Friday, 12/23/11

NYT 4:13 
BEQ 4:something 
LAT 4:03 
CS 4:56 (Sam) 
WSJ (Friday) 8:00 

Patrick Berry’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 12 23 11 #1223

Wow, I am sleepy, and I am chaperoning a field trip in the morning so I have plenty of blogging to get through before bedtime. Let’s kick it cursory, shall we?

Like the wordiness of GOT HUNG UP ON and MADE A RUN FOR IT. MANDARIN COLLARS makes me wonder if those new Brach’s “mandarin orange slice” candies I saw at the store today are any more addictive than their “orange slices.” Like the TULIP clue; forgot knowing the turban etymology. Like the PAGINATE/WIDOW combo, of interest to graphic designers and publishers. The GANDALF TEACUP ODDITIES trio enchants me. Thank goodness this is an NYT puzzle and not a Newsday “Saturday Stumper,” because I was making zero headway until I finally found the URIS, NUN, and HARTE clues (Stumpers try to deny solvers any gimmes at all). Love the word POLLIWOG! Like being reminded of NIAGARA River and its falls. Like the clue for SEXISTS: [They put half the world down]—though technically, sexists are often insulting to both sexes. (Suggesting that men are beasts who can’t control themselves when women wear short skirts is insulting to men, no?) Surprised to see a word like OSIER in a Berry puzzle, because it’s far more crosswordesey than he normally stoops to. But! This is a 62-word puzzle, and the fill’s 10 times smoother than what 95% of constructors could achieve in the same grid. (I double-checked the math on that.)

4.25 stars. I can’t go higher without having Quarfooty-fresh sorts of answers in the grid to entertain me, even if it means a higher word count.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Package Deal”

BEQ 395 solution

So I did Brendan’s puzzle the moment it became available in the singles tournament in the Crosswords app over at Facebook, at 6 pm Eastern time. I think I won the tournament! (I also think there were only three other people playing, since the app’s brand-new.) PuzzleSocial’s Crosswords app is in beta at the moment, with fine-tuning still underway. Give it a whirl, and if you find that navigating your way through a puzzle feels weird, let me know what functionality you’re looking for—PuzzleSocial’s founder, Jeb Balise, is tweaking the code till it’s perfect.

The GIFT BOXES theme has one official theme entry, but each corner of the grid has a “GIFT” box of its own: the letters GIFT appearing in a 2×2 square, with GI atop FT. As in 17a: YOGI and 20a: SOFT C.

Lively fill overall, with “I GOOFED,” ZOLOFT KABOBS, a BIG FINISH, the “every good boy deserves fudge” EGBDF, BALI HAI, and GARGLE with EGG WHITES. I don’t remember any clues because (1) the fact that it was a competition was making me nervous and I was typing crazy all over, (2) then I went out to dinner, and (3) I’m not referring to a copy of the clue list (though I could certainly fetch the puzzle from Brendan’s blog or at the Crosswords app).

3.75 stars.

Mike Peluso’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 12 23 11

PFFT! That’s the sound of something going “poof” and vanishing into thin air. Here, it’s the F sound at the end of five phrases:

  • 18a. [Answered on “Name That Fabric”?] = CRIED WOOL. Wolf -> WOOL.
  • 20a. [Just the binding?] = BOOK SHELL. Shelf -> SHELL.
  • 36a. [Scale model of an ancient rival of Rome] = MINIATURE GAUL. Golf -> GAUL.
  • 54a. [Burger queen?] = GROUND BEE. Beef -> BEE. This one is inconsistent, because the word “ground” has nothing to do with burger meat once the “beef” is out of the picture. There’s no “crying wolf” or “mini golf” suggested in those other theme clues, just the newly created phrases.
  • 57a. [Non-contraband cheese?] = LEGAL BRIE. Brief -> BRIE.

I have to dock the puzzle a point for including that one F in ELF/IN-FLIGHT. Would be more elegant not to have any F sound in the entire grid.

