Wednesday, 12/21/11

Onion 3:53 
NYT 3:19 
LAT 2:39 
CS 5:33 (Sam) 

Ron and Nancy Byron’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 12 21 11 1221

Luckily, I have an appointment in 14 minutes (gathering with the neighbors in the boiler room to show them how to operate the new controls) so I can’t spend much time on this puzzle, which I didn’t much care for. The NO “EL” theme was passable, but the fill felt outdated to me.

The theme: Five movie titles have an L taken out of them and are reclued accordingly. THE BIG SEEP gets a La Brea Tar Pit riff. THE ION KING doesn’t really work for me—which Nobel-winning chemist might be considered a king of ions?? Wha…? CASH OF THE TITANS missed an opportunity to include an archaic Greek coin in the clue (c’mon, crosswordese obol!). PUP FICTION evokes Lassie rather than, say, Cujo; old-fashioned vibe here. And then there’s WAYNE’S WORD referencing John Wayne.

While I enjoyed the THIN ICE/EAT DIRT crossing and the [Prim and proper, e.g.] SYNONYMS, the Scowl-o-Meter kicked into overdrive with the whole ENCLS TAMA ONENO URI DSO EENIE NERI OREL HESSE YSER SHES SOT MHO INGA ORAN TENON explosion. Really, having just a small handful of those entries would have been making me frown a bit. And how many years has it been since the Toyota CRESSIDA was made? Eighteen years.

Now, if you preferred the crosswords you were doing back in the Weng or Maleska era, then this puzzle may well have been right up your alley, but my alley is in another ZIP code. Two stars from me. (You are free, as always, to disagree with my assessment.) And I’m done one minute early! Woo-hoo.

Donna Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword

If you do the L.A. Times puzzle online but missed Tuesday’s post about the puzzle’s new format, check it out.

LA Times crossword solution, 12 21 11

Donna’s theme today builds to a FEVER PITCH, the answer that unifies the other theme entries:

  • 17a. A SPRING ROLL is a [Crisp cylindrical appetizer]. Spring fever? Winter officially starts Wednesday night and I’m thinking I’m ready to move on to spring already.
  • 27a. A key [Tango necessity] is a DANCE PARTNER. Did somebody mention Dance Fever? What better timing than to show you a video of Deney Terrio’s Christmas 1981 Dance Fever special.
  • 38a. [Jaunt that might get straw in your hair] is a HAYRIDE. Hay fever! Get it while you can!
  • 46a. A CABIN CRUISER is a [Pleasure craft] of the boat variety. Cabin fever kicks in around January 10 in the Midwest.
  • 63a. [State of excitement (generated by the starts of 17-, 27-, 38- and 46-Across?)] is a FEVER PITCH.

I like SPLEEN clued with [It might be vented] and LARD clued as [Pie baker’s shortening] (though my pies all have butter or vegetable shortening). I like the homecoming BONFIRE, and I like John MCENROE, and I like “MARY, MARY, quite contrary.” The rest of the puzzle seemed a little shy of Donna’s usual level of snappy fill and cluing, which means it’s an average sort of 3-star outing.

Francis Heaney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 12 21 11 Heaney

Quite a good puzzle—a solid theme, lots of 7- and 8-letter answers, some super-fresh entries, and entertaining clues. The theme is the 59a: R.E.M. BREAKUP, [2011 headline in music news (I know one of them quit years ago; sue me for preferring the classic lineup)]. I couldn’t tell you which one of Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe left, nor who might ever have served in his stead, so Francis’s approach works for me. The band members’ names are “broken up” by other letters in longer words/phrases:

  • 18a. [Not have the luxury of strolling] = BE IN A HURRY.
  • 23a. [What low-rise jeans may reveal] = BUTTCRACK. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this answer in a crossword puzzle before. My advice to you: Tuck in a shirt that won’t ride up and let the breeze hit your crack.
  • 37a. MINI-MALLS = [Smallish shopping plazas].
  • 53a. [Frosty’s hat, e.g.] = STOVEPIPE.

