Wednesday, 12/28/11

NYT 3:45 
LAT 3:41 
Onion 3:29 
CS 5:56 (Sam) 

Louis Zulli’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers, 12 28 11 #1228

Here’s the NYT theme:

  • 54a. ID THEFT is [Modern crime, briefly … or a hint to 17-, 36- and 59-Across]. Those three answers have lost an ID. But wait. Does anyone ever call identity theft “ID theft” for short? I’ve never heard it.
  • 17a. LAME DUCK PRESENT takes the ID out of “lame duck president.”
  • 36a. ACCENTS HAPPEN instead of “accidents happen.”
  • 59a. Your [European gin mill?] is a CONTINENTAL DIVE (“continental divide”).

I had TIE instead of VIE at 62d for a while there. I know, if you [Go head to head] with someone, you’re vying, not tying. I VIEd in tonight’s singles crossword tournament over at PuzzleSocial’s Crosswords app on Facebook. You know who beat me? Will Shortz*! _shaking fist_ It’s fun to see Will in a competitive crossword setting, because when do we ever get to see him trying his hand at a crossword tournament? He’s always too busy running the tournaments. Will beat 1982 ACPT champion Stan Newman, too. Y’all should come play—click the “schedule” button to see if there’s a tournament coming up that evening. (*Or was this an impostor Will Shortz? There’s already @FakeWillShortz on Twitter. Don’t tell me there’s one on Facebook too, and one who’s a faster solver than me?)

I like the entry BAD ANSWER but there were some other entries that kinda fit the category of “bad answer.” I speak here of 1a: COHAB ([Roommate, informally]—in what world? have never heard this usage), and 49d: ODRA ([Wroclaw’s river, to Poles]). Whoa. Plus ALAR AGEE RESOW ERTE IRWIN ADELA ELKE ORR UTEP ELEA ADIA KERR INGE. A little of that fill goes a long way.

Three stars.

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

Here’s the LAT theme:

  • 61a. [Many a joke’s start, either part of which is synonymous with the ends of 17-, 25-, 37- and 52-Across] is “KNOCK, KNOCK.” Rap, pan, slam, and blast are synonyms for the “criticize” meaning of KNOCK more than the “strike a surface noisily” definition.
  • 17a. [Ice Cube genre] is GANGSTA RAP.
  • 25a. [It’s not as bad as the fire, metaphorically] clues the FRYING PAN. As in “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
  • 37a. [Bases loaded opportunity] is a GRAND SLAM home run.
  • 52a. [All-out] clues FULL BLAST.

Solid theme with lively theme entries.

The puzzle nearly lost me at 1-Across. [Actor Alan], 4 letters? Gotta be ALDA. No… maybe HALE, who played the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island? No… not him, either. When the answer is an actor who’s been dead for nearly 50 years—Alan LADD—it’d be nice if the clue actually gave some hint that the answer wasn’t ALDA. Hmph!

Likes: DOGGY BAG (nice to have 4d: [Takeout request?] not clue STET), BAD EGG, some timely in-the-news KOREANS, EYEBALL clued as a verb, and slangy VAMOOSE.

Ungainly proper-name crossing where 43a and 38d meet. 43a: ORKANS are [Sitcom planet people] from around 1980, and 38d: ROBB is [Lynda Bird’s married name]. That’s LBJ’s daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb. I could see a lot of solvers under the age of 40 having no clue about either of these answers, with RABB and ARKANS really being no less plausible. Not wild about the ESE ISM ARA TRA OLA OLIN EKED TSE lineup, either—a few more of those than one hopes to see.

