything to do with pewter.

  25. Dinesh says:

    Does anyone else find the LA times applet hard to navigate? The arrow keys aren’t able to navigate across black squares. Maybe it is my style of solving but I like to wander all over the grid looking for gimme clues first before solving it more systematically and this applet form makes it hard.

  26. Martin says:


    LEY, with the pewter definition, is in Random House 2 (Websters 2) and 3.

    I’m reasonably sure that Rich at the LAT uses RH2 as his dictionary of reference (being an American and not a British crossword editor).

    As the late NYT crossword editor E.T. Maleska used to say to some solvers: look before you leap.


  27. Gareth says:

    I’m curious as to why clues for ley never reference ley lines, aren’t there any new agey type us crossword solvers?

  28. *David* says:

    Can we have a weekly feature where we can rank a featured poster from 1-5 stars as far as pedantic or not? If the kids can have “Am I Hot or Not”, I think crossword geeks can have their own unique game.

  29. ArtLvr says:

    I don’t know for sure about LEY lines, sounds familiar but I’ll look them up! I just learned two new words — CACHEXIA — (pron. kah-keck-sia) and I’m much taken with that and its related SARCOPENIA in the elderly. I’d like to use one or the other in a puzzle, but they aren’t really fun in medical meaning, alas. I thought cachexia was simply muscle loss, or “muscle wasting”.

  30. Howard B says:

    Amy has a pretty good self-rating system – however, I try to rate the puzzles myself first, before I read any reviews so as not to introduce unintentional bias into my rankings.
    Also, if you haven’t ranked puzzles before, it does help to read reviews and solve a bunch o’ puzzles of varying types, to get a very good idea of puzzle qualities and your own preferences.

    Sometimes my ratings coincide perfectly with Amy’s and for similar reasons, and other times we are quite far apart, on content if not on quality of fill. It’s the nature of things, and that’s great. (I personally tend to rate rebuses and oddball puzzles a bit higher for the effort, and also pay special attention to enjoyment I get from the non-themed fill).

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