My favorite things this week are these:

  • 34a. UNIBALLS! I wouldn’t say Uniball Micro pens are really [Sharpie alternatives], other than that both are in the broadest category of pens. I have given up my love affair with the Uniball Micro, though. Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball, in assorted colors. That’s where it’s at.
  • 39a. [Inside info, slangily] is THE SCOOP.
  • 13d. W.B. YEATS is the [Poet who wrote “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold”].
  • 30d. [Pudding’s top layer, if it’s been left out] is a FILM. *shudder*
  • 43d. [Some love a man in one] is a lovely clue for UNIFORM. I have no particular fondness for uniforms, however. Where’s the individuality? (The repeated UNI- prefix is no problem because the one answer is super-fresh and the other has a super-fresh clue. Saved!)
  • 45d. [Having overcome religious conditioning, perhaps] clues the new-to-crosswords answer EX-EX-GAY. You could just call that “gay,” but then you leave out the personal history of the “ex-gay” conversion period.
  • 62d. [“Voulez-vous coucher avec ___ ce soir?”] is probably the ideal clue for MOI.

4.5 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Governmental Reorganization” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, December 21

Take three familiar terms, anagram one word in each term to form a federal agency, then clue the result. That’s the recipe for today’s crossword from Patrick Jordan. It yielded a fun twist on the traditional anagram gimmick. Here are the theme entries:

  • 20-Across: The [Passageway in a government group’s building?] is  the HALL OF F.E.M.A., a play on “hall of fame.” As Brownie can tell you, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is the federal government’s disaster response organization. It became an independent agency in…anyone? anyone?…in 1979, after breaking off from the Department of…anyone? anyone?…Housing and Urban Development, an organization which itself anagrams into…anyone? anyone?…into DUH. Nice work, everyone.
  • 39-Across: The [1932 film about a swinging government group agent?] is TARZAN, THE E.P.A. MAN, a play on Tarzan the Ape Man featuring the Environmental Protection Agency. Anachronism Alert! A 1932 film about the E.P.A. would be quite prescient, given that the agency was not created until 1970.
  • 56-Across: The [Budget-cutting decree for a government group?] is to TRIM THE A.T.F., a variation on “trim the fat” that swaps out the fact in exchange for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The A.T.F. derives its name from a college fraternity in rural North Carolina. (J.K., if I may be allowed to be hip for a moment. There, the moment has passed.)

The grid is a pangram, but the fill doesn’t feel like it was compromised just to make it happen. I liked both the EASY MARK, the [Swindler’s perfect victim], and the HALF-PINT, an [Unimportant person, slangily], and seeing the complete name of EZIO PINZA is a nice touch. Heck, I even like ABDOMINAL, the [Kind of muscle worked by sit-ups], even though I’m a fan of neither sit-ups nor my own abs (hmm, cause and effect?). Oh, and a shout out for FIZZ, the [Effervescent sound] that uses two of the grid’s three Z’s.

I’m still waiting to see [New year’s orgy?] as the clue for SEXTET. In the meantime, we have a [Hockey team, for example].

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19 Responses to Wednesday, 12/21/11

  1. ktd says:

    What’s a HODAD???

  2. Amy Reynaldo says:

    A surfer wannabe with no skills. (I learned this from crosswords.)

  3. JoelF says:

    Not sure how people who don’t solve crosswords regularly could finish this one. The mid-East says it all: HODAD, ONE NO, MHO, URI, ENUF, TERI, DO TO, and LTDS (all in one section of the grid!). For me, the NERI/TENON crossing was killer, having heard of neither.

  4. Martin says:

    Heads up folks… Will Shortz has just posted in the comments section of Rex’s blog.


  5. Gareth says:

    4:10 with one error: SCRIp/pHO. That took ANOTHER 4:10 to find. Shrug.

  6. Gareth says:

    I can’t quite wrap my head around how FEVERPITCH translates to words that precede FEVER, but I found it more interesting than most of this genre…

  7. John Haber says:

    Yes, I thought the fill was pretty awful, especially in the eastern cluster of INGE, HODAD, SABINE, and two kinds of cars. I had no idea who the WAYNE was in the clue as opposed to the movie, too. Not that it took longer than most Wednesday’s. Just not too rewarding.

  8. Gareth says:

    Sorry to the hog the comments, but I must say: AV club was brilliant – representing a band breaking up by visually breaking up the members in the answers – what a stonker of an idea! Was utterly stumped by UNIBALLS – long American brand names are often sticking points for me. I don’t know about men in uniform but ladies in uniform are great, especially those with the little white ankles socks… Sorry, probably TMI. Anyway. Um. Yes. The CS was also clever – commandeering those government abbreviations that vex me so for a higher purpose = win!