3.5 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Holding the Fort” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword December 28

Each of the five theme entries ends with a word that is also the name of a notable fort. Let’s spice up the usual roll call of theme entries with some trivia questions (answers at the end of the post):

  • 17-Across: One’s [Bottom-line value] is one’s NET WORTH, and Fort Worth, of course, is large city in Texas. In fact, it’s the fifth largest city in the state. Can you name the other four?
  • 24-Across: [Happiness ever after] is one way to describe ETERNAL BLISS. Fort Bliss is an Army post that straddles two states. Can you name the states?
  • 39-Across: STAN LEE is [Spider-Man’s co-creator], and Fort Lee is most famous as a New Jersey borough. But let’s get back to Spidey, since tikes voted him their all-time favorite superhero. Can you name the other co-creator who partnered with Stan Lee to create the friendly neighborhood web-slinger?
  • 52-Across: The [Cuba Gooding Jr. film set in a ghetto] is BOYZ N THE HOOD, and Fort Hood is a military base in central Texas. The (one) director of Boyz n the Hood was nominated for an Oscar as Best Director, becoming the first African-American to be so nominated. Can you name the director?
  • 63-Across: The BASS DRUM is a [Boomer in a band]. Fort Drum is the military reservation located next to Wheeler-Sack Army Air Field, north of Syracuse, New York. This was the only fort in the puzzle that was unfamiliar to me. It is home to the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry division of the Army that has been active in a number of engagements, including the Unified Task Force, a U.S.-led multinational force that operated in Somalia in 1992 and 1993. Can you give the code name for this operation?

I love the open corners that feed the super-long Downs like MEMORY LANE, the [Path to the past], and ENCHILADAS, the [South-of-the-border orders]. I like that STOLE, the [Woman’s evening option], neighbors TUX, the [Man’s evening option]. Other highlights include SPLASHY, LOZENGE, and TEMPERA, the [Paint mixture made with egg yolk]. There’s an unsightly conglomeration of crosswordese and abbreviations with ERST, RAGA, TNT and SGT all neighboring each other, but the rest of the fill is typically Lempelian in its smoothness.

Here are the answers to the trivia questions.  The four largest cities in Texas are, in order: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin. Fort Bliss straddles Texas (go figure) and New Mexico. Steve Ditko was Spider-Man’s co-creator (his name anagrams to “tikes voted,” the italicized words in the completely fictitious factoid about Spider-Man’s popularity). The director of Boyz n the Hood was John Singleton (I added the “one” parenthetical as a very indirect hint to his surname). Finally, the code name for the Unified Task Force in Somalia was Operation Restore Hope.

Matt Jones’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword answers, 12 28 11 Jones

Straight-forward pop-culture theme this week, where THE A-LIST is used to describe a group of famous people whose names contain no vowels other than A:

  • 16a. ALAN ALDA, [Actor in “M*A*S*H” and “Tower Heist”].
  • 20a. JACK BLACK, [Half of Tenacious D].
  • 31a. FRANK ZAPPA, [He led the band on “Weasels Ripped My Flesh”].
  • 40a. ANWAR SADAT, [Egyptian president assassinated in 1981]. He was also one of the original MTV VJs before his assassination. (I made that up so I wouldn’t have to retract my description of this puzzle as having a “pop-culture theme.”)
  • 52a. HAL SPARKS, [Comedian in the U.S. version of “Queer as Folk”].
  • 57a. [Group to which 16-, 20-, 31-, 40- and 52-Across belong] is THE A-LIST.

Five more clues:

  • 26d. [Maker of the Fructis hair care line] is GARNIER. I don’t know about you, but this was a gimme for me.
  • 4d. [Crusty and coagulated] clues SCAB-LIKE. Gross!
  • 17d. [Fancy way of asking if you have to skip doing something] clues “NEEDN’T I?” Is it just me or does this answer kinda stink?
  • 33d. [Military cops in the sky] are AIR POLICE. Not sure I’ve ever seen that term before.
  • 9d. [Fishy sandwich spread] clues TUNA SALAD. I think of “spreads” as more condimental or cheesoid, less chunky than tuna salad. Though I guess you can technically spread your gloppy tuna salad on bread.

3.75 stars.

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43 Responses to Wednesday, 12/28/11

  1. Jamie says:

    I’m going to step in here quietly, not having done any of today’s puzzles yet. I’m on a roll here. Evad has changed the rating system to default to 3 stars, and that banana guy Amy touted yesterday ( made his blog legible. Two out of three wishes, yay.