Like “YES, BUT,” HOT PANTS, Inspector CLOUSEAU, GOOD NEWS (who doesn’t like good news?), and the clue for 10d: DOWSE, [Not spare the rod?]. Don’t care for HEREI, SKEE, OLEO, OOM, OEO, IN ESSE, NOL, LOM. Never even heard of the cars in the clue 44a: [Olds 442 rivals], for GTOS. Before my time, I guess.

Three stars.

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Team Building” (pen name, Colin Gale)

WSJ crossword solution, "Team Building" 12 23 11

Only two theme answers running in the customary direction—THE NAMES OF THE REINDEER / AND THE NAME OF THEIR BOSS. I was able to find SANTA and the standard octet of reindeer in the grid word-search style, but I gave up on looking for RUDOLPH. There is RED-FACED, but that red nose is not here to guide me. There is a MOOSE at 10a. I’ll settle for that!

My favorite clue is 39a: [Island on which the most common surname is Christian]. PITCAIRN Island is where Fletcher Christian went after that whole “mutiny on the Bounty” business.

Least familiar clues:

  • 77a. [Or, to Augustus] = AUT. Latin!
  • 27a. [Drainage impairer] = HARDPAN. It’s a hard layer of clay beneath the soil. New to me.

Three stars.

Updated Friday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Force Fields” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, December 23

I’ve really been enjoying Martin Ashwood-Smith’s recent offerings–themed puzzles wrapped in freestyle-like grids. Today’s puzzle has just 72 words (typical of a freestyle puzzle) and plenty of open swaths–the sort of thing we normally see in the Sunday Challenge. It’s a good bit easier than the typical Sunday Challenge, however, as evidenced by my sub-five-minute solving time.  (So this is what it would feel like to solve a weekend freestyle puzzle in under five minutes!)

The theme consists of three entries beginning with words that are synonymous with “force:”

  • 16-Across: The [Meals for movers and shakers] are POWER BREAKFASTS. I’ve hand plenty of business-related breakfasts over the years, but I’m not sure I’d consider any of them to have been “power breakfasts.” I think that says more about me than the breakfasts.
  • 35-Across: [Fast-food conveniences] are DRIVE-THROUGHS. When I first started law practice, a partner at the firm often bragged of dinner plans involving “eating at a window,” and that expression has stuck with me. Until late July of this year, my window of choice was Taco Bell. Alas, my diet regimen of late has prohibited runs for the border (TM). The one indulgence I still allow myself is the occasional egg white flatbread sandwich from Dunkin Donuts. Pair it with a nice hot coffee and you have my version of a power breakfast.
  • 56-Across: The [Airtight kitchen pots] are PRESSURE COOKERS. Students here on campus were experiencing pressure-cooker-like environments as they studied for and took exams. Fortunately, to my knowledge, they seemed to find safe ways to let off steam. Now the pressure turns to us, the teachers, as we face mountains of blue books and final papers. And yet no one sympathizes for us.

You could take this same grid, amp up the difficulty of the clues, and have a solid Sunday Challenge puzzle. That’s what I admire most about this puzzle. Well, that and the fact that you gotta love a grid that has REDNECKS snuggled up closely with GIGOLOS. I likewise enjoyed SPROCKET, the [Cog], SOME DAY, PHOTO OP, and the [Freddy of Elm Street], KRUEGER. The only entry that gave me pause was LESE, clued as [___ majesty (high treason)], but the crossings were fair enough. Some may balk as USURER, the [Loan shark], but I found it of, um, interest.

I know this is probably unintentional, but I like the connected string of four O’s running from square 4 to square 19. Pretty sneaky, sis!

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15 Responses to Friday, 12/23/11

  1. Jeffrey says:

    The Rudolph story has always bugged me. The other reindeer come off really badly. They laugh at him, call him names and never let him join in any reindeer games, whatever those are. Then, when he guides the sleigh on a foggy night, they love him. How convenient for them. Is Santa aware of what’s going on?