  9. Zulema says:

    So here is a contrary view, which means I am both an average solver (Shortz commenting in Rex’s blog) and liked Weng’s puzzles very much and Maleska’s perhaps not as much as Weng’s. True, most of the literary clues referred to long-ago writers (those were the first I filled in), and the Toyota was a model from when I knew all the models. But if one never heard of Mortise and Tenon, or read “The Plague,” how does that make the puzzle less worthy? Even THE ION KING, my least favorite theme entry, is an example of what passes for very acceptable in the Sunday Crosswords.

    Most Wednesday puzzles are pretty forced; for me, this one was quite a bit above the average Wednesday.

  10. Aaron (not the usual) says:

    Today’s NYT puzzle got ratings from 1 to 5.
    I know there’s no accounting for taste, but it would be good if people were using a guideline, such as Orange’s initial suggestion for a ratings rubric:

    * 5 stars: Truly exceptional puzzle that knocked you out; one you’ll remember months later. A++.
    * 4 stars: A very good puzzle that’s quite well done but not as perfect or memorable as a 5er. A solid A.
    * 3 stars: Decent puzzle; nothing to write home about but not noticeably flawed. B.
    * 2 stars: A big meh, with an inconsistent or flat theme, sloppy fill, or poor execution. C.
    * 1 star: Really, none of the puzzles we blog here is truly terrible so there probably
    won’t be too many 1-star ratings. D or F.

    On this scale I find it hard to understand a rating that isn’t
    in the range 2 – 3.5 stars, unless someone is just reacting strongly against previous ratings.

    Do any “extremists” want to explain their ratings?

  11. Jamie says:

    @Aaron (not the usual):

    I posted much the same thing about a puzzle last week, astounded that some “extremist” had rated the puzzle in question a 5. Turns out Gareth had accidentally hit the submit button before selecting the # of stars (it defaults to 5). I’ve got to think that is not the first time that has happened. There are way too many 5 votes, or else way too many people who are “knocked out” on a daily basis.

    I do remember someone commenting that he was annoyed that a particular puzzle had been rated a 2 by two people, and that he had voted it a 5 to cancel out their votes even though he thought the puzzle was pretty average.

    ETA: I wonder if Amy could change the system so that it defaults to 1 for a while so we could test this out?

  12. AV says:

    I gave this a four star. Why? Hey, I was in a good mood, my Christmas break has just begun, the puzzle was timely (NOEL), there were five theme entries with movies (some of which I love), and I decided to ignore the rest of the fill. That’s why!

  13. Evad says:

    @jamie, I’ve changed the ratings widget to default to 3 stars now. Let’s see if that brings down the number of 5 stars. Guess it makes sense to default to the middle value.


  14. Karen says:

    I got stuck on the NERI/EENIE/ONEILL crossing myself. I thought it was a passable and topical theme. Three stars.

  15. Jason F says:

    Not a long-time solver, but I’ve seen the theme before. However, the theme answers definitely appealed to me. There was a lot of crossword-ese but no crossings that struck me as brutally unfair for a Wed.

    In balance, 3 stars.

    Meta-question: does it really make sense to have a rating scale in which one of the ratings (one star) will, almost by definition, never be used?

    I’d relax this definition so it could at least include the small handful of NYT puzzles per year that make we wish I was solving on paper so I could ball the puzzle up and take a rubbish shot.

  16. Jamie says:

    @evad: Cool! Also, how it should be. A three-star puzzle reviewed on Orange is by definition a good puzzle. Three stars is a good review.

    ETA: I looked at a few recent puzzles and can find little evidence that folks were pulling a Gareth. I mean, doing what Gareth fessed to. Innocently fessed to. I am running out of editing minutes, Ga

  17. Pete says:

    Evad (man, I so wish I could decode your secret name) – How about an additional option of no-vote being the default, and don’t count it in the calc for the average. This eliminates all bias, and yes, a bias to 3 is still a bias.

  18. Evad says:

    Pete, it may help to know that I often refer to our blog hostess as Yma. Now that Ms. Sumac passed away a few years ago, I thought it about time we had a new Yma, don’t you agree?

  19. oeuftete says:

    Just now did the NYT puzzle… the feel of the fill was such that I actually started to write in ESNES for 53D. That can’t be good.

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