    This leaves me one. Of course I would like whirled peas or a viable two-party system or more Sam Donaldson reviews on this blog, but let me aim for something more achievable. No More Effing Roman Numerals.

    To this end, I encourage anyone and everyone to vote one star for any puzzle that contains any roman numeral from now on. I don’t care if the constructor has constructed the most Berryesque of crosswords around that POS. It’s there, and it’s a POS and needs to be deleted.

    All those in favor rate “one” until we run those clues and answers out of town.

    Or then again, Sam D could just blog the LAT too. I’m a reasonable person.

  2. john farmer says:

    Does anyone ever call identity theft “ID theft” for short? I’ve never heard it.

    The FTC program for fighting identity theft is called “Deter. Detect. Defend. Avoid ID Theft.” A poll out this week surveyed victims of “online ID theft.” A Google search for “ID theft” turns up 3.6M hits.

    For a saving of six letters and two syllables, why wouldn’t people call identity theft “ID theft” for short?

  3. Dan F says:

    Jamie – I’m all for more Sam too, but you’re never going to get rid of Roman numerals. I don’t see what the problem is — everybody learns them in school, and they exist in the wild (watch faces, cornerstones). One can legitimately bitch about the ways they are sometimes clued (math problems, Year-of-the-Pope), but abusing the ratings here ain’t gonna help.

    Amy – the Will Shortz on Facebook is really him, so couldn’t you click from the app to the profile? I don’t do FB apps (even ones with crossword “tournaments”!) so I haven’t seen the setup over there.

  4. Bananarchy says:

    @jamie – now, if only there were a way to make the little corner image on my post a banana instead of an orange… Also, glad you approve of the new look.

    To weigh in on the Roman numeral issue: I’m not against them if a) they are clearly needed to admit remarkable surrounding fill and b) some effort was put into the cluing. And fwiw I prefer math problems to year-of-pope – the former is gettable with certainty and is a mini-puzzle in itself.

    Update: just did this week’s InkWell. Brilliant example of acceptable use.

  5. Gareth says:

    Fill in today’s NYT seemed especially slapdash today, but maybe I’m just grumpy.

  6. Bruce S. says:

    As Amy pointed out on Facebook, I much preferred Patrick Duggan’s take on this theme from May 12th of this year. That was one of the puzzles at the Boston Tournament and was a lot of fun figuring out what was going on.

  7. sbmanion says:

    Here’s a legal trivia question for all of you. The Supreme Court has answered this as a matter of federal law. State statutes may differ. Let’s say that you are a non-citizen who wants to work as a migrant worker. You obtain a social security card by making up a social security number. Is this a crime in and of itself or must you knowingly take someone else’s ID?

    By the way, I had great difficulty with the top of this puzzle.


  8. Jeffrey says:

    Without Roman numerals and other enablers, there would be no decent puzzles. I never understand why people focus on the one or two sub-par words and not concentrate on the best. It is like saying a baseball player who hit 3 home runs and grounded into one double play had a bad game.

  9. Howard B says:

    Agree with Jeffrey. A puzzle with a couple of not-so-nice answers (such as Pope Roman numerals) is *not* a 1-star puzzle. Please don’t abuse the ratings like that.

    The ratings are designed for *honest* overall rankings of each puzzle. Not campaigning against a clue type, constructor, etc. That’s what comments and personal blogs, Facebook posts, etc. are for. Just sayin’.

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t care for “Year of the Pope” clues either for Roman numerals.

  10. pannonica says:

    I understand the need for Roman numerals and don’t begrudge them in crosswords, but I’ve long decried the gussying-up of attendant clues. They always strike me as shameful, whether it’s an invented arithmetical ruse (not a “mini-puzzle,” just a slog), a papal reference, a random future Superbowl, et cetera.

    Constructors, editors! Unless it’s a legitimate reference, just own up to the crutch and don’t beat around the bush.