    If next Christmas is clear, I’m betting they start making fun of him again.

    Reindeer life is just like high school.

    I prefer Frosty the Snowman.

    Oh yeah, good puzzle.

  2. Bananarchy says:

    I really like the idea of the FB app, but it crapped out for me half way through solving the BEQ, to the point that the program was about a second behind my keystrokes. Got frustrated so I finished the puzzle on BEQ’s site (which worked fine, so it wasn’t my admittedly prehistoric computer or my WiFi connection). Hopefully the kinks get ironed out; I’ll come back for more if they do.

    Oh, and 4.6 stars for the NYT, 3.7 for the BEQ.

  3. Gareth says:

    Had SailboAtRACES for STOCKCARRACES which now seems very stupid; this slowed down everything at the bottom and obscured ATAPRICE which I needed to break into the middle, POLLIWOG and PAGINATE wasn’t enough… What Amy said about the quality etc…

  4. Jeff Chen says:

    Smooth PB which I finished at 59:58. Yikes! Took me forever to break into the middle, as I convinced myself ANDREA Botticelli was a real person.

    (shakes fist at Andrea Bocelli)

  5. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Jeff, I started with ANDREA too! And eventually remembered SANDRO. And then ANDREA found his home in the WSJ puzzle.

  6. Gareth says:

    Me, i started with ARTURO!

  7. pannonica says:

    There’s happens to be a jazz trumpet player named Arturo Sandoval.

    SANDRO was a gimme for me.

  8. cyberdiva says:

    I’m surprised and delighted to find that solvers far far better than I am also started with ANDREA for Botticelli. I finally realized my error, but in the end I was done in by 1A: I had WASHUNGUPON, and that finally made me throw up my hands in defeat. If only I liked the Lord of the Rings world enough to pay attention to the characters’ names. GANDALF would have given me the puzzle. Sigh.

    BTW, as I recall, the CHE observes the academic break around Christmas and probably won’t publish another puzzle until Jan. 6.

  9. Mike says:

    The CHE is probably gone for the winter break (like in the summer time).
    Berry’s layout is kinda neat, almost like a holiday ornament. Really cool for the long clues.

  10. Anoa Bob says:

    I don’t think Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CS puzzle would have made it in the NYT or LAT because of the low theme density and simplicity. More’s the pity because I think this is an example of the crossword puzzle constructor’s art at its best. Themes are all solid, in-the-language phrases without any of the wackiness/goofiness trailing off into the nonsensical that one sees so often in the aforementioned two.

    The grid is very open with good stuff popping out all over, like SCRAG REDNECKS, ROMEO GIGOLOS, SPROCKET, a CRUET to have near your WOK, and my favorite, LESE majesty. Like Sam says, amp up or tune down the clues, and this works for just about any day of the week. The puzzle’s got SOUL.

  11. Jon88 says:

    LAT: Another point deducted for one themer requiring a sound change (golf). Ah well, it’s only a hobby.

  12. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Jon88: Sound changes are so regional. “Gawl, gawlf.” Same vowel sound in Gaul and golf for me!

  13. John Haber says:

    I started with “was hung up on,” which (my not knowing or caring about Tolkein) led me with WA_ to “warlock.” But the south half was the toughest for me, what with the clues about stock cars, “Bye Bye Birdie,” and insects, the odd VALETED, and a Tierney other than Gene (who I know only from crosswords anyhow). So hard for a Friday, but good enough.

  14. consuela says:

    I too gave up on finding Rudolph in the Reindeer Puzzle; did anyone find it?
    Mr. Gale did promise us nine. Perhaps his nickname was “Red”.

  15. Jeff says:

    WSJ clue for 23 Across is “…nine items that can be found…”

    Eight reindeer plus “their boss” = nine.

    I don’t expect Rudolf will be found.

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