  11. Victor Barocas says:

    I guess that for me, the key is not whether there are crutches (great word choice), which I agree are inevitable, but how they are clued and how much I notice them. Roman numerals, unless one is lucky enough to use a date people might know (MLXVI, e.g.), have no good clues, so they might as well be clued as “Some Roman numeral that you have to get from the crossings and your knowledge of how Roman numerals work” as “Year in the reign of Pope Alexander II.” Do I like them? No, but I don’t have to like everything. The bigger concern that I have is when the constructor seems lazy or intent on putting in fancy letters and tolerates a bunch of bad fill – crutches should be a necessity. I also find that some crosswords (and some constructors by tendency) have uglier fill to allow for more complex themes. I generally disagree with that decision, including disagreeing in hindsight with my own decision to do so on occasion. I would be interested to get the general opinion: would you rather have one more theme entry or a more impressive theme construct at the expense of more encounters with ENA and ESAI? How do you decide when enough is enough?

  12. MD Solver says:

    @Bananas regarding the InkWell Roman numeral clue: Wow.

  13. C says:

    I thought the OP’s comment was a bit tongue in cheek so didn’t take it too seriously. As to Roman numerals, they happen, aren’t pretty and, more often than not, aren’t abused in puzzles. They are consistent, i.e. no alternative spellings for VIII or cockney spelling for XXI, and, generally, solvable as opposed to say the colloquial Urdu spelling for an ancient Persian river. Besides, without them in the puzzles, how else will I learn my papal reigns?

  14. Amy Reynaldo says:

    When I’m editing a crossword that’s supposed to be easy, you know what I do? [66, in old Rome]. As a solver, I’m never remotely interested in associating a name (pope, emperor, etc.) with a Roman numeral. If it’s something fairly contemporary and gettable, and it’s in Roman numerals for a reason, it’s okay. As in Super Bowl designations (but NOT Super Bowl Roman numerals for 50 years from now, as seen in the Fireball crossword!) and movie copyright dates (1939 had some classic movies, but somehow MCMXXXIX never seems to make it into the grid).

    @Victor: I have given up being impressed by sheer theme density (or sheer structural accomplishment in a themeless) if it comes at the expense of smooth fill. Clunky, ugly little answers do nothing to entice newer solvers to stick with the crossword hobby and do nothing at all to entertain any solver.

  15. Bananarchy says:

    For a standard theme, I prefer 4 or even 3 killer entries and great (or even smooth and adequate) ballast fill. Any more is a bonus, and should not come at a high price. The only way I’ll accept rampant crummy fill is when there are noticeable heavy constraints (e.g. when themers are forced to be stacked or ordered, or when the grid layout is part of the theme) because of a worthwhile theme. As an aside, this is one of the reasons I don’t care for quote themes in general – there are heavy constraints from the get-go, but no “wow, that’s neat!” payoff for the solver.

    I should note, though, that my evaluation of fill quality has more to do with solvability than elegance. I love fresh and tasty fill like anyone else of course, but when it comes to the ho-hum stuff I prefer roman numerals, common crosswordese, and FITB partials to unfamiliar surnames and 50-year old governmental acronyms.

    Also, @MD Solver: was that a bad ‘wow’ at my comment or a good ‘wow’ at the clue?

  16. Harry says:

    Air Police is part of the U.S. Air Force. In the Army it’s Military Police, and the Navy has Shore Patrol.

  17. Doug says:

    One of my favorite Roman numeral clues was by Ben Tausig in an old Onion puzzle: [Year in the reign of Empress Sarah Palinbot IV]. Cracked me up! And I fill in the Roman numeral answers from crossers most of the time anyway, so I didn’t mind the randomness.

    As for Roman numerals in the fill, I find them to be fairly innocuous. If the constructor uses DXI in an easy-to-fill corner to force an X into the grid, then I’ll frown. But 95% of the time, they’re fine.

  18. Tuning Spork says:

    Two minutes ago is further away than one minute ago. I think I can prove that in any court.

    Wow, that spam message didn’t last long.

  19. MD Solver says:

    @Bananarchy – good ‘wow’! It was an amazing clue. But we’re not likely to see clues like that often; it simply isn’t always possible.

  20. John Haber says:

    I don’t object in the least to roman numerals. In fact, I very much distinguish between two kinds of answers to obscure to fill without a ton of crossings. One is things you’re clearly meant not to know but to work out. The other is sports, TV, automobile culture, and other proper names I’m obviously supposed to know but proud not to. It makes a lot of puzzles harder for me than for others, and I hold that against the puzzles.

    Of course, when it’s something to work out, it is no doubt nicer when it’s also something fun to learn, like a new word or even fact. I realize roman numerals can’t deliver on that. Still they’re not going away, and I’m not rating a puzzle lower for it.

  21. KarmaSartre says:

    Personally, I rate the puzzles on a scale from I to V stars.

  22. pannonica says:


  23. Matt J. says:

    @Karma: Good thing it’s not on a scale of I to X, and the ratings aren’t flashed on giant cards ala “Dancing with the Stars”.

  24. Daniel Myers says:

    XXIII comments so far! O tempora, O mores!

  25. Tuning Spork says:

    I hear 1451 was a MILD year.

  26. Sam Donaldson says:

    That would be a MCDLI year, right? If MILD was correct (I’m not sure it is), it would be 1449.

  27. Daniel Myers says:

    The year XXX was noted for its lascivity.

  28. joon says:

    not to derail this lovely thread on roman numerals, but i can’t say i understand being proud not to know something that other people know. there are certainly things that many people care about that i would never willingly go out of my way to learn (e.g. what the kardashians are up to these days), but to be actively proud of ignorance? that’s a step towards oblivion.

  29. Daniel Myers says:

    @joon—To whom or to what are you referring? That is to say: Who is claiming to be proud of her/his own ignorance? I’m tired – failed the driving test for the trillionth time today, due to this obsession with staying on the right side of the road in this country – and got lost in the jumble of comments when I finally had a peek at the blog. But, looking back over the comments, I, in mine own ignorance, must be missing something.

  30. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Daniel: The artsy/scholarly John Haber wrote “The other is sports, TV, automobile culture, and other proper names I’m obviously supposed to know but proud not to.”

  31. Tuning Spork says:

    MILD is arguably correct for 1451. I say “arguably” because, obviously, MILD isn’t how anyone would ever write 1451 as it’s too clumsy. But the rules apply, I’m pretty certain.

    Since any numeral that precedes a numeral of greater value is subtracted from that next numeral, I (1) is first subtracted from L (50) to give 49 (IL), which is then subtracted from D (500 – 49) to give 451 (ILD). If you’re subtracting L (50) and I (1) seperately as 500 – 51, then you’re doing it as if it were written MLID and neglecting the initial subtraction of I from L. That’s why I went with 1451 rather than 1449.

    (Plus, there was that whole Blizzard of ’49 issue.)

    For some reason this reminds me of the time someone wanted to print the year 1999 in Roman numerals on their wedding invitations. My boss came up with MCMXCIX, and I said, “Why not just write MIM?”. They opted for the longer version. Looked better in print.

  32. Daniel Myers says:

    Ah, many thanks Amy, my glazed and dazed eyes missed that part of Mr. Haber’s comment. Yes, more than a tad over the top, I should say. How can one hold a grudge against a puzzle? I suppose it’s possible. John Haber does, or says he does. But, frankly, it’s beyond my ken that someone could be proud of his/her ignorance. It seems to me more likely that he’s suffering from dyspepsia today. But what know I? I’m, in general, ignorant of the same sorts of things as Mr. Haber is…but to be PROUD of that?!? It’s been a while since I encountered that level of snootiness. Crossword puzzles, pour moi, are either fun and relaxing or not so fun and relaxing. I wonder if Mr. Haber is proud of ending his declamation with a preposition?;-)

  33. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Daniel, don’t be a hidebound preposition “rule” follower. The “rule” about not ending sentences with a preposition is ridiculous. The very best writers have disregarded that rule for centuries, and I do it now. “What are blogs for?”

  34. Daniel Myers says:

    Amy, I was being ironic. Oh, and I meant to add that I found today’s NYT puzzle quite fun and relaxing especially after that blasted driving test early this AM.

    I’m sure you know that quote attributed to Churchill: “That is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

  35. Tuning Spork says:

    Ah, Daniel, Lookee.

    Preposition-sentence-end away. :-D


    Ah, Daniel, I see your follow-up comment. Nevermind. :-)

  36. Daniel Myers says:

    LOL-Quite alright, Spork! It’s true what she says about Latin though. It’s a lovely language, but once you have all its rules drilled into you at an impressionable age, it infects your English prose style; In some cases, for the better, in others, for the worse.

  37. Lois says:

    Jamie has been complaining for some time about inflated ratings, and calling some fill bad when it is not in his (?) particular field of knowledge. He coated his diatribes against high ratings with seemingly logical arguments. Now today he wants to give all puzzles one star if they use roman numerals, no matter what the benefit in a particular puzzle. He is not concerned with unfairly low ratings, it seems.

    I for one enjoy roman numerals, and rather like encountering them in puzzles occasionally. So what if my delight at figuring them out about 55 years ago should be a little old. As far as turning off new puzzlers, as Amy fears, I am a somewhat new puzzler, even though I’m not young, and I do like them, and prefer them, as John Haber does, to makes of automobiles (not that there’s anything wrong with knowing them). I found Haber to be just honest about his likes, and Jamie to be the snob. Also, it’s fun to try to figure out the year of a particular pope. I might not feel this way in five years. But I do prefer roman numerals to “school crossings.” And as others have pointed out, it’s a matter of balance.

    And Joon, although I found your defense of a wide knowledge entertaining, and we know you know almost everything, what about your complaint a few months ago, to paraphrase, “Now we have to memorize screenwriters?”

  38. Tuning Spork says:

    @ joon

    i would never willingly go out of my way to learn (e.g. what the kardashians are up to these days), but to be actively proud of ignorance? that’s a step towards oblivion.

    Maybe Alex Trebek was right. You are a young man. :-D

    As Steve Martin brilliantly (all comedians are brilliant in my book) put it on his forgotten masterpiece “Comedy Is Not Pretty”: (from memory) “Getting older makes everything easier, because you become prejudiced. Not about race or people, but about things. It’s usually camping. People say: “Hey! Let’s go try this NEW thing!” (**sound of large bank vault closing**) “Sorry, we’re closed.”

    I suspect that John Haber used the words “proud not to know” to mean “thankful that I no longer feel like I need to know”, and nothing more. An aside meant to be understood by the discerning ear.

    And I also suspect that you knew that, Joon. So, be nice. A war on supposed ignorance is still a war, Young Man. ;-)

  39. pannonica says:

    Not sure of the applicability of this quote, but it was referenced in a recent crossword (I don’t know which one):

    “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.” – Oscar Wilde.



    “I’m not young enough to know everything.” – J. M. Barrie, The Admirable Crichton, Act I

  40. Tuning Spork says:

    All quotes are applicable, Pannonica. And I am totally stealing that Barrie line.

  41. pannonica says:

    Aha, it’s in Thursday’s (“tomorrow’s”) LAT, misattributed to Wilde.

  42. Gareth says:

    TS: Why MCMXCIX is correct and not MIM is that each digit must be calculated in turn. So 1000, 900, 90, 9.

  43. John Haber says:

    All right, maybe proud is too strong as well as condescending, and I apologize. But put it this way. I often see solvers annoyed at clues about, well, books. And in puzzles, it’s rare to have a novel that isn’t sci fi, so kind of books for people who dont read books. It’s odd to me, since a lot of the books that people DO find obscure were things I had to read in high school or college, but even more because I love books and words, which is a lot of what draws me to crosswords.

    So it seems a little foreign to me to be around crossword fans, who are for the most part not into books but clearly love words. And if I don’t watch TV, I don’t exactly feel ashamed.

    As for cars, remember it’s a puzzle in a New York newspaper, and almost no one in New York City owns a car. We couldn’t afford it, and we wouldn’t know where to park it